March 14, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 18:00 in the audio file.
Or, Praise to the Blood Avenger
Series: Just Conquer Part 50
A few days ago I came across this observation about the necessity of principles from Abraham Kuyper from his inaugural sermon as pastor to the church in Amsterdam, 1870:
[A]nyone entering a house in ordinary times is not thinking about the foundation on which it rests; so also in Jesus’ church there can be times when people dwell together and labor together while hardly bothering themselves about any principles. But in times like these that we are now experiencing, now when in every area the foundations are being undermined, now when everything is pressing down to the depths and people are proceeding restlessly to pry the deepest principles loose—now in these times it would be all too naïve, all too negligent for people to sidestep the issue of principles any longer. (68-69)
There are any number of principles that we Christians need to remember and rehearse in times like these, 150 years after Kuyper. Unlike the defensive (and debatable usefulness) of masks, principles are like stepping into the fresh air refreshing us against the poison of propaganda. Like dipping the tip of our staffs in honey after a long day of battle (cf. 1 Samuel 14:29, 43), principles brighten our eyes and renew our energy for training our kids. Among foundational principles, those that we must not sidestep but plant our feet firmly on, is the joist-principle of transcendent judgment.
We are the species known as homo sapiens, rational man. It could be better argued that we should be known as homo adorans, worshipping man. Based on how we treat each other, perhaps we should be called homo judgypants, or homo iudex to keep the Latin pattern. We are litigious, but only talking like lawyers if we can’t sit on the judge’s bench in the black robe banging the gavel with both hands. This is, in one way, a result of being made in the image of God who is a God of law. But after the fall of man into spiritual death we are petty and perjurers and are peaking out from under Justice’s blindfold to find a scapegoat for our own guilt. Whatever we know, it must be someone else’s bad.
Left to human standards, we are not going back to leaving each other alone. Social Justice Warriors and mask police may have other names in the future and be self-righteous about other issues, but the judgypants gene is dominant. There have always been Pharisees and church ladies, thanking God that they are “not like other men” (Luke 18:11).
It’s one of the reasons that Dante’s Inferno is such a longstanding and cross-cultural guilty-pleasure. You don’t need to know a tenth of the actual Italian history to revel in an imaginative theater of bad guys getting what they deserve, or at least being entertained by Dante’s inventive punishments.
Solomon wrote about life “under the sun,” an intentionally non-transcendent phrase, that men see so many other men not paying for their sins or crimes, or the sentence isn’t executed quickly (Ecclesiastes 8:11), and it emboldens more wrongdoing, including the evil of false judgments, name-calling and reputation-ruining and sometimes life-taking.
One of the first-principles, the built-in gun-safe full of Bibles principles, is that we live in a world governed by a superior Judge. The judge-ness of this Judge is not His only attribute, but He cannot be other than judge. The Judge judged the serpent, the woman, and the man in the garden (Genesis 3). The Judge will judge the sailors, the merchants, the musicians, the bakers, the electricians, and the kings in the great city (Revelation 18). With a hat tip to Francis Schaeffer we might say: He is there and He is not sightless; He sees.
The Lord claimed vengeance as His in the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:35). This principle still applied in Rome centuries later when Paul quoted it to the Christians (Romans 12:19). The psalms teach us to sing the truth, “God of vengeance, o shine forth. Rise up, o You judge of nations, render to the proud their worth” (Psalm 94:1-2). He is the Blood Avenger, there will be no sanctuary cities of escape. This is good news for those who fear God, in fact it is a reason to praise Him.
I’ve taken as long as I have to get to the paragraph because the world will get to apocalyptic levels of sin as they forget about (and/or intentionally try to forget about) the Judge. They will say, “Yahweh sees not” (Psalm 94:7). They will act as if the works of man are sufficient. But heaven sees, and heaven will praise the Lord for His judgment.
Revelation 19:1-5 belongs with the previous two chapters, it is the capstone of worship. Regularly in Revelation a scene of praise begins the next stage of the end, but this praise, as we’ll read, is for the vindication of God’s servants and the vengeance of God on those who wouldn’t leave His servants alone. This is heaven’s hallelujah.
After the life was sucked out of Babylon, no more music or business or baking or parties, the response from heaven is praise.
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah!
