In Acts the apostle Peter is arrested with the intention of putting him on public trial after Passover. But God has different ideas and sends an angel to rescue Peter from this coming humiliation (Acts 12:1-10). In the next verse Peter marvels at how “the Lord has sent his angel“ (NIV, emphasis mine) to rescue him. However, turning to the last book of the Bible one learns that although the appearance of a single angel on Earth may be something to be revered, this does not really diminish the angelic population of Heaven:
“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand” (Rev 5:11).
Numerous appearances of these angels are recorded in both the Old and New Testaments. Whether they appear singly, in pairs, or in groups (e.g. Gen. 16:7; 19:1; Ex. 14:19; Num. 22:22-27; Judges 6:12, 22; 1 Kings 19:7; 2 Kings 1:3; 6:17; 19:35; Dan. 6:22; Matt 28:2; Luke 1:11; 2:9; 22:43; Acts 5:19; 8:26), we are left in no doubt that angels are sent from Heaven to help God’s faithful escape from inescapable situations. Sometimes, as in the passage quoted above, they feature in visions (Gen. 28:12; Zech. 1:11; Matt. 2:13; Acts 10:3; Rev 1-21). Jesus even promises Nathaniel that he will one day see them (John 1:50-51).
I know that there are numerous apocryphal and non-biblical sources to which I could refer (e.g. Tobit 12), but here I would just like to refer once again to Stephen Seal’s novel The Harrowing of Hell. This is a story of epic proportions about liberating those who can accept Christ’s love from ‘prison’. Here the angelic armies are involved right from the start, and their important role in God’s redemptive plan means that they are a part of the action right to the end.
Today is a ‘feast’ day dedicated to Michael and All Angels and it has been fascinating to review what the Bible has to say about them. It’s highlighted for me that angels did not just deliver the prophecy of Jesus’ birth (Matt 1:20; Luke 1:26-38; cf. Judges 13:3), but also that they are, indeed, part of Heaven and of divine providence. However, BEWARE:
“…Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).
“After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings” (Acts 24:17 NIV, emphasis mine)
My friends, the poor will always be with us (Mark 14:7; John 12:8). Even for those who doubt the Bible, who deny the existence of poverty throughout history, and who can imagine a future world in which poverty has been eradicated: do not doubt the evidence of the present. Christ came to “proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18; cf. Matt 5:3; 11:5; Mark 10:21; Luke 6:20; 14:13; 19:8). To me, the passage quoted above suggests that we must remember the poor (cf. Luke 11:41), and that alongside our offerings to God we must also give to the poor. Because of the inequality of earthly social and political systems the poor live a life which could so easily lead to stealing (Prov. 7:9), and so many other sins that each of us can no doubt think of.
The poor have most likely been sinned against; this is no excuse for encouraging and allowing them to sin!
“Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:7-9 NIV)
Christ loves each one of us, and our commitment to Him means turning away from the vanities of the world. God’s daily provision should be enough for us to not fall back into the grip of sin. For if we do go back we quickly return to our sinful acts (presented here as stealing and the denial of God) which, piling up, lead us further and further from the presence of the Triune God.
If this has happened to you and you are ashamed of having been led astray, just call out to God. Christ’s limitless love can easily traverse the distance and enable you to follow Him once again.
‘What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’ (Acts 23:9 NIV)
So asked the Pharisees about one of their own number whom they felt had overstepped the mark. From 7:58 onwards we read that Paul (then called Saul) not only “approved” of the killing of Stephen but also sought permission to remove Christians from the synagogues in Damascus. Whilst travelling to Damascus he experienced an extraordinary vision of Christ; one so powerful in fact that Paul was left blinded. A few days later his sight was miraculously returned by the power of the Holy Spirit working through Ananias (9:3-8, 11-19).
No doubt many others asked the same question as the Pharisees when trying to account for Paul’s far-reaching and fearless evangelical ministry. No doubt God protected Paul and Paul trusted in God’s providence. I am a bit lost for words at this point, and will simply provide a video of the song that the quotation given above reminded me of:
“Haughty eyes and a proud heart – the unploughed field of the wicked – produce sin” (Proverbs 21:4 NIV)
There is an ancient prayer called Veni Creator Spiritus. I love this, and will often say the modern(ish) English version (Come, Holy Spirit). Another version I also find fascinating is that written by the Anglican priest Francis Gerald Downing. Of particular importance here is the following verse:
“Disrupt and right our unjust ways
with the abrasion of your grace,
while we’re your foes let no rest come
till to Christ’s love you’ve brought us home”
It is the Holy Spirit working within us Who ‘ploughs our field’, Who scraps away our misplaced and damaging superiority so that we can share with our loving Christian family on an equal level. Though sin will still seek us out, it will not have a tight hold on us as it once did, and by the leading of the Holy Spirit we know that “the wages of sin” (Rom. 6:23) can be prayed away, and that hope, faith and – most importantly – love (1 Cor. 13:13) will lead us home.
“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:15-16 NIV)
Your faith is a lighted lamp. If the light seems to disappear after Sunday worship, it is because you have allowed the cares of the world to build up and hide the lamp. But as you remain still and pray that the Holy Spirit will unearth that lamp, you will discover that its light has not been extinguished as you once thought. With the joy of this discovery and the hope that it’s light reveals, you are able to go forward in faith, holding the lamp, with your regrets disappearing into the darkness behind.
In writing this blog, I owe a debt of gratitude to paulbalius and his influencial article “New Seasons“.
“Do not say to your neighbour, ‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’ – when you already have it with you” (Proverbs 3:28 NIV)
What if today Christ knocked on your door in the guise of your neighbour? Would you honestly turn Him away saying “come back tomorrow”? Whether Christ Himself or just some lost soul, what would be the point in withholdolding the “good” (v. 27), the Word of God? Maybe you can think of a number of reasons, but when compared to the glories of Heaven and the salvation YOU have been given in Christ, these ‘reasons’ just become lame excuses and chaff to be blown around by the wind.