Rev 19:1-10 , ‘ Worship and our Lives’. January 24th 2021.
‘’May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.’’
We have set aside time this day to worship God. The world around us, is has wars, lands recovering from wars, famines, locust invasions, pandemics. No one knows what may be coming next to Europe or to parts of the world. Already so much has already happened in these first three weeks of 2021, much we never expected.
But we are here today to worship God.
Perhaps the journey has not been easy for us recently. We have been trying to cope with difficulties, problems, disappointments, temptations. And on top of that, strain, weariness as restrictions due to Corona are increased again, with the curfew, though we acknowledge the importance of and necessity for such measures.
We could feel life is besieging us… But we are here today to worship God.
The main object of worship is God. Its aim, to bring him glory. It is a fair question to ask – when we end our Sunday worship – online or in person – what will our worship have kindled within us, as we go out to face a Corona shaped life with all its challenges and confusion at times.
Maybe we don’t expect it, but if we want to learn about worship and its relevance to life, we try to overhear the worship of the saints in heaven. The church here on earth, needs to capture for itself the essential notes of the worship of the church triumphant.
It is good to remember the situation John the writer of Revelation faced. He was not day dreaming on a warm summers day, where everything was spiritually in place and as he wanted. No he was writing in times of an aggressive Roman Empire, Christians were facing threats, pressure, martyrdom.
John wasn’t free to express himself in worship. He was isolated, he was locked down, he couldn’t go where he wanted. He wrote at the start of the letter ‘I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endures that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.’’ He holds to the testimony of Jesus and it has meant he is exiled on a small rocky island.
In this situation he says ‘I heard… Amen! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Two words. Amen and Hallelujah. Amen. A word that expresses confident certainity or strong agreement. Amen – so let it be! God’s will be done! Amen, as we heard the last week ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the lamb be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever! The four living creatures said Amen!
Hallelujah. It means Praise – Hallal – the Lord – Yahweh. It is found only four times in the New Testament – each of them, in today’s passage.
John shares this majestic vision of the heavenly worship. ‘Write down on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches.’’ Why is it shared? That the Hallelujahs of heaven should be known on earth in days of darkness and confusion.
Amen. Hallelujah! In these two words, we find four notes are present, which connects worship and life, the four notes which together make up the harmony of worship and the victory of faith..
1.Acceptance of the Will of God.
The first attitude of the person that worships in spirit and truth, is the acceptance of the will of God. We stand with others before the throne and say ‘Amen! So be it Lord!’
John shows those who have passed into God’s very presence, no matter what they have suffered, have no rebellion in their hearts. Here in the struggles, it may be hard to understand, but in the perspective of eternity, they see the plan complete. Those in the presence of God, John shares: ‘’ Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are your judgements.’’ By God’s will and in His timing, the city has been judged and destroyed for it corrupted the earth and fed on the blood of Christians. Their praises. Amen. Agreement All will be well.
But we need to learn it here. Worship can help us. It can be difficult, it can be hard to bow to the divine will. We can have expectations of how he is meant to operate. Maybe even hold a view that if we remain faithful, keep our spiritual nose clean, then things will be pretty smooth, and in fact, probably we should be prospering, that the divine will mean nothing really difficult will come into our lives. Yet simply to consider the man who is writing Revelation. John. He has been faithful. To the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. Yet he is now with political criminals, in exile, imprisoned etc. A quick read through Acts shares more stories. Faithful following, does not mean an easy life.
Jesus in Gethsemane prayed: ‘’My Father if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will.’’ The will of Jesus and the will of the Father, there is difference. But also Amen. So be it Father. Despite the pains and difficulties and suffering to come.
At times, the will of God, what he calls us to do, will stretch, us, take us beyond what we feel is possible, it may be costly. But as Madeline L’Engel said: ‘’We are all asked to do more than we can do. Every hero and heroine of the Bible does more than he would have thought possible to do, from Gideon to Esther to Mary. ‘’ We are brought to a point where we say it ‘Amen, so let it be!’
Through worship we are reminded – we are refocused – that is one thing needful. It is to have Christ. It is to be sure that he is there beside you in the dark. We are reminded of his example of submission to the will of his Father.
And for us, he is the good shepherd. The one who gathers the lambs when they are injured, he loves and carries them close. With Christ, the darkness is not dark with Him, but the night is as clear as the day…
2.For all you have done and will do
If the first essential note of worship is the acceptance of the will of God, the second is acknowledge what He has done and will do. John hears Amen! to the purpose of God in judging the city of Babylon. He hears Hallelujah – for what he has done. He hears Hallelujah for what he will do – Hallelujah, for the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him the glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come…
There is a rhythm in worship – revelation and response. Archbishop William Temple described worship as: ‘the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of the will to His purpose – and all of this gathered up in adoration.’’ Temple pointed to three ways we receive revelation – our consciences quickened – we are convicted at times; our minds nourished; our imaginations purified, and expanded. And he points us to three ways we bring a response to all God is revealing. We open our hearts; we surrender our wills; and we engage in adoration.
Do we wake up at times and cannot think of a reason to bring praise to God. Be encouraged. Press the pause button. Set aside time. God’s goodness and glory comes at us from every angle. Here are some things to help…
Look deep into the truth of Scripture – you will find a reason to praise Him on every page.
