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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The Lord teaches us to pray to be like God's holy angels
Text:LD 49 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 103:1,8,9
Psalm 119:22-24
Hymn 63:1,4
Hymn 1
Psalm 91:1,4,5

Scripture reading:  Genesis 19:1-29
Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 49

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Ask just about any missionary and he’ll have stories about demons.  These sorts of stories are common place around the world.  Stuff like this happens amongst people from different cultures living in Australia too, though perhaps we don’t often hear about it.  In our circles, we don’t take the world of spirits very seriously.  That goes for evil spirits as well as for good.  We don’t typically give much thought to the presence of angels and demons.  That can lead us to forget that these creatures exist and their activities do have a bearing on us. 

In the biblical worldview, there are creatures known as angels.  Angels were created by God at the beginning.  That means angels haven’t always existed.  There’s a point in time when God created them.  Some are good – they’re God’s good and holy angels.  Others have fallen and follow Satan – we call them the demons.  In the biblical worldview, these creatures are present always, even though we can’t normally see them.  While they’re always around, any individual angel or demon can only be in one place at one time.  That includes Satan.  Only God is omnipresent.  Individual angels or demons aren’t.  They’re also not omniscient – all knowing.  Only God is omniscient.  Only God knows everything.  Angels are real creatures who are there, but they’re not to be confused with God.  They don’t have his power or attributes.      

This was certainly the worldview of our Lord Jesus in his earthly ministry.  He experienced the reality of angels and demons.  Satan attacked him with temptations.  God’s holy angels supported him.  In his teaching too, he presupposed the reality of angels.  We see that with the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus teaches us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  He’s referring to the reality of good angels who obey God’s will.  He uses them as the model for our obedience.  As we pray to bring our wills in line with God’s will, we look to the angels as our example.  So this afternoon we will see that the Lord teaches us to pray to be like the holy angels.  That means that we pray for obedience that’s:

  1. Swift
  2. Sincere
  3. Scrupulous

When we want to learn how to pray better and more biblically, we’ve been trained to look at the Lord’s Prayer.  That’s good.  The Lord’s Prayer is designed for this very purpose and our Catechism rightly directs us to it also.  However, the Bible does give more direction on how to pray.  We can think especially of the Psalms – many of them are prayers to God and they’re models for us of biblical prayer too. 

We just sang some stanzas from Psalm 119.  We sang, “I will make haste in doing what is right, by your commandments guided and instructed.”  That’s the rhymed version of Psalm 119:60, “I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.”  The Psalmist is praying and he affirms in his prayer to God that his obedience will be swift.  When God tells him to do something, he tells God that he will do it right away.  This is to be our prayer too.  We should pray for obedience that is instant.  God says it and we do it.  No delay. 

The example here should be the angels from heaven, God’s good and holy servants.  Let’s look at our reading from Genesis 19.  Two angels figure prominently in this chapter.  They come to Sodom on a mission.  The mission is two-fold:  save Lot and his family and destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  As we look at this account, we see that the angels are on strict orders.  They’ve been sent to destroy those cities on a set day.  They swiftly do so.  They don’t hold back – they don’t linger or delay.  God has told them to do something and they’re going to do it at the time God has told them to.  When the day of destruction dawns, the angels warn Lot to get out of Sodom because the destruction is imminent. 

Contrast the swift obedience of the angels with Lot.  At the beginning of verse 16 we find that Lot hesitated to obey the command to get out.  He lingered, puttered around instead of running for his life with his family.  Lot delayed and so the angels had to actually hold his hand and physically pull him and wife and two daughters out of the city.  This was the mercy of the LORD towards them.  The angels swiftly obey, but Lot and his family are slow.  They’re only saved because God was merciful and used his angels to spare their lives. 

Unlike us, the angels are always swift to obey God.  We sometimes look for rationalizations to defend our slowness.  You know how young people sometimes think, and sometimes older people will think this way too.  There’ll be time enough in my life later to obey God.  For now I can have fun and do things my way.  There’ll be time later to repent from my sins and really believe in Christ and take him seriously.  There’ll be time later?  And you know this for sure exactly how?  You don’t know that.  The Lord could call you out of this life tonight.  Kelly Burton appeared to be a healthy twelve-year old.  One February morning his parents woke up and found him dead in his bed.  He had died overnight of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.  He had a brain deformation that had gone undetected up to that point in his life.  His dad, Jehu Burton, tells the story in his moving book Trusting God Through Tears.  One day his son was there, the next day he was gone.  Kelly was twelve years old.  Young people, that could be you.  You could be called out of this life suddenly – any one of us could.  This could be the last sermon you ever hear.  Now, right now, is the time to commit or recommit to following God, to turn from our sin, and turn to Christ in true faith.

