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28 November 2019

Drifting from angels

When did you last think about angels? Not those little chunky white-winged things. That assemblage could not even loft a small dog. The season reminds us that biblical angels are more like bushfire. ‘He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire,’ says the biblical author to the Hebrews. A talking bushfire: now that might grab your attention.

People are undone by angels. Bowels go to water, legs to jelly, in abject fear.

Once upon a time Manoah, the father-to-be of Samson, thinks he is chilling with a random bloke. But this figure says such odd things. ‘Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food.’ ‘Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.’ The hairs on your neck prickle a little. Manoah makes a fire — and then, ‘as the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame.’ Manoah and his wife cry out, ‘we are doomed!’ (Judges 13).

Biblical angels look like people, yet are immaterial, fire-like, and terrifying. People are undone by them. Bowels go to water, legs to jelly, in abject fear.

Moses was undone by an angel in the form of the ‘burning bush’ (Acts 7:35). Angels turn up when God has something big to say, and the biggest thing on record was the coming of the Law. The Law ‘was ordained through angels,’ says St Paul (Galatians 3:19). So really—why would you look to anything else like it mattered?

If angels deliver God’s incursions into human affairs, especially the Torah, you would be insane to ignore them.

Here you see what the author to the Hebrews was up against. Because what do these new-fangled Christians have? They have… a man. Not even a man who ascends to God on a pillar of fire, just a man among thousands whose life ebbed out on a cheap wooden cross. A man who suffered and died. How could that possibly compare?

These Christians claim that Jesus was ‘crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death’ (Hebrews 2:9). Christians believe Jesus ‘was tested by what he suffered’, or ‘suffered when he was tempted’ (v 18); and that God ‘made the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered’ (v 10), ‘to help those who are being tempted’ (v 18), ‘those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’ (v 15).

But who seriously believes temptation, suffering and death crowns someone, when fire-spirits speaking God are your spiritual alternative? Like unmoored boats in a rip, people were ‘drifting away’ toward angels at the time of Hebrews being written.

After showing that Jesus beats any angel, the author of Hebrews goes on:

‘We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1–4 NIV)

St Mark’s National Theological Centre exists to interrupt that drift.

Jesus seems so ordinary. His temptation, suffering and death put our sad suffering, pathetic temptations and total fear of death to front-and-centre. It makes very good sense to drift from that. I’d give my boat a hard shove to get away from it.

I do give it a shove. I drift all the time. Indeed, we all drift even from angels. We reckon our lives are oh-so more real than that hillbilly stuff. Our shtick is to seriously believe that our finances, our fulfilment, our family, and what will occupy us at work this week are far more ‘real’ than Jesus’ solution to (‘salvation’ from) suffering, temptation, and the day of our death.

St Mark’s National Theological Centre exists to interrupt that drift. We want to join the flow of your life, ‘to transform lives for Jesus Christ’. Wherever you are at, whatever your life situation, whoever you are. Even whatever you believe, or have stopped believing, or are having trouble to believe. We’ll showcase ‘those who heard him’, those ‘signs and wonders’ and the ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ scattered through every branch and offshoot of the Church — and, hopefully, also in you.

We’re here to stop the drift. Come be transformed!


Rev’d Dr Andrew Cameron has been Director of St Mark’s National Theological Centre in Canberra since 2014 after several years on the faculty of Moore Theological College in Sydney. His academic interests are in the intersection between ethics, politics, apologetics and theology. He is married to Mary-Anne, and they’ve replaced two adult children, Amy and Thomas, with two fluffy border collies, Wally and Colah. Andrew recently created a veggie patch so vast that it is known as the Vegetable Park. His recent sermon at St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Canberra touches more on the matter of angels.

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