What would spring to mind if you were asked to describe an angel? Would you picture a fat little cherub or perhaps Cupid with his bow and arrow? Or maybe an effete man with wings of white feathers? Would you actually recognise an angel if you saw one? The Bible says, ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels’ Hebrews 13:2. Perhaps this primarily alludes to the time that Abraham entertained three ‘men’ (Genesis 18).
Now, it’s true that an angel appeared before a bunch of shepherds tending their flocks, scaring the living daylights out of them! (Luke 2:8f.). However, this angel was no cartoon-like bumblebee, i.e., a fat little cherub with stubby little wings struggling to stay in the air. The shepherds knew that this angel was one of God’s messengers. But notice that the writer to the Hebrews is talking about ‘unwittingly’ entertaining angels. The idea, therefore, is that of you not knowing that the angel is an angel.
Maybe the person who sat next to you on the bus, boat, train or plane was an angel. Maybe the beggar you walked past on the street was an angel. I was astounded at some of the beggars I saw on the streets of Paris and of Rome. People with blatantly obvious and grotesque physical deformities laying on sidewalks with the obligatory cup in front of them. At times this would reduce me tears, compelling me to dig deep into my pockets to offer them some miniscule relief from their afflictions. It horrified me. Couldn’t some charity or altruistic person offer to pay for an operation or something to ease their suffering?
Of course, a lowly beggar does not fit the other traditional picture of an angel: strong, noble, handsome, wings extended, sword in hand etc. (see e.g., Josh. 5:13; Num. 22:31; 1 Chron. 21:16). To be sure, there is no mention of the angel in the aforementioned passages being handsome or having wings. However, angels certainly are beautiful creatures that can fly. (We need to be careful with the word ‘creature’ if we are speaking of the Lord.) But back to ‘entertaining strangers.’
We are being encouraged to be hospitable to strangers, i.e., people we don’t know. They might be angels! Whatever else it is, an angel is a spirit-being that can temporarily materialise itself in the form of a human being. Have I ever seen one? Who knows? But I do know that over the years I have bumped into lots of strangers!
Before conversion, Jesus is a stranger to us, and as such, we are inhospitable to Him. Jesus once was a stranger to me. To me He was just some man that you read about in a book. Then, when I started to entertain Him, I soon discovered that He is the (uncreated) Angel of the LORD. No, He didn’t materialise to me. He didn’t need to. He simply opened up my eyes so that I understood who He is. I know that this sounds like so much mumbo-jumbo to the unconverted. It’s like trying to explain a beautiful sunset to someone who has been blind from birth. You wish that they could see for themselves what you can see!
What then are angels? ‘Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?’ Hebrews 1:14. Be really careful then when you’re entertaining strangers. One of them might be an angel and you, therefore, may just end up inheriting salvation!
May God be pleased to enable us to entertain strangers.