The Divine Messenger
When we think of the Christmas story, we often think of the baby Jesus; Mary and Joseph; the shepherds and the wise men. I have heard messages on those key characters. But you know I have never heard a message on the angels or specifically on the angel Gabriel that we find in the Luke account. There wouldn’t be the Christmas story without the divine messenger from God.
Let me highlight the angelic encounters:
First Encounter: Zachariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25)
- Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth were descendents of Aaron – which meant that Zach was a priest. They were good folks and well respected community leaders but had no children – they were beyond the normal childbearing years.
- There were a great number of priests so they took turns serving in the temple and it was Zach’s turn to carry out his priestly duties. The priest got to serve in the inner most parts of the synagogue. The congregation was gathered outside this inner most part and they were praying at the hour of the incense offering. Without warning, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zach was paralyzed in fear. Wouldn’t you.
- But the angel to calm his fears – good luck, "Don't be afraid, Zachariah (hardly anyone called him Zachariah except when he forgot Lizzy birthday or when he was in trouble). Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You're going to have a big time celebration at his birth but know this he'll achieve great stature with God. The last time God spoke to a person directly or through a messenger was 400 years ago.
- He'll not drink any strong drink like wine or beer; he will not be your typical kid. He'll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother's womb. He will call for repentance and turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will prophesy the coming of the Messiah – he will be the one setting the stage for the Son of God. Many will think that he Elijah because his style of preaching will be similar. He will call for repentance and preparation for the Messiah; he'll get the people ready for God.
- Before you criticize Zach for his reaction think about how you would react to seeing an angel and hearing this good news later in your life, let’s say you are in your 60’s. Zach was rather skeptical he wants to know where the candid camera was – what he really said to the angel, "You got to be kidding me; do you really expect me to believe this? I'm an old and so if my wife."
- But the angel said, "I am Gabriel, the messenger of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won't believe me, you'll be unable to say a word until the day of your son's birth. Every word I've spoken to you will come true on God's time."
- Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. When he came out and couldn't speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.
- When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home. It wasn't long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy. And she gave birth to a son and they named him John. He preceded Jesus and delivered a message of hope and repentance – proclaiming that the Messiah was coming.
Second Encounter – Mary Is Told the Good News
- How well do we know the story of Jesus’ birth? Let’s take a look at the story again from the angel perspective. In the sixth month of Lizzy's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin's name was Mary. Upon entering Mary’s home without a knock – he just kind of appeared. Gabriel greeted her: Good morning! You're beautiful with God's beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you. I don’t think God gives out one liners but it is apparent that He wants something because it has not been normal for an angel to address a person.
- The scripture tells us that Mary was troubled – wouldn’t you be a little troubled? She was really shook up, here is this angel – not sure how she knew he was an angel it could be we get idea of what angel looks like in the description of angels in Revelation. And if that be the case she must have been really shook up by the words he says next. "Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. (That is a little more than a surprise don’t you think.) He will be great, be called 'Son of the Highest.' The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will rule Jacob's house forever and there will be no end, ever, to his kingdom."
- Mary probably said something like “would you back up and say that again.” Mary said this is going to be really impossible because I am a virgin – I have never had sex so how can this be.
- Gabriel told her that nothing is impossible with God - The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Most High will hover over you; Therefore, the child you bring to birth will be called Holy, Son of God.
- By the way to show you nothing is beyond God’s power check out your cousin Elizabeth who was said to be too old to have a child is expecting. She is 6 months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.
- Mary tells Gabriel that she will do anything the Lord wants her to do. She was ready to serve. But as a addendum “would you talk to my dad and my fiancé about this because they are not going to believe me.”
The Third Encounter – Joseph and the Angel
- Can you imagine Joseph reaction to Mary’s news? He probably wondered if Mary had lost her mind thinking that she became pregnant through God. He can only imagine how this happened and try to figure how he could get out of this engagement without being shamed and without Mary being stoned for her promiscuous act.
- While he was trying to figure a way out this confusing situation, he had a dream. God's angel spoke in the dream: "Joseph, son of David, don't hesitate to get married. Mary's pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God's Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus (Jesus in the Greek & Joshua in Hebrew) which means 'God saves'—because he will save his people from their sins." This would bring the prophecy to fulfillment. Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for "God is with us").
- Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God's angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus. That is an important side bar because Joe and Mary did have other children.
The Fourth Encounter – the Shepherds Response:
- There were sheepherders taking care of their sheep. They were sitting around the camp fire swapping ghost stories and roasting marshmallows. They had set night watchers over their sheep.
- Suddenly, God's angel (just one) stood among them and God's glory blazed around him. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: The Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."
- At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises: 14 "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" Luke 2:14 (NKJV) By the way these angels had not landed they were hovering over them.
- As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. "Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us." They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
- Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told!
- There are 2 more encounters with angels and we will look at them in a few moments.
There are a few things we need to pick up from these encounters with an angel of the Lord:
- Angels are messengers. The word ‘angel’ literally means ‘one who is sent.’ These messengers of God deliver God’s Word and His will in the universe we live in and in spiritual realm doing this either in visible and or invisible form.
- What kind of messages?
