************ Sermon on Revelation 22:8-11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 13, 2010
What is the most important thing we do as a church? Think about this. What is the most important thing we do as a church? Not evangelism and missions and Vacation Bible School – though this is important. Not teaching our children the essentials of the faith – though this is important. Not our time of fellowship – though this is important. Not Consistory meetings or youth group or Bible Studies – though these are all important. Not even growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ – though this, too, is important.
The most important thing we do as a church is what we are doing this morning and also this evening; the most important thing we do as a church is answer the Lord's call to worship Him. For worship is one of the few times when we actually succeed in doing what God has created us to do – to live for His honor and glory (1 Cor 10:31).
I don't know if you realize it, or not, but the Revelation has a lot to say about worship. In fact, it is filled with worship scene after worship scene:
-Revelation 4 - the four living creatures sing "Holy, holy, holy" day and night; in response, the twenty-four elders lay their crowns before the throne and also sing His praises
-Revelation 5 - the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders play harps and sing God's praises; thousands upon tens of thousands of angels also sing the praises of the Lord and the lamb; they are joined by every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea
-Revelation 7 - the redeemed, a multitude beyond numbering, sing God's praises; they are joined by angels, the elders, and the four living creatures
-Revelation 11 - God's heavenly temple is filled with worshipers; the twenty-four elders again worship God
-Revelation 13 (here is a dramatically different scene) - we see the worship of the dragon and the beast
-Revelation 14 - an angel commands every nation, tribe, language and people to fear God and give Him glory; to worship Him Who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water; those who worship the beast and his image are warned that they will drink of the wine of God's fury
-Revelation 15 - the victorious saints worship God, singing the Song of Moses and of the Lamb
-Revelation 16 - the first bowl judgment is poured out and sores break out on those who worship the image of the beast
-Revelation 19 - a great multitude worship God; they are joined by the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures; again, the great multitude worship God
As I said, the Revelation is filled with worship scene after worship scene – some of it good; some of it bad; all of it in Scripture for our instruction.
Today, we see the Revelation again instructing us on worship.
I Worship God
A John's instruction on worship begins with his credentials: "I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things" (Rev 21:8). What things? The things in the Revelation: seal judgments, trumpet judgments, bowl judgments, apocalyptic horsemen, the defeat of the dragon and the beast and the false prophet, the tree of life, springs of living water, the New Jerusalem.
Notice what John does: he establishes the credibility of what he saw and heard. None of this is second-hand. None of this was heard from someone on the street. This isn't gossip. It is what John saw and heard.
Well, you may ask, how credible is this? Don't forget about whom we are talking. We are talking about John: one of the Twelve hand-picked by Jesus; one of Jesus' three closest friends; someone who witnessed the transfiguration; the only one of the Twelve who stood before the cross; he who was entrusted to look after Mary, the mother of Jesus; someone who saw the empty grave; the one whom Jesus loved; the pastor of the Asia Minor churches; the one who wrote the Gospel of John, three letters, and the Revelation. This John is a very credible witness indeed.
B And, we discover, this John is also a very open, honest, forthright, and transparent witness – because he lays his own blemishes and failings before us. Look at what he reports about himself in verse 8:
(Rev 22:8) I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me.If you were to go back to Revelation 19, you would see this is the second time John has tried to worship this angel (cf Rev 19:10).
We can only conclude that John is simply overwhelmed by all he has seen and heard. Think of John's visions: the triumph of God, the defeat of Satan and the beast and the prophet and Babylon, the return of Jesus in triumph, the new heaven and new earth, Christ as the Lion and the Root and the Lamb. John is so overwhelmed by everything the angel shows him that he falls before the angel in an act of worship.
How does God's heavenly angel respond to this? Does he seek to be sensitive to John's situation? Does he show appreciation for John's act? Does he simply try to persuade or dissuade John? Is he non-judgmental? Is he accepting and caring? Does he excuse John's act because John was born that way or because something in John's environment made him act that way? Listen to what the angel says to John:
(Rev 22:9) "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!"We hear almost the same admonition in Revelation 19:10.
