What Angels Learn at Church
April 19th, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
WHAT ANGELS LEARN AT CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-19-70 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled What The Angels Learn At Church.
And it is an astonishing passage! Paul has written in the third chapter of Ephesians that there was a great secret in the heart of God. He kept it hidden from the world, from the angels, from the patriarchs and the prophets until the time came for Him to reveal it to His holy apostles. That secret was that there was to be a new creation, a body, a temple, and the Jew and Gentile alike were to belong to that new creation. Then he, Paul, exclaims upon the marvelous grace of God that he should be chosen to reveal that and to preach that, and that was the sermon last Sunday morning.
Then after his exclamation, "That there was given unto me, I who am less than the least of all the saints, that I should preach among the Gentiles this unsearchable truth in Christ Jesus" [Ephesians 3:8], then the tenth verse, after he says that he is to "make known to all men the dispensation of this mystery, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God," the polupoikilos of God; polu, polus, "many"; poikilos, "varied, multihued, multicolored, multifaceted." That there should be revealed by the church, made known by the church, the polupoikilos, the many-varied, many-faceted, many-colored, many-hued wisdom of God.
Now to whom is that knowledge to be made known? Unto the arche and the exousia – translated here, "Unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies." Now, what Paul is describing by his word arche and exousia, he is describing the families, the clans, the orders of the angels in heaven – seraphim, cherubim, archangels – arche, exousia. And Paul is saying in the text that by the church is made known to these angels, these orders of celestial beings in heaven, by the church is made known the manifold wisdom of God. Just the idea of it is astonishing, overwhelming, almost unbelievable that the angels in heaven, the orders of those heavenly beings, are taught, are shown the manifold wisdom of God by the church! They learn it here through us.
These firstborn, these elder of all God’s created beings, in no other place in the Bible is it suggested that they learn the manifold wisdom of God except by the church. Ah, what an amazing thing for Paul to write! Think of their exalted position. They look with undimmed eye upon the vision beatific. In awe and in reverence before the throne of the Eternal and Him who sits upon it, they veil their faces crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy" [Isaiah 6:2-3]. And yet, though as it were, they stand in the sun, yet the Bible does not say that in their exalted position, they learn the manifold wisdom of God. And think of their presence in the beginning of the creation. They were amazed and astonished at what God was doing when He made the firmament and the arches of the sky. As Job says, "When the morning stars sang together" [Job 38:7], and the sons of God rejoiced when God made the world. And as they looked upon each new creation – the great Milky Way and the stars that were turned into flames by the light of deity, and the whole stellar creation of the Almighty – yet the book does not say that in this, as they beheld the creative genius of God, not even in this did they learn the manifold wisdom of the Almighty.
And the angels were present when God’s crowning creation was given life and breath, when Adam was made and his fair consort walking by his side, fearfully and wonderfully made in body and mind and soul, the last creative, highest genius of the Almighty, making the man in His own image and in His own likeness [Genesis 1:26-27]. And the angels were there and looked upon it. Yet even in that, the most wondrous of all God’s creations, yet even in that, the Bible does not say that the angels learned the manifold wisdom of God.
And throughout the centuries and the millennia of God’s providences apart from the church, the geological story of the ages, the billions and billions of years that the firmament has shined in the glory of its Maker and all of the providences of life, those mystic revolutions of that wondrous wheel that is filled with eyes, yet in all of this, through the providences of God, through the centuries and the millenniums, yet in none of that do the Scriptures say that the angels learned the manifold wisdom of God. What an exalted conception and idea of the church!
When the apostle writes that to these angels, to the arche, to the exousia, to the orders of those angelic beings in the heavenlies, what an exalted conception — that they learn of the manifold wisdom of God in the church what they could not learn and did not learn in the creation, what they do not learn in the very presence of deity. And what they have not learned in all of the providences of God through the centuries and the centuries, they learn in how God saves men and how God’s redemptive grace is building this new creation, the church, the body of the Lord. That’s what Peter referred to in 1 Peter 1:12 when he said, "And of these things the angels desire to look into," the marvelous redemptive purpose of God as He works it out among fallen human beings in their regeneration and in their addition to the church.
All right, let’s do that this morning: let’s look at what the angels learn as they look upon the church and see the grace of God add to the building up of the body of Christ.
