THE XMAS FILES SERMON SERIES
THE EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF THE ANGELS
DECEMBER 15, 1996
We live in a message leaving and retrieving society, don’t we? We use our laptops to pick up our e-mail, our telephones to listen to our voice mail. We have fax machines at our fingertips, beepers bolted to our waist and portable phones protruding from our ears all in an attempt to pick up and leave messages. And if you are like me, you sometimes get caught up in the maze of messages.
I want to talk to you about a group of people that I read about this past week, a bunch of ordinary guys who received a life-changing, life-altering phenomenal message. It is unique how they received this message. They didn’t pick it up on e-mail or voice mail. They didn’t have it communicated to them through a cell phone or a pager. Let me give you the cliff notes concerning how they got this word.
These men were working the graveyard shift as they always did. In between sips of strong Starbucks coffee, an angelic being appeared to them. Their first response might have been, “Oh, no, am I going to be abducted by an alien. Is this a close encounter of the third kind? What is going on?” They were terrified. They were shaking in their sandals. This angelic being, probably Gabriel, said these words. “Do not be afraid. Fear not. I come to bring you great news. A messiah is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.” So began the first Christmas 2,000 years ago.
How many of you watch the X-Files, a popular television series? The X-Files is a series which features strange and unusual phenomena. For many, Christmas belongs in the X-Files. It is about strange and unusual phenomena that have no real explanation unless you are talking about the supernatural. Today in this session, I want to open up one of the Xmas files and look at two groups of individuals who gave and received this life-changing and life-altering message. We are going to look at the angels and the shepherds. The message they dealt with has huge implications in our lives on this earth and also throughout eternity.
The Bible states that Christianity is a supernatural faith. It makes no bones about it. It is communicated to us like this. Jesus was born of a virgin. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross as a payment for your sins and mine, ascended into heaven and now waits to make everything right again. The Bible is about supernatural stuff. Yet we find ourselves locked into the natural world. During Christmas these two worlds, the natural and the supernatural, collide. It shouldn’t surprise us or shock us that we concentrate mostly on the natural world during the Christmas season. We think about buying Christmas trees, hanging Christmas lights, reading Christmas cards, arguing with in-laws concerning where we will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We will eat massive quantities of food and watch football games. I doubt seriously that we will run into any pregnant virgins or angels or shepherds watching over their flocks by night.
We live in the real world, a world of pain and pleasure, a world of cause and effect. It is a hard world but it is a world that obeys itself. Wood floats, iron sinks, dead men stay dead and virgins don’t have babies. Today, though, I want to pull back the curtain and let us examine the supernatural world. The Bible says that just as the natural world is real, so the supernatural world is real. The supernatural world is inhabited with beings. Our eyes, though, are not made to see the supernatural world just as they are not made to see a nuclear field. Yet the Bible says it is there.
During the Christmas season, like no other time of the year, people seem to be drawn to the eternal. We seem to be pulled toward the supernatural. Most of us down deep are tired of living in the natural world and when we think about Christmas and the miracle of Jesus Christ, we are drawn to it. The Bible explains it to us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 when it states, “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” We have the baby Jesus born in a cave with the angels worshipping Him and the angels knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that this little defenseless baby is the creator of the universe. And God Himself tapped the angels on the shoulder and allowed them to bring this message to a group of just ordinary, hard working shepherds.
Luke 2:10. “But the angel said to them…” I want to talk to you about angels because there is a lot of misinformation and a lot of muddy stuff going around concerning these beings. I have made up an acrostic out of the word angel. Write that vertically on the back of your bulletin. A stands for aware. Angels are aware of what is going on in our lives. I Corinthians 4:9 states that we are a spectacle to angels. This word spectacle refers to an arena where a play, a drama or an athletic event is going on and people watch. The Bible says that angels watch us live our lives. Jesus said in Matthew 18:10 that each one of us is assigned a guardian angel the moment we are born.
