The Bible tells us that God uses angels to break into mankind’s regularly-scheduled programming and report urgent news flashes we need to know about. Yet it looks like He’s never commissioned them to proclaim the Gospel message to the world at large. Perhaps that’s because, being spiritual beings, they’ve never been separated from His presence and simply do not know what having a sinful nature is like. Therefore they can’t preach with conviction the good news concerning the deliverance Jesus offers. We can only guess the reasons, though, because the Holy Word never expands on the subject. What we do know is the human heart’s still the shady contraption it was thousands of years ago. No matter one’s skin color, nationality or racial identity all men and women are in the same boat. Without Christ we’re lost souls. All must hear and accept the Gospel in order to be saved. So if the angels are incapable of broadcasting the incredible news of amazing grace who’s gonna do it? It goes without saying the fallen angels are out of the picture because they’re beyond redemption and of no use to the great I AM. That leaves us with only one option, the man/woman in the mirror. The Lord set Christians up with an organization, the church, to anchor and coordinate our efforts but ultimately the task lands in each individual believer’s in-box. We’ve all been given a megaphone. In other words, we’re it. The Heavenly Father didn’t formulate a backup plan. Only those who know what it’s like to be freed from the chains of sin can explain that glorious release, that incomparable feeling to another person.
Yet that’s not to say the angels don’t have anything to do with the great commission. They’re assigned to help us in our efforts to spread the Gospel. On occasion they’re allowed to amplify the wonderful news via subtle but nonetheless miraculous displays. Over the centuries dedicated missionaries have shared many extraordinary tales of astounding incidents that helped them get their important point across to unbelievers. Happenings that can only be explained by angelic intervention. In fact, there’s hardly a missionary who doesn’t have such a story to relate. But the bottom line still remains: We, not the angels, are the Holy Spirit’s mouthpiece and we should consider it a great honor. Ponder the implications, though. Not even the angels are capable of expressing what the blood of Jesus can do in and to a human being’s life. Only your testimony can back up what’s been revealed to mankind through the Scriptures. No angel can do that job. There’s no angels pastoring churches or heading up children’s ministries or volunteering as leaders at Celebrate Recovery meetings. No angel can offer a compassion-filled human touch or one-on-one reassurance to a suffering soul. No angel can enjoy sonship in Christ, partake in the divine nature or become a joint heir with Jesus in His kingdom. Billy Graham wrote, “You and I are a unique and royal priesthood in the universe, and we have privileges that even angels cannot experience.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. The angels are not disinterested bystanders who merely observed what happened on earth two millenniums ago. They were an intrinsic part of the process, starting with the birth of John the Baptist. His elderly parents were Zacharias and Elizabeth, a husband and wife who’d long since given up hope of having children. Both being closely connected with the religious priesthood, they were not only respected citizens of the community but pleasing to God’s eyes because of their faithfulness. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias and informed him that Elizabeth would give birth to a son (an incredible statement due to her advanced age) it was the first act in the greatest story ever told. As if that wasn’t stupefying enough, the angel went on to educate him about what his offspring would do. “…For he will be great in the sight of the Lord. …He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go as a forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.” (Luke 1:15-17) Imagine how dumbfounded Zacharias was! That’s a lotta earth-shaking data to absorb in one chunk and, as one would expect, he expressed some doubts. This didn’t sit well with Gabriel, however, so the angel struck him mute for the time being. I’m not sure Zacharias could’ve put it all into words, anyway, so maybe it was just as well.
Zacharias remained speechless until the baby was born when he suddenly regained his voice in time to confirm to his family that the boy was to be named John, not Zach Jr. He then let loose with a celebratory oratory, starting with the phrase, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he has come to help and has redeemed his people. For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” (Luke 1:68-69) He went on to reveal that John would introduce the planet to the promised Messiah who’d turn the world on its ear and drastically change the course of human history. And all he related came from what he’d learned during Gabriel’s visit nine months earlier. Once again God employed an angel to set things in motion so that John’s parents would bring him up in full recognition of his role as the one selected by the Father in heaven to warn his countrymen that it was imperative they straighten up their act and repent of their sins pronto.
The angel Gabriel had another extremely important errand to run, that of getting Mary up to speed on what was about to go down on her side of the miracle. Thus one day innocent little Mary got a celestial visit that blew her away. Gabriel told her in no uncertain terms that she’d been chosen to give birth to the “…Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:32-33) No one ever got a message like that and no one will again. Not even Solomon, David or Abraham himself would’ve dared dream of receiving such an announcement of hope. Gabriel then spilled the beans about her cousin’s condition, prompting Mary to hop a Greyhound to Elizabeth’s house in Judah. Upon arrival she sang one of the sweetest songs ever, containing heartfelt lines like “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has begun to rejoice in God my savior…” Mary was acknowledging in her tune that her son would not only be the savior of the nations but her own savior, as well. It’s impossible for me to wrap my head around the enormous scope of who was growing in the womb of Mary. The second person of the Holy Trinity was about to humble Himself and live as a common man right alongside other common men and women. Despite the outrageous infidelity displayed by God’s chosen people since leading them into the Promised Land, He pours out His mercy on them. Jesus was nothing less than the literal Gospel in all its fullness. The great I AM was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. That’s the message Gabriel delivered to Mary. He couldn’t broadcast it on his own but he could reveal to her the good news later to be preached by Jesus and His disciples.
