“Don't Settle for Angels”
September 23, 2001
In worship and service, exalt the Son far above any other.
I. Jesus is exalted as the Son to be worshiped (Hebrews 1:4-6)
II. Jesus is exalted as the Sovereign to be served (Hebrews 1:7-14)
MessageIn his preface to The Screwtape Letters C. S. Lewis complains about the distorted picture of angels in religious art. Says Lewis: In early paintings, the angels carry in their face and gesture the peace and authority of Heaven. Later come the chubby infantile nudes of Raphael; finally the soft, slim, girlish, and consolatory angels of Victorian art. In Scripture, he says, the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it begins with Fear not. The Victorian angel looks as if it were going to say There, there.
As a result, for most of this century, angels have been little regarded. Donald Guthrie, whose commentary on Hebrews was written in 1983, points out the great interest the Jewish people had in angels but goes on to say modern man is not so sure about angels, and the relevance of this passage requires some discussion. But thats not true twenty years later. Now angel art abounds, much of it as sappy as the Victorian kind. Angel stories, angel drama, angel television series are immensely popular.
Touched by an Angel starring Della Reese has been hugely successful. Yet while its angels arent 19th century gowned figures, they are so human and benign that they entirely fail to do justice to the awesome reality of angels in the Bible. All these angels seem to want is for people to be nice and work out their problems. Salvation through Jesus is not on their minds. At that, this show is more reverent, and thus a lot more deceptive than silly, successful movies like Angels in the Outfield.
In our own church library we have been given a number of magazines over the years with titles like Angels on Earth and Whispers from Heaven. These are supposed to be true stories but way too many of them present angels with an almost 19th century sweetness that comes more from culture than from encounters with the real thing. Further it galls me that theres always somebody out to make a fast buck. The backs of the February and August 1999 editions of Whispers from Heaven carry a full- color ad that reads Discover the miracles of Angel Water: protection, prosperity, love, joy. Angel Water from the River Jordan, believed to have been given its miraculous powers by angels who walked the earth millions of years ago. Youll find your wings in every elegant product. I suppose I should add that Angel Water is a registered trademark of Angel Water Products, International. Ridiculous.
So my complaint is that Biblical angels have been, if youll excuse the pun, watered down, compared to the bright fearsome beings revealed in Scripture. One exception to this trend is the angel and demon world portrayed by Frank Peretti. Ive enjoyed those books, but my complaint here is that Peretti makes his angels, and even his demons, more real than Jesus. He makes too much of his angels and their activities, and too little of the intimate work of Jesus in the lives of his people through His Holy Spirit.
If we pay too much attention to angels or demons, well almost certainly be guilty of giving too little attention to Jesus. That may have been a problem for the readers of Hebrews. They lived in an age in which angels were highly regarded, and they may have been tempted, under pressure from their traditional Jewish friends, to regard Jesus as merely an another angel, a special messenger, but not unique. So the writer spends much of the first chapter, verses 4 to 14, showing the superiority of Jesus to angels. And in our culture this is still a message that needs to be heard. In our worship and our service, Jesus needs to be exalted as the Son of God and the sovereign Lord. We need to exalt the Son far above any other creature or thing.
I. Jesus is exalted as the Son to be worshiped (Hebrews 1:4-6)
Lets begin by noticing that Jesus is exalted as the Son of God, and is worshiped even by angels. Hebrews 1:4 to 6, So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father"? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"? 6And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."
In Jesus the Son God has spoken a final, divine, superior word. Jesus Christ, who is the Word Made Flesh is superior to the angels and has a superior name. Their name means messenger, and no one will deny that at times they were powerfully used by God as his heralds. But Christ has a name superior to the best of angels: he is far more than a messenger. As Son of God he did not merely bring a message from someone else, he was the message that was brought. His name is superior to theirs.
