Touched By Angels
“Touched” refers to the act of physically touching or being emotionally moved. It also has the sense, equally as old, 16th century, of being slightly off balance, not quite right in the head. If you take the doctrine of angels seriously in this world where ‘science’ is the final judge of truth and reality, you will be regarded as touched in this sense. There was a TV show in the 90s called “Touched by an Angel”. I don’t know if the producers knew the phrase had its roots not in the spirit world but the material one. There was an old English gold coin known in full as the angel-noble. The coin depicted Michael standing over and killing the Dragon. It was last coined by Charles I in the 17th century. The touch of this coin was said to ward of scrofula – a form of tuberculosis – known as “’the King’s Evil’”. Hence the expression touched by an angel” (Oxford Dict. Of Word Hist., 22).
When we speak of touched by angels, we don’t mean a coin but a spiritual being created by God on one of the 6 days of Creation. And we don’t mean the unholy spirits, the demons, the devils, the bad angels. The WW II generation would usually get mad when I referred to the very popular and perceived to be wholesome TV show “Touched by an Angel” or “Highway to Heaven” before it as demonic. It’s demonic in the same way Canadian TV is. They present morality, reality, and spirituality totally absent not only Jesus but God in general. Angels apart from Jesus are demonic. Both good and bad angels are many in number, powerful, and smart. The only difference is Jesus.
Good angels first appear in Scripture when the Lord posts cherubim to guard the way to the Tree of Life so fallen mankind doesn’t eat of it and so live forever in their fallenness. They next are found guarding the Promised Seed as the bearer of it flees for his life from the murderous Esau. See the scene: Angels ascend and descend on a ladder between heaven and earth planted where Jacob lays his head. And decades later when coming back, angel armies meet the Promised Seed as he confronts Esau again. Scales really fall off the eyes though when Jesus in John 1 says it’s on His Person the angels of God ascend and descend. And in Mt. 18:10 Jesus tells us the angels of little ones, new believers and/or children, always behold the face of the Father in heaven. More scales fall off when we hear in Jn. 14 Jesus saying, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”
Good angels are all about Jesus. Read 1 Pt. 1:12. Peter pictures the angels in heaven, hands on knees, stooped over, looking down at the event of the Gospel of Jesus in wonder. Even in His state where He didn’t always use His full divine powers as a Man, Jesus said in Mt. 26:53, in the depths of His suffering, that He could call on the Father to send more than 72,000 angels. Think of the Ride of the Valkyries in the original Apocalypse Now only these are wave after wave of angels not helicopters winging to the rescue. We need to get that 19th century picture of angels that hangs in our library out of our heads. It’s effeminate and anemic. Angels in the Bible are always referred to with male pronouns, depicted as young men, and frightening. Should we be touched by such apart from Jesus it would kill us.
But in Jesus the touch of angel is comforting, invigorating, assuring. Always read Ps. 91, like we did, in the King’s English. Always read Ps. 91 in KJV to get the full blast comfort. Can’t you hear it in verses 11 and 12: “For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Other translations have the modern “you” and “yours” which can be singular or plural. King James shows these are singular: These singulars highlight the personal care of angels: “give His angels charge over thee to keep thee.” Their complete care: “in all thy ways”, and they highlight the angel’s tender care: “lest thou dash thy foot.”
Wait a minute. Didn’t Satan quote this verse as a proof text that Jesus had angelic care? Isn’t the singular here Jesus? Aren’t these promises that belong to God the Son not to us sons and daughters of God? Isn’t He the one touched by angels? They announce His incarnation, His birth, His resurrection and Ascension. And it’s to Jesus in Gethsemane under the load of our sins that an angel appears to strengthened Him (LK. 22:43). Even before that, after His great temptation by Satan personally, we read: “Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him” (Mt. 4:11). Again, angels are all about Jesus, all around Jesus.
Yes, first and foremost all Psalms are addressed to Jesus or spoken by Jesus. And this is a good thing otherwise Ps. 91:10 &14 would despair us, drive us away, kill us. We read: “Because Thou hast made the Lord, which is My refuge, even the most High, Thy habitation; There shall no evil befall Thee, neither shall any plague come nigh Thy dwelling.” Yeah, that’s exactly what I did during Covid: made the Lord my refuge not science, not medicine. No evil befell me during that plague called Covid except that worry almost killed me. Do you make the Lord your refuge and habitation? I sure don’t. I rely on something much lower, anything I can see, touch.
