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The Worship Scene
Revelation 4 and 5
Let me ask you a question–when I mention the subject of worship, what’s the first form of worship that enters into your mind? I’m not talking about a Romans 12 kind of worship which is 24/7. Our body is presented as a living sacrifice. According to that passage, worship is something we do all the time through obedience and personal devotion to God. This morning, I’m asking more about our public expression of worship.
You can see the title of my message this morning is The Worship Scene. The word “worship” should conjure up in your mind’s eye a conceptual image of some kind–a visual idea of what public/corporate worship is. What is that image? Or I could ask you this way–when someone says to you, “Let’s worship!” what do you immediately think of doing?
Some of you might say that singing is corporate worship. Some might say that celebrating communion is worship. Others might say that giving to God is worship. Some might say that listening to the preached word is worship. Others might say that serving God is worship. Some could say that prayer is worship.
And the truth is, all of these can certainly be expressions of worship, but it is also quite possible to engage in all of these activities and not actually be worshiping God at all. And we know this from experience, don’t we? If we are honest, there have been some Sundays when we have come to church, sung the songs, participated in communion, listened to the prayers, and sat under the ministry, then gone home–only to realize in hindsight that our mind had been somewhere else all morning, and our attention had not been on God, and therefore our worship of God was not authentic or real.
Many Christians today have a very truncated understanding of worship. It seems that the current trend is to see worship as just singing, and it is sad that a proper biblical understanding and practice of worship is almost forgotten in some churches.
Let me read to you a description of a restaurant that seems to typify many churches’ attempts to worship God. Picture this–there is a restaurant in town where no real food is cooked and no real food is served to customers. It’s a busy restaurant though. Many people love to go there because of the marvelously presented menu. The chefs have learned to give great attention to the presentation of the menu, because they know that the success of their restaurant will be determined by the way the customers respond to presentation.
The chefs constantly talk about the menu, and often they argue over which colors will best represent the mood and character of the restaurant, and which fonts should be used. They often discard graphics and pictures, replacing them with new ones, and as a result the menu always seems to be up-to-date and trendy.
The customers don’t seem to care that there is no food, they just love to come in and sit for hours, glorying in the magnificent menu. Sometimes a customer will make a suggestion for an improvement on the menu, and the chefs will get their heads together to discuss if the customer’s suggestion can be incorporated into their design. On other occasions, groups of customers formally lodge complaints about what they call a poorly designed menu, and so the chefs hold meetings to decide what the consensus is and then move to totally redesign and repackage the menu with a new motif, with a new style, new colors, new wording–a new layout altogether. Meanwhile, no food is prepared and no food is enjoyed. But no one really minds that so much, as long as the restaurant is supplying what the customers want–a professionally designed, colorful, and interesting menu that caters to everyone’s wants.
In the end, the customers, the chefs, and the managers all learn to love their precious menu. It’s the menu that makes them feel good. It’s the menu that keeps their interest. And they will fight for that menu. Real food without their favorite menu does not satisfy them, and encouraging them to eat real food without that special menu only drives them away to other restaurants that offer better menus more to their liking.
This story is a fairly accurate, albeit sad, commentary on the state of worship in the Church in the western world today. Believers are far more focused on the style of worship than they are on actual worship. Let’s face it–that’s how many believers choose a church, isn’t it? They evaluate the style of preaching, the style of music, the style of the service, and then make a decision based upon the presentation of things, not the substance of things.
How can we avoid that superficial concept of public worship? How can we maintain our focus on God, when it seems that all around us are churchgoers who are pushing and arguing for a certain style of worship? How can we avoid a worldly mindset in regards to worship, and maintain a biblical mindset in regards to worship?
I believe we can do it, not by checking out other churches to see what they do, not by asking each other’s opinion on how to do worship, but by examining the corporate worship scene in Heaven. And we look to that scene as an example of what should take place here today. To do that, we need to turn to the book of Revelation.
So turn with me please to Revelation 4, and while you’re making your way to chapter 4, let me give you just a brief review of what John has already seen in the first three chapters. In fact, before you get to chapter 4, just make a stop at chapter 1 verse 1, and we’ll read there the introduction to the book.
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John” (Revelation 1:1). And we see right off the bat, that this book is Jesus Christ’s revelation–the Greek word is apokalupsis which means “to uncover.” This is the uncovering of Jesus Christ, and tells us of what is going to take place sometime in the future. And this uncovering (or revelation) of Christ was communicated through the apostle John.
