The Ministry of Angels
Ever since 1994 I've celebrated St. Michael and All Angels in my churches. Ever since the 400's the Holy Christian Church has. This year we celebrate the ministry of angels, or do we?
The ministry of angels is employed by God in His dealings with the world. He used them after the Fall to guard the gateway to the tree of life. He used them at Sinai to give the Law. He used them to protect His people and His prophets. Hebrews 1:14 declares that angels are God's "ministering spirits."
Our text clearly shows that the ministry of the angels is employed by God telling us "He will command His angels concerning you." The KJV has "give His angels charge over thee." The word command' or charge' shows the official nature of the ministry of angels. It's not how Hollywood has portrayed the ministry of angels. It's not accidental, it's not fallible, and it is serious. If an employer gives and employee a charge to do something, you know it will be done or else. If a solider is commanded to do something, that's a direct order and won't be treated lightly. How much more so the command of God to His angels?
The ministry of angels employed by God is official, and it's personal. The NIV reads, "He will give His angels command concerning you," but you heard the KJV and you know the charge is individual, intimate. "He will give His angels charge over thee." Yes, there really are guardian angels assigned to individuals. Matthew 18 speaks of the little ones having their angels. Luther teaches us in his morning and evening prayers to pray: "Let your holy angel [singular] be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me." Mindy McCready may need 10,000 angels. One will do for us.
The ministry of angels employed by God is official, personal, and it is continual. "He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways [plural]." There is not somewhere a person could be that their guardian angel could not be. We shouldn't expect less of angels than we do of security guards, prison guards, military guards. If any of these are charged with guarding someone, their guarding continues everywhere that person is until the one who gave them the command relieves them.
The official, personal, and continual ministry of angels employed by God is enjoyed by certain people. Not everyone has the ministry of angels. Not everyone can count on the ministry of angels. That's important. It's foolish and dangerous to count on a guard that you don't have; to rely on an angel that is not there. More about that in a second. For now let's focus on what those enjoy who do have the ministry of angels.
Our text shows us that those who have the ministry of angels enjoy a gentle ministry. Angels "will lift you up in their hands." Remember that's singular. They will lift thee up in their hands. Can't you hear the gentleness in Michael's words as he deals with the aged Daniel, "O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I've been sent to you."
Those with the ministry of angels enjoy not only a gentle ministry but an effectual one. God charges His angels to guard a person in all his ways promising hands on care so that he will not strike even a foot against a stone. This Hebrew word means any stone from the very large to the very small. The picture here is that the ministry of angels protects a person from everything whether a massive stone that would surely crush him or a tiny stone that he would trip over. Let God speak here. Don't back away from what is clearly said. Don't use your experience to interpret God's word. He here promises that the ministry of angels is for all a person's ways "so that" he will not so much as strike a foot against a stone.
The ministry of angels enjoyed by certain people is gentle and effectual but it is not spiritual. It's true that at Christ's birth and His resurrection, the angels did preach the Gospel to shepherds and the women. But these were exceptions. Who else but heaven's messengers could first preach the news of the incarnation and resurrection? But shepherds not angels preached in Bethlehem, and when the Gospel was sent to all nations, God put it in the mouths of men not angels. In fact, Paul tells the Galatians that not even an angel from heaven has the authority to alter his gospel. We aren't to look for spiritual care from angels but physical. The angels sent to rescue Lot, Elisha, Daniel, and Peter didn't preach the Gospel to them or anyone.
Did you see how the Old Testament and the Gospel lesson in the context of good angels in the Old and evil angels in the New spoke of names "found written in the book," or names "written in heaven?" No angel can write a name in heaven's book. Elsewhere the book is called the Lamb's Book of Life. It belongs to Jesus; only He has ever written in it, and Revelation 17 says He did so "from the foundation of the world." Angels, says Hebrews 1:14, are ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation. The people who enjoy the ministry of angels are those who will inherit salvation, and the heirs of salvation are those whose names have been written in the Lamb's Book of Life from the foundation of the world. Is your name there?
