When I was a little boy my parents taught me a bedtime prayer that still means very much to me today: Dear Father in heaven, Look down from above, Bless daddy and mommy and those whom I love. May angels guard over my slumbers and when The morning is breaking, Awake me. Amen. It was always a very comforting thought to know that there were angels guarding me and keeping me safe through the night, so that I could wake up and enjoy the new day. But the thought of angels watching over and serving my Lord Jesus is not one that has been on my mind all that much. Jesus is in control of the angels. They do his bidding to help his children. How could it ever be possible that Jesus would be in a situation like the one we hear of our lesson for today, when the apostle Mark tells us in verse 13, “(Jesus) was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” Today as we observe the first Sunday in the season of Lent, on the day when we are rejoicing in Christ Jesus being the conquering Lord who overcame Satan’s temptations, let’s also see how the heavenly Father used for his Son the same thing he uses for us and our comfort – the watchful service of the angels of heaven. My thoughts today are based on the simple prayer of my childhood, “May Angels Guard Over…”
The first part of this prayer is, “May angels guard over my Savior.” St. Matthew in his Gospel, as well as Mark here in his, both state that angels came and attended Jesus. That means they served him and helped him out. What did Jesus need help for? Wasn’t he the almighty Son of God, who had just soundly defeated the attacks of the devil who had tried to get him to go against his Father in heaven? Well, I guess that’s the whole point. Jesus had done this, but it was not an “Okay, now that’s out of the way” experience. Although the other gospel writers list three specific temptations, it becomes clear from what they say these were three temptations in the midst of forty days worth of temptations, plus the fact that the devil continued to come after him in the months and years ahead, right up to the very end. And the reason that becomes important to understand is because of the unfathomable point that the almighty Son of God was also at one and the same time the human Son of Man, and, as a result, could experience tiredness and sadness and the need for assistance.
For example, a couple of years later on the last night of his life, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane after he had spoken to the disciples in the upper room, because he needed to spend some time talking to his Father about what was going to so soon take place. Not only are we told that he asked Peter, James and John to spend that time with him, supporting him in prayer – something that disappointed him when he saw how they just couldn’t stay awake to do it – but we are also told that as he prayed for his Father to take this cup of suffering from him, if it were possible, and as he prayed to the point of his sweat being like great drops of blood falling to the ground, at that time “an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” In other words, near the beginning of his ministry at his temptation and at the end of his ministry in Gethsemane’s garden, angels were used to strengthen Jesus to do the work he had been commissioned to do.
Now, something that I find interesting about these two different occasions on which the angels were guarding over our Savior, is that each one had to do with the two different ways in which Jesus saved us from our sins. The second way is the more obvious way. In the garden he was being strengthened as the Son of Man to shed his innocent blood as the Son of God and to die on the cross to take away our sins. That’s the salvation work of God that we most commonly talk about. Jesus died to take away my sins. But the first part of his salvation work is equally important. Not only did Jesus die to take away our sins, but he also lived in a perfect way to give us the perfect life that God demands we must have in order to live in heaven. So, what I’m getting at is this. When Jesus defeated the temptations of Satan, he was showing that he was the all perfect and totally righteous Son of God. He was and is and ever shall be holy. But that really wouldn’t mean all that much to us, if that holiness and righteousness stayed with him and were not given to us.
The Bible says, however, that Christ’s holiness and righteousness did not just stay with him. The prophet Jeremiah, for example, said that one of the names of the coming Savior would be “The Lord Our Righteousness,” and the apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters,“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The point of all this is that God never wants us to forget that the chief reason we can stand before God as holy and dearly loved people, is because everything that Jesus did in defeating the devil and never falling to sin is credited to us. God looks at us and sees perfect people – for Jesus’ sake and through Jesus’ work. That’s why the Bible says we’re covered with a robe of righteousness and with a garment of salvation. It is just like you and I were in that wilderness and defeated the devil with the perfectly spoken “It is written’s!” It’s no wonder that the angels attended Jesus. It was their way of showing their joy at the work he had just done to show that he really was the righteous one, and that because of that work, there would be many people who would put their trust in him and join those angels in heaven, singing their eternal hymns of praise.
