We Never Walk Alone
11 Mar 2006, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
We Never Walk Alone
Few Bible truths have deeper personal appeal to the Christian than does the ministry of angels. The knowledge that heavenly messengers minister to human beings has been of untold assurance and strength to God's people throughout the ages. As we read the Scriptures, we discover that angels are more than messengers and guardians, but they are also fellow servants. It is important for us to know that these unseen heavenly beings, which have ready access to the throne of God, are, in turn, able to share with us the special blessings they receive.
Heaven and earth are no wider apart today than when the shepherds on the hills around Bethlehem listened to the angel's song. Humanity is still as much the object of heaven's tender love as when these ordinary men of common occupations met and talked with heavenly messengers in the vineyards and fields of long ago (White, 1940: 48).
Author Ellen White, in the book Education, p. 305, tells us that one day every redeemed child of God will understand the ministry of angels in his or her own life -that we will meet the angel, who from our earliest moment was given care over us -the one who watched our steps, covered us in perilous times, who walked with us in the valley of the shadow of death and who marked our resting place - the one who was the first to greet us on the resurrection morning. What a wonderful privilege to talk with them and learn the history of divine intervention in the individual life and how they cooperated in working with mankind as part of the wonderful plan of redemption (White, 1952: 305).
Of these beings, she said, 'We need to understand better than what we do, the mission of angels…Cherubim and Seraphim, and angels that excel in strength, stand at God's right hand' ministering.' She says, 'I call upon the ministers of Christ to press home upon the understanding of all who come within the reach of their voice, the truth of the ministration of angels.' She also adds that we should not indulge in fanciful speculation, but let the written Word be our only safety. Brown, 1987: 9).
My first recollection of angels came from two pictures that my mother placed in my bedroom as a child. Some of you may remember these paintings by Adventist artist Harry Anderson. The impact these pictures had on me as a six to ten year old are difficult to explain, but I have never forgotten them. We need to recognise the power that visual images can have on the young developing mind of a child and the lasting effect that can be incurred from those images that we see day by day in our homes. Matt 18: 10 tells us in Jesus' own words to 'Beware that you do not despise a single one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.' (REPEAT)
This morning I want you to know that angels are very, very real and form an essential part of the workings of God's plan of Salvation within the context of the great controversy. Only eternity will reveal the breadth of the functions of these beings in relation to God's universe. The relationship between angels and mankind in the plan of redemption would also indicate the possibility of a unique relationship throughout eternity. Matt 22: 30 and Luke 20: 36 suggest to us that man, in eternity will be 'equal to the angels.'
Angels have always evoked a fascination and a wonder in the minds of earth's inhabitants and a basic knowledge of them may be all that secular people ever come to know of heaven.
A belief in these heavenly beings is not only found in the world's main religions, but throughout the pagan world as well. Since the beginning of time these divine messengers from heaven have had a spellbinding hold on the human mind and the human heart. Unfortunately, at different points throughout history, this fascination of the supernatural has often resulted in making these awesome beings the object of human worship.
Angel-worship, has been around a long time and this fact is supported by non-biblical literature written in the first century AD that confirms both a heightened speculation and veneration of angels during that period.
In Biblical sources we find evidence in the writings of the apostle Paul to the early Church. In encouraging the Church at Colosse during this time he says, '…not [to] let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions' (Colossians 2: 18). Paul wants to make sure his readers keep things in perspective and to understand that it is the Son, not angels, who should engage their worship. While angels may have an important role to play in the service of God, they are immeasurably inferior in name, person, dignity and function to the Son (Heb 1: 4).
In Rev 19: 10 the apostle John, overawed by his angel visitor, fell at his feet to worship him and was told not to do it. The angel says 'I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers, who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of Prophecy.' Christians are constantly reminded that God Himself says in His law that we are to have no other Gods before Him and this includes any of His created beings. He alone is worthy of our worship (Is. 37: 16).
However, as we read the Holy Scriptures, we discover there is more written about angels than any other subject or theme. Baptism, heaven, the Sabbath and many other important areas that form an essential part of the Salvation story, are subjugated in terms of content, compared to what is written about these created heavenly beings. It may be because angels are mentioned so often in the Old and New Testament that we find their existence and activity taken for granted. This is reinforced in the myriad of angel images one meets in walking through a city cemetery or church graveyard.
What do we really know about them?
