GOD’S GUARDIAN ANGELS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-6-83 8:15 a.m.
God bless the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message on angelology. And it is a meaningful moment for me, as I deliver; having prepared this sermon entitled God’s Guardian Angels. This is the fifth in the series of seven messages on angels. The next one will be entitled, next Sunday, The Smiting of God’s Angel; and then the last one, What Angels Learn in Church.
Our text is the last verse of the first chapter of the Book of Hebrews, Hebrews 1:14: "Are the angels not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who shall be the heirs of salvation? Are they not all ministering spirits, to minister, to serve them who are the heirs of salvation," the children of God, you, me, us. Not that God has chosen me above all other of His kingdom children, but speaking of my own experiences as emblematic of us all, typical of us all, the providences of God that make you wonder at the care of somebody for you.
I so well remember when I was a boy just barely six years old, thinking of God’s care and wondering at His gracious providence; I was standing one day on a sandbar of a creek in front of a tall rock cliff. And the next day, standing in that same place, I looked at a big rock, a boulder that had fallen off of the face of the cliff and fell in the exact place where I was standing. And as a small child, as a little boy, I wondered at the providence of God, that the rock should have fallen not at the moment I was standing there, but when I was standing away; just wondering, the thoughts and the mind of a small child. Then as the years passed, in high school, three of us made a long journey to Arizona, and because we had delayed longer than had planned, we were driving back day and night. We took turn about driving the car, and I was asleep on the front seat while Winfield Prentice was at his turn driving. We were through the mountains of Arizona, going down the Continental Divide. And I suddenly awakened, and when I awakened the car was plunging toward, at a fast rate, a precipitous turn. And I looked at Winfield, and he was sound asleep. I seized the wheel and turned it and pulled his foot off of the accelerator. And as a young fellow in high school, I wondered, "Who was it awakened me?" A providence that is inexplicable.
Then, as the years passed, as the pastor of this dear church, in a plane with long pontoons, going down the Ucayali, then an hour crossover to the MaraÃ±Ã²n – those two rivers when they come together are called the Amazon; and beneath the vast illimitable Amazonian forest, not a road in it, not a bridge across it – and it seemed to me that the plane engine exploded. And when you sink in that jungle, you sink out of sight. It’s about two to three hundred feet high, thick, and when you fall in it, you’re never found. But in the providences of God, we were delivered. Was there an angel riding in the craft?
These are providences that all of us experience; they’re common to all of our lives. Are there guardian angels that watch over us? God’s Book says yes; in this passage, it avows that there are. They are "ministering spirits"; they are servants of God who watch over us. They are perfect servants, watching over us who are imperfect sons. But someday, we shall be perfected, then exalted above the servant angels. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:3, "We shall judge angels."
Guardian angels, they are assigned to us when we are children, when we’re born. Our Lord said in Matthew 18:10, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven." Gabriel presented himself and described himself as the angel who stood in the presence of God [Luke 1:19]. Each one of us, coming into this world as a little child, Jesus says there is assigned to us a guardian angel, who stands in the presence of God.
We are told in God’s Holy Word that the guardian angels take care of us throughout all of our life. The psalmist wrote, in 34:7, "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them." And in that beautiful ninety-first Psalm, "He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways" [Psalm 91:11]. An angel is assigned to us, a guardian angel, when we’re born into this world. And those angels of God watch over us through all the days of our lives. And our Lord said in Luke chapter 16 that when we die, the angels of God come for us to escort us into heaven [Luke 16:22]. I wonder if that is the same angel who was assigned to us as our guardian when we were little children.
The angels of God, the guardian, caring, ministering, serving angels of God, they’re introduced to us throughout the Bible. They are created; according to Paul in the first chapter of Colossians, they are a creation of God [Colossians 1:16]. Therefore, we’re not to worship them. When the sainted apostle John sought to bow down before the angel in the twenty-second chapter of the Revelation, the angel forbade him. He also said "the angel is a servant of the Lord" [Revelation 22:9]. They are created beings.
