What Can Angels Do for Me?
Magazine ads for smoke detectors admit that guardian angels do exist. TV shows have been admitting they exist for years now. Major movies have been based on their existence. But what can angels really do for you? Let's look at Acts 12, a detailed description of a guardian angel at work, to find out.
It's 14 years after Christ has ascended into heaven. The church has won thousands over for Christ in Jerusalem including many of the priests. But she has also been persecuted brutally by the Jewish officials. Now a civil official, King Herod, gets in on the act. He puts to death James the brother of John. One of Jesus' inner circle along with John and Peter. Just like that, as easy as that, King Herod puts him to death.
But that's not all, is it? Herod sees that killing James pleases the Jews, so he proceeds to arrest Peter. But he wants to wait till the Passover is over, which was a couple of days a way, before bringing Peter out before the people. Peter had miraculously escaped from jail about 13 years earlier, so this time Herod makes sure he isn't going anywhere. He hands Peter over to 4 squads with 4 soldiers in each squad. Herod assigned 4 of these squads so that 24 hours a day Peter would be guarded by 4 soldiers. We see in the text how they did that. 2 stayed in the cell with him; 2 were outside standing guard, and in addition they bound him with two chains. He was going nowhere.
And you and I think we have problems! Peter is going to die in a matter of days. Cancer isn't going to kill him years from now. His wife isn't going to divorce him. His kids aren't in jail. He's going to die, and die not the swift Roman death of beheading by sword but the horrible death of a Jew, crucifixion! He's not sweating over paying bills; He's sweating over dying. He's not afraid he's going to lose his job, but his life. He's not worried about the pain a surgeon might happen to inflict on him but the purposeful pain of a torturer!
But what could be done? Verse 5 tells you. It literally says, "On the one hand Peter was guarded in the prison. On the other hand, prayers was fervently happening by the church before God concerning him." Yes, what are we to do when we're kept in prison by diseases watching our every move ready to pounce? What are we to do when we are chained by money problems on the one hand and martial problems on the other? What are we to do when there is no earthly help available? We are to pray.
But you do, you'll say. So do I. But I find that I don't do it fervently. What I do fervently is try to find a way out. I fervently look for bolt cutters for my chains. I earnestly look for doctors for my diseases. Ardently I grab, grasp, struggle for someway to handle my problem. And you know what? Bolt cutters, doctors, and problem solving aren't sinful. But the fervent, earnest grabbing for them is.
The church could have fervently pleaded with Herod; ardently asked Rome; earnestly begged the Jewish leaders. But no they realized that this was a situation that God alone could deliver from. Oh God may use bolt cutters, doctors, or problem solving, but these would just be the MEANS they would not be the real POWER. God was their POWER so they fervently, ardently, earnestly prayed to Him.
And the Lord sent a solution, but He waited until the last minute. Days go by in which the church, and Peter too, prayed fervently. But nothing happens. Then less than 24 hours before Peter will be led out to die, when the situation cannot get any bleaker. An angel shows up. Right smack dab in the middle of Peter's cell. There are 2 guards outside; Peter is asleep between 2 more, and you know what? The text definitely says the 2 guards outside are wide awake, and it DOES NOT say that the 2 inside are asleep. Indeed they're not suppose to be asleep; they're on guard duty! The angel walks in where men fear to tread.
Peter's rescue takes place with the guards wide awake but seeing nothing. They don't see the angel, Peter does. Likewise, in the Old Testament, Elisha and his servant see the angels all around them. The Syrians don't. The woman at the Easter tomb see angels. The men don't. You can be delivered by angels and no one, not even you, see them. And notice how the angel does the delivering. He doesn't whisk Peter away. He doesn't blow up iron gates. The angel delivers in an orderly, NATURAL way.
He first wakes Peter up. The two chains fall off as if unlocked. He tells Peter to put his clothes and sandals on. And then the angel reminds Peter to bundle up because it's probably cold. After that the angel and Peter just walk out. They go by one solder standing guard then the other. They come to the big iron gate leading into the city. It opens automatically. Once the angel got Peter to a place he knew, the angel leaves.
Do you see how natural this all is? The angel undoes chains and walks by guards and opens gates with no bombs, no violence. It looks perfectly natural. Could not angels be working naturally through that doctor who treats you? I think so. Could not angels be naturally stretching your dollars? I think so. Could not angels be unloosing chains, opening gates, and walking you by guards on the way to naturally solving your problems? You bet they could. But I think sometimes we're like the church in this text.
When Peter shows up at the house where the church is praying, the servant girl squeals with delight when she recognizes Peter's voice. But the praying church thinks she is out of her mind. Peter couldn't be outside. Don't you know he's chained between two solders with two more outside behind a heavy iron gate? Even while they prayed for Peter to be delivered they didn't believe he would be. They are like people who gather to pray for rain, but don't bring their umbrellas.
