More Than a Picture on a Wall
Almost 30 years ago the Statler Brothers released a song about a mother visiting the Vietnam Wall to see her son's etched name. The title was about her asking God to tell her son that he was more than a name on a wall. That Guardian Angel picture we have hanging in the library is more than a picture on a wall. That's what Jesus says to tell you.
First of all, Jesus says angels do exist. He says little ones have angels. You probably remember that angels were at the birth, passion, resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord. But do you remember an angel appearing twice to Hagar? You probably remember the angels Jacob sees going between heaven and earth at Bethel, but do you remember a company of them meeting him on his way back to the Promise Land? You might recall the angel slaughtering 185,000 Assyrians, but do you remember the captain of the Lord's angelic armies appearing to Joshua outside of Jericho? To paraphrase Shakespeare: there are more things between heaven and earth than this world dreams of, our science can see, or our technology can access. C.S. Lewis says what men call empty space is packed with heavenly realities (Hideous Strength, 320).
The angels were created on one of the 6 days of creation. We know this because Genesis 2:1 says after the 6th day, "Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts." Hosts' here is the same word the angel uses in Joshua 5 when he introduces himself as the captain of the Lord's armies. We sing this same word in the Sanctus. "Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth", that is of armies', or of hosts.' These armies can be of men, of angels, or even of stars. All the hosts of heaven and earth mentioned as completed in Genesis 2:1 refers to both angels and stars.
Angels were created by God as only good. They were part of the creation that He judged very good' on the 6th day. But some angels fell, and so became demons. Evil angels, unclean spirits, devils, are just as real as good angels. Jesus spoke with them; cast them out of people; gave Himself up to their power in Gethsemane. He warns through the pen of Peter that the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5). He warns us through the pen of Paul that even Satan himself can appear as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11). How do you distinguish a good angel from a bad angel? It's not as easy as distinguishing Glinda from the bad witch. The latter's skin was green. Paul says if an angel speaks a Gospel' other than his, even if he claims to be from heaven, he's from hell (Gal. 1). Also if you resist devils, they will flee from you (James 4). Good angels don't. Lot resisted them and they wouldn't leave him (Gn. 19). The good angel stuck with unbelieving Balaam even revealing himself to him to get his point across (Nu. 22).
Since some angels fell, how do we know the rest won't? Jesus says guardian angels "always see the face of My Father." Isaiah sees the seraphim focused on Jesus seated on heaven's throne (6). Read Revelation the angels are always doing the bidding of the Lord. They utter their voices, blow their trumpets, pour out their bowels at His command. They are different than us in that they have no veil drawn before their face between them and the Father (LW, 58, 176). and that makes all the difference. How so?
Stephen King has characters in a fictional world refer to remembering or having forgotten their father's face. Apart from a Christian or even religious background you know what that means. Whether a parent or a kid you know it too. From toddlers to teens most kids behave differently when they know their father or mother is watching. Fights, bickering, or teasing seldom break out in their sight, but let them out of a parent's sight for a moment and such happens. The good angles are always looking at the face of Jesus' Father. Just as a compass always points north no matter where you are, so the angels whether here, there, or anywhere have their eyes on the heavenly Father. You know what that means? They go down heaven's stairs backwards. In Genesis 28, Jacob sees a stairway resting on earth with its top in heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. As they go up obviously they are beholding the Father's face, but so as not to lose this site, when they go down the stairs, they do so backwards.
The dream also teaches that whatever God in heaven wants done on earth He does through angels. They are doing the Father's will by what they do and what they don't do. When the angel came to strengthen the Man Jesus in Gethsemane to bear the body breaking, soul crushing torments of hell in humanity's place, that was the heavenly Father's will. When Jesus doesn't call for 12 legions of angels to rescue Him from the powers of darkness, that was the Father's will too. They in military terms "stand fast." Or as we sing in the Palm Sunday hymn: "The angel armies of the sky look down with sad and wondering eyes to see the approaching Sacrifice."
