Sermons in this series
Passage: Revelation 4-5
Across the country, over the last few weeks, it may seem to you, as it has to me, that there has been an inordinate amount of attention given to the passing of the singer Michael Jackson. While certainly gifted as a musical artist, from watching the media coverage and his funeral one might be led to believe that he had served this country in some valiant way.
Meanwhile across the ocean, in the distant lands of Afghanistan and Iraq, true American heroes, our men and women in the United States Armed Forces, are dying at the hands of Islamic extremists and hardly a word is said about it on the news.
This point was driven home for me in a most dramatic way a couple weeks ago by a friend of mine who sent me a picture which showed a dozen flag draped coffins in the back of an Air Force cargo plane. They contained the bodies of fallen American soldiers. These pictures weren't plastered on the television screens of our nation. The media were too busy telling us more than we ever wanted to know about how Michael Jackson died and what had happened to his chimpanzee.
In the upside down world in which we live, it seems the attention, adoration, and adulation goes to the pop star and not to the military heroes. Why is that?
It has more to do with our fallen nature than anything else. As fallen, sinful creatures, the natural bent of humanity is to place value on those things which have no true value and to devalue those things which are of real worth. It started in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve valued the serpent's word above the Word of God, and for millennia since humanity has continued to value the wrong thing. Nowhere is this truer than in the realm of our worship.
People all around us live their lives in pursuit of money, fame or pleasure, all of which are temporal at best, all the while neglecting their souls and their relationship with God, which are eternal. And many times it's not just the people around us. It is we who are guilty of this. It is to this end that Jesus asks the question, "What will it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul, or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
But to us the Gospel of Jesus Christ has come. It transforms us and enables us to know God. It rescues us from the darkness of sins and opens our spiritual eyes, enabling us to see things from a true perspective, to see things as they really are. It gives us the ability to perceive the fallacy of the world's value system and thus to value those things which have real worth. That's not to say we always avail ourselves of this ability, but once we have come into spiritual life there is no longer any excuse for worshiping that which does not deserve our praise.
As we continue our series in the realm of Spiritual Disciplines, we come today to the matter of worship. We have, in times past, described worship both as an individual and as a corporate act. That is to say, worship is both something we do when we gather here and something we do as we go through the course of our lives. In the New Testament worship speaks to how we act, or live our lives, in the presence of God. In its most basic sense, worship is the proper response of believers to God. Thus true worship is restricted to those who have come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Because it is impossible for us to cover every aspect of worship during our time this morning, I want us to look at Revelation 4 and 5 where we will discover several observations about worship which I believe will help us as we seek to cultivate a discipline of worship in our lives.
Look with me at Revelation chapters 4 and 5. Notice three things about worship.
I. Worship is fundamentally theological
Those who know Him best worship Him most.
It is impossible to worship Him if you do not know Him and since true worship is a response to knowing Him, the more we know about God the better we can worship, or ascribe to Him the worship He is due.
The scene presented to us in Revelation 4&5 is one where the elders and the angels know God far better than we do and the depth of their worship is directly tied to their knowledge of God. What this says to you and me is that if we want to worship God better we need to become preoccupied with knowing God. How do we do that: Through the study of the word of God and through developing our personal relationship with God.
Far too many Christians see worship as a ritual or as something we do on Sunday mornings with choirs, guitars and music, when in reality worship is about knowing God and responding personally to that knowledge.
And for the record, worship is about God, not about us. It is all about Him. That's one of the reasons it is so sad when people get all up in arms about worship styles. It doesn't matter folks whether you worship God with a pipe organ or a kazoo, it's about God, not about you.
Listen to what the four living creatures say and notice the profound theological content of their worship. They make several theological statements here. The first is about the holiness of God. They say, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God . . ."
What are they saying about God? They are saying that He is Holy, set apart, different from us, perfect and without sin. Part of their worship is speaking eternal truths about God and is born out of their knowledge of God. This is theology, truth about God. He is holy. He is transcendent and pure; He is different than fallen creation.
Then they speak to the sovereignty of God they say: "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God, the almighty."
As they sing their hymn of praise they recognize the sovereignty of God over all of creation. They have a view of God which sees Him for Who He is, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. There is nothing outside of His dominion and no one who will escape His judgment.
