Sunday, May 5, 2019
And they sang a new song,
There’s a small village church in rural Pennsylvania. On any given Sunday, they may have six or seven faithful children who come with their parents. The pastor has a white bag which is passed from child to child, making sure they get equal turns to put something in for him to talk about.
Each Sunday, the pastor calls all the children up and he opens the bag to find a “surprise” on which he bases his children’s sermon.
Easter week, the bag went home with a little guy who spends many hours a week on church related activities. His parents and older brother are very active and so, in turn, is he. When the pastor opened his bag, there was a copy of Handel’s Messiah which, of course, was very appropriate for Easter Sunday.
The pastor and the children had a lively discussion going on about the joy and happiness that music brings to the worship service. As he closed the little talk, the pastor said, “Yes, music is a wonderful part of our service. What would church be like if there was no music?” Without skipping a beat, the little boy who had brought the music said, “About a half an hour shorter!”
Needless to say, everyone exploded into laughter which lasted for several minutes. Finally, the pastor said, “There’s no way I can top that so let’s have a little prayer before you return to your seats.”
Well, I guess our service would be considerably shorter without any music, but for many of us it wouldn’t be worship. Music has always been central to the life of the church. I'm not sure if you know this but, many secular popular singers testify that the first songs they performed in public were in church. I’m grateful to those who contribute their musical talents in our church. But, for a few moments, I want you to lift your gaze just a little higher. I want you to imagine for just a few moments how heaven’s choir must sound.
Our lesson from the book of Revelation describes that glorious scene:
I could imagine that in the celestial concert hall, Beethoven and Mozart and Bach and all of the great composers are allowed to continue writing great music just as they did on earth, but now they’re composing for the greatest choir ever assembled.
I want you to get a feel for this scene in Revelation. Heaven’s choir of angels is now assembled, myriads and myriads and thousands of thousands of angels is the way our translation puts it. A myriad is sometimes counted as ten thousand. In fact, the NIV says there were “ten thousand times ten thousand” angels. Myriad can also mean a number too great to count.
You and I are thrilled by a 100-voice choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus. Can you imagine heaven’s choir, ten thousand times ten thousand angels assembled around the great throne of God? And four living creatures are before the throne, and in front of them are the twenty-four elders and also a lamb, and they are bowing before the Lamb and chanting together, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”
Then they are joined by every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying. “To Him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!” And the four living creatures say, “Amen!” and the elders fall down and worship.
Wow! What a spectacle. But what does it all mean? To fully understand and appreciate its meaning, we have to go back to the first book in the Bible, the book of Genesis, and the ancient story of Abraham and Isaac.
Abraham and Sarah were in their nineties when Isaac was born to them. You’ll remember that Sarah could only laugh when she was told that she would conceive and bear a son at such an advanced age. Isaac then, was a very special gift to Abraham and Sarah, a gift directly from God.
Few fathers have ever loved their sons more than Abraham loved Isaac. Imagine his emotions, when God came to him and said, “Take your son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” Forget for a moment the primitive nature of Abraham’s faith. If you or I hear a voice telling us to sacrifice someone we love, we had better get some professional help in a hurry. This story must be understood in the context of Abraham’s unique relationship with God.
The story reveals that Abraham didn’t question God’s command. God told him to go to the land of Moriah, and that’s exactly where he headed.
Can you imagine Abraham’s old heart was breaking as he answers Isaac, “God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son”? So, they continued the journey until they came to the place which God had designated. Abraham’s hand was shaking mightily as he made those final preparations. “Please, God,” he was surely praying within his own heart, “Please don’t make me go through with this.”
Can you remember as a child in Sunday school hearing for the first time this story and the feeling of drama and suspense as you waited for the knife to fall? It’s at this critical moment that Abraham hears a voice, the voice of an angel of the Lord. “Abraham, Abraham!” Abraham turns, the knife still poised to do as God commanded. “Here am I,” he answers.
It’s the same answer that Isaiah gives on that day when he saw the Lord high and lifted up and he heard a voice saying, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us,” and Isaiah answered, “Here am I.”
“Here am I,” says Abraham. Abraham loved God so much, that he was willing to offer his own son as a sacrifice. God loved the world so much, that He DID give His son as a sacrifice. Where is the lamb? God has provided the lamb. That lamb is Jesus.
All of this and much, much more is contained in this scene from the book of Revelation. The choir of myriads of angels and the elders and all the creatures of heaven and earth are bowing before the lamb, but it isn’t just any lamb. It is the Lamb of God.
John the Baptist recognized Him in the wilderness. When he said, Behold the Lamb of God, who will take away the sins of the world.
All of creation is bowing before the Lamb of God, who alone, out of all the creatures in Heaven or on Earth, is worthy to break the seal and read from the sacred scroll. He is worthy because as the choir sang, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God. Worthy is the Lamb. But not just any lamb, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Many Christians today are offended by the symbolism of the writer of Revelation. Someone has called language about a sacrifice of blood “slaughter-house theology.” We are sympathetic. Who is not repulsed by the literal imagery of being washed in the blood of the lamb? I hope, though, that even if you’re offended by the language you will bear with me, for the message of the lamb who was slain is vital. This entire theology of sacrifice or substitution is based upon three premises that we need to come to grips with.
The first premise is that God is holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love or mercy, mercy, mercy. But the Bible does say that God is holy, holy, holy. That’s a holiness that we can’t even comprehend.
We often hear other people call God by that dreadful expression, “the man upstairs.” Have you ever downgraded God to such a small place in our lives? Have you ever treated the things of God so casually? Have we lost sight of the holiness of God? Have you ever wondered that nothing is sacred anymore? Have we turned the God who moves mountains and nations into a harmless, jolly old man whose presence and whose approval is taken for granted? God is holy. That is the first premise. The second is that we’re not. God is holy, and we most certainly are not.
On the first day on the job with the F. B. I. and during orientation, the instructor turned out the lights. He had a special light in his hand. Turning it on he walked straight at one man and requested him to stand up. That morning, the man had put on a fresh, clean, white shirt. At least he thought it was clean. The instructor requested that he open his coat and move his tie to the side. As he shown that special light on the white shirt, the man looked down. Seeing the many blemishes shocked him.
“The stark contrast,” concerning the blemishes that showed up on his shirt under that special light, “is [the contrast] between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man.”
You and I are sinners. Now please don’t misunderstand. This isn’t an assault on your sense of self-esteem. I’m not saying we’re without worth. Indeed, we are of infinite worth. The Father gave His own Son in our behalf. But we are blemished, flawed, unholy. And there’s nothing we can do of our own power to remedy the situation. We can make lists for self-improvement, we can take college courses, read self-help books, go on diets, and see a psychiatrist for counseling, but we can never, ever completely rid ourselves of our blemishes by our own power. By our very nature we are “out of sync” with what God intends for us to be.
God is holy. We’re not. We’re sinners. And the third premise follows the first two as surely as night follows day: We need a Savior. If it’s true that God is holy and we’re not, and if it’s essential that we become acceptable to God, and if we don’t have the power to achieve that kind of holiness either by our own will power or our most righteous actions, we need someone to intervene in our behalf. We need someone to act as our advocate. We need a Savior.
God is holy. We’re sinners. We need a Savior. “Worthy is the Lamb,” says the writer of Revelation, but not just any lamb. That lamb is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He is the Lamb that the Lord provided. We have been given the Lamb, God has placed faith into our hearts, and without it, we will never know the joy of salvation. That’s why the myriads of angels were singing, and the creatures and elders were worshiping. Listen to the angels. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. He is your Savior and my Savior as well.