You might know them as self-evident questions. I prefer self-answering in this self-driving age in which we live. We ask them when we say, "Do I need to tell you?" "You don't mean that, do you?" "Is the Pope Catholic?" "Does a chicken have lips?" Our text is one: "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" We know this is a self-answering question because the Greek word it begins with is the strongest form of the word that expects a yes' answer. Used in a question, it's asking what no one denies being true (Thayer).
This one self-answering question contains several others. "Aren't all angels liturgical spirits?" You have 2 words in this short sentence for serving or ministering. The second one can be translated as serve' when you're talking physical helping or minister' when speaking of spiritual helping. The English word deacon' comes from it. The other word translated ministering' is more complicated. It's not diakonos but leitourgikos la-tur-gee-kos.
Yes, our word liturgy' comes from this. It's used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for priests and Levites serving in the temple. But you don't want to hear our text saying that angels are liturgical spirits as opposed to contemporary ones. No, the point is that the angels are not engaged in a general service. That would be indicated by another Greek word. They are engaged in the official discharging of a function. They are fulfilling a distinct office given to them which is to go between heaven and earth doing the heavenly Father's will. Whatever He wishes to effect on earth - push a hurricane this way, move a car that way, stop a person from falling it is the liturgical service of the angels to make it happen.
The angels are liturgical spirits.' A spirit is not a force, but a personal being without a body. We know angels are beings with a personality since we know the names of two of them: Gabriel and Michael. And while angels do not marry or procreate, they are nevertheless always referred to as masculine. And when they do take visible forms it's often as young men.
The 8th century Venerable Bede says angels are especially present when we enter a church, open our ears to the sacred readings, our mouths to sing or pray, or celebrate Communion. He says that "we are not permitted to doubt that where the mysteries of the Lord's body and blood are being enacted, a gathering of the citizens from on high is present" (ACC, X, 30). We confess as much in the 3rd century Proper Preface where we say that at Communion we gather "with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven." Bede's Scriptural proof for the angels being present is Paul saying that we do certain things in worship "on account of the angels" (Ibid.).
Angels are particularly found at every significant point in Jesus' life. One comes in Gethsemane but 12 legions of angels are at His beck and call. At His resurrection, they are where His body was. At His Ascension, they stand on earth announcing He's in heaven. Furthermore, if Jesus says Satan is always at hand to snatch away the Word sown in human hearts, how much more so must the angels be here now working against that?
Aren't angels liturgical spirits? That's one self-answering question. Aren't they commissioned to do the bidding of another? That's a second one. In the sentence "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent?" Sent' is not the simple Greek word for sending. This is the Greek word a-po-stel-lo and you hear the word apostle' in there. This is an official, authoritative sending, a commissioning. You send someone to paint a fence. You commission someone to paint a portrait.
Apostello is passive. Angels don't commission themselves. They don't decide to come or go. The Lord directs them, and He is constantly doing so. The word is a present participle. Translate this way, "Are not all angels liturgical spiriting being commissioned to serve." See what Jacob saw in a dream: the Lord's angels going between heaven and earth on a ladder to where you are. Now be startled awake by Jesus' words in John 1 that the heavens are opened and the angels of God ascend and descend on Him.
When rich success meets poor, struggling entrepreneur in a show or movie, there is almost always the line: "You can't afford me." The latter needs a lawyer, a programmer, a specialist, and the former says, "You can't afford me." Well, we can't afford the ministry of angels. What do we have to pay them with? Everything we have is befouled with our sins and so offends these holy beings. That's why the only way sinless angels come to sinful earth and earthlings is on the holy back of Jesus. In Psalm 129 we hear Jesus saying, "The plowers have plowed upon My back; they have lengthened their furrows." What did they do this with but the whip that cut Jesus' flesh to bone? The holy precious blood that ran down those furrows in rivulets brought with it the ministry of angels to you and me.