This crowd are the saved; the first thing they praise God for is salvation. Their initial exclamation is Hallelujah! Hallel means praise and jah refers to the LORD, so “praise the Lord.” It’s a Hebrew word, though it is not found in our English copies of the Old Testament. It is always translated, and many Psalms begin with it (106, 111-113, 117, 135, 146–50) or end with it (104-105, 115-117)(Thomas).
John records the choir using the Hebrew word in Greek (the Hebrew word Amen is similar, transferred over into Greek and other languages). The expression is only used four times in all of the New Testament, and all four are in this chapter, all within the first six verses. This is the inspired Hallelujah Chorus (though Handel’s is good, too).
Interestingly, Psalm 148:1 and 150:1 talk about praising the Lord “from the heavens” or “in his mighty heavens.” Here we are with the heavenly multitude.
The immediate reasons for praise relate to judgment.
Salvation and glory and power
belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth
with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood
of his servants.”
God transcends, that is, He is above, His creation. But He also attends to it, governing and watching and remembering. His is salvation. Compare this to the great multitude in chapter 7.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10)
His is the ultimate glory, and His is inestimable power. When He judges his judgments are true and just. He makes no errors with the evidence nor does He show partiality; He is true. He never decides an inappropriate, let alone capricious, sentence; He is just. His judgments accord with facts and are fair, fitting. This is the universe we live in because this is the universe created by this God.
In this case His true and just judgments have come against the great prostitute, introduced to us at the beginning of chapter 17. She is Babylon the “great city,” she is the network of splendor and glitter and sensuality and profit and material gratification. She corrupted the earth with her immorality, dragging nations down with her as if a great millstone thrown into the sea.
In His judgments God has avenged on her the blood of his servants. The word avenged (ἐξεδίκησεν) is its own word in the text; it’s not the same Greek word for “judged” (ἔκρινεν) but translated with an English synonym to provide some variation. It is usually used in contexts dealing with an adversary. This is what the saints under the altar in Revelation 6:10 cried out for. This is the vengeance that God claims for Himself. He will do it.
“Once more they cried out, Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up
forever and ever.”
Maybe the most stock image of the apocalypse is of scorched earth and a smoldering landscape. The kings saw her burning (Revelation 18:9), the seafaring men saw the smoke of her burning (18:18). It lasts εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, “unto the ages of ages,” an unending period, which also represents that it is irreversible.
Following the great assembly are the great angelic beings.
And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”
When we met these beings back in Revelation 4 I gave some options as to their identity and gave my conclusion that I believe them to be a special class of angelic beings most often found worshiping near God’s throne. They exist to praise, and in Revelation 4-5 they lead the way in praise. John presents them here as second, and though he gives no reason, the seals have been broken and trumpets blown and bowls poured out. Many more have conquered in the name of the Lamb. So now these elders and creatures give assent to the worship of the saved, Amen. Yes! That’s the point! And join in the praise the Lord!
A similar praise closes the fourth book within the Psalms:
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
And let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the LORD! (Psalm 106:48)
A third round of praise is called for.
And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
small and great.
The voice isn’t identified. It could be God Himself, but that means not only that He is referring to Himself in the third person (“His” and “Him”), but also in the first person with His servants, “our God.” It doesn’t seem to work better if it was the Second Person of the Trinity, because at least when He was on earth He usually said “my God” or “my Father.”
But that the voice is from the throne means that it has God’s authority.
His servants, His doulois, are called to praise Him. He avenged His servants in verse 2, and all who fear him, small and great exalt His name.
In the same Psalm which states, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases,” we sing, “he will bless those who fear the LORD, both the small and the great” (Psalm 115:3, 13).
Verse 5 would be a powerful responsive reading: Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great.
Jesus told a parable one time “to the effect that (His disciples) ought always to pray and not lose heart.” There was a widow in a certain city who kept coming and seeking justice from a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. She didn’t give up, and eventually bothered him with such constancy that he gave her justice. Jesus applied the parable as follows.
“Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8)
And so we confess (with the Apostle’s Creed): “I believe in Jesus Christ God’s only begotten Son…and He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
And we sing:
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
Praise the LORD!
Our God is the God of vengeance. Hallelujah! Our God is the God of hope. Hallelujah! Praise will enable you to suffer, which will increase your endurance, which will increase your character, which will increase your hope (Romans 5:2-5), which will make your praise even louder. Praise the Lord!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13, ESV)