Life is full of choices. This morning, you have already decided what time to get up for church, what to wear, what time to eat, what time to leave the house. There are other decisions we make, more inward decisions. In what spirit will I come? Will I come expectantly or out of tradition? Some decisions have very little impact, others are huge decisions; will I get married, have children, what career will I choose? The ultimate choice is whether to accept Jesus Christ and His Kingdom because that determines our eternal life.
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14). These words come towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus describes the Christian lifestyle, our relationships with other people. Then, He says to us, like a jury, have you reached a verdict at which you’re agreed. This choice will not only affect the last of days but eternity. The Lord says to us, ’Will you be my disciple or will you follow other gods and reject me?’
Jesus speaks of two ways: one broad, full of people, but it leads to destruction. The other, the gate of heaven found on earth, is narrow, sparsely populated, but it leads to life. In just a few words here, Jesus tells us the characteristics of a life that’s going to hell and a life that’s going to heaven. Jesus urges us to make the correct decision, to enter in at the narrow gate.
How do you identify the road to heaven and the way to hell?
The road to hell is broad. It is spacious and roomy. It does not have many boundaries. It is popular and permissive, under no obligation to Jesus. You can believe in a way completely contrary to the Sermon on the Mount. You needn’t forgive or pray. Here, people are utterly worldly, consumed by their own little kingdom. That is life on the broad road. Most follow the herd, like cattle. Even people of reputation and learning are on this broad road. There are many companions because it is agreeable to everyone’s sinful inclination. It is attractive. However, people bump into one another and hurt one another. Little children need boundaries unless they grow into spoiled adults. When we live without boundaries in our own personal world, our freedom means that others are hurt. Your freedom to hate means there are always disputes, there are always family quarrels. Others get trampled upon. That’s life on the broad road.
In contrast to that, the road to eternal life is narrow. The gate is narrow, and the way is hard that leads to life. The way of true life is narrow, says the Lord. Not narrow-minded, but narrow. Those who find it are few. It is narrow, confined. There are boundaries to this road. It is a road where honesty, integrity, integrity, compassion, pity, self-control, self-restraint, mercy and forgiveness are the order of the day. It’s a road where unrestrained lust is forbidden, as are swearing, cursing, retaliation and hatred. You are called on to pray, to give, to fast, to seek God’s kingdom first, not your own. In faith you are to look to Him for all physical needs. It’s a road where you’ll be misunderstood, spoken evil of. People will falsely say all kinds of evil against you.
Because it’s a narrow road there are more laws to keep on this road; not only laws that affect your outward life, but laws that are addressed to your inner life. The world of thoughts are addressed here, of motives and attitudes. Often, we break those standards, certainly if we try to keep them in our own strength. But there is mercy and forgiveness for us from the Lord who died for us at the cross. There is encouragement to press on, not in our own strength but in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We can be encouraged by companions on the road, by others who have gone before us. The Lord Himself exemplifies what life on this road means. He was obedient to His Father on this road. We find it’s a road of denying yourself, being pure in heart, being a peacemaker, being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Because we have an expert with us, we can do far more. Jesus is an expert in living this life of obedience. If we keep close to Him, we will still fail but we’ll end up living a life which people on the broad road will be jealous of. Some may say, ‘I wish I had your faith.’
The Christian life depends on whether you’re on the inside or the outside. On the outside it looks confined, like a Tardis. From inside, the Christian life is fellowship with the infinite eternal God. It’s about learning about His plans, the unity of His work down and across the ages. From inside you can know forgiveness and offer forgiveness to those on the outside and those on the inside with you.
A narrow gate implies believing definitive truths, not vague ideas about God and life. People on the narrow road believe the gospel. It is universally applicable across the world. It is everlasting. It applies across the world to all sinners, always. There is no liberty to change it to our own ideas. It never changes to fit people. Christ changes people so they love this gospel out.
The narrow road means few people find this road. Unless a person is changed by the Spirit of God, they won’t be attracted to these things. They won’t love the Lord Jesus Christ. They won’t love His word, His people, His gospel. They will never find this road attractive. The few across the world, down the ages, who find this road, will eventually add to a great host. “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,” (Revelation 7:9).
There are many temptations to forsake the narrow road. Sometimes, the two roads seem to run parallel and close to each other. “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.” (Psalm 73:2). You may be the only Christian in your family, your group, at work, but that’s not a reason to join the broad road – rather it’s a reason to encourage others to get off the broad road and join those who are on the narrow road. A disciple of Christ should never pin their hopes on large numbers.