A couple of years ago some good friends were traveling with me in a van. We were in a small town called Port O’Connor, Texas. The speed limit was 20 mph. We were heading to a restaurant and suddenly we saw a truck, traveling about 80 miles per hour, run through an intersection without stopping. If we had been a half a second earlier, none of us would be alive today. We wouldn’t be here. I firmly believe that when we get to heaven and look back at that time we will see that an angel protected us. And if you talk to any believer, they will recite circumstance after circumstance, situation after situation where they were miraculously delivered. And I believe many of these deliverances happened because of angels.
I think about II Kings 6 and the story of old Elijah. Elijah was in a house with his servant and he was surrounded by forces that wanted to kill him. He wasn’t really worried. He was sitting back, maybe drinking some lemonade. His servant was just losing it. “Elijah, we are going to be killed. What can we do?” And Elijah prayed, “God, open the eyes of my servant so that he can see as you see.” God answered his prayer and the servant saw a host of angelic beings surrounding the army. Angels are aware of what is going on.
N stands for numbered. They are numbered. Their number remains constant. Their population is not growing and exploding. Two angels are mentioned in the Bible, Michael, the Archangel, and Gabriel, the Messenger. Gabriel is the one who talked to Elizabeth about John the Baptist and to Mary about Jesus. He is probably the one who ran into the shepherds and told them about Jesus.
G stands for God-created. Angels are created by God. Over 300 times in the Bible and over 23 times in the Gospel of Luke, it says that angels did this or carried out that. It says that they are made and fashioned by God Himself. We don’t become angels when we die. I repeat, we don’t grow wings and have a halo hovering over us when we go to heaven.
E stands for the fact that angels execute God’s purposes throughout history. They execute God’s plan and formula in the world today. In the book of Genesis the angels guarded Eden with flaming swords. They also carried out judgment against the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Ezekiel they overwhelmed that prophet with mind-blowing visions. In the book of Revelations, they worship Jesus at the throne. They are already involved in what is already a victorious war against the forces of evil. But only in America, as Don King says, only in America can we take angels and change them into benign beings that we treat like harmless humming birds fluttering around. That is not Biblical. The Bible says that when people saw angels, they fell flat on their faces. Their lives were altered from that day forward. They are not things you play with, sit back and enjoy. They are powerful, one of a kind beings.
L stands for limited. Angels are limited. In other word, angels are not to be worshipped. We are not to worship the creature rather than the creator. Angels minister to us, the Holy Spirit ministers in us. Angels cannot convict us of sin, only the Spirit of God can do that. Angels showed up when Jesus was born. All of humanity was holding its breath because they knew the Son of God was coming down. The angels had the privilege of announcing His birth. They didn’t print it out on nice little cards with his height and weight. They didn’t call CNN or send the word to this king or that dignitary. They gave it to a group of guys, guys who were checking their watches waiting for the sun to come up so that they could go home. Verse 10. “But the angels said to them, do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” I love that phrase. It will be for all the people, not just for the Jews, not just for this denomination, but for all of the people.
I believe that God chose the shepherds to show the universality of the gospel. Shepherds were the outcasts of the day. They couldn’t even walk into the temple because they were considered ceremonially unclean. They were tending sheep, sheep that most scholars believed were destined to be sacrificed in the temple. The angels communicated the gospel to the shepherds. It is fascinating to realize that Jesus was called the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God. These shepherds were streetwise. They were not easily fooled.
Verse 13. “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly hosts appeared and began to praise God.” Angels praised God when He created the world and now, in Luke 2, they are praising God because of the new creation. The next is an interesting verse that just jumped out at me this week. Verse 15. “When the angels had left ….” The angels just left them, they whished back to heaven. Talk about frequent flyer miles. Gold medallion members. They are gone. “….them….” Again we are talking about every day, average, ordinary, hard working people. We are talking about shepherds who argue with their wives now and then, shepherds who may have been disillusioned with how hard their jobs were, they left them. Well, what did the shepherds do? Did they erase the message, shun it, disregard it? Look what happened. In verse 15 they said, “let’s go.” And then in verse 16, “…so they hurried off and found Mary.” This means that they found her after an intense search. We have so many people who come to our services week in and week out who are searching for truth. They are searching for the Lord. And the shepherds found Mary and Joseph and the baby. Verse 17. “When they had seen Him, they spread the word.” Boy, I love that. They didn’t take some theology course. They didn’t say that they didn’t know enough or weren’t sure about it. They just told what had happened to them. And that is what it means to witness. You don’t have to know everything to witness or to share what Jesus Christ has done for you. Just tell the truth about what has happened to you.
