Judges 13:15-20 “Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, ‘We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.’ The angel of the Lord replied, ‘Even though you detain me I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the Lord.’ (Manoah did not realize that it was the Angel of the Lord.) Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord, ‘What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?’ He replied, Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.’ Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the Lord. And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched. As the flame blazed upon the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground.”
Manoah and his wife experienced special evidence of God’s presence and blessing. When the Old Testament speaks of the Angel of the Lord, many times it is not referring to a created angel. It is referring to the Lord himself. More specifically, this is the Son of God before he became a man. Here he was talking to this couple, though they were completely unaware of it. The Son of God was present in their lives. He brought them God’s promises. He provided special blessings in the gift of a child, one who would be a leader and deliverer for God’s people. The couple received all this before they even understood the identity of their mystery guest.
Then they experienced a rare and powerful demonstration of God’s presence. They witnessed the Lord ascend into heaven in the flames of the sacrifice they were offering. It was an experience that literally brought Manoah and wife to their knees in awe and worship.
The Lord hasn’t stopped filling the lives of those who are living his plans for them with special experiences. Those experiences don’t have to be so dramatic to be just as real. Maybe you have prayed for something, and the answer came back so suddenly, so perfectly matched to the details of your request, that you were impressed with the immediacy of God’s involvement in your life. Maybe you have privately ministered to someone with God’s word over time. At first it seems to have no impact. Then your friend experiences some kind of breakthrough. It suddenly becomes clear that your words (really God’s words) have worked a change. Those are special experiences of God’s work in our lives.
Even more special is the experience we have like the first one Manoah and his wife had–before they recognized God’s presence with them. He was already bringing them his promises and his blessing. Whether we feel it or not, whether see it or not, we experience God’s presence, promise and blessing every time we worship. In the gospel, at the cross, we see God with us! He became one of us. He took our place. He carried our sins. He broke the power of death. He still dispenses forgiveness and life. Whether we feel it or perceive it, we still experience God’s presence when we gather around his word. Jesus promises, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” At the altar, in his Supper, Jesus promises, “This is my body. This is by blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” He is here!
Among other things, living God’s plan for you means finding yourself in worship each week. That is full of special experiences: to live free from guilt, to live without fear of death, to live confident that God loves you. No one who doesn’t know Jesus as Savior has such a life. The Lord still has special experiences in store for you—his power, his presence, and his blessing—waiting where he has promised they can be found: in Word and Sacrament.