Hold Back The Angels

Title: Hold Back The Angels

Bible Book: Matthew 26 : 53-54

Author: J. Gerald Harris

Subject: Commitment; Peace; The Protection of God; Angels



Matthew 26:53-54

The garden of Gethsemane is enshrouded in darkness. The benediction has been pronounced at the prayer meeting that Jesus alone attended. The sleepy disciples have been gathered up. Jesus and eleven of His men stand in the midst of the garden surrounded by knurled olive trees.

Suddenly there is the sound of marching feet and the clanging of armor. In a moment's time the garden is bright with the light of torches carried by the temple guards. The garden is filled with a great multitude with swords and clubs. Suddenly this quiet prayer retreat is transformed into a potential battleground. All of a sudden Judas emerges as the leader of this vigilante mob, and he walks up to Jesus. And with the sound like the hissing of a snake, he says, "Hail, Master." Judas plants a kiss on the altogether lovely face of the Lord Jesus. With that kiss of death Jesus was betrayed by Judas.

When this happened, Peter, being the impetuous fellow that he was and realizing what was happening, drew his sword and struck the first man he could reach. I've never been able to understand why he didn't strike Judas. I think if I had been Peter I would have gone after Judas, the sorry rascal.

But Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Then notice that Jesus steps forward. Possessing more tenderness and gentleness than anyone could imagine, He touches Malchus, the chief servant of the high priest, and his ear is restored. Notice what Jesus says to Peter in verse 52 of Matthew 26, "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."

Then I want you to notice our text again in verses 53 and 54 (read).

There are several things I want us to notice in our text.

I. The Lord’s Possibilities

Don’t you think for a moment that Jesus was a helpless, powerless victim of these sinister, demon-possessed invaders of the garden that night. I tell you, with the snap of His finger; with just a word or a nod, He could have beckoned the hosts of heaven and cleared out that garden in the twinkling of an eye. The Lord wasn’t handcuffed. He wasn’t at the end of His rope. There were innumerable possibilities open to Him even then.

Notice what the Lord says in verse 53. He says, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father…” Our Lord is surrounded by His adversaries and His disciples are not powerful enough to defend Him from their evil intent. What can He do? I mean there is the enemy to the front. There is the enemy to the rear. There is the enemy to the right. There is the enemy to the left. What can He do? He says, “I can pray to my Father.” Amen! Don’t you like that? This is our Lord’s continual resource in the time of danger. He prayed. Jesus Christ was eminently a man of prayer. Even in this situation, He can pray to His Father.

Now, Jesus had no possessions on earth, but He had a Father. He has been betrayed, but He has a Father. He has been given up into the hands of those who thirst for His blood, but He has a Father – a Father who is almighty, a Father who is omnipotent. Things are beginning to look very dark. There is a cross up ahead, but Jesus has a Father. And the Father of Jesus has the whole world in His hands.

I want to tell you, dear friends, that excites me. You know why it excites me? Because Jesus and I are brothers and we have the same Father. And in every moment of distress and anxiety and perplexity, I have a Father in whose wisdom and power I can rely. And you know something? My Father is rich. He has infinite resources.

When our kids were teenagers our family went out to California on vacation. Out in the Los Angeles area they were selling maps of Hollywood homes. We decided that we would get one of those maps and we would go out to Hollywood and we would drive back into some of those residential areas where the Hollywood stars lived. We drove out there and we saw the home of John Wayne and Doris Day and Rita Hayworth and Stewart Grainger and Eddie Albert and Vincent Price and Pat Boone and Ann Margaret. And as you can well believe, some of those homes were unbelievable, palatial mansions. And I saw some of those three-story homes with their circular driveways and their iron gates and flower gardens and swimming pools. As we would go from house to house I thought to myself, my Father's house is better than this. We'd go to the next house and I'd say, my Father's house is better than this. We'd go to the next house and I'd say, my Father's house is better than this house.

You see, in my Father's house are many mansions. My heavenly Father is fabulously rich. He has all of the resources of the universe at His disposal. But now listen, if God isn't your Father, you are not rich. But if God is your Father, since He is rich, you are rich too. I am talking about the riches of the redeemed. Friend, if you are not redeemed don't jump up and down and say, "Praise the Lord, I'm rich," because this is all in the family.

Now, Bill Gates with his Microsoft empire is rich, but that doesn't do me any good. The Rockefellers may have lots of money up in New York, but that doesn't do me any good. The Hunts out in Dallas, Texas, may have a lot of money, but it doesn't do me any good. The Waltons out of Arkansas may have great wealth, but that doesn't do me any good. You see, I'm not in the Gates family. I'm not in the Rockefeller family. I'm not in the Hunt family. I'm not in the Walton family. But I am in the family of God, and the riches of God and the power of God are available to those who are members of the family.

