Thanksgiving Sunday - Revelation 4
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Have you ever wondered what advertisers are wanting to achieve? You will probably answer, ‘To get me to buy someone’s product.’ But that raises a further question: how will they get you to buy the product? And here we come to the real aim, namely to capture your heart so that you will so value what is being presented to you that you simply must have it. So whether it is Coca Cola, the Nexus one super-phone, Harry Potter or Nike- the target is your affections, the stirring of your desires leading to a change in behaviour so that you go out and buy ‘stuff.’
2000 years before the Ad men came along- Jesus knew this to be the case. He said so in Matthew 6:21, ‘Where your treasure is there you heart will be also’. And here he is warning his followers about the dangers of simply wanting things, of focusing on what you don’t have. Just think for a moment about what Jesus is actually saying. By speaking of our ‘treasure’ he means ‘the object of what is being cherished’. By speaking of our ‘heart’ he is referring to the ‘organ’ which does the cherishing. So unpacking what Jesus is saying to us it is this, ‘Where the object is that you cherish, that is where you will find the organ doing the cherishing.’ So if the things which cause our salivary glands to move into third gear, and which cause us to reach for our credit cards, and which shape our priorities with what we do with our time are fixed here on earth, that is where are heart will be and that is where our heart will stay and we will be cut off from God because that is not where he is. He is in heaven. Now is that what we want asks Jesus? Isn’t that a waste of a life? Instead he says, ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in a steal. For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.’ Now let me ask: what is the greatest treasure in heaven? What is it that the thief can’t steal or moths destroy? If you were to make an inventory of heaven, what would come out at the top of the list? The streets paved with gold? The heavenly choir? Surely there is only One of more value than heaven itself and indeed the whole universe itself , namely the One who made them- God. We talk, don’t we of people worshipping a football team- that is they value it, are always thinking about it and go along and support it. We talk about pop idols- which at the very least means we think they are worth listening to and spending money on by going to their concerts and buying their albums. But what does it mean then to worship God? It means treasuring God above everything else. If you value something you will spend money on it, you will give your time to it and put your energies to it. How else do I know that someone is devoted to a video game? I know because he spends hours on the computer playing it. How then will I know if I am devoted to God? Because I will want everything I am and everything I have to be shaped by him and given over to serve him.
But here is the advantage the advertisers have over us: they can show you a picture or a film or even give you a sample of their product and so capture your heart that way. But if God is in heaven and that is where our hearts are to be drawn to, then how can we be moved? We can’t see God. We are not able to take a day trip to heaven so we can go ‘wow’ that is what I want. No we can’t. But God has very kindly given us a book about himself so as to draw our hearts heavenward. And so I want us now to expose ourselves, to God’s self-advertising if you like by turning to the Book of Revelation and Chapters 4 and 5. And let us pray as we do so that God will capture our hearts, he will stir our imagination so we can begin to actually treasure him as we should.
Just look at 4:1, ‘After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." John is given a glimpse into the unseen spiritual reality which determines all other realities and he is told that something of epoch making proportions is about to take place.
You see, the book of Revelation is not so much a looking into the physical future but a looking into the spiritual present. Revelation shows us what is happening right now as we meet. The problem is you can’t see what is happening because it is hidden from you and it is only as it is revealed can you see what is going on in the invisible heavenly reality which shapes the present earthly reality which we can see. What do we see around us? Well, we see the politicians, the educationalists, the world’s movers and shakers and we think, these are the men and women who shape our lives and make history- these are the great ones. Well, the Book of Revelation lifts the veil for us, that is what the word means, so as to enable us to see things as they really are , who it really is who makes history, who shapes all events that happen in our world- and that is God.