First: what an astonishing thing, and what the angels learn as they see how God saves fallen men; God’s plan of salvation. Had there been a called parliament of all the celestial spirits of God’s universe and there had been proposed to them, "How can God be just and justify the ungodly?" they might have discussed it and debated it for the unending ages, and yet could they have not come forward from that assembly of debate and forensics with an answer?
How can God be just and justify the ungodly? How can God be righteous and holy and uphold the laws of His universe, and at the same time abrogate that justice and those laws for a sinful, fallen man, how can He do it?" And yet, in this divine plan of redemption, every virtue and every attribute of God shines forth in undiminished luster. Like the crown of an Oriental monarch with clusters of jewels all around, so the corona of God! None of the attributes of God are sullied or diminished in the way that God saves men! God is just, oh, how He is! God is righteous, how He is! And God upholds His righteousness, how He does!
When there was sin found in Lucifer, God flung him headlong, flaming from the ethereal sky down to the abyss. And when Samson, the strongest man of the world, sinned away his hour of grace, he bowed his head and said, "God, let me die with the Philistines" [Judges 16:30]. God is just. And when David, the man after God’s own heart sinned, the Lord said to him, "The sword shall never leave thy house" [2 Samuel 12:10]. The story of David is written in blood. God is just, but at the same time in His holiness, and in His righteousness, and in His upholding the law of God which is grounded in His character and in His very being – at the same time, the Lord is merciful, and gracious, and forgiving, and abounding in love; both of them.
And God has done it in that amazing and astonishing way of the God-Man Christ Jesus, who pays the penalty for our sin, who upholds the righteousness of God and the laws of God, not one jot or tittle failing from it, and at the same time, in paying the penalty for our sin and upholding the righteous judgments of God, dying in love and mercy for our fallen souls. How the angels looking upon that must have been astonished!
What we lost in Eden, in the sin of the first man Adam, we have gained, and more beside, in the second Adam, Christ. The fellowship with God that was disrupted by the transgression in Eden is restored to us in the loving, merciful, suffering of our great intercessor and brother and heir to the throne, Christ Jesus, and all of the tragedy of our lost paradise in our first sin is more than restored to us in the fellowship of the New Jerusalem [Hebrews 12:22-23]. How the angels looking upon it must have been astonished, for in the wisdom of God, these who encompass our destruction are destroying themselves. Satan is stung by his own venom! Goliath is slain by his own sword! And death is destroyed by its own captive! "As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive" [1 Corinthians 15:22]. As by man, sin came into this world and death by sin, so by Man, the God-Man, Christ Jesus, is sin destroyed and life and immortality brought to life [Romans 5:12-21]. What an astonishing thing, and what the angels learned in the redemptive purpose and program and plan of God. And when the angels look upon it, God’s Book says that they rejoice in heaven when a lost sinner comes back to the Lord! [Luke 15:10]. Did you ever think about that? Up there in glory, watching over us, looking at us, attending the service of the church; when somebody comes down that aisle and gives his heart to Jesus, there is rejoicing in heaven. And not only of those in heaven but those in the presence of the angels of heaven, learning in the church, rejoicing in the church.
This last week I was reading the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, when the story is told of the apostle Paul breathing out threatenings and slaughters against the church and struck down by the brightness of that glory of the presence of Christ as he approached Damascus, led by the hand now; this proud and threatening Pharisee led by the hand and blinded by the glory of God. The Lord appears to Ananias and says, "Go into the street that is called Straight, and there inquire for one Saul of Tarsus, for" – and then the words, "behold, he prayeth" [Acts 9:11].
This proud, blaspheming man now down on his knees praying, confessing, asking God to forgive the chief of sinners: it’s a miracle! It’s a wonder! It’s an astonishment! It’s a glory, and it happens every day! Every day.
Last Sunday, down that aisle at the 8:15 service came a woman giving her heart to the Lord. And this morning at the 8:15 service down the aisle came her husband, and both of them are to be baptized tonight. It’s a glory! It’s something that the angels were introduced to in the church.
"To the intent that unto the arche, and the exousia, and the seraphim, and the cherubim, and the archangels in the heavenlies might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God" [Ephesians 3:10], the amazing revelation, self-disclosure of God; and the angels have watched that development and that progress in type and in story through all of the years, preparing for the coming of the great Redeemer.
