Amazing The Angels
By David Feddes
Angels are not easily impressed. Angels are so dazzling that they’re not impressed by the glamour of celebrities. Angels are so strong that they’re not impressed by athletic strength or military power. Angels are so smart that they’re not impressed by computers or brain power. Angels are so impressive themselves that they’re not easily impressed by some of the things that impress us.
But there is something that impresses angels, something that amazes them and fills them with astonishment: something so surprising that the angels couldn’t see it coming, something so mysterious that the angels never imagined it, something of such vastness and variety that the angels still haven’t figured it all out, something so grand that the angels are awestruck, something so good that the angels never stop celebrating. What is it that staggers even angels, with their splendor, power, and genius? What is it that angels find most amazing? The answer may surprise you.
What God Was Hiding
If I told you that angels are amazed by God, the one Being who is infinitely greater than themselves, you might not be surprised. It would certainly be true to say that the angels live in constant awe of God and his greatness. The Bible says that the angels always see the face of the heavenly Father (Matthew 18:10), and the Bible also says that God’s holiness is so stunning that angelic creatures shield their faces in the Lord’s presence (Isaiah 6:2). But what amazes angels most isn’t just what they’ve always known of God’s heavenly glory but something different that they never saw before, something God was keeping back and hiding for a long time before he finally brought it out into the open.
When God created the physical universe from nothing and formed the earth, “all the angels shouted for joy” (Job 38:7), but even though God’s act of bringing something from nothing was awesome, it was not the thing that would most amaze the angels. The angels saw God create living plants and animals from dead matter; they saw God turn ordinary elements—common dust—into thinking, feeling humanity; they saw God direct the movements of the planets and galaxies; they watched God control the rise and fall of empires and civilizations; and the angels were amazed at the things God was doing; but in all that time and in all those events, the angels never saw anything quite like the surprise revelation God was intending to show them when the moment was right.
Not even when God judged the rebellious angels and blessed the faithful angels did the angels see anything as amazing as they would one day see. When Lucifer and some of his fellow rebels turned against God, the millions of angels who remained loyal saw a stunning display of God’s power in casting the fallen angels out of heaven; they saw God’s justice in condemning the rebels and his generosity in rewarding the faithful angels; they saw the worthiness of God and the absurdity of Satan (or anyone else) sitting on the throne of the universe; but even these divine actions which shook the heavens were still not as amazing as what lay ahead.
What was God hiding? What was he planning that would amaze the angels? The thing God was holding back, the thing that has now been revealed and amazes angels more than anything else, is this: God’s wisdom displayed through his church. That’s right, the church. You might be thinking, “What a letdown! After all this talk about what amazes angels, after building up to something supposedly mysterious and marvelous, that’s it? The church? Come on! The church is often boring and hypocritical. And even if a church here or there is fairly interesting and helpful, one thing it’s not is amazing.”
Well, there are two ways to look at the church. One way is to see a building that could use a few repairs and a group of people with more than their share of problems. You may hear sermons that make you yawn and music that makes you wish you were somewhere else. And as long as that’s all you notice in the church, you’ll find it to be anything but amazing.
But there’s another way to see the church: as an astonishing, worldwide body of transformed people with Christ Jesus himself as the head. That’s what angels see when God shows them his church. They see in the church the most astonishing display of God’s wisdom that they have ever encountered. They see God doing things in Christ that angels could never have planned or dreamed of. They see marvels and miracles happening in the church on earth, and they see the church in heaven shining with a glory that surpasses even the splendor of angels.
The Bible speaks of this in Ephesians 3, where the apostle Paul writes of his calling to “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms [that is, the angels], according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:8-11)
From the time God first created the angels, they have seen his majesty, holiness, and wisdom, but their deepest insight into God’s character has come in seeing the church, the body of Christ.
The Amazing Head
If the church as the body of Christ amazes angels, there’s no doubt that the most amazing thing about the body is the head, Christ Jesus himself. What God has done in and through Jesus to save sinners and bring them to glory is the most magnificent and astounding demonstration of wisdom the angels have ever seen.
When the first humans fell into sin, no angel could have guessed what God would do next. Based on what they’d seen in the past, they might have guessed that God would drive sinners from the earth the way he had cast the rebel angels out of heaven. But God didn’t cast all humanity from the earth and into hell. Instead, he promised that someday a Savior would rescue many of them. No doubt the angels were amazed when they first heard that promise, but they still couldn’t guess in advance how God in his wisdom would do it.
The promised Savior would have to be absolutely perfect in order to be acceptable to God, and at the same time he would have to be part of humanity in order to represent us. But where could such a person be found? What angel could ever have figured out in advance that God himself, in the person of the divine Son, would take on a human nature? How could anyone be divine and human at the same time? No mind on earth or in heaven could conceive of such a thing, but God in his wisdom conceived of it and did it.
