Got Questions: What's the Deal with Angels?

Scripture:  Psalm 8

            I do not know if it is scientific or not, but I think that there must be some sort of collecting gene.   This is different than hoarding, because I can throw stuff away.  However, if I set my mind on getting something.  I have to get all of it.  This is genetic too.  My dad has dozens of bowling balls.  My sister has close to 1,000 DVds.   A good example of this  for me might be my favorite game, Federation Commander. I have everything that has been printed for that game.  Which is a ridiculous amount of stuff.   My wife does not think that I could ever play with those components in a lifetime. . .challenge accepted.    I am not the only person who feels this way.  You probably know at least one person who has mentioned the newest hot video game, Pokemon Go.   For almost 20 years the appeal of Pokemon has been “gotta catch them all.”   Given that, I understand where Joyce Berg is coming from, even if I do not understand the appeal of her collection.  Joyce Berg has the largest collection of angel figurines and statues in the world.  She has nearly 14,000 angels in her collection.   In order to have a place to store this vast collection she opened up the Angel Museum in Wisconsin where her vast collection is on display for all to see.   She clearly is not the only one with this interest.   Many of you are probably familiar with the Willow Tree angels.   In 2011, it was reported that the company sells 4.6 million of those figures a month!   There are a lot of people with an interest in angels, especially in the United States.  Of all first world countries, the United States leads the world in the belief of angels.   Approximately 77% of Americans believe in angels, which is kind of odd because only 74% of Americans profess a belief in God.  This is in part because the studies found a bit of inconsistency where there were several people who did not believe in God, yet believed they had a guardian angel.   As we continue this month, each week we are considering a question that one of you asked.   This week, one of you asked, “What about angels?   Let’s talk a little about angels.”   Ok.   We should talk a little about angels, because angels are absolutely biblical.   However, they are also absolutely misunderstood today.   By looking at what the bible says about angels we can come to a bit better understanding of these spiritual beings.  

            Angels are spiritual beings, and as such we cannot fully understand what is going on with them.   Angels are mentioned in 34 different books in the bible, so to track down all of the references we can begin to get a bit of a picture of angels.  The bible does tell us what angels look like.  There are two named types of angels in the bible cherubim and Seraphim.  These look nothing like the haloed, small children or beautiful men with long hair we tend to see in popular angel pictures.  The cherubim for instance is described in Isaiah as having four wings, four heads, and being covered in eyes.   There are other passages though where angels are described as looking like people.    From the bible we know that angels are created by God to serve God.  Psalm 103:20 refers to angels as mighty ones who do God’s bidding.  The world translated as angel from both the New Testament Greek and the Old Testament Hebrew means messenger.   Very often in the Bible this is exactly what the angels are doing.   Angels brought messages from God to the Judges and angels communicated God’s will to the prophets.  Perhaps we are most familiar with the messages of angels from the stories of Christ birth.  It was an angel that brought the news to Mary, an angel who spoke with Joseph in a dream, and a whole host of angels that announced the good news to the shepherds.  

            Angels are mentioned often in the bible, but it is somewhat frustrating in how they are mentioned.  It is always in passing.   Unfortunately, we do not have a spot in the gospels where someone asked Jesus, “so what’s up with angels?” and then we get a lot of explanation.  The closest we get to this is in Hebrews, where the author quotes a lot of old testament scripture to establish that even though angels are spiritual, powerful beings, humans are more important in the created order because they are adopted by and in relationship with God.  Angels are mentioned in the bible often, but much about them is open to interpretation.   For instance, the book of Revelation begins with seven letters to seven churches.   Each letter begins with to the angel of so and so church write.    There are some who interpret that to mean that each church has an angel that is over it, but it could also be interpreted that the angel mentioned was just to be the messenger to that church.  In the same way, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the beggar.   In this story Jesus states in Luke 16:22, “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham.”   Is Jesus making a theological statement about what happens upon death?  When we die do angels come and bring us to where we are going?   Or is Jesus simply making poetic statements to create a good narrative for the story?   If someone was so inclined they could make very strong arguments for either one of those interpretations.    Like much of the scripture, what the bible says about angels is open to some level of interpretation.  I suppose eventually each and every one of us will know if angels meet us when we die or not.  Because angels are spiritual beings there is a lot we just cannot truly know in our earthly life.   Overall when it comes to angels there are two big beliefs.  One is flat out wrong and has no scriptural support, whereas the other one, while not explicit does at least have a scriptural basis.  