Now what John sees is not something you can paint or film. That is not how this kind of literature works. It is an amalgam of evocative symbols, pictures, metaphors which are constantly on the move. When I was a little boy one of the things I was fascinated by was a kaleidoscope. I would spend hours looking down this tube and twisting it so that the patterns and colours changed to form a whole range of different combinations- you can tell I was easily amused! That is how the book of Revelation operates- you look through the door into heaven and see something which is breathtaking and then suddenly with a turn of the kaleidoscope the scene changes and it is transformed into something else. And key to understanding all of this is that the symbols used have meaning- numbers and colours in particular. Now every culture has symbolic numbers and colours. So in our white Anglo -Saxon culture the number 13 is considered to be unlucky. So when you go to hotel and enter the lift it passes floors 10.11.12 and then you come to 14. So all the people living on the 14th floor feel safe because it is number 14 while we know that it actually is the 13th floor and so they really are in trouble. In a Chinese culture you will see cars with number plates with 888 written on them why? Because it is the number of prosperity, you will not find many Chinese people driving around in cars marked 444- if you do it will be a hearse because that is the number of death. So in the book of Revelation there are number symbols- 7 is the number of completion, wholeness, perfection. And there are colour symbols. This summer weddings will be taking place here and you can be sure the brides will be wearing white symbolising purity. You will not find many Chinese brides wearing white. Why? Because in that culture white is the symbol of death. So what happens when the Chinese bride turns up in white? She is at the wrong service; she has come to a funeral. But in the Book of Revelation white is the symbol of conquest, victory.
With that in mind what does John see when heaven is opened to him? He sees that at the centre of the universe is God- v 2 ." At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.’- like the rings around the planet Venus. That picture is designed to convey to us an utterly overwhelming sense of entrancing beauty. We are meant to be captivated by the thought that the most mesmerising, heart-stopping, mind-engrossing scene in the entire universe is God seated upon his throne. His attractiveness is infinitely more attractive than any other attraction we could ever conceive. And around this throne is a circle of 24 other thrones upon which are seated elders, possibly angelic beings representing the totality of God’s people, clothed in white, so they are victorious, and wearing crowns so they are ruling. And from God’s throne comes flashes of lightening and deafening peals of thunder, which means this is not a throne you approach lightly. And before the throne are seven lamps blazing, providing perfect illumination and seven spirits so nothing is hidden from God. And he is the One who rules over all the created order, for around the throne are four creatures- a lion symbolising strength, an ox the great domestic animal, man- intelligence, and an eagle- swiftness. Whatever creature which exists on earth which is considered noble, awe inspiring, worthy of respect, it is God who sovereignly rules over it, so that nothing lies outside the orbit of his kingly rule. Now that is the God before whom we are gathered this morning.
And what do you do when you come face to face with this God? V9 tells us, ‘Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 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 and say: "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."
Do you realise that in those few verses we have been given the answer to the question many of our contemporaries are asking today? – ‘What is the purpose in life?’ These creatures are actually showing us what it is, because they are doing it. They are giving ‘glory and honour and thanks to him who sits upon the throne’. They are ‘worshipping him who lives for ever.’ And why are they doing this? ‘For you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’ If an Oak tree could speak do you know what it would say? ‘I praise you O God for making me big and strong with branches wide and sturdy in which birds can gather and be protected and fed.’ If a waterfall could sing do you know what the song would be? It would be the roaring song of Revelation 4: 11, ‘You are worthy of glory and honour and power for you created me to be a source of life and to be a perpetual tumbling, moving monument to your wisdom and creativity. For you have made me thus.’ What is the chief purpose of man? One ancient Christian document puts it like this: ‘To glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.’ Has it ever crossed your mind that you are to enjoy God and in so doing glorify him-exalt him? Instead of clinging to our little crowns and strutting around the planet pathetically claiming ‘ I am god’, which is what we are in fact doing if we do not worship him as God, we take his place - we are meant to relinquish those crowns at the foot of our Maker and proclaim ‘He is God’. We glorify him by being the people he designed us to be: being a loving husband for him, a submissive wife for Him, an obedient son or daughter for him. As we play our music, dig our garden, visit that sick person in hospital we do it for him and so we act out the God given image in which we are made. And notice this is not a cold duty, it is a positive delight. This scene in heaven doesn’t strike you as dull does it? It is a place of scintillating joy and exhilaration. These creatures are freely bowing before the throne in adoration; they do so under no external compulsion, if there is any compulsion at all they are compelled by their hearts. When you see a beautiful girl, no one forces you to go ‘Wow’ isn’t she lovely? When you stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon, you just have to say, ‘isn’t this beautiful!' It is the proper response. And when your heart leaps up in love for someone, I take it that you actually enjoy the sensation? Well, that is precisely what we were made for with God. He is to be our supreme joy, our consummate delight. We are meant to be captivated by him, enchanted by him. And as we find our supreme satisfaction in him then he is most supremely glorified in us. And that is what we were made for; this is the purpose of life-to know God, to glorify God and to enjoy God for ever. And if that is not true of you-then you are seriously missing out on what you are on this earth for. And that is the greatest tragedy of all and sadly that is where most of our fellow human being are. So what can be done about it?