And how about verse14? “ Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.” Have I at any time set all my love upon the Lord or known His name? So how I can rightly expect deliverance or to be set on high? I can’t on my own because I haven’t “set all my love upon the Lord” but Jesus has. He feared, loved, and trusted in God all the time. Never once doubting, or fearing, or loving someone more. Yet, He was treated as the worst offender ever. He was punished without mercy; He died the death of a damned sinner in place of all sinners, in my place, in your place. He relinquished the direct deliverance of 72,000 angels so that sinners like us could be guaranteed the protection of every single angel at all times, everywhere.
Say What? Aren’t these promises too much? Aren’t they just poetic descriptions of God’s ideal care through angels not the real care we experience? If you believe otherwise, aren’t you rather than touched by an angel just plain touched? I publish that little blurb about angels every year as much for me as for you. I can’t believe what Luther said about the care of angels: “if anything good happens, it is brought about entirely through good angels.” I want to live like he did with the constant assurance that there is about me for Jesus’ sake the soft whir of fluttering angel wings. I want to be done with ‘luck’, with ‘coincidence’, ‘chance’, and the cold law-like certainty of science, medicine, and technology.
Not so fast there. Where was the angel holding up my foot from striking a stone when I broke my little toe? What about all the times sickness interferes with plans, car accidents alter life, reality appears random and ungoverned by God or anyone else? These wear on your faith and the credibility of God’s care though angels even as dripping water will wear away sandstone. And real big events - terminal illness, death, disease, family problems, kid problems, and I could go on and so can you - can break that rock of faith right in two.
Rather than explain away reality, let me pile up the promises of God. He promises “a thousand shall fall at thy side, and 10,000 at thy right hand but it shall not come nigh thee” (Ps. 91:7) “No evil shall befall you… Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder….the young lion and the dragon thou shalt trample under feet” (91:10,13). Now skip to Jesus’ over the top promises in the Gospel reading: Jesus says, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Lk. 10:19).
Jesus cannot lie. Jesus can’t break a promise. I was telling the confirmation class, as I always do, that one day they will be in a hospital dying and all the doctors, all the medicine, all the facts are going to tell them that. But their faithful pastor will come and say Ps. 23:6, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” That means even then, even amidst the beeps, the sad faces, and the pain, even when they cease to breath: they will still have Jesus’, the Lord’s, goodness and mercy and they will dwell in His house forever. For the first time that I can remember, one of the kids, a middle schooler, said, “That’s very comforting.” If he can get, we can too. Jesus’ promises mean that pain, suffering, harm in this life ultimately do us no harm. Every Reformation we confess this singing that even if our enemies “take goods, fame, child, and wife…still they’ve NOTHING won. The Kingdom ours remains”. In fact, afflictions are light, and no matter how long an affliction may be in time, on the scale of eternity it is brief. That’s what Paul who suffered far more than most of us says in 2 Cor. 4:17: “Our light affliction, …is but for a moment.”
But in this age when the only real things are things that can be touched, why shouldn’t we be regarded and even consider ourselves touched since who among us has seen an angel let alone touched one? Two things from Luther: Who wants to see an evil angel? Luther said that if we were “able to see the devil’s cunning, conspiring, and lying, we should die of the sight of it alone, so many are the cannon and guns he has ranged against us" (LW, 51, 206). Then again who doesn’t want to see a good angel? Here it all comes back to Jesus. In his Genesis lectures, Luther answers why there are so few angel sightings now when there were so may in OT. “My answer is that this happened because the Son, the Heir of all things, has appeared and has been sent….When He Himself is present there is no need of ministers and forerunners. …For this reason appearances of angels should not be wished for” (LW, 4, 124, 125). So, got Jesus? You got angels. From the beginning, the Church has believed when She celebrates Communion that angels and archangels are present with them singing Jesus’ praises. And that in touching His Body and Blood we touch Him who angels did and do. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Michael and All Angels (20220925); Psalm 91 KJV