Sunday, November 30, 2008

Angels, Our Allies

(Raphael, Michael the Archangel)
Are Angels real? Do they exist? If they exist, then were they once human beings? Can they reproduce or intermarry with us? With each other? How many are there? How are they organized? All of these and more questions are addressed here.
Rev John G. Paton and his wife were missionaries to the New Hebrides Islands off the coast of Australia, and found themselves surrounded one night be hostile locals who threatened to burn down their house and kill them. The Patons prayed all night, and in the early morning the locals suddenly left for no reason. A year later the chief decided to follow Jesus, and Rev. Paton asked him, what had happened that night. The chief, surprised, turned and asked, "Who were all those men?" Rev. Paton did not know. The chief continued, "Your house was surrounded by men in shiny garments with drawn swords, as if they were circling your house." They had decided not to attack because of that.
A man was a colporteur (seller of Bibles) in Persia, and one day a man confronted him, "Is it legal for you to be selling Bibles?" The man replied it was, and he was correct. But the accoster continued, "Then why are you always surrounded by soldiers?" The man objected, saying he was never accompanied by soldiers as he sold Bibles. The accoster continued, "Yes you are! Three times I have tried to kill you, but each time you are surrounded by soldiers, so I have decided not to kill you." That must have sounded reassuring.
Who were the men with swords at the Paton's hut? Who were the soldiers?
We're going to answer the questions "Who are angels?" and "How are they organized?" and finally "What do they do as our unseen allies?" Of course there are as many pages to fill as the hundreds of millions of "elect" angels Scripture speaks of, and we can't say everything here, so hopefully this will start someone in the right direction who is interested in studying this subject further from a Biblical point of view.
Also, we normally use one passage of Scripture and study it exegetically, but this is a topic of systematic theology, taking the entire canonical-biblical view of angels.
First, Who are angels? Do they exist?
Angels are a part of most ancient cultures and their religious beliefs, though known by various names. Some called them demons, aeons, genii, or a host of other names that describe spirit beings. Plato and Socrates believed in spirits, and Socrates claimed that a spirit accompanied him wherever he went.
The Bible mentions angels in over half the 66 books, at least 228 times, and if you include some passages on the Angel of the Lord it mentions them over 250 times. The Hebrew and Greek words for "angel" mean "messenger" in both languages. They are God's messengers for all His deeds, both helpful and for judgment. Jesus knew and taught on the existence of angels (Matt 18:10, “see that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of my Father who is in heaven,”[1] and 26:53, [Peter had removed a sword and cut off Malchus’ ear] “or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”) A legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers, so twelve times 6,000.
How did they come into existence? Are they former persons who have died? Or were they created? They were created by the Triune God—Col 1:16, “for by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.”
When?—before the creation of the world (Job 38:6–7, [God speaking to Job about the foundation of the earth] “on what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy”)
How?—created in holiness (Jude 6, “and angels, who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day”)
Do they have personality? Yes. They have the three (3) qualities necessary for being a person:
1) Intellect (1 Pet 1:12, angels long to look/ desire to look into how a human preaching the gospel through the power of the Spirit leads to salvation); 2) Emotion (Luke 2:13, a multitude appeared suddenly of angels, praising God!); 3) Will (Jude 6, “and angels, who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day”)
What is their nature? They are spirit beings (Heb 1:14, “are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”)
Reader’s Digest reported how Dr. S. W. Mitchell, a popular neurologist in Philadelphia (in 1970’s), came home and crashed on his bed one night after a long, exhausting day. He heard a knock on the door and answered it, to find a girl poorly dressed who told him her mother was very sick, and begged him to come with her. He was exhausted, and it was cold and snowing outside, but got his coat on and went with her. Upon arriving at the house he found her mother desperately ill with pneumonia, and was able to stabilize her and call for further medical assistance. Before leaving, he complimented the woman on the intelligence and persistence of her daughter. She looked at him strangely, and said, “My daughter died a month ago.” She added, “Her shoes and coat are in that closet.” Dr. Mitchell stood up, perplexed, and went to the closet the mother mentioned, and there hung the very coat worn by the little girl who had brought him to tend to her mother, only it was dry and warm.
Was this an example of an angel assuming the appearance of the woman's daughter, with all the angel was able to observe of that person, so that the mother could be healthy and trust in Christ? It is possible according to Scripture.
Continuing in "who they are," the Bible answers:
Can they reproduce? The Bible tells us they do not reproduce (Mark 12:25, “for when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven”)
They are masculine and in one instance feminine gender (Genesis 18:1–2; Zechariah 5:9 is debated, but probably female angels, two female angelic beings carry the scroll).
They do not die (Luke 20:36, [speaking how cannot marry or be given in marriage in the next life] “for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection”). So they cannot be persons who have passed on from this life to the next. They are distinct from human beings (Psalm 8:4–5, God has made man for a little while lower than the angels). Remember this when in certain Christian circles people like to taunt Satan, a fallen angel, one so powerful Michael the only Archangel would not engage him. James 4 tells us to resist the Devil and he will flee from you. Let God deal with Satan, and us deal with God’s kingdom. For we know that angels have great power (2 Peter 2:11, angels are greater in power and might than we are).

