Saturday, May 23, 2009

Angels in our midst

Reading the Revelation of St. John is always a mind-stretching experience. I used to get really perplexed by it because I thought it mostly had to do with hidden secrets about some far-off "end times." Then I realized two things core to its message: (1) We are now living in the "last times" (Hebrews 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20). (2) It is literally "the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:1). "Revelation" (Greek apokalupsos) means "unveiling" or taking away a covering so that we can see the truth. In this book we do not see Jesus as a dead historical figure, nor the church as an impotent amalgamation of rejects, nor the powers of the world as ultimate. We are given a glimpse behind the veil of our eyes to embrace reality in faith: Christ is a living King, the church is God's dwelling place on Earth, the saints are a victorious, conquering army, and the forces of evil are the real losers.

One thing that struck me is this: Jesus gives a message through St. John to the "angel" of each of the seven churches in Asia Minor (present-day western Turkey). It occurred to me that these angels are not the "heavenly host" as I once thought they were. After all, it would be very strange for the Son of Man to use a mortal human to mediate his words to the heavenly beings who serve him at his throne. The word "angel" can also just as easily be translated "messenger." To whom, then, is Jesus speaking through John? It is the pastors of the local church bodies! The Chief Shepherd is giving counsel to his designated vice-shepherds (see 1 Peter 5:2, 5).

What importance this has for us! As Protestants we toss about the Reformation doctrine of "the priesthood of all believers" as license to seek our own paths to God or, more likely, simply include our pastor's preaching and counsel as simply one course in the spiritual smorgasbord by which we grow in knowledge and faith. But if these are are, as Christ himself reveals through his Spirit, his very angels and messengers, how much more important do these men become! How much more attentively ought we to heed their preaching as the very voice of Christ to us!* How much more authority do these seemingly weak, worldly men actually wield upon the earth!

So easily do I stuff my sermon notes into the back of my journal, leave them on the desk, or toss them out. It's my daily, personal "quiet time" that counts most, I think. That's where God really speaks to me. Personal study of the Scriptures is invalulable, it's true; but Christ promises his presence in the church. "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Even in the Revelation of Jesus as exalted and in holy splendor (1:12-20), he is found nowhere other than standing among his churches.

But there is more: "In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a double-edged sword" (Revelation 1:16). Jesus then tells the apostle, "The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches" (v. 20). In his book Reversed Thunder Eugene Peterson points out that to the ancient Greco-Roman world, the constellations and the seven known planets (or "unfixed stars") were of supreme importance. The constellations represented the pantheon, and the movement of the planets among the Zodiac was believed to determine one's destiny.

Yet Christ holds the stars in his hand! It is not mere stars or planets nor some fickle soap opera of deities which rules the outcome of history. Neither is it Rome nor the Third Reich nor the U.S.A. nor any other political power. It is Jesus Christ who is Lord! And it is his stars--his messengers--which influence the world. It is his lampstands--the churches--which bring light and truth. The work of the church and her pastors cannot be unceremoniously scraped into a pile of impotent failures, all apparent realities to the contrary. It is through the church which Jesus acts: He wields his sword, as Peterson points out, not through the mouth of a gun, but though the mouth of his people bearing his Word to the world.

*Romans 10:14 highlights that when the message of Christ is preached, we do not merely hear about Christ; we hear Christ himself. "How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?" (NASB).


Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen, Andrew. Well stated.

I think the best study is when God's people get together and discuss with each other passages from God's word. And just as important is the teaching, very Jewish and very biblical, of learning in the sense of apprenticeship. Spending time with someone who is older and wiser than us in walking in the way of the Lord. Learning from people like that how to live in light of God's revelation to us in Jesus.

But good thoughts here. Our pastors Jack & Sharon (married) I certainly receive as God's messengers to us, to our church, while at the same time weighing what they say according to Scripture. But at the same time receiving God's word from them each and every time they teach and proclaim it.

HALFMOM said...

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