Remember the distinction between serving deacons and liturgical ministers? Well our text says that angels are always being commissioned to be deacons to us. From me you regularly hear that angels will carry your living soul away from your dead body into heaven and that you have a Guardian Angel specifically assigned to you. These are both true. But read Luther's 1527 lectures on Zechariah, and you will be blown away at all the ways he says angels serve you. They don't help from within as God does but from without they inspire with good, useful, necessary thoughts. They keep or remove evil or harmful thoughts from us. Unbelief attributes escaping from harm to the idol fortune or luck; we know it's angels doing this. Angels, Luther says, "concern themselves with us without ceasing, invisible and unobserved." Their office is "to help and counsel men, to further and advance them, and also to plead and care for us" (LW, 20, 170).
Wow! I never get much past "Now I lay me down to sleep" and praying for the angels to "watch me through the night." It's probably because of the last part of our text. The third self-answering question in "Are not all angels liturgical spirits being commissioned to minister to those who will inherit salvation?" is as Kris Kristofferson sang in 1972 "Why me Lord?" He wrote this question after an apparently genuine encounter with Christ. The third self-answering question is "What could I ever do to inherit salvation?" The answer? Not a thing.
In fact, if you pursue the matter of being saved as being any part of yours, i.e. your choosing, your deciding, your asking, your doing, you are working your way away from salvation. Someone who according to 1 Cor. 2:14 is spiritually blind can't choose to follow Jesus because he can't see Him. Someone who according to Eph. 2:1 is stone, cold dead in their trespasses and sins can't decide to follow Jesus. Dead men not only don't tell no tales, they don't make any choices either. Someone who according to Rom. 8:7 is an enemy of God won't ask anything from Him. Who asks for things from an enemy?
Sinners can't do anything to earn the inheritance of salvation. Even if they could, an earned inheritance wouldn't be an inheritance at all. What you earn' is a salary, a work, a reward, a merit. A genuine inheritance can only come by gift, by grace, from someone outside of you. An inheritance comes by a testament, a will. On this altar is the Last Will and Testament of the Lord Jesus' Christ. On the night He was betrayed over to certain death, He made His will. And what did He decide to leave sinners: riches, health, earthly happiness, worldly success? No, He decided to leave us the very same Body and Blood He was about to give and to shed on the Tree of the cross. He decided to give us the Body that kept all the laws of God in places of sinners and the Blood that He shed there to cover our sins.
"Take eat, this is true Body of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ given into death for your sins." "Take drink this is the true Blood of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ shed for the remission of all your sins." That's your inheritance. The Body and Blood of God, the Medicine of Immortality, which eating and drinking in the faith of the forgiveness of your sins is strong enough to take you all the way into heaven itself.
This is indeed a magnificent inheritance. But can you see if the angels' Prime Directive, their Objective Number One is to serve those who will inherit the salvation Jesus won for them, this leaves a question hanging? What about the safety, security, happiness in this life of those who will inherit salvation? This isn't a self-answering question, is it?
Joseph's path to inherit salvation took him into a well, into slavery, into prison, and finally out. David's path took him on to a battlefield where a Goliath waited; it winded through first the friendship of a king and then the hatred of a mad king. He lost a wife and 2 sons along the way. Don't even get me started on Job's grueling, cruel path to the inheritance of his Lord. For that matter, better not look at Peter's or Paul's paths either. No rose gardens there, but lots and lots of thorns.
Your guardian angel and the 10,000 angels held in reserve are doing one thing. They are keeping you on the path that leads to your eternal salvation. I don't know what that path is. The angels, who don't know the future, don't either. They only know when the Lord says "go; act" they do; and when He says, "Fold your wings; don't act." They don't. Here is an awful in both the modern and the Elizabethan sense lot of room for pain, sadness, heartache. As the path to a child's earthly health leads through the dentist's chair, the doctor's needle, and the plate of peas, none of which they can understand or appreciate, so the path to the inheritance of our salvation winds through hospitals, cancer, chemo, surgery, funeral homes, and graves. You and I are no more be able to get our heads around these things then a child can the dentist, the doctor, the peas.
What sustains a child, particularly a small one, through the things he can't understand and the questions he knows no answer to? It's the love of his parent. So let me ask you. Who in Christ Jesus does the heavenly Father not love or not want to inherit salvation? I thought so. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Michael and All Angels (20170924); Hebrews 1:14