The next question is "How are they organized?"
First, they are innumerable. Hebrews 12:22 tells us, “but you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.” Revelation 5:11 says, at the throne are 10,000 X 10,000. 10,000 x 10,000 = 111,110,000. That's hundreds of millions of angels that are around the throne, or "elect," or good angels, not counting those who fell with Satan (one third). There are many hundreds of millions of angels.
How are they organized? Michael is the only archangel named (Jude 9)
There are Chief princes, and territorial Angels (elect and fallen) over domains. Daniel 10:13, is one of the most insightful passages on angelic warfare. Gabriel explains his journey to arrive and answer Daniel’s prayer, “But the Prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for 21 days, then behold, Michael, one of their chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia”). Michael seems to have a special relationship to Israel (Daniel 12:1).
There are Ruling Angels (Ephesians 3:10, “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”)
There are Guardian Angels (Hebrews 1:14, “are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”). There are angels who watch over adults and children as well. Matthew 18:10 “see that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of my Father who is in heaven”)

Last night when we were coming home from Thanksgiving weekend with family, we were driving on I-20 West, and suddenly a car approached us from the opposite direction in the same lane. I thought at first I saw it wrong, but sure enough it was coming at us 65 mph, as we were heading towards it 65 mph. I flashed my brights and it swerved into the next lane, and thankfully there were two West-bound lanes. We and others called the police and they corrected the driver. We didn't think much of at afterward, and my wife and I laughed, but then we thought of what could have happened. Angels assist God in helping all the time. One of our senior saints told me of how she almost ran into a grain cart on the highway after driving over a hill at 55 mph, and swerved into the oncoming traffic lane to avoid it, and fortunately there were no cars there. She doesn't know how she reacted quickly enough to swerve but it happened--all so fast. Angels are our allies, worshipping who we worship, serving who we serve, and assisting us as God commands to see God's mission of redeeming humanity accomplished, and God getting the glory.
There are Seraphim around God’s throne (Isaiah 6:1–3, Seraphim with six wings flying), and Cherubim, one of whom was placed with flaming sword to guard the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:22–24).
There are the Elect Angels (1 Timothy 5:21, there are elect or chosen angels—those who did not fall, but by Divine Decree were set apart as a remnant just as human beings are elect to be saved for God), and those who fell with Satan, the dragon in Revelation 12:4, “his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to earth.”
(revelation illustrated)
After seeing who angels are and how they are organized, the remaining question is "What do they do as our allies?" They worship who we worship, serve who we serve, and minister to us as believers.
They ministered to Christ, and we receive the blessing of their assistance only as we serve Christ as well. In a sense, we get our AAA rewards for life's roadside assistance (Angel, Angel, Angel) because we are associated with Christ.
