Worship for the Twenty-First Century: The Way Forward, Part 3

(Note: You can read the earlier installments in this series here and here.)

Thirdly, I believe authentic worship will also advance the Lord’s glory. In Revelation 5:8-14 you find another aspect of worship. Sometimes in our modern context, it alone is described as worship. Sometime, people will say, “Well, we’re going to worship (sing), and then we will hear the preaching.” That is theologically incorrect. Preaching, in my judgment based upon Scripture, is the high point of worship. It is the pinnacle of worship. But authentic worship will involve not only the preaching of the Word, but the singing of the Word as well. In Revelation 5:8-14 there are three wonderful hymns sung to the praise of the Lamb. There are three observations I would make from these 3 hymns.

First, worship means that we take the gospel to the nations. Verse 8, “Now when He, (that is the Lamb, the Son, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah) had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, they fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp (the instrument of praise), and golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints.” You want additional components of authentic worship? There they are: praise & prayer. “And they begin to sing a new song” (new in kind, a new quality kind of song.) Here is how they sing in heaven. “You are worthy.” You should be worshipped. Why? Why can He do all this? “For you were slain, and you have redeemed us to God.” How? “By Your blood.” Now, here is the key for this particular observation. From where has He redeemed us? “Out of every tribe, every tongue, every people, and every nation.” In other words, it is not possible to authentically worship this God and not take His gospel to the nations. Missions, a missionary spirit, is a natural out-growth of authentic, Biblical worship. Worship of a sovereign God, worship of the great Christ that we love, and worship that will indeed seek to advance the glory of God to the ends of the earth is authentic worship. In the process, He makes us kings and priests to our God. And we look forward to a day when we reign on the earth. Worship means taking the gospel to the nations.

Second, worship means learning a lesson from the angels. Verse 11 says, “I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders. The number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” We do not need to count angels. Based upon the Bible, and especially Hebrews 1, we do not need to worship angels. That is idolatry. But we can learn a lesson from the angels. And what we can learn is a lesson in authentic worship by what they do. They sang with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” To do what? To receive a seven-fold blessing. “To receive power and riches and wisdom and strength.” We cannot give God any of those four things. He has all power. He has all the riches. He has all the wisdom and He has all the strength. However, we can give him the last 3 things. We can give him honor. We can give him glory. And we can indeed bless His name.

We learn a valuable lesson from the angels. But third, worship also means joining all of creation in humble adoration. Look at verse 13-14: “Every creature which is in heaven, on the earth, under the earth, such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard them saying ‘blessing and honor, glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne.” There is the sovereign God, the Father. “And to the Lamb forever.” There is the sovereign Lord Jesus Christ. Now, look at verse 14. It all comes together. Then the four living creatures said “Amen.” So be it. “And the twenty-four elders fell down and they worshipped him,” and some texts read “they worshipped Him who lives forever, and ever.”

Tonight, we have with us guests from Great Britain. We have guests from the United States, and we have guests, of course, from Canada. This is a special night. Convocation. We are beginning a new school year. We are recognizing and congratulating graduates. Imagine with me for just a moment, that we have invited the most important dignitary, the most important official in Toronto to come and be here tonight, and that person had agreed to join us. The mayor comes. Open those doors. That person walks down this aisle. I would say to you, even though I do not even know who it is, it would be right for me to quickly ask all of you to stand and to honor the person who is the mayor of this city. You may not agree with this person’s politics. That does not really matter. The office of mayor deserves respect.

Now, let us take it a step further. Perhaps we really had some inside connections. And so those from across the ocean, they were able to arrange things, and we were able to either get (it was our choice) Tony Blair or the Queen of England. They agreed to join us tonight for this time of celebration. That would be pretty impressive.

Or maybe my good friend Mark Dever, who lives in Washington, D.C. was able to work his magic. You did not know this, but he and George Bush, they are tight. And so Mark just shares with George, and Laura, “Hey, I’m going up to Toronto, going to be a part of a convocation at the Toronto Bible College & Seminary. Why don’t you join us?” “Well, I’d be glad to,” he says! So, secret service arrives and doors open. Here comes Mark’s good friend, George Bush, walking down the aisle. Now, you might not like George Bush. But he is the President of the United State of America, and it would be right to honor him.

Well, then, take it one step further. Your Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of Canada, hears about all of this, receives an invitation, and lo and behold, he agrees to come as well. Doors open and down he walks. I would say to all of us, whether you like the person’s politics or not, it would be right to stand, it would be right even to applaud in honor of the office that that person, that each of these persons, occupies.