Remember that this book was written during a time of intense persecution. Christians were being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. Part of what we need to remember about God as we worship Him is the theological truth that our God is almighty and that He reigns. The difficulties we encounter here on Earth do not go unnoticed by our God. He knows and is in control of every circumstance. This truth should bring every believer great comfort.
These heavenly beings speak the truth about the sovereignty of our God. He is almighty God, ruler of all nature and He is for us.
But thirdly, notice that they speak to His eternal nature. So they have spoken of His holiness, they have spoken of His sovereignty and now they speak the truth about Him in eternity.
"Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the almighty, who was and who is and who is to come."
There has never been a time when He was not, He has always been. He does not change and thus He is as He was and He will always be as He is and was. Our God is eternal. So the emphasis of their worship here is on the reality that God is holy, He is sovereign over the past, over the present and over the future.
But then, look ahead to the last verse in chapter 4, where the elders cast their crowns before Him and say,
"Worthy are you, our Lord, and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things and because of Your will they existed and were created."
The theological nature of worship continues here as the elders recognize that He alone is worthy of worship because He is the Creator of all things and the very reason all things exist is because He of His will. You are not here by accident. You are not the result of billions of years of evolution and some biological accident in the primordial goop, you are here by the specific will and design of the Holy, Almighty, Eternal Creator. He created you in His image and for a specific purpose.
Here is someone to Whom you can trust your life. Here is someone to Whom you can commit your soul. He is not a lesser God who is affected by the rise and fall of human opinions. He is not some demi-god whose is subject to the whims of His creations. He is Holy, Almighty and Eternal. He is the Creator and we are His creations. These are deep theological truths about God. So much of modern day Christianity is superficial and centered on man rather than centered on God. Turn the television on and you'll hear preacher after preacher preaching a gospel which primarily promises temporal things rather than things eternal. Reject such a gospel. It is not the gospel of scripture.
Colossians 3:1-2 says, "Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth."
But read these chapters over and over and you find that not only do these creatures worship God for Who He is but they also worship Him for what He has done. Look at 5:9 where Jesus, the Lamb is being worshiped. Listen to what they say.
"Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain and purchased for God with Your blood, men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."
Jesus is worthy of our worship and praise, not just because He is God, and He is, but because of what He has done, because He shed His blood to pay the price for our sins and thereby offer us eternal life.
Theology is not just knowing about the character of God, but also about the work of God. True worship extols the nature and the work of God and brings us to a more vivid understanding of Who it is we are worshiping.
If you want to cultivate the discipline of worship in your life and you want your worship to be authentic, you need to preoccupy yourself with knowing God, with Who He is and what it is He has done. And let me add that this knowledge is not based on how you feel or what someone else has said, it is based on the revelation of God through scripture. The more you know Him the more you will be driven to worship Him. Those who know Him best worship Him most.
Next I want you to see something about the practice of worship.
II. Worship is immensely practical
That is, it involves something we do, something we say, something we give. It involves action; it is something we practice.
As we have said, so much of modern day worship is man centered. Many churches design their worship services around what will attract the most people, what will give people a good feeling, or a good show, but this should never be the case. Worship is not about us feeling good, it is about us doing, saying and being what we should do, say and be. It involves specific and intentional action on our part directed toward God.
I want you to notice four things in these two small chapters. There are many other things you might notice here, but our time won't allow us to be exhaustive. The first thing is this.
a. True worship involves purity
First of all this is a scene which takes place in heaven, a place where there is no sin. The elders are robed in white, which speaks of their purity. Worship in heaven is perfect because of the absence of sin.
But purity in your life and mine is measured not in absolutes but in degrees, that is, while we are positionally pure in God's eyes, the condition of our lives is sometimes not always what it should be. As long as we remain here on earth we will have to deal with temptation and sin and we will have to work to keep our hearts and our lives pure. The purer our lives are the more powerful our worship will be.
When we come to worship God we should examine ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit of God to examine our hearts to see if there is anything within us which would keep us from being able to worship. Is there an attitude, an action or a sin you've not dealt with. Do you have something against your brother or sister? Have you done something which would cause them to have something against you? If you don't deal with it your worship will be in vain.
Don't bother going through the motions if it's not going to be real. Let God show you your hidden sins; let Him show you the things in your heart which are keeping you from knowing Him like He wants you to know Him.
b. True worship involves humility
In 4:10, 5:8 and 5:14 we see the elders falling down and worshiping.