The apostle Paul makes the same point at the end of Romans 13.  He says that we have to understand the present time.  He says it’s time to wake up.  Right now, not later, but now.  The night is just about over and the day is almost here.  Now is therefore the time to put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Now is the time to behave decently, in ways that fit with God’s will.  Now is the time to clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ and stop thinking about ways to gratify our sinful desires.  The time requires swift obedience to the call of the gospel and the will of God for our lives. 

It’s this swift obedience that our Lord teaches us to pray for in the third petition.  If we’ve been redeemed by God’s grace in Christ, if his obedience is ours, if his blood covers our sins, then we are united to him.  Then we’ll want to obey, not only like the angels do, but also like our Saviour does.  We want to obey quickly and without delay.  The famous Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “Delayed obedience is disobedience.”  Spurgeon was right.  “Delayed obedience is disobedience.”  As redeemed people, in our hearts we don’t want to be disobedient.  And therefore we pray that God’s will would be done by us swiftly, just like in heaven with the angels.

The heavenly angels also obey God sincerely.  What I mean by that is that they obey their Creator from the heart, gladly and willingly.  They don’t have to be coerced or cajoled into obeying God.  Their obedience is genuine and earnest. 

We find evidence of that in Scripture in passages like Psalm 16:11.  In most Bible translations (like the ESV) we find something like, “…in your presence there is fullness of joy.”  That means that believers bought with the blood of Christ experience an inexpressible joy in the presence of God, especially after they die and their souls go to heaven.  The gospel promises us joy at the instant our lives here end.  Through Christ we will right away receive the fullness of joy in God’s presence.  But Psalm 16:11 also speaks of the angels in God’s presence.  They too have the fullness of joy.  In Scripture passages like Isaiah 6 and Revelation 7, we hear the angels expressing their joy and their praise for God.  They love God and they find their joy in him.  Therefore, their obedience isn’t burdensome.  Instead, their obedience is sincere and heart-felt. 

Now if that’s true of the angels, how much more shouldn’t it be true of us as we live here?  Think about this with me.  Did Christ come to this earth to redeem the angels?  Did Jesus live a perfect life, obeying God’s commandments thoroughly, in the place of the angels?  Did he die on the cross as a substitute for the angels?  Of course not!   All his redemptive work was for us, for sinful human beings like you and me.  You say you know that.  You say you believe that.  Now what does that do to how you think and feel about this Saviour who did this for you?  If we really even just begin to grasp the goodness of this good news, there should be love in our hearts for Christ, love for God.  There should be an affectionate desire to please him.  There should be a heart-felt longing to show our gratitude by obeying the will of God.

Our Catechism speaks of us obeying God’s will without any murmuring.  The Catechism was originally written in German way back in 1563.  Now this is a place where the original German of the Catechism is a bit helpful.  We have “murmuring” in our edition, but the original German had the word for “contradict” or “back-talk.”  The holy angels would never dream of contradicting God.  They would never think to give God any back-talk.  And neither should we.  When God tells us to do something or not do something, we ought to obey willingly, from the heart. 

This too is something for which we need to pray.  This kind of heart-felt obedience doesn’t come naturally to us.  We’re used to the idea of obeying because we have to.  Think of civil society.  If you don’t obey the government, there can be consequences.  You speed, you get a ticket.  You drive intoxicated, you get your licence suspended, your vehicle impounded, or you may end up in jail.  A lot of times people obey the laws of the land because they don’t want to face the consequences for not doing so.  But the obedience we’re speaking of here is different.  The obedience of a child of God, modelled on that of the angels, is sincere and earnest, not driven by fear or terror, but by love and gratitude.  Again, we look not only to the angels, but to Christ himself.  His obedience was from the heart too, and we want ours to look like his.  Because it doesn’t arise just like that out of us, we need to pray for God’s help in it.  This kind of obedience is a gift of grace, it’s something that God works in us with his Spirit.  So, brothers and sisters, we need to pray constantly for this gift.  We have to pray that God would take our hearts and make them want to obey willingly and out of sincerity, not out of compulsion or obligation.  That’s how it is with the heavenly angels, and that’s how we want it to be on earth among us.

Those heavenly angels also have an obedience that is scrupulous.  That means that the holy angels have an obedience that’s thorough or complete.  Whatever it is that God gives them to do, they do it to the full.  They don’t anything for God by half-measures. 

