Revelation 4-5, Worship as Response: Remembering the Cross
Friends, This is actually the second sermon I preached in a series of four in January 2008 that dealt with worship. The other three are here:
As you can see, the cross is at the center of our worship in a variety of ways. I hope these sermons will be helpful to you in your worship.–jerry
January 13, 2008
Spiritual Disciplines: Worship 1.2
Worship as Response: Remembering the Cross
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
In last week’s sermon, I contended from Hebrews 9-10 that it is the cross of Christ that makes worship even a possibility. This week, I’d like to make the point that now that worship is a possibility through the cross, it is, properly speaking, also a response to the cross. That is, since we know what possibility Jesus has created for us in the cross, we ought to respond in the only way we can: Worship.
Now this doesn’t mean we worship the cross, or even the work done on the cross. We worship the One who worked the Cross, namely, Jesus Messiah. This is, I believe what the Revelation fills out for us in these two chapters. When we worship, we are remembering and re-enacting the events of the cross. When we break bread, we remember the Body and Blood of the Lamb. When we sing, we Sing of our Redeemer. When we give, we remember the One who gave. When we preach, baptize, pray, or fellowship we are in some way remembering the One who worked at
Michael Horton wrote or said:
Often our services are attempts at entertainment rather than worship. When the preaching centers on our own happiness rather than the attributes and achievements of God, we attend church to passively enjoy and receive from the professionals—the preacher, the choir, the soloist, the occasional drama troupe. But I believe this way of coming to public worship is indicative of a human-centered theological orientation. If Jesus Christ entered at the back of our church on Sunday morning, would we all clap our hands and dance and sing, ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’? Would we show him our ‘God is rad, he’s my dad’ sweatshirt? Or would the room be filled with awe-stricken silence? Of course, there are different styles of worship, and I am not for one moment suggesting a style better suited to a funeral than to a worship service. Nevertheless, what we believe about God and salvation ultimately determines the object, focus, fervor, and direction of our worship. If we really rediscovered this biblical portrait of God, we would not need entertainment gimmicks; enthusiasm would not be artificially generated. And because our minds would be connected to it all, there would be a lasting impact even when we were not surrounded by choirs, musicians, and a cast of players.”-Michael Horton
Now, let’s look at the text and make two large points. One point from chapter 4 and one point from chapter 5. First, chapter 4:
Chapter 4: Worship the Creator
What draws John’s attention immediately after he has ‘entered heaven’ is found in verse 2: At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. This throne is dominant enough of a piece of furniture that it captivates John from the start. It’s all he sees initially. It’s not an empty throne: He will tell us many times that there is indeed someone sitting on the throne.
But the throne: he mentions the throne ten times in the fourth chapter, five more times in chapter 5. Everything in heaven is spoken of in relation to the throne: stuff surrounds the throne, encircles the throne, is before the throne, comes from the throne; some is sitting on the throne; another is standing on the throne. Everything is spoken of with relation to the throne. And when worship happens, whether strange creatures who repeat the same thing over and over again, or strange elders who cast their crowns down from their own thrones, all the worship is directed towards the One who Sits on the Throne.
He is worshiped because he is worthy; he is worthy because he ‘created all things and by your will they were created and have their being.’ In other words, the One on the Throne is worthy to be worshiped simply because He is. There is no explanation given. He is worthy of everyone’s worship simply by virtue of His very being, and because he has given us being. He is worthy because he is powerful, holy, mighty, and willing.
But what we never get in chapter 4 is a clear picture. Understand me. We understand first that there is ‘someone’ seated on this throne who is worthy of worship. We understand Him to be a King—but this is no mere king! We should divest ourselves of the silly idea that the term ‘king’ here is meaningful if we think in mere terms of earthly monarchs. We need a bigger vision of King if King is to be worshipped. No this King is worthy to be worshiped because he did something that no other king can do and is something that no other king is. He Created; He is Holy. So John’s senses are filled. He sees a place that is dominated by the presence of a throne with Someone sitting on it. He hears a place that is dominated the sounds of creatures constantly singing out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and who is and is to come.”
That is what John sees. That is what John hears. He gets a clear picture of what heaven is. He can learn something about what heaven looks like. But as for the One seated on the Throne. Well, John has trouble with that: The One who sat there on the throne had the appearance of Jasper and Carnelian. Huh? Everything else in this scene is clear: Crystal clear water before the throne, elders with crowns, thrones, thunder, lightning, sound, sights, voices. But all John gives us is a picture of someone sitting on the throne who is worthy, who is holy, who is God—but who looks like a couple of gemstones.
Chapter 5: Worship the Redeemer
For some strange reason, the vision that John has of heaven does not bring him any particular comfort or satisfaction. What he sees, in fact, causes him to weep and weep: “But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.”
