************ Sermon on Revelation 4:6-11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 10, 2008
I have a question: What is the most important thing we do as a church? We do lots of things: Christian education, evangelism & missions, fellowship, children's ministries, benevolence, raise and spend money, show mercy, hold meetings, offer Bible studies. We do lots of things but what is the most important thing we do?
The most important thing we do as a church is worship because worship is the closest to what we do in heaven.
Revelation 4 & 5 is one vision. As I was studying these two chapters this past week I was struck again and again by all the worship that is taking place. The 4 living creatures worship. The 24 elders worship. Thousands upon tens of thousands of angels worship. Every other creature in heaven and on earth worship.
I The Choir Directors
A When John looks at the heavenly worship scene, the 4 living creatures are the first participants that he identifies. John sees they are in the center of all the circles that surround heaven's throne. Remember, in the outside circle is every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea. The next circle is the crystal sea. Next comes the tens of thousands of angels. Next comes the 24 elders. Then the 4 living creatures. Then the emerald rainbow. And finally, at the very center, is the throne of Almighty God.
Of every creature in the universe, the 4 living creatures are the ones closest to the throne of God: "In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures." There is one in front of the throne, one behind the throne, and one on both sides.
Who or what are these 4 living creatures? They are higher than the tens of thousands of ordinary angels. They are higher than the 24 elders. They are the absolute highest order of angels. I say this because they are the closest to the throne and they resemble the cherubim and seraphim – the two highest orders of angels that we see in the Old Testament.
We meet the cherubim in Ezekiel 1 & 10. The cherubim have 4 faces each: the face of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. They also have 4 wings each. From head to toe they are covered with eyes. In apocalyptic literature, the eyes are a symbol of intelligence. To be covered with eyes means high intelligence. These are omniscient beings who see all things and know all things. In the case of the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 & 10, their intelligence is focused on God. Nothing about God – His being, His character, His deeds, His plans, His worship – escapes their notice. They are focused totally on God.
We meet the seraphim in Isaiah 6. The seraphim have 6 wings each. With 2 wings they cover their faces – they are so in awe of God that they dare not look at His presence. With 2 wings they cover their feet – as a sign of humility in the presence of God. With 2 wings they fly – meaning that they are swift to obey the commands of God. They call to one another:
(Is 6:3) "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."Isaiah tells us that "At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke" (Is 6:4).
Now, listen to what John sees. Take note of the resemblance to the cherubim and seraphim:
(Rev 4:6-8) In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back [LIKE THE CHERUBIM]. (7) The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle [LIKE THE FACES OF THE CHERUBIM]. (8) Each of the four living creatures had six wings [LIKE THE SERAPHIM] and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings [LIKE THE CHERUBIM]. Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come" [LIKE THE SERAPHIM].
As you can see, the cherubim and seraphim are amazing creatures. Likewise, what John sees are 4 spectacular and wondrous living creatures. Nothing like what we see on the TV show, "Touched by an Angel." Nothing like those paintings of little cherubs – winged babies sitting on puffy white clouds playing harps.
The 4 living creatures are covered with eyes – like the cherubim their entire focus is God and His ways; nothing about God escapes their attention. We are to presume they use their 6 wings the same way as does the seraphim. And, notice their appearance. The first is like a lion; the lion is the kings of beasts so this denotes nobility and royalty. The second is like an ox; the ox is the strongest of domesticated animals so this denotes strength. The third is like a man; man is the most intelligent of all creatures (or is supposed to be, at least) so this denotes wisdom. The fourth is like an eagle; the eagle is the fastest of all creatures so this denotes speed. What we see, what John sees, is the highest and best: the 4 living creatures are the most noble, the most powerful, the most intelligent, the fastest. They are glorious, spectacular, and wondrous.
B What do the 4 living creatures do? Their primary task is worship (Rev 4,5,7,19). According to John, this is something they do "day and night" (Rev 5:8). This is not the only thing they do. But when they are not carrying out the commands of God they are in worship.
Don't forget, John is in the heavenly throne room. He has seen and heard so much: light, glory, splendor, an emerald rainbow, thunder and lightning, trumpets, loud voices, 4 magnificent living creatures, 24 gleaming elders, thousands of angels, a sea of crystal, every other creature in the universe. Now music has been added to the scene – thanks to the 4 living creatures. Don't think elevator music playing quietly in the background. This is something loud and overpowering.