Sometimes the angels are given unpleasant tasks by God.  Think back to Genesis 19 again.  Destroying Sodom and Gomorrah wasn’t a pleasant job.  Even though they were rebellious sinners, the thousands of men and women and children experienced a horrific end.  Looking further into redemptive history, we find the Angel of the LORD in 2 Kings 19 destroying 185,000 Assyrians.  There are many more examples in Scriptures where the angels have to do something that we might find unpleasant or difficult.  Yet they always obey to the full.

Sometimes the angels were given pleasant and glorious tasks by God.  The word “angel” literally means “messenger” and they’re frequently entrusted with messages that bring joy to people.  We think especially of the role of the angels in the birth of Christ.  The angel Gabriel was entrusted with the task of telling Mary that she would be the mother of our Saviour.  The choir of angels was sent to announce the good news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds.  When the task is pleasant and glorious too, God can count on the angels to obey his will scrupulously.

But then there’s us.  God has given us all offices and callings.  When we hear the word “office” we perhaps think of a room with a desk where someone sits and works.  But the biblical idea of office is different.  The biblical idea of office is a task or a job that’s been given.  We all have offices of various sorts.  Even you little kids have an office.  Your office is to be a son or daughter to your parents.  You’re called to listen to your mom and dad, to follow what they teach you, to honour them.  God calls you to be humble and obey them.  You little kids have the office of a student at school.  You’re called to respect your teachers and try to learn from them.  Sometimes it’s hard to be a child and hard to be a student.  But God has called you to this and he wants you to be following his will for you.  He wants you to do not only the easy things, but also the hard things.  Just like the angels in heaven.  Just like Jesus too. 

That goes for all of us, young and old.  We all have offices and callings and I could spend quite a bit of time talking about all different sorts.  But let me just isolate one here this afternoon.  We all have the office of believers, of being brothers and sisters to one another in God’s family.  Sometimes that means we’re called to pleasant work.  There’s the pleasant calling to encourage one another.  When we see the good, the true, and the beautiful with our brothers and sisters, we speak up and say a few kind words.  It’s always pleasant to bring a smile to someone’s face, to lift someone’s spirits, and make them feel loved and appreciated.  That’s a pleasant part of our calling as brothers and sisters with one another, fairly easy to do.  But there is another side.  A brother or sister is straying.  A brother or sister shows that they don’t really care about Christ.  They’re not interested in walking in God’s ways.  They don’t turn from sin, but actually seem to love it and they hold on to it.  What’s our calling then as brothers and sisters?  It’s what our Lord Jesus teaches us in Matthew 18.  Most of us find it really hard to do.  It’s difficult to confront someone with their sin in a loving way.  A lot of times we’re afraid to do it.  After all, we’re sinners too and who are we to point out someone else’s fault?  If we approach them, there’s a pretty good likelihood we’ll get some stuff thrown right back at us.  “Well, I may have this, but you have this, and this, and that.”  We want to be nice people and we don’t like stress, so we avoid confrontation.  Am I wrong when I say that most of us find it hard to follow Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18?   Yet this is the will of God for our lives and for us as brothers and sisters living together in God’s family.  We have to deny our own will and scrupulously follow God’s good will, even though it may be unpleasant and difficult.

To do that, oh how we need the grace of God.  We don’t have our own resources to fall back on here, as if we can find the strength from within or some other nonsense.  We need God and we need his help with this.  That’s why our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray for the help.  We have to be praying that God would teach us his will inside out and backwards.  We need to have a complete knowledge of God’s will for our lives, for how he wants us to live.  Then we also need to be praying that God would work with his Spirit so that we start obeying that will thoroughly.  We look to the angels as an example.  We see consistent and thorough obedience.  We look to Christ our Saviour revealed in Scripture and we see consistent and thorough obedience.  That’s the obedience we want, that’s the obedience we’re going to pray for, and that’s the obedience we’re going to strive for, by God’s grace and with his help. 

So, loved ones, we must pray for obedience which is swift, sincere, and scrupulous.  The angels are real and this is the real type of obedience they render for their Creator.  This is the real type of obedience that we aim for as we serve our Creator.  Redeemed by God’s grace in Christ, we aim to please the God of our salvation and that also has to come to expression in our prayers each day.  So, follow the teaching of Jesus, brothers and sisters.  Pray that God would help you to kill your own sinful desires, and aim always to follow his good will.  AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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