As I continued to look into the Scripture, I noticed that angels’ wings were fluttering all around the first few chapters of Matthew and all through the narratives of the conception and early childhood of Jesus. And I wondered what this might have to add to the truth that I discovered about Jesus being declared as our deliverer from the very start.
The root word for Angel is messenger. Angels are simply messengers of God if you go simply by their name. And this truth is both helpful, and somewhat deceiving if you just stop there.
One of the books I utterly hated when I went to a Christian college was a series of novels with all sorts of angels and demons called THIS PRESENT DARKNESS. From the moment it came out, everyone seemed to be seeing angels and demons in everything. If something went bad in their life, it was because of demons. If they narrowly avoided car accidents, it was because a host of angels protected the vehicle. I remember a friend invoking angelic protection as we were about to drive from Sterling, KS to Lawrence in a small hatchback in the middle of a blizzard. I kept wondering why God did not advance the angels ahead of time to give him a vision to get snow tires for the death trap we called his vehicle. Providentially, we made our journey safely.
There is a lot of angelology and demonology that is based on extra-biblical philosophy and experience. But much of these stories reflected a truth I often ignore, and that I rediscovered in preparing for this sermon.
You see I did a little study on angels through the Bible and biblical history. And one thing you notice right away about the angels in scripture is that they are always in the middle of a cosmic battle. Read Daniel and Revelation. Look at what is implied in the passage on spiritual warfare in what Paul said to the Ephesian church.
As we look at this passage, we see right away that there is a power struggle happening. From the beginning, Jesus is under attack. From the beginning, Jesus is in the middle of a battle.
This should not have surprised me, because deliverers often are engaged in a great struggle or battle in order to deliver those in bondage. But it was a surprise nonetheless.
As a young Christian, I used to think that when I became more mature and knowlegable in my faith, that somehow following Jesus would become easier. That it would go from being a daily battle to second nature.
I have since come to agree with renowned Christian leaders like CS Lewis and Thomas a Kempis who say the opposite. The more I grow in my faith, the more it is a battle to continue to strive to be faithful. With increase in faith, I also find increase in temptation. The more I seem to press forward in my journey of faith, the more acute the attacks of the enemy seem to be at the same time. And the more attractive running away from everything I have built my life on seems to be. Because even though I am called into the battle of faith, a lot of times it seems easier to be a coward.
One of my favorite modern Christian leaders, Eugene Peterson, puts it this way. He says that there is no place in the universe that is not contested ground. Each and every moment is a battle. Each and every decision has not only personal but cosmic importance.
At the risk of being overly direct and transparent, or sounding weak or complaining, I feel compelled to share something with you. My experience in ministry has felt like a battle. There is not a year that I have not struggled with the fear that all of my efforts have not made a bit of difference. There has not been a year in over 11 years of ministry where I have not been ambushed by an unexpected attack. I have been lied about and lied to. I have been picked at and picked apart. I have been criticized about everything from my svelt physical appearance and my choice of footwear to how peppy or somber I am to the fact that I am not married. And everything in between. Sometimes these difficult experiences that feel like attacks are used by God’s grace to allow him to work victory in my life and my ministry. Other times they can be classified as nothing more than spiritual attack in my mind. Either way, I guess I see part of being called to ministry and to follow Jesus is a call to be a good soldier in the spiritual battlefield I am assigned to.
It’s interesting. In continuing in the struggle, at least in my ministry and spiritual journey, I have over and over seen the grace of reconciliation and forgiveness at work. Through persisting in love and hope I have seen students who were dead set on doing everything they could to see me fired by my church (and some have made valiant efforts) become friends, supportive youth leaders as they got older. In fact, one such student now meets with a mutual friend and prays for me and my family specifically on a weekly basis. The same has happened with parents, church leaders, peers in ministry, and even leaders in the community. And this is no surprise to us. The thing is, I don’t get deserve any credit for this. My deliverer does. Because his invasion into this world is about this kind of thing. This is because even though Christ comes as our deliverer, and joins into spiritual battle along side us to deliver us, he is a different kind of leader than the leaders of this world. And he fights a different kind of battle than we expect.