5:1 ‘Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.’ What does John see and why does it lead to the most desperate crying? Well, he sees something in God’s right hand which denotes rule and authority. It is a legal document which has writing on both sides, when normally there would be writing only on one side-so this means that it is complete, nothing can be added to it. And what it is, as we see from chapters 6 and 8 is God’s plans and purposes of judgement and salvation for the world. But the problem is that it is sealed with 7 seals and unless the seals are opened then God’s will, cannot be enacted on earth as it is in heaven. So the desperate call goes out from one end of the universe to the other: Is there anyone who is so pure and holy, that they are in a position to approach God so as to take the scroll and open it so as to put into effect God’s will? And then there is a long silence- for no one could be found. And John simply breaks down and weeps and weeps. And the reason he is reduced to uncontrollable weeping, is the reason why so many people in our world are weeping. For if God is not able to do what is right, to bring about the triumph of good over evil, then life is meaningless and devoid of all hope. History has no meaning, it is going nowhere. What’s more, individuals have no meaning, they count for nothing if their lives are not judged and so given value.
But then comes the consoling news that there is One, the Lion of Judah, a descendant of David who is worthy -v 5 and so John lifts his tear filled eyes to look for this lion but instead he sees- a lamb, in fact a lamb which had been butchered but is now alive. And this lamb is standing at the centre of the throne. And he is standing because he is adopting the position of a priest-King who stands interceding for his people. And God has chosen to rule the world through this lamb, which is why he is given the scroll to open. And so this lamb, who has seven horns, symbols of perfect power and strength, with seven eyes, all seeing, is the omnipotent and omniscient one, who fulfils God’s original plan to rule the world through a man, a descendent of David, the God-man Jesus.
And whereas in chapter 4 the old song of creation is sung giving God glory and honour because he has made us, in v 9 of chapter 5 a new song is sung to Jesus the lamb who receives glory and honour because he has redeemed us- "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’
Not only are we created by God we are recued at great cost in order to be properly related to God, so instead of being self -centred we can be God- centred. The sin which separates us from the one for whom we were made has been dealt with, Jesus the Lamb was sacrificed on our behalf in our place washing away our guilt by his blood so that we can know God and be the object of his affection rather than not know him and be the object of his anger. And so there is an opening up of a new aspect of the what our purpose in life is, what we are redeemed for- v10 ‘You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’ Now do you see what for Christians the purpose of our lives is now? We are a kingdom and priests- that is, we are Jesus representatives on earth and as we proclaim the Gospel to the world, then God’s saving reign is extended and God is glorified as more and more people come to know him and so finding lasting satisfaction-real heavenly treasure in the Lord Jesus.
Let me share something with you. As many of you know we have three sons. And before they were born we prayed that they would come to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. But we also prayed that they would be given over to him in full time Christian service. The Lord has graciously answered those prayers. In praying for them to become Christian ministers, we were knowingly committing them to a life of relative hardship-, materially, this is not where the big money is made. They will be struggling from now on. But they are storing up treasure in heaven, they are giving over everything so others can come to worship enjoy the Lord Jesus as they do. And we are now praying exactly the same for our grandchildren, and so committing them to a life with little material gain. And this is one reason why the Lord Jesus has given you and me money, not just so we can be fed and clothed, but so that others who have made the material sacrifice of career and money- people like Scott and Geoff and Heather and Dave- can be freed up to use their gifts so that we can get to know and love Jesus better and others, including our children, will get to know and love him too and so he will be glorified. And today gives us an opportunity to take practical steps to make that a reality- to say ‘Lord Jesus I want to worship you with everything- take it- and extend your kingdom. See how much I delight in you and I so want others to treasure you too.’
Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.