It should not go without notice that these 24 elders are themselves seated on thrones around the throne of God. Among their human peers, these 24 elders are exalted to the point that they are given thrones around the very throne of God and what's more, they are given golden crowns, crowns which signify reward for lives well lived and races well run. And yet what is it that they do? They fall down and worship Him.
One of the two principle words in the Bible translated "worship" literally means to lay prostrate before the Lord; to fall down before Him.
Somewhere along the way we have lost the sense of awe which accompanies true worship. Somewhere we have bought into the idea that God is the "man upstairs," or our "buddy." But those who know Him best and who worship Him most do not see Him this way. They recognize Him for who He is and they fall down and worship Him.
Humility before God is an absolute if our worship is going to be what it should be. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Until you come to the point that you can abandon all hope in yourself and you see yourself for what you really are without Christ, you will not experience true worship.
But not only does worship involve purity and humility . . .
c. Worship involves surrender
Look at verse 4:10. They cast their crowns before the throne.
I originally was going to say that worship involved sacrifice, and while that is true, surrender includes sacrifice. You cannot surrender if you are unwilling to sacrifice while you can sacrifice without surrender, thus surrender is the higher aim here. Worship involves absolute surrender.
These crowns represent rewards. They were given these crowns based on their faithfulness. But notice, instead of holding on to their crowns and remaining on their thrones. They abandon their thrones and cast their crowns before His throne. Everything they have, everything they possess, their position and their possessions they have laid at the feet of God.
You cannot come to worship God with a stingy heart. You cannot truly worship God unless you are willing to surrender everything you are and everything you have to Him. One of the reasons so many people never experience authentic worship is because they insist on holding back, on keeping things from God which belong to Him. This is not just material possessions, it means surrendering your agenda, your future, you hopes and your reputation to Him. It means trusting Him with your children, with your business and with your time.
Listen, without Him you would have nothing and you would be nothing. Everything you are and have is because of Him. You cannot worship Him if you don't trust Him and if you are unwilling to surrender everything to Him it is because you do not trust Him.
Worship involves surrender.
d. Worship involves praise
Praise, at its most elemental level, is speaking of the excellence of God. Revelation 19:4-5 says
"And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, Amen, Hallelujah. And a voice came from the throne saying, ‘Give praise to our God, all you His bond servants, you who fear Him the small and the great.'"
The first stanza to the old hymn, Praise Him! Praise Him! Sums this up well. It says
"Praise Him, Praise Him, Jesus our blessed redeemer. Sing O earth, His wonderful love proclaim. Hail Him, hail Him highest archangels in glory, strength and honor give to His holy name. Like a shepherd, Jesus will guard His children, in His arms He carries them all day long. Praise Him, praise Him, tell of His excellent greatness, praise Him praise Him, ever in joyful song."
5:9 says, they sang a new song. Praise involves extolling the wonders and the excellence of our God, and not just in the church building where everyone agrees. True praise means that wherever we are, whatever we are doing we give praise to God, In front of those who know Him and especially in front of those who do not know Him, we ascribe to Him the honor and the glory that He alone is due.
We who know Him have a responsibility to make Him known to those who do not yet know Him. One of the ways we do this is by praising Him.
Praise is a lifestyle, not an event.
III. Worship is ultimately personal
Worship is not just something we do, it is who we are and now we live. Worship involves our everyday lives. Worship, especially in the sense of personal discipleship, is something each of us must do as individuals.
Listen to the elders and the living creatures in 5:12 where they say
"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."
Why do you think they said that He is worthy to receive power? Does He not already possess all the power He needs? After all, He is God and He is omnipotent or all powerful. So why would they ascribe power to Him?
It has to do with the power of their lives. They are saying that He is worthy of the entirety of the power of our lives. When we ascribe power to Him we are saying that with all the power of our lives, with everything we are, we are going to work to give Him the honor and the glory and the blessings He is due.
This is what the apostle Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 where he says
"I appeal to you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (ESV)
Worship involves the way we live our lives. It is who we are before God, both publicly and privately, both internally and externally, both spiritually and physically.
So, what does your worship look like this morning? Are you going through the motions or is there an authentic connection between you and God as you come before His throne? What are you worshiping? Whatever preoccupies the majority of your time is what you worship. It's just that simple.