Also take a look at verse 9 of chapter 1. “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” So John was on this island called Patmos which today is just off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea, which connects to the Mediterranean. He had been exiled there because he had been preaching the Gospel.
Verses 10 to 12, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, 11 saying, ‘Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.’ 12 And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me.” And John goes on in chapter 1 to record his first vision of Heaven. And chapters 2 and 3 record the seven letters to the seven churches.
So then we come to chapter 4 and we read that John is given another vision. This is his second vision now, and this time we read in verse 1 of chapter 4 that there is a door opened and John is invited by God to come and observe some future events. We don’t know if he was physically transported anywhere. What we do know is that an opening was created where he could gaze through and see this great visualization of worship in Heaven. It was kind of like a portal opened up in time and space. And through that portal, John could witness this great future event taking place at the throne of God. So let’s read this amazing account of what he saw from Revelation 4.
“After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.’ 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. 4 And around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.
5 “And from the throne proceed flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; 6 and before the throne there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7 And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say,
‘HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.’
9 “And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11 ‘Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.’
1 “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?’ 3 And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it; 5 and one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.’
6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,
‘Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
10 ‘And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.’
11 And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’
13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying,
‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’
14 And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.”
What an incredible passage of Scripture! What I want to do is show you that in this passage there are four essential characteristics to corporate worship–four features of heavenly worship that must exist here on Earth if we are to be true worshipers of God. We need to see these so that we can be authentic worshipers of God, because if we fail to worship God in a biblical manner, then we will be just like the restaurant clientele–fascinated by fancy menus, but not actually experiencing real food. So here we go . . .
1. The Excellencies of Worship
The first feature of worship I want to point out is that true worshipers acknowledge the excellencies of worship. And what I mean by that is the true worshipers know who it is that they are worshiping. You would have noticed that the one who is worshiped in chapter 4 is the One who sits on the throne, namely God. And the one who is worshiped at the beginning of chapter 5 is the Lamb, namely Christ. And then both of them–the One on the throne and the Lamb are worshiped later in chapter 5.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the One who sits on the Throne. Look at verse 2 and 3, “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance.”
Now we know that the jasper stone here is not the opaque stone that we are familiar with today. Revelation 21:11 describes this stone as being crystal clear like a diamond. And the sardius is a fiery, blood-red ruby. So the One who is sitting on the throne is like a crystal clear diamond that is bright and shining, brilliantly refracting all the colors of the spectrum, and He is also dark red, which could be a reference to the wrath of God which is soon to be poured out on those who live on the earth.
And in verse 3, there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Now we’ve all seen rainbows before, but this is not your typical rainbow in the form of an arc in the sky. But what John sees here is a complete circular rainbow that extends all the way around the throne. And this rainbow doesn’t seem to be the typical colors either, but rather it is green like an emerald, bright and shining, filling up the sky that surrounds the throne as it radiates out from the throne, encompassing this One who is bright white and red in appearance.
Then look at verse 5, “And from the throne proceed flashes of lightning.” Now we can’t tell from the Greek words here whether this lightning is sheet lightning that radiates out from the blinding white One who sits on the throne, or if this is fork lightning blasting out from the throne in all directions. Whatever this lightning is, this has got to be one amazing and frightening scene.
But not only was this scene visually frightening, there was also the audible factor. Look again at verse 1 where it says that God’s voice was like a trumpet–a loud booming trumpet that sounded out from the throne. And in verse 5 there were the deafening sounds and peals of thunder that proceeded from the throne.
The fact that this One whom we know as the infinite God sits on a throne that is radiating all of this power and light is indicative of the fact that He is the supreme ruler of the universe. He is the King of kings. He is the Lord of lords. And He rules from His throne in Heaven–and no one has dominion over Him.
Now the question is–when you come to worship this morning, is this the God you have in your mind’s eye? This is the God that Israel worshipped at Mt Sinai. They stood in fear of Him who thundered from high up on the mountain. This is the God that Isaiah saw in the temple high and lifted up. This is the God that Ezekiel saw in his vision of the heavenly throne room.
But sadly, the Church of today has forgotten this God. They want to think of God as kind and gentle, and He is–I don’t want to discount that reality. But our God is an awesome God who rules and judges the universe with power, and we better not forget that.
