Tuesday, June 07, 2016
Sermon: Revelation 4 & 5 The Worship of Heaven
I wonder if you’ve ever stopped to think about the words we use in the Holy Communion service: ‘And so with all your people, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you and saying...’ It’s a reminder that we aren’t the only people praising God - all over the world, we join with God’s people; but more than that, we join with all the company of heaven. Tonight we’re singing and praising, but what is the worship of heaven like?
If you’re a certain age, you might remember a TV programme called Playschool. And each day, we were invited to take a look through the round window (or the square window or the arched window) to discover more about something in the world. Well, in our reading tonight, the apostle John sees an open door into heaven. We’ll hear what he sees, and also what he hears, as we discover what heaven’s worship is like.
The first thing John sees in heaven is a throne. Now, even though we might think that the universe revolves around us, that we are in charge of our own world, the throne of heaven is occupied. There is one seated on the throne. John’s description may not be very helpful - the appearance of jasper and carnelian (precious stones, both with a reddish colour). He doesn’t really tell us much directly about the one on the throne - but what he hears tells us much more. You see, there’s a constant chorus, a day and night proclamation of praise in verse 8.
You see, around the throne there are 24 other thrones, the elders, clothed in white, with gold crowns on their heads. Also around the throne are the four living creatures, with six wings and eyes all around, one like a lion, one like an ox, one like a man, and one like an eagle. And they never cease to say: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’
The one on the throne is Holy, Holy, Holy. He is so entirely different to everything else. Total purity. Totally perfect. He is the Lord God Almighty. The one who rules and reigns with perfect power and wisdom. He is the eternal one, with no beginning and no ending, everlasting.
And every time the creatures declare God’s glory, the elders fall before him, casting down their golden crowns, giving their worship: ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’
This holy, holy, holy God is worthy to be praised, to receive glory, honour and power. Why? ‘For you created all things.’ God is worthy to be praised because he gave us life, in the first place. Without God, we would not have existed. Life was his idea. And so, we should praise because he made us, according to his will.
John sees the throne, and hears the praise of God’s creation. Do we give glory to God because he made us?
John then sees something else. It’s a scroll, rolled up, and sealed up with seven seals, with writing front and back. This is the unfolding of history, God’s plans for the whole universe. God holds it in his right hand, and the challenge goes out. Who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals? No one is found to answer the challenge - heaven, earth, under the earth. What will happen? John begins to weep.
One of the elders tells him to weep no more. ‘Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’ So John looks to see the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, and he might wonder if he needs to go to Specsavers. Have you ever had a restaurant bring you out the wrong order? You ordered the beef, and they bring you turkey.
Here, they’ve called for the Lion, and standing before the throne is... a Lamb, as though it had been slain. But it’s no mistake. The Lion of Judah is the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus, crucified, slain as the sacrifice for our sins; for our unwillingness to praise the God who gave us life and breath and everything. It is the Lion / Lamb Lord Jesus who controls history, who unveils God’s plan for the world.
As he takes the scroll, the living creatures and the elders sing a new song. Again, it follows the same pattern: ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals... Why?... ‘For you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’
John sees the scroll, and hears the praise of Jesus. Will we give him our praise, because of all that he has done for us - he died for us; he paid the ransom for us and all his people; he has brought us into his kingdom, and made us priests to our God, and given us a share of his reign. Will you praise the King of your salvation?
It’s as if the praise of Jesus kicks off a chain reaction; or like dropping a stone into a still lake, the ripples spread wider and wider. First, the voice of many angels, myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, all praising: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!’ And then, as if all that wasn’t enough, John hears: ‘every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea...’ And they all join in: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever!’ Amen.
Paul in Philippians tells us that one day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Why wait until that day? Why have it forced out of you reluctantly? Why not joyfully receive Jesus as your Lord. Submit to him today, and join in the joy of heaven, to worship him here and now, on earth as it is in heaven.
He is worthy to be praised. He made you. He gave you life. And he gives you new life, a place in his kingdom. So don’t wait until you ‘have to’ worship him. Let’s worship him with joy and gladness.
This sermon was preached at the Favourite Hymns Evening in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 5th June 2016.