Where will these two ways take you?
The broad road leads to the worst place of all – certain destruction. The worst way to die is to die Christless. Jesus warns us to beware of going to destruction. Before getting there, you look like your sins. Sin changes us, our attitudes and appearance. Notice, there is no third destination, which means you have to make a choice. To enter the narrow gate, you need to repent, to trust Christ
How do you get through the gate that leads to life?
On the broad road there is easy access; you don’t have to make any effort to find it. People are on the broad road by nature. They may be unaware they’re on the broad road. The gate to life, however, is small, narrow. Because it is small you have to make an effort to find it. You need to seek it. We must exert ourselves. Christ call us through it. He said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). No-one can enter unless they repent.
Jesus speaks of Himself as the gate, “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:2-3). “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9). Shepherds were gates. At night-time they would gather the sheep into a pen and lie down across the entrance so that wild animals couldn’t enter in, and the sheep couldn’t wander out. They were the gates. Jesus says, ‘I am the gate.’ We have to come to Christ and accept Him as our Saviour and Lord. And that is harder the longer you spend on the road. It is narrow because there is only one way to be saved. No-one who sincerely seeks Christ will fail to find it. The narrow road leads to life, to Christ. Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37). So let us trust Him this morning. Seek Him, to enter the narrow gate so that we may know everlasting life ourselves
I’m often asked if I can explain the Holy Trinity. God is three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three totally separate and defined persons, yet also, at the same time, they are perfectly one. How can three be one? How does this work? Can you explain it? No, the truth of the Trinity is too deep, too profound, beyond our understanding. It proves to us that God is beyond our invention. We can’t make something up we don’t understand. We may not be able to understand the complexities, but we can see the Trinity throughout scripture. We can see the application of the Trinity in our prayer life. We come to the Father, by the Son, through the Holy Spirit. Our worship and salvation is Trinitarian. We know from scripture there is God the Father, God the Son and God, the Holy Spirit, united perfectly in their diversity. We are all wonderfully unique, yet we gather as one. We come with our differences, yet one voice. We are honouring Him as we celebrate 199 years of worship at Penuel.
Our God is three in one and this is expressed in the wonderful diversity of His Church. Together, in love, God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit created everything. They are Triune. God made us in His image and His image is Triune. As image bearers of a Triune God, we, as human beings, can do amazing things when we unite. We can invent vaccines in record time in a pandemic, we can send people into space. When we unite in God, we can do amazing things.
Genesis 11 is a very famous Bible story, although it is a story that is often taught negatively. But it is a story filled with positive lessons regarding our human potential. We can do amazing things when we come together and unite in one voice. For 199 years Penuel has stood firm for the gospel – one common purpose – to reach the heavens. Nothing is impossible. “And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:6). These are God’s words. Amazing! What an accolade from God’s mouth.
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
But as we know, we see here the great Tower of Babel ends up failing. God divides the people through their language and scatters them. God can humble us at any moment. He will humble us if we get carried away. The big question for us is why did God humble the people building the Tower of Babel if they were doing such a good job? Their motive was wrong.
In verse 1 we see the people were moving eastward. Going East is very significant in Biblical narrative. It represents moving away from the presence of God. In chapter 10 we have a table of the nations, the offspring of Noah. This runs chronologically with chapter 11. The people listed in chapter 10 lived during the building of the Tower of Babel. Nimrod, a great builder of cities, was likely to have been involved in the building of the Tower; he lived at the same time and place. Nimrod’s name in Hebrew is ‘rebel.’ It is possible to assume the people were not following God and were following a rebel.
But there are other clues regarding the wrong reasons for building the tower, “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4). This reason to build the tower goes totally against God’s reason for humanity. In Genesis 1:28 we read that God told Adam and Eve to multiply and scatter, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” This command was also given to Noah and his sons, “And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” (Genesis 9:7).
God tells the people to scatter, but what do they do? The consolidate and build a tower. They were ignoring God’s command to scatter, therefore, they were going against God’s wishes. So, God rightly and justly undid their work.
