The Arts as Highways

The arts are not the pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are highways into the center of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way. The present world is good, but broken and in any case incomplete; art of all kinds enables us to understand that paradox and its many dimensions. But the present world is also designed for something which has not yet happened. It is like a violin waiting to be played: beautiful to look at, graceful to hold–and yet if you’d never heard one in the hands of a musician, you wouldn’t believe the new dimensions of beauty to be revealed. Perhaps art can show something of that, can glimpse the future possibilities pregnant within the present time. It is like a chalice: again, beautiful to look at, pleasing to hold, but waiting to be filled with the wine which, itself full of sacramental possibilities, gives the chalice its fullest meaning. Perhaps art can help us to look beyond the immediate beauty with all its puzzles, and to glimpse that new creation which makes sense not only of beauty but of the world as a whole, and ourselves within it. Perhaps.

—N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, 235-36

Worship in Revelation (16)

In Revelation, after harlot Jerusalem falls, angels issue two suppers: One is an invitation to the birds of the heavens to eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves. The other is the invitation to the saints to the marriage supper of the Lamb. The two meals are inseparable, and they point to the two alternative destinies for human beings: We are either eaten and consumed in the wrath of God, or we are invited to consume bread and wine at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

—Peter Leithart

Worship in Revelation (14)

This is, I think, a very significant thing in the NT, and certainly here in Revelation chapter 5—if the goal of worship is to admire Him in all of His majesty and to cast our crowns before Him and crown Him Lord of all, then notice that in this portrayal of worship, all worship flows from Christ’s leadership and through Christ’s mediation. Isn’t it interesting that John sees the Lion/Lamb standing right at the front of the throne of God, and from Him the Spirit of God flowing to all those who are present in heaven’s glory—as though to say, your worship of the One who is seated on the throne need first of all to be conducted by the One who stands at the front of the throne. And it always need to come through the Spirit by the Son to the One who is seated on the throne. Because, as we have noticed already, He is not only the Mediator of our reconciliation; He is the Mediator of our adoration in worship.

—Sinclair Ferguson, “The Church’s Worship” (audio message: Ligonier Conference, 2006)

Worship in Revelation (13)

“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 what was the angel saying about worship? That was the other question, you remember. Why did this angel react so violently? It was because of God being robbed of His glory. What did the angel positively say about worship? Well, you might respond to me, “Not very much. Just two words: ‘Worship God.’”

Notice the two things he says. 1) He is speaking in the imperative mood. He is talking a commandment from heaven. And this commandment produces the picture of worship as an obligation. Now of course you are going to say to me, “But worship, when it’s true, is something in which we take delight, rather than regard as a duty.” Of course we do. Please God, we do. But my dear friends, it still remains a duty in which we delight. It is what we were created for. It is God’s insistence from the mouth of Jesus, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” And, although we delight in it, we worship God not for the pleasure we get out of it, but for the glory to Him that is in it. And that’s what we’re for!

What is this one life, so brief, given to me by God for? I tell you, my dear friends, it’s for Him. It’s for Him, and you will never really discover yourself or your destiny until you’ve discovered that: that’s for Him, and so that you might offer your life to Him to be a means of bringing Him glory and honor. So, says the angel, “Worship God.” Worship is an obligation.

2) Do you notice also: worship is a transitive verb. This isn’t a lesson in English grammar, it is a vital issue in biblical theology and in Christian living. Worship is a transitive verb! That is, it demands an object. And the only the object it will tolerate in biblical religion is the object God.

So, when someone says, “O, I just come to worship God,” I wonder whether they really have got clarity about the object of our worship. It is God and no other. That’s what worship is really all about; it can never be divorced from the God who is its only object.

——Eric Alexander, “Worship God!” (sermon)

Worship in Revelation (12)

“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)

Worship in Revelation (11)

“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)

“Do not do it,” our English translation says. It’s a much stronger saying than that. It is, “Stop that at once. Whatever else you do, don’t do that!” And there is a measure of indignation in this unfallen creature at what John is doing. Nobody knows exactly why he did it; it may have been that he was so overwhelmed by what was happening he scarcely knew what was happening. But the one thing that is clear is that heaven is offended by his bowing at the feet of the angel and bringing worship to this angelic being. Now, whatever we know or do not know about angels, we must recognize that they know a great deal about worship. Because that is what their great function was in Isaiah 6, this is what the angels do. This is their language, this is their purpose. They fly to cry out in worship and honor and praise to God. “The whole earth,” they say, “is full of His glory.” But this angel comes to John and says, “Stop doing that. Worship God.”

—Eric Alexander, “Worship God!” (sermon)

 

Worship in Revelation (10)

[Revelation 22:8-9]

Flesh retains a powerful propensity to worship that which is not God. Even the aged John, unquestionably mature in his faith, nearly succumbed to the temptation to drop his focus from God to a lesser one—and this at the climax of visions of the glory of God such as no man had ever seen! It was not because he mistook the angel for God, but because he was moved by his powerful visions and the impressive presence of the angel. The point is that even in the midst of the worship experience, it is possible to lose focus on God Himself and begin to worship the experience, the messenger of God.