Guarding angels are more than a picture on a wall. They are reality, because angels do exist; the good one's never forget their Father's face, and little ones have their ministry. Three times in Matthew 18 Jesus uses the phrase "one of these little ones." Verse 6, "If anyone causes one of these little one who believe in me to sin," better a millstone for Him. Then our text, verse 10, "Do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you" they have angels in heaven always beholding My Father's face. And finally verse 14. "Your Father in heaven is not willing that one of these little ones should perish." As every Christian dies a martyr's death, so every Christian is also a little one. That's what Jesus says in verse 3, "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never" go to heaven." Rather than posters saying that it's time to put on your big boy or big girl underpants, we should have one saying "Time to sit down and put on your diaper."
The larger context of the ministry of angels is getting the little ones who believe in Jesus to heaven. Whatever they do or not do has that end goal. So, Paul's thorn in the side, though an angel of Satan which tormented him, was not removed by the Father. Paul says it was to keep him from being conceited by the great revelations God had shown him (2 Cor. 12). Jesus says the last things angels do is carry your soul to heaven (Lk. 16), and that they rejoice in heaven not when a sinner is saved from sickness, sadness, or distress, but when they are saved from sinfulness. Their all about your salvation because that's what Jesus is all about.
The Father whose face they always see is "our Father who art in heaven", the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only ladder the Father ever let down from heaven for us to climb up on. O people think there are other ladders, try other ladders, but the only ladder given to men which a person can ascend on and be welcomed into heaven is Jesus. Hebrews 1 says angels are ministering spirits not to everyone but only to those who are inheriting salvation. We rightly take comfort in the stairway to heaven that Jacob was shown, but it's not till Jesus takes the veil from our eyes that we really see. In John 1, He tells us that angels ascend and descend on Him. With the universal and ancient Church we remind ourselves each Holy Communion that angels and archangels are all about lauding and praising the glorious name of Jesus (Reed, 329), and so they gather with us at every celebration. The Sanctus used in Jewish, Greek, and Latin liturgies has always been thought of as being sung by people and angels (The Pastor, 183). They chant with us "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord", and they bow and kneel at His presence here even as we do.
The guardian angel is more than a German painting from 1900; it's reality. Take that painting off the wall. Believe it; use it; rejoice over it. Pray with Luther mornings and evenings, "Let Thy holy angel be with me that the evil foe may have no power over me." Both kids and adults remark on Luther after the morning prayer directing, "Then go joyfully to work, singing a hymn" And his evening instruction to, "go to sleep at once and in good cheer." The man who penned these words for 8 years prior and for his remaining 17 lived under the death penalty. Luther wasn't only under Papal excommunication, but was an outlaw under the imperial ban. His person was legally subject to seizure. (Krauth, Con. Ref., 221). How can he go off to work daily singing a hymn? How he can go to sleep each night at once and in good cheer? Because his guardian angel was more than a picture on a wall.
Ever pay to have security? Did you expect they would do what you paid them for? They weren't like police paid to keep the peace in general. They were paid by you to keep your person and/or place secure. You expected to get what you paid for. Jesus paid for the ministry of angels with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. He paid to "make go away" any reason a holy angel could have for not protecting sinners such as us. He didn't call on 12 legions of angels to save Him in Gethsemane so you might know you have them at your beck and call in prayer. He didn't have the angels un-nail His hands and feet, so that they might hold you up with their hands to keep you from hurting your feet (Ps. 91).
Our problem may be that guardian angel picture. Where the pronouns in the Bible for angels are all masculine and when they appear they do so as young men, the painting on the wall depicts a soft, feminine, anemic being. Well, leave that picture on the wall and see what Luther saw. An angel like Daniel saw who can clamp shut the mouth of a roaring lion (Dan. 6). Angels like Elisha's servant could see once the veil was dropped from his eyes: in chariots of fire pulled by horses vastly outnumbering the Aramean army they were surrounded by (2 Kings 6). Luther took God at Elisha's word: There are more angels with us than foes against us. Actually, it only takes one. You are promised that one. And he doesn't hang on your wall in a picture but encamps around you on the ground says David (Ps. 34:7). Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Michael and All Angels (20180930); Matthew 18: 1-14