ANGELS OF THE LORD: GOD'S SPECIAL ASSISTANTS
LUKE 1:8-20, 26-28
Our generation has suddenly become aware of angels. You can find several very popular books
in the bookstores that deal with the subject of angels. They should be read with a certain
amount of caution. The only authoritative book ever written on angels is called the Holy Bible.
Many of the current books that deal with angels do so from a New Age perspective. Much of
what they present concerning angels would be in conflict with what is found in the Holy Bible.
Like so many spiritual realities angels are never dealt with analytically in the Bible. Rather we
are given references to their deeds and their appearances from time to time. When we put
together all of these references and analyze them, we have all that we need to know about these
special assistants of God.
Since you cannot have a Christmas pageant without angels, why not begin with the Christmas
Story. They played such a prominent part in the events that surrounded the birth of the Lord Jesus
that you will have to have at least one angel in your Christmas presentation. The first
appearance of an angel in connection with the Christmas event was that of Gabriel. Of the
many angels that serve under the purpose of God we know the name of only two - Gabriel and
Michael. Gabriel makes his first appearance in the temple at Jerusalem while Zechariah, the priest, is burning
incense on the altar of incense. This was a daily responsibility of the priest of
the day. In the morning he would go into the Holy Place and would sprinkle some incense on
the burning coals on the golden altar. As the incense burned a fragrant smoke would ascend
toward heaven. This fragrant smoke symbolized the prayers and the worship of the people
ascending toward God. After he had sprinkled the incense on the altar, the priest
would bow on his knees and offer a prayer for the redemption if the nation. His prayer would
usually focus on the coming of the promised Messiah. When Zechariah had finished his routine he turned and saw
this angelic being standing on the right side of the golden altar. It was a frightening experience for him. Even
though he was an elderly man he had never seen an angel before. The conversation between Gabriel and
Zechariah is recorded for us. From this appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah and his later appearance in Nazareth
to Mary we can learn some of the basic things about these special assistants of the Lord. I want us to use these
scriptures today to review in our minds some of the things that are taught in scripture concerning the angels.
I. ANGELS ARE SPIRITUAL BEINGS.
By spiritual beings we do not mean that they are like ghost. Rather we mean that they are beings that were created
by God primarily for heaven itself. Their form of existence is ideally suited for the heavenly realm. They do not
ordinarily have material bodies like we humans have. God Himself created them with this special form of existence
to carry out His redemptive purposes.
1. They can take on a physical form whenever it is needed.
When Zechariah turned and saw Gabriel standing there, evidently Gabriel had a material form. Zechariah was able
to see him. He was not one of these ghost like characters we see portrayed in movies where a person is able to
see through the image. Rather he probably looked to Zechariah like another human standing there by the altar.
On some occasions the materialization of the angel has been so human like that the person conversing with the
angel never knew that they were conversing with an angel. As the writer of Hebrews said, "They entertain angels
unaware." They were never aware that the person they were talking to was actually a spiritual being and not just
another human being.
2. They can actually communicate with us even in our dreams.
When the angel came to Joseph, the husband to be of Mary, to share with her the significance of Mary's
pregnancy, he actually communicated with Joseph in his dreams. Matthew gives us the report of this in the first
chapter of his gospel. So since they are spiritual beings, they have the capacity to even penetrate in to the
consciousness of a sleeping human to communicate the message of God.
3. They can appear or disappear without warning.
Evidently Gabriel appears both to Zechariah and to Mary without any warning. He did not walk through the temple
and take his position on the right sign of the altar of the incense; rather he suddenly just appeared on the right side
of the altar. He did not want walk out of the temple, but rather when his conversation with Zechariah was finished,
he just disappeared. His being a spiritual person enabled him to move evidently with the speed of thought. He can
appear and disappear at his will.
This is obviously important for the ministry that God has designed for angels. If their natural habitation is heaven,
and they just travel at the speed of light, can you imagine how long it would take an angel to move from heaven to
earth? Grant it we do not know where heaven is, but we have been able to determine the number of years that it
takes a ray of light to reach earth from some of the stars that we have been able to identify. Angels as spiritual
beings are not limited to travel at the speed of light, but rather as spiritual beings, they can move at the speed of
thought. When God gives them a word in heaven that requires a mission to the earth,
II. ANGELS ARE HOLY BEINGS.
There are two things in Luke's report of the appearance of this first Christmas angel that lets us know the character
of the angel.
1. His position at the right side of the altar.
This was one of the things that startled Zechariah. He was not only surprised to see the angel, but he was
surprised to see him standing where he stood. Luke says, "Standing at the right side of the altar of incense."
Zechariah himself had entered the holy place to burn incense upon this altar with a profound sense of reverence.
