Luke 2:8–9 (NKJV)
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
Imagine something so beautiful that you can’t stand to look at it.
Can’t? Neither can I. Imagining the incomprehensible is supposed to be hard. So, why are the shepherds greatly afraid? Is it that the angels are huge? Or bright? Or incomprehensible? Or what?
Turns out that encounters with angels are generally terrifying. Here are some snippets from Matthew 28:2b–4, Luke 1:11–12 and 29–30 (all NKJV translation).
An angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
These are all friendly encounters; yet they’re terrified. How can that make sense? The incident where Jesus calmed the storm provides a clue. A passage from Isaiah fills in the rest.
And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” — Mark 4:41 (NKJV)
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. … So I said:
“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.” — Isaiah 6:1,5 (NKJV)
An encounter with holiness is terrifying because our unclean lips (our sin) makes us allergic to holiness.
This is not only hard to comprehend; it’s why holy things are hard to comprehend. It’s like how an allergy to a particular food prevents you from learning much about what it tastes like.
We won’t learn much about holy things until we’re fully sanctified in death.
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