It has been a few weeks since we last studied the Revelation of our Lord and Savior. As we get back into our study today let me lay a foundation for chapter 4 by reviewing what we discovered in chapters 2-3. In these two powerful chapters of Revelation we visited seven churches in Asia Minor. We found lukewarm Christians in Laodicea, we discovered a church in Sardis that believed they were the talk of the town, but Jesus said they were dead, in Ephesus we discovered a church that had lost its first love, we saw believers tolerating the false teachers in Thyatira, and we saw the poverty and suffering of the faithful in Smyrna. What we saw was a succession of problems being faced by the followers of Jesus in each and every church. There was not one church that was living large and experiencing the good life as the world would describe the ?good life.? These men and women faced heartache, slander, false teachers who tried to undermine the teachings of their Savior, persecution by governmental authorities, and trials of every kind. Sounds a lot like our day, and our church, doesn?t it?
During the past week I have talked to a young mother who has lost her marriage and all of her worldly possessions because of drugs. She is going to treatment to try and break the strangle-hold that ?meth? has on her life. She loves the Lord, she loves her kids, but that drug has its claws so deep in her heart that she is praying and fighting to survive. I talked to an older woman who is having health problems and she is scared?scared of what the future holds. I?ve visited with three friends of mine who have lost their jobs and are waiting, praying, and searching for an opportunity to make a living so that they can pay their bills for their family. I?ve read stories of how our brothers and sisters are being persecuted by governmental authorities in Nigeria and Vietnam. I?ve talked to a man who is going through hard times and feels like God is a million miles away, or maybe he feels like he is a million miles away from God. I have to admit to you that I?ve had my own middle-of-the-night meetings with God this week.
The situations of sorrow and times of trouble are limitless in our lives aren?t they? Yet, we?ve come to praise God today. Yet, we?ve come to pour our hearts out before God today. Yet, we?ve come to seek strength from God today. Yet, we?ve come to say with Job this morning??Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him!? (Job 13:15 NIV) It is because of where we are this morning that it is so very important that we understand where God is this morning. After studying Revelation 4 this past week I am confident in saying that it is so much more important for you and me to understand where God is than it is for us to be in touch with where we are.
In Revelation 3 we become more than familiar with the suffering, poverty, trials, and persecutions of God?s people, but as soon as we turn the page to Revelation 4 we get a different perspective. Dr. David Darnell says,
Here we see ultimate reality?the divine Throne, surrounded by the heavenly multitudes, filled with joy and praise. All of the threats, the opposition, the struggles are gone; there is no sign of the Roman Empire or its proud rulers with their haughty claims. Here, in the ultimate reality that lies behind and above the experiences of God?s suffering people on earth, is God, enthroned in awesome beauty and splendor; and there is a rainbow of peace that dominates the horizon of a universe filled with the wonder and praise of its Creator. (Dr. David Darnell, Revelation, pg. 178)
God is on His throne, in all of His splendor, in all of His majesty, with sovereignty, mercy, and compassion in His right hand, and grace, justice, omnipotence, and omniscience in His left hand. Where are we? Well, that depends on what day of the week or even what hour of the day you ask, but wherever we are we can know where our Heavenly Father is at every moment! Kingdoms rise and Kingdoms fall, troubles come and troubles go, heartache fills our eyes with tears, and joy fills our hearts with exuberance, but God reigns over each and every place where we find ourselves this morning and every day. Let?s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in Revelation 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.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. 6 Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” 9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 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: 11 “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.” (Revelation 4:1-11 NIV)
We could spend weeks examining all of the symbolism of this section of God?s Word. We could look in-depth at the twenty-four elders seated on twenty-four thrones around the great throne of our God. We could take a look at the four living creatures that day and night never stop praising God. We could study the appearance of God, which resembled jasper and carnelian, and the rainbow around the throne that resembled something like an emerald. Those are all worthy topics of study, but I feel that we should do something different this morning. This morning I want us to understand Revelation 4 set in the context of the first four chapters of Revelation.
This is the second vision of the Apostle John. The first vision took place back in Revelation 1 where John writes,
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:9-11 NIV)
In Revelation 1 John was told to ?write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.? (Revelation 1:11 NIV) The vision of Revelation 4 is different as John is invited to come and see. What does he see? That?s a great question. What he saw wasn?t Emperor Domitian?s throne. It was God?s throne. What a glorious vision that must have been. We have to remember that John wasn?t sitting in a monastery or at a Christian retreat center when he had the vision; he was exiled on the island of Patmos. A rocky, open-aired prison for those the Roman government didn?t want roaming the streets of the empire. Eusebius, one of the early Church Fathers, says that John was sent to Patmos by Emperor Domitian for preaching the Gospel in 95 A.D. Emperor Domitian?s throne struck fear in the hearts of his subjects. Domitian made his subjects address him as ?Dominus et Deus noster,? ?Our Lord and God,? but John heard the four heavenly creatures singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” John saw a throne far more powerful, far more glorious than the throne of Emperor Domitian. Of the 51 times that we see the word, ?throne? in the New Testament, more than 40 times it appears in the book of Revelation.
