January 26, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 17:55 in the audio file.
Or, Worship of Him Who Opens the Scroll
When Jesus gave John a vision of His glorified self in Revelation 1, it was fantastical. His eyes were on fire and His face was shining like the sun at 110%. Jesus was revealing Himself to John, and He intended for John to write the revelation for His people (verse 11). The seven churches, representing all the church of God, needed the encouragement like a mountain needs roots to withstand great winds. As Jesus calls John up to heaven for additional revelation (4:1), about the things that must take place, Jesus wants John to see Jesus worshipped.
In our day, Jesus is worshipped by faith (1 Peter 1:8), and depending on where you look, it doesn’t seem as if He is being worshipped by very many. Even many that use His name do it more like a verbal trinket, a relic of religious taxonomy. His enemies use His name better than many of His baptized people; at least many of them take Him seriously.
As Jesus prepares to show John His judgment (chapters 6-20), the judgments written on the inside of scroll, Jesus gives John a picture of worship around the throne in heaven unlike those seen by any other prophet or apostle. The vision itself is amazing, and the fact that worship comes first makes its own point. Behold the Lion, see the Lamb, listen to the angels sing, sing to Him yourself.
The final paragraph in Revelation 5 (the fourth “And I saw”) describes the response of the heavenly host and of the living cosmos to the recognition of the worthy One. There are two rounds of praise, rippling from the throne throughout the created universe and expanding from the angels to every kind of living creature.
When the Lamb stepped forward to take the scroll from the One sitting on the throne, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders went to work in worship. Now John watches the worship circle widen.
And I saw and I heard the voice of many angels, note that the voice is a singular voice blending the the plural; all the channels are mixed into one output. It was a single wall of scads of voices. Around the first two celestial types were many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands. You may have heard this before, but that means a lot.
A myriad is a round number approximating ten-thousand, but more like countless thousands. There are countless thousands of countless thousands. The second word is just a thousand, chilias, and there are thousands of thousands. In Revelation 20:2-6 (5 times, once in each of the five consecutive verses) a similar word is used of Satan being bound and the saints reining with Christ for a thousand years, but it is the cardinal number modifying years: a thousand years (so “Chiliasts” believe in an actual 1,000 year kingdom). Here it is multiplying itself. Again, it’s a big number, a number that Daniel wrote when the Ancient of days took His seat (Daniel 7:9-10).
This is the “host of heaven,” in which “host” has the meaning of a large number.
“You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.” (Nehemiah 9:6, ESV)
And it is their united voice that John emphasizes: saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” They agree that the Lamb is worthy, but their acknowledgement goes beyond His worth to take the scroll, they claim the Lamb is worthy of the highest worship.
To say that He is worthy…to receive is not saying that He doesn’t already have these attributes. When we praise Him we are not puffing air into a thin balloon, we are wiping off the mirror to reflect the glory of the Lamb back to Him more clearly.
Power is His; not anything was made that He did not make, or that His Word does not hold together. Riches are His, not just as the owner of all the cattle on a thousand hills, but as the owner of all the hills, and mountains, and mines, and asses and assets, goats and gold. In Christ are “unsearchable riches” (Ephesians 3:8). Wisdom is His; His name is Wisdom. By wisdom He established boundaries for the sea, marked out the foundations of the earth (see Proverbs 8:29). Strength is His, for battling rebel kings and armies, for building an eternal city for His people. Honor is His, esteem of His position. Honor is especially due Him because of His suffering of death (see Hebrews 2:9). Glory is His, the heavy weight and the dazzling brilliance. And blessing is His, all of our favorable terms, our word-hoard of worship vocabulary, belongs to Him. All seven attributes belong together, governed by one article in the Greek text.
These attributes belong to a King. These are Lion like, or like a ram with seven horns, and yet the angels praise the Lamb. Not only do these belong to the Lamb King, they belong with the Lamb Conqueror. These are the things you would proclaim after triumph, which for the Lamb is finished and also future. He has conquered (verse 5), and He will rule on earth (as revealed in the remaining chapters of the Apocalypse).
Seeing even further beyond worship in heaven, John hears universal praise. And I heard every creature, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all the ones in them, referring to all of the spheres of dwelling places. These are not just humans, but animate creatures. John isn’t hearing from humans in planes, in cars, in tunneling machines, and on ships. These are creatures on land in the sky and at sea, as well as the underworld.
