There is a beautiful and mysterious passage in 1 Peter which gives the indication that the angels of heaven long to look into the gospel of our salvation.
Under the inspiration of the Spirit, the Apostle Peter writes, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).
Humans and angels have a lot in common. We’re both created by God; we’re both commanded and sent out by God to perform His will; and we’re both enabled by God to serve His grand redemptive purposes in this world. So then why would angels long to look into the good news preached to us? Because of the one major difference between us and them. It was only for mankind that God would send redemption in the person of His Son Jesus.
To Mary: “He Will Be Called the Son of the Most High”
In Jesus’ birth narratives, we get a glimpse of the gospel from the perspective of angels. The first stop in our journey is the annunciation to Mary, found in Luke 1. The angel Gabriel announces the coming birth to Mary and explains Jesus’ unique identity and mission: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end…the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God” (Luke 1:32-33, 35b).
Luke begins his account of the gospel by comparing and contrasting the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus. Notice in Luke 1:32, Jesus is called, “the Son of the Most High” and “the Son of God” in verse 35. But in verse 76, John the Baptist is called, “the prophet of the Most High.” The angels knew that this Christ was the eternal Son of the Father from before the foundation of the world. This same angel Gabriel was sent to the prophet Daniel half a millenia earlier with the news that this Divine Son of Man would reign from an everlasting kingdom (Daniel 8:16, 7:13-14, 9:21). Now Gabriel’s mind is perhaps being blown as he sees God’s perfect wisdom crafting His plan of redemption with this Baby in the manger. Did God tell the angels what He was doing when He was sending Jesus or did He just tell them to go and proclaim the message? I’m not sure. But they were probably beginning to grasp new complexities of the gospel at various points in redemptive history, leading them to wonder all the more over this all-wise plan and to serve more heartily its Grand Architect and Designer.
To Joseph: “He Will Save His People from Their Sins”
Next, the angels address Joseph. In Matthew 1:18-25 an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, guiding him away from divorcing Mary to wedding her and adopting Jesus as his own so that Jesus could truly be called the Son of David. Since Matthew had just finished his genealogy of Jesus and the reader is left to wonder how Jesus could be the Son of David while not being Joseph’s son. Only if Joseph named and adopted Jesus as his own son would the proper family line and inheritance be traced through Him. This isn’t trivial stuff. If Jesus isn’t the Son of David, God would be a liar and we would have no true Savior.
Then, in verse 21, we read the angel’s stunning words concerning Jesus’ identity: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The angel declared that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, not their physical enemies. The air of Judaism at the time was rife with a longing for salvation from the hands of the Romans. Rome had slowly but surely taken over Jerusalem and the Jewish people were feeling the political pressure increase much like they did in Egypt under Pharaoh. They longed for the “prophet like Moses” who would come and set them free from Rome’s oppression and lead them to worship God in the Promised Land after defeating their enemies (Deut. 18:15). But the angel pronounced to Joseph that Jesus came for a much more significant salvation than merely political salvation. Yes Jesus was the “prophet like Moses” who would come, and yes He would defeat His people’s enemies, and yes He would lead them to the promised land to worship God in freedom, but not the way they anticipated. Christ would preach repentance from sin and faith in Himself. Christ would, “disarm the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in the cross” (Colossians 2:15). These enemies were, “the rulers…the authorities…the cosmic powers over this present darkness…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Christ would bring His redeemed people into the promised land of eternal life with Him, where they will forever be free to worship and serve Him.
For us, the angel’s words in Matthew 1:21 relay the precious truth that Jesus did not come to merely make salvation possible, but to fully secure salvation. Jesus did not come to save a faceless mass; He came to save specific people by bearing their specific sins Himself on the cross. This gospel message must have led the angels to wonder at God’s plan. What were the angels thinking when they saw this Messiah on Calvary’s cross crying out, “It is finished”? Was there gasping among their heavenly throng when Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane that He could, but wouldn’t call down twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53). We could only ponder.
To the Shepherds: “Good News of Great Joy for All the People”
Finally, once Christ is born, the angels go to the shepherds. Jesus’ birth announcement is made by a chorus of heaven’s angels to a few lowly shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. It is a stunning contrast seeing this grand and glorious chorus praising God before such a meager and motley crew of first century shepherds. They were the ruffians, the nobody’s, the outcastes who had no place in the pomp and polished courts of nobility. Surely God was making a point to the high and mighty. He who chose small and ruddy David over big and mighty Saul, also chose to send His Son to a peasant family in little Bethlehem over the royal family in mighty Jerusalem. Yet listen to the sheer excitement in the angel’s words as they proclaim, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
The salvation the angels pronounced was one of good news. It was headline news because God was breaking into this world in the Person of His Son. It was good news because God was not breaking into this world to condemn, but to save sinners. It was news of great joy that led the angels to worship because these sinful humans were being shown something they could have never earned in a million lifetimes: divine and astounding grace! It was news for all people, because Israel’s King and Savior was the King of a new Israel, who would make up people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language.
May we feel the same shocking wonder of Christmas this year as the angels felt that first night when the Son of God was born to save sinful men and women.