However, in stark contrast, if in the next few moments, those doors were to open, and suddenly walking down that aisle and standing here before us was the Lord Jesus Christ, to stand would be so inadequate. To applaud would almost be arrogant. You see, the only rightful response would be worship. It would be to do what we read in verse 14, “they fell down and they worshipped Him who lives forever and ever.” There is authentic worship.

Worship for the Twenty-First Century: The Way Forward, Part 2

(Note: You can read the first installment in this series here.)

Not only does authentic worship acknowledge God’s sovereignty, but authentic worship will also affirm a biblical Christology. In other words, authentic worship will not jus be Theo-centric. We are not Jewish rabbis. We are not merely Hebrew worshippers. We are Christians. And therefore, authentic Theo-centric worship must always be authentic Christo-centric worship as well. And, that is what you find when you study the book of Revelation. We see that this One who is the Christ, this One who is the Messiah, is said to be in verse 5 a promised King, and is said to be in verses 6 and 7 the powerful Lamb. What can you do in his presence but fall to your knees in adoration and worship? Look at verse 5. “But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep.'” It is an imperative with a negative. In essence it says “Stop weeping.” Why? The plan seems to be on hold. God’s sovereign outworking of history seems to be thwarted. It is not going to come to fruition. One of the elders (I believe they represent the redeemed) says to him “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The Root of David has prevailed.” He has conquered, He has overcome, He has triumphed, and He can open the scroll and its seven seals.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, a Messianic title going back to Genesis 49:9-10, reminds us that Messiah would come from Judah, and He will be a king. We are taught in Deuteronomy 18:15 that He will be a prophet greater than Moses. We are taught in 2 Samuel 7 that He will be a Son of David who will reign over a kingdom forever. And then you come to Isaiah and in chapter 7 we are informed that He will be virgin-born. We are told in chapter 9 that He is the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. We are informed in Isaiah 53 that he is the Suffering Servant of the Lord, but also, He is said in chapter 11 to be the Root of David. That is interesting. He comes from David. How then, can He be also the root or source of David? I agree with those commentators who say, though it is implicit, you have here both a declaration of His deity and also the anticipation of His humanity. He both precedes David and He comes from David. The Bible says He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The Bible says He is the root of David, the very source, of all Messianic blessing. He has prevailed, and he can open the scroll, and He can lose its seals. Yes, He is the promised King, but things are even more wonderful. He is also the “powerful,” and I choose that word purposefully. He is the powerful, Warrior-Lamb. Look at verse 6 as John builds the drama. John begins to add words to his dialog, trying to move us to a crescendo as we focus upon the one that is described in verse 5 as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Who would not want to worship a King of this magnitude; a King of this promise! Verse 6 moves the drama forward. “I looked and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, in the midst of the elders, stood a lamb as thought it had been slain.” This is very interesting. The word “lamb” occurs 29 times in the book of the Revelation. This particular form of the word “lamb” only occurs one other time outside of Revelation, and that is in John 21 where Jesus says to Peter, “Peter, do you love me? Then feed my lambs.” Again, the word occurs 29 times in Revelation. Twenty-eight times it is clearly a reference to the Lord Jesus.

Now, enquiring minds would, I think, want to know, where is the one time that it does not? There is a very instructive lesson that we glean from it. We discover this lesson in Revelation 13:11. Regardless of your eschatology…whether you happen to be in that minority camp of postmillennialists, or you are amillennial, or you are, like me, premillennial, chapter 13 conveys the same crucial truth. In verse 11, you are introduced to a figure that the Revelation calls the False Prophet. Look at how this individual or movement is described in verse 11. “Then I saw another beast,” similar to the beast out of the sea of 13:1-10. However, this one is different. “I saw another beast coming up out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon.”

There are many things when it comes to worship, when it comes to discerning truth, that are inauthentic. There are many things today within the greater Christian world that have the attention, that have the favor, that have the passion of people who are looking for God in all the wrong places. He looks like a lamb, which means what? He looks like he’s a friend. He looks like he is on our side. He might be on Christian T.V. or radio. He might be all over the world smiling brightly, preaching a positive message. People feel bad when they come to hear such a preacher. They come feeling bad and lost. They leave later feeling better. But they are still lost because there has been no gospel. Where there’s no gospel; where there’s no preaching of sin and the need for repentance, the reality of judgment and a blood atonement, there cannot be authentic worship. It cannot and does not take place. These false preachers look good. They may even stand behind a pulpit. They may even stand behind a Bible. They may even reference it from time to time, but the Bible says “do not pay too much attention to how they look. You be discerning and listen to what they say.”

