May 24 2020 Worship in Revelation 3 - Worship: The Great Equalizer
24th May 2020
I pray that our hearts would find hope in You. You will touch needs that aren’t addressed in a sermon – Help us to hear from You today.
Last week I ended that the Bible is not a book to be decoded, but a book to be lived.
When we look at these passages, we try to figure out what many things mean – and in our study of Revelation – there are those who have said that they have avoided the book because the keep wanting to decode it.
On Sunday morning – we have been looking at how to live it.
Walter Brueggemann – author of Prophetic Imagination– The prophets wrote in a creative way God’s message to uncover hidden spiritual realities – they do this through things like metaphor, parables and analogies – what the Bible Project people call design patterns, hyperlinks, and apocalyptic literature. The prophets often used apocalyptic literature to communicate this. All of these forms of communication communicate things that cannot be done through commands, promises and examples – and there are many of those, and they are important, but too often, we want to make everything one of those – and we can’t! Metaphors and apocalyptic literation are not meant to be turned into that. But when we look into it and put all of these forms together – the book is transformative – the power to change who we are.
What these other types of literature do – they force us to not settle for a surface understanding or the things we can catch on top, even though those are important, and there are plenty of examples of them – they force us to go deeper to discover what lies behind the curtain.
There are many issues today we need the Bible to address. Racial injustice issues, poverty, abortion, climate change – many things – and we want the Bible to address these things directly, and rarely will the Bible give us a proof text to tell us what we need to do – rather, we need prophetic imagination (Brueggemann) to roll back those things.
The Bible Project guys do a lot to roll this back in prophetic imagination. They have made it accessible. You might not agree with all they do – but they remind us that the Bible, from cover to cover, is telling the story of God, the story of the gospel.
The Bible – the story of God – is this great and mighty river.
Think of the Cuyahoga River (for those who don’t live here – it is NOT great and mighty) – Rather, think of a great and mighty river with many tributaries that flow into the ocean of Christ.
What I want to do – have a little fun with this – to step back, like a kid, understanding the story for the first time.
The story starts in a garden in Genesis. There are these characters – think about this – the actual characters – 1 is a naked dirt-man. A naked guy made of dirt. That’s what the Bible tells us – and then we have a naked woman made from a rib. Then we have a serpent with legs who talks. Then we have a tree. And that begins to tell the story. What does that do? It makes you ask, Wow, what is going on? If there were just instructions on how it happened – we wouldn’t get it.
Then two brothers – one burns an animal on a fire – and the other ‘corn’ – and God likes one offering better than the other – and then one murders the other.
Then a guy builds a boat for a flood and there is a rainbow.
Then there is a couple who are promised to have lots of nations from them – only problem – they are infertile!
Then there is a baby in a basket who rescues God’s people from slavery in Egypt.
Then there is Joshua and great wars.
Then there is a great king. Maybe not so great if you ask Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah… - but this King will be an ancestor of the Messiah – the ocean where all these rivers lead.
Then we get to the four gospels – and they take us out of the river and into a satellite – and we can see the entire thing. We can see where it is all heading – to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Then the Book of Acts – revealing and explaining and translating the gospels. Then it all culminates in this book we are looking at: Revelation. So as we read it – it is helpful to read it with prophetic imagination.
First – let the Bible say what it says – especially when it says something different from what you think or what you’ve been told. Let it say what it says. The reality – some of the stories that enter in this River – the Bible – seem like outliers – and some are even protest voices within the story themselves. We want to make them fit – and Eugene Peterson says we harmonize them to fit within our current understanding – and we squeeze them in.
“We want to iron out the wrinkles in the Bible” – Peterson.
The problem – those wrinkles are the stories that pull back the curtain. We see it all the time. Jesus does this dozens of times – reading the Book of Isaiah – this has been fulfilled.
Then he says – in the time of Elijah – were there not many widows in Israel, but Elijah went to a foreigner. And they were like – yeah yeah yeah – that doesn’t make sense – and that is because He is pulling back the curtain.
The Old Testament does it too.
The Book of Ruth – we did a series on it – you can go back and look at it – but it pulls back the curtain.
You don’t have to be an artistic dreamy type to have prophetic imagination. I am not that way. There are ways to do this – first when we don’t have that proof-text – someone brings up a verse – and that talks to this – but that is not sufficient – we need to learn to read the Bible in its context. It is more than just the verses around it. It might be the context of the entire book of the Bible. It might be the context of the entire Bible!