"Do not do it!" "Don't do it!" "Absolutely NOT!" Why does the angel respond so strongly, so emphatically, so negatively? John's act of worship may be understandable but it is wrong, flat out wrong; because it is nothing less than the sin of idolatry. What is idolatry? Idolatry is misdirected worship. In idolatry, something or someone is worshiped in place of or alongside of the one only true God. Idolatry is sin for the one doing the worship and it has the potential to become sin for the one being worshiped. So the angel reacts with, "Do not do it!"
"Do not do it!" The angel doesn't want John to sin. "Do not do it!" Also, the angel himself does not want to fall into sin by accepting John's worship. Isn't that the Devil's sin? Did you notice how the Revelation records the worship of Satan? Satan accepts this and welcomes this and wants this. But not the angel standing before John – he does not accept and welcome and want the worship of John or anyone else. He does not want to fall as Satan fell. Unlike the Devil, he wants nothing to do with trying to take God's position and receiving the worship which belongs to God alone.
"Do not do it!" The angel, I want you to notice, does not turn a blind eye to sin. He does not hide his head in the sand and pretend it doesn't happen. He acts to stop sin. And, he does so loudly, clearly, and emphatically. With us, with John, he is but a fellow servant, a humble servant, of God. Yet, he is willing to speak out when he sees sin. How many of us are willing to do that for the one only true God? And, how many of us, like John, are willing to listen when someone says to us, "Do not do it!"? We installed new office bearers last week. They are fellow servants with the angel. And, like the angel, they sometimes have to say to us, "Do not do it!" The question is, will God's people listen?!
Question: Why does John record this twice? Why does he tell us about both of his attempts to worship the angel? Well, let me answer this by asking another question: What was one of the major sins against which the churches of Asia Minor struggled? What was to be found, over and over again, in the popular culture, in the trade guilds, in the city square, in the high places? What is the number one sin of both the pagan and Christian world? Isn't it idolatry, idolatry, idolatry? Idolatry was the number one issue faced by the early Christians, whether the idol was a statue or membership in the trade guild or things or money or a job or Babylon or sex or self. And, idolatry is the number one issue faced by Christians today.
So, why does John record both of his attempts at idol worship? To warn us! If even someone like John – one of the Twelve, appointed to care for Mary, etc – is not beyond idolatry, none of us are either! Idolatry, idolatry, idolatry! Congregation, we need to beware of idolatry. Do you know what John Calvin wrote about us and idolatry? He said our hearts are idol factories. We are busy – all day long, all life long – making idols and worshiping idols.
So the warning is given to John and to us: "Worship God!" Only. Alone. No one else.
II Worship God Because the Time is Near
A "Worship God!" There is an urgency to this command that is not immediately evident unless you know the Old Testament book of Daniel and how it relates to the Revelation. Let me state the relationship this way: the Revelation is the New Testament counterpart to Daniel – both speak of the same events, both have similar visions, both speak of the same protagonists, both speak of those who are opposed to God and His Kingdom.
Now, how does Daniel end? Do you remember? It ends with a somewhat puzzling command to Daniel:
(Dan 12:4) "But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end." (Cf Dan 12:9)"Seal it up, Daniel!" Meaning what? Meaning, "Lock it up. Put it away. Keep it hidden and even secret."
Now, by way of contrast, notice what is said to John according to the last chapter of the Revelation:
(Rev 22:10) "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.""Don't seal it up, John!" Meaning what? Meaning, "Publish it. Publicize it. Make it known."
"Seal it up." "Don't seal it up." Why this difference?
"Seal it up, Daniel." Why? Because none of what you saw is happening now. Because your visions are about future events. Because what was revealed to you concerns a different age and a different people. So, "Seal it up." "Seal it up until the time of the end."