That is what the shepherds did. The shepherds did not become poets, priests and politicians. Verse 20. “Then the shepherds went back again to their fields and flocks praising God for the visit of the angels because they had seen the child just as the angel had told them.”
Christmas, a time when the natural world and the supernatural world collide. There are two things that we can do on this earth that we can’t do in heaven. One of them is sin. We can’t sin in heaven because everything will be perfect there. There is something else we can’t do in heaven that we can do on earth. Spread the word of Jesus Christ. In heaven we can’t witness. There is no reason to share because everyone there is a believer. Yet on earth, we have the opportunity to communicate Jesus Christ to others through our lifestyle, our words, our attitudes and our actions. Obviously, the Lord does not want us to sin. Obviously, He wants us to share, to imitate the shepherds, to spread the word.
I want to give you a challenge, a Christmas challenge, to imitate the shepherds as they responded to this message from the angels. I want you to take out a pen or pencil. Make a list of three people that you know in your life who are outside the family of God. I am talking to Christians right now. If you are a seeker, just sit back and listen. You see, the reason I am talking to Christians about this subject is that it is so important to God. Throughout the Bible God tells us that we matter to Him. Because you matter to God, you matter to us. The reason many of you are here is because others have made lists and then invited you to this church.
So, believers, I want you to make a list as I am talking. It could include a neighbor, a co-worker, someone you play golf with, or whatever. OK, now someone sitting down front, please exchange lists with me. What is your name? Hi, Tammy. Now lets silently read the names on the list we just received. I do not know anyone on this list I was handed. Tammy do you know anyone on my list? Now isn’t that something? Tammy has a sphere of influence that I will never have. Tammy knows three people that I will never know. But I know three people that she will never know. And the same is true for everyone here.
This weekend, if it doesn’t rain too much, we will have about 3,500 people showing up for services. Let’s say we have 600 kids here today and subtract them. So then we are left with 2,900 adults. Let’s say that 2,000 of those adults are believers. That would be a decent guess. Two thousands believers who can write a list of three people who do not know Jesus Christ. That will be 6,000 people who we can influence. Make a list of three people who are outside the family of God and check it twice.
The second challenge of Christmas will be a dangerous challenge. This is not for those who are spineless or those who want to play it safe. I want you to pray, to pray a dangerous prayer. Pray that God will open up opportunities for you to show slivers of Jesus Christ to these individuals. Just pray for them. I didn’t pray this prayer for the first 13 years of my walk with God. For 13 years I never prayed that prayer. For 13 years I was just hanging out. The moment I prayed that prayer, within ten days I had the opportunity to share Christ with someone. I stuttered and fumbled the ball. Yet the person ended up coming into the family of God. If you want to experience joy like you cannot imagine, begin to pray this high risk, dangerous prayer. God will answer your prayer.
The third challenge is to spread the word. Be ready to share, to communicate verbally what Christ has done for you. Or, and this will even be easier. Invite them to one of our services. I always wanted to be a part of a church where I could invite anyone, from any background so they could hear a life changing message from the moment they walk in until they leave. And here is the deal I will do with you. If you bust it on your end, if you make that list of three people who don’t know Christ, pray the dangerous prayer for them, are willing to be used by God to invite them and share Christ with them, then those of us who are gifted in writing drama, acting, singing and playing instruments, teaching, will bust it. Together we will tag team and reach this community for Christ. You can’t beat that deal.
One of the reasons that our church growth is exploding right now is because many of you do this regularly. But if you don’t have someone on your shoulder at least once every other month who is a hell-bound sinner, something is wrong in your Christian life. This is not optional. We have got to do it. And love demands that we do it.
The challenge is to make the list, pray the dangerous prayer, and be ready to imitate the shepherds and spread the word. I could close the Bible right now, but the great thing is that God gives us benefits for doing this. I have been to many churches where I have heard, “You need to share your faith. You need to do this, do that.” That’s cool, but oftentimes they forget to add the benefits. I want to give you the benefits of doing this. It is a win, win deal.