- Sometimes their message is one of worship (Seraphim) as mentioned in Isaiah 6.
- Sometimes their message is one of ministry and encouragement (Matt. 4:11; Heb. 1:14).
- Sometimes their message is one of protection (Matt. 2:13).
- And sometimes their message demands warfare (invisible: Dan. 10:13 and visible: Joshua 5:13-15).
- And always, their message is God’s; message. Let’s take a few moments to consider the special appearances of these divine messengers as mentioned in the Christmas narratives of Luke 1 & Matthew 1.
- First notice that the communication from God is one of choice. The Angel is delivered a message of choice – Mary is His choice.
- Luke records the message as an announcement to an earthly human. Mary is as earthly as you can get. The message stuns Mary; she is amazed.
- Gabriel reassures her that this is exactly what God wants – that she is exactly who God wants.
- She has found favor with God. Because of the grace of God and because of her desire to be devoted to her family and her faith, God favored her.
- She questions not the plan of God, but the impossibility of bearing a child as a virgin. He explains it so matter of fact as if it is ‘standard procedure’ (the Holy Spirit will come and cover you and then you will be with child … simple!), then He prophesies about who this baby is and what His birth means for the world and closes with ‘For with God nothing shall be impossible.’
- Her response was one of great faith: Luke 1:38 (NIV) 38 "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. She accepts the will of God for herself and trusted He would take care of the details, like Joseph and her family.
- Joseph is another story; he is not so comfortable with the news that Mary gave him. We first see Joseph trying to figure out how to quietly change their engagement so not to shame her and not to marry a woman already expecting. So Joseph needs some convincing.
- The angel appears to Joseph in a dream – I have had some interesting dreams but none with an angel – how about you?
- The angel is not named in Matthew – but I figure it is Gabriel because he has deliver the other messages. The message is simple and to the point: ‘This is God’s doing! Marry the girl and name the baby Jesus.’
- At this point in the story, Matthew inserts an ancient prophecy of Isaiah which gives the reader a little perspective to the enormity of this moment.
- We need also reminded of what happened six months prior when an angel visited Zacharias and with news of a baby (John the Baptist). When Zacharias doubted, he was stricken with silence until the baby was born. Both these situations of John and Joseph with the angel show a very interesting balance between the sovereignty of God and the free will of man.
- Joseph didn’t have all the answers; in fact, his hurdles were just around the corner, too. But he responded in faith and with tremendous courage. Oh that we would trust the Lord as Joseph, realizing that the purposes of God cannot be thwarted, yet they involve our surrender and faithfulness!
- Message of Great Joy - One of the most famous encounters with angels is recorded in Luke 2:9-15 as they appeared to the shepherds in the night.
- At first, there was only one angel delivering the message of glad tidings and great joy to all the nations.
- It’s interesting that the news of the Great Shepherd was first delivered unto humble shepherds nearby. On the tails of the message, a celestial choir burst out in song of praise: “Glory to God in the Highest!”
- These men were never told to go find Christ, only how to identify Him. It was assumed that they would go to Him… and they did – in a hurry! And not only did they visit Him, but they told everyone they ran into about the angels and the baby!
- I wish that we would rush to Jesus and give him our worship, and then rush away telling everyone we know about how awesome He is.
- A Message of Protection from Satanic Opposition – we normally don’t include the next 2 encounters with angels in the Christmas story or we just take it for granted that they occur. (Matt. 1:11-16)
- Ever since the Garden, Satan has made it his primary objective to thwart God’s purposes. (Even though God knows Satan’s plans before Satan even knows his own plans!) He tries his hardest and uses any means necessary.
- God was able to use Herod (Satan’s tool) two times during this short time-frame. The angel appeared to the wise men with the truth about Herod’s plot (Satan’s plot) to kill the Messiah.
- God led them to change their exit route to preserve His Son. In the day(s) following, the angel appeared to Joseph with the same message: ‘Herod wants to kill Jesus. Take your family to Egypt until I tell you otherwise.” Even in an apparent upheaval of human plans, God’s Word was being fulfilled (Hosea 11:1). Isn’t that just like God!?!
Some simple principles come from the angels and the Christmas story:
- The angels deliver the message of solving our dilemma of having a relationship with God – they are the messengers. It is God’s Message that the angel is giving - God is the Creator, Provider, and Sustainer of all life and His nature is full of grace, love and truth. Anything that He has to say is worth our attention.
- Secondly notice the response to the messages - those that heard the message did what they were called to do.
- Zacharias was silent for 9 months because he doubted that they could have a kid in their advanced ages and at the birth of his son he did what Gabriel told him to – he named him John. It is not a family name but he learned his lesson – don’t question the angel.
- Mary’s response – I will do whatever the Lord I wants, I am His servant
- When the angel visited Joseph in a dream he immediately took Mary to be his wife and when the angel warned him about Herod coming he went to Egypt like he was instructed.
- The shepherds heard the message of the one angel and then got to hear the music of angelic host. They were told the good news and left their sheep to visit the Lord.
- The wise men listen to the instruction of an angel to not go back to Herod and go back a different way.
What is the message that we need to hear? Are we willing to follow?
Please click here for slides to accompany the sermon.