Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE ANGELIC CHOIR”

Luke 2.13-14

 

Turn in your Bible to Luke 2.4, and stand with me for the reading of God’s Word:

 

4      And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5      To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6      And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7      And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8      And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9      And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10     And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11     For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12     And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13     And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14     Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15     And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16     And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17     And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18     And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19     But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20     And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

 

It is fitting that we concentrate our attention on the angelic choir this evening, for two reasons: First, because the angelic choir plays a prominent role in the pageantry associated with the announcement of the Savior’s birth. Second, because our own church choir presents their Christmas cantata Sunday night, in what we hope will resemble the angelic choir’s effort to magnify the Savior.

My text, to that end, will be Luke 2.13-14, which I would like to explain to you before this evening’s sermon:

 

13     And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14     Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

 

Our text begins, “And suddenly there was with the angel.” I have rehearsed to you at length the shock and surprise the shepherds surely experienced that night. First, there was the blinding display of the appearance of the Shekinah glory of God. That is recorded in verse 9. If there was associated sound, we are not told. Then, in verse 10, we read of an angel who simply begins speaking: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not.” Thus, in rapid sequence, we surmise there was the blinding flash of light from the glory surrounding then, and then a completely unanticipated statement issued by the angel who is just there. If God’s plan was to shock and awe the shepherds, He succeeded. They were shocked and they were awed by the appearance of the Shekinah glory. Then they are calmed to a degree or at least their stimulation and excitement is directed from terror to anticipation with the comforting words of the angel. The next thing we read in Luke’s gospel is the phrase. “And suddenly there was with the angel.” Terrified by the sudden flash of holy light, stunned by the sudden appearance of a heavenly angel, the very moment the angel has calmed their fears and informed them of the occasion for this pageantry, we are told, “And suddenly there was with the angel.” Something occurs with such suddenness that it merits comment when the dramatic appearance of the Shekinah glory and the angel are not commented on. My friends, those shepherd’s hearts must have been racing over the course of these fleeting seconds.

What suddenly appeared the very moment the angel had completed his statement? “a multitude of the heavenly host.” The English word “multitude” translates the Greek word plhqoV, from which we get the word plethora. The word refers to a great number, or a multitude of people or things.[1] In Hebrews 11.12, we find the word in the phrase “the stars of the sky in multitude,” and again in Acts 2.6, “Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together,” from which crowd of perhaps ten thousand we are later told three thousand were converted to Christ. Therefore, you can see that this word refers to a very large group of angels. Now consider the word “host.” The Greek word is stratia, from which is derived the military term “strategy.” The word refers to a band of soldiers, or an army.[2] In the LXX, we find the word used in Jeremiah 8.2: “And they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven.” As you can surmise, the main thrust of this phrase is to communicate to the readers that this angelic choir consists of an overwhelming number of angels. What is ironic is that this formidable array of angelic military might, this heavenly army, has come with a message of peace and goodwill.

What were these multiplied thousands, perhaps tens of millions, of angelic warriors suddenly doing? Our text reads, “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” However, what, precisely, is praising God? I am of the decided opinion that praising God is something that is more caught that taught, more illustrated than explained. If you want to know what the angelic choir was doing, try putting yourself in the shepherd’s sandals as they finally returned to their flocks, Luke 2.20: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” Years later, during our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, in Luke 19.37-38, we have an example of the words people used when praising Him: “when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.” Then there is the praise of people who are newly converted to Christ, Acts 2.47: “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Finally, there was the man who was crippled from birth who was healed by Simon Peter outside the Temple. Remember when Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”[3] We read these words in Acts 3.8-9: “And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God.” Therefore, it does not take a great deal of imagination to figure out what that chorus of angelic voices was saying, even if we don’t know their precise words. To praise God is to brag on Him, to extol His virtues, to commend His deeds, and exalt His august majesty.

My opinion is that verse 14 is a summary of what the angels sang or recited in unison: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Consider the words:

“Glory to God in the highest” There is a contrasting parallelism here, with God contrasted with men, and with the highest contrasted with earth. Therefore, God is being praised, His virtues extolled, His nature and person bragged on “in the highest,” which is to say, in the most extreme fashion, and to the very farthest corner of heaven. This heavenly choir is shouting it out in words the shepherds could hear and understand, though by the nature of the miracle it is unlikely their praises were meant for anyone else’s ears.

“And on earth peace” Oh, be very careful when you consider what this phrase refers to, especially in light of the Savior’s comment in Matthew 10.34: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” To be sure, He is the Prince of peace, and peace will prevail when He reigns on earth when He establishes His millennial kingdom and sits on the throne of His father David. Until that day, however, the only peace that this can refer to is the peace that results from the justification which is by means of faith, Romans 5.1. Keep in mind that every lost sinner is the enemy of God, Romans 5.10. Therefore, it is only when peace is made through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ; when a sinner is justified by faith, that there will be peace on earth between God and that individual convert to Jesus Christ.

“Good will toward men” Noted commentator Darrell L. Bock points out that the Greek phrase found here, anqrwpoiV eudokiaV, “is almost a technical phrase in first-century Judaism for God’s elect, those on whom God has poured out his favor.”[4] This means it is entirely inappropriate to think by these words that the heavenly choir is promising good times for all men as a result of the birth of our Savior, for that most certainly will not be the case. Good news for the elect, but the worst possible news for those who reject Christ.

 

SERMON:

 

One of the truly remarkable characteristics of scripture is its facility to benefit the student of God’s Word even when very small portions are selected for consideration. No doubt, God so formulated the Bible to accommodate our limited capacity and short attention span. However, the benefit to us is immeasurable.

We can consider our brief text this evening, and make use of it as an aid to our understanding how important to us the birth of Christ ought to be in our thinking.

Three rapid-fire events set the stage for the shepherd’s witness to the incarnation of the Son of God; the appearance of the Shekinah glory after six centuries of darkness, followed immediately by the appearance of an angel from the Lord to speak words of comfort and information, and the sudden appearance of the subjects of our attention this evening, the angelic choir.

Briefly, three comments about them:

 

First, THEIR APPEARANCE

 

Two comments to keep in mind about their appearance:

First, it is obvious that this great host of angels, when the military terms used to describe them are considered, speaks of great pageantry. My friends, nothing is as impressive as the display of troops in formation, showing precision and discipline. There is something of the martial spirit in all of us, and when you keep in mind that “The LORD is a man of war,” Exodus 15.3, then you can well imagine how impressive are His hosts of angels arrayed to praise and adore Him. We know, from Isaiah 6.3, that it is the great privilege of the seraphims (those burning ones) positioned around the throne of God, to declare to each other, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” They are God’s retinue, who surround Him and continually provide for Him the praise of His glory and the honor that is due Him. It is no surprise, then, that an angelic choir appears on the scene of the great incarnation of God, but at enough of a distance from Bethlehem to avoid the chaos that would result from their appearance to the people of the village. The Son of God has embarked upon the great mission of redemption, and His retinue salutes Him in the human realm, before stepping back from the realm of the material to the realm of the immaterial, to watch the great drama of redemption unfold.

Though our Lord’s retinue salutes and glorifies Him as they appear to the shepherds, and their message rings out in a million powerful voices, their appearance should serve to remind some of you of the existence of that which you cannot see. Some of you here tonight are through and through materialists. You might not admit it to yourselves, but you simply do not believe that which you do not see for yourself. It may have been that several of the shepherds were the same way. What, then, was proved by the appearance to the shepherds of the heavenly choir? If nothing else was proven, the existence of that which cannot always be seen was established. Those angels existed before the shepherds saw them, before they appeared, before they gave voice to their message. As well, they continue to exist, unseen by the eyes of flesh. During the ministry of Elisha, Syria made war against Israel, and Elisha prayed this prayer: “LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.”[5] As Elisha showed the King of Israel, and as the shepherds were shown on that Christmas night so long ago, we frequently need to be reminded of something: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,” Hebrews 12.1. There are those here this evening that you cannot see. Everything there is cannot always be seen, heard, or felt. The unseen world can and does affect the seen world. Thus, just because He is the invisible God does not mean He is not God. As well, your inability to see the enthroned Savior is no proof at all that He is not alive.

 

Next, THEIR AUDIENCE

 

The angelic host did appear. However, for whom did they appear?

You might have guessed from some of my earlier remarks, but there is evidence that God has a retinue of angels, something akin to a palace guard. Not that God needs protection from any being. It is just that propriety demands a glorious God be glorified by His creatures, that One Who is so praiseworthy be praised. Therefore, God has a retinue of angels, called seraphim, whose particular privilege is to surround the throne of God and give voice to His praises, to declare to one another His greatness and His glory. Thus, my own opinion is that the primary reason these angels appeared to the shepherds outside Bethlehem is that they may comprise the Lord Jesus Christ’s angelic retinue, that entourage of magnificent creatures whose appearance and status befits the One in whose company they travel. When their sovereign was born in Bethlehem, they were called upon to make an appropriate display of their master’s splendor. This appearance is that display. Thus, their audience is, first, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Their audience is, secondly, the shepherds, of course. The purpose for appearing to the shepherds is obvious. Those men had been chosen by God to be the first independent witnesses of the incarnation. They were the first ones selected who were not attached by blood or marriage to the situation they bore witness to. Therefore, the angelic choir, both by their miraculous intervention into the human realm, as well as by the message they conveyed in their recitation, played a part in preparing those men for their important task. The angelic choir, then, actually had two audiences, as we need to be mindful of in our own circumstances. Their audience was first the Lord, then the shepherds, just as our audience is always the Lord first, in whatever we do, and then others in our human realm.

 

Finally, THEIR ASSIGNMENT

 

Turn to Psalm 103, and read verses 20 and 21 with me:

 

20     Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.

21     Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.

 

This passage shows us that, generally, the assignment of these angels, and of all angels, is to bless the LORD by obeying His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His Word, and doing His pleasure. Thus, it is clear that when they did what they did, appearing where and how they appeared, and when they said what they said, they were obeying God’s commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His Word, and doing His pleasure.

 

How can you bless the Lord? How can I bless the Lord? We bless the Lord by obeying His commandments, by hearkening unto the voice of His Word, and by doing His pleasure.

We always have an audience. Sometimes people see and hear us. However, even if no one sees and hears us, we still have our heavenly audience. God always sees and hears, and the angels are our constant companions and observers.

On top of that, we would do well to emulate their actions, by praising God with our voices, and giving witness to His glory, and witnessing to others that through Christ there can be peace on earth and good will toward men.



[1] G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon Of The New Testament, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd, 1986), page 364.

[2] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 143.

[3] Acts 3.6

[4] Darrell L. Bock, Luke Volume 1: 1:1-9:50, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994), page 220.

[5] 2 Kings 6.17

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org