When the angels saw their Lord become a human baby born in a manger, they erupted in joy and amazement. At first they may have been astonished that Jesus would be born in a stable of all places, but it became apparent that by being born to poor parents in lowly circumstances, the Lord in his wisdom was showing that he comes down to the poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low. He showed that worldly wealth and status count for nothing in his eyes, that humility and love are far more valuable in his sight. Jesus’ lowly birth isn’t what humans or even angels would have planned, but to this day the story of the baby in the manger has greater power to grip our hearts than if Jesus had been born in any other place. Who but God in his wisdom could have planned a birth so unlike what anyone would expect and yet so perfectly suited to his purpose?
Ah, but the greatest surprise was yet to come. Now that Jesus was born, how would he bring salvation? How would he rescue sinners from the punishment they deserve? How could sinful people get rid of their guilt and become acceptable to a holy God? This is a problem that even angels at the height of their intelligence would never have been able to figure out their own. How could God be a just judge and do what is right, and yet give pardon and blessing to people who have done wrong?
God’s wisdom came up with a surprising solution: the principle of substitution. God decided that because Jesus was human, he could take responsibility for what other humans have done. As a parent may take responsibility for a child and pay for damage caused by the child, as a company may take responsibility for the debts of a business it buys, so Jesus took responsibility for the sins of the world. God placed the responsibility for all those sins on his own Son and gave those sins the punishment they deserve as Jesus hung on the cross. At the same time, through the act of substitution, God was able to credit the value of Jesus’ perfect obedience to all those for whom Christ died. Who but God could have figured out substitution as a way to show his justice and yet spare sinners?
British preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “If you imagine that forgiveness is a simple matter for God, and that because God is love he simply has to say, ‘Very well, I will forgive you,’ you might as well burn your Bible. The forgiveness of sins, I dare to say, taxed even the wisdom of God. At any rate, I am certain when I say that the angels could see no way through this problem. That is why they are surprised when they see what God has done about it.” God could create worlds and galaxies merely by speaking. He can cause an earthquake or bring down a nation simply by frowning. But for God to reconcile himself with sinners, his wisdom had to go further than ever before.
The cross of Jesus Christ shows God’s wisdom in dealing with sin and saving sinners, and what’s more, it also shows God’s wisdom in outsmarting Satan and the forces of evil. Satan’s two worst weapons are sin and death. The crucifixion of Jesus was the most horrible sin and the most hideous death ever, but God’s wisdom turned Satan’s weapons of sin and death against him and made the cross into the ultimate defeat and shaming of Satan. The Bible says, “Having disarmed the powers and authorities [Satan and the other fallen angels], he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). What but God’s wisdom could take a seeming defeat and turn it into total victory?
Once Jesus had solved the sin problem through his death, he rose from the dead by the power of God and ascended to heaven, where he now reigns in power and glory, adored by angels and reigning over the universe. This whole chain of events, from Jesus’ birth to his death, resurrection, and glorious ascension, never ceases to amaze the angels. The Bible says, “Beyond all question the mystery of godliness is great: [Christ] appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).
The Amazing Body
As God displays his wisdom to angels through Christ, the head of the church, God also displays his manifold, many-splendored wisdom in the body of the church.
God’s wisdom shines in the way his Holy Spirit uses simple means to work wonders in the church. It’s astonishing what impact a few sentences in a sermon or a brief personal testimony from a Christian can have on someone. God uses the words of ordinary people to do extraordinary things in the hearts of others. He uses baptism, a simple ceremony of washing, to seal a relationship to Christ and his church. He uses the Lord’s Supper—a mouthful of bread and a gulp of wine—to nourish souls with the life-giving presence of Christ himself. Angels are amazed that God can use a few simple things such as his Word and sacraments to accomplish marvels in his church that last for eternity.
God’s wisdom is so great that he can even use the church’s problems and blunders to advance his cause. Many of the church’s best statements of truth have come in response to the challenges of false teachers. Many of the greatest revivals and reforms have come after times of decay and deadness in the church, which moved sincere believers to cry out for the Holy Spirit’s renewal. Many expansions of the church occurred through missionaries who had serious faults and made big mistakes. As history unfolds, God in his wisdom makes even the attacks of his enemies and the failings of his people to build his church and glorify his name.
The wisdom God displays in Christ and in the church as a whole is also displayed in wonderful ways in each individual member of that body. God’s wisdom displays a rich variety by shining in different ways in the different people who are joined to Christ. No two are exactly alike, and no two come to Christ in exactly the same way. God in his wisdom knows exactly how to win over each of his chosen ones. One person comes to Christ after a terrible crisis that makes him search for God. Another is quietly and gradually drawn to Christ by the kindness of a Christian friend. Another comes to Christ through the daily instruction and example of Christian parents. Another comes to Christ by hearing a gospel broadcast. Another comes to Christ through a combination of many influences. In each case, God’s wisdom shines through in doing exactly what it takes to win the mind and heart of each person for whom Christ died. God arranges all the events in a person’s life, and his Holy Spirit works inside the person, to bring about the effect God intends.