Why were they not listening to God and spreading out across the globe? I argue that is was because of fear. If they had scattered, they thought they would be weak and vulnerable, totally reliable on God. They were scared of possibly another flood. God had judged the Earth and flooded it. Catastrophic judgement. A flood happening again was a genuine concern for the people of the Bible. They built the tower with bitumen (v3). God told Noah to use bitumen to waterproof the boat. In their fear and rebellion, the people didn’t want to scatter and so they attempted to protect themselves against God’s judgement, so they waterproofed the tower. They were not trusting God’s covenant promise, they were not trusting in God’s grace.
Friends, the tower of Babel showed what humanity could achieve as image bearers of our Triune God. They build a huge tower to the heavens but God destroyed it and scattered them. Why? Well because, one, arguably, they were following a rebel, Nimrod. Two, definitely, because they were disobedient to God’s command to scatter. Three, they didn’t trust in God’s covenant grace. They were waterproofing. They trusted in themselves instead of going to a God of grace. They were scared and feared another judgement, another flood because they were going against God. They centralised their operations. They tried to get to heaven on their own terms. They should have submitted to His grace, trusting in His provision, looking to the rainbow and live free, abiding His love.
As a church today, right across Wales, we are guilty of doing the same thing. The Church in Wales is in massive decline because of it. We have ageing congregations, we are weak, we are low on numbers and low on resources. As a result, we fear closure, so we have stopped taking risks. We don’t want to scatter, we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin. In our desperation, we have forgotten God’s covenant promise. We really should be trusting in God in our weakness. In our fear we create holy huddles, trying in vain to protect ourselves. We are content to stay in our little chapels, worshipping how we want to. We stay and waterproof. What should we do instead? We should trust in His voice, trust in our weakness that God is gracious. The tower of Babel reminds us of what we can achieve when we work together. “And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:6).
God did not save your soul to build a tower to heaven, to come to God your way. He saved you to go out and take risks, to scatter the gospel, in one voice, in unity, to the community He has called you to serve. Friends, the good news of the gospel, the good news we cherish, is we don’t have to build towers to reach heaven to meet with God. We come to a God who comes down to us, “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.” (Genesis 11:5). As Christians, we have Immanuel, God with us. Jesus Christ came down, so we don’t have to build up. It is by His grace, not by our works, that we are saved, so that no man might boast.
Jesus came down and showed us, in utter weakness on the cross, that all sin and death can be obliterated. He rose again, and promises to be with us until the end of the age. He gave us that promise so that we can do church as God intended – which is to spread ourselves thin, to take risks for the gospel. God prefers that way, doesn’t He? His power is made perfect in our weakness.
Penuel Church, I love you. You are a small congregation in the middle of nowhere, yet you are utterly untied in your faith to keep going. When I come here, I meet with Jesus. He is here. Your faith to keep going, your faith to reach out into the community in your weakness, is a lesson for the church right across Wales. I pray that you will continue to spread yourself thin for the gospel, trusting in God’s ways.
“How dare you!” says another student teenager from Sweden to the most powerful leaders around. She carries on, “People are suffering, people are dying, systems and entire eco systems are collapsing. We are in the beginnings of a mass extinction.” What about the group known as Extinction Rebellion, who are actually having a protest this week at the G7 summit? Their website says this, “We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Life on earth is in crisis. Scientists agree we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown and are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making.” Now, I don’t want to minimise the importance of looking after the environment, caring for animals, keeping the oceans clean and reducing our emissions across the world. All that is important, all of that is vital and is part of God’s first great mission for us in Genesis chapter one, the very first chapter of the Bible. But what are we to make of this kind of talk that we’re in a crisis, that the whole world is in a crisis, that we’re on the brink of a collapse?
If you were to operate with the mindset of this world, that this is all there is, then we probably have a reason to be very concerned, perhaps even hysterical. But the Christian worldview should take a different view to this. In fact, the biblical mindset should actually heighten our concern for environmental issues, but it should do so with less of a hysterical attitude, less panic and less fear. This is not just about environmental issues, this is about many other things as well; we think of nuclear weapons and the potential for global war, we can think about the way there is such tension in the world that we live in, so much polarised opinions about what is right and what is wrong. We can even think, as we’re all too aware, and seeing your masked faces today, about the Pandemic. Should we be hysterical, should we be concerned that we’re on the brink of collapse because of Covid 19? Well, we’ve got Revelation 4 to help us here.