It was Abraham who entertained those angels unawares. It was an angel who stopped the hand of Abraham when he raised it to plunge the knife into his son Isaac.
It was the angels who, when Jacob lay down at Bethel, ascended and descended the ladder that leaned against the throne of heaven. It was the angels at Mahanaim, the two bands, who welcomed Jacob back from Padan-aram, back to the Promised Land. And it was angels who all through the dispensation of the law looked full upon the mercy seat. One here, one there, and their wings touched and their faces looked down on the propitiatory, on the mercy seat where the blood of expiation was poured. It was the angels who announced the coming of the Savior at Bethlehem, it was the angels who followed and ministered to Him, and it was the angels that strengthened Him in Gethsemane, and it was the angels who comforted Him in His suffering, and it was the angels who rolled away the stone and announced that "He is not here, but He is risen!" And it was the angels who watched Him ascend into heaven and said to those apostles who followed Him upward that He would come again as He has left. And it is the angels, the holy angels, who will accompany the Son of glory when He comes back at the consummation of the age, to the intent that unto the heavenly, celestial beings might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.
And the angels watch and see the building up of the body of Christ here in the earth, the temple made without hands, and the great cornerstone; not Michael, not Gabriel, not a patriarch or a prophet or an apostle, but the God-Man Christ Jesus! And as the living stones are added to the building, they all lean on that great cornerstone, the God-Man our Savior [1 Peter 2:5]. And what kind of a temple? Romanesque? No. Gothic? No. Grecian? No. But it is a temple rising after the pattern that God showed to Moses on the mount, like the sanctuary that is in heaven; and it is here and it is there [Hebrews 8:1-5]. Some of the living stones are there in the pinnacle of paradise above the clouds and the stars, and some of the living stones are here, we who are yet in the earth. But whether some of them there in the glory of heaven, or whether some of us here in the pilgrimage yet in this earth, we’re all together in the body of our Lord: they there, and we here. And in that glorious temple called the church, the house of God, the Lord Himself dwells and He teaches us and the angels. We learn together. As the Lord discloses His heart to us and teaches us the manifold wisdom of God, the angels are present, and they hear, and they feel, and they sense, and they come to know what God is teaching us [Ephesians 3:10].
One of the passages that’s so astonishing to me is in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, when Paul says to the women they ought to dress so-and-so "because of the angels" [1 Corinthians 11:10]. Isn’t that an astonishing passage? I’ve read every possible commentary on that that I can find, and I still don’t know exactly what it all means, how a woman ought to dress because of the angels. Well, I’m not about to get into how a woman ought to dress, angels or no angels, but I’m not talking about that. What I’m talking about is – what Paul says is that our conduct, and our deportment, and our presence, and our presentation of ourselves before the Lord ought to be so-and-so because of the angels!
And when we go to church, do you ever think that the angels are there also? And that they’re here? And that they’re listening? And that they’re learning? And what they couldn’t know by looking at deity and what they couldn’t know by looking at God’s creation, they do come to know as we preach the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus, and as we respond, and the Lord regenerates our hearts. What an astonishing thing!
And I think, in my humble opinion, that all of life is like that. The infidel scientist looks through a telescope, and he looks and he looks and he looks, but all that he sees is just more materialities. There’s dust up there, and there’s comets up there, and there are rocks up there, and there’s fire up there, and there’s all kinds of chemical reactions up there, and there’s helium up there, and there’s hydrogen up there, and that’s all they see is just the materialities of the universe. And the same pseudoscientist looks down, and he dissects an insect or he dissects a frog or maybe a human cadaver, and all he sees is protoplasm, and cells, and nuclei, and structure, and bone, and that’s all that he sees; just more materialities.
But it is only we who know God who see the great, divine wisdom of the shaping of life and of the universe. Because when we look through those telescopes up into the heavens, we see the glory of God and look upon the lacework of His hands, the handiwork of His hands, and when we look down into the minute, infinitesimal microcosm of God’s universe, we see the hand of the Lord painting the wing of a butterfly, or placing a song in a mockingbird’s heart, or in the innocence of a little child, or in our own heart’s response to the love and mercy of God.
