In recent years there’s been an extraordinary fascination with angels and an accompanying flood of speculative books (some even demonic) and commercial products, sort of an “angel mania”. The culture, and even many in the church, often sentimentalize and trivialize angels reducing them to amulets, charms and trinkets. Far from the chubby-faced childlike figures often pictured in popular art, Scripture describes angels as fearsome, powerful and even terrifying creatures, nothing like Christmas card material. Fear is often the word used when angels show up. C. S. Lewis once observed, “In Scripture the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it has to begin by saying "Fear not." The Victorian [modern] angel looks as if it were going to say, "There, there."
The Bible tells us God created angels as spirit, personal, moral beings who serve as his messengers and executors of his providence in behalf of believers (Heb. 1:14). They occupy the universe and mingle among us. Scripture even says "Some have entertained angels unawares." (Hebrews 13:2).
Angels are an inextricable part of the New Testament. Jesus referred to them often (e.g., Matt. 18:10; 22:30; 24:31; 26:53). They appeared to the Virgin Mary and then appeared to Joseph instructing him to take Mary as his wife and to name her baby Jesus (Matthew 1:20-21.) They announced the birth of Christ (Luke 2:8-14). They told the shepherds where to find the Christ child (Luke 2:8-12). They came to Jesus at his temptation and ministered to him after He had fasted for forty days (Matt. 4:11). They were at Christ's tomb where they announced His resurrection (Matt. 28:2-7). They freed Peter and John from jail (Acts 5:19). They gather the elect from the four corners of the world (Matt. 24:31).
Remarkable accounts of these glorious and imposing creatures also occur throughout the Old Testament. In 1 Kings 6:14-17 we read how God sent his angels to protect Elijah and his servant who were under attack by their enemies. “When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. ‘Oh, my lord, what shall we do?’ the servant asked. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
Billy Graham in his book on angels tells about a remarkably similar account in more recent times. The Reverend John G. Paton, a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands, recounted a thrilling story involving the protective care of angels. Hostile natives surrounded Paton’s mission headquarters one night, intent on burning the Patons out and killing them. John Paton and his wife prayed all during that terror filled night that God would deliver them. When daylight came they were amazed to see the attackers unaccountably leave. They thanked God for delivering them.
A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Jesus Christ, and Mr. Paton, remembering what had happened, asked the chief what had kept him and his men from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, "Who were all those men you had with you there?" The missionary answered, "There were no men there; just my wife and I." The chief argued that they had seen many men standing guard-hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands. They seemed to circle the mission station so that the natives were afraid to attack. Only then did Mr. Paton realize that God had sent his angels to protect them. The chief agreed that there was no other explanation than God had sent a legion of angels to protect his servants, whose lives were being endangered.
Joan Anderson in her book Where Angels Walk tells of Susie Ware, the penniless wife of a pastor and evangelist in Switzerland in 1941, who prayed, "God, I need five pounds of potatoes, two pounds of pastry flour, apples, pears, a cauliflower, carrots, veal cutlets for Saturday, and beef for Sunday." A few hours later, there was a knock at the door, and a young man carrying a basket, said, "Mrs. Ware, I am bringing what you asked for." It was precisely what she'd prayed for--down to the exact brand of pastry flour she wanted. The young man slipped away, and even though Rev. and Mrs. Ware watched at the window to their building, the man never exited. He just disappeared. Stories like this are told throughout the world; maybe you even have such an encounter experience.
Angels do God’s bidding in ways we don't fully see or understand. They issue a steady backdrop of praise and worship throughout the entire universe. They are a massive army of warriors who appeared to Ezekiel as great 'beasts,' 'living creatures,' flying serpents burning with flames, carrying the chariot of God. They laid Isaiah low in the temple and filled the temple with glory. They shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel was thrown into their den. And they surrounded Elijah and John Paton as defenders and protectors of the elect and come as “grim reaper” to destroy the enemies of God.
A Final Thought: Angels never die. They’ve observed us since the Garden of Eden. They’re smarter than humans. Yet 1 Peter 1:12 says the angels always long to understand the incomparable riches of the gospel. They never tire to plumb its depths for the gospel is ever new, never boring. So why do we tire of the Good News or take it for granted? May we be Gospel-shaped men who incarnate the gospel in our thoughts, words, deeds and the motivations of our hearts to the culture and through our ministries.