Today, we begin a sermon series on the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation or the Revelation of John is the most intriguing book of the Bible and it is the least understood book of the Bible. Most people want to read it but can’t make sense of the creatures and signs and symbols.
There are some pre-conceived notions we all bring to the book of Revelation. Most of us think of hellfire and damnation, death and destruction and nuclear annihilation from images conveyed in the book of Revelation. Many of us believe that it tells how the world as we know it will end. Some may have even attended lectures or read essays attempting to interpret what is going on in our world in light of the book of Revelation. That is not what I want us to take away from our reading of the book of Revelation.
In seminary, on my last day of Introduction to the Bible, my fellow students and I were all wondering when our professor was going to get to the book of Revelation. We had about 5 minutes left in class. We didn’t know how he was going to cover the whole book. We didn’t know if maybe there was a whole class devoted to the book of Revelation. Then, in the last minute, he said, “God wins. That’s all you need to know about the book of Revelation.”
So, as we delve into the book of Revelation, remember God wins. If you take nothing away from this series, “God wins” is all you need to remember.
The book of Revelation is a vision. Visions require some visuals to help us see. I’m going to attempt to give you something to help you see the vision of Revelation each week. This week, John sees the throne room so I’ve created a throne room for us to enter as we read from Chapter 4. I’m not going to have the Scripture up on the screen because I don’t want you reading the screen as I read the Scripture. I’d like you to look at the throne room and allow the Spirit to give you eyes to see what John saw and ears to hear the Word.
There will be a response you make to the Scripture reading. At the last verse of this Scripture, I will say, “and the people said.” That will be your prompt to read the last line of this Scripture as a response which will appear on the screen at the appropriate time.
Scripture Reading: Revelation 4: 1 – 11
4 After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the spirit,[a] and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3 And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 4 Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6 and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, [and the people said],
11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
So, first a little about what was going on in Rome and with the church at the time John wrote the book of Revelation. The problems the churches were experiencing was that they were either being persecuted by the Romans or Christians were assimilating into the Roman culture and losing their “otherness”. We are called to be set apart, distinctly different because of Christ, not like everyone else. Christ was counter cultural to the Temple culture and Christianity was meant to be counter-cultural to the Roman Empire. For those being persecuted, this provides words of hope and assurance. For those getting too comfortable, these are words of challenge. There is a saying that is true of the Gospels, and also true of the book of Revelation, it is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Chapter 1 is the introduction to the revelation and the beginning of the vision. Chapters 2 and 3 are messages for the 7 churches. Chapter 4 takes John into the throne room to witness and experience Heavenly Worship in the throne room. The message of Revelation which begins in the view of this ordered worship where God is at center is that God is the Creator, not the destroyer. The knowledge that God is the Creator invites us into worship.
Chapter 4 of the book of Revelation has been integral in creating patterns of worship. Today, the traditional liturgies or orders of worship in highly liturgical churches, meaning high church, orthodox, traditional churches, these are the most sung verses of Scripture in worship as responses to prayers and readings. The words are also often used in traditional hymns. The podcast narrator I was listening to this week suggested that the entire praise music industry would collapse if they couldn’t use Revelation chapters 4 and 5 in contemporary praise music.
So, what does this scene tell us about worship? It tells us that God should be at the center of our worship and we worship of God as we add our voices to the chorus being sung in Heaven.
A colleague of mine recently did a survey of his church and asked them to share their opinions about worship. Now, I chuckled when I heard about this. Because, he probably well knew what people think about worship. Because, if there is one thing a pastor and music director don’t have to ask church people about it is worship. Church people freely and regularly share their thoughts on worship, especially sermons and music, especially when they don’t like it.
My friend’s reflections on the survey were again funny but not surprising. Basically, they have no good data to make any changes to their worship. He said for every one person who said they hated something there was a person who said it was their favorite thing. For every one person that said they wanted more praise music there was someone who said they wanted more hymns.
That is true of any church. A contemporary church service with an awesome praise band is going to hear, “Why don’t you play the newer stuff on the radio?” Or “we haven’t sung ‘Here I Am to Worship’ in awhile?” And every traditional worship planner is going to hear “we don’t sing ‘Amazing Grace’ enough” until it is sung once a month, and even that might not be enough.
Let me tell you this.
Worship is not about you.
We are gathered as a community to worship God.
Warren Wiersbe says this about worship:
“When ministry becomes performance, then the sanctuary becomes a theater, the congregation becomes an audience, worship becomes entertainment and the church’s applause and approval become the measure of success. But, when ministry is for the glory of God, His Presence moves into the sanctuary. Even the unsaved visitor will fall down on his face, worship God and confess that God is among us.”
The scene of Revelation 4 is one of people glorifying God, bowing down before God, laying down what they have before God and singing to God. It is our duty of faith to gather among the fellowship of believers and worship God.
Every Sunday, the music is meaningful to someone. Every Sunday, the sermon is meaningful to someone…I hope. But, we can’t play everyone’s favorite song every Sunday and the Spirit may inspire a sermon that is for someone specific, not for the same purpose for everyone. Every Sunday, everyone may not leave feeling edified and inspired. What is important is that we experience God in worship. We experience God’s Presence when we lay aside what we want and glorify Him alone. Worship is about God. It is our purpose in worship to gather around the throne of God and join our voices with what is already being sung in Heaven.
HOLY! HOLY! HOLY! Lord God Almighty!