I subject myself to the same judgment. Just because I happen to be president of a seminary, an ordained Baptist minister, standing tonight behind a pulpit and behind a Bible, let me tell you something, all of you students, if what I say is not true to the Word of God, you should reject it and reject me as a false teacher. By the same token, if what I say is true to the Word of God, you are obligated both to believe it and to obey it, not because it comes from me, but because it is true to the Word of God. The Bible says they look like lambs, but many of them speak the gospel of the dragon. They speak and teach and preach a false gospel.

Returning to chapter 5 we observe once more the authentic Lamb and the beautiful, majestic description of Him that rightly compels our adoration, our love, and our worship. John writes in 5:6, “I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain.” Both the word “stood” and the word “slain” are perfect tense verbs. They speak of action in past time that has abiding and continuing results. There was a time in the past when He was slain, and to this day, He bears the marks of his sacrifice. But there was also a time in the past when He began to stand, and He is standing today, and as far as you can look into the future, this Lamb will always be standing. “Slain” speaks of his crucifixion. “Standing” speaks of his resurrection.

But John does not stop there. John then tells us he has 7 horns and 7 eyes which are the 7 spirits of God sent out into all the earth. That is very odd language. It is rather difficult terminology, but be reminded, this is apocalyptic literature. Numbers often are symbolic, as are figures like this. So, for example, if you study the whole of Scripture, you discover that horns can be a symbol of strength and power. Seven is a number that in the book of Revelation, in particular, almost always stands for that which is perfect or complete. So if horns stand for power and seven perfect, put them together and this is the Bible’s way of saying “He is all-powerful. He is the omnipotent Lamb of God.”

The text also says he has seven eyes. What do eyes do? They see. Eyes are the primary means whereby you gain knowledge. Eyes; knowledge. Seven; perfect. Put it together. He has perfect knowledge; He is omniscient; He knows everything.

The last phrase says “and these are the seven spirits of God sent out into all of the earth.” Now, this again is open to debate, though I think the best understanding is simply this. He is speaking of the one Holy Spirit; the number 7 affixed to it speaks of His perfection and perhaps even his fullness. The fullness of the Spirit is perhaps drawing on Isaiah 11:2. When you look at the fullness of the Spirit, where is He? He is into all of the earth. Again this is a beautiful, poetic, apocalyptic way of saying He is everywhere-present. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

In other words, if I only had Revelation 5:6, I would know that Biblical Christology requires that I affirm the full, undiminished deity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Whatever it is that makes God, God, Jesus is that in all of its fullness. Therefore, authentic worship is always going to acknowledge and affirm a Biblical Christology of the full deity, perfect humanity, and sacrificial atoning death for sinners of the Son of God. Because He is that kind of God, because He is that kind of King, because He is that kind of Warrior-Lamb, verse 7 resolves the problem of heaven. “Then He came and He took the scroll of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” The Bible teaches that an authentic worshipper will acknowledge God’s sovereignty. An authentic worshipper will affirm a Biblical Christology.

Worship for the Twenty-First Century: The Way Forward, Part 1

When you come to the book of the Revelation, you find in chapters 4 and 5 a single vision of two parts. In chapter 4 the focus is upon the worship of God the Father, the Creator. In chapter 5 the focus is upon God the Son, the Redeemer. We are taught both by creation and redemption that God has the right to do with this world as He chooses, and that such a God is indeed worthy of our faithful and authentic worship. I believe if we could describe in one word, the activity of heaven, that one word would be “worship.” If that observation is correct, then I believe the way forward in the Twenty-First Century is to look upward. We do not need to look back; we certainly do not need to look around us. Rather we need to gaze into heaven itself, for there we find patterns for worship that will appropriately glorify God; that will build up the body of Christ; and that will demonstrate to unbelievers the majesty and the beauty of our God. I believe in the process, we will attract them to the one true and living God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

When you examine these two chapters, you discover that God is worshipped both for who He is, but also for what He has done. Giving our attention primarily to the fifth chapter, I believe we will find at least three components or three essential characteristics for authentic worship anytime or anyplace. I would note first in verses 1 through 4 that authentic worship will acknowledge God’s sovereignty.

“And I saw on the right hand of Him who sat on the throne, a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice,” and here is the question that resonates, and note the relationship to the concept of worship: “Who is worthy?” The word “worthy” will appear four times in the fifth chapter, very strategically located in verses 2, 4, 9, and 12. So there is a question that continually resonates through heaven, and the question is “who is worthy?” In this context, “who is worthy to open the scroll and to lose its seals?”