The writer establishes this through two Old Testament quotations. The first is from Psalm 2, which was already understood as a prophecy to be fulfilled by a king descended from David: For to which of the angels did God ever say you are my Son; today I have become your Father? The Greek word used for become your Father is often translated begotten - but in Greek it is not always used in the sense of creating a child, but often in the sense of having a unique relationship with a child. In its frequent New Testament uses, this verse often refers to Christs exaltation and enthronement as Son after the resurrection. Romans 1: 4 says Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. And in Acts 13 Paul teaches that the resurrection fulfilled Psalm 2. We tell you the good news: what God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus up. As it is written in the second Psalm: you are my Son: today I have become your Father. Jesus the began to be exalted as Son in his resurrection.
The Son is superior to the angels. Our author further grounds his argument with a quote from 2 Samuel 7:14, I will be his Father and he will be my Son. This is another well-known Messianic passage in which the prophet Nathan told David that after his death his son would build a house for God and establish a royal throne that would endure forever. Solomon failed to fulfilled this prophecy. Neither did the other Hebrew kings. So the prophets began to look forward to a greater Son of David who would fulfill it. That son was Jesus. As the angel Gabriel told Mary: he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.
It must be obvious already that the writer to the Hebrews will make extensive use of the Old Testament to support his argument that Jesus is superior. At times, when we look up these references, we wonder whether they were really talking about Jesus. But as we reread we find that these authors, consistently, look beyond their own immediate scene to a future day of fulfillment, and that their words describe greater realities than justified by the immediate circumstances. Thus the writer of Hebrews can legitimately look beyond the initial meaning and point out a further and more important message from their words. It is not that he superimposes on the text a meaning it was not intended to convey; instead he brings out the truth already there.
This was the same way Jesus used the Old Testament. After his resurrection, when Jesus met the travelers on the wrote to Emmaus, he pointed out how slow they had been to grasp what the Old Testament said about the Messiah: and beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Hebrews does the same: it uses the Scriptures to explain and exalt Jesus.
These Scriptures show that Jesus has a name far superior to that of the angels: Son of God. What is the response of the angels to this truth? Verse 6: And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." The response is worship. In the worship of the angels Jesus is exalted as the Son. The purpose of the author here is not to educate us about angels, but to motivate us toward Jesus - that we would keep giving him the highest place in our hearts and lives, and that we would let nothing interfere with that place. That you and I would exalt him, and that our exaltation would be shown by sincere heart worship.
The verse used to prove that angels worship him is very interesting. The Hebrew professor I respected most in seminary frequently said that Jesus is in the footnotes. The phrase quoted here is a phrase that is not found in your Bible - but is found in your footnotes. Its in Deuteronomy 32:43. Moses says Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants and make atonement for his land. That seems to say nothing about angels worshiping him. But when you look in the footnotes you find an alternate reading for the beginning of the verse: Rejoice, O nations, with his people, and let all the angels worship him.
Where did that come from? Its not found in the Masoretic text, the key document used to translate the Old Testament. The Jewish scribes and rabbis preserved the text with great diligence, and we have their manuscripts starting about 1000 A.D. In most ways the Masoretic text is a superb image of what the Hebrew authors wrote. There are a few places, though, where the later rabbis consciously or unconsciously altered verses used by the Christians. In these places Jesus appears in the footnotes. So we do find this phrase in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation which predates the Masoretic text by about 1000 years. Even more important, this phrase appears in the Dead Sea Scroll copies of Deuteronomy written about the same time.
So the phrase let all his angels worship Him is in our footnotes - but it was in the main text of our authors Bible. He applies it to Jesus to prove that the response of the angels to the Son of God is worship. A popular worship song that we havent yet learned for our services says Im coming back to the heart of worship - and its all about you, Jesus, its all about you. The angels would agree with that.