We aren’t told what those angels did when they attended to Jesus, but one thing we wouldn’t be surprised that they would have done is to have provided food for him. After all, he had been without it for forty days and forty nights during this time of fasting. But another thing I can imagine them doing was commenting to Jesus on how sad they felt that one who had formerly been their own, had done this despicable thing of trying to get Jesus to not rely on his heavenly Father to provide his bread by tempting him to change the stones to bread, and of trying to get Jesus to bow down before him instead of making it clear that this world, though ruined by Satan, is still under the control of the eternal Creator, who alone deserves our worship and praise, and of trying to get him to jump off the top of the temple and in that way improperly put God to the test by expecting his angels to watch over him and to protect him in what would have been his foolish ways. It must have pained the angels to think how a former angel, Satan, was now making his last frantic effort to foil the ministry of Jesus, and how one of the ways he had sought to do that was by tempting Jesus to get into a situation from which they would not have been allowed by God to rescue him.
But Jesus didn’t fall to that or any of the other temptations, and because of that we can say that we haven’t fallen to any of Satan’s temptations, either, as long as we say that “for the sake of Jesus, our holy Substitute and Savior.” And it is precisely because of that that we can also use my childhood’s night time prayer, “May Angels Guard Over…”, not only to ask for God’s blessing upon our Savior, but also for just a few moments yet, about God’s People.
In the letter to the Hebrews, our Lord makes it clear that the angels exist as servants and guardians of God’s people, who believe in Jesus Christ in all the work he did as our Savior. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” You and I are those who will inherit salvation, because we believe in the two things Jesus did to save us by dying as the innocent substitute and by living as holy replacement for sinful people. And, as a result, we can know that the very same angels who were helping Jesus in the wilderness of Judea 2000 years ago are among the legions of angels who take care of God’s people today.
One situation in our lesson makes us think of that, and that is the comment in verse 14 about John the Baptist being “put in prison.”How fervently God’s people certainly prayed prayers like “May angels guard over…”, when it came to asking the Lord to keep John in his care, after he was placed into prison for having the courage to point out the sinful behavior of King Herod, who had taken another man’s wife. But the result of John the Baptist’s stay in prison makes us have to think through the purpose of the angels’ watching over us, doesn’t it? John, we know, never got out of prison alive. He was put to death because of a wicked oath Herod made to his daughter, whose dancing had pleased him and his nobles, leading his daughter to go to her mother, who told her daughter to go back to her father and to ask the King of Judea for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
So, one thing we must always remember is that the protecting presence of the angels is what our heavenly Father uses to keep us safe until the time he has chosen for us to leave this world and to go to the place where we will need no protection like that ever again. If we don’t understand that, it will, of course, be all the easier to become frustrated and depressed over all the evil things we see done to God’s people, as well as over all the sad and even tragic experiences we are sometimes allowed to suffer – such as the horrific events of last week, which hurt our hearts and make our stomachs churn and ache. Ironically, isn’t it at those times, especially, that the devil, the fallen angel, leads us to doubt the love of God and the protection of the angels, or to fall to the despairing thought that if God sends his angels to watch over his people, then maybe I’m not one of his people?
But, praise to God, the work of our Savior in the wilderness and in all the months that followed in his earthly ministry comforts us with the realization that that is simply not how God deals with his people. That’s why he went about the work, which St. Mark here describes in such a brief, but complete way, in verses 14-15: “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
Through his defeat of the devil Jesus had begun the work of crushing the serpent’s head, and that truly was good news for all who knew their sins during the days of Jesus, just as it is good news for all who know their sins today. We know that we have no right to expect the angels of God, who have done important things like assist the Savior of the world to carry out his mission, to spend any time watching over little people like you and me. But we also know that precisely because of Jesus carrying out his work as Savior of the world, Jesus does not look at any of us in any lesser way or with any lesser importance than the way he looked at the ultra-important work of meeting the devil head on and sending him back to the place he had come from – and that that’s exactly why we can go about our every day life with confidence to serve God, no matter how much opposition or temptation there might be to do otherwise, because we have the promise that we are completely safe in God’s care through the watchful eyes of the angels, until it is God’s time to take us home.
So, Dear Father in heaven, look down from above. Bless my fellow believers, yes, all that I love. May angels guard over our slumbers and when the morning is breaking, Awake us – wherever you want us – to serve you again. Amen.