Publication: Pastoral Letter, December 2010
It is with a certain degree of both excitement and trepidation that I write this letter to you. I am excited because I believe in angelic intervention but have trepidation because I know very little about angels. I have never knowingly seen one but do believe others have and believe the biblical accounts.
Angles are messengers. The last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, comes from the Hebrew word “Mal’ak” which means angel or messenger. Malachi was a prophet who promised that God would send His Messenger to prepare the way of the Lord. The Lord would come and set things right and would intervene in the affairs of men (see Daniel 4:17).
God uses many means to intervene, to change things. He uses prophets who announce His word and He sends angels to announce His word or to act on His behalf. I have read accounts of angelic visitations that had some powerful affects upon those who were addressed.
There are numerous accounts of current angelic visitations among Muslims who are turning to Christ in the Middle East. While some may doubt the reality of angels, the impact upon those who are visited is undeniable. Any so-called experience with the supernatural world which produces no dramatic change is dubious. But if the impact is undeniable, then we must give the experience credence. This is the best way to sort out the real from the false, and we need to do that.
Scholars and ordinary people can debate the reality of Jesus’ birth but the impact upon world history is absolute. We date our calendar from His birth. The prophets said that He would be “God with us” and that He would bring righteousness and judgement. He did all of that and more; He gave us salvation.
So, were the experiences of Mary, Zecharias, Elizabeth, Joseph, and the shepherds real? History tells us that they were.
Great events in history are often accompanied by supernatural manifestations, divine interventions. I could give examples, such as the defeat of the Spanish Armada or the escape of the British army at Dunkirk. George Washington attributed success in the Revolutionary War to divine assistance. Most of us could give accounts of God’s intervention in our lives that made a significant impact. Such interventions usually comes at a point of crisis. We hate the crisis, but love the salvation.
It is good to remember Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him.” The entire Psalm should be studied. The world was in crisis when angels visited those in the Christmas Story, and it is now. Will angelic visitations increase once again? Will supernatural events increase? I believe so. As usual, there will be the real and the false. Remember, results will sort it all out, as was the case as the New Covenant unfolded. This is not about mysticism, curiosity, or super spirituality. It is about God’s purpose in the earth; it is His choice, not ours.
Zacharias was an ordinary priest doing ordinary duty in the temple. He and his wife were elderly and had no children. Suddenly, an angel appeared, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. Zacharias became afraid and the angel said, “Do not be afraid, your prayers have been heard, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you will call his name, ‘John’”. The angel continued to describe the birth and life of John the Baptist who would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before He was born! John would be the forerunner of the Messiah.
Zacharias doubted, but the angel, who declared himself to be Gabriel, gave him a sign – Zacharias would be mute until the baby would be born. So it was. The angel hit the mute button. But Elizabeth became pregnant and rejoiced. From that moment, the world changed; the Messiah would soon follow. Angelic visitations were just beginning.
Mary was a small town girl, a virgin, going about her business. She was not seeking a special experience; she was just doing her daily duties and perhaps contemplating her soon-coming marriage to Joseph. Suddenly, Gabriel stood before her as he had Zacharias. Her life was forever interrupted by these words: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” Mary was troubled, fearful, and startled as she saw this indescribable presence. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” The angel went on to give her the unimaginable good news; she would give birth to the Messiah, the Ruler who would inherit David’s throne.
“How can this be, I have had no relationship with a man?”
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” The angel continued to inform Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, was also expecting a child in her old age. Then he said, “For with God, nothing will be impossible.”
Mary responded, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” She did not doubt. The story continues as Mary visited Elizabeth, and upon Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth and her unborn baby were filled with the Holy Spirit. The two women began to rejoice and prophesy. How can we know that these experiences were real? There are several important ways to give credence. First, neither was looking for a “religious experience”. They were just doing their duties. Second, we can realize that these were divine choices, not of human will. Third, there were life changing and history changing results. Fourth, angelic visitations continue. These are not just myths or legends. Angels still intervene and change the directions of human affairs, as testified by others throughout history.
Joseph and Mary were betrothed, a much stronger term than “engaged”. Matthew calls Joseph Mary’s “husband” because betrothal was a legally binding contract between him and Mary’s parents, but they were not yet married. To sever his relationship, it would require a divorce. Ordinarily, if a Jewish man discovered that his betrothed was pregnant by someone else, he would divorce her. Joseph was considering this option, but because he was a kind and just man, he wanted to do so discreetly.
While Joseph was considering his options, no doubt deeply distressed, “An angel of the Lord” appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
We are not told the angel’s name, but the angel knew Joseph’s name and lineage, and the angel gave Joseph both Jesus’ name and eternal purpose. This was as it was in the visitations to both Zacharias and Mary. The angel knew their names, the babies’ names, and their divine mission. And, like the other encounters, things changed to fit the divine plan. The angel knew God’s mission, his own mission, and the mission of those encountered. In addition, Matthew inserts that this was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (see Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah also had angelic encounters.
There has been much speculation around the exact place of Jesus’ birth. We know that Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem to be recorded in the census decreed by Caesar Augustus. Bethlehem was the house of their lineage from David. We know that there was no room for them at the inn. We know that Jesus was born among the livestock and laid in a trough, wrapped in “swaddling cloths”, a light wrap that protected the baby. We do not know the exact spot, but shepherds were nearby.
An angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, standing before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid! Then the angel said, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” The angel continued to tell them where the baby was and how He was wrapped. Suddenly, there was with that angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill towards men!”
Again, the shepherds were simply doing their tasks and angels intervened. They were not seeking a spiritual experience; they were recipients of God’s Sovereign power and visitation. It was God’s time and place.
Apparently, Joseph was a spiritually sensitive man. After the wise men departed Bethlehem, an angel told him to take Mary for his wife and gave him the name, “Jesus”. An angel again appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to leave and go to Egypt. Thus by angelic intervention, Joseph and Mary and Jesus were spared the great and terrible slaughter of babies perpetrated by wicked Herod upon Bethlehem.
After Herod died, Joseph, Mary and Jesus were still in Egypt. An angel again appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to return to Nazareth. So it was that Jesus’ life was spared by the angelic visitation and a father sensitive to spiritual guidance.
The Bible says much about angels who are messengers of God. And it tells us that there were some who joined Satan’s rebellion and were cast out of heaven (see Revelation 12). Angels may appear in a variety of ways, sometimes as men. But God’s angels always come to minister to us or bring a message (see Hebrews 1:14). We are told that they come in critical times to assist us. According to one survey, 69% of Americans believe in angels, and I do also.
We are also told not to worship angels (see Colossians 2:18; Revelation 19:10). We should not speculate beyond biblical teaching about angels_and don’t believe what you see in the movies. Do we have guardian angels? Jesus said the “little ones” did (see Matthew 18:10). And we know that Jesus had angelic support (see Luke 22:43).
What should we take away from all of this? Let me suggest some things:
This Christmas as we talk and sing about angels, do not forget the reality of the spiritual world and God’s Sovereign power over it and all else. While we are praising God for intervening and sending His Son, let us also pray that He will once again intervene in our affairs and awaken our nation.
Have you ever had an angelic visitation? If so, I’d like to know; write and tell me. Of course, we also want to know how we can stand with you in prayer during this season as well.
Please continue to remember us in your giving in a special way this month…we need your prayers and support now, more than ever! All gifts to CSM are tax-deductible and are a huge blessing to us as we move forward together in the mission that God has set before us. Have a blessed Christmas Season!
Scripture Reference: Daniel, Psalms, Luke, Matthew, Isaiah, Revelations, Hebrews, Colossians,
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.