They are innumerable. In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, it speaks of the angels as being "countless" [Hebrews 12:22]. They are beyond imagination, vast in multitude, and they are powerful. As I read the Bible, it seems to me they are almost omnipotent. For example, in the thirty-seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah, one angel, one passed over the vast army of Sennacherib from Assyria, and the next morning there were one hundred eighty-five thousand dead corpses in the army of Sennacherib [Isaiah 37:36]. In the twentieth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, an angel lays hold upon Lucifer, Satan, and binds him for a thousand years [Revelation 20:1-2]; one angel. It almost staggers my mind to think of the meaning of our Lord when He said, "If I so chose, if I so asked, the Lord My Father would send Me twelve legions of angels" [Matthew 26:53]. There were six thousand soldiers to a Roman legion; that’s seventy-two thousand angels. And just one angel binds Satan, and just one angel passing over the Assyrian army slew one hundred eighty-five thousand men. I can hardly enter into it. It’s easy to understand why when the Lord was buried, on the third day an angel came and rolled the stone away and in contempt sat upon it [Matthew 28:2].
They have individuality, such as we have. They are in their ranks. There is the archangel. In the tenth chapter of the Apocalypse and the eighteenth chapter, reference is made to angelos ischuros; ischuros, "mighty." There are cherubim; there are seraphim; ranks of those innumerable creations of the hosts of God. And they have names just as we do, you do. The Lord knows us by name. In 1 Samuel chapter 3, the Lord called and said, "Samuel, Samuel" [1 Samuel 3:4-10]. In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, it says, "Our Lord knows His sheep by name" [John 10:3]. When the Lord went to that tree in Jericho, He looked up and He called Zaccheus by name [Luke 19:5]. When the Angel of the Lord appeared to [Ananias] in Damascus, "[Ananias]," he said, "you go to a certain address on Straight Street, and ask for one [called Saul]" [Acts 9:11]. God knows us by name. The angels, though they are innumerable, multitudinous, they have names: Lucifer, the head of all of the angelic host, Lucifer, "light bearer"; Gabriel, meaning "the man of God"; Michael, "who is like God"; and in Jewish literature, Raphael, "God is my healer," and Uriel, "God is my light."
Not only do they have names, but they have assignments peculiar to them. Each one seemingly is gifted in certain areas, doing the work and service and mission of God. Gabriel, every time he appears he is doing the same thing. Michael, every time he appears is doing the same thing. Angelos ischuros, every time he appears is doing the same thing. And the things they do are radically different from each other. Every time Gabriel appears, he is a messenger from God, with a message to Daniel [Daniel 9:21], or a message to Zacharias [Luke 1:19], or a message to Mary the mother of our Lord [Luke 1:26]. Every time he appears, he’s a messenger from God. Every time Michael appears, he is a warrior for God. He represents God’s people, fighting for them, in the Book of Daniel [Daniel 10:13; 12:1]. Michael is the one that disputed with Satan in the Book of Jude over the body of Moses [Jude 1:9]. And in the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse, Michael leads the war in heaven against Satan and his fallen angels [Revelation 12:7]. Always he’s doing the same thing: he’s God’s warrior. Same thing is true about Ischuros: when he appears in the Book of the Revelation, he’s always doing the same thing. He’s the instrument of God for judgment and for prophecy. They seemingly have their assigned parts, doing the service of God.
But the most precious of all the things that the angels do is what they do for us. They save us and deliver us; God’s angels do. Lot was taken by the hand of the angels, with his wife and his two daughters, and were led out of the city of Sodom and were saved. Angels did that [Genesis 19:15-16]. It was an angel that stopped the hand of Abraham when he raised the knife to plunge it into the heart of his son Isaac [Genesis 22:10-12]. An angel did that; angels delivering and saving. When Elisha was importuned by Gehazi his servant, surrounded in Dothan by the army of Syria, Elisha prayed, "Lord, open his eyes, open his eyes and let him see." And God opened the eyes of the servant, and the heavens were filled with the angels and chariots of God all around Elisha, saving, delivering [2 Kings 6:17].
When the king stood at the mouth of the lion’s den and cried, "Daniel, is thy God able to deliver thee?" Daniel replied, "O king, God hath sent His angel, and He has closed the mouths of the lions" [Daniel 6:20-22]; the angels of God delivering. It was an angel, the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts says, that opened the prison doors, the iron prison doors, that Peter, God’s preacher and apostle, might be set free [Acts 12:6-7]. In the passage that you read together, it was an angel of God who stood by the apostle Paul in the midst of that fearful and tumultuous storm and saved them [Acts 27:23-25]. They deliver, they save.
