Worship on Earth As It Is in Heaven (Revelation 4-5)

(This is a portion of a sermon I preached on Sunday, August 8 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church.  Feel free to listen to the entire mp3.  It’s not verbatim to what’s below, which are just notes I had in preparation for the sermon.)

This morning, we begin a five-part series that I am convinced will be of great benefit to you as followers of Jesus Christ. August has served as our month to emphasize stewardship—how we use our time, talents, money, and spiritual gifts for the King and the Kingdom. Peter wrote to his audience to “be good stewards of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:10). And by God’s grace, He has equipped Christians with all they need to accomplish all He asks of them.

The first ship of stewardship we will see is that of worship. As we have heard over the last number of weeks, how we use what God has given to us reflect who we worship! Where is your time, talents, money, and gifts going?

Some of you watch football. I confess, I enjoy watching football immensely. I heard that my grandfather observed that football just looked like a pile moving up and down the field, and he couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. Yet, when you go to their training camps and practices and see how they break down film and design plays, you see that what looks like chaos is in reality a plan being worked out.

Some of you enjoy traveling and spend a good deal of time in airports. As you look around in the airport and see all the planes leaving and entering, from our vantage point it looks as if it’s mass confusion. But once you travel to the control tower, you begin to see the schedules, the flight patterns and you notice that from that vantage point, everything is moving ahead with a controlled plan.

As we approach these two chapters in the book of Revelation, we must remember that the Apostle John was living in a very different time. From John’s vantage point, it seemed like chaos! The persecution of the church was rampant and normal for that time. John himself was on the isle of Patmost—a rock out in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea! He was in exile for his faith in Jesus and preaching about Jesus. He had seen all the other disciples be killed for the same reason. Yet, here he was—90+ years old—in exile, alone, and wondering where it would all go and how it would all end.

While he and other followers of Jesus were well aware of their circumstances, he needed to see what was behind the curtain, if you will. And this is what ‘Revelation’ is. In the Greek, it’s the word apokalyptis, which means an unveiling. But unlike what we saw in the Wizard of Oz, the one ‘behind the curtain’ will not be a disappointment nor will he be someone like we are. John needed to see the glory of the One whom He worship and the One whom He trusted.

God pulls back the curtain. Understand, there is no way we can get a glimpse of anything Godly or supernatural unless God pulls back that curtain. Even the beloved and revered Apostle John could not go into heaven unless He was told to—and even then, He could not do this on his own, but the Spirit carried him into the portals of heaven.

And the first item John sees is the throne! Not just any throne—not even the throne owned by the Emperor of Rome! This was the throne of the Most High God! This is the central item in all of the book of Revelation! In these two chapters, the word ‘throne’ is mentioned 19 times!

You see, when we worship, we are confronted with the splendor of the King upon His throne. He had the “appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” Twenty four elders were seated around the throne, complete with white garments and crowns on their head. Flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder, and the torches of fire which are the seven spirits of God were all eminating from the throne!

Notice what this picture shows us:

First, this is not a God who is like us. In the Wizard of Oz, the four come to the inner sanctum of the Emerald City to see “the great and powerful Wizard.” At first, they were terrified at the sight of the one they thought was the wizard—until Toto found the man behind the curtain who was manufacturing all the effects.

Yet this is no manufactured effect! There is a magisterial splendor and a magnificent terror when it comes to seeing the living God! Notice, “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings (can also be translated voices/sounds) and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal” (Revelation 4:4-5)

In chapter 5, we see another episode in the grand order of worship in heaven. It’s a dilemma. In the right hand of the one on the throne was a scroll, written on the front and back. In biblical times, scrolls were sealed with wax, impressed with the author’s insignia as evidence of being authentic, as well as for security and privacy. In order for the scroll to be read, the seals had to be broken, and in order for the seals to be broken, it could not be done without the authorization of the owner.

Of all the creatures in heaven and earth, no one was found with the authority or the elevated status to look on the contents of this scroll! What was in this scroll? John began to despair, but One could open its seals. Ezekiel’s scroll was about the promises and the consequences and judgments that would come to those who ignored or disregarded the promises of God!

Here John is comforted by the fact that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). Yet, in the next verse, this one in the midst of the 24 elders is described as “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6). So this Lion of Judah, the one prophesied to Judah himself in Genesis 49:10:

[10] The scepter shall not depart from Judah,

nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,

until tribute comes to him;

and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

(Genesis 49:10 ESV)

The Root of David, who was King of Israel and through whose line the true King of kings, Jesus Christ would come through. Many hiccups and interruptions made the people of Israel wonder if David’s line hadn’t been interrupted. But no—the root is still there. And He has conquered. He is worthy to unleash the seven seals.

But how did He conquer? The Lion of Judah conquered by being a slain Lamb! The seven horns represent strength, and the seven eyes (like the seven lampstands) represent the eyes of the Lord that move to and fro on the earth. And this one like a slain Lamb is standing! Seven horns, representing complete strength! Seven eyes, representing complete vision and omniscience, showing that He knows everything that is happening to His people and that He is with them in triumph!

He not only sees and reigns in power, but He hears to the prayers of the saints. In the next chapter, in Revelation 6:9-11, the martyrs are crying out for justice. And the seals show that God keeps his promises, will take vengeance on those who have assailed and assaulted His people, and unleash judgment on the world as this old earth ends and the new heavens and new earth begin!

How do we respond to such a God? It begins with recognizing that the only way we can approach God is by His grace! Notice that the only way that John could see any of this was because God opened the door, God who told him to come up, and God’s Spirit who brought him up. Do we not see how wonderful God is that, in spite of our sinfulness and rebellion against him, he makes open a way to commune with Him?

We see that entering into God’s presence should not be taken lightly. It is no small thing to come into the presence of the living God. He is full of majesty, splendor, glory, and even terror! But He is worthy of honor and power because he made possible for sin-wracked people to be able to come into His presence—something that even stunned the angels in heaven (1 Peter 1:10-12).

We also see that worship is all about God, not about us! When we entered into the portals of heaven (even as we are here on earth), we see that whatever earthly treasures we may have are nothing compared to the treasure of the thrice holy eternal God! The twenty-four elders threw their crowns at his feet. What does this mean? Dennis E. Johnson notes that this is “acknowledging that all authority derives from him, belongs to him, and returns to him.”[1]

The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place. ‘When they knew God,’wrote Paul, ‘they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.’

Then followed the worship of idols fashioned after the likeness of men and birds and beasts and creeping things. But this series of degrading acts began in the mind. Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.[2]

Is our worship on earth as it is in heaven? Look at these five praises (doxologies) found in these two chapters. One thing you will notice is that not once do you see the word “I” used! You see, God is the subject. They exalt His holiness, His eternality, His glory, His honor, His power, the fact that He created all things by His sheer will, that He sent His Son to conquer by His blood a people from every tribe, language, people and nation! He has made them kingdom citizens and priests who through prayer are able to enter into the inner sanctum of heaven, approaching the throne of grace with great confidence.

[1]Dennis E. Johnson, The Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 103.

[2]A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy.

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