What Angels Learn at Church

Ephesians

What Angels Learn at Church

April 19th, 1970 @ 8:15 AM

Ephesians 3:10

To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
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WHAT ANGELS LEARN AT CHURCH

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Ephesians 3:10

4-19-70     8:15 a.m.

 

I suppose every sermon I prepare I have a feeling of awe and wonder at what I am looking at in the Bible.  But I certainly feel that way about the sermon prepared today.  To me, it is an astonishing thing and one difficult and overwhelming for me to realize.  On the radio you’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor preaching from a text in the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians.  It is verse ten, and the title of the sermon is What Angels Learn at Church, When Angels Attend Church.

The third chapter begins with the avowal of the apostle Paul.  That, revealed to him and to the other apostles, is the mystery of God – the secret of God that the Lord kept in his heart through all of the millennia until it came time to reveal it; which secret is, was, that there should be a body, a church.  And in that church were to be Jews and Gentiles, bond and free, male and female, poor and rich, learned and unlearned; a new creation.

Then, after his exclamation that I preached on last Sunday morning:

 

Unto me, who am less than the least of the saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery

– that secret that God kept in his heart –

to the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be known by the church, the manifold wisdom of God.

[Ephesians 3:8-10]

 

Now you have to look at it:  "To the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers, the arche, and the exousia," what Paul is naming there are angelic orders.  Elsewhere in Ephesians he’ll name others [Ephesians 1:21, 6:12], but here he names two of the families of the orders of those celestial beings in glory: the arche and the exousia, the angels of God.  And he says that "to them is made known by the church," they learn in the church, the polupoikilos – polu, many; poikilos, the various – the many hued, the polupoikilos, the manifold, the many varied, the many various, the multicolored, the infinitude of the variousness of the wisdom of God.  Oh I just can’t imagine such a thing!  I just can’t conceive of it.  The elder-born of all God’s creation, the angelic orders, learn of the marvelous manifold, many various, multiform wisdom of God in the church.

Now, you look at that carefully.  The angels have an exalted position.  They look with undimmed eye upon deity.  In awe and in reverence, in wonder they veil their faces crying, "Holy, holy, holy" [Isaiah 6:1-3].  They stand, as it were, in the very sun, in the presence of deity itself, and yet it is nowhere ever said that they learn the manifold wisdom of God by virtue of their exalted position. 

The angels, the elder born of all God’s creatures, were present at the creation of the world.  When God formed the Milky Ways, and the stars were lighted by the glory and the flame of deity – the Book says that when God made this world, the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy [Job 38:7].  The angels beheld in amazed wonder the work of God’s hands, the firmament that shows His glory [Psalm 19:1].  Yet nowhere in the Book does it say that the angels learned the manifold, many various, multiform, multifaceted wisdom of God in the works, the creations of God’s hands.  And the angels were present when God formed Adam and his beautiful consort who walked by his side, fearfully and wonderfully made.  And yet, as the angels looked upon this highest creation by the mind and heart and hands of God – the man created in His image – yet at no place does it say that the angels learned the manifold wisdom of God by the creation of the man and his wife.

Or think of the centuries and millennia of God’s providence apart from the church.  The years and the years of the history written in geology, or written in the skies, or written in human story, that mystic wheel of God’s providence filled with eyes.  Yet nowhere in the Bible does it say that the angels learn the manifold wisdom of God as they follow the course of the centuries and the millenniums.  What an astonishing conception to say that they learn of the wisdom of God, multivariate, multifaceted, in the church [Ephesians 3:9-10].  What they could not and did not learn in the creation, God’s firmament, in the arches of the sky, and what they could not and did not learn in all of the providences of the centuries, the angels are taught the manifold wisdom of God in the church. They learn it in the church.  It staggers a man’s mind.

Well, let’s look at what the angels learn about God in the church: first, as they look at God’s way of redeeming lost men.  Had there been a parliament called of all of the assembly of all of the angelic orders, and the question had been placed to the cherubim, and the seraphim, and the archangels, and the arche, and the exousia, had it been posed to them, "How can God be just, and yet be the justifier of the ungodly?" [Romans 3:26], I think, after the angelic orders had deliberated over that question for untold ages, they could not have come forth with an answer.  And yet, in the marvelous atoning grace of God in Christ Jesus, all of the virtues and all of the attributes of God shine forth in undimmed luster at the same time that God is saving and forgiving lost men.

God is just; oh, how He is!  God is righteous; O Lord, how He is!  He threw, He flung Lucifer headlong flaming from the ethereal sky down to the abyss [Revelation 12:9].  God is just.  He took the strongest man that ever was – God is just – and in His judgment destroyed him; bowed his head and said, "Lord, let me die with the Philistines."  God is just.  God said to the man after his own heart, "The sword shall never leave thy house," and the story of David is written in blood.  God is just.  Oh, God is just!  And yet God is merciful and loving and forgiving, and not detracting or sullying or blotting out those holy attributes of justice and righteousness and holiness.  Yet, in the divine plan for saving men, God is merciful, and kind, and loving, and forgiving.  How could such a thing be?  In the crown of a monarch will be clusters of jewels; so, in the corona of God the Lord, forgiving and saving; and yet none of those crown jewels are dimmed, nor is their luster lessened, in what God does in saving men.  And I can well imagine how the angels look at such mercy and love and goodness, and yet righteousness of God in astonishment and amazement: the manifold wisdom of God.

Did we sin in Eden?  Did we lose our perfect estate in Adam?  In the second Adam we are forgiven and restored [1 Corinthians 15:22,45].  Did we lose our communion with God in our first parents?  Oh, how we are restored to fellowship with God in Christ Jesus!  Did we lose our paradise in our first transgression?  Then it is that we might have a better and a greater paradise in glory.  And how the angels must have been astonished as they looked upon the very perpetrators of our downfall; themselves led into the abyss by their own devices.  It is the dragon that stings himself.  It is Goliath who is slain by his own sword.  It is the victim of death that destroys death itself!  As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive [1 Corinthians 15:22].  And as it was a man that Satan used to destroy the human race [Genesis 2:17, 3:1-6], so it is a man, the God-Man, that God used to bring triumph and victory to the fallen souls of Adam’s children [Romans 5:15]; and as the angels looked down upon it, how they must be astonished at the grace of God that reaches down to sinful men.  The most marvelous miracle in the earth is the regeneration of a human soul; a man down on his knees, confessing his sins, asking God to forgive him.

Yesterday I was reading again the ninth chapter the Book of Acts when the Lord said to Ananias, "Go to the street that is called Straight, and inquire in the house of one [Judas] for a Saul of Tarsus," then there’s an exclamation there, "For, behold, he prayeth" [Acts 9-11].  This proud Pharisee, breathing out threatening and slaughter against the children of God, now blinded by the glory of that light, and led by the hand into the city, and now on his knees praying [Acts 9:1-10].  The angels are astonished "That to them might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God" [Ephesians 3:10].

And again, the angels learn the manifold wisdom of God through all of the centuries of the preparation for that redemption and for the ultimate triumph that God purposes for His people.  It was the angels that Abraham entertained unawares.  It was an angel who cried to Abraham to stay his hand when he sought to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah [Genesis 22:11-12].  It was the angels who ascended and descended at Bethel when Jacob saw the ladder that leaned against heaven [Genesis 28:12].  It was the angels at Mahanaim, the two bands of them, who welcomed Israel back from Padan-aram to the land of Canaan [Genesis 32:2].

In the Book of the Law and in the sanctuary, there at the mercy seat where the blood was spilled, there were two angels who looked full down upon that propitiatory, the mercy seat [Exodus 25:20].  And in the days of the redemption of our souls, it was the angels who were astonished when Christ was born in Bethlehem and announced it to the world [Luke 2:9-15].  And it was the angels who ministered to Him in the days of His flesh [Matthew 4:11].  And it was an angel who supported Him in Gethsemane [Luke 22:43].  And it was an angel who rolled away the stone and who announced, "He is risen from the dead" [Matthew 28:2-6].  And there were angels who watched His ascent into heaven and spake to the lingering disciples [Acts 1:9-10].  And at the consummation of the age, He is coming with all the holy angels [Matthew 16:27].

For to them is made known, in God’s redemption in the church, the manifold, multifarious, multifaceted wisdom of God.  And the angels learn at the building up of the church what is happening before our very eyes and theirs: "that there might be made known to the arche and the exousia by the church the manifold wisdom of God" [Ephesians 3:10].  They look upon it, the building of the temple of God, the church; the great cornerstone is not a patriarch, or a prophet, or an apostle, but it is the God-man Christ Jesus, and leaning against that stone are the living stones that make up the household of God [2 Peter 2:5].

The temple is not Romanesque, it is not Gothic, it is not Grecian, but it is made after that pattern that God showed to Moses on the top of the mount, the sanctuary that is in heaven [Exodus 25:9, 40].  Part of it is here and we see it, and part of it is beyond the clouds and beyond the sky and in heaven.  Some of us are built into that pinnacle of paradise up there where the angels are and God is, and some of us living stones are down here in the temple of the earth, but whether some of us there and some of us here, all alike, we belong to the temple of God.  And in that temple, God lives and God teaches us and the angels.  God unbares His heart to us who are in the church.  He reveals the deep things of the spirit by His Spirit and as God teaches us the angels learn the manifold wisdom of the Lord.

And the angels learn by the pilgrimage of our devotion, and our walk, and our life here in this world.  For the centuries now, they’ve been watching God’s merciful grace and providence with His people.  They accompanied God’s children through the wilderness, and they accompany us through the wilderness of this world.  When they looked into the fiery furnace and saw one walking like a fourth Somebody, and his visage and his countenance was like unto the Son of God [Daniel 3:25], as they look into the fiery furnace and see the mercy and grace and presence of God with His people, so they look upon us today and behold the presence, and the goodness, and the grace, and the mercy of God with His people.  And finally, and someday triumphantly, it is the angels who shall bear our souls to glory [Luke 16:22]; the Book says so.  For they watch over us, our guardian keepers, and they learn from God’s providences in our lives.  And when we lay this burden down, and this body of flesh and dust is turned back to the dust from whence it came, the angels bear us to glory.  They’re present, and they see, and they care for us [Hebrews 1:14].

Did you know, I had to look it up in an old hymnbook of mine.  I was so surprised that the song is not in our book, an old-timey song that I used to hear those old-timey people sing.  And I was so surprised to learn that it’s not in our book.  Do you remember it?  Did you ever hear anybody sing it?

 

My latest sun is sinking fast;

My race is nearly run.

My strongest trials now are past;

My triumph is begun.

 

O come, angel band,

Come and around me stand.

O bear me away on your snowy wings,

To my eternal home.

O bear me away on your snowy wings,

To my eternal home.

["My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast," Jefferson Hascall, 1860]

 

Did you ever hear anybody sing that?  She says she heard her mother sing it.  I’ve heard my mother sing that a thousand times a thousand times.  You don’t know it?  Let’s sing it.  Sing it with me.

 

My latest sun is sinking fast;

My race is nearly run.

My strongest trials now are past;

My triumph is begun.

 

O come, angel band,

Come and around me stand.

O bear me away on your snowy wings,

To my eternal home.

O bear me away on your snowy wings,

To my eternal home

 

Just what the Book says, that’s all.

As the angels attend church, as they watch God’s manifold grace and mercy in our lives, and finally at the consummation when they come for us to bear us to glory, or come with Christ at His final and triumphant and victorious and glorious appearing, the angels are always there.  And that’s what the apostle was saying, that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be known by the church, by God’s grace in us, the manifold love and mercy and grace and goodness of God [Ephesians 3:10].

O Lord, just thank Thee for revealing to us mortal men such treasures of knowledge and wisdom.  O Lord, how unsearchable are Thy ways, and how good Thou art to us.

We must sing our hymn of appeal.  and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, while we sing the song to come, give your heart to the Lord or to put your life in the fellowship of the church, make the decision now.  And in a moment when we stand to sing, on the first note of that first stanza, come and stand by me.  "Pastor, here’s my hand.  I’m coming to the Lord."  Or, "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children; all of us are coming today."  As the Spirit shall press the appeal, make the decision now, right now.  And in a moment, stand up coming.  God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.