We find the answer in verse 3. “And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look at it, So I wept much because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look at it.”

I believe God is worshipped appropriately when we acknowledge His sovereignty. The problem with movements like open-theism is first and foremost that they are unbiblical. And because they are unbiblical, their God is too small. He is not the kind of God that can compel us to drop to our knees in awe and worship and adoration of His greatness and His majesty. In contrast, the God that we encounter in the Revelation is a majestic God. He is a great God. He is an awesome God. He is a God who can be appropriately worshipped, and He is worshipped appropriately because of His sovereignty. In these four verses, two aspects of his sovereignty are laid before us. One is His sovereign plan. The other is His sovereign power. In other words, nothing takes place by accident in the world that is ruled by our sovereign God.

The text says, “I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne, a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” In the Semitic mind, the right hand is the hand of authority. The throne, a word occurring more than 40 times in the Revelation, is the place of authority. So in the hand of authority and in the place of authority John says “I saw a scroll.” This is a rather unique scroll because He says “there was writing both inside and on the back, and it was sealed with seven seals.” That it is possessed of writing both on the inside and on the back tells us on the one hand, it is filled with information. Don Carson says, “because there is writing both on the inside and on the back, perhaps there is the intimation that it is a book both of blessing and also a book of cursing.” Commentators and theologians have debated for years what is the significance of this book. Is it a title deed to the earth? Is it a last will and testament? Is it to be identified with Ezekiel’s book of woes in Ezekiel 2:9-10? Is it perhaps to be related to that book that Daniel was denied access to in Daniel12? All of those are possibilities and yet the answer is really quite simple. The scroll that is in the right hand of God the Father who sits on the throne as the sovereign Lord of the universe is the remainder of the book of Revelation. It is Revelation 6-22. I would agree that Don Carson’s observation is most likely correct because as you work your way through Revelation 6-22, you find blessings and you find cursings. You find out, for example, that this is a book of retribution, a book of judgment where the sovereign God judges a world that has denied His lordship. You have seal judgments in chapter 6, you have trumpet judgments in chapters 8 & 9, you have bowl judgments in chapter 16. It is indeed a book of judgment, a book of retribution, and yet, it is also a book of redemption.

In chapter 7, you have 12,000 sealed from the twelve tribes of Israel, a total of 144,000. You also have in that seventh chapter, a multitude that no one can count. John says they are so great that he cannot put a number on them, and we discover that they are from every tribe, every tongue, every people, every nation. He further says of them “they are they who have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb.” And so the book of Revelation recognizes that the sovereign God who is worthy of our worship does visit the world with judgment, but He also visits the world with redemption.

But running from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, we see that the plan of God is always moving toward a restoration and a greater glory than that which we had before the fall in Genesis 3. Genesis 1-2 should be read with Revelation 21-22. When you come to Revelation 21, two verses summarize magnificently what it is that the redeemed can anticipate eschatologically they are with the Lord. Revelation 21:4-5 says, “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There shall be no more death nor sorrow nor crying. There shall be no more pain. For the former things have passed away. Then He who set on the throne said ‘Behold, I make all things new,’ and he said to me ‘Write, for these words are true and they are faithful.'” God has a plan. God is a sovereign God who will see that His plan is carried out. Such a God, and only this God, is worthy of our worship.

John goes on to tell us something about this plan in Revelation 5:2-4. “Then, I saw a strong angel. He was proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to lose its seals?'” Now listen to the response that John receives: “no one.” “No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look at it.”

John’s response in verse 4 is immediate: “I wept much because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll or to look at it.” John, for a moment, fears that God’s plan is not going to come to fruition. There is a search initiated throughout the corridors of heaven and amazingly, not one single person has the right in their own righteousness, has the right in their own ability, has the right period, to even approach the throne, much less take the scroll from the right hand of God the Father. I do not have a great imagination, but I try to engage it, and I try to keep it within sanctified categories. I’ve often wondered what it might have been like for John to be in heaven and to observe what was taking place at this precise moment? For example, maybe as he is watching, he looks and sees Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. But they do not move. He looks again, and there is Moses and Joshua. He sees Elijah and Elisha. He spots Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Peter, Paul, and his brother James. And yet when this question is asked, no one, no human, no angel, takes even a step toward the throne of God. Why? Because no one of us has the right to even be in heaven, much less approach the throne of God and institute, inaugurate and bring to fruition His sovereign plan. No, it is God and God alone who is worthy of our worship and indeed, authentic worship will acknowledge God’s sovereignty, both in His plan, but also in His power. Where does that idea appear? It comes with the second observation I would make.