January 21, 2007

Text: Matthew 18:10

This is the passage we think of when we leave baby alone in the crib. It’s the passage we think of when the excited four-year-old just has to lead on the hike. It’s the passage we think of when “sixteen” goes out the door with a set of keys and a new license. Perhaps it’s also the passage we remember when one goes out to war, when one stays behind at the college dorm, or when two stand together at the altar.

Jesus speaks this passage about cherishing the children. Though He’s talking to all adults, His words are especially precious to parents. He’s comforting parents when He rolls back the clouds of heaven in this passage and gives us this little glimpse of the heavenly Father’s care. For a moment He lets us see the ever-watching eyes of the angels, peering from behind the veil of eternity.

Tireless Eyes
With the word “always” in v.10, Jesus teaches that angel eyes are tireless. One of the biblical names for angels is “watchers,” that is, “guardians,” named for the way they keep watch over the little ones. We love to cover our eyes and play peek-a-boo with our little ones. Who hasn’t played this way with one’s own child, a niece, a nephew, or a cousin? But in heaven the angels play no peek-a-boo. Jesus says, they do “always see the face” of His Father in heaven.

Though the angels play no peek-a-boo with the Father and they always keep watch over our little ones, they may play peek-a-boo with us. Scripture relates how angels may suddenly visit us (Hebrews 13:2) as they visited Abraham in Genesis 18, to share the good news that his wife would have a child. We cannot always see the angels but they always see us. They always know. They always have the Father’s command and power. And especially when our little ones are out of our reach, they are always within reach of these holy angels.

But no matter what our age, God is our Father in heaven. Though the Lord of the angels cherishes the littlest ones among us, He cherishes all of us in Christ and He sends His love and His faithfulness (Psalm 57:3).

Angels and the Unborn
Does all this mean the angels watch over the unborn? I suppose it does. Whose lives do the angels announce again and again in Scripture? (Genesis 18:1-15 [Isaac]; Judges 13:1-25 [Samson]; Luke 1:5-38 [John the Baptist and Jesus]). Who is littler than the unborn? Who is dearer yet more out of reach? Or, I should say, children in the womb used to be out of reach.

In ages past, the womb was a sanctuary, an embrace for the unborn. But modern minds have changed that, haven’t they? Peek-a-boo sonograms are not always innocent care or expectant play. They are, at times, tools of those who would not see, of those who would not hear, of those who would not touch, except with rubber gloves and the tools of their trade. The facts of abortion, of broken-hearted women who regret their choices, beg the question: do angel eyes shed tears? Does sorrow roll from their ever-watchful eyes and fall from frowning cheeks? In Matthew 18 Jesus doesn’t tell us angels cry. But He does tell us that it is never His will that any of these little ones be lost (v. 14). It’s not what God planned for us.

Longing Eyes
The medieval painter Giotto shocked his countrymen in the fourteenth century when he depicted angels crying, angels writhing in passion because they could not comprehend what their eyes were seeing. Before this time, painters depicted people in emotionless poses, with stern faces-no smiles, no tears. Giotto changed the art of painting as he reflected on the passion of Jesus suffering and dying for the sins of the world. Giotto surrounded his picture of the crucifixion with weeping angels, mourning the loss of their cherished Lord.

Remember, it was the angels who announced Jesus’ birth at the beginning of the Gospel. They joyously announced the coming of a little one who held within Him the power of the greatest one, of His Father in heaven. They announced His name, Jesus, and they knew that He would save His people from their sins. Surely they smiled and rejoiced over this Good News.

Yet, the angels also foresaw the sorrow to come. For it was announced to Mary that the child Jesus would appear for the falling and rising of many, and that a sword-a piercing sorrow-would wound this gentle mother’s heart (Luke 2:34-35). Mary would weep like the angels depicted in Giotto’s painting. She would cry out for Jesus’ life and wonder why, why it must be so. The angels, too, longed to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12) but could not comprehend what their eyes saw on the cross.

Seeing Heaven
But we know. We can see. We sinners can understand. We can strike our breasts in sorrow over sin and wag our heads in shame and yet lift them confidently towards our heavenly Father and offer Him thanks. For the birth, life, and death of His little one was for us and for our salvation.

In Jesus, tears of sorrow turn to tears of joy. Whenever we believe, Jesus tells us, angels rejoice in heaven (Luke 15:10). For they always behold His Father’s face in heaven and they see us and our little one’s coming there, too, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Matthew 18:10 is the passage we think of when we leave baby in the crib. May it ever be the passage we think of when we remember God’s most cherished gifts: forgiveness, life, and salvation through Jesus Christ and the gift of these little ones. Amen.