You might say, “Well that is all well and good but Jesus isn’t like that.” Well, you need to look at chapter 1 verse 12. Remember this is John’s first vision, and in verse 12, “I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13 and in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man [this is Jesus Christ here], clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. 14 And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; [this is an amazing vision of Christ–can you imagine this, a man glowing bright white from his head, with fiery eyes that gaze out seeing everything that is to be seen?] 15 and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. [Imagine the deafening sound of a raging river or a huge waterfall like the Niagara Falls for example–that’s what the voice of Jesus sounds like.] 16 And in His right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.”
If Jesus’ words are powerful like a sword, and His face is as bright as the sun, so bright that we can’t even look into it without being blinded by the light–and if this is the One whom we come to worship this morning, we better not be frivolous in the way we approach Him. We cannot be flippant in the way we address Christ this morning. Rather, we approach Him with fear and trepidation, knowing that with just a word He could snuff us out in a moment.
A.W. Tozer has an amazing book that I believe every Christian ought to read. It’s called, The Knowledge of the Holy, and Denys Tomaselli has copies of this at Grace to You. In this book Tozer says, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” That is one insightful observation! The most important thing about us is what comes into our minds when we think about God.
What are you thinking about God this morning? As you were preparing to come to church this morning, as you were singing the songs earlier, what were you thinking about God? Because your answer to that question will determine your whole mindset towards life, and obedience, and worship. We must know our God if in fact we are going to worship Him properly.
These are the two excellencies of worship–we worship God who sits on the throne as the supreme ruler of the universe, and we worship Christ who appears in blazing glory in chapter 1, and as a Lamb in chapter 5.
2. The Expanse of Worship
Next I want to show you the expanse of worship. If you take a look at your Bibles and glance over chapters 4 and 5, you will notice that there are five songs sung to either the One on the throne, or to the Lamb. Depending on which translation you are using, the five songs should be highlighted or indented somehow so that they are easily identified.
Now if you observe the five songs, you will notice that the first two songs are addressed to the One who sits on the throne. The next two songs are addressed to the Lamb. And then the last song is addressed to both. Not only do the songs grow in their attention to the two excellencies of worship, but also there is a gradual enlargement in the size of choirs.
Look at chapter 4 verse 6 to see who sings the first song of worship. In verse 6 it says, “And before the throne there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.” Probably a better rendition of the word for creature would be “four living beings.” And these four beings are covered in eyes, which means they are constantly aware of everything that is happening around them–nothing escapes their view.
Verses 7 and 8, “And the first being was like a lion, and the second being like a calf, and the third being had a face like that of a man, and the fourth being was like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living beings, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say . . .” And then John goes on to quote their song. So in the first instance, John sees four living beings, which are most likely the same beings as we see in Isaiah 6–seraphim or mighty angels who hover over the throne of God like celestial helicopters, constantly worshiping God in song.
Then the second song of worship is sung by another group–we see them in verses 9 and 10. “And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying. . .” And then of course John records the words of this second song.
Now I wish I had more time to go into who these twenty-four elders are, but for now let me simply say that these are most likely representatives of the Church. These are twenty-four men who have been chosen by God to represent all of redeemed mankind at the consummation of God’s dealing with mankind on earth. The point I want you to notice though, is that the number of worshipers is growing. The first song was sung by four, the second song was sung by twenty-four, then the third song is sung by twenty-eight.
Look at chapter 5 verse 8 and 9, “And when [the Lamb] had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders [that makes twenty-eight] fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song.”
But it doesn’t stop there–take a look at how many voices sang the fourth song. Verse 11, “And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands.” In Greek when you want to express a number that is so large that it can’t be counted then this is how you say it–”myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands.” There were so many angels singing this fourth song that John could not possibly count them all.
Now think about this–there are five songs of worship in these two chapters. The first is sung by four living beings. The second is sung by the twenty-four elders. The third is sung by the four living beings and the twenty-four elders (that makes twenty-eight worshipers). The fourth is sung by so many angels John couldn’t count them. And the fifth song climaxes with an overwhelming number of worshipers. Look at verse 13, “And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard.” This is a great crescendo of praise and worship.
The point is, of course, that everyone will worship God. It is unavoidable. God is a jealous God. He will be praised by all of creation. There will be no hesitation. No one will question His right to be worshiped. God deserves all the glory. He will be glorified by everyone, so we might as well just acknowledge that fact and get on with it now.It is only right and proper that every single created being, person, and thing would bow before their creator and worship Him.
