No Angels to Die For

fallen angelsEvery year around the beginning of December I contend with Christmas as a pastor. You get this vibe that it’s obligatory to step away from whatever book you have been living in up until that point and provide a Christmas message that everyone hasn’t heard.

While dutifully working up to the Christmas service I encountered a reality I hadn’t focused on before. Jesus wouldn’t die for angels. The gospel doesn’t apply to them. Hebrews 2:16 says, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.”

You might think angels would be a more likely candidate for help. At least you would think they should be included in the plan of redemption, but they are not. Consider the fact that they too are created beings. They are rational, moral agents with eternal conscious existence to look forward to.

In other ways however they are strikingly different than us, and from where I sit, remarkably superior. This goes for both the holy and fallen angels.

They are intimidating in their glory (Luke 2:9) and terrifying in their power (2 Kings, 19:35; Revelation 9:2-6). In general they are captivating, beautiful, fast as lightning, full of wisdom, and keenly intelligent. Beyond that, they can fly, and that’s very cool.

They are spiritual beings; ancient compared to humans, immortal, familiar with heaven, and suited for the very presence of God.

However God himself did not spare his own son but allowed him to become human flesh so that he could redeem those humans whom he had chosen before the foundation of the world. He continues to love those saved-but-still-sinning creatures, sustain them, and bring them from election to glorification on his perfect timetable.

He didn’t do that for angels. They had one opportunity to sin, made a decision, and had their fate sealed for eternity immediately. One chance. Angel that sinned are the most hopeless creatures in the universe. They are, in effect, the only hopeless creatures in the universe.

Even the ones that were prevented from following after Satan are not redeemed, but rather preserved their original state of perfection. However, even though they never sinned, they still receive less than us. Hebrews 1:14 says “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” They never sinned, but are sent to serve sinning believers until their final redemption. Even holy angels get no special treatment, no part of the inheritance with Christ, and none of the overwhelming joy that comes from being objects of divine mercy and grace.

Reading about angels in the Bible is both fascinating and terrifying. But at the end of the day I wouldn’t trade places. Besides, I’m confident my resurrection body will be able to fly.

Update (February 13, 2014):

Evidently this is not a new thought with me (big surprise). I just came across this quote from one of my favorite Puritan writers “It was wonderful love that Christ should rather die for us than for the angels that fell. They were creatures of a more noble extract, and in all probability might have brought greater revenues of glory to God; yet that Christ should pass by those golden vessels, and make us clods of earth into stars of glory — Oh, the hyperbole of Christ’s love!” – Thomas Watson

Borrowed Breath

Cool-Breath

Borrowed Breath

Some thoughts shared at the memorial for Mae Fortier

January 18, 2014

Everyone who is alive is only alive because the God of the universe, who created everything and everyone, allows that person to breath.

We can live weeks without food.

We can live days without water.

We cannot live minutes without air.

The breath you just took was a gift from God, and could have been your last.

People are born into this world and the first thing the doctor does is make sure the airways are clear so that the baby can breath.

The sign that the child can breathe

is the cry he or she makes.

We come into the world struggling for breath.

We leave the world struggling for breath.

The Bible says that when God created the first man, Adam, that he did so by forming him out of dirt (a pinch of clay – Job 33:3) and then breathing into him the breath of life.

The breath made him a living soul.

The breath of life is a gift from God.

The breath makes the person who they are.

It is the animating part of every person.

Long ago a man named Job was put through a terrible trial. Three old friends who appeared to have great wisdom tried to help. Unfortunately they were useless. They brought their old sayings, traditions, baskets of conventional wisdom, and a grand buffet of nostalgic idealism, but no real truth.

Therefore they offered no real help.

Only the young wise man had anything worthwhile to say.

Job 34:10–15

10    “Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding:

far be it from God that he should do wickedness,

and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.

There are certain things that God cannot do. He is incapable of doing anything wicked, and he is incapable of doing anything wrong. These “men of understanding” (do you feel the sarcasm?) apparently had forgotten this central reality.

11    For according to the work of a man he will repay him,

and according to his ways he will make it befall him.