"Don't seal it up, John." Why? Because everything of what you saw is happening now. Because your visions are about present events. Because what was revealed to you concerns this present age and this present people. So, "Don't seal it up."
Question: What has happened between Daniel and John? What has happened so that Daniel is told to seal it up while John is told the opposite? You know what has happened: Jesus was born, Jesus died, Jesus arose, Jesus ascended into heaven, Jesus was seated at God's right hand, and Jesus poured out the promised Holy Spirit. Meaning what? Meaning we are now – in the words of Daniel – at "the time of the end" (Dan 12:9). Meaning "the time is near" (Rev 22:10).
In God's eternal plan of salvation there is only one event that has not yet happened. There are those who go through Daniel and Ezekiel and Revelation and draw charts and time-lines and tell us all sorts of events that still need to occur. But, we know the only thing that has not yet happened is the return of Jesus Christ. Everything else in God's eternal plan for our salvation has already happened.
Let me repeat what I have been telling you since the very beginning of this sermon series on the Revelation: the "last days" is a technical term in the Bible for the whole time between Christ's first and second comings. The "last days" refers to the time between Pentecost and the second coming of Jesus. We don't have to wait for certain things to still happen. We don't have to look at charts and time-lines. We are in the "last days" right now. So, John, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near." Or, as Jesus puts it in verse 7, "I am coming soon/quickly" (Rev 22:7).
Now, do you see the urgency of the angel's command to "Worship God!"? "The time is near." "Worship God!" "Behold, I am coming soon/quickly!" "Worship God!" "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book." "Worship God!"
Once Jesus comes again it is too late to put away our idols and to stop our idolatry. So worship God now. Right now. Before it is too late. Before everything John saw and heard actually takes place and we are judged with the Devil and the Beast and the false prophet and Babylon and thrown into the lake of fire.
B In the same light we need to understand the strange words of verse 11:
(Rev 22:11) "Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy."
One of the things John is talking about here is worship. He is telling unbelievers to continue in their idolatry. He is telling believers to continue in their worship of the one only true God.
To understand verse 11, I need to lay a principle before you – an important principle. Here is the principle: We do in this life what we continue to do in the future life. We do in this life what we continue to do in the future life. What do the unbelieving do right now? They do what is "wrong" and "vile." They worship idols. It should not surprise us that in eternity they continue in the same path that marked their earthly lives. What do the believing do right now? They do what is "right" and "holy." They worship God. It should not surprise us that in eternity they continue in the same path that marked their earthly lives.
(Rev 22:11) "Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy."So, we spend now and eternity in the worship of an idol or we spend now and eternity in the worship of God. That is what John is saying.
Now, don't forget, "the time is near" (Rev 22:8). Don't forget, Jesus is coming quickly. Don't forget, we are in the last days. Don't forget, the "time of the end" is upon us.
The words of verse 11 are not very encouraging if you are an unbeliever, are they? In fact, they are downright scary and frightening. "Go ahead," says Jesus, "keep on sinning, keep on doing wrong, keep on being vile, keep on worshiping your idols."
I want to talk to every unbeliever who is here this morning and I want to tell you that it is not yet too late. Look at verse 17: Jesus is still calling you. He says, "Come!" (Rev 22:17). "Come!" Before it is too late. "Come to Jesus and believe." Before Jesus leaves you in your sin. Before Jesus leaves you to do forever the wrong and vile things you are doing now.
At the same time, aren't these words encouraging and comforting if you are a Christian? "Go ahead," says Jesus, "keep on doing right, keep on being holy, keep on worshiping God and God alone." He is calling believers to persevere, to overcome, to the cling to the Gospel and to keep on clinging. And, by grace, your reward is very great (cf Rev 22:12). [But more on that next week.]
Someday soon/quickly, Jesus is coming again. Will He find our hearts to be busy idol factories, worshiping everything and anything? Or, will He find our hearts devoted to the worship of the one only true God?
Remember how we started this time of worship? "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name." Remember the angels' song that we sang just before this message? "Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty." Now we are going to sing, "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name."
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