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Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Worship of Angels

I went to an old-time hymn sing last week.

It’s not that I prefer the old hymns. I’m just as much a fan of new choruses as the next guy … provided they’re theologically sound, of course. And singable: there’s no point in trying to sing something that’s lame musically. But if it’s all coming together, I don’t much care how new or old the tune is. If the words are good, and the tune is great for congregational singing, I say let’s go.

The whole service was quite nice, really.

Broken Thoughts

This one wasn’t just a hymn sing. At the end, we had the Breaking of Bread together. That service of commemoration appointed to us by the Lord himself, on the night we betrayed him.

And you look at that: it makes you wonder why he took the bread and broke it in his hands. Then he said, “This is my body broken for you”. As he tore it, he knew full well how very shortly his flesh would be torn apart. And as he took the cup, and saw its rich redness, he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood”. He knew that shortly they’d be spilling that blood on the ground.

He lifted up his eyes, and he passed it to his beloved ones, frail and failing as they were, and though they would all shortly abandon him and flee, and he said, “Take, eat …” And joy filled his heart to know what his sacrifice was shortly going to buy, and how that one sacrifice was going to sustain them forever.

But you know, the more I think about that, the less I get it. The crucifixion was really, really awful. And to feel abandonment by God himself … how could saving me be some kind of payoff for what he had to do?

Really, he just didn’t have to do it. And one of the old hymns even reminds us just how easy it would have been for him not to have done it at all. Remember? We sing, “He could have called ten thousand angels / To destroy the world, and set him free”.

Well, he didn’t actually say that.

He said he could have called “more than twelve legions of angels”.

Legions

What does that mean? Well, historians of Rome tell us that a full legion was 6,000 men. But at the time of Christ, an Augustinian legion was apparently considered complete at just over 5,000 men. So let’s take the conservative estimate.

That’s over 60,000 angels.

Not Your Candle-Store Angel

And angels aren’t just fluffy little cherubs, children with wings, you know. They’re warriors. They come to do serious business. So get this: if you’re on the wrong side, angels are bad, bad news.

Back in Luke 2, the shepherds on the hillside saw the heavenly host arriving, and just about died of fright. And no wonder. Those angels were in full martial mode … there to make quite sure the will of God was going to be done. Those shepherds were “terribly frightened”, Luke tells us; and no wonder, for surely they thought the world was about to end. What other explanation could there be for the entire army of God to be suspended in the air above their heads?

So much for the idea of sparkly candle-store angels with their chubby cheeks and tiny wings. Trust me: you don’t want to meet an angel. The news might not be good.

Damage Estimates

Alright, then: the Lord could have called twelve legions of them. If he had, what kind of damage do you suppose they could have done?

Well, we can figure that out by looking at the Word of God:
It’s not their power, of course: they are merely conveyers of the will and power of God. But it doesn’t take many to do a whole lot of damage, does it?

Now, I wonder what kind of damage 60,000 of them could do?

The Lord could have called that many to prevent his death. They could have done that. Easily. What scruffy gang of temple security guards, or even of elite soldiers of the Roman force could have stood for a second against such an onslaught? It would have been a massacre. Not a finger would have been lifted before they were all dead, dead, dead.

Now that’s impressive.

What Angels Cannot Do

But there are a few things that angels, in spite of all their power and glory, simply cannot do.

Angels do listen to and convey the very words of God. They go here and there at the very hearing of the command of his lips. But as close as they are to the Source, they cannot really understand the message of what God has done for mankind. Salvation is to them a great mystery. Now, they do long to understand, but they just can’t really get it. They cannot really know God in the way that those mere mortals who have entered into salvation know him.

Not only that, but angels, for all their power and greatness, could never have saved us. They are good in themselves, but they had no ability to turn aside the wrath of a holy God. In themselves, they simply had insufficient merit with which to redeem mankind. As virtuous as they may be, they could never buy back the lost.

Still, they stare in wonderment at the greatness of the work of Christ. And they look at the regeneration of humanity under his hand, and through watching us and serving in God’s interest in human affairs they learn vicariously that which they cannot by themselves come to know. For they do not know what it means to say, “God is my help; whom shall I fear?”

What else can they not do? They can never separate us from the love of Christ. For all their power, they don’t have enough to do that. Nothing ever does.

What more? Angels, however holy they may be, however faithful in their commission, however triumphant in the execution of their roles, can never merit the honour and glory of the Son of God. Though they are created by the very hand of the Father himself, he does not call them his beloved sons. To none of them does he say, “Your work is done; sit here while I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”. To none of them does he say, “Let all the angels of God worship him”.

No angel in the heavens is like Christ. No being in the universe can come within a billion miles of his inestimable value.

Conclusion

And it was this One who laid his life down for us. But he didn’t have to do it.

He could have called 60,000 angels.

He didn’t. For even they could not do what he was going to do.

So let’s be grateful, and remember to worship him today. If the angels do, we certainly owe it to him too.

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