Now, that excites me. If you are saved, don't you talk about your poverty and your weakness. You look to your Father. He's rich and His power is greater than all other dimensions of power. That which belongs to the Father belongs to the child. Don't you go around living beneath your privileges. If you are a child, you are an heir and a joint heir with Jesus Christ.

All right, there were some possibilities open to the Lord. He could pray. Not only that, but He could pray to the Father who has infinite resources. He could pray specifically for angels to come to His aid. Look in verse 53 -in our text (read). Do you know how many angels would be in twelve legions of angels? Historians tell us that a Roman legion was made up of 6000 soldiers. And so twelve legions of angels would be 72,000 angels.

You see, Jesus had influence in heaven with the Father, the great Lord of angels. He could have from the Father all that the Father possessed. All the angelic host was straining at the leash to come to the Lord's aid. All He had to do was say the word and immediately the garden of Gethsemane would have been as crowded with angels as heaven itself.

Did you know that God has assigned angels to watch over His children? I want you to know that He has. In the first chapter of Hebrews in the 14th verse, the Bible says concerning angels, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation."

Folks, there are millions of angels at God's command and at our service. Billy Graham says, "The hosts of heaven stand at attention as we make our way from earth to glory. And Satan's BB guns are no match for God's heavy artillery, so don't be afraid. God is for you. He has committed His angels to keep watch over you."

Then, in his book on angels Billy Graham tells about a strange incident that took place in a Christian book room in Shanghai, China. In 1942 after the Japanese had won the war with China, one morning about nine o'clock a Japanese truck stopped outside the book room. It was carrying five Marines and was half filled with books. The Christian Chinese shop assistance, who was alone at the time, realized with dismay that they had come to seize the stock. By nature timid, he felt this was more than he could endure. Jumping from the truck the Marines made for the shop door. But before they could enter, a neatly dressed Chinese gentleman entered the shop ahead of them. Though the shop assistant knew practically all the Chinese customers who traded there, this man was a complete stranger. For some unknown reason the soldiers seemed unable to follow him and loitered about looking in at the four large windows, but not entering. For two hours they stood around until after eleven o'clock, but never set foot inside the door. The stranger asked what the men wanted, and the Chinese shop assistance explained that the Japanese were seizing stocks from many of the book shops in the city. Now this store's turn had come.

The two prayed together, the stranger encouraging him. So the two hours passed. At last the soldiers climbed into their army truck and drove away. The stranger also left without making a single purchase or even inquiring about any of the items in the shop.

Later that day the shop owner, Mr. Christopher Willis, returned. The shop assistant said to him, "Mr. Willis, do you believe in angels?"

"I do," said Mr. Willis.

"So do I, Mr. Willis." He was of the strange persuasion that the stranger was one of God's protecting angels.

Jack Taylor tells about a lady who was a member of his church in San Antonio who went to the hospital and had major surgery. She remarked to her husband what wonderful care she was getting and that all night long nurses were lined up around her bed tending to her every need. When her husband investigated, it was found that she was getting along so well that very few nurse visits were needed. Yet she insisted that all through the hours following surgery they were there. Jack Taylor said that he believed they were angels attending to her.

I have a feeling that angels are ever listening to us. Though we do not pray to angels when we pray, the angels are alerted and ready to go to work because of our prayers. They love to work in that realm of service to which they're called. Namely, the welfare of the people of God. When we pray we can ask God to dispatch angels to do special things.

You see, even in Gethsemane there were some possibilities open to Jesus. There was the power of prayer. There were the resources of His Father. And there was the assistance of angels. So there you have the Lord's possibilities.

II. The Lord’s Pathway

We find in our text that although Jesus had at His disposal all kinds of heavenly assistance, that He held in His natural impulse to beseech the Father. And in essence it was as if Jesus was saying, "Hold back the angels. There is a path I must walk. There is a cross I must face. There is a death I must die. "

You see, Jesus was determined to fulfill God’s purpose for His life. He knew that the cross lay before Him. Early on He had said, “I must work the works of him that sent me, and finish that work.” In Luke 9:51 the Bible says that He set His face to go to Jerusalem. He was determined to go to the cross. He said, “I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give my life a ransom for many.” This was the pathway that Jesus was determined to travel.

Let me tell you about an Old Testament character who had the determination to accomplish the task that was set before him. He name is Eleazar. King David in Israel had been taking it on the chin for six months straight. They had been losing. Someone said, “What are we going to do? We’ve been getting beaten for six months. We’ve got to have someone to turn the tide of battle against the Philistines.” King David’s was council met. Someone suggested that the job could best be done by a man by the name of Eleazar, a young captain, a young dynamic captain who could lead the troops into battle and win the battle for the Lord God Jehovah.