12    Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,

and the Almighty will not pervert justice.

When God judges a man, or a woman, it will always be with absolute fairness.

Righteous deeds will be rewarded.

Wicked deeds will be punished.

God never gets it wrong when he does payroll.

The wages are always fair and right.

But how are we to understand this if the Bible is clear that all our deeds done in an effort to earn salvation are meaningless? If all our deeds are corrupted by impure motives then everything we do is sin.

If God gives out wages for our deeds,

…and all our deeds are sin,

…and the wages of sin is death,

…then we are in big trouble.

Unless we find some righteousness somewhere we are all doomed. In fact the perfect holiness of God would demand our damnation.

The wonderful truth is that we do have access to an alien righteousness. A righteousness that is not our own. Jesus Christ was crushed for the sin of all who the Father knew one day would believe. His perfect righteousness is given to us in exchange for our sin.

He changes the name on our death warrant. He becomes our sin and suffers the punishment that should have been paid by us.

So the wages of sin is death

…and Jesus died.

The Father demands full payment and Jesus made a full payment. Letting sin go unpunished would be wickedness, and a perversion of justice, and God can’t do that.

Therefore payment must be made, but grace allows for someone else to stand in as the substitute. That alone would be wonderful. But God is even more merciful and gracious than that.

He puts our sin on Jesus Christ

…but also puts Christ’s righteousness on us.

We are wrapped up in the righteousness of Christ. Therefore when the Holy Judge repays man, he sees the perfect works performed during the life of Jesus Christ and repays us according to those deeds.

13    Who gave him charge over the earth,

and who laid on him the whole world?  

No one.

God is a Leader.

He isn’t given charge over the earth.

He takes charge after creating it.

This is one of the perks of being God. As the Creator it’s his right to give life when he wants to, and to take life when he wants to. He lends it. He asks for it back.

14    If he should set his heart to it

and gather to himself his spirit and his breath,

15    all flesh would perish together,

and man would return to dust.

For the moment he has set his heart to give breath to the living. However that gracious borrowed breath is used to curse the God who gave it. There is an old hymn that says, “All that borrows life from thee is ever in thy care”. And when the time comes for that borrowed breath to be returned, God is just in taking it back.

Borrowed breath fills our lungs

…until it doesn’t.

 “Dust to dust and ashes to ashes” begins when the breath of a person goes back to the maker. The empty shell that is left behind is not the person we loved. The vitality and the spirit are gone. All that remains is momentary flesh.

Only the soul lives forever.

This is wonderful news

for the person who is sure that God has forgiven their sin.

This is terrifying news

for anyone who isn’t.

The realty of everlasting conscious existence is not up for debate. The Bible is clear that everyone will live forever. The question is where. Will it be in glorious joy alongside the splendor of a Holy God, or the other place?

The only thing separating any of us from the reality of our eternal destiny

…is that

…the breath we just took.

Public Displays of Righteousness

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We’ve all encountered the awkward time when two people, evidently infatuated with one another, forget that they are in public and proceed to act accordingly. We refer to it as an unnecessary public display of affection. In the same way, we can be grossly undignified when we try to show our infatuation with good works by engaging in them where everyone can see.

The good works that God enables us to perform are not meant to be a performance for others. We don’t live out our faith so we can walk around like kids with a new AWANA jewel.

Jesus tells us that if we do good deeds to be noticed, then human recognition is the limit of our reward. It’s a lame reward. It amounts to provoking envy or a sense of inferiority into the sinful hearts of other imperfect people. Great. Frame that and hang it on your wall with the other meaningless tokens of accomplishment.

On the other hand, if we strive to bless others secretly, then they still receive our kindness, have their suffering alleviated, feel loved, or whatever else, but our Father receives the glory. The recipient has no choice but to direct thanks to God because we are out of the picture. We also receive something; the secret joy of pleasing our Father, and the special rewards that can only come from him.

Our faith will inevitably make a spectacle of us, but it won’t garner the applause of a watching world. Good deeds done by men are only good because God enables them. Righteous deeds are an inevitable part of a true believers public profile, but they are not the currency used to boost his or her standing in the community of the redeemed.