Every page in Revelation has multiple links to Old Testament passages.
Then we see how it is in the Gospel story.
Then it is good to have a historic and cultural context. What did the original writer and readers understand? The only way to do that – there are those who study it out their whole lives. It is great to find those who do that. The Internet is a vast place.
The Bible Project – they put the cookies on the bottom shelf so even kids can get to them.
What assumptions and presuppositions do we bring to our Bible reading?
Heaven and Hell – I bet that most of us – our understanding of heaven and hell come from paintings and artwork of paintings that hang in cathedrals as we get from the Bible.
There are all kinds of ways these presuppositions come up. We need to ask – is this just what I have been told or is this what it says.
We are so quick to try to get to the practicals – how do I do this? What is the answer? But we need to spend time contemplating it – thinking.
We need to place ourselves into their story – how would this person have heard the story – how would they respond. Then you can find yourself in the passage – how you are part of this and what our thinking is as I read this!
With that – let’s jump to Revelation 19
Revelation 19:1 After these things I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God;
Hallelujah – Praise the Lord!
2 because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her."3 And a second time they said,
Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever."
This is the first Hallelujah Chorus!
This is the destruction of Babylon – with all of its economic exploitation and injustice.
This goes back to the story of Moses – the exodus – and not just the Roman empire – but Egypt, enslaving them with idolatry, injustice, economic injustice – and God comes with plagues to destroy that nation. Each plague is directed at the evil gods of Egypt.
This design pattern continues throughout the Bible. It continues to this very day. We see God rescuing his people. For us – this rescue – we can see it as turning from our slavery to sin. The destruction of idols – those things we put before God. And destruction of economic injustice. And we bring it to where we are. How does that speak to us and how we address our world – in its idolatry and injustices and exploitation. What does that mean for discipleship and faithful witness?
The Bible is continually addressing these things.
4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, "Amen.
5 And a voice came from the throne, saying, "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great."
Worship levels the playing field. We are all equal before the throne in worship.
Have you ever noticed? If you’ve had the opportunity to be in other churches – often the poorest places have the most expressive, full, and deep worship.
Worship places the oppressed and poor and slaves’ level – lifted up in worship.
The Psalmist lifts up the poor and needy to sit with the princes of God’s people. It makes the barren woman a joyful mother of children.
6 And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying,
"Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
7 "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready."
This next aspect of worship – the beginning of the reign of God over all things. This is one of those ‘already, but not yet’ things. The world systems must be destroyed for God’s reign to be culminated – but they have been replaced by God’s love and mercy and justice. Then He brings up the marriage supper of the Lamb:
8 And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Revelation is contrasting the prostitute – Babylon – with the purity of this bride.
9 And he said to me, "Write, 'Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'" And he said to me, "These are true words of God."
Blessed are those who have been invited to the marriage supper… what does that mean? Think of a middle school student who was not invited to the cool party… - and then think of the one who was invited – is that what this is all about?
I believe that God is inviting all of us to this wedding. Some have accepted the invitation – For some it is still on the refrigerator or dining room table.
This invitation – God became one of us – He became human in Jesus – and He lived and walked among us as a human – experiencing everything we experience in every way except one – without sin.
He engaged in battle with the dragon of Revelation when He was here on earth. It started in the desert being tempted by Satan. He performed miracles to show that He is victorious over all the dark powers. Then He is betrayed over to the Beast – Babylon – the Roman Empire – and He is put on the cross – and an odd thing happens on the cross – a tributary. There is this story of the thief. Jesus pays for the sins of all the world – and in the middle of that is this story of a bad guy, who has done nothing good his whole life – and in his final moments, he wakes up and says, Jesus – when you enter Your kingdom – remember me.
Today, you will be with Me in paradise!
And we look at that and say – that’s not right! On the cross He paid for all of our sins – and then He is buried – He is dead as dead.
On the third day – it is like a million flashbulbs go off – and He is raised from the dead.
Then He ascends into heaven – and when He gets there – He is a LAMB, as if slain – and is seated next to the One who is seated on the throne. And there is this big wedding – and you are invited to that wedding – and it is simply by believing that you receive this invitation. Let’s Pray