Then something changes: “Then I saw the Lamb!” In the words of Chris Tomlin: How Can I Keep From Singing! “Then I saw the Lamb!” And when John sees the Lamb—also on the throne—looking as if He had been slain—and yet quite alive—well, then a New Song Breaks out all over the Universe. No longer is this ‘just’ the One on the Throne who is worthy: “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
You hear? The One on the Throne who was previously, Jasper and Carnelian, the Unnamed One on the Throne is now: The Lamb! And old Puritan said:
“The reason men worship God in a casual way is because
they do not see God in His Glory. If a man has ever had
Isaiah’s vision of the Holiness of God, he would be changed
in an instant. But until men have seen God as He truly is
they will be forever guilty of the very same
rebuke that God gave to the wicked in
Psalms 50:21 ‘You thought I was just like you’.”
But John didn’t just hear twenty-four elders, or four living Creatures worshiping: I looked and I heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand:
o ariqmoV autwn muriadeV muriadwn kai ciliadeV ciliadwn!
That is a long Greek way of saying: There were so many I couldn’t begin to count them. And they were around the throne! Worship the Creator! Worship the Redeemer! Countless angelic voices gather as one to repeat the refrain: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! Who can number the voices that repeat the refrain?
But John hears more: Then I heard every creature in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them singing: To Him Who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever. All Creatures of our God and King lift up your voice and with us sing! All Creatures of our God and King: lift up your voice and with us sing: O Praise HIM. Hallelujah!
But the refrain is always the same, isn’t it? Look at all three repetitions of it:
You are worthy because you were Slain!
Worthy is the Lamb, who was Slain!
And to the Lamb!
The worship of the Lamb is always oriented around His sacrifice. Worship is always a response to the Lamb as the One who was slain, the offering, the Sacrifice. Before anything else in the Revelation takes place, there is a Response in heaven to the Sacrifice of the Lamb. Before anything else happens in the Revelation: There is a response of worship to the Lamb! The Lamb is already triumphant. Before plagues strike. Before Seals are opened. Before Trumpets are sounded. Before Dragons rampage. Before Anti-Christ appears. Before the bowls of wrath are poured out upon the earth.
Before any of it is written: We are transported into the throne room of heaven and we see the Lamb triumphant! And we worship!
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to death—
Even death on a cross!
Therefore God Exalted Him to the Highest Place
And gave him the Name that is above every name,
That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the Glory of the Father.
Worship once made a possibility is a properly a response to the death of Christ. It was then. It is now. It will be soon. Even those who now think they have escaped detection will not fail to worship the Son of God, the Lamb who was Slain.
So why do we gather? What is the objective? What is the point of making this weekly trek to a place away from our lives an homes and sometimes our family? Truth be told, we worship because that is what we are made for, but also there is a sense that we worship because we cannot help ourselves. I say this humbly, but I cannot imagine anything on the planet preventing us from worship. I cannot imagine coming face to face with the Lamb who was slain, accepting his free gift, and refusing to worship or allowing anything to stand in the way of worship.
I always go back to my friend Carolyn C. I’ll never forget Carolyn dying from cancer. Dying. Dying. Dying. I’ll never forget that mother’s day when her husband and son and a friend rolled Carolyn into the sanctuary on some sort of bed. I’ll never forget Carolyn worshiping even as she lay dying.
It’s like Jacob, when he was old, and he wanted to bless his sons before he went the way of his fathers. He was nearly dead and yet: “worshipped as he leaned on top of his staff.”
And Paul and Silas were thrown into a prison after being beaten. They had been mocked and humiliated and yet what does Scripture say: “About Midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God….”
And David said, “I will become more undignified than this.” He refused to stop worshiping.
RC Sproul wrote:
If people find worship boring and irrelevant, it can only mean they have no sense of the presence of God in it. When we study the action of worship in Scripture and the testimony of church history, we discover a variety of human responses to the sense of the presence of God. Some people tremble in terror, falling with their face to the ground; others weep in mourning; some are exuberant in joy; still others are reduced to a pensive silence. However the reactions may differ among human beings to the holiness of God, one thing I never ever find in scripture is someone who is bored in the presence of God, or someone who walks away from an encounter with the living God and says “that was irrelevant”.
There is no encounter a human being could ever have that is more relevant to daily life than meeting up with the living God. … You were not created to be bored by the glory of God, you have to be spiritually dead to be bored by the glory of God. –RC Sproul, The Holiness of God
People who have come in contact with the Lamb of God, people who know the Cross, will not be prevented from worshiping. The Lamb who was slain compels us to worship. Our worship is a Response to the Cross of Jesus Christ–Revelation 4-5 is a picture of what the church is now doing; not a futuristic glimpse of what we will do. And it can be nothing else but a response to the cross. It is not entertainment. It is not primarily evangelism. Our worship is a response: Worthy is the Lamb who was Slain! Worthy! Worthy!
Soli Deo Gloria!