Christmas In the Heavenly Places

Christmas in the Heavenly Places  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Big Idea: Respond to the glory of Christ by understanding the response of the heavenly beings.

We are taking a break this week in our study of Ephesians because it is the Sunday before Christmas…
And we are actually going to finish up Ephesians NEXT Sunday...
Originally I had intended to finish it before we got to Christmas, but we needed to spend a little more time in one of the passages...
So that left me with this odd division of the series… this final section that really focuses on spiritual warfare and standing firm in the armor of Christ...
So I was pondering with David what we should do...
When I realized, “There are fallen angels at the end of Ephesians… and angels are all over the place in the Christmas story… maybe we could look at Christmas from a different perspective this year...”
Maybe we could use the Christmas sermon to beef up our understanding of angels and demons so that we understand both Christmas AND be more prepared to study Ephesians 6 next week and the book of Mark starting in January.
Because the idea of angels and demons is confusing to a lot of people…
Few people… even few believers… pay much attention to the Spiritual Realm in our day.
People tend to err in one of to ways when it comes to understanding angels and demons:
Either they give them virtually no attention at all…
OR they give them way too much attention, seeing their work behind every inexplicable event...
Which direction would you tend to err?
For me personally, I tend to want to give them LESS attention than more...
Angels are a topic that certain schools of theology downplay...
I had one day of one class in all of my four years of Bible college on the theology.
And that’s kind of sad because that leaves us to look for understanding about angels in other… less reliable places...
What images pop into your mind when you think of angels?
Instead of sound biblical study, many people’s perception of angels and demons comes through portrayals that we’ve seen in art...
[SHOW “Cherubs” pic]
Some think of angels as naked babies who play harps on clouds… “cherubs” if you will… (that is not even CLOSE to a representation of the TRUE cherubim who are FEARSOME CREATURES.
[SHOW Nativity Set Angel pic]
Some think about angels based on what they’ve seen represented in their Christmas Nativity.
Some think of particular movie representation of an angel...
[SHOW “Clarence” pic]
Like Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life”… every time you hear a bell ring, another angel gets its wings.
[SHOW “Touched by an Angel” pic]
Or how about this pair of angels who defined a whole generations concept of what it means to “entertain angels unaware”… (I always found it exciting how their hair lights up at just the right moment to reveal their true identity)
[SHOW “Heaven Gained Another Angel” Pic]
Some think of angels as their deceased loved ones… how many times have you heard this at a funeral or viewing, “Heaven gained another angel today.”
I won’t show any pictures here… but when we think of demons, it’s usually a picture we’ve seen in a horror flick like the Exorcist or of gargoyles or something like that.
The truth is, if we stop to think about spirit beings for any length of time, the topic seems to reveal more confusion than clarity. Add into this the subject of demons and demonic influence in the world, and the confusion only multiplies.
What exactly are angels and demons?
Why do they exist?
Are they physical, spiritual, visible, invisible?
Why do they seem far more prominent during the life of Christ than they do at other points in the Bible?
Do we even NEED to understand them, or are they one of those parts of our Bibles that are irrelevant and unnecessary?
(HINT: NO part of your Bible is irrelevant or unnecessary).
The truth is, angels and demons are all over the scriptures… ESPECIALLY in the Christmas story and during the life of Christ...
We sing about them and represent them at Christmas...
And so we need to learn to think THEOLOGICALLY about them.
Just like the rest of God’s creation, angels were not created by God so that we can become obsessed with THEM…
Their purpose is to point us to the glory of God.
That’s the goal of ALL theology… including “angelology” as this branch of theology is called.
So here’s our goal for today: that we would...

Big Idea: Respond to the glory of Christ by understanding the response of the heavenly beings.