When we look at Revelation 4 & 5 we see that the 4 living creatures are the choir directors of heaven. Their worship always provokes a response of lesser angelic creatures. Their worship is the cue for everyone else to also worship. And, their cue is always followed.
(Rev 4:9-10) Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, (10) the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne ...In chapter 5, the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders worship together. This provokes a song from a choir of thousands of angels. And to this is a response of song by every other creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea.
C The 4 living creatures show us that the predominant characteristic of life in heaven is worship. They, the creatures closest to God and His throne, engage in unceasing worship. In fact, the book of Revelation is filled with the worship of the 4 living creatures.
What do you think of when you think of heaven? Most of us tend to think of heaven as a better earth; we think of it as the fulfilment of our earthly desires – forgetting that fallen humanity has fallen desires. The most extreme example is the Muslim version – palm trees, dates and figs, 72 virgins. In contrast, John tells us that when we think of heaven we should think of worship.
Does this excite you or depress you? Let me tell you, if worship is not your priority here on earth then heavenly worship does not excite you. If worship today bores you, if you are indifferent about worship, if worship is something you endure and yawn your way through, then you had better get ready to be turbo-charged in heavenly worship because heaven is about worship. Unceasing worship.
II God-Centered Worship
A As we look at heavenly worship, the first thing we notice it is God-centered. Now, don't forget, this Revelation is given for the benefit of the churches of Asia Minor. It is given for our benefit too. Therefore, as much as is possible, our worship should follow the pattern of heavenly worship. Our worship should also be God-centered.
In Revelation 4 & 5 we see 5 different instances of worship:
-the four living creatures worship God
-the 24 elders worship God
-the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders worship the Lamb
-thousands upon tens of thousands of angels worship the Lamb
-every other creature in heaven and on earth worship both God and the Lamb.
Look at the worship that is offered. Do you notice something? Not once do you hear "I, we, me." The focus of heavenly worship is not "I, we, or me." Not once do we hear worshipers saying "Look at what God has done for me!" We don't even hear worshipers saying, "I/we love You, I/we worship You, I/we serve You." This distinguishes worship in heaven from lots of worship on earth. The focus of heavenly worship is God and His glory. Heavenly worship is about God and to God.
This is one of the reasons we don't have applause in worship. Some say they clap to the glory of God but most applause happens to the glory of man. Some clap because they say the children look so cute – but notice, the focus is no longer on God. It no longer is about God and to God.
This is also why we don't have an American flag in our sanctuary. Worship is about God and to God so we cannot allow a single distraction.
In this light we need to look at what we do in worship. We need to look at the songs we sing. Is it about God and to God? Or, is it about I, we, me?
B The 4 living creatures show us what God-centered worship looks like and sounds like. They show us what worship about God and to God is like. Listen to their worship:
(Rev 4:8) "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."This is worship about God. The 4 living creatures praise and worship God for three of His attributes.
First, they praise and worship God for His holiness. "Holy, holy, holy." This comes from the song of the seraphim in Isaiah 6. In the Hebrew, emphasis is created when something is repeated two times. However, to repeat something 3 times means the most of something, the ultimate. "Holy, holy, holy" means God is the holiest. God is infinite and ultimate in His holiness. He is totally separate from everything else. He has the most and is the most of holiness.
Second, the 4 living creatures praise God for His might. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty." He is all-powerful. He is the Lord of hosts. He commands wind and snow and rain and thunder and hurricane and volcano. He, not the Roman emperor, has and is the ultimate power.
Third, the 4 living creatures praise God for being eternal. He is the God "who was, and is, and is to come." He is the God of all history. He is before time and after time and above time.
C In the next worship scene we hear the 24 elders. Their worship, don't forget, is prompted by the worship of the 4 living creatures. The 24 elders also show us what God centered worship looks like and sounds like. We notice that they praise and worship God for His deeds:
(Rev 4:11) "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."God is worshiped for being the Creator of all things.
D The worship in heaven shows us what God-centered worship looks like and sounds like. As I already mentioned, the worship of the 4 living creatures is constant – it is "day and night." Compare their worship to ours. For many people Sunday morning is crazy and hectic and full of bumps. We come to church burdened by the weight of getting our families there on time, burdened by the cares of the world, burdened by whatever kept us up late on Saturday night. We drag all of this into church with us. We barely sit down, we haven't even collected our thoughts, and the minister calls us to worship.
