The Bible speaks of angels in three different senses.
In the first and most common sense angels are invisible beings that God has created. There are both good and evil angels of this type. The evil angels are those who fell into sin. The good angels praise God. God has sent them especially to protect His children. Angels are present when members of Christian congregations assemble together, and Christians are exhorted for the sake of the angels to act properly and respectfully and to submit to God's order of creation.
The existence of angels cannot be proven by scientific methods, for as spiritual beings the angels are not of this world. Certain miraculous escapes from injury and death may offer a rational reason for some to believe in the existence of angels. Christians believe in the existence of angels on the basis of the Bible. If someone denies the existence of angels he also most likely denies the virgin birth of Jesus, His vicarious suffering, His resurrection, His ascension into heaven and His coming to judge the world, for the angels participate in all these events.
Christians also believe in the existence of evil angels. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the worldforces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). In fighting against the evil angels we need spiritual weapons, namely a faith that has Christ as its object and adheres to God's Word.
The Bible also sometimes uses the word angel in referring to people. The word angel means messenger. Of Jesus' forerunner, John the Baptist, God says: "Behold, I send My messenger before your face" (Matt. 11:10). The Apostle John wrote the seven letters in the Book of Revelation to the angels of the churches. He had no need to write to heavenly angels; the angels in question were the pastors of the congregations.
The third sense in which the word angel is used in the Bible is in reference to the Son of God, "God's Angel" (Ex. 3:1-15; Gen. 48:15,16, etc.). In these passages Angel and Lord (or Jahve) are equated. "Two designations, God and Angel, are used here for two different Persons, who are one in essence. The Angel is by nature the eternal God, otherwise Jacob would not have prayed to Him. He is nevertheless called an angel because of His office and work, which as a Son He had been given by the Father" (Luther). God "sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). That was His office.
A three-year-old little man came into my office and asked me to show him some Sunday School pictures. In the spring he had accompanied his older siblings to Sunday School and listened intently to the instruction. I gave the boy a picture of Jesus' parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15).
- What is this picture? the boy asked.
- Jesus is sowing seeds, I replied.
- What are those birds doing? the boy asked as he showed me the picture.
- They are bad birds that are eating Jesus' seeds.
A moment later I noticed that the boy had torn the picture. - Why did you tear the picture? I asked.
- I took out those bad birds.
I examined more closely what the boy had done. He had carefully torn off the bottom part of the picture where the birds were, and thrown it on the floor. In his hand he still had the upper part in which Jesus sowed the seeds, but in which no birds were seen. Taking the picture with him, the boy left my office, obviously satisfied.
The above example illustrates a child's exemplary faith. Jesus says: "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all" (Mark 10:15).
The boy had learned to trust Jesus. He wanted to hear about Him. The boy loved Jesus and wanted to drive away the birds that ate Jesus' seeds. The boy had not mechanically listened to the instruction. Jesus had an actual place in his heart.
The boy's faith manifested itself in deliberation and deeds. He took the side of the good and productive activity against the bad and destructive. The scene in the picture was beautiful but the evil deed of the birds destroyed the idyll in the mind of the boy. The boy longed for peace. He found it by doing what he did to the picture.
Children often can be teachers for us parents in matters pertaining to faith and truth. Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes God has prepared praise for Himself.
When children are taught matters pertaining to faith in the right way, they come to know Jesus as their own Savior. When a child's tender conscience troubles him, the Gospel finds a ready reception in his heart. We parents just have to speak to them of Jesus and His love for us. The Holy Ghost will then perform His miraculous work in the children, and some day we will be presented with a sample of this work, when we hear a surprising truth from the lips of a child.
Much has been said about the gap between parents and youth. The gap in question is hardly one that is insurmountable. Different attitudes can be explained in the light of different backgrounds in childhood, education, experience and lack of experience.
The more radical that changes in matters such as these, or in similar matters, are, the deeper the "gap". Mere differences do not have to lead to conflict. When the gap between generations is deep, the reasons for it demand a deeper probe, but at the same time the matter must be considered in the light of the conditions in which the parents and youth are currently living. According to God's Word parents are to bring up their children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4), teach them to obey and respect their parents, teach them to work, to be diligent, etc. Parents are to do all this in a manner that does not "provoke your children to anger" (Eph. 6:4), hence, in love guiding and advising them. In this way a child grows in the proper fear of God and experiences the home as a secure place.