John sees more than a throne in Heaven; he sees someone sitting on the throne and twenty-four elders seated on thrones around the great throne of God. John writes,
3And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. 4Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. (Revelation 4:3-4 NIV)
John saw God seated on the throne, but he didn?t describe God as we would describe a person. He didn?t say, ?God was 6?8 with coal black hair, dark bronze skin, and rippling muscles.? John says that God had ?the appearance of jasper and carnelian.? These were precious stones in the ancient world, but the writers of the Bible consistently describe God with symbols that represent radiance, glory, and light. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 104:1-2.
Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. 2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; (Psalm 104:1-2 NIV)
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and said,
God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15-16 NIV)
Both of these descriptions are consistent with the glorious vision that the prophet Ezekiel had in the very first chapter of Ezekiel. Read along with me from Ezekiel 1:25-28.
25 Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. 26Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. 27I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. 28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:25-28 NIV)
The power and glory of earthly rulers pales in comparison to the power and glory of our God whose glory radiates throughout His creation! The gruesomeness and gore of the stories we hear and live out in this broken world pales in comparison to the glory of God!
Around God?s glorious throne are twenty-four elders, dressed in white with golden crowns on their heads, but don?t spend too much time making over the twenty-four elders because as soon as they hear glory, honor, and thanks being given to God they react in a way that clarifies for us who is the center of attention. Read along with me from Revelation 4:9-11.
9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 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: 11 “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.” (Revelation 4:9-11 NIV)
Gaze through the open door and see the glory of Almighty God! With all of the heartache and pain, all of the sorrow and frustration, all of the oppression and injustice of life?we need, we desperately need, a glorious vision of the throne room of Almighty God! If we will know, with no equivocation, no vacillation, no hesitation or indecision that God is upon His throne, then life, with all of its heartache and trials, can be lived with hope and purpose! Paul put it this way,
31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 NIV)
Throughout the ages there have been men and women who have succumbed to the sorrows of their experiences, they?ve given up hope because of their heartache, they?ve been tripped up by the trials of life?life was over before they were ever laid in the ground. Alongside of these who lost hope are another set of souls who suffered injustice, heartache, persecution, and pain yet were able to hold on to hope! What made the difference? That?s a great question. I believe the answer is found in Revelation 4. We live in Revelation 2-3 where trouble and trials of every kind reside, but our eyes must be set on Revelation 4 where the glory of Heaven is fully displayed. Revelation 2-3 is full of anxiety. The troubles that cause us anxiety in life are myriad aren?t they? There are troubles in our marriages, troubles in raising our children, troubles on the job, troubles in trying to pay our bills, troubles with people, troubles with addictions that try to destroy us, and much more, but we can?t focus our eyes on our circumstances we must look to the reality behind our anxiety! Paul wrote to the Corinthians and confessed,
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9 NIV)
The glory of God, the Sovereignty of Almighty God over each and every circumstance of life allowed Paul to be squeezed by the trials of life, but never crushed; it allowed him to be perplexed, but never in despair. Paul sought to communicate this fact to the churches he founded and supported. As the believers of the first century Church gathered for worship they did so with all kinds of troubles and worries on their hearts. While they were assembled together they needed to worship the One who was over every problem, the One who transcended every trial, so that they could face what was waiting on them with hope and assurance that God was on His throne. Lynn Hough has written,
You can test the quality of the church in a machine age by asking if it still knows how to make people sing. The vast activities of the church must be conducted ii an atmosphere of triumphant praise. Otherwise there is a terrible sound of grinding wheels and at last the machinery itself becomes impotent. If the members of the church really have the music of the heavenly kingdom in their hearts, all their activities are set to this music. And if hard and tragic days come, the music remains?It is only when theology is shot through with music that it is able to do its real work. (Lynn Hough, pp.563.)
If we will sing of the glories of God and worship Him in all of His splendor then when the hard days come the music will remain, the praises of God will continue to ring out. If Fanny Crosby were with us this morning she would volunteer to testify.
Fanny was born in a little one-story country home in Putnam County, New York, on March 24, 1820. Her mom and dad named her Frances Jane. Fanny had two sisters and a brother, but she would never be able to remember what they looked like because Fanny lost her sight when she was only six weeks old. When Fanny was only one year old her father died. Fanny was fortunate to have a large family who loved her and helped her grow and thrive despite not having sight or a father. Fanny?s mother and grandmother would take her to church and read to her from the Bible every day. The story is told that when Fanny was only ten years old she could quote word-for-word the first four books of both the Old and New Testaments.