What do we know about these created heavenly beings that form an important part of God's special plan for the human race?
Unfortunately for most of us, information comes mainly from secular material that tends to be inaccurate and trivialises our understanding. This creates a situation where it becomes difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is fantasy.
We need to recognise that 'The connection of the visible with the invisible world, the ministration of angels of God, and the agency of evil spirits, are plainly revealed in the Scriptures, and [are] inseparably interwoven with human history' (White, 1950: 511).
Therefore, to place this important subject into a context, it is essential we open the written word and understand something of the great spiritual battle that is going on for the minds and hearts of the human race. We have talked about this many times. The apostle Paul in Ephesians 6: 12 warns us that '…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.' After telling us to put on the whole armour of God, he then says that we are to be alert and pray in the spirit with all kinds of prayers and requests. He tells us to KEEP ON PRAYING FOR GOD'S PEOPLE and for himself, as he fearlessly makes known the mystery of the gospel (Eph 6: 13-20).
The Scriptures make abundantly clear that war first began in heaven and then followed to this earth. The battle for the hearts and minds of men, women and children continues to this very day. Since the entrance of sin, the earth has become a battle zone where the forces of evil are contending with the forces of God in the very personages of these special angelic beings.
Let us also make clear from the outset that 'Nothing is more plainly taught in Scripture than that God was in no wise responsible for the entrance of sin; that there was no arbitrary withdrawal of divine grace, no deficiency in the divine government that gave occasion for the uprising of rebellion. Sin is an intruder, for whose presence no reason can be given…' Author Ellen White says, '…to excuse it is to defend it' (White, 1950: 492,493). (Repeat)
This tragic drama all began with Lucifer who rebelled against the Government of God. Before his fall this highest of the angels was described in Ezekiel 28: 12-15 as a 'covering cherub', distinguished by his excellence. When God created him he was made perfect, with great beauty so as to replicate him as near as possible to God Himself (Nichol, Vol 4, 1955: 1163).
When we think of the title 'cherub that covereth', it brings to mind the Ark of the Covenant. This Ark was to be found in the Israelite sanctuary where two cherubs each spread a wing over the sacred chest that held the commandments of God. The title 'cherub that covereth' would suggest to us that Lucifer originally stood within the presence of God's glory in heaven just as God's presence is found above the mercy seat and surrounded by the cherubim. It was in this heavenly setting around the throne of God that he assisted in communicating the divine will to the angels and to the unfallen universe. The fact that he became dissatisfied was to make his deceptions among the angels well nigh overwhelming. The change from this privileged position is what makes him such a dangerous foe, and why it became necessary for God to provide for earth's inhabitants the special watch care and protection afforded by the unfallen angels.
Satan himself recognised this God-given protection when he said, 'Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all he hath on every side?' (Job 1: 9,10). The agency for this protection is described by the Psalmist in Ps 34: 7 when he said, 'The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.'
We need to understand that the god who loves us, has made sure that we will never walk alone. We are assured of this unceasing guardianship of heavenly angels and while at times tragedies occur in our lives that we don't always understand, it does not change the promises god has made.
2 Peter 2: 4 tells us that 'God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgement.' Until their judgement time comes, the devil and his angels will contend the right to access our everyday living, bringing temptations, disease, sickness, physical disasters and death. We must not be ignorant of these mighty agencies of evil that are numerous, determined and untiring in their efforts to destroy the peace and happiness of the human race.
What we have before us is indeed a spiritual battle of gigantic proportions but, thank God, we have the promise of His grace and protection.
Well, what does the written word tell us about angels and what special role were they given by God as this drama of the ages unfolds before heaven and the unfallen worlds?
The Scriptures make very clear that by nature:
They are created beings often referred to as the sons of God just like Adam was called the son of God (Job 1: 6; 2: 1; 38: 7). No matter how close to God angels may be, they, like humans, were created by Him. It is important to understand that only the members of the Godhead have original and underived life (1 Tim 6: 16). As created beings, angels are neither self-existent, nor do they continue to exist through their own power (Col. 1: 16,17).
Man was created a little lower than the angels indicating that they have been given powers that humans do not have (Ps 8: 4,5).
The Scriptures also make very clear that by nature:
They are spiritual beings created by God and under His authority. Col. 1: 16 tells us that 'For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.'