Look up toward the wonders of nature – you will see his glory, declared by the many masterpieces in his creation.
Look behind you – at God’s track record in your life, you will see, His faithfulness to you, woven like a thread through your days. Celebrate the victories he has won for you.
Look straight ahead – in faith, the future shines bright – even the darkness cannot overcome it – shines bright with his promises and the hope we have.
Look at your hands – see His daily provision at work.
Look into the faces of your loved ones and the one who love you – and thank your Heavenly Father who enriches your life.
Look into the window of your own heart = you will recognize his works on the inside of you, ever since you surrendered to His greatness, since you were born again. See him saving you, adopting you, shaping you, teaching you and leading you – without fault and without fail.
Every single direction we look, we find another reason to exalt Him, to worship Him.
We look at life and what is around us we respond in worship, and as we worship, we receive and are shaped.
3.Joy in the Fellowship of God
Acceptance of the Divine Will, Praise for all he has done and will do. The third note of worship and our life – Joy in the fellowship of God.
I heard, says John, the worship of heaven. Even a quick read suggests not just the noise but the joy present. They are eternally happy in Christ’s presence. Sufferings swallowed up. John earlier described them: ‘’these are they who have come out of the great tribulation – the great suffering – ‘’they are before the throne, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. Never again will they hunger, never again will they thirst … For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, he will lead them to streams of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’’ (Revelation 7). Joy may have been lost. Joy can be refound through worship.
It is extraordinary. All through the Letter of Revelation, written at a time when the churches were threatened by false teaching, persecution, by compromise with surrounding paganism through idol worship or immorality, by spiritual complacency, as little flocks of Christ’s felt battered, in some places, like their backs were to the wall, despite all this through the letter there breaks the irrepressibly the sound of singing.
What is faith? Tertullian – in the third century – said: ‘’What is faith? Faith is patience with the lamp lit.’’ There is hope and thus joy. As the old hymn says: Praise to the Holiest in the height, but it goes on to say – in the depth, be praise!
As I prepared it reminded me of some persecuted believers I met in Central Asia. Despite the pressures they faced, the fact that when we visited one family we had to stay only a few minutes and speak quietly in case neighbors heard, there was such joy and love for Christ. Later in a safe space, we met with this small church community and I remember the dancing and praising that took place. A particular man – he had so much against him and his family – yet the joy in his face and heart, said, he knew that in Christ, he had so much for him and what would come. In that visit, I saw persecution and pressure, the believers admitted many times they are afraid, yet I saw joy in the midst of it, as they followed Christ.
Acceptance of the Divine will. Praise for all he has done and will do. Joy in the fellowship of God. Paul wrote: ‘’May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’’
4.Assurance of the Victory of God
John, Tertullian, the believers in Central Asia, were not deluding themselves with fantasies. They weren’t whistling to keep their courage up in the dark. They were rejoicing – a theme constantly recorded by John through the Letter – because of something that had actually happened in history. The Victory of God.
There has been an Advent. He has come. There has been a Cross. There has been a Resurrection. God in Christ has met the power of darkness at their worst. He has taken their full assault and he has triumphed. There is a feast to come. Nothing has been left undone. Once for all, atonement has been achieved, and death destroyed, and the doors of the kingdom of heaven flung open wide! Once for all God has devised for this ruined world, a way out of chaos and suffering. Therefore we are not dismayed! We fight a defeated enemy. This fact cannot be shaken. This is the rock we stand on.
As Rev 5 says: Because you were slain and with your blood you have purchased men and women for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth.’’
Fifty years after John wrote down the visions, there was a martyrdom in the city of Smyrna, during the time of proconsul Quadratus. The elderly Polycarp – a bishop – was brought to trial. His judge stood before him and shouted: ‘’You are to renounce the faith. You are to curse the name of Christ.’’ But Polycarp answered. 80 years and 6 have I served him, and he never did me wrong. How then can I revile my King, my Saviour?
So they took him and burned him to death in the amphitheatre.
But the young church in that city, hurled its defiance at Polycarp’s murderers. When later, the history of the church was written down, the church was very careful to put down the precise date and wrote this:
‘’Polycarp was murdered.
Statius Quadratus being proconsul of Asia,
and Jesus Christ being King forever!’
We grab our faith wholeheartedly. God so loved the world. Christ died for our sins. He is risen and alive forever. He shall reign forever and ever. The kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ. He is the way, the truth and the life. There will be a feast. He will make all things new. He will come.
Our moods may swing. But these things remain impregnable and secure. This is the Lord’s doing. Acceptance of his will. Praising him for all he has done and will do. Joy in his fellowship. Victory of Faith.
As we hold that victory before us, in the struggles and battles, the road being longer or rougher than we expected or desire, we can join our voices with those in Christ.
O Jesus, wonderful King. Your kingdom come. You will be done. Your praise be sung.
Surely we can say – Amen, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
To his name, be the glory. Amen.
A simple prayer for each of us this day. ‘’’Teach us to say our Amens to you will, to see all you’ve done and will do and sing our Hallelujahs, fill us with joy in our fellowship with you, and may we stand on the rock that is the victory you have won. Amen.