3. The Exclamation of Worship
Thirdly–we’ve seen the excellencies of worship, we’ve seen the expanse of worship, now we move onto the exclamation of worship. What are these worshipers saying? How do they express their worship? What words do they use? Firstly, look at verse 8 of chapter 4.
“And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY.” This is what theologians call the tri-hagion (“Holy, Holy, Holy”). If you want to know what the pre-eminent attribute of God is, here it is. God is holy. He is utterly other than we are–He is set apart from sin. There is no impurity with Him. He is holy.
I was asked to meet with a man who was teaching Universalism a few years ago. I asked him what he based this teaching on, and he answered by saying that since the pre-eminent attribute of God is love, it would be impossible for a loving God to send people to Hell forever.
But the problem with that argument is that while God is a loving, caring, gracious, and forgiving God, He is foremost a holy God. Never in any part of the Bible does it ever say that God is love, love, love, or grace, grace, grace, or mercy, mercy, mercy. The only quality of God that has ever been formed into a threefold title is His holiness. And so when we come to worship God we need to understand that we address a holy God who hates sin.
Let me read to you the words of the other four songs, and I want you to note the focus of these songs. In 4:11, the 24 elders say, “’Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.’”
In 5:9 and 10, the four and the twenty-four “sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.’”
In 5:12, thousands of angels were “saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’” In 5:13, “And every created thing . . . [was] saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’”
Who is the focus of these songs? Yea, the object of worship, the focus of these songs is God who sits on the throne and Jesus Christ, the Lamb. None of the four living beings, none of the twenty-four elders, none of the thousands of angels, and no one in creation ever draws any attention to themselves at all. They are so totally lost in the wonder of God’s holiness that they forget themselves.
It’s interesting, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed the trend in Christian worship songs over the last ten to twenty years, where the songs have become more and more man-centered rather than God-centered? Many of the songs seem to be about us, and what we’re going to do. You know–“I’m here to do this,” and “I have this emotion and that response.”
And I understand that many of these songs are responses to what God has done for us, and in that sense they’re okay. But the fact remains these kinds of songs don’t seem to emulate the pure selfless worship that is modeled in Heaven in Revelation 4 and 5. Many of the songs we sing are more about us than they are about God.
Do you remember about thirty years ago, Carly Simon recorded a song called, You’re So Vain? Well, sometimes I wonder if God would be justified in singing that song to us as we try to sing our worship songs. He could sing that, couldn’t He? “You’re so vain. You probably think this song is about you.” I need to admit that so often my worship of God is more about me than it is about God, and that is wrong.
The four living beings, the twenty-four elders, the thousands of angels, and all of creation were so fixated on the One who sat on the throne and the Lamb that they gave absolutely no thought to themselves in their exclamation of worship.
4. The Exercise of Worship
Lastly, I want you to notice the exercise of worship. Look at the position of worship in chapter 4, verse 10. The twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne. Then look at chapter 5, verse 8 “And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.”
Also read chapter 5, verse 14, “And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.” We could also go back to chapter 1 verse 17, when John sees the Son of Man Jesus Christ, he says, “I fell at His feet as a dead man.”
Throughout Scripture, whenever anyone got close to God and was able to observe just a small part of His radiating glory, the response has always been the same–they drop to the ground in fear and trembling. They put their faces in the dirt and wait for God to say something. When Isaiah saw God, he called saying, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!”
When the disciples were in the boat with Jesus and the storm came, it says that they were afraid–but after Jesus had calmed the storm, it says that the disciples became exceedingly afraid. Why? Because what’s worse than to have a storm outside your boat, or to have a holy God inside your boat? Someone once said that in our modern day we are apt to have an unholy familiarity with God.
I believe that–I believe that we have a blasé attitude towards God sometimes. Often we have a blasé attitude towards worship, and we have a blasé attitude towards self-sacrifice and obedience. Maybe you’re different, but this is certainly an attitude I struggle with, and I pray every day that God would deliver me from my selfishness.
So there we have it–the excellencies of worship, the expanse of worship, the exclamation of worship, the exercise of worship. What kind of restaurant do you want Faith Bible Church to be? Are you satisfied with providing just a flash menu week in and week out? Or are you committed to the preparation of real food, and encouraging others to do the same? Let’s pray.