We parents are asked: Have we done our duty? Or have we been influenced by new educational trends to such a degree that we have forgotten to offer our children that which is temporally the most important, that is, a home, and that which is eternally the most important, an upbringing in the fear of God? And if we have done this, have we done it for conscience sake in God's sight or in a selfrighteous spirit?
In writing about this subject, it feels as if the world is being rent asunder, and cannot bear to hear it. But do not criticize the youth, if you have abandoned them without a foundation and without the right direction for their lives.
We are all aware of the fact that in our time there is a great deal of division, weakness and ignorance. There are broken homes, unwed mothers, lonely widows, children must be sent to day care so that families can make ends meet. There is no lack of difficulties. But they must not prevent us from striving to give our children a Christian education. We must also seek help for those who are in trouble. The significance of the home, in particular the Christian home, must be understood anew, otherwise we are headed for destruction.
Youth have their faults, which we can see and which we do not like. But they have inherited their nature from us. However, we must neither minimize or exaggerate their faults. Trees produce good fruit through grafting. The physical development of youth occurs rapidly, but their spiritual development is a slow process. We have a tendency either to expect more than we should from youth or to expect nothing at all. Youth must develop a sense of responsibility before God and men.
Let us commend our youth to God in our fervent prayers. God will hear our prayers and answer them in His time.
The Lord sent His disciples to proclaim the good, joyful message that ChArist had atoned for the sins of all people and that heaven was open to everyone through Him. This is the task of the Christian Church also today. The Christian Church is not a conveyer of sad news. The true Gospel produces the joy of salvation in those who believe. How ardently every believer hopes that all the people of the world would understand that Christian faith is truly a good and joyous matter, worthy of study and worthy to be believed and spread abroad.
The world, however, does not view the Gospel in this way. Unbelieving people think that the Gospel terminates joy, restrains activity and burdens the conscience. But if you are one of these people, stop to consider why the message of the Apostle was given the name Gospel (good news), and why Paul, who was severely persecuted by unbelieving people nevertheless said that he did his work "always with joy" (2 Cor. 6:10). Do we not need exactly this type of life-giving strength in the midst of all the despair and uncertainty that plague the people of this world? But if the Gospel is a good and life-giving strength, then why do many not seek it, but instead fear and even despise it? Because what the Bible says is true: "The whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). Darkness does not seek light, but light penetrates the darkness, "for everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (John 3:20).
A person cannot by his own strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. Conversion is a work of God. God takes hold of a person through His Word and drives him to despair. A person realizes that he is guilty in the sight of the almighty God and cries: "Woe is me, for I am lost." To him God says: "You will not perish; I have redeemed you. I will lift you up and place you on the rock of refuge. Do not be afraid, your sins have been forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ." Despair is replaced with the joyous assurance of salvation: God loves me because He has given His own Son to die for me. Even though I am a sinner, God is merciful.
We all get older, but not all of us age in the same way. Some lose their strength gradually, others are called to eternity while they are still relatively healthy both physically and mentally. Becoming old is often frightening. Even believers are not free of this fear. Death frightens because it is never natural. God did not create man to die, but "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). For man to die is most unnatural. And how difficult it is to approach death with a troubled conscience.
The Christian faith has a medication for aging and death. It is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus has conquered death by His own substitutionary death. "By this the love of God was manifested in us (shown us), that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him" (1 John 4:9). Whoever is afraid of the wages of sin, may place his trust in Christ and live a new life. He who believes in the Son is a new creation. Outwardly, of course, we are subject to death, but death cannot swallow us. For a believer in Christ, death is the gate to eternal life, because we have been baptized into the death of Christ. "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:3,4).
When our strength begins to fail we might not have the energy to read God's Word as before. We cannot even always partake of holy Communion. A believing elderly person may be concerned about this. But we must not think about our own strength, but rather trust in God's strength. Already in holy Baptism He has adopted us and made us His children. Through His Word He has kept us in the Baptismal Covenant, or if we have fallen away from it, He has brought us back to it. And even the most wretched sinner is invited to return. God does not forsake us when our strength fails, but says: "Even to your old age, I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you! I have done it, and I shall carry you; And I shall bear you, and I shall deliver you" (Is. 46:4). God's supply of grace is never depleted and His strength does not fail.
God has revealed Himself to us in His Word. According to this Word Christians worship only one God. "There is no God but one" (1 Cor. 8:4). "Listen, Israel: the LORD, our God, the LORD is one" (Deut. 6:4). He is the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. There is only one name of God and it is the "name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost" (Matt. 28:19). (God's Name is not the same as a designation!) When Jesus was baptized the Father spoke from heaven and the Holy Ghost descended on the Son in the form of a dove. Each Person acted separately but nevertheless there were not three God's, but only one.