For those who do not claim Christ, and are never going to, and are not of the elect, they get no “roadside assistance,” but only directions to the final judgment. The only angels you will see if you don't decide to accept God's mercy in Jesus, but decide instead to pay for your own sin yourself, are the angels pouring out God's judgment at the end. Creation is judged because we were given dominion over it, and our race sinned, and so all creation groans (Romans 8). Why suffer judgment in the end if you can escape it through trusting in Christ, that His death and resurrection pays for everything you owe?
The angels Predicted Christ's birth (Luke 1:26–33), announced it (Luke 2:13), protected the baby (Matthew 2:13), strengthened Christ after temptation (Matthew 4:11), prepared to defend Him (Matthew 26:53), strengthened Him in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43), Rolled away stone from tomb (Matthew 28:2), announced the Resurrection (Matthew 28:6)
Because of our serving Christ, angels also minister to us as followers of Jesus. They have a general ministry of aiding (Hebrews 1:14, “are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”). They Observe Christians’ experiences (1 Corinthians 4:9, “we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men”). 1 Timothy 5:21, our charge to use our gifts are made with angels as witnesses. Those who swore to lead and shepherd God's people, we have made that in the presence of angelic witnesses. It is not to be taken lightly.
They encourage in time of danger (Acts 27:23–24, “For this very night, an angel of the God whom I love and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid Paul, you must stand before Caesar and behold God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.”). They are interested in evangelistic effort of Christians (Luke 15:10 “they rejoice at one sinner coming to repentance!”). In Acts 8—Philip had assistance from APS—Angelic Positioned Satellite, an angel instructed Philip on how to find the Ethiopian Eunuch—south on the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza! Angels care for righteous at death (Luke 16:22—Lazarus the beggar was carried away by angels; Jude 9, the conflict between Michael and Lucifer was over the body of Moses).
Angels are seen praising God in Luke at Jesus' birth, announcing His resurrection after He was crucified for all the sin of those who will believe, and in Revelation 5 they still praise the lamb Who was slain! Are they interested in God's mission or what!
As I said earlier, the sad truth for any who reject following Jesus is that angels will only minister to you with God's judgment. They are messengers of God's judgment (Genesis 19:13, Revelation 14:6–7), inflict punishment (Acts 12:23), and act as reapers in the separation at end of the age (Matthew 13:39).
What should our response be to this posting on angels? If you already know the Lord, be encouraged, and remember these passages that show God has everything taken care of, and protects us and guides us. We don't need to focus on spirit beings, but on the mission of God's heart in reaching the lost people and training the found, and glorifying God. If you don't follow Jesus, start following Him today by confessing your sin and believing in what He did in His death and new life, and you will have new life too. Acts 16:31 says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." As Luke 15 tells us angels rejoice, make them throw a party for you today.