And I may be crude and rude and harsh in what I say, but I don’t think any man comes to wisdom who does not know God. He may be learned in facts, and he may be studied in scientific development and achievement, but he doesn’t know the great truth of the universe until he comes to know it in the Lord. And that’s what the angels see, and that’s what the angels learn, and we’re doing it together, for God reveals Himself in the church, in the Book, in the message of a true godly preacher. In our heart’s response to the invitation of the Lord, the angels learn, "to the intent that unto celestial orders in heaven might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God" [Ephesians 3:10].
I must hasten. One other thing: what the angels learn in the church, the great plan of redemption, of salvation, God’s preparation for the coming of that atoning grace in Christ, and the gathering together of those living stones that make up the temple of the Lord and the providences of God’s love in our lives through the pilgrimage here in this earth; for the angels see us and they watch us and they know us. And in our fiery trials, the true Christian magnifies and glorifies and praises God in his trials, like the three who were thrown in the fiery furnace, and the king looked and said, "But I see a fourth, and His face, His countenance is like the Son of God" [Daniel 3:25]. So when we go through the fiery trials of this life, God is with us. And the angels look upon it, and they are astonished at the forbearance and at the patience and at the comfort that God gives us, as they watch over us and see us, because the Bible speaks of the angels that behold the face of God, who represent our little children [Matthew 18:10] – and I have never seen why, though it’s a human deduction, I’ve never seen why when we grow out of childhood, the angels should forsake us. I don’t see why. If there was an angel, a guardian angel that represented me before the face of God when I was a little boy, why should that guardian angel forsake me now that I’m a grown man and face all the storms and tempests and trials of life? So I keep my fancy still that there are guardian angels who know us, and watch over us, and precede us, and help us, and comfort us, and strengthen us.
And then finally, this is no deduction: the Book says that the angels come for us when we lay down this mortal life, and they bear our souls to glory [Luke 16:22].
Like that old, old-time song:
My latest sun is sinking fast
My race is nearly run,
My strongest trials now are past,
My triumph is begun.
Oh come, angel band,
Come and ’round me stand.
Oh bear me away
On your snowy wings
To my eternal home.
["My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast," Jefferson Hascall, 1860]
Do you believe that? God says so. He marks the place where we suffer, and angels look upon our suffering, and they learn as we trust God through it all. And when finally we lay the burden down, the angels are there to bear us up to heaven, to carry us into glory. O Lord, how much we learn, and how much the angels learn through us. May that knowledge be sweet and precious and honor God through the years of our pilgrimage.
Now we’re going to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give your heart to the Lord, to place your life with us in the fellowship of this dear church, while we sing the song, come. Make the decision now to come, and in moment when you stand up, stand up coming. In the balcony round, down one of these stairwells and to the front; on this lower floor, into the aisle, and by me: "Here I am, pastor. I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart to God," or "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us coming today." Or just you, as the Spirit of appeal shall press the invitation, answer with your life. Come now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
ANGELS LEARN AT CHURCH
A. The manifold wisdom
of God is revealed by the church(Ephesians
B. It is made known to
the orders of angelic beings in heaven
– their exalted position (Isaiah 6:2-3, Job
a. Not in their exalted
position, in the creation, or in the creation of man did they learn the wisdom
of God(Genesis 1:26-27)
they learn in how God saves men and how He is building this new creation, the
church(1 Peter 1:12)
II. God’s plan for saving souls
A. How can God be just
and justify ungodly men?(Judges 16:30, 2 Samuel
B. How the angels must
have been astonished(Hebrews 12:22-23)
used man as an instrument for the destruction of man; God used that same man
for the salvation of his soul(1 Corinthians
15:22, Romans 5:12-21)
The conversion of every child of God a subject of angelic joy(Luke 15:10, Acts 9:11)
III. God’s preparation for the redemption
of His people through Christ Jesus
angels have watched that development and progress in type and story through all
IV. In the building of the church
A. The chief
cornerstone, Jesus Christ
begins to rise; made out of living souls, redeemed lives(1 Peter 2:5)
C. The habitation of
God through His Spirit
Our conduct ought to be so-and-so because of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10)
V. In the experience of the pilgrimage of
A. In our trials, the
true Christian magnifies God(Daniel 3:25, Psalm
B. There are angels
that represent us before God(Matthew 18:10)