He knew the historical record of how others had died in this holy place because they had acted irreverently. He
remembered the words of David that if you are going to stand in the holy place that you must have "clean hands
and a pure heart." He himself had gone through a careful ritual to cleanse himself so that he would not defile the
holy place when he burned the incense. But here stands Gabriel at the right hand of the altar as though he
belonged there. Only a holy person would dare to stand in such a holy place. It was obvious to Zechariah that he
was conversing with a holy one.
"Holy one" is one of the ways angels are referred to in scripture. They are holy not only because of their purity but
also because they are totally available to God. They exist only to do the will of the heavenly Father.
2. He stood in the presence of God.
When Zechariah questioned the angel, the angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and
have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news." This is no small claim on the part of Gabriel. He is
claiming that his ordinary assignment is to stand in the presence of Holy God. He stands there in readiness to do
the biddings of the enthroned God. This must have sent a tremor through the soul of Zechariah.
There is not a human on the earth who could so stand in the presence of God. It will require a tremendous work of
God to prepare any one of us to so stand in the presence of God as the angels stand. Only those who are
completely holy can ever so stand in His presence. These angelic beings may cover their faces when they stand in
His presence, like the seraph in the day of Isaiah, but they are in His presence. They are holy beings.
III. ANGELS ARE FAITHFUL MESSENGERS.
This is the basic meaning of the word angel. Angel means messenger. The word is used sometimes of human
beings who become a messenger for another person. God created this company of holy beings who could be His
messengers. They carry out other assignments, but their most basic assignment is to serve as a messenger for
1. Whenever an angel appears, he has been sent.
Look at the language that Luke uses in describing what happened that day. Gabriel's explanation as recorded by
Luke says, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this
good news." Later in his report Luke says, "In the sixth month, God sent an angel, Gabriel, to Nazareth, a town in
Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendent of David. The virgin's name was
Mary. The angel went to her and said." Gabriel did not make his appearance in the temple at Jerusalem to
Zechariah at his initiative. He was there on that day at that time because he had been sent. He did not appear to
Mary in Nazareth at his own initiative, rather he appeared in Nazareth on that day at that time because he had been
sent. Angels are not moving around the universe looking for some human being with which they can communicate,
rather they carry messages only when they are sent by the sovereign Creator, the enthroned God.
Much of the new age presentation of angels would leave the impression that they are moving around in a spiritual
realm just waiting for some human to reach out and make contact with them. There is not even a hint of this in the
Holy Scriptures. Every time an angel appears on the scene in the scriptures, he has been sent.
2. Whenever he appears, he has a word from God.
The angel made his appearance in the temple at Jerusalem because he had a word from God for Zechariah. In
the case of Zechariah it was a word of good news. The angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer
has been heard." Later Gabriel would say to him, "I have been sent to speak to you this good news." What prayer
of Zechariah had been answered? Your first impression may be that it was his prayer for a son, an heir. It may well
have been however that it was the prayer that he had just prayed for the nation that had been answered. I doubt
that the old man was in that moment praying for a son. The good news was that God was getting ready to send the
Messiah and in the preparation for the coming of the Messiah, Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son. Their
son would have the privilege of being the forerunner of the Messiah. The greater good news that came to
Zechariah that day was not that he was going to be a father and Elizabeth was going to be a mother, but rather that
the time had come for God to bring redemption for His people. The good news was it is time for the Messiah to
Never did an angel from heaven bear better to news to earth than the message carried by Gabriel to Zechariah and
to Mary. When Mary saw Gabriel the angel said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Unlike Zechariah, Mary does not seem to have been disturbed by the appearance of the angel, she was rather
disturbed by the greeting of the angel. What did it mean that she was highly favored of God?
Gabriel very carefully gave instruction to this young Hebrew woman that she was to be the mother of the Messiah.
"The Messiah is coming and you are to be His mother." What a privilege it was for Gabriel to carry such good news
Sometimes angels are sent to earth with bad news, but with the Christmas angels it was all good news. This is what
we are celebrating during this season of the year. We are celebrating the good news that the Messiah has come.
He has come to save His people from their sins. His name is to be called Jesus, or the Lord saves.
We must not get our focus on the angels and miss the message that they bring. They are just messengers; the
important thing is the message. They bear the message from the very heart of God Himself.
Is it not a testimony to the love of God that He would create a whole order of spiritual beings so that He could have
some special assistants to bear messages to earthly mortals who might need it. He created them so He would have
this order of special assistants to assist Him in carrying out His purpose, His saving purpose for human kind. Could
He not have done it without angels? I am sure He could, but it pleased Him in His infinite wisdom to create a whole
order of spiritual beings who would be His special assistants in His redemptive purpose. What a mighty and loving
God we serve!
There will be other lessons to be learned concerning the angels from the Christmas accounts, but it is enough
today that we learn that these special spiritual and holy beings are God's special messengers to earth.