—Garry D. Nation, “The Essentials of Worship: Toward a Biblical Theology of Worship,” Journal of the American Academy of Ministry 5.3 & 4 (Winter-Spring 1997):8

Worship in Revelation (9)

We often think that the diversity of languages and cultures and peoples and political states is a hindrance to world evangelization—the spread of Christ’s glory. That’s not the way God sees it. God is more concerned about the dangers of human uniformity than he is about human diversity. We humans are far too evil to be allowed to unite in one language or one government. The gospel of the glory of Christ spreads better and flourishes more because of 6,500 languages, not just in spite of it.

A great part of the glory of the gospel is that it is not provincial. It is not a tribal religion. It breaks into every language and every people. If there were no diversity of languages, if the spectacular sin of Babel had not happened with its judgment, the global glory of the gospel of Christ would not shine as beautifully as it does in the prism of thousands of languages.

And finally, the praise that Jesus receives from all the languages is more beautiful, because of its diversity, than it would have been if there were only one language and one people to sing. “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10). “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

It was the spectacular sin on the plains of Shinar that gave rise to the multiplying of languages that ends in the most glorious praise to Christ from every language on earth. Praise the Lord, O Bethlehem, let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

—John Piper, “The Pride of Babel and the Praise of Christ” http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-pride-of-babel-and-the-praise-of-christ

Worship in Revelation (8)

One of the great frustrations of this life is that even when we are granted a glimpse of the glory of God, our capacities for pleasure are so small that we groan at the incongruity between the revelation of heaven and the response of our heart. Therefore the great hope of all the holiest people is not only that they might see the glory of God, but that they might somehow be given a new strength to savor it with infinite satisfaction.

—John Piper, The Pleasures of God, 311

Worship in Revelation (7)

Christian worship takes place, as in Revelation, both in heaven and on earth. We worship in the Spirit, and as we do so we are taking our place amongst the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. At this point I must pay tribute to John Calvin’s eucharistic theology, which like that of the eastern orthodox churches insists that the real action is taking place in heaven and that we, so far from bringing that magically down to earth, are instead caught up to heaven. The Sursum Corda, “lift up your hearts,” is the sign of what is really going on. Heaven is not a long way away. It is where Jesus and the Spirit are, revealing the Father and drawing us into worship, love, and obedience.

—N. T. Wright, “Freedom and Framework, Spirit and Truth: Recovering Biblical Worship,” 10

Worship in Revelation (3)

Against those who have argued that John has made the worship of heaven in some way a reflection of what was going on in the churches of Asia in the first century, it is more reasonable to suggest that the reverse is true. John wrote to encourage his readers to reflect the pattern of the heavenly assembly in their life on earth, not simply when they gathered but when they were faced with any new sign of the dragon’s power or with any manifestations of God’s wrath. John is not simply concerned that the churches sing the same songs as the heavenly assembly but that they reflect the same confidence in God. 

—David Peterson, “Worship in the Revelation to John,” The Reformed Theological Review 47:3 (Sept-Dec’88), 77.

Seeing in the Spirit

A friend of mine led a tour last year to the seven churches of the book of Revelation.  I said, “Did you go to the island of Patmos?” “No,” he said, “I asked the people about going to Patmos, and they said, ‘It would take you a day to get there, and a day to get back, and when you get to Patmos you don’t see anything.’” And I thought to myself, “Tell that one to the Apostle John.”

But, you know, that’s church, isn’t it? That’s worship. It’s possible to be in the building and to see nothing. [John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” Revelation 1:10]

—Sinclair Ferguson, “The Church’s Worship” (audio message)

Traditionalism (6)

The search for worship that is gospel-true, heart-resonant, and culturally relevant has taken several turns over the last half century. Some movements have sought release from formalism and traditionalism; others have found renewed appreciation for ancient forms of worship that link the contemporary church to its primitive roots. Each has sought to unchain the church from cultural norms that keep the worshiper from experiencing the reality of Christ. The norms that some want to escape are what they consider anachronistic traditions that have deadened church culture. The norms that others want to escape are the secular consumer values that they think have invaded church culture.

—Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship, 69

Paradise Is Unlocked

Come, then, let us observe the feast. Come, and we shall commemorate the solemn festival. It is a strange manner of celebrating a festival; but truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He has come on earth, while being whole in heaven; and while complete in heaven, He is without diminution on earth. Though He was God, He became man; not denying Himself to be God. Though being the impassable Word, He became flesh; that He might dwell amongst us. He became flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infant’s food from his virgin mother. So, the father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the magi may more easily see Him.

—John Chrysostom (4th Century A.D.)

Big Prayer to a Big God

Enlarge Thy kingdom, O God, and deliver the world from the dominion and tyranny of Satan. Hasten the time, which Thy Spirit hath foretold, when all nations, Whom Thou has made, shall worship Thee, and glorify Thy Name. Bless the good endeavors of those who strive to propagate the Truth, and prepare the hearts of all men to receive it; to the honour of Thy holy Name. Amen.

—Bishop Wilson, AD 1663