[1] All Scripture here is from the NASB version of the Bible, except for my own translations.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Church in the Church: We Are One, Ephesians 4:1–6, pt 1

Destination. Do you know where you are going? Do you know how to get there? Are you sure you're not taking something for granted on the way? I recently attended a wedding and reception where a key member of the wedding party was an hour late to the reception. It turns out he took for granted that the route from his home to the wedding would be the best route back to the reception near his home. It cost him over an hour of extra driving. That person, unfortunately, was me!

In this blog I've included the topic of "The Church in Marriage," and now want to give attention to "The Church in the Church." Above is a sculpture that shows two hands crossing a great divide to join forces for a common goal. The Church is much more this than any organization on earth, because it is the only God-made organization since He formed the nation Israel.
Sometimes when we try to "do church" and fulfill God's call in our lives, we forget about how we relate to others in the body. We get so focused on the vertical that the horizontal is forgotten. The Ten Commandments are divided evenly between our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationship with others, even though they interact far more than they are divided.
Get this: To God, the way we accomplish His will is as important as doing His will.
Ephesians 4:1–6 says (NIV), "1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
First, in this entry, we will see what to do: live worthy of your calling. Second, in the following entry, we will see how to do it.
The Ephesians had been called to something, and they were instructed to live worthy of it. What is a Christian’s call? This a very important question, because if we are going to live worthy of the call of God on our lives, then we must know what we are trying to live worthy of. Right?
If I had to summarize Ephesians up to this point with one phrase for each chapter, it would look something like this:
Ephesians 1, election, calling for salvation
Ephesians 2, by grace through faith we were (2:10) “created in Christ to do good works.”
Ephesians 3, Paul explains his own role as a responsible called Christian
Ephesians 4, now he urges the Ephesians to do the same—don’t take your election for granted.
v. 1, “live a life worthy of the call you have received,” In other words: Live with gratitude that you did not get what you deserved. What do we deserve? According to the Bible, all mankind deserves death and hell because of our sin (not just sins, but sin itself that is in our DNA). If Jesus had not come and offered Himself for that sin debt, we could look forward to a death far worse than His, and lasting forever. Yet He did, and all who believe in Him and what He has done will be saved from what we deserve. In light of this, we should have gratitude for what He has done. It is this that Paul has in mind when he says to live worthy of what call we have received. For the call was not just to go and do the Lord's work, but it was in conjunction with salvation through faith in Jesus.
Look at the background. Paul wrote this from prison, telling the truth in verse 1, "as a prisoner of the Lord." Why was he a prisoner of the Lord, and not of Rome? He believed that the Lord had called him to that Roman prison and suffering so that people would hear the good news of Jesus. He was right. Acts 9:15–16 describes Paul's call from Ananias, directly from Jesus, "15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” How would you like to have a call like that?
"Yeah, Nate. It's God."
"Yeah, God?"
"I'm going to make you suffer so that people can hear about me."
(dial tone)
You too? Next time we complain about our "lot in life," remember Paul's call. More amazingly, Paul fulfilled his call. Are you fulfilling yours? Driving a car, a job, a house to go home to, family--these are all more than what Paul had and he fulfilled his call. In chapter 3 he ended with a doxology (meaning a praise to God), "20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." If Paul could worship God and fulfill his call with praise while suffering so much, we can worship the Lord with our lives and
In the movie Saving Private Ryan, the captain and his troops all die so that they can send a U.S. Army private named Ryan home to his mother, Ryan being her only remaining son. With his last breath, the dying captain tells Private Ryan, "Earn this." What did he mean? He meant to live a life worthy of the men who sacrificed their lives so he could live. An entire unit of the Army died for one man! Private Ryan is shown as a grandfather with his family at the dead soldiers' graves many decades later. He sobs, kneeling down beside their tombstones, saying how he hopes he has lived a good life. He got it!
How much more should we, as those who God Himself died for, live worthy of the precious Son of God's sacrifice so we could live forever.
Are you living worthy of what Jesus did for you? That’s how we’re supposed to respond. Not floating through life until Jesus comes or we go. Some people have no idea how to be thankful. Sometimes you give someone a card or present and you would think by their response that they were waiting for it! They thought they deserved weekly or daily cards or presents!
We are not saved by good works, but we are saved to do good works.
So, you who are called and saved, are called by God to do something. Live worthily—gratefully!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Church in Marriage, pt 3

Here we come to the Church in marriage part 3. Again, Ephesians 5:21, "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ," is the verse that sets the background for the rest of the chapter and the beginning of chapter 6. Keeping this in mind, and how Paul has already told the wives to apply this towards their own husband in respect to him (v. 33 in mind), we come to the husband's role.
In v. 25–30, Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church Objection: How can you command someone to love? Because it is agape love (agapao), the love that is applied by our intellect and our will, not just our emotions. It is a love that feels, but more so a love that does. It is unconditional. This is the same word for love used in Lk 6:27 “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you," and in v. 25, “as Christ loved the church” past tense. Jesus Christ showed love; He acted. To what extent should a husband imitate Christ by loving his wife? Jesus said, "greater love hath no man than . . .(fill in the blank)" That's right, even give up your life for your wife. THIS IS HOW YOU ARE TO FEEL AND DO TOWARDS THAT WOMAN WHO SHARES YOUR BED AND YOUR CHILDREN. What does it say in verse 25? "and gave himself up for her." Here's an example of how that looks in our capitalist society:

(hopefully you're laughing at this. If not, then . . . yeah)
In 8 yrs counseling as a pastor to adults, every marital problem can be chased to one of two things: 1) a wife is not submitting herself to her husband and respecting him; or 2) the husband is not loving his wife.
Paul spent twice as much ink on a husband’s role of loving his wife, than he did of a wife’s role for loving her husband.
Why?: 1) he has partially explained it already, because it is an outflowing of what all of us are to do: submit to one another. 2) he understood that the most difficult position with the greatest responsibility is the leadership position.
Jesus and all of His disciples except one lost their lives in unnatural, cruel deaths because of their leadership position, and their unconditional commitment to the Lord.
Every time you submit yourself to someone in the body of Christ, you give them tremendous power. Power always tempts us towards sin. Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power!”[1]
Why do some husbands mistreat their wives? Because they can.
But we, Christian men, use that freedom of leading your wife and family spiritually to live an example of unconditional love. Martin Luther said, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”[2] He was hitting the nail on the head.
Unconditional love is hard for men to do; it doesn’t always come naturally. Many men use their friends for their own gain, some prefer not to show any display that would allude to love's existence, and some men have never been shown unconditional love. Some men equate love with sex and physical expressions of love, but that is hardly what Christ displayed for us. The Bible wants husbands to give our wives more than our bodies. God commands us to give up everything for her, in the same way Jesus led by example and gave up everything.
But it’s what your wife needs more than anything else in marriage besides her eternal salvation from the Lord.
The question to ask is not "How much do I need to love my wife." The question to ask is, "How much do I want my wife to respect me and follow my leadership." Show me a man who loves his wife like this, and his wife will become the envy of all women everywhere. No question, she will follow his leadership; she will respect him, and she will grow spiritually.
What does it look like?
5:25 says, “like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
and verse 28 says husbands are to love their wife as, “as their own bodies,” Wow! Another example of the high standard! See Luke 6:31, "Do to others, as you would have them . . . (fill in the blank)" Yep.
Notice at least three stages in which a husband is to follow Jesus' example with his bride. (Are we man enough?):
1. V. 25, sacrifice
2. V. 26, purification
3. V. 27, presentation
From the incarnation of Jesus to the Cross He died on, everything was for saving lost sinners through His sacrifice, purifying a bride fit to be in His presence (free from sin), and eventually we (a.k.a. "the church," "the bride") will be presented to Him.
Then let's zoom out: The marriage is the buildling block of the family; families are the building blocks of a church. Marriages should be so strong in our churches that the world looks and says, “I want what you have.” Joe Aldrich, in his book, Lifestyle Evangelism, tells how important a family and then a church are to our witness: “The two greatest forces in evangelism are a healthy church and a healthy marriage. The two are interdependent.”[3]
Now the application. Zoom back in. How are you doing? Christians overall are not any better nowadays than non-Christians many times. Our divorce rates are climbing (partially because our marriage rates are higher among Christians, but still), our empty nesters are leaving their spouses, and many marriages are struggling quietly.
If you're reading this and saying to yourself, "If my wife would respect me, I would love her," you're not thinking of the respect Jesus received while on earth, yet he loved anyway. If you're a wife reading this and thinking, "I'll start respecting him the day he has a heart and shows me more than a dozen roses to apologize or get physical," then you too are not thinking about how Jesus submitted Himself to His Father's will, knowing it would cost Him everything, and in the end He is the Name above all names. Husbands focus on your part, and wives on yours.
The application is not "you first!" no "you first!" no "you first!" no "you first!" Someone has to start the healthy cycle up. You, whoever you are, if you are redeemed and a follower of Jesus--you do your part and trust God to work in your partner's heart.
So the proper application is this: Don’t wait for the other person and keep score. Willingly submit yourself to God's word whether a husband or a wife, no matter what the other person is doing.
There is exception in the case of abuse, but if two rational, "normal" people are in mind, just do your part and watch God work.
What if I'm reading this and thinking "Nate, you're full of it. I don't understand how you can be so out-dated and ask people to do this stuff." Not me. I'm communicating what the Bible says. (we don't know the "why," but we do know the "what," see part 2).
For you who do not follow the teachings of Jesus, submission begins with submitting yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ and believing in Him for salvation. Follow Jesus and trust that His act of love for the church was for you too, dying on the cross and rising again. Then, trust Him again with your marriage.
One parting thought: Both roles of a husband and of a wife go outside our comfort zones, but they are how God has designed our marriages to work. Growth always involves the "C" word--change. It involves self-sacrifice. James Calvert, missionary in the 1800s to the cannibals of Fiji, was traveling to Fiji when the captain of the sailing vessel tried to dissuade him from continuing, “you will risk your life and all those who are with you if you go amongst such savages.” Calvert replied in a statement worth memorizing, “We died before we came here.”[4] Incidentally, Calvert had enormous success in seeing many people come to faith in Christ in Fiji, and continued to help them with building their government.
Galatians 2:20 tells us, "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me," (The NET Bible). We died already with Christ! Now let's follow Jesus!

[1] John C. Maxwell, Leadership 101: Inspirational Quotes & Insights for Leaders, (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books), 149.

[2] George Sweeting, Who Said That?, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 412.

[3] Joe Aldrich, Lifestyle Evangelism, (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1993), 20.

[4] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations, ([digital copy]: Bible Communications, 1979), s.v. “sacrifice.”