Angels of Strength
And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels strengthened him.
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
I remember the first time I went hiking. It was in the Great Smokey Mountains. I was carrying a 40 pound backpack on a 30 mile hike that would take a few days. When the trail was flat, I traveled along well. However, when the trail steeply went up a hill or to the crest of a mountain, I had trouble. I could barely breathe. It was then that I asked myself - Can I make it up to the top of the hill? No longer was it - can I finish the hike, but can I make it to the tree just ahead? Some days are like that.
Some would respond to our need for strength by saying all we must do is call upon the strength within us and all will be well. Certainly part of that is true. We do have resources within ourselves. However, we also have experiences where we cannot handle a situation by ourselves. We need a source of strength outside us.
In our Scripture lesson this morning, it was that need for strength from beyond which happened to Christ. The setting of this story of Jesus is clear. After his baptism by John in the Jordan River, the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, where his strength was depleted. During this period, one of his greatest trials, it says that: “and the angels strengthened him.” (Or as the Revised Standard Version says – “And the angels ministered to him.”)
The word angel means messenger. An angel is a messenger with help from beyond a person’s strength. Our parents and grandparents often believed angels were literally winged creatures. However, what angels represent in this story are not winged creatures, but sources of strength from God. Angels for us, thus, are “the nearness and sustenance and helpfulness of the spiritual - (which) we need as much as ever our (parents) needed it.” That is what angels are - poetic representations of sources of strength, without which the wilderness of life would be too steep and barren to bear. Just as angels strengthened Jesus in his time of need, so angels come to us today. The question is what form the angels take.
One form angels of strength take is a simple passage read out of the Bible.
I have turned to the Scriptures, the Bible, almost daily in my life; but especially in periods of difficulty. I find strength in the words there. One time, I will read for encouragement Paul’s words that state – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Another time, I will read words from Joshua. There I find the words God said to Joshua - “Be strong and of good courage, be not frightened neither be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you may go.”
These words are angels giving us strength for the journey. They are messengers of help from God.
Sometimes I read the Psalms for sustenance and nourishment. No greater help can you receive than when you read the Psalms. Whatever your need, whatever your emotional state, you will find in the Book of Psalms words to strengthen you. It might be Psalm 69 that says: “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.” Or I might read Psalm 40 which states - “I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined to me and heard my cry.” Or, I might read Psalm 38 which asks - “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, or chasten me in your wrath!” Almost all the psalms can be angels of strength to meet your needs.
I believe as the theologian James Smart once said: “We stand to lose terribly if we leave the Bible out of our reckoning (for strength). For right through the pages of this Book run the frontier line between two worlds. Here is your listening post for messages from the beyond. Here messengers of grace move to and fro.... Here angels ascend and descend upon (us).... A generation that forsakes its Bible is shutting itself off from the eternal world.” (James S. Stewart, “The Wind of the Spirit,”)
Why should we miss this source of strength that God has so graciously laid before us?
“And the angels strengthened him.”
Secondly, the angels of strength may take the form of a person near you. That person may be a friend, a teacher, someone from church, or even a stranger. Most of us have had experiences where someone has spoken a few words, or done some kind deed to us, and we almost instinctively said, “You have been an angel to me.”
If you have received such grace, you might also be an angel of strength to someone else. Many people we encounter are suffering, most often silently; yet, with a word from you, a card, a prayer, a visit, you can be an angel of strength to them.
Robert McCracken, a former minister of Riverside Church in NYC, told of the time when he visited a man who was terminally ill. When the minister entered the man’s apartment, it was clear the minister was an unwelcome guest. The sick man upon seeing the minister refused to say a word. While trying to sustain a conversation, the minister noticed the poor condition of his apartment and suspected that provisions and food were low. Therefore, when he left the apartment the minister went to a store and paid someone to take groceries and meat - in the form of lamb chops - to the sick man’s apartment. The minister went three more times to see him. After each visit, the minister sent more groceries and lamb chops. Some weeks later, the minister received news that the man had died and had left a message for him. The message said, “Tell the preacher it’s all right; I have made peace with my dying. I’m going to God, but be sure to tell the preacher, it wasn’t his preaching that changed me, it was those lamb chops.”
We become angels of strength when we reach out to touch someone else.
That is why fellowship time is such an important time for church members because in those few moments while in conversation with one another, we discover a person in need, or we receive or give words of encouragement. The medium may be while you drink a cup of coffee, or eat a piece of cake or a donut, but the purpose is clearly to provide time to be angels of strength to one another.
“And the angels strengthened him.”
Thirdly, the angels of strength may take the form of the actual Spirit of God speaking to us. When a word of the Bible lays hold of me, or when someone touches my heart or mind by their words or gestures, then it is God strengthening me through those words or that touch. Those persons become angels of strength to me.
Many times, more than you will ever know, you in this church have been angels ministering to me. God has given me strength through your words, or deeds, or prayers.
There is a story in the Bible when the disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee and a fierce storm suddenly arose, which caused them to worry and to become afraid. Then they looked out over the water and they saw something. At first they thought it was a ghost, then they discovered the truth and exclaimed: “It’s Jesus.” Suddenly, the Lord appeared to them and gave them strength.
People often say that in good times people are ready to affirm God; but when something bad happens their faith collapses. In my experience, I have found the opposite to be true. When people are in good times, God can easily become an abstract idea. However, when our strength wanes, when things go badly, when we walk in the valley of the shadow, then God becomes real to us. In those times, God is not an abstract thought, but the Thou who touches us and gives us strength. It is then that we proclaim - “I could never have made it through this time were it not for you, Lord.”
Many of us would have burned out long ago if some angel had not given us strength. Perhaps that angel was a Scripture passage read, or a word from a friend, a loved one, or even a stranger. They were angels of strength who came to us, gripped us by the hand, and led us on the way. In those times, we experienced help from beyond.
“And the angels strengthened him.”
May you too experience angels of strength in your time of need.
(Copyright 2018 by Jack Hughes Robinson. Use by Permission Only.)