We must believe a profound truth such as this on the basis of the Bible. God is so far above our ability to comprehend that we cannot understand Him in His essence. We can only believe that He is what He is. If we with our mind formulate a conception of God that agrees with our way of thinking, we actually lower God to the level of our ability to comprehend. Attempts have been made to illustrate the triune nature of God. It has been compared to a triangle: Just as in one triangle there are three angles, so too in the Godhead there are three Persons, and just as the angles of a triangle do not become three triangles, so too the three Persons of the Godhead do not become three different Gods. This example illustrates the matter in a way. But it leaves much to be desired. For we would have to imagine that each angle of a triangle is the whole triangle, inasmuch as each Person of the Godhead is the whole God and not just some part of the Godhead. The Bible says that in Christ "all the fulness of the Deity dwells in bodily form" (Col. 2:9). We can only inadequately describe God with illustrations, for God is the only one of His kind, far above this creation of His. We must be content with what the Bible tells us about Him.
The Bible calls each Person God. Of Jesus it says: "This is the true God" (1 John 5:20). Peter told lying Ananias: "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?... You have not lied to men, but to God" (Acts 5:3,4). In addition the Bible ascribes divine attributes and divine works to each Person. Some have wanted to make the Son and the Holy Ghost inferior to the Father in the Godhead. But what has been the result? They have made little gods of the Son and the Holy Ghost and have therefore fallen into polytheism. The doctrine of the Trinity is not meant to be dissected by our reason, but rather to be humbly believed according to the Bible.
The Bible is a collection of books. None of its 66 books has been preserved in its original state. This does not, however, mean that the Word of God has been lost. The original manuscripts were copied, and from reliable copies new copies were made. The copies are called manuscripts. Thousands of these manuscripts of both the Old Testament and New Testament have been preserved. Even in recent times valuable manuscripts have been found and others may still be found. The manuscripts differ from each other in some instances but the differences are usually insignificant. It is generally agreed that the differences do not affect any doctrines of the Bible making them doubtful or controversial. By comparing the oldest and most reliable manuscripts to each other, the correct reading of the original text can be determined. For no other ancient book have as many manuscripts been preserved as have been preserved for the Bible. The great number of Biblical manuscripts and the fact that they are in such close agreement with each other testify that the text of the Bible has not been changed in the course of the world's troubled history.
Some of the New Testament manuscripts are from as early a period as the second century. The entire New Testament collection of books is from the fourth century, only about 200 years after they were originally written. It is possible that among the preserved manuscripts there are some that were copied directly from the originals.
Until the time of the discoveries at Qumran (1947), the oldest Old Testament manuscripts were from the 9th and 10th centuries. The Qumran discoveries included manuscripts that are a thousand years older. And what is especially significant is that they confirm that the Old Testament text has been preserved intact.
The copyists were conscientious in their work. The Jewish copyists had to observe the following rules: The copyist can never depend on his memory. Before writing he must look up every word of the original text and pronounce it audibly. Between every book he must leave three blank lines. Deuteronomy must end exactly on a certain line. The copyist must be dressed fully in the Jewish manner as he copies. Every time he writes God's name he must first consecrate himself, wash his whole body and his pen, and dip it deeply enough into the ink so that he can at the same time copy the word before God's name as well as the name itself. In copying this holy name he must be so devoutly committed to his task that he would not even notice the king if he were to speak to him during the time he is writing. The copy was not acceptable if even one letter was missing or if there was one letter too many, if prose was written as poetry or poetry as prose, or if two letters touched each other. The manuscript had to be examined within 30 days.
These rules may seem strange to us but they were a safeguard against carelessness, they contributed to the birth of exact, reliable copies, and prevented the preservation of erroneous ones. At the same time other regulations served as simple examining means to insure that nothing had been added or that nothing had been omitted.
God's Word truly has not passed away.
We are accustomed to considering the ability to speak as one of the features that separates man from animals. But we have perhaps not often paused to consider that the ability to speak has a much higher significance. True, the words proceding from our mouths are sometimes very earthly.
Originally the use of words was a divine attribute. God spoke already before man was in existence. "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible" (Heb. 11:3). The Second Person of the Trinity is called the Word. Through Him all things have been created. The existence of the entire universe depends on the fact that it is supported by God's Word. It is not only a creative force but also a sustaining power. The Word has this power in the realm of creation as well as in the realm of faith.