Fanny?s life wouldn?t be an easy one, but she wrote her first poem when she was only eight years old. It read,
Oh what a happy soul am I
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world
Contended I will be.
Fanny loved poetry. It was an escape for her, a way for her to express herself, what she was feeling, and what she hoped for in life. On March 3, 1835, just three weeks before her fifteenth birthday, Fanny began attending the New York Institute for the Blind. She loved all of the subjects except for math. What did Fanny do? She wrote a poem of course!
I loathe, abhor, it makes me sick,
To hear the word, Arithmetic!
Amen Fanny! In 1864 Fanny?s poetry began to be used in a different way?she wrote her first hymn and began to sing of the glories of Heaven.
We are going, we are going,
To a home beyond the skies,
Where the fields are robed in beauty
And the sunlight never dies
Fanny longed for Heaven. Not that she wanted to simply escape her life, she had resolved as a little girl to be content through whatever providence God provided. Through losing her sight, losing her father, and losing her only child at birth?Fanny would trust God. She was asked one time about her lack of sight and she said that she gloried in the fact that the first face she would ever see would be the face of her Savior. Fanny knew hardships, but the Lord had given her a gift and she wanted to teach others how to sing in the face of trials. Oh how she has taught us to sing,
Pass me not, O gentle Saviour,
Hear my humble cry:
While on others Thou art smiling,
Do not pass me by.
Let me at a throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief;
Kneeling there in deep contrition,
Help my unbelief
She taught us to sing, ?Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, Oh what a fore-taste of glory divine!? During the course of her life Fanny Crosby wrote more than 8,000 hymns and the Church is still singing them today!
God?s Word is the bedrock of our faith. God?s Word is the foundation of our lives. God?s Word is the anchor for our souls. In a world of transition and change where our lives change and transition as often as the world around us, God?s Word is the constant, unchanging anchor that secures us to Truth. If God?s Word is our anchor then worship is our lifeblood. Worship transforms us, transports us, and transposes our anxieties and trials into a higher key. When your heart is breaking lift up your voice and sing of the glories of Heaven! The great Reformer Martin Luther once wrote,
I am strongly persuaded that after theology there is no art that can be placed on a level with music for besides theology music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy to the heart. (Martin Luther, foreword to the Wittenberg Gesangbuch, 1524)
It is amazing that one of the world?s greatest theologians would hold music in such high esteem. I?ve known Bible teachers who were convinced that all we needed was Bible study, but Luther knew from his own experience, as well as his study of God?s Word, how important worship was for the heart of all believers. Luther knew hardships better than most.
He left his pursuit of becoming a lawyer to pursue his theology degree. While living in a monastery he studied and labored over his sin. He wanted to be ?right? with God and yet his sin crushed him. He would do all of the good works that he could, confess all of his sin that he knew, and yet he still felt distant from God. Then Luther discovered the famous passage from Romans 1:17, ?The just shall live by faith.? Luther said that when he read the passage the ?gates of Heaven swung open wide before his eyes? when he discovered that it wasn?t his works, but Christ work on the cross that justified him before God. Well, the gates of Heaven may have swung open wide, but so did the gates of persecution. Luther tacked his 95 thesis to the door of the Wittenberg church in 1517 and his life was forever changed. He was condemned by the Emperor, branded a heretic and outlaw by the Pope, and went into seclusion after the Diet of Worms.
Martin Luther began to write hymns in 1523 and the music lifted him above the turmoil of his own life. In 1524, Luther published his first songbook, the Wittenberg Gesangbuch. One of the eight songs in the songbook was, ?If God Had Not Been On Our Side.?
If God had not been on our side
And had not come to aid us,
The foes with all their power and pride
Would surely have dismayed us
For we, His flock, would have to fear
The threat of men both far and near
Who rise in might against us.
Luther?s life was tumultuous because of his unwillingness to compromise his stance on the Word of God. He was banned from the Empire and branded a heretic by the Pope, but if that were not enough he also had family heartache to deal with. Luther and his wife, Katherine, watched their second child, Elizabeth die on August 3, 1528, when she was less than one year old. Magdalena, the couple?s third child, died in her father?s arms when she was only twelve years old.
In the midst of persecution and heartache Martin Luther sat down and wrote a song. The song lives today and it is still lifting those mired in the messiness of daily living into the very presence of Almighty God. Let me read you a couple of the stanzas of Luther?s song.
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevaling.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
| our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabbaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
He has won the battle my friend! On Calvary?s cross the battle was won and though we still face battles each and every day we are more than conquerors through our victorious King! I want to invite you this morning, those of you who are fighting the battle in your own power and might, won?t you recognize that you can?t win. This life will crush you, these heartaches will sap your strength, these sorrows will engulf you, but He will lift you up above the mess and open your eyes to His glory and grace. Won?t you invite Jesus, our Conquering King, into your heart this morning?