For the churches of the 1st century, as this was written to them, were facing all kinds of issues themselves. But when you look at chapters two and three, for example, there are all kinds of issues in these seven historical churches: there was a church that needed to recover its primary love, a church that needed to cling on in light of the suffering that was about to come their way, there was a church that needed to watch out they didn’t compromise with the world, a church that needed to bring back some spiritual life because they were all but dead. There’s one that needs strength in their weaknesses because there were some of their community that were trying to get rid of them. There’s a church that needed to stop being so self-sufficient in their wealth.
There are churches facing all of these kinds of issues today around the world but also here in the UK. We might think that if there are churches facing all these issues today, churches that are compromised, churches that are as good as dead, churches that are faithful under great suffering and persecution, is there a hope for the future? Can we adapt the words Extinction Rebellion and say this about the church, ‘We are facing an unprecedented global ecclesiastical emergency, the church on earth is in crisis.’ Theologians and missiologists agree that we have entered a period of abrupt ecclesiastical breakdown, or we are in the midst of a mass extinction as Christians of our own making. So, our planet in crisis, our health system is in crisis, the church is in crisis. Shall we ramp up the fear? At the risk of giving the game away far too early, the answer is ‘No.’ But why is that? Well, you’d have to read the whole of the book of Revelation to find that out, because that’s what the rest of the book is essentially about. But for this chapter today, what we need is a vision of the sovereign Lord, the God who is in control of everything.
You are probably familiar with the book of Acts which tells the story of how churches spread across the world in the 1st century up until the 60s. In many ways, Revelation is a retelling of the history of the Church, of the church in the 1st century, but from a very different angle.
We are given a heavenly perspective of what is going on. We see that clearly in the first verse here. John sees this door in heaven and he’s invited to go into heaven and see what is going on, what is going on behind the scenes and what will take place. He is in the spirit (in verse two) and he enters into this continuing vision that actually began in chapter one of Revelation. He goes right into the most sacred part of heaven, the very throne room of God. The immediate focus as he gets into the throne room of God is, of course, on God Himself. He is the one who is sat on the throne, He is the one who sits in the position of sovereign rule over all things. Imagine if you were in John’s shoes – you went into the throne room of heaven. Perhaps one of the first questions you might ask is, ‘What does God look like?’
Whatever image of God is presented in the Bible, we are never shown a direct image of God. We don’t see Him directly. We are given indirect allusions to His appearance. That’s because the core truth of who God is, is that we cannot look at Him and live. He, in His Holiness and brilliance, is so awesome that if we saw a direct image of God, or even if we conceived of a direct image of God, we would melt before Him because we are mortal, fallible creatures.
One vision of God that this chapter particularly refers to and draws on, is the material from Ezekiel. It is one of those books that we perhaps struggle with and perhaps don’t spend too much time reading. But it’s a wonderful book. In Ezekiel chapter one Ezekiel is given a clear vision of who God is. It’s just an amazing image. So, Revelation here particularly draws on Ezekiel chapter one.
Ezekiel sees the throne of God and as Ezekiel spends time describing what is going on, he describes what goes on around the throne of God rather than describing the One who sits on the throne. Ezekiel says, “Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I 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. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” (Ezekiel 1:25-27).
He’s describing what goes on around the throne rather than One who is on the throne. So back in Revelation chapter 4 verse three you have John saying that God’s appearance is like all of these precious gems. His appearance is something like Jasper, a ruby which has very bright, luminous colours as it reflects and refracts light and spreads and shines it out. Surrounding Him was the full spectrum of colour, so that the whole rainbow is encircling the throne. Also referred to in Revelation chapter 1, there’s a rainbow there as well, but somehow this rainbow looks like a shining emerald, just part of the contrasts that go on in Revelation, things that can’t quite square up in in our understanding.
So, where it is the fieriness of Ezekiel, with a bright glowing metal that looks like there is fire there, or whether it is John seeing these beautiful gems that are there before him, shimmering and sparkling, the point is that the any image of God is just far too overwhelming, and brilliant and bright, awe-invoking. But that’s all we are given because we can’t see God Himself. Using the brightest, most colourful, most wonderful things that we’ve got in this world of gems and fire, that is all we can muster up to describe God. Actually Ezekiel, at the end of chapter one, says, “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.”
John is not seeing the Lord, he is not even seeing His glory, he is not even seeing the likeness of His glory. He is seeing the appearance of the likeness of His glory – that’s four times removed from a direct image of God. So even these visions of God in the Bible, even this vision of God in Revelation chapter one, there is barely a hint of the wonderful appearance of God Himself.