The spiritual nature of these angelic beings allows them to be free from many human limitations such as death (Luke 20: 36). They do not marry as we are told they are neither male nor female (Matt 22: 30). However, it is interesting to note that when they have appeared in human form, the Scriptures record that they have tended to assume that of a male personage (Gen 18: 2; Gen 19: 5). As spiritual beings, their ability to communicate using human words, and to affect human life in other ways, is the key to their role in the Bible.
Hebrews 1: 14 sums this up by saying, 'Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.'
In other words 'Are not angels created to serve us? Are they not sent to help those who will be saved and will inherit the earth? Those who will inherit salvation are the blood-bought, redeemed children of God. Those who rest their faith in Jesus Christ and His salvation provided by His sacrifice at Calvary for our sins.
God has made it very clear that we do not walk alone
To carry out their work, Angels have been given the ability, as with God, to travel within the fourth dimension allowing them to move quickly from one point in space to another (Dan 9: 21-23). They go forth, like 'the appearance of a flash of lightning' (Ezekiel 1: 14). Heaven is their headquarters (Matt 18: 10; 22: 30; Rev 5: 11) where they worship God (Ps. 103: 20-21; 148; 2) and from where they move out to render service to God's people at His bidding (Heb 1: 14). These are angels, that excel in strength and 'hearken unto the voice of His word (Ps. 103: 19-21; Rev 5: 11).
They bring messages to people (Luke 1: 26) they protect (Dan 6: 22), offer encouragement (Gen 16: 7), give guidance and protection (Ex 14: 19) carry out punishment (2 Sam 24; 15-17), patrol the earth (Zech 1: 9-14) and fight the forces of evil (2 Kings 6: 16-18; Rev 20: 1-2). When Sennacherib, the haughty Assyrian, reproached and blasphemed God, and threatened Israel with destruction, 'it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of the Assyrians, an hundred fourscore and five thousand.' There were 'cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains,' from the army of Sennacherib. So he returned with shame of face to his own land' (2 Kings 19: 35; 2 Chron. 32: 21).
Angels appeared to many of God's people in the Bible to announce good news (Judges 13: 3), to warn them of danger (Gen 19: 15), to nourish (Gen 21: 14-20; 1Kings 19: 4-7) or just to give instructions (Acts 7: 38; Gal 3: 19). Their greatest delight is to do the will of God. They have often appeared clothed in garments of light or in the clothing of weary travellers. They have accepted the hospitality of human homes, acted as guides and opened prison doors. They have spoken in the council and courts of justice on behalf of the oppressed and arrested evils that would have greatly retarded the work of God (White, 1950: 632). During times of need they bring back to mind the words of Scripture for comfort, healing and for resisting temptation. However, we need to understand that for this to take place, the teachings of Christ need to be stored in the mind so that we could say as did David in Psalm 119: 11 'Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.' There are some very important lessons that must learn in regard to the word of god.
From the standpoint of human beings, their number is uncountable. Writers of the Bible, who had never heard of millions, billions, and trillions, expressed this in the largest numbers they could visualise. 'Ten thousand times ten thousand [100 million], and thousands of thousands [innumerable] (Rev 5: 11; Heb 12; 22; Ps 68: 17; Brown, 1987: 14). To accommodate these numbers, Angels are organised into companies, each headed by a higher commanding angel known as an archangel (White, 1941: 176).
It is interesting to note that of the two classes of angels mentioned in Scripture, Lucifer belonged to the cherubim and this group are the ones most often spoken about throughout its pages. The Cherubim represent part of the security force of heaven and are first mentioned in the Bible in Gen 3: 24 when God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. He was to place them at the east of the garden with '…a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.' Symbolic representations were used in the Israelite tabernacle (Ex 25: 17-22) and in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 6: 23-28). It was here that Solomon made two gigantic cherubim out of olive wood and overlaid with gold, placing them in the Holy of Holies where their wings spread over the Ark of the Covenant. They were believed to be 4.6 m (15') high and had a wingspread measuring the same.
Of the second class of angels called the Seraphim we have very little detail except for such passages as Isaiah chapter 6. It would seem that they were more commonly known for their exuberant praise in worshiping around the throne room of God calling special attention to His glory and majesty.
It is also interesting to note that the representation of both Cherubim and Seraphim are found in the pagan world. They are usually shown as winged human headed bulls or lions and are found guarding the gates of palaces, temples or cities. These objects have often been compared to the cherubim guarding the gate to the Garden of Eden. It would seem that the desire for protection from evil forces is just as important in the Pagan world.