Today’s sermon is going to be MUCH different than usual...
We are almost always going verse by verse through a passage… usually through a whole book over a period of tie...
But sometimes it is good to take a step back and get a big picture on what the Bible says about a topic...
This is going to be more of a “theological” sermon, jumping between more texts than we typically do, though I do plan to point us to the scriptures as our source of understanding and Christ as our goal of understanding.
But if we are going to open our Bibles anywhere to learn about angels at Christmas time… we have to go to the book of LUKE.
Luke describes three angelic encounters within the first two chapters: Gabriel appearing to Zechariah… Gabriel appearing to Mary… and the angelic host appearing to shepherds.
Luke also includes many encounters with Satan and the demons… and we will visit two today: the temptation of Jesus by Satan and the casting out of a demon, both in chapter 4.
So I’ve asked two readers to read the two angel encounters related to the birth of Jesus…
and then later I have two readers who are going to read the sections about the Satanic and demonic activity in Luke 4
Reader 1 - Luke 1:26-38.
Reader 2 - Luke 2:8-15.
Now my goal here today is not to explain all of those passages…
and it’s not to say everything that could be said about angels or demons…
(believe me, I did hours of reading and listening to lectures in preparation for today… we are just scratching the surface…)
Our goal today is that we would understand the PURPOSE of angelic beings… and how their response to Christ should inform OUR response to Christ.
So I want to make four observations about the angel’s response to Christ from these texts...
And then four corresponding observations about the demons’ response to Christ...
Finally challenging us in our OWN response to Christ.
Based on what we just read, let’s consider the angel’s response first...

1) The angelic beings respond to Christ’s glory with reverence.

If you were to sum it up in one word, the angelic response is REVERENCE.
And they express this reverence in AT LEAST four ways... first...

a. Reverent Awe

Angels are created beings… and as such… just like the rest of creation... they are created to reflect the character and beauty and glory of Christ.
Colossians 1 tells us, “For by him…” [by the Son of God… by this one whom we celebrate at Christmas who took on human flesh and was laid in a manger]
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16, ESV)
Those terms “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities are used of Angels throughout the Bible.
Even though angels are not created in the image of God… that distinction is given to humans alone… and angels don’t reflect God in the same way as we do...
Their purpose as created beings is still FOR HIM.
We do not know the exact timing of their creation… but we do know that they were created at a point in time at or after Genesis 1:1
Their creation must have been early on, because Job 38:7 tells us that at creation,
“the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7, ESV)
From the moment they were created… the angels were singing the glories of God in JOYFUL AWE!
And because their purpose is for him, they constantly attend his presence.
Throughout the scriptures in Daniel and Revelation and Hebrews, we see multitudes of angels around the throne of the Lord.
Their entire existence is about gazing upon the glory of God in wonder and awe.
Peter tells us that the gospel realities sent from heaven are things into which angels LONG to look (1 Peter 1:12).
Sometimes angelic beings are called “the watchers”… like in Daniel 4… they constantly watch and pay attention to the unfolding plan of God on earth.
That’s one major reason they are so prominent in the birth stories of Christ… they are totally in awe of what God is doing in sending his son to earth.
Here is this one for whom they were created…
They have been in his presence in the heavenly places...
And now he has changed his primary mailing address…
He’s moved from heaven to earth and veiled himself in human flesh… first in the womb of a woman and then in a manger in Bethlehem...
And they want to be where he is.
They sang together and shouted for joy when he created all things… they continue to sing in his presence in the heavenly places…
And now they peel back the curtain of heaven to sing their song for the shepherds: “glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE among those with whom he is pleased.”
If anyone understands what that phrase means, it’s the angels...
The angels know better than any other created being what it means that Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (like the Bowmans read before communion).
They EXIST in the presence of God in the highest… in the heavenly places.
That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the angels… because THEY KNOW!
They are the PRIMARY witnesses to divine glory in the present age…
And their response to that glory is AWE.
Are you in AWE of Christ?
I don’t mean like, “Oh yeah… God… he’s awesome… I just love some of the things he’s accomplished...”
It was just so nice how he came down from heaven in the form of a baby to save us from our sin.
NO… I mean are you in AWE of Christ!
Like… “forget about everyone and everything else… drop whatever your doing… forsake your own agenda and follow him where he goes” kind of AWE!
I mean like “so captivated by the person and work of God that you long to gaze upon his work of salvation in your life and others...” kind of AWE!
I mean like… “Can’t stop your heart from singing his glories because you’ve spent extensive time with him and KNOW him deeply...” Kind of AWE!
Are you in AWE of Christ?
The angels show us how to be in awe of Christ… and their appearances who us something of what it means to be in the presence of glory...
That’s the second way angels respond to God with reverence...