This is why our Scripture reading this morning was Psalm 148. The sun and moon and shining stars are called to praise the LORD, to praise His name, “for He commanded and they were created.” The sea creatures, the snow and mist, the fruit trees and wood trees and cows and sheep and spiders and bluebirds, should praise Him. Somehow even stones will sing (Luke 19:40). To what extent is this poetic, or personified, or just too profound for our present eyes to see?
They are saying, “Be the blessing and the honor and the glory and the power to the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb into the ages of ages.” A number of the seven attributes from verse 12 are repeated, but with different emphasis; in this list each has its own definite article.
What is exceptional is that this praise belongs to two persons, not just one. Both the One sitting on the throne and the One receiving the scroll are worshipped. As much as any other passage in the Bible this verse shows the unity and likeness of the Father and Son. The Spirit was included in verse 6.
They will be worshipped forever, for eternity.
The four and the twenty-four started the worship (4:8, 11), the angels and non-angels responded to them. Now it comes full circle. And the four loving creatures said, “Amen.” And the twenty four elders fell down and worshipped.
Amen is Yes; this is right. Worshipping is a kind of falling down in humility. Behold, and bow.
Why do we need to know this?
Though Revelation 5 is a descriptive rather than prescriptive passage, we do see that worship orients and unites and exalts.
Worship orients as it turns us in the right direction, focuses us on what we need to see. In chapters 4-5, and considering chapters 4-5 in their Revelation context, beholding the One sitting on the throne, and beholding the Lion-Lamb king, adjust and align our relative position to His fixed position.
Our corporate worship focuses on attributes of God that are not meant to be confined to corporate worship. After this invitation into the throne room through John’s vision, how could you say, “He is #NotMyLamb?” Your week does not revolve around Friday’s paycheck, or your year around an annual family camping trip, or your day around whether or not it’s forecasted to rain.
Worship also unites. In last week’s #KeepTheFeast Bible reading plan we were reading 2 Kings. There are a lot of kings in divided Israel/Judah, a lot of sons and wives and enemies and battles and takeovers. It’s been interesting to be in 2 Kings while also reading The History of the Kings of Britain in the Omnibus Lux class, which provided a different sort of detail about umpteen kingdoms rising and falling.
One thing that really stuck out to me is how many times two kings, fighting with their armies as mortal enemies, both accomplishing great slaughter on each side, then came to an agreement not just of truce but of alliance. I wonder how some of the surviving soldiers would have felt. “How can my king embrace that man, who destroyed our fields and our houses and killed our friends? How can there be peace between us?”
And in Revelation 5, there is no hesitation to worship the Lamb that was slain by the men by whom He was slain. It was the sins of men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation that demanded blood-avenging. The ones the Lamb purchased are not the ones who praised Him already for His power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. They were the ones spitting on His honor and putting a crown of thorns on His glory. They benefited from His power and riches and wisdom without giving Him any thanks.
Yet all those purchased by the Lamb, still in one sense identified by their tribe, are brought to share a higher identity in the kingdom of the Lamb. Reconciliation among men only works and lasts because of the greater blood spilled. The Lamb conquers rivalry, jealousy, suspicion, and resentment. Worship of the Lamb deals a death blow to our grievances.
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:7–10 ESV)
The ransomed church of God, worshipping her Savior, is a force to be seen.
And worship exalts. John is told to stop weeping, not because there is nothing to be sad about; all is not right. But the elder tells him to stop weeping as if justice won’t be met. The Lamb has conquered, and is worthy to finish God’s plan. Do not weep in worry. God does no guesswork. Let us give thanks and praise the Lamb. Let us sing in exaltation. Let us worship the One sitting on the throne. Let us declare His greatness.
At the end of his gospel, John wrote that Jesus did so many things just during His ministry on earth that if everyone of them were to be written, the world itself could not contain the books. His works, and His person, are a virtually unlimited library of truths and glories to be seen and comprehended and praised by every creature forever. But this is more than gathering facts, it is eating His corn, tasting His honey, drinking his wine. Yes, learn more of Him, and more, become greater in His grace.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18, ESV)