II. Jesus is exalted as the Sovereign to be served (Hebrews 1:7-14)
The remaining verses show that Jesus is exalted by the angels because he is the king and they are his servants. Let me read Hebrews 1:7 to 14. 7In speaking of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire." 8But about the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. 9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy." 10He also says, "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end." 13To which of the angels did God ever say, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"? 14Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
These verses are in many ways easier than the three we just finished: the angels exalt Jesus as their Sovereign, and they show it by serving Him. Verse 7 quotes Psalm 104:4, though its not translated exactly the same way a modern translation would do it. The emphasis is that even when angels express themselves through such powerful tools as wind and fire - and we see that kind of expression frequently in Revelation - even then they are still only created beings who obey God. They are public servants or ministers whose only goal is to carry out Gods will, Jesus commands.
The angels are servants, but the Son is sovereign. Verses 8 and 9, which quote Psalm 45, show him to be the righteous king on the throne of the universe. The Psalm is really a wedding Psalm for a Hebrew king, but the author prophetically included elements that were less suited to the king of a minor nation and more suited for praising an eternal sovereign reuler. In fact, these verses call that king God. Did you hear that? Verse 8: But about the Son he says "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever. Anyone who accepts the authority of Scripture will have trouble denying the deity of Christ after reading that. The Son is God and is on the throne as king. Furthermore, he is a righteous king. His government is one of righteousness, unlike the flawed governments that mark even the best merely human attempts to rule. He loves righteousness but he hates wickedness - certainly qualities we long for in all governments in days like ours. His eternal reign will see both the celebration of what is good and true and right and the judgment of evil and evildoers.
Finally, notice that though this king is addressed as God, he is also appointed by God: therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy. Hes the anointed one - the Messiah, and he is set apart from those around him by this anointing which leads, as well see in Hebrews, to joy. So the Son is both God and Gods Messiah and he is given the right to sovereignly reign. One of the great passages in prophecy depicting this is found in Daniel: "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Jesus is exalted as Sovereign.
The same point is made in verses 10 to 13. In fact, here he is exalted as the one who is sovereign from the beginning of creation to the end of eternity. In the quote from Psalm 102, the author takes words addressed generically to God and applies them specifically to the Son. He says "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth. Jesus has already been identified in verse 2 as the creator. This verse reinforces that he was before all things, because he created all things. Further, he is eternal, he will outlast all things. They change and wear out but he is changeless.
It was common in the ancient world to believe that the universe was indestructible, but in the Christian view the only thing that stays the same is God himself: he rolls up the heavens and earth like a worn out useless garment, but he himself remains the same. And so does the Son to whom these verses were applied. In face of disintegration, the unchangeable character of the Son endures. In fact the timelessness of Christ is an essential feature of the whole book. The teaching in chapters 6 to 8 that Christ is superior to the priesthoods of Melchizedek and Aaron is built around this truth.
Verse 13 cements the idea of the sovereignty of Christ by quoting from Psalm 110:1The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. This Psalm has the honor of being the most quoted Old Testament prophecy in the New Testament. It makes several key points about the life and ministry and eternal destiny of Jesus. Though humbled for a season in becoming a man and allowing himself to die on the cross as a sacrifice, Jesus was eternally destined to rule and reign at the right hand of God the Father. In this Jesus is far superior to the angels or any created thing - and especially over his enemies. Jesus is sovereign and there is no one, angel or demon, who can thwart that sovereignty.
There is one more contrast between the Son and the angels, seen again in verse 14. The function of the angels is one of service: even the noblest ranks of angels are sent forth to serve. Now Jesus did come to serve us in a unique way: only he could give himself as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. But after the resurrection he was exalted to the right hand of God, and angels are his servants. In fact they also serve us: they carry out Gods plans for those who inherit salvation. As awesome and powerful as they are, angels are sent for only one reason - to serve. The one angel in history who got the idea he could establish himself as sovereign was thrown out of heaven in judgement. That was Satan. Except for his followers, all the angels constantly serve the one they recognize as sovereign and lord: Jesus Christ.
The application of this truth is clear. Weve seen that Jesus is exalted as the Son, and that he is worshiped even by angels. Weve seen that Jesus is exalted as the Sovereign, and that he is served even by angels. Shouldnt we who have been rescued by him exalt him as God the Son and worship him? Shouldnt we who have been served by him also become his servants in a needy world? We should. We should worship. We should serve. We should exalt him for who he is and what hes done.