I imagine that Eleazar didn't demand very much. His 10,000 troops were outfitted and he went out into battle. They looked pretty good until they saw the Philistines. When they saw the Philistines, Eleazar's troops were so impressed by the power and the might of the Philistine army that some of them turned tail and ran away ingloriously.

But Eleazar was so committed to the job of winning the battle for the Lord God Jehovah that he led his remaining troops with such great courage that the actually turned the tide of the battle, and the troops of Israel were victorious in one day.

At the end of that day, Eleazar was so completely fatigued that he fell from his horse. You read from the 23rd chapter of II Samuel that when they tried to take the sword from his hand, the scripture says, "His sword clave unto his hand." He had taken the sword with such a tight grip for so long and with such determination that there was no way at the end of the day to get that sword out of his hand.

I imagine his soldiers had to take him bodily down - he wasn't strong enough to stand alone, much less walk to the creek. They let the water run across his hand until it finally softened his grip, loosened the muscles of his hand, and finally they were able to pry the sword from his hand one finger at a time.

When they got all the fingers off the hilt of the sword, they found that the hilt of that sword had dug into his hand until his hand was a bloody mass. He had gripped the sword so tightly and flung it with such power against the enemy for so long that it had eaten into his hand.

Just as Eleazar was determined to win that battle against the Philistines, Jesus was determined to win the battle against Satan. By His death on Calvary's cross and by His resurrection, Jesus Christ defeated Satan and paid the ransom price for our salvation.

Dear friend, I just want you to know that Jesus had no thought of changing His course. Jesus was eager to die on that cruel cross that you might live. This was the course that Jesus had chosen to follow. This was the Lord's pathway.

III. The Lord’s Prophecy

Jesus had prophesied His own sacrificial death on many occasions. I want you to know that even in this crucial hour, Jesus had a deep concern for prophetic accuracy. Look in our text at verse 54. In essence He says, "If I, call for twelve legions of angels, how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?"

Our Lord insisted upon it, that the scriptures must be fulfilled. The reason was that they are not the words of man, but the words of God. Jesus never trifles with the scriptures, nor differs from them, nor predicts that they will vanish away. He is the One who said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

Had Jesus called upon the twelve legions of angels; had Jesus been delivered, the scriptures would have been invalidated. He said, “Hold back the angels that the scripture might be fulfilled.”

Jesus Christ fulfills so much scripture. Jesus Christ authenticated so much scripture that we ought to hold God's book in higher esteem and reverence than we sometimes do. We need to make it "a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path." We need to "hide its words in our hearts that we might not sin against God."

Now, having considered the Lord's possibilities and the Lord's pathway and the Lord's prophecy, let us now consider

IV. The Lord’s Pattern

There are several things about the Lord in this text that serve as a pattern, or an example, for us.

First of all, Jesus shows us in this text that we're to desire no other forces to do God's work than the forces God Himself ordains for us to use. For example, we should not expect the government to come to the aid of the church. We are not to put too much stock in learning and rank and prestige. We're not to depend upon the wisdom of men's words.

Our great source of strength is not in swords or super structures, but in the Spirit. The Bible says that "it is not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."

“The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but might through God to the pulling down of strongholds."

According to Luke 22:38 the disciples had "two swords" among them. How far do you think they could have gotten in their attempt to overthrow this great, well-armed multitude by using brute force? It would have been a stupid thing to do. It would have been a fiasco.

I would remind you of Moses, who at one point in his life must have thought that he could defeat the Egyptians in a single-handed effort. He slew an

Egyptian and hid him in the sand. How long do you think it would have taken Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt by killing one Egyptian a day? It's a ridiculous thought. But you know the story of how God delivered Israel by substituting divine power for carnal power.

Jesus shows us here that we are to desire no other forces to do God's work than the forces God Himself ordains that we use. The psalmist says, "Some trust in horses, and some trust in chariots, but we will call upon the name of the Lord our God. He is our refuge. He is our strength."

In the second place, Jesus shows us that He was prepared to go on with His mission of reconciliation until it was finished. He was not going to stop short of His goal. He was relentlessly moving on toward Calvary. He gave us a pattern that we're to be faithful to our task in life, in the home and in the church, in the marketplace, and see that task through to its completion. I believe God hates the attitude of the quitter; someone who starts but doesn't finish.

Perhaps you are familiar with the story of Derek Redmond. Derek Redmond was running m the semi-finals of the 400-meter race in Barcelona, Spain, during the 1992 Olympics. He was running the race of his life. He was in the lead as he made the last turn headed for the stretch. Suddenly something snapped in his leg. He grabbed his thigh and fell down in a heap upon the track. He had torn his hamstring muscle. But in response to what he later called animal instinct, he struggled to his feet and began hopping toward the finish line.