Don't look on that Book or on angels, for that matter, apart from the Lamb, Jesus. As angels apart from Jesus are really devils, no matter how nice or bright they might be, so the Book of Life apart from the Lamb is a scary book. Whether approaching the Book or angels only do so in Jesus' name.
Jesus has the right to the outstanding, unbelievable, cart blanche promises about angels in our text as Satan correctly pointed out. In the great temptation Satan, the chief fallen angel, took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and said, "Throw Yourself down from here, for it is written, He will command His angels concerning You, to guard You,' and, On their hands they will bear You up lest You strike Your foot against a stone.'" Satan was right. As Paul says, all the promises of God first and foremost belong and are true in Jesus.
And Jesus did rightly trust in them. Rather than tempt the promises God made to Him by throwing Himself off the temple, Jesus found refuge in the Word of God. And then, once Satan was gone, Matthew tells us Jesus accepted the ministry of angels. "Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him." And in Gethsemane, though True God, the Man Jesus accepted the ministry of an angel to strengthen Him for the suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying ahead. Finally, when the betrayal happened, though Jesus said He could call on His Father to send 12 legions of angels to rescue Him, He didn't use the Father's promise of angelic help "in all His ways," and off He went to more than a foot stubbing.
Jesus trusted in the ministry of angels; we don't. We trust more in our preparation, more in the situation, more in others. This is a theme in the haunting 2002 hymn' for fallen soldiers "Mansions of the Lord." One verse says, "Where no mothers cry/ And no children weep/ We shall stand and guard/ Though the angels sleep/ Oh through the ages let us keep/ The Mansions of the Lord." Angels will sleep, we won't. Rely on us not them.
Friends, we don't even have the faith in holy angels that Alexander the Great had in his captain, Parmenio. It is recorded that being in great danger and having to fight his enemies the next day, Alexander still slept very soundly that night. When asked how he could sleep so soundly in such great danger Alexander replied simply, "Parmenio wakes" (Treasury of David, II, 105).
More than Parmenio wakes on our part. God's holy angels do. Why? Because Christ Jesus brought and paid for their protection. He owns it and them. Or are you not amazed to see as Jesus promised we would see that the angels of God ascend and descend on Jesus? Jesus had a right to the constant protection of angels. He was a perfect Man. There was no spot or stain in His faith, life, words, or thoughts that could cause a holy angel to turn away in disgust from Him as there most certainly is in you and me. But what happened?
You know what happened. Right after Jesus says that He could call upon 12 legions of angels to deliver Him in Gethsemane, He declares that the hour belongs to His enemies and the power of darkness. Here you should see the demonic black shapes and shadows from the movie Ghost taking Jesus away. He is abandoned by the Father for your sins. Angels don't come to the aid of those forsaken by the Father. Angles don't bear them up in their hands. They drop them. He whose heel was to be bruised by the arch-evil angel Satan in order to crush Satan's head had to go this way. You don't.
The promises that Jesus didn't use; belong to you in Jesus' Name; they have ever since He wrote your name in His Book with the Blood He shed for the sins of the world. Then the promise of an angelic guard was poured on you in Baptism. Being clothed in Jesus, angels can't help but flutter about you like moths round a light. The certainty that angels are always close to you is based on the fact that in Jesus' name your sins are sent away from you as far as east is from west. The guarantee that angels are guarding you in all your ways is that you eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus that angels and archangels laud and magnify.
But wait a minute. Christians are injured and killed all the time. Much more befalls them than striking a foot against a stone. That's because the ministry of angels is for those inheriting eternal salvation not temporal prosperity. Their ministry is focused on the long view not the short. If you wish to preserve fruits for a year or so you put them in sugar. If you wish to preserve meat for a long time, you put it in salt. From the ministry of angels, therefore, we expect much brine and pickle in this life because our heavenly Father wills to preserve us forever (Ibid. 103). And this He does in and by the dangers His angels deliver us from and even the ones they don't.
So celebrate with me today the ministry of angels employed by God officially, personally, and continually and enjoyed by those in Jesus' name gently, effectually, and eternally. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Michael and All Angels (20110925); Psalm 91: 11-12