Let me make three obvious suggestions. First, exalt him by worshiping him. If your life doesnt have a place in it for worship, and preferably a place larger than simply Sunday morning, then you are not exalting the Son and Savior as he deserves. His love and sacrifice are worthy of your worship no matter what circumstances may be going on in your own world or in the world at large. Find a place in your heart and in your schedule to worship him. For me this frequently includes music. I know there are some of you for whom thats not true, but for me it is. Ive been using a Michael Card album called Soul Anchor in preparation for this series, because Card has taken verses from Hebrews and turned them into worship. They speak to my soul and allow my soul to speak to God in praise of Jesus. Id be happy to order you the CD if youd like. Ive already given copies to our worship leaders. But even if thats not the mechanism you use, the principal stands: exalt Jesus in worship.
The second suggestion is equally obvious: exalt Jesus in service. If he is the one who gave his life for you, then shouldnt your thanksgiving express itself in heartfelt service to him? If service is the full-time task of countless angels who never fell, shouldnt it be the sincere task of those who have been redeemed? Serve him in the church. Serve him with your resources, your money, your time, your talent, your energy. Serve him in a needy world. Take the message of his sacrifice to those who need to hear it. At David Casselberrys funeral yesterday one message that kept coming out was how David had served God: in his family, community, church, and workplace. People notice Jesus when you become a servant on His behalf.
Last exhortation: exalt him above all. These Jewish believers were guilty of regarding angels more highly then they regarded Jesus. The author shows them from Scripture that Jesus is superior to angels. So dont settle for angels, especially for the wishy washy New Age angels of common culture. Dont settle for Perettis angels either, angels made more real than the Savior they serve. Dont settle for angels at all: exalt the Savior. In your heart, with your mind, in your speech and by your life exalt the Savior. Thats what even angels themselves, real angels, continually do.
There is one place in Perettis books where I do like his angels. Piercing the Darkness is about a young woman named Sally who is at the center of a demonic scheme. But along the way she meets up with a believer or two, and hears the Gospel, recognizes her sin and Gods holiness and rightness, and her need of Jesus to save her. Angels gather round her while she places her faith in Jesus, her life in his hands. I like how Peretti portrays the angels at that moment: Silently she settled forward, her face to the ground, her spirit awash with Gods presence. All around her, like spokes of a wondrous wheel, like beams of light emanating from the sun, angelic blades lay flat upon the ground, their tips turned toward her, their handles held in the strong fists of hundreds of noble warriors, who knelt in perfect, concentric circles of glory, light, and worship. They were silent, their hearts filled with a holy dread.
Then, as in countless times past, with marvelous wonder, the Lamb of God stood among them, the Word of God: the final Word, the end of all discussion and challenge, the Creator and the Truth that holds all creation together. The Savior, a title the angels would always marvel at, but which only mankind could experience. He had come to be her Savior. He knew her by name, and speaking it, he touched her.
And her sins were gone. A rustle began in the concentric circles of angels like a wave rushing outward, as wings caught the air and lifted them to their feet. The warriors held their swords heavenward, a forest of fiery blades, and began to shout with joy, their voices shaking the whole spiritual realm. Guilo, swept his sword about in burning arcs as he shouted, Worthy is the Lamb! The others echoed: Worthy is the Lamb! For He was slain. For He was slain! Guilo pointed his sword at Sally, prostrate, her face to the ground, still communing with her newfound Savior. Before she had been alone. Now she had a friend closer than any other. And with his blood he has purchased for God this woman, Sally Beth Roe. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, Guilo began again, and then they all sang the words together in voices that shook the earth, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. Then came another roar, from voices and from wings, and the skies filled with angels shouting, worshiping, cheering, their beings alight with the wonder of their Lord.
In our worship and in our service we are to exalt the Son above any other. Thats what real angels really do. Thats our calling as well.