Now doesn't that give you comfort? The Lord didn't keep poor Peter in prison because the people who prayed for him didn't believe enough. The Lord doesn't send His angels to help only those who believe real hard or pray real hard. God doesn't wait till we pull angels out of heaven by our strong faith or fervent prayers; in His grace which is our for Christ's sake, God sends them. But like the church in our text I don't think we see them. A skillful doctor delivers people, not an angel guiding the doctor's scalpel. A good investment provides for our family not an angel lowering our utility bill. Air bags save lives not angels. Yes, and bolt cutters cut chains, keys open locked gates, and disguises get by guards, not angels. But what do we see in this text?
I know what you're thinking, and of course you're absolutely right. There is going to come a day in Peter's life, about 20 years from now, when an angel will not deliver Peter. He is going to be imprisoned in Rome then. It's going to be the night before he's to be executed. The church is again fervently praying like we do for the terminally ill, the physically endangered, the seriously distressed. But no angel will come. The gate is going to be opened all right, but by jailers. And Peter will be led out all right, but by executioners. And he will see the church again, but this time in heaven after they have crucified him upside down.
What about this? What about the fact that while an angel delivered Peter in Acts 12, no angel delivered James from the sword? What about the fact Daniel was delivered from the mouths of lions while hundreds of Christians were devoured by lions? What about the fact hundreds of angels rescued Elisha from being cut to pieces by a foreign army while other people, according to Hebrews, got sawn in two? What about the fact that angels miraculously rescue some children in tornadoes by softly putting them down while most children caught up in tornadoes die?
Where do the angels go? They don't go anywhere. They are still here even when they don't intervene to rescue us. In Scripture, you find angels not only present to rescue but to strengthen. Daniel is told incredible things about how demonic and holy angels are behind the clashes of nations and about the future. He can't bear it. In fact, it's killing him. What does God do? Stop telling him? No, He sends an angel to strengthen Him.
Christ in Gethsemane. He can't go on. He's overcome by our sins, our death, and the devil. He asks His Father not to have Him drink the cup of our suffering and death. What does the Father do? Take the cup away from Him? No, He sends an angel to strengthen Him so that He might suffer all the more and eventually drink all of our cup of judgement!
This is the way of our Lord according to I Corinthians 10:13. He doesn't promise to take away every temptation, every affliction, every pain. What He promises is to provide a way for you to bear up under it. The way He provides is angels. He doesn't fail to send them when we call. He doesn't wait till we believe hard enough, suffer long enough, or promise great enough. No, while we are yet speaking, He hears and off those angels fly. Why? Because angels are sent because of what Christ did for us.
Where on earth does our Lord say angels ascend from and descend to? At holy shrines? At churches? No, on Christ according to John 1. The ministry of angels flows to and from Christ. Where is the one place we confess that we know the angels are? Where is the one place in our weekly life we know the angels are fluttering all about? In the Holy Communion. Each Sunday we say that we gather with angels and archangels to laud and magnify the glorious Name of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Sab-a-oth (that is Lord of angelic armies). The only reason we know angels and archangels are here at the Holy Communion is because Christ Jesus is present.
The ministry of angels centers around Jesus. They are ministering spirits, according to Hebrews 1, sent out to render service to those who will inherit salvation. Since Acts 4 tells you that there is salvation in no other name under heaven other than Jesus Christ, we know the angels always serve with a view toward Jesus and those He is saving.
So friends, for the sake of your salvation there is a time when the Lord will have His angels deliver you from cancer; there is also a time when He will not. There is a time when the Lord will have His angels push hurricanes, tornadoes, and economic disaster away from you, but for the sake of your salvation there is a time when He will not. There is a time when your Lord Jesus will have His angels loose your chains, walk you past guards, and unlock gates, but for the sake of your salvation there is a time when the chains will bind, the guards will see, and the gates will remain locked.
And when that time comes, rest assured the angels will still be there. They will be their to strengthen you as only heavenly beings can. They will give you the ability to stay chained, guarded, and imprisoned without casting away your salvation in despair. But that's not all they will do. When your Lord says to them, "Go get her or him," the angels will swoop down and bear your soul to heaven. Imagine Peter imprisoned in Rome. As he is crucified upside down, he knows the angel won't be coming to rescue him. But then, what's this? The pain is bad, the suffering terrible, and then all of a sudden the angels are there gently lifting Peter up and carrying him away to be with His Lord forever.
What can angels do for you? Anything, absolutely anything your Lord and theirs would have them do. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Michael and All Angels (9-24-00) Acts 12: 1-16