So then John, having given us a hint of the appearance of God, then moves on to describe who else is in the throne room of God. So, he begins in verse four with these 24 thrones, along with these 24 thrones are 24 elders, every one dressed in white, gold crowns on their heads. Wonderful imagery. White clothing, as we may know, is the picture of God’s people in purity. Crowns represent the victory of having kept faithful to God throughout their lives, having reached the end of the goal of their faith.
I think these 24 beings, these heavenly elders, represent the fullness of the church, both before and after Jesus. Before Jesus came, we had 12 tribes of Israel. In Jesus’s time and beyond we have 12 apostles who are the foundation of the church. Simple maths, 12 and 12 is 24. It’s something that crops up throughout the whole Book of Revelation. So, you’ve got these representatives of the whole of the church, both before and after Jesus. They are then representing us before God in the throne room of God, which is wonderful.
But then the drama ramps up from here. From the throne comes these flashes of lightning. There are rumbles or possibly shouts and then you’ve got these peals of thunder. I’m sure you all remember when we’ve had a dark, stormy night and been woken up by a thunderstorm. Perhaps you’ve seen either flashes of lightning or heard the distant rumble of thunder? It can be fearful. These thunderstorms in heaven, around the throne room of God, are there to invoke a sense of awe within us.
Then, because this throne room is the temple, it needs a few temple artefacts. In fact, Hebrews tells us that the earthly temple in the Old Testament was actually modelled on the heavenly temple. So here we have some of the objects that were in the Old Testament temple of God. We’ve got the lampstand, which is the next thing to capture John’s attention, the sevenfold lampstand. And that is, as we are told, to represent the 7 spirits of God (by the way, that’s not to say there are seven Holy Spirits of God. The number seven is simply used that to show completeness and perfectness of the Holy Spirit). Then you have this sea of glass that was like crystal.
But then there’s one last thing that captures John’s attention – and they are very weird. You’ve got these four living creatures who were introduced to us at the end of verse six. We are first told that they are around the throne of God. They have eyes all over them, even under their wings, which is pretty strange to think about. It just means they see everything, I think. They have six wings. The first creature is like a lion, the second one is like an ox, the next one has a face like a man and the fourth is like a flying eagle. Those four creatures are the four pinnacles of their territory: the lion is the king of beasts, the ox is the strongest of all of the domesticated animals, the human is the ruler of all the creatures and the eagle is the king of the sky.
The number four is used to talk about geographic completeness: north, south, east and west. We have four creatures covering the entirety of the earth. So I think these four living creatures represent all of the creatures from all across the world, from all different animal kinds, including the human beings and pets.
As we allude back to Ezekiel, these living creatures are mentioned in Ezekiel chapter 1 – four of them again, except they are slightly different. It tells us in Ezekiel chapter 1 that that all of these creatures have four faces, “Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body.” (Ezekiel 1: 10-11)
So, they are a little bit different in Ezekiel, but nevertheless it’s the same kind of creature representing all creatures before God’s throne. It’s just overwhelming, isn’t it? To think about these creatures with their faces, with their wings, their eyes all over them.
Now so far everything seen is pretty much in static. It’s as if you put on the film in Revelation but you’ve put it in pause and all you see is this static image with the exception, perhaps, of the lightning that needs to move, doesn’t it. Everything else hasn’t needed to be in motion yet. So, it’s come on in pause and we’ve yet to press play. But because it’s being paused we’ve been able to glance at every detail that is on the screen. So, we’ve been given a hint of the One who’s at the centre of it all. The Sovereign Lord rules from His throne in His brilliance and in His splendour. In accord with His brilliance we have glimpsed all of the brilliance going on around Him: the temple, the 24 elders on the throne that represent the entirety of church, the four living creatures that represent all creative beings. So we had a glimpse of it all. But what are we to make all this so far?
I think one thing is for us to recognise that God is so unapproachable, He’s so incomprehensible, He is so unseeable. We could never grasp the entirety of God. He is far beyond our reach – and that’s not least because of our limited brain. We don’t have the capacity to fully grasp Him because of the limitedness of our brain but also the limitlessness of God because He is beyond limit, so it is impossible for us to grasp it. But it’s also because His brilliance emanates from His holiness; His brilliant shines out of His Holiness. When we compare ourselves to him in His Holiness, we are nothing. We see our imperfectness, we see our sinfulness, we see all of our flaws before this holy and perfect God. It’s because of that that we can’t fully grasp God. For us, trying to approach God and trying to understand Him in our sinfulness is a bit like a refuse worker or someone who collects the rubbish coming straight from work and trying to get into a fancy, Michelin star restaurant, dressed in their work clothes and not had a shower. They will be refused entry. It’s like us trying to grasp God in our simpleness and His holiness.