We need to recognise that angel activity throughout history was to increase at each of the great turning points in the divine plan of salvation. Through the days of the patriarchs, the time of the exodus and the giving of the law, the period of the Exile and restoration of the Jewish nation, the birth, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and the Scriptures tell us that angel activities will be prominent again in this last period of earth's history leading to and being part of His second coming (Matt 25: 31; Mark 8: 38).
The birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus in the plan of Salvation were so important that the angel messenger given this work was the archangel Gabriel. The archangel's position of honour, next to the Son of God, was given to him after Lucifer's expulsion from heaven. After coming first to Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist the angel said, 'I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news!' (Luke 1: 19).
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph…' The angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favour with God' (Luke 1: 26, 30).
At the time Jesus entered the world, paganism and idolatry had been established in every part of the earth except Palestine. It was the only place where Satan had not been able to take full control. It was to be here that the two contending forces both claimed supremacy. Never before had the world seen such a demonstration of demonic power as those years while Christ was on earth when many of earth's inhabitants, unconscious of Satan's influence, allowed their minds to come under his control.
Nowhere is this situation better illustrated than in those lands where knowledge of Jesus is unknown and spiritism is rife. Yet, even in these lands, the angels of God are at work preparing the minds of those who are susceptible to their influence for the entry of the gospel of Christ.
Papua New Guinea is classified as the world's second largest island. Fifteen hundred miles long, it sprawls just below the equator in the western Pacific. Terrific rainstorms rage about its high mountains sending its rivers roaring across its vast lowlands in floods of massive proportions (Brandes, 1929: 255). The Turama, the Kikori, the Purari and the Vailala are just some of the great rivers that flow into the swampy, delta land of the Papuan Gulf. When E. W. Brandes led a US sponsored 'National Geographic' expedition into these lands in 1929, he described them as a place of coconuts, cannibals and sorcery. Of beautiful birds of paradise, of mountains and swamps alive with crocodiles, carpet snakes, leeches and mosquitos. When they alighted from their plane before a cannibal camp in the remote jungles of the Fly River Basin he was mistaken for a God. Cannibalism had become a way of life for the fierce gulf people and remained this way until the arrival of Christianity (http://www.pacificislandtravel.com/png/about_destin/kerema.html).
It was about this time that the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who had commenced work in Papua, was entering this territory. While C. E. Mitchell and his wife had begun work at Vilarupu, G. H. Englbrecht and his wife were operating a station about 100 miles west of Port Moresby at Vailala, In 1933, a mission boat called the 'Diari' was supplied by the Sabbath school Department for these coastal areas and it is significant that the name 'Diari', which means 'light', was used to penetrate these spiritually dark western areas of Papua. By 1948 a training school had been developed at Bautama resulting in the providing of national pastors to aid in this very important work of the mission. This was supplemented in 1953 by a central training school, which had subsequently been built at Belepa (Neufeld,1966: 957-8).
Many years later in the late 1940s and early 1950s it was decided to open up new territory and reach out to the cannibal village of Kamaio (Car-my-oh) in the upper Turama River area.
The mission was to choose a native Pastor by the name of Pastor Haru and his wife Kaura (Cowra) to commence this work. At that time their family circle consisted of five small children. They were then sent up river on the mission boat 'Diari' which was commissioned to take them to the remote and primitive site of the Kamaio village.
On their arrival the natives were preparing for a large feast and were cooking human flesh. Faced with this scene the young Pastor was asked whether he was prepared to remain and carry out the mission he had been given. Pastor Haru's courageous reply was that 'this is where God wants me to be.'
Unbeknown to any of those on the 'Diari', the Lord had already prepared the way.
It was later discovered that sometime in the past one of the village elders by the name of Dorni (Dawni) had been given a dream and in this vision of the night he had been shown a boat with a white man on board coming up the Turama River and on that boat he saw a native teacher with a picture roll that was designed for story telling. This was not the first incident where angel messengers had either appeared or were involved in giving dreams to these primitive people who only knew another world involving spiritism and animism.
When the 'Diari' arrived at the village Dorni recognised Pr Haru immediately as that teacher in his dream. Coming into the village the people's first response was to kill them and add them to their feast but so sure was Dorni of the message he was given, he went surity for all of them and, it was through this act, that their lives were spared. This meant placing his own life on the line for a group of people who he had previously not known.