Each time an individual repents of sin and trusts in Christ, the angels are amazed and delighted afresh at another new display of God’s wisdom and love. Jesus said, “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). If one person turning from sin to Christ can set off so much celebration, just imagine how amazed and merry the angels must be to see a whole mosaic of millions of people, each a unique individual, each one chosen by God from all eternity, each led to salvation by God’s own special plan for that person, and all joined in one body, the church, with Jesus Christ as the head.
If Jesus is the light of the world, then the church is the rainbow of colors produced by the light. The beautiful variety of God’s wisdom in Christ shines in the variety of personalities and cultures in the church worldwide. When the apostle Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:10 of “the manifold wisdom of God” being made known to the angels, he has just been telling how God has used Jesus (a Jew) to expand God’s family to include not only people of Jewish background but people of every nationality who believe in Jesus. The church is a multicolored, multinational marvel of divine wisdom.
Revelation 5 offers a vision in which saints in heaven praise Christ by singing, “You were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” How do the angels respond to Christ’s work of saving so many different kinds of people and transforming them into royalty who will reign with him? According to Revelation “ten thousand times ten thousand” angels erupted in loud singing, “‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.’
Angels marvel that Christ saves multitudes of lost sinners and makes them into saints who can be at home in the company of angels and may enjoy privileges even greater than the angels. The Bible says that followers of Jesus will someday rank higher than angels. Does that upset the angels? Does it make them envious to see members of the church blessed so bountifully? No, it fills them with delight that the God they serve has the wisdom and generosity to do such astonishing and splendid things, and it makes them eager to find out even more. The things God is doing through Christ in his church are so thrilling, says the apostle Peter, that “even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12).
Amazing blessings for angels—and humans
What Christ has done for humans is so great that the benefits overflow even to the holy angels. The angels feed on the glory of God—it is their nourishment and pleasure—so every fresh display of God’s glory expands their happiness even more. The holy angels always knew that God is good and loving, but never before had they seen such love as when God the Son became human and died to rescue sinners. That’s why the angels erupt in praise for the Lamb that was slain: it thrills them to serve a God whose love is greater than even angels could have guessed.
Another way the church benefits the angels is to give them reason to prize their own heavenly happiness even more when they see what it cost to provide such happiness to humans. Eternal enjoyment of God is breathtakingly valuable—so precious, in fact, that God paid the immeasurable price of his own Son’s blood to purchase it for human beings. The holy angels didn’t need Christ to die for their sins in order to be fit for heaven, but when they see what it cost God to pay for humans to be there, that great price helps the angels to sense more strongly than ever what a huge treasure they have in belonging to the Lord and enjoying him forever.
Another blessing for angels is that Christ, the God-man, is their head as well as ours. By becoming human, God the Son has come closer to angels than when he was divine but not yet human. Angels are creatures, and God the Creator is infinitely above them as he is infinitely above us. But by becoming human, the Son of God has a created nature joined to his divine nature. That makes him one of us, and it also brings him closer to the angels. The Bible says that God’s final goal is “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). What does it mean for the angels to have Christ as their head? The holy angels did not need Jesus to die for their sins, but now that Christ has a created nature, the angels are as closely connected to him as a body to its head. Their relationship to God can be more intimate and joyful than ever, and they can also have a closer bond to other creatures who have Christ as their head.
This brings up still another way in which Christ’s love for the church benefits the angels. Angels are blessed by their bond with the church, and they are thrilled anew every time another human is saved. One reason the angels celebrate each new Christian is that they see a fresh display of God’s goodness. Another reason for celebrating is that when a sinner turns to Christ, another splendid being is added to the heavenly fellowship headed by Christ. The angels know that each repentant sinner is adopted by God as his child and becomes a prince or princess in his kingdom. The angels are excited to have another member of royalty join the eternal circle of joy around God’s throne.
You may not see yourself as royalty, you may not see anything about yourself that would make angels excited to enjoy your company, but if you could only see what God will someday make of you (if you are one of God’s children in Christ), you would understand why angels would feel honored and thrilled to associate with you. If you belong to Christ, you will share in the splendor of Christ himself and reign with him in a way that even the angels will never cease to marvel at.
It’s clear from the Bible that angels enjoy great blessings from what Christ has done for his church, even though they benefit only indirectly. How much greater, then, are the blessings for those who benefit directly? If angels rejoice that Christ became human, shouldn’t we rejoice that Christ is one of us? If angels marvel that Christ would die for others, shouldn’t Christians marvel that Christ died for us? If angels are amazed at what God does for his church, shouldn’t every person in the church be amazed? And if you’re outside the church, shouldn’t you be asking how you can get in? Shouldn’t you be seeking a share in the riches of Christ and find out how you can benefit from God’s wisdom which amazes even the angels? If “even the angels long to look into these things,” shouldn’t you look into them as well?
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.