If we tried to grasp God in our simpleness, if we tried to enter His presence as flawed as we are, then we would simply melt before Him. He is so perfect, especially compared to us. On one hand God is far beyond our grasp and yet He is also not completely unknowable. John, in his vision, doesn’t have nothing of God, he’s able to grasp something of Him. That’s because he’s been invited up. He has seen something and so we too should be able to recognise how privileged we are to know something about God.
The Bible tells us that everyone knows something about God just by looking at the world around us. What a good thing that is for God to give us this world, to look at it and see He is powerful, He’s made everything, He is eternal and stands above the creation. Jesus had invited John to see something of who God is. He has shown us who the Father is. When we look to Jesus we are privileged to see something of who God is. It’s wonderful, isn’t it?
Well, to finish up our time in chapter 4, as we’ve seen everything in pause so far, we need to press play. At the end of verse eight we are told what these living creatures say. It’s put in several Bibles as a quoted section, formatted slightly differently so it stands out. They say “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!”
They don’t just say it once, they don’t just sing that at the top of their voices once and think ‘We’ve done with that now, we’ve said it don’t need to say it again.’ No, they never stop saying it. In fact, day and night they say it over and over again. It’s not just them saying something here; whenever they say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!” it is almost like a starting pistol for the 24 elders, who then respond by doing something and saying something.
So whenever they hear that phrase, they then respond by bowing down before God, they take off their crowns and put them in front of God, and they say (which is seen in verse 11 and is also formatted differently), “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
But no sooner had the 24 elders finished saying that, finished bowing down, then saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created,” then the four-legged creatures will say their bit again, and as soon as they finish saying “… by your will they existed and were created,” then you’ve got for living creatures, who once again say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!”
What happens when they say that? Well, that triggers the 24 elders again to bow down before God, cast their crowns before Him and say, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” And so it goes on – back to the living creatures, back to the elders, in this constant cycle of praise as they recognise who God is.
But when we look at those things they tell us a few things about God that are important for us to hang onto. It tells us He’s absolutely holy – that’s why they say it three times, to really emphasise that He’s absolutely holy, that He’s the Lord God Almighty, that He’s eternal, that He is worthy of praise, that He deserves recognition and esteem and authority. Everything that is and everything that continues to exist is by His will. He’s made everything in the first place, and He keeps everything going. Therefore, He is worthy of worship.
So, from all this, we see that God deserves our perpetual worship. He deserves all of the perpetual worship that ever there could be. He deserves that worship to go on forever and ever. He deserves one choir to declare His unique being, only for another choir to declare His sovereign worth. He deserves it! He deserves our worship.
Do you ever find it repetitive coming to church every week? You come week after week. We do the same thing week in, week out – a slightly different hymn, slightly different reading, a different preacher this week to last week. We’re doing the same thing over and over again. Do we ever find it repetitive? Maybe we do, but that’s because of our sinful nature, that’s because of our flaws.
But God he deserves our praise. Perhaps you find it hard coming in these in these times we’re living in, with these restrictions? You hate wearing masks? I hate wearing masks, I hate that we can’t sing, that we’re not supposed to talk to each other too long at the end of service. These are frustrating times. Perhaps it makes our repeated worship, week in week out, even harder to do. But God is worthy of it. He deserves our worship and He deserves it to be done over and over and over again. And after all, if God is, as we have said, beyond our full grasp, then we will never be able to declare the fullness of who He is. We will never be able to tell Him fully how amazing He is.
Coming week by week and telling Him something a little bit different each week, something a little bit more of God’s glorious splendour each week, will build up into this big picture of who God is and how He deserves our worship. We need to remember that every time we gather in worship, when we spend time throughout the week, morning, evening, reading your Bible and praying, that God is worthy of our repeated worship everyday of our lives. And when we do that, when we read the Bible on our own and pray, when we gather each Sunday and worship, we’re joining in the perpetual worship of heaven. As the temple of God is meeting, even right now, we’re joining in their worship. