By Pastor Glenn Pease
There are few stories more exciting than escape stories. One of my favorite kinds of movie when I was a kid was prison escape movies. They are so full of suspense, and the obstacles to overcome are enormous. There is a great need to be clever, and best of all, they are not fiction, but are based on fact, for history is packed with true prison escape stories. Sometimes the key is simplicity. Leon Daudet walked out of a French prison in 1927. It was thought to be escape proof. He had a friend telephone the warden and tell him that Daudet had been pardoned. The warden believed it, and without double checking he released him.
Sometimes the key is love. In Charles Reade's book The Cloister And The Hearth he tells of how his hero Gerard was imprisoned in a tower. All at once and arrow came whistling through the tiny window high up in the cell. His first response was fear that someone sought to assassinate him. But when no other arrow came he crawled about in the dark to find the mysterious arrow. When he found it he was puzzled because of a silk cord attached. What good was a silk cord to him? Then it flashed in his mind that the hand of Margaret his sweetheart was behind this arrow. He lowered the silk cord from his window, and when he felt a tug he pulled it up, and at the end was a thicker cord. As he continued to pull a heavy rope was attached, and by means of that heavy rope he was able to escape.
The stories of escape are near endless, and the Bible is a great resource for escape stories.
1. There is Lot's escape from Sodom.
2. There is Isaac's escape from death on the altar.
3. There is Joseph's escape from the pit and Potipher's wife.
4. There is Israel's escape from Egypt.
5. There is Moses's escape from Pharaoh.
6. There is Elijah's escape from Jezebel.
7. There is David's escape from Saul.
8. There is Jonah's escape from the whale.
9. There is Jeremiah's escape from the dungeon.
10. There is Daniel's escape from the lions den.
11. There is Paul's escape from assassins, prison, and shipwreck.
12. There is Peter's escape from prison.
All of these escape stories have something in common. They are stories of successful escapes do to outside help. There are times in life when you just cannot do what needs to be done to escape bondage and be free. You need someone else to be there on the outside who can lend you a hand. Sometimes we need to depend on a friend, lover, or family member, and sometimes we need to depend on resources that go beyond what any man or woman can supply. We need to depend on the supernatural means that God alone can supply.
In Peter's case it was a guardian angel. As we face another year with all of its potential for conflict and victory, bondage and freedom, I thought is would be of value for us to explore what the Bible says about these unique beings that can be our allies in the battle of life. Hardly anyone ever preaches on this special class of beings called guardian angels. They have been around a long time, and the Jews developed the idea that everyone has a guardian angel. The early Christian leaders like Origen and Chrysostom also believed that every Christian has such a guardian.
Many felt that the guardian was actually a look-alike of the one he was guarding. Angels were seen as doubles. If this theory is true, then it means everybody does have a twin; if not on earth then in heaven. This theory is based on Peter's experience in verse 15. Rhoda ran to tell the Christians praying for Peter that he was at the door. They had some debate and told her she was crazy. When she insisted she saw Peter, they responded that it must be his angel. These Christians felt that this person at the door who looked like Peter must be his guardian angel. In other words, they felt Peter had an angel that looked just like him. It is a fascinating theory which the early Christians used to give dignity to the individual. Every age struggles with self-esteem. They stress that every person is of such worth to God that He has another one just like them in His presence. If one just like you is good enough to stand in God's presence and serve Him, then who are you to belittle yourself?
Not all Christians accept this theory, and not all Christians believe that every Christian has a special guardian. Calvin felt that angels in general are assigned to minister to man, but not specific angels for specific men. B.B. Warfield felt that the assignments of guardian angels were temporary for a specific time and need, and not a permanent assignment for life.
There is a host of different ideas about these beings, but all Christians have had some conviction about them. They are not too unlike the creatures today which we call viruses. Everybody believes in these creatures that we do not see, and there is a host of different ideas about them, even among doctors. They have a great effect on our lives even though we never see them, and they are really tough to figure out. They come in so many varieties that they are hard to nail down and classify. Science has its mysteries, and it deals with materialism. So it is not surprising that theology should have its mysteries, for it deals with the spiritual realities of life. Just as no doctor would presume to stand up and try to tell us he knows everything about viruses, so no theologian will presume to tell you all about guardian angels. But I can tell you something worth knowing and exploring as we focus on three points.
I. THE REALITY OF GUARDIAN ANGELS.
Our first and highest source of support for the existence of such beings is the Bible, and the most authoritative word is that of Jesus Himself. Jesus had to know He was opening up a door to endless speculation by saying what He did, but He said it anyway. In Matt. 18:10 He said, "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven." Jesus gives a great deal of dignity to the life of every child by this saying.
This becomes the foundation for the idea that every little child has been assigned a guardian angel. Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the lost sheep; the one that wanders away from the fold. The shepherd will leave the 99 and go find that one lost sheep, and be so glad when he does. Jesus says the Father in heaven is not willing that anyone of the little ones be lost. The implication is that angels are the heavenly shepherds who watch over the children.
The mind goes wild with questions at this point. Why then do children die, and why do millions grow up and go astray, and be lost to the kingdom? At this point we are not addressing the problem, but just addressing the issue of the reality of such beings as guardian angels. This text simply puts the testimony of Jesus on the side of the evidence that they do exist.
Psa. 91:11 opens up this idea to a wider sphere of influence. It lets us see the possibility of adults also having their guardian. It says, "For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." It is of interest to note that the very next verse is the one Satan used to tempt Jesus. It says, "They will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against the stone." The red light should flash in our minds if Satan's first try to trick Jesus was by a focus on the role of guardian angels. It means we are dealing with one area of truth in which it is easy to be deceived. It is possible to make some very presumptuous and dangerous choices based on guardian angels. Satan thought maybe even Jesus would blow this truth out of proportion and take a chance that would benefit the kingdom of darkness. They are real, but we need to be cautious about what we do with their reality.
These beings are very active in the book of Acts, and jail breaks are their specialty. Peter and other Apostles are put in jail in Acts 5, and verse 19 says, "But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out." There is no doubt that a guardian angel is a prisoner's best friend. No phone calls, no waiting for bail, no trial; you just walk out as the door opens, and go free. Strange as it may sound, Paul spent a lot of time in a lot of jails, but he never had this experience that Peter had twice. Paul had his guardian angel experience in a shipwreck, which Peter never had. In Acts 27 Paul and 275 other prisoners, guards, and crew are fighting for their life as a storm threatens to destroy the ship. Paul encourages them to hold on for none will be lost, and he says in vv.23-24, "Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you."
For two solid weeks the ship was driven across the Adriatic Sea, and the men were starving and they threw everything overboard to lighten the ship. Finally it went aground and began to break in pieces, but everyone on board was spared just as the angel had promised. You can count on it that Paul believed in the reality of guardian angels. The evidence seems to suggest that guardian angels are involved in crisis intervention. They never seem to appear in everyday life when all is going well. They are usually involved in life and death situations. Even in the life of Christ we see this. As a baby his life was in jeopardy when Herod sought to kill him. That is when we see the guardian angel of the baby Jesus go to work. He came to Joseph in a dream and told them to escape to Egypt.
I think we are safe in saying that the Bible supports the reality of guardian angels, and if you believe in the Bible, you are committed to belief in them. Consider next the conviction of Christians through the centuries.
1. St. Ambrose, the great preacher of the 4th century, said, "The angels must be entreated for us, who have been given to guard us."
2. St. John of Damascus of the 8th century felt that they not only guarded us as individuals, but as nations.
3. St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of the Catholic theologians, felt that angels were to us what we are to animals. We protect them and preserve them. The higher looks after the lower, and so angels look after us.
4. John Calvin said, "The angels are the dispensers and administrators of the divine beneficence toward us. They regard our safety, undertake our defense, direct our ways, and exercise a constant solicitude that no evil befall us."
5. In the 17th century the church even had a feast of the guardian angels, and they used this prayer poem:
King of Kings, and Lord most high!
This of Thy dear love we pray;
May Thy guardian angel nigh
Keep us from all sin this day.
Here is a new slant on their duties. They are not just to protect from
danger of the body, but of the soul as well. A more contemporary poet put it like this:
The Lord preserve Thy going out,
The Lord preserve Thy coming in;
God send His angels round about,
To keep Thy soul from every sin.
This is a role that makes the angels have a more spiritual goal, but the
most popular idea is still the idea of their role in physical deliverance.
6. A family camping in Estes Park, Colorado were enjoying the outdoors, and mother was preparing dinner when all of the sudden she stopped.She heard someone say, "Where is your son?" She ran frantically to the nearby stream just in time to see the little head of her boy come to the surface. Not far down the stream was the yawning mouth of a tunnel. If she did not get her son out of that stream, it would soon be too late. She ran along the bank and plunged her hand into the stream. She caught his arm an pulled him to safety. Had that voice not spoken just when it did, that child
would have been gone. There was a mother who believed in guardian angels.
7. Ruth Graham, Billy Graham's wife, lived through a dangerous childhood
with her missionary parents in China. Rats were an ever present menace,
and one night Ruth let out a scream. Her parents came running to find
rats all over her body, and her right hand covered with blood. One had
bitten off a part of her finger. She needed a guardian angel just to survive
the environment. One day she was playing in the mission garden, and she
found an object in the soil. She dug it out and was playing with it. She
finally hung it on a nearby tree. One of the hospital workers recognized
it, quickly snatched it, and threw it into a bucket of water. It was a live
grenade. She could have so easily been killed had she activated it, but
she was protected.
8. John Hay, who became one of Lincoln's private secretaries, and later
became assistant Secretary of State, wrote of his 4 year old son who
was left in the wagon while he went into the store. The horses were
spooked, and they took off across the prairie. Snow began to fall hard,
and a search party was sent out. They found the horses and wagon tipped
over and covered with a mound of snow. But there was no sight of the boy.
The search continued until they found a little shed, and inside the boy was
huddled together with some little lambs to keep warm. Hays wrote a long
poem about the experience, and the concluding lines go like this:
How did he git thar? Angels.
He could never have walked in that storm.
They jest scooped down and toted him
To whar it was safe and warm.
And I think that saving a little child,
And bringing him to his own,
Is a derned sight better business
Than loafing around the Throne.
9. History is filled with stories of deliverance and protection that go beyond
any physical explanation. Elizabeth Elliot tells about her father. When he
was a boy he climbed up to the upper story of a house that was being built.
He walked to the end of a board not realizing it was not nailed at the other
end. It began to tip, and he knew he was doomed. But then it began to go
back down as if someone was standing on the other end. He saw nothing,
but he always wondered if it had been an angel, for his life was spared by
some unseen force.
10. The evidence of the Bible and Christian experience is so strong and
widespread that it is hard for Protestants to find any basis to object
when Pope Pius XII said this to some American pilgrims, "No one is
so humble, but he has angels to attend him. So glorious, so pure, so
wonderful they are, and yet they are given to be your fellow-wayfarers,
charged to watch carefully over you, lest you fall away from Christ, their
Lord. Not only they wish to defend you against dangers lurking alo the
way; they are also active at your side with a word of encouragement to
your souls, as you strive to ascend higher and higher to closeness to God
Here are some testimonies of guardian angels experiences:
1. Norma Zimmer, star of the popular Lawrence Welk Show for 18 years, tells of when her son was very ill. "Suddenly I noticed a brightness behind me. I looked around. Standing near the bed was a lovely young blonde woman with a white blouse and a dark skirt. I was stunned! I was not sleeping-in fact, I was very wide awake. Transfixed, I watched her for what seemed like 30 seconds. She just stood there with a radiant smile on her face, looking down at Ron. Then she faded away. It was a glorious experience. I felt no fear-just awe. I have always believed that I was permitted to see Ron's guardian angel."
2. Evie Tornquist in an interview on the 700 Club told of how she saw
guardian angels around her home one night when she was alone and
3. Pastor Rolland Buck in Boise, Idaho, who pastors a church of a 1000
members, wrote a book called Angels On Assignment. In it he describes
a number of encounters with guardian angels who protected him from
attacks by demons. It stirred up a lot of controversy and brought the issue
of angels back into the spotlight of theology.
4. Corrie Ten Boom in Marching Orders For The End Battle writes about
her experience in the Congo when there was an uprising. "When the rebels
advanced on a school where 200 children of missionaries lived, they planned
to kill both children and teachers. In the school they knew of the danger and
therefore went to prayer. Their only protection was a fence and a couple of
soldiers, while the enemy, who came closer and closer, amounted to several
hundred. When the rebels were close by, suddenly something happened:
They turned around and ran away! The next day the same thing happened
and again on the third day.
One of the rebels was wounded and was brought to the mission hospital.
When the doctor was busy dressing his wounds, he asked him: 'Why did
you not break into the school as you planned?' We could not do it. We saw hundreds of soldiers in white uniforms and we became scared.' In Africa soldiers never wear white uniforms, so it must have been angels. What a wonderful thing that the Lord can open the eyes of the enemy so that
they see angels! We have faith in the Bible, and by faith we see invisible things."
5. Many have testified of seeing angels on their death bed. The interesting thing is that males often see female angels, and females see male angels. It is as if we are guarded by the opposite sex. Another note of interest is that most only have one angelic visit that they see, even though they have many needs for such who guard and guide them. Quite often people see two white dressed men. Many have seen angels escort the dead into heaven.
6. A. C. Gaebelein in The Angels Of God says, "The great men of God in the
past in every century record miraculous escapes from threatening dangers
which they could not explain in any other way but by the ministry of the angels.
The second point we want to look at is-
II. THE RESISTENCE TO GUARDIAN ANGELS.
In spite of all the evidence in the Bible and history, there is a resistance to
this truth. It is not that we want to reject the reality of guardian angels, but
we have some serious problems with taking them too serious. The primary one is their inconsistency. You cannot really count on them to be there for a special delivery just when you most need it.
It is true that Jesus was spared as a baby by His guardian angel, but what about the other boy babies of Bethlehem? Herod got to them. If they had guardian angels, they were either on vacation at the time, or they were very incompetent because the children did not escape. It would seem that for every miraculous escape there are dozens, if not hundreds, of stories when the child did fall and get killed, and when the child did drown, or did get hit by the car, and did swallow the poison and die. Joni Erickson Tada wondered why God could not have spared one guardian angel to keep her from making that fateful dive that broke her neck. In her case you could argue that her injury made her a far more powerful instrument for the glory of God. But that is not the case with most people who break their necks.
John the Baptist was announced by the angel Gabriel. He was a miracle
baby, and he was a special person in God's plan. Jesus called him the greatest
born of women under the Old Testament system. If anyone ought to have had angel protection, you would think it would be John. Yet the Bible makes it clear that he was violently killed by his evil enemies with no sign of angelic
struggle to prevent it. James and Stephen were also martyred by their enemies. Many other Christians in the early centuries, and many more in the 20th century have been martyred.
All of this leads the Christian to develop resistance to the idea of guardian
angels. If you cannot count on them, then you are better off not even taking
them into consideration. They fall into the same category as a plastic saint
on the dash board, or a lucky rabbit's foot. It almost seems like a superstition
to have any faith in the protection of guardian angels. Emerson expressed
the question of thousands of parents who have lost children.
Was there no star that could be sent,
No watcher in the firmament,
No angel from the countless host
That loiter round the crystal coast,
Could stoop to heal that only child?
We are forced to conclude by the facts of the Bible, history, and experiences, that there is no basis for the believer to claim any right to be protected from all accidents, natural disasters, laws of nature, and evil forces. It is not that such protection does not happen, for it is a frequent reality, but it is not an automatic reality that we can depend on. It is purely a matter of grace.
I was surprised to find in the book of illustrations by Clarence Macartney
two illustrations supporting the idea that Christians become guardian angels
when they die. He tells of Theodosia Burr, the gifted daughter of Aaron Burr
who wrote to her husband who was governor of South Carolina as she was
dying: "If it is permitted, I will hover around you, and guard you and
intercede for you." After telling another story of a man who received knowledge about a distant aunt that died by means of a vision he wrote, "... it is not strange that such an office-the guardian angel's ministry- should be assigned to our loved ones who have gone before us." As a matter of fact, it is strange, for as far as I have been able to discover he is the only one who has ever dreamed of such an idea. There is no support in the Scripture for such an idea. Even great men get some strange ideas about beings like guardian angels. Our third point is-
III. THE RECONCILIATION OF POINTS ONE AND TWO.
There must be some way to deal with the dilemma of a clear obligation
to believe something, and an overwhelming basis for doubt. How can this
contradictory evidence be true for both? There must be some way to
reconcile these two categories. The key is to simply recognize the limitations
of guardian angels. God has limited Himself in relation to the gift of
freedom. He cannot let us be free, and still make us do His will. If He could, His will would always be done. If God has limited Himself, then, of course, His servants have this same limitation.
It is foolish to think that the job of a guardian angel is to make sure we never do anything stupid or careless that can injure us or even kill us. If this was the power of our guardian, then we could do anything we pleased, and tell mother nature, and all her laws, to take a hike. We would be living right now in the eternal kingdom, for nothing could go wrong. We could drink poison, drive a hundred miles per hour, play Russian roulette, cross streets without looking, and live with no care whatever for danger. All danger and risk would be eliminated, for nothing bad could ever happen to us.
This is obviously not the world we live in, and so are we to conclude that guardian angels do not exist, or that they take long vacations and are seldom on the job if they do exist? No, we are to simply face up to the reality that guardian angels are not given powers that are greater than God's. They cannot abolish the freedom we have to make mistakes and wrong choices. If they could, then God just as well have made us robots in the first place, and forgot about freedom.
What this means is, you can't escape the responsibility of freedom. You cannot throw it back on a guardian angel, and say I do not have to check my tires to see if they are so bald I could have a blow out. If you think you can count on a guardian angel to spare your life when you drive on bald tires, you have been deceived. The same goes for any other risky behavior. Christians die for many reasons that are the result of their own foolish choices. They take risks that are dangerous, and they have no right to expect to be spared the consequences. If I leave dangerous poisons where my children can easily get to them, it is not the guardian angels who are not on the job, but it is myself who is not on the job.
Jesus did not fall for the temptation to jump off the temple because of the promise of angels to protect Him. Why? Because he did not have to jump. It would be tempting God, and would be presumptuous to jump with a demand that He be protected. Anything we do that is dangerous, and we do it deliberately, is not a case where we can claim any right to protection. It is when you are in danger, not by choice, but because of circumstances beyond your control, that the guardian angels come to your rescue. When you deliberately do what is dangerous you are choosing to go beyond the boundaries where you have any claim to protection. It is like an Old Testament priest deciding to walk into the Holy of Holies. No guardian angel would have protected them from death is such a situation.
So there is no contradiction between having faith in the reality of guardian angels, and at the same time not counting on them to relieve you of your responsibility. They work for God and not us. They are real, but we must resist any temptation to forsake our responsibility for self-preservation. They only appear on rare occasions. Nowhere are we told to put our trust in guardian angels. We are to put our trust in Jesus Christ, and then live in obedience to all the wisdom of His Word. It is a precious hope that we may be spared from tragedy that is beyond our control, but it is our first responsibility to try to avoid those things that can cause tragedy.
Guardian angels are real, and there can be no doubt of that, but they are not our business. We have no control over their activities, and no claim on their protection. When I travel I do pray to Jesus to protect us, and ask for the protection of the guardian angel, but I use all the wisdom I have learned over the years to make sure I am driving in a way that does not endanger myself or others. In other words, I believe in guardian angels, but I take my responsibility very seriously to protect myself and my family, and I do not expect them to do what it is my job to do. I believe, but I resist trying to take advantage of them, as if I have any claim on their protection.