b. Reverent Reflection

Notice the consistent response to the appearance of the angels throughout the three stories we just read:
Luke 1:11-12 “And there appeared to [Zechariah] an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.”
Luke 1:28-29 “And [Gabriel] came to [Mary] and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”
Luke 2:9 “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.”
What’s the common theme? GREAT FEAR!
I don’t think these angels look like naked little babies!
They are FEARSOME creatures.
It’s unclear in the scriptures whether the angelic beings have some material bodily form… or if they are ONLY spirits…
Most likely they are only spirits who are sometimes made visible… but are still not formed of matter.
But typically when they DO APPEAR… they strike FEAR into the hearts of the people witnessing them.
That doesn’t mean they always look the SAME either…
Cherubim and Seraphim have distinct features when they are described...
Cherubim have two sets of wings and seraphim have three...
Cherubim have four faces while seraphim seem to have one.
Other angels seem to appear like men… but even then they still often cause fear like Gabriel with Zechariah and Mary.
God, in his creative design… created angels to be fearsome… and I believe that reflects part of his GLORY.
We see this clearly in the appearance of the angel to the shepherds...
Luke says that “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were filled with great fear.”
The angel is REFLECTING the glory of the Lord whose presence he enjoys forever.
Much like Moses’ face shone with the reflection of the glory of God when he came down from Mount Sinai, the angels appearance is dripping with the glory of the presence of God.
And that is their very purpose: to reflect the glory of God to others.
All of God’s creation is intended to reflect him in some way: his beauty, his character, his holiness.
And angels… being created beings who primarily exist in the heavenly places… are able to reflect the fearsome glory and holiness of God in a unique way.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that God created angelic beings who are so STRANGE and DIFFERENT and “OTHER” than anything else we know or see…
...To be the ones who represent his presence that is STRANGE and DIFFERENT and OTHER than anything we know or see.
What I mean is that God created the angels as “holy” so that we would understand more of his holiness.
If the angels inspire reverent fear in us humans… and God inspires reverent fear in the angels… than how much more infinitely should God inspire reverent fear in US.
The angels are a mere REFLECTION to us of just how holy and glorious Christ is.
They COULD draw attention to themselves… the demons certainly chose to go that route… but they don’t… they REFLECT the glory of Christ to us.
Yes, the Son of God spent some time in Mary’s womb… yes he was wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger...
But make no mistake: he is the Son of the Most High God… he is Immanuel, God with us… he is the God in the Highest who has now come to earth to make peace.
And the fearsome glory of the angels PALES in comparison to the fearsome glory of the one in the manger.
They reflect HIS glory.
And we should seek to reflect his glory to the people around us.
Instead of posturing ourselves and trying to make ourselves look better to everyone around us...
Instead of the “look at me!” versions of ourselves we put out there to the world...
Our whole existence should be to say, “Look at Christ.”
And that should move us to obey him just like they do.
The third way angels respond to God is through...

c. Reverent Obedience

The Lord created the angels as a heavenly “host.”
You’ll read that word “host” A LOT in the Old Testament…
In fact it’s in Luke 2:13
“and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly HOST.” (Luke 2:13)
It’s a military term referring to the angel armies of heaven (or sometimes to the pantheon of demonic false gods).
So whenever you hear the title for God, “The Lord of HOSTS,” you should think something like, “The God of Angel Armies.”
It’s an ARMY of angelic beings who appear before the shepherds.
The battle to end all battles and bring ultimate peace back to God’s creation has been initiated in this baby in a manger.
Now this term “hosts” points us to the order of obedience that exists in the heavenly places.
Just like a military has different ranks and positions, it seems that angels have different ranks or positions.
And your rank determines how you are to obey.
So at the top is the Lord of Hosts… or the God of Gods… that’s YHWH, the Lord.
No one is like him… none can compare to him.
Closest to him is his “divine council” described in places like Psalm 82, Psalm 89, and Job 1-3.
God meets with his angels and takes their input on decisions.
I know that sounds kind of crazy… and almost seems to diminish God… but it’s really no more crazy than God using humans to carry out his plans on earth.
He is still absolutely sovereign… but for his own purposes, he chooses to involve others in the exercise of his authority.
Closely related to the Divine Council is the “archangel” Michael.
He is described a couple times in the book of Daniel… as well as in Jude.
He seems to be specially assigned to fight on behalf of Israel and to give command, under the Lord’s authority, to the angel armies.
Next to Michael… or possibly just under him is Gabriel.
Gabriel is the one who delivered the message to BOTH Zechariah (about John the Baptist) and to Mary (about Jesus).
Gabriel seems to be a type of messenger, but specially charged to reveal major turning points in God’s unfolding plan.
Since he is the only other angel specifically named besides Michael in the whole Bible, it seems he has a special rank among the heavenly host.
Another type or rank of angel we see are “the Cherubim” (which are probably the same type of beings as the Four Living Creatures described throughout the Bible) are assigned as the guardians of the presence of God...
They guard the Garden of Eden,
They overlook the Holy of Holies in the temple...
They to carry the Lord’s chariot that Ezekiel sees in his first vision...
Seraphim, on the other hand, serve in the throne-room of God day and night
They are the angelic counterparts of the priests in the Old Testament temple.
Besides all of these, you have all the other angels, or “the messengers.”
Really, this is the most precise use of the term “angel” which simply means “messenger.”
And we even see Gabriel filling that role in Luke 1 and in other places throughout the Bible.
When God says go, angels go.
The point I want you to see in all of this is that there is a sense of ORDER that the angels OBEY.
Like good soldiers, they obey the commands of God...
That’s because they KNOW that he is high and lifted up… he is in the HIGHEST HEAVENS.
They gaze upon the glory of Christ and KNOW that HE is God and they are not!
And that is so instructive to us mere humans who so easily put ourselves in the place of God.
We often want to question what God has told us to do… or to delay our obedience because it isn’t convenient or feels uncomfortable.
But the angels show us that when you truly know God… and you see his glory for what it is… you fall in line under his command.
We just simply need to obey the Lord.
But because of our sin, we don’t. And that’s why this last act of the angel’s reverence is so important...
The angels show us how to respond to Christ’s glory with reverent awe, reverent reflection, reverent obedience… finally this:

d. Reverent Proclamation

Listen to Gabriel’s proclamation to Mary again:
Luke 1:30-32 “And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David...”
The angels proclaimed something very similar to the shepherds in the field:
Luke 2:10-11 “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Both angels come with a message: to proclaim Jesus.
They don’t obscure anything:
To Mary, Gabriel said, “You have found favor… in your womb will be a son whose name is to be “Jesus.”
Jesus means “Yahweh Saves.”
He will be called the Son of the Most High.
The God of god’s… the Lord of Hosts… is sending his very own son into the world...
And he will be given the throne of David…
This is the promised anointed savior king… the Messiah…
The angel says the same thing to the shepherds: he is a Savior… CHRIST (the Messiah)… the LORD.
This is good news of great joy for ALL THE PEOPLE!
EVERYONE needs to hear this message!
We revere God when we believe the angels proclamation… and then join them in it.
We revere God when we lift up our voice and clearly say, “Jesus is the only Savior and Lord.”
He is the Son of the Most High God who has come to dwell among his creation.
He has come to die on a cross and pay for their sins and restore them to right relationship with God.
And he is coming again as the Risen, Reigning King… he will rule with a rod of iron on the throne of his Father David… and of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end.
We revere God when we believe the angels proclamation… and then join them in it.
When you truly understand the glory… the magnitude of what is happening here… you can’t keep it to yourself.
I love that when Luke says the multitude of the heavenly host appeared with the other angel to the shepherds, they appeared “suddenly.”
It’s like they just can’t WAIT to proclaim the good news of Jesus to humanity.
Is that you?
If it’s not, it’s likely because you have a heart that is somehow rebelling against the glory of Christ.
That is, a heart that is responding to Christ more like the demons than the angels.
You see, you can’t really talk about angels without talking about demons too...
Because demons are the same type of creation… the same type of spiritual beings as angels… only fallen.
The primary difference between them is that instead of responding to the glory of their Creator with reverence, they responded with rebellion.
And we see this rebellion continually playing out in the life of Christ… but there he is increasingly subduing it.
A lot of times people ask, “Why does demonic activity seem so much more prevalent during the life of Christ? Why do demons seem more active during that time?” [Did you ever wonder that?]
I’ve been pondering that question a lot getting ready for this sermon, but as I’ve studied, I’m beginning to think it’s the wrong question...
I think the better question is, “Why do the Gospel writers TALK about demonic activity more than we do today?”
I’m not sure demonic activity IS more prevalent in the Gospels… I think it’s just more EVIDENT.
In our naturalistic, materialistic culture, we tend to have a million other explanations for things than the influence of “spiritual beings.”
Not only that, when the Gospel writers talk about angelic or demonic activity, they avoid a lot of the absurdity that most people who are into these things get into today.
They don’t portray demons as this equal but opposite force to Christ… they portray them as stronger than we are, but no where NEAR as strong as God.
They don’t have an obsession with them or fascination with them… they don’t try answer every question about them or find them hiding under every rock...
They just simply acknowledge their existence and influence in the lives of people created in the image of God.
And what IS MOST clearly spelled out in the Gospels… that is absent from most discussion about demons today... is the evident and almost EFFORTLESS AUTHORITY of Christ over the demonic powers.
I’ve asked two more readers to read two passages from Luke 4 that show how demons respond to Christ… but that also show his VICTORY where we fail.
Reader 3 - Luke 4:1-12.
Reader 4: Luke 4:31-37.
We’re seeking to respond to the glory of Christ by understanding the response of the heavenly beings.

