“Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” (Revelation 19:10)
Now I want to ask two questions of this incident: First, why did this angel react so violently to what John was doing as he is down at his feet worshipping him? Second, what was the angel saying about true worship?
First, why did the angel react with such violence, almost with rudeness, to John. “Stop it at once!” he says. Well, you will notice that angels are rational creatures, and the angel gives a reason for this to John. “I fell at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘Do not do it. I am a fellow servant with you, and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Now what he is saying is that he puts himself into the same category as John. “I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers.” In other words, the one thing that angels and saints, as we are described in Scripture, have in common is that we are servants. We exist and are called by God to be servants. You will know that that’s what angels were created for. This is the real horror of what happened to Satan. He was created an angel by God; he became a fallen angel because he rebelled against his status and fell. Isaiah cries, “How you are fallen, Lucifer, son of the morning.” And he fell from the high glory of his privilege of being created as a servant to glorify God. And the thing that it is the ugly and ghastly distortion of Stan’s whole appearance in Scripture is that he who was formed to honor and glorify and praise and worship God has begun to rob God of His worship and seek to deflect it to himself. Isn’t that what happens in the temptation of Jesus? “Now,” he says, “I will give you the kingdoms of this world if You will fall down and worship me.” Have you ever thought how extraordinary and horrendous that here an angel, created to worship this holy Being who created Himself the heavens and the earth, now comes and says to Him and says, “You come and bow down and worship me.” I tell you, there is something utterly grotesque about this, both in the Garden of Eden and in the temptation in Matthew 4. But, my dear friends, there is something equally grotesque about a man or woman who devotes the faculties God has given them and the gifts God has bestowed upon them to bring worship to any other creature or object in the universe except to the living God. That’s what upset the angel. God was being robbed of His glory. My dear friends it doesn’t just upset the angel; it upsets God, Who appears within his being to be hypersensitive to this whole issue, for the universe is founded on the basis of it: He says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. My glory I will not give to another.” Now of course we sometimes think, what strange adjective to use of God, to suggest that He is jealous. Isn’t that the ugly green-eyed monster that we all want to be rid of? But you know, there is a holy jealousy, supremely found in God, as well as an unholy and ugly jealousy. And that holy jealousy is a beautiful thing. . . . That holy jealousy which is in the heart of God is reflected in the marriage bond, of which God makes much use in Scripture: here is the bride of the Lamb; there is Jehovah, the husband of His people. And He says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. My glory I will not give to another.”
Now when we bow down before any other person or object and bring our worship there, it is grotesque. The most grotesque thing of all, I think is when we bring our worship to ourselves. “They worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator,” says Paul. You know of course that this is the idea of robbing God of His glory that is behind the ultimate missionary compulsion. The ultimate missionary compulsion is not simply that there are people who are dying without knowing Christ, nor is it that God has given us the Great Commission to go out into the world; it is that there are areas of the world, whether here in Memphis or to the ends of the earth, where God is being robbed of His glory. That why when Paul went to Athens, a missionary situation if there ever was one to him, and found people bowing down before idols (and don’t think for a moment they were old-fashioned, former-generation people; they are modern people), Paul had what in the Greek of the NT seems to mean a paroxysm– a cardiac arrest is how some people think of it. Why was he so upset? It was because God was being robbed of His glory.
My friends, we need to learn a little of a jealous concern for the glory of God, because this is what puts worship in its true context. And it’s so easy to be worshiping idols. Let me put one illustration of that into the whole context of worship. I overheard someone, some time ago now, coming out of a church service and saying to someone who was standing nearby, “Well, I didn’t get a thing out of that worship. Didn’t do anything for me!” And I heard the voice of a kindly and wise pastor saying, “I always thought that what mattered about worship was what God got out of it, not you and me.”
And when we begin to have the test of worship what I get out of it, beloved, we are in the world of idol worship, and the idol is ourselves.
O for a passion for the glory of God!
——Eric Alexander, “Worship God!” (sermon)