They comfort and they strengthen us. You know, I’ve often thought one of the most unusual things in the Bible is the story of Jacob at Bethel, a young man forced to flee because of the angry hatred of his brother Esau. And the first night he was away, he lay down and put his head on a pillow of a stone, and he dreamed. And in the dream, he saw a ladder leaning against heaven, and the angels of God – now, you look – wouldn’t you suppose the Bible would say, "And the angels of God descending and ascending," wouldn’t you have thought so? It’s the opposite. When Jacob, Israel, lay down at Bethel to sleep, he saw a ladder, and the angels of God "ascending and descending" [Genesis 28:12]. They are here. They are here with us, comforting, strengthening.
In that beautiful compassionate story of the love of God for His servant Elijah, Elijah lay down under a juniper tree and asked to die. And the Bible says, "An angel awakened him, and had a breakfast prepared for His servant, and water to drink," caring [1 Kings 19:4-7]. And isn’t that the story of our Lord? In the temptation, it says, "Angels ministered to Him" [Matthew 4:11]. And in the story in Gethsemane, when He prayed and His sweat was as it were drops of blood falling to the ground, the Bible says, "An angel came and ministered to Him and comforted Him and strengthened Him" [Luke 22:43-44]. God’s guardian angels. I must close.
They are God’s reapers at the end of the age. In the Book of Matthew, chapter 13, it says the – in verse 39, it says "the reapers are the angels." Verse 40y in Matthew chapter 13: "As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be at the end of this world"; verse 41, Matthew 13, verse 41, "The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity," and verse , "So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just." They are judgment angels. And at the end of the world, at the denouement of the age, it will be the angels of God that bring judgment into this earth.
That’s always true in the Bible: it was the angels of God that brought destruction and judgment to Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:15-29]. It was an angel of God in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts that smote Herod Agrippa [Acts 12:23]. And it’s an angel of God that binds Satan and casts him into the bottomless pit for a thousand years [Revelation 20:1-3]. And it is the angels of God who will come for us when our Lord descends in glory. That’s one of the most marvelous pictures in the Bible, and it’s repeated again and again and again. In Matthew 24, in Matthew 25, in Mark 8, in 2 Thessalonians 1, and throughout the whole Apocalypse, when the Lord returns, He will be accompanied by all of the hosts of heaven. Heretofore in the Bible, we have seen the angels by ones, and by twos, and maybe by threes, and one time a choir of them singing at the birth of our Lord [Luke 2:13-14]. But for the first time in all human story, when the Lord comes, all of the hosts of God’s angelic heaven will accompany Him.
I want to read that in Greek, and translate it for you. It’s one of the most amazingly powerful of all of the scenes described in the Bible. It says, in Revelation 5, verse 11, "I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the cherubim and the elders" – I hope you can listen at eleven o’clock when I have a little, or I just take a little more time – this translated "beast," there’s another word in the Greek language for "beast"; these aren’t beasts, these are cherubim; "I beheld, and heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the cherubim" – and I want to describe who they are and what – "and the elders: and the number of them," and it’s translated here good, "and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands." The Greek of that: kai, "and," en, "was," arithmos, arithmos, "number," arithmetic comes from that; outon, "of them"; muriades, muriadon, in English when we take a Greek "u" it becomes a "y": muri, myriad, myriads of myriads; kai chiliades – chilios is the word for a thousand – chiliades, chiliadon, "myriads upon myriads," and a myriad in Greek is a countless number, "Myriads of myriads, and thousands times thousands." Oh, my brother, and it won’t be long, just between now and the time that we’re translated, because there’s no time there. When we die, immediately it’s the end, and the angels come, and we come with the Lord; I just can’t think that it would ever be that we should share in so incomparably glorious a triumph, coming with the hosts of God’s angels.
We’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And a family, a couple, a somebody you, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me. The Lord has spoken to my heart and here I stand." Make the decision now, and when we sing our song of appeal, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me and I’m on the way." God love you and angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.