2) The demonic beings respond to Christ’s glory with rebellion.

If you were to sum it up in one word, the demonic response is REBELLION.
Now I’m not saying that we should IMITATE the demonic response...
I’m saying that we learn that any rebellion of our sin nature is a reflection of the rebellion of the demons toward Christ.
Instead of Reverent Awe, the demons respond to Christ with...

a. Rebellious Dishonor

I talked about the creation of the angels in point 1… demons were created at the same time...
Only they weren’t demons at that time… they weren’t “fallen angels”… they were just “angels.”
They at least made it to the seventh day of creation without falling because at that time, God said that his whole creation was “very good.”
But sometime between the seventh day and the temptation of Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 3, Satan rebelled against God and very possibly led a large number of angels with him.
He tried to be like God… to take God’s place.
His sin was primarily that of pride… of thinking that he was even CLOSE to the glory of God.
When we fail to be in awe of God, we are falling into the sin of pride.
There’s a lot more that could be said about Satan’s fall and the demons with him...
But he led Adam and Eve… the capstone of God’s creation... in the same rebellion…
And he has been doing everything possible to try to disrupt God’s plan ever since.
That’s why we see him tempting Jesus in the wilderness...
Because he has such a low view of God… and a high view of himself… that he actually believes that he can tempt the Son of God.
I mean… he knows who this is...
He’s been aware of his identity at least since the moment heavenly host announced him to the shepherds outside Bethlehem...
But he has little regard for the Son of God… he holds him in dishonor.
What kind of a God would make himself human?
SO... if he can get the Son of God and Son of Man to follow him in his rebellion...
To hand over his authority to Satan...
To put the Lord to the test...
Then he has ultimate authority… he wins… game over.
But Jesus… full of the Holy Spirit… succeeded where Adam and Eve failed.
He honored the Father… upheld the word… and remained without sin.
Even when we act in Rebellious dishonor, Jesus still proves his honor.
The same is true of the demons in the second scene we read...
They scoff at him, “HA! What have you come to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who YOU are - the Holy One of God!”
They KNOW who he is… but they hold him in dishonor.
And even still they have to respond to his rebuke and come out at his command.
Whether we stand before the glory of Jesus with reverent awe or rebellious dishonor… Jesus will come out on top.
How will you respond?
Now because they dishonor him, they are unable to reflect him like God originally intended.
The second part of the demon’s response to Jesus is...

b. Rebellious Distortion

The angels reflect the beauty and glory and holiness of God… Satan and his demons distort it.
Luke says that Jesus was led by the Spirit through the wilderness for forty days being tempted by the Devil.
That name “the Devil” means the deceiver.
And it’s a fitting description of what he has done since the beginning of time.
He deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden by distorting and questioning God’s words.
He is here using the word of God to try to tempt and deceive Jesus.
Whereas angels are messengers who carry God’s word verbatim… fallen angels carry God’s word to distort it.
We see the demons distorting the purposes of God in another way:
Luke says in 4:33 - “there as a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon”
So here is this one who is created in the image of God...
But a demon has overtaken his spirit.
To take control of the Spirit of a man is the ultimate affront and distortion to the glory of God.
God breathed life in the soul of mankind...
But this demon is seeking to destroy that.
Even as Jesus casts him out of the man
You see… even though Adam and Eve surrendered Jesus succeeds where Adam and Eve failed.
He sees through the distortions

c. Rebellious Disorder

d. Rebellious Denial

3) How will YOU respond to Christ’s glory?

Here’s the difference between you and angels… or you and demons…
You have the opportunity to repent.
There is no such opportunity for the demons who fell.
Christ did not come in the form of angels to die on the cross for angels.
He came in the form of a man to die on the cross for humanity.
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