One of the gifts that God had given to this young native teacher was the gift of learning languages so it was not long before Pr. Haru was able to converse with them in their own dialect. Through these conversations with the people of the village he was able to put together a little of their history.
One of the most remarkable pieces of information he received during these talks was that for generations the village people had been given the knowledge of what we know as the Sabbath and tithing.
He was shown a piece of rope with seven knots tied in it. They explained that with this rope they would count the days of the week and when they arrived at the seventh knot, they would not work, go to their gardens, or make feasts on that day.
They also showed him a piece of cane which had ten notches cut in it and when they brought produce from their gardens or caught fish they would count them out and the tenth was set aside in a separate place in the village. He also discovered that in their folklore they would tell a story very similar to the Biblical story of the flood. These remarkable revelations had been passed down for generations and while they did not understand the reasons behind these traditions, it was to make the way easier for the gospel message to be shared with them by a young man that was now shown to be their friend and their teacher.
Later in the mid 1950's, my late father-in-law Mr Alf Chapman and Edna Geelan's father, the late Pastor Elwyn Martin, had similar experiences while they were on a patrol from the headwaters of the Vailala River to the headwaters of the Kikori River. This area was barely under Government control and the villagers had very little contact with the outside world. The amazing discovery was that many of the people contained similar knowledge to those that Pr. Haru had previously befriended in the upper reaches of the Turama River (Interview 1, 2005: 1).
In opening up paths for the spread of the good news of the Gospel, there is no doubt that God's messengers had already been at work. They were there to provide opportunities for the spread of Christianity and to offer protection to those who had the courage to take it into these unknown and remote areas of the globe.
Angels continue to play an important part in the closing scenes of earth's history.
Coming down to these last days, the Scriptures show us four angels holding back the winds of strife which, when loosed, will bring a time of trouble such as never been seen since the world began. The Scriptures also make clear that when the angel of mercy folds his wings and departs, Satan will be allowed full sway and the winds of human passion that have been held in check for so long will be let loose. While this will be a time of trouble for God's children as never before in the history of the world, angels, faithful to their trust will watch and shield them and preserve their lives. There will be no such security for those who have disregarded God's law.
Thank God for the watch care of these mighty guardian angels
After the final battle against the forces of evil the silver trumpet of Christ will sound announcing Jesus return to earth. The angels who knew not the time or the hour of His return will surround the commander of heaven to prepare for their journey (Brown, 1987: 166). There will be silence in heaven during this time as all the angels accompany the Lord's return to the earth (Rev 8: 1). The trumpet of the archangel sounds as they approach and the guardian angels of those who died in Christ will be the first to greet them as they rise to meet the Lord in the air. Angels will become visible in order to greet those who have survived the great battle of Armageddon and all will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye to immortality (1Thess. 4: 16; Matt 25:21; 1Cor 15: 52; White, 1952: 305; Nichol, 1957, Vol. 6: 1093; Brown, 1987: 166).
Special angels designated to care for motherless children will receive them, care for them and later lead them to the tree of life. All will be transported through the air to meet the Lord where He is found seated on His throne among a blaze of light and splendour (Brown, 1987: 166).
Christ bids them welcome and puts His benediction upon them when He says: Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord' (Matt 25: 21; Ibid: 167).
What a marvellous time awaits each and every one who is faithful to the end. To be acquainted with our angel companions who were our guardians during life on earth - who never let us walk alone.
But above all, to be become acquainted with Jesus, will be our greatest JOY.
My prayer is to encourage you, each one, to remain faithful and to hold firm to the precious promises the Lord has given to us so that we will have this privilege for eternity.
May God grant that to us this morning.
Chapman, M. E. (2005) 'Opening up the work in the Upper Turama River' (Interview/Correspondence).
Brandes, E. W. (1929) 'Into Primeval Papua by Seaplane", The National Geographic Magazine, Vol LVI, NO. 3, September, Washington DC: National Geographic Society.
Brown, W. J. (1987) Angels - We Never Walk Alone. Washington, DC, USA: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Neufeld, D. F. (1966) Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Nichol, F. D. (1955) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol 4. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association
Nichol, F. D. (1957) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol 6. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association
White, E. G. (1941) Christ's Object Lessons. Washington D.C: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1952) Education. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
White, E. G. (1940) The Desire of Ages. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
White. E. G. (1950) The Great Controversy. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
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