Spritually a person is by nature dead in his sins, without life. God created him in his own image, but because of the fall into sin he no longer has this image. In some respects he is not complete. In the spiritual sense he is non-existent, even though he does exist. He is active but his activity is misdirected. He is God's enemy. For a person to get a new beginning, to be renewed in God's image and therefore to full humanity, life must be recreated in him. The Bible calls this rebirth and compares it to God's works of creation (2 Cor. 4:6). When God creates faith in Jesus in a person through the Word and Baptism, this person becomes a new creation. The Word is also the means of this creation.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead by calling out: "Lazarus, come forth!" (John 11:43). Through the power of the majestic Word life returned to Lazarus and he was able to heed Jesus command. In the same manner a person dead in his sins becomes spiritually alive when Jesus' substitutionary atonement is proclaimed to him and he is told: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). In a certain respect, however, there is a difference between spiritual and physical creation. Lazarus could not resist Jesus' Word. He had to come forth. In the same way on the Last Day everyone will have to appear before the Judge whether he wants to or not. But now when God speaks through His Word and the Sacraments, people can resist Him, for although they have no spiritual life, they are nevertheless active against God.
"Every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you" (Ex. 20:24), says the Lord. According to this promise even the Sacraments have new creative power, because they are connected to God's Word.
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). God did not give His revelation to the Prophets and Apostles in English. That is why we need translations. Because language develops, new translations are needed as time goes by. It is refreshing to be able to read God's Word in the clear language of our time.
The attempt to translate the New Testament or the entire Bible into good present-day language is a matter that deserves our support, provided that new translations do not appear too often. It is well for each generation to become acquainted with a certain translation. A good translation may help to promote Bible reading and in that way be a good instrument for doing mission work.
Translators have a great responsibility. The Bible, with the threat of punishment, warns against adding anything to or deleting anything from the Bible. The translator must be especially careful and meticulous. Translating is not easy because it is extremely difficult to express only what and exactly what the original language says. But translators must earnestly try to do this. The pastor of a congregation must, in his teaching, be able to clarify the meaning of a translation on the basis of the original language if need be. In this way he sees to it that nothing is detracted from or added to the Word of the Bible.
In other words a translation must never be presented as the absolute revelation of God. God's Word must be sought in the manuscripts written in the original languages. A translation is an approximation. On the other hand the difficulty of translating must not be stressed too much. It has been possible, and still is possible, to translate the Bible so that through its words the matters pertaining to faith can be clearly understood. But especially when we are called upon to defend the teachings of the Bible we need the original languages.
"Truly I say to you, wherever the Gospel is preached in the whole world, that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her" (Mark 14:9). Thus spoke Jesus concerning Mary of Bethany after she had annointed Him with costly perfume of pure nard before His crucifixion.
However, there were those who did not see anything praiseworthy in Mary's act. They were indignant and remarked: "For what purpose has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denaris and the money given to the poor." And they scolded Mary. But Jesus defended her and said: "Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For the poor you always have with you, and whenever you wish, you can do them good; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has annointed My body beforehand for burial."
What was it that was so special about Mary's act that it deserves to be spoken of throughout the world? Why were the others so indignant about it? Can we find anything comparable in present day life? Mary's act was so praiseworthy because it was motivated by love and respect for her Savior. Mammon had not made her its slave. On the contrary her deed indicated that she was its master and a servant of the Lord. Mary does not seek honor and praise for her deed. Only a person with true faith is capable of performing such a deed. Certain ones did not have such faith. That is why they were so indignant. Their hearts were attached to Mammon. They were not incensed because of the needs of the poor, but rather because Mary's act of love did not provide them with the opportunity to practice their greed and the money was beyond their reach. If they had truly wanted to help the poor they could have used their own money.
We find people like this today. They are opposed to giving money for the support of the preaching of the Gospel. Mission work to them means nothing more than offering aid to developing nations. But there is no Church without Gospel preaching, and a Gospel-preaching church helps the poor (1 Cor. 1:18, Gal. 2:10).
Where can we find Mary of Bethany today? She is so rare that this portion of the Bible is to be read wherever the Gospel is preached, so that people will get the right picture of the Christian sacrificial spirit and unselfish love. Yes, we can find Mary if we have eyes to see. She is the faithful Christian, often a poor woman, who may be criticized for everything from A to Z, but in the sight of God is a pillar of the Church.