What does an angel look like? Do you picture a spiritual being with wings, or a young man dressed in white? Indeed, the Bible often describes angels as having wings (as many as six), and during Jesus’ day angels often appeared as young men dressed in white. Has anyone ever said that you look like an angel? Your parents and grandparents may have said that when you were a few months old but I wonder if they would still say that about you today? If not, they should for, although you may not have wings or a wear white robe, you are an angel! Really? Let’s turn to our sermon text for an explanation.
Our text is taken from one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Revelation is often misinterpreted because many forget that it is a book of symbols. For example in the first chapter of Revelation, the Apostle John describes a vision he had of Jesus. He saw Jesus dressed in white and walking among seven golden lampstands. This vision was not a peek into Jesus’ heavenly living room. The golden lampstands were not Jesus’ choice for interior lighting. The lampstands symbolized churches. We know this because Jesus tells us (Revelation 1:20c). In that same vision John saw Jesus holding stars in his hand. Jesus explains that these stars symbolized the “angels” of the churches (Revelation 1:20b). To understand what Jesus meant by that we need to know that the Greek word “angel” simply means, “messenger.” Context will determine whether the messenger spoken about is a heavenly one, like the angel Gabriel, or an earthly one, like a prophet. The angels that Jesus held in his hand were not heavenly messengers; they were the pastors of the congregations to whom John was to send the book of Revelation.
Knowing that the word “angel” simply means, “messenger” will help us understand our sermon text. In Revelation 14 John records this vision: “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Revelation 14:6, 7).
Who was this angel and why is it significant that he was flying in midair with the “eternal” gospel? The angel John saw could certainly represent heavenly angels for one of their tasks is to share messages from God. Think of how heavenly angels told the shepherds about the birth of Jesus. But when’s the last time a heavenly angel told you the good news about Jesus? What other “angels” (messengers) have spoken to you about Jesus? Perhaps the first people to tell you about Jesus were your parents. Others that have told you about Jesus are your Sunday School teachers and pastors. Whenever you tell someone about Jesus, you’re an angel - a messenger from God and a fulfillment of this vision John saw.
But why was the angel flying in midair? And why was the gospel he proclaimed described as “eternal”? The truth Jesus was illustrating with this high-flying angel proclaiming the “eternal” gospel was that even though evil governments and false prophets will try their best to silence the truth about him, the gospel of Jesus will continue to be shared by people like you and me until the end of time.
That’s a promise for which we give special thanks in our Reformation service today. Close to five hundred years ago it seemed that the Word of God had been silenced. It’s not that people didn’t talk about Jesus. The church in those days certainly spoke about the Savior but denied that he had done everything necessary for our salvation. The Pope taught then, as he still does today, that sinners must do acts of penance – good works to show their seriousness of wanting to be saved. The church also sold indulgences - coupons that granted the forgiveness of sins. Unfortunately this practice has not died in the Roman Catholic Church. Just five years ago Pope John Paul II reauthorized the sale of indulgences. Five hundred years ago the gospel message that we are saved because of what Jesus has done was in danger of being lost. God, however, ensured that the gospel message continued to ring out loudly and clearly. He used a man by the name of Martin Luther to get that message out. Through his study of Scripture, Luther learned that we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone. Luther was an “angel” to the people of his day and through his writings still speaks to us today.
We are saved because of what Jesus has done, not because of anything we do. Is that the message you believe? As Lutherans we’re quick to say, “Of course it is!” But I wonder if we’re not a little like the man in the following story. A man died and stood before St. Peter at the gates of heaven. Peter said: “Here’s how it works. You tell me all the good things that you’ve done, I’ll tally them up, and when you score a hundred points, you get to come into heaven.” The man hesitated for a moment and then said: “Well, I was married to the same woman for fifty years and never cheated on her, not even in my heart.” “Great,” said Peter. “That’s worth two points.” “Two points?” the man asked. “Well I attended church all my and life and supported its ministry with my offering and talents.” “Terrific,” exclaimed Peter. “That’s certainly worth a point.” “One point?!!” the man retorted. “I started a soup kitchen and worked in a shelter for the homeless. I spent my Thanksgiving and Christmas days serving dinners to the less fortunate.” “Fantastic! That’s good for two more points,” said Peter. Exasperated the man cried: “At this rate the only way I’ll get into heaven is by the grace of God!” “Bingo! One hundred points. Welcome to heaven!” replied Peter (author unknown –found in Christian News September 12th, 2005, p. 21).
As Lutherans we claim to know and believe that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. Yet how often don’t we think, like the man in the story, that God owes us something for the things we’ve done for him? And how quickly we forget or take lightly our sins whether jealousy or pride. Sure we know that these things are wrong but we often think that God will gloss over them because we’re otherwise decent people. Friends, if we rely on anything or anyone other than Jesus for salvation – we have no salvation. Supposing that our good deeds will get us into heaven is like using duct tape to make repairs when only a nail will do. And that’s exactly what God did; he fixed our problem of sin with a nail (author unknown – found in Christian News September 12th, 2005, p. 21). What needs to be added to what God has done? What can we add? Nothing. Jesus has done everything necessary for salvation. Believe it!
This message of free forgiveness through faith in Christ will not just last forever; it’s for all people. Did you notice how the angel in John’s vision cried out in a loud voice so that all tribes, nations, and people would hear? Sometimes we think the theme of Reformation is “guarding” the gospel message. We do want to guard God’s Word from error but that doesn’t mean we are to lock it away so that we’re the only ones who know about it. No. This message is for all people. Jesus died to pay for the sins of the whole word. So remember who you are. You’re an angel, a messenger of God, with the only message that saves from hell. Get the Word out here and abroad, not because you must, but because you will, because that’s what God made you for – to be an angel. Amen.