You see what is wrong with this picture, don't you? Our hearts are not really ready for worship. But the 4 living creatures, they are always ready for worship. The 4 living creatures show us that worship is more than Sunday morning and Sunday evening. Worship is a chosen lifestyle. Worship is to be part of our very being. Worship is to be like the air we breathe – always there, always present, necessary for life and survival. This only happens when God on His throne is at the very center of our life – as is the case with the 4 living creatures.
E Is our worship centered on God? That is the only thing that counts. That is the most important criteria for our worship.
I often wonder what visitors think when they worship with us. They may not understand what we do. They may not like what we do. They may wish we do other things as is done in other churches. But at the very least I hope they see our focus is God, that our worship is God-centered.
III Communal Worship
A When we look at the worship in heaven, we see that it is also communal. In fact, that is what we see throughout the Bible – worship is communal. Yes, there is a place for personal and family worship. But the emphasis throughout Scripture and in the heavenly worship scenes is communal worship.
In Revelation 4 & 5 there are five different worship scenes. As one scene fades into another I want you to notice that the crowd of worshipers becomes bigger and bigger. In Revelation 4:8 we see the 4 living creatures in the worship of God. In Revelation 4:10-11 we see 24 elders worshiping God. In Revelation 5:8-10 we see the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders. In Revelation 5:11-12 the crowd has grown to tens of thousands of angels. And, in Revelation 5:13 the crowd includes every other creature in the universe.
There are no solos in heavenly worship. Nowhere in Revelation do we see one living creature, one elder, one angel, or one of anything else engaged in the worship of God. Worship is not done in private. Worship is not done in secret. Heavenly worship is always communal.
Worship is communal. This is nothing new. We find this throughout the Bible. Listen to what David says in the psalms:
(Ps 22:22) I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.Notice how communal worship is meant to be.
(Ps 22:25) From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.
(Ps 35:18) I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among throngs of people I will praise you.
(Ps 95:6) Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker ...
(Ps 149:1) Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints.
B Compare this to what happens today. For some reason, people think they can stay home and worship God by themselves in front of their TV set. Or, they think they can worship God when they go for a walk in the Sequoias or take a bike ride up Yokohl Valley. This isn't real worship because real worship is communal. Worship is not a solo experience. There are no Lone Rangers in worship.
We sing, "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing." Do we mean this? Is this our prayer? This song reflects the truth and the desire of heavenly worship. God rejoices in thousands upon tens of thousands engaged in His worship.
C Why is heavenly worship communal? Why does God want our worship to be communal? The point of worship is worship. The point of worship is the glory and honor and praise of God. And, you need to realize that communal glory always brings more glory than individual glory.
This past week the New York Giants won the Super Bowl. Would this be a big deal if there was only one single spectator in the stands? Would this be a big deal if there was not a TV audience of 80 million people? Would this be a big deal if no one showed up for the victory parade? Of course not! Communal glory always brings more glory than individual glory.The worship of God is communal because the point of worship is God's glory. And communal glory always brings more glory than individual glory.
In the Hebrew language there is a one word command for worship. Do you know what this word is? It is repeated over 200 times in the Old Testament. It is the word "Hallelujah." Literally, it means "Praise the Lord." Do you realize that all but 4 or 5 times this word is a plural command? This isn't a command for individual praise and worship; rather, it is a command for communal praise and worship. Because the point of worship is God's glory and communal glory always brings more glory than individual glory.
It occurred to me this past week that heaven is like one big megachurch. I know that is a dirty word to some. And I recognize that a megachurch brings problems of accountability, oversight, being impersonal, and so on. Yet, God loves a thousand tongues singing His praises.
IV Worship in Song
One last thing we notice about heavenly worship is that it involves song. There is all sorts of singing. The 4 living creatures are singing. The 24 elders are singing. Thousands of angels are singing. Every other creature in the universe is singing.
Singing praises God. Singing about God and to God brings Him glory and honor. That is why we have so much singing in our worship.
A couple of weeks ago Jake Koetsier, Robert Godfrey, and I brought the Lord's Supper to a number of shut-ins. Jane Strikwerda was not able to partake because she had just gone through surgery. So, I read the Bible, Jake prayed, and Robert led the three of us in song. You heard me right: Jake, Robert, and Adrian formed a trio and we sounded pretty good. Competition for the quartet. I don't know if Jane enjoyed it but I do know that God did. Singing about God and to God brings Him glory and honor.
Back to my original question: What is the most important thing we do? It had better be worship. But now another question: does our worship resemble the worship in heaven? Is our worship God-centered, is it communal, does it involve song?
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