Suddenly a rather large man wearing a T-shirt emerged from the crowd. He pushed aside a security guard as he made his way to the track. This man was Jim Redmond, Derek's father. Jim put his arm around his son's waist and said, "Son, you don't have to finish this race."

Derek said to his dad, "0, yes, that is the one thing that I must do. I did not come to Barcelona to quit. I came to run the 400 meters and to finish the race."

And so together the father and the son arm in arm fought their way down the lane that had been assigned to Derek toward the goal line. Derek's head was sometimes buried under the arm of his father as he painfully moved forward.

As they neared the finish line, runners who had finished the race turned around to see this dramatic finale. The eyes of everyone in the grandstands was riveted upon this tender moment in Olympic history. As father and son crossed the finish line, there was a thunderous roar from the grandstands. People cheered and applauded. Many wept. There was no quit in Derek Redmond.

Neither was there any quit in the Lord Jesus Christ who relentlessly moved on toward Calvary.

And you know, our Lord has put us into the race of life. There is no place in that race for quitters. God help us not to be that kind. Jesus is our pattern and our text shows us that He was prepared to go on with His mission of reconciliation and redemption until it was finished.

Now, as we think about the Lord's pattern, I want you to know that He did not depend upon the carnal weapons of man's warfare. I want you to know that

He not only set His face to finish what He came to do, but I want you to notice that He did not tremble when force was on the wrong side. In our text, Jesus was surrounded by a hostile foe, but He was not afraid. There was no panic in the heart of Jesus Christ.

This hostile horde looked at Jesus and considered Him to be a mere man; a feeble man. But they really didn't know Him. Neither did they know His Father.

They must not have realized that all He had to do was to nod toward heaven and from behind the olive trees and over the garden walls and from under every stone of the Mount of Olives there would spring up warriors mightier than the armies of this earth.

For example, just one of God’s warriors angels destroyed Sennacherib’s army of 185,000 men in one night. Another angel smote all the firstborn of Egypt in one night. Just think of what twelve legions of them could accomplish. And just think, all these holy heavenly beings are on the side of the children of God.

You say, but there are so many against us. There is so much opposition. Well, I agree, but God’s Word says, “Fear not, for they who are with us are more than they who are with them.” The Bible says “the Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.” Jesus showed us that we need never tremble when force is on the wrong side.

D.L. Moody told the story of a man who left England and came to America. He was an Englishman, but he was naturalized and became an American citizen. After a few years he felt restless and dissatisfied. He went to Cuba. After he had been in Cuba a little while, a civil war broke out there. It was in 1867. This man was arrested by the Spanish government as a spy. He was tried by a court martial and found guilty and ordered to be shot. The whole trail was conducted in Spanish and the poor man did not know what was going on. When they told him the verdict, that he was found guilty and he had been condemned to be shot, he sent to the American consul and the British consul and laid the whole case before them, proving his innocence and asking for help.

They examined the case and discovered that the man was perfectly innocent. They went to the Spanish authorities and said, “This man whom you have condemned to death is an innocent man. He is not guilty.” But the authorities said, “He has been tried by law. He has been found guilty. He must die.”

There was no cable, so these government leaders could not contact their countries. The morning came for the execution. The man was brought out and marched to the place where he was to die. A grave was dug. A coffin was placed beside the grave. A black hood was pulled down over the man’s face. The soldiers waited the order to fire. Just then the American and British consuls rode up. The British consul jumped out of the carriage and took the Union Jack, the British flag, and wrapped it around the man. Then the American consul wrapped around him the Star Spangled Banner. Then turning to the Spanish officers they said, “Fire upon that man and you fire upon those flags and all they represent – the two great governments behind those flags.”

Now listen folks, if you’re a Christian you needn’t tremble when force is on the wrong side, for you are clothed in the banner of Christ. No one can touch you without tampering with the authority of heaven. No one can touch you because you have a band of holy angels running interference for you. All the resources of heaven enforce and protect your stand.

Now, if you’re not a Christian, you are alone. You are powerless. You are naked. You are vulnerable to every satanic and secular attack. You see, Jesus held back the angels in his day so that He could release the angels to help the saints of God and to minister to the saints of God in this day.

Today you have an opportunity to take a stand on God’s side where you will inherit the care and protection of all the hosts of heaven. Or, if you choose, you can stand against God. You can stand against Jesus. You can stand against the angels of God and the hosts of heaven. You can stand alone against the psychic and satanic and secular and humanistic and demonic forces of this world. Where will you stand today? Amen.

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