The first benefit is that it strengthens our faith. I have a theological education. I attended Florida State University, that was not theological. That was worldly. I attended Houston Baptist University and received a double major in Communication in Christianity and Biblical Studies. I have my Master of Divinity from Southwestern Theological Seminary. I have done some doctoral work. I have taken Hebrew, Systematic Theology and Homiletics. And all those things are great and fine and dandy but if you ask me, “Ed, looking back on your thirty-five years, what has caused the most growth in your life?” There is no doubt about it. It is when I have the opportunity to share Christ with others. No doubt about it. That is the biggest cause of growth. When I don’t share my faith regularly, and I am often tempted not to since I am surrounded by Christians, then I just stay in my comfort zone and hang out with people I know. My best friends are believers. But the Bible says that we will be spending the rest of eternity with Christian friends and that we have to be intentional in building relationships with people who are going to hell. And if we say that we don’t want to build relationships with them, we are telling the world they can go to hell.
I love to fish and Jesus says that we are to be fishers of men. There is one thing about fishing that everyone knows. Fishing is messy. Scales and slime and fish guts. You can’t get the odor off your hands. Dealing with people who are outside the family of God is messy. You have got to deal with problems. You have got to deal with relational foul-ups and mix-ups. Every time I share my faith it keeps me from being so self-absorbed. A lot of us here are self-absorbed. We are Christians who say, “Feed me, feed me, feed me.” We say that like little birds. And we have got to be fed, but we also have to move outside of ourselves and think about others.
Another benefit. Spreading the word will alter the eternity of others. It will increase the square footage of heaven. People that we come in contact with at the club, coffee shop, restaurant, cleaners, and school may have eternity hanging in the balance. And we can be a part of altering that. God wants to use you. He wants to use Tammy with her three people. He wants to use me with my three people. He wants to use you and He can if you are available.
Another benefit, a staggering one because it is nearest and dearest to Christ’s heart, is that it will build the church. People will sometimes tell me that they are into the universal church, the church of Jesus Christ throughout the world. And so am I. I think it is great what is going on around the world. But the New Testament is written specifically about the local church. For example, the word church is mentioned 110 times in the NIV translation of the Bible. Ninety-five of those times, it is talking about a specific, local church. It is fine to get involved with parachurch organizations like Promise Keepers and Young Life. All that is cool but that is not the church. It is cool to give to the United Way and the Salvation Army. But it is not the church. We are to be involved in the building up of the local church. If God is calling you here, it should be here. If God is calling you to one of the other great churches in the area, it should be there. Building the church.
Jesus said, “I will build my church.” He said that the church was where the manifold wisdom of Christ will be made known. And if you know of anything else that is more important than the church, please see me afterwards because I would like to learn about it. I received a letter that really encouraged me. A friend of mine from Houston wrote me this. I will pick up in the middle of the letter. “I want you to know, Ed, that when God opens our eyes and lets us see how we have done a good thing for His kingdom, that it makes our struggles worthwhile. So I am writing to you, Ed, to let you see a little of what God has done with your efforts in my life. I want you to be encouraged when those dark hours come and time erodes the memories of your victories.”
It was almost nine years ago when I made a list and this man’s name was on the list. I prayed for him and God gave me the opportunity to spread the word to him. I watched this man come into the Kingdom of God and over the last nine years I have watched him grow and develop into a disciple maker. I have watched him be used in a local church. I have watched his wife totally change. I have watched her sister come into the family of God along with her husband. That happened all because I just wrote a list, checked it twice, prayed for him and let God give me the words to say. Talk about encouraging me, strengthening my faith, altering the eternity of others and building the church, I was in on it.
But then as I read this letter I wondered about how many times I have missed it, blown it, been so concerned about myself that I have not been sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit of God. The moment you capture what the Bible says about that is the moment the light will come on in your spiritual walk.
So this Christmas season, leave a message. Leave a message, not on e-mail or voice mail or with a pager or cell phone. Leave the message of what Christ can do with people you know or meet. There is nothing like it. There is nothing like it at all.