And it was another angel who stepped in to reassure Mary’s husband, Joseph, that what she was telling him was the God’s honest truth. You see, Joseph was in a quandary. He was legally engaged to a girl who was now pregnant. He knew with certainty the child wasn’t his so he couldn’t help but entertain the thought that Mary had committed adultery, a capital offense according to Jewish law. No man in history has been in the position Joseph was in. He was contemplating his options when an angel appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20) Evidently this was no ordinary dream and Joseph believed the angel. He concluded that Mary was innocent of any shenanigans and that he’d been selected to keep her and the baby out of harm’s way. The angel, while not preaching, intimated the gist of the Gospel when he told Joseph, “She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The angel presented him with the awesome good news in all its simplicity, beauty and purity. This wasn’t just God coming down to check things out for Himself. Jesus would possess the unique ability to forgive sins, rescue people from themselves and offer them a way to become justified before their Creator. Christ came to redeem us and open the gates of heaven to all who’ll believe in Him.
Keep in mind all this hubbub was a fulfillment of what had been revealed to the prophet Daniel centuries earlier. The angel Gabriel showed him all that was to transpire in connection with the prophecy of the seventy weeks. Daniel had been in deep prayer when Gabriel walked in. Notice that the angel didn’t evangelize but merely revealed to him the truth of what the future held in store for mankind. He told Daniel the seventy weeks were designed to, among other things, “…put an end to rebellion, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in perpetual righteousness…” (Daniel 9:24) He then spoke of God “cutting off” the Messiah as Isaiah 53 had predicted. Unfortunately the Jews couldn’t embrace the idea of a suffering Savior because they preferred that He come charging in like a muscle-bound Samson, leading a powerful army to decimate all their enemies and put things right. But Gabriel informed Daniel that sin is a harsh reality and the price for it must be paid in blood. He said the Messiah would do this by being cut off and allowing Himself to die in our place, thereby providing all human beings with the ability to not only be reconciled to the Heavenly Father but to enjoy a real relationship with Him. In essence, though Gabriel couldn’t preach, he could prophesy. It’s truly astounding how the predictions in the Old Testament come to fruition in the New Testament. God’s plan is infallible and He uses his angels to make that fact inescapable.
I also find it fascinating that God delivered the first public announcement of Jesus’ birth to a handful of plain country folk rather than to princes and kings. An angel declared the news of the biggest event in world history to workers in the lowest strata of society, sheep herders. In Mary’s beautiful song she sings, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position; he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty.” And what was the message the angel spoke to them? Initially he told them not to be spooked by what they were seeing. Angels are breath-taking creatures and they’re never mistaken for something mundane. Once the shepherds calmed down the angel told them, “…Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) Note that he delivers a bulletin, not a sermon. God was initiating a sequence of events that would allow all human beings to escape the clutches of Lucifer no matter who they were or where they lived. Full, permanent redemption was now going to be possible to acquire.
I guess what I’m trying to convey is that, when it comes to divine truths, angels drive the trucks while unremarkable people unload them and handle the widespread distribution. In Acts 8 we read of an Ethiopian nobleman who was struggling to understand the book of Isaiah. An angel recognized that he’d be invaluable in dispersing God’s Word to his countrymen but he couldn’t preach to the man. What he could do was speak to Philip and instruct him to go meet the man and interpret the difficult passages for him. The situation was reversed when Peter converted Cornelius. This time the angel spoke to the roman soldier and told him to send for the apostle. But Peter had reservations because Cornelius wasn’t a Jew so God appeared to Peter in a dream and convinced him that the Gospel was intended for everyone to hear. I’m sure it would’ve been easier for the angel to convert Cornelius but he couldn’t so he arranged for Peter to do the job. Angels make sure that men and women are enabled to evangelize the world. When a shipwreck threatened to stop Paul from getting to Rome one of them appeared to him and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar…” (Acts 27:24) Since the angels couldn’t preach to Caesar they had to make it possible for Paul to, no matter what.
The key to effective evangelism is found in the heavenly proclamation given to the sheepherders outside of Bethlehem: “Unto you is born this day… a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” The task of informing the world about that spectacular event and its fantastic implications falls on the shoulders of all Christians everywhere. And whenever we see lives being transformed by that message we should ponder the notion that angels might’ve been involved. Since no one I know has heard an angel address them I often wonder what their voices sound like. One thing’s for sure, they don’t beat around the bush. Usually they urge the recipient to get off their duff and get busy. Perhaps they’re trying to instill in us a sense of urgency. Time’s a wastin’, they might say. The moment’s at hand and there’s someone who needs to hear about Christ right now, not tomorrow. God never slacks off and neither should we. When we stand up as a witness to the Lord’s amazing grace we never know the impact our tale may have on an individual.
Billy Graham relates a true story arising from the Titanic disaster to illustrate this very point. One of the passengers, John Harper, was a popular preacher on his way to Chicago when the huge ocean liner foundered in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Trying to stay afloat in the icy water, he drifted over to a young man clinging to a piece of furniture. Harper asked him if he was saved. The man answered, “No.” They kept moving around as best they could and became separated. A few minutes later Harper called out to him, “Have you made your peace with God?” The young man replied through chattering teeth, “Not yet.” He never saw or heard from Harper again but his question, “Are you saved?” wouldn’t stop reverberating in his brain as he waited for rescue. Two weeks later the young man stood up in a church in New York, told his story of survival and announced, “I am John Harper’s last convert.”
The angels can inspire us, encourage us and sometimes go to drastic measures to help us focus on our most important task: Telling others about what God has done for us through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage – I have conquered the world.” That statement didn’t make sense to me until recently when I finally got it. None of us has overcome the evil in this world but Christ has and if we climb aboard His train He’ll take us to be with Him in paradise. That’s the message we must make sure everyone hears. There’s only one way out of this mess we’ve made down here and His name is Jesus Christ, the name above all names. He alone has conquered evil and we’re either with him or against him. This is no time to dally. The person you tell the good news to may slip beneath the cold surface tonight. And don’t worry. The angels will tell you what to say.