            Perhaps the most common belief about angels is that idea that everyone has a guardian angel.   Remember, this idea is so popular that there are people who doubt the existence of God but absolutely believe they have a guardian angel.   The Bible does mention how angels guard and protect us.   Psalm 34:7 states, “The angel of the lord encamps around those who fear him.  And he delivers them.”   This theme is continued in Psalm 91:9-12: “If you say, ‘The LORD is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”    The bible does mention that angels can and will protect us, but that is not the same thing as a guardian angel.  Nowhere in the scripture is it explicitly stated that everyone has a guardian angel assigned to watch out for them.   Angels protect us, but do we have a personal guardian angel?   I have no idea.   I do think there can be some danger in believing we do though.   Perhaps you have had this experience as well, but I have had people tell me their stories of when they believe an angel has protected them, guarded them, or helped them in some way.   Often in these stories, the person will express their gratitude to their guardian angel.   Because the bible states it, I affirm that angels all involved in the world protecting people.  However, they do so as God commands.  It is absolutely possible that God uses angels to carry out God’s will in our world in ways we do not see or understand.   When that happens it is still at the will, the direction, and by the mighty power of God.   That means it is God who should be thanked, God who should be glorified, and God who should be praised.  The potential problem with getting hung up on the idea of having a guardian angel is that it puts the emphasis on the angel not on the God the angel serves.   In the end, I suppose it does not matter if we have a personal guardian angel or not.  It does not matter if it is one or a whole host, we can take comfort in the fact that if we “the LORD is my refuge, then the Lord is our refuge.  Our trust can be in God to be there for us, and we can have confidence that in order for God to lead us, guide us, and even guard us that God has angels at his disposal.    

            The second most common belief about angels is where they come from.  After someone dies it is not uncommon to hear someone express the sentiment that “heaven gained another angel.”   Often this sentiment is just that, it is a nice way of saying that a good person is now in God’s heavenly kingdom.   However, every now and then I have encountered someone who literally believes this statement.   They believe that when someone dies they become an angel.   This is quite simply a myth.   This concept is nowhere in the bible, and in fact it explicitly goes against what the bible states.    In Psalm 8, which we read this morning, David wrote in verse 5 that God made people “a little lower than angels and crowned them with glory and honor.”   Angels are part of God’s creation just like people.   Angels are not the spiritual evolution of humans, they are a different classification of creation.  The point that David is making in the Psalm is that even though angels might be more powerful and more majestic than us, it is people that God has crowned with glory and honor.   It is people, that God created explicitly to be in a loving relationship with.   People do not become angels because God did not make us to be angels.  God made us to be in the very image of God,  God made us as an expression of God’s great love to be in relationship with God.   Angels might God’s messengers, they might be God’s army, and they might be spiritual beings of incredible power.   However, that pales in comparison to the fact that we are, through the mighty works of Jesus Christ, God’s children.  We are adopted into God’s family and heirs to God’s mighty kingdom.   If someone died as a follower of Christ then to say they are now an angel, is to sell them short!   If you believe that your sins are forgiven through the mighty acts of Jesus, then you are God’s beloved and that is exactly what you were created to be.   We are no angels.   But we are God’s people, a royal priesthood of believers, who are empowered by the very spirit of God.  

            Despite being different than angels, we do have one very powerful thing in common with them.   Revelation 5:11-13 records this heavenly scene:  “Then I looked and heared the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and then thousand times ten thousand.  They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  In a loud voice they were saying:  “Worthy is the lamb who was slain, toreceive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!  Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them saying: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lam be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever.”  Angels are God’s messengers but they still worship the living God.   We are God’s children and we worship the living God.  So “What about angels?”    May we keep them in perspective.  Angels do exist and God uses angels to accomplish God’s purposes in the world.    However, may our focus never be on the created but may it stay fixed upon the created.   May we care less about looking for signs of angels in the world and care more about serving God in the world.   Ultimately, may our hearts and souls join with the angels as we proclaim that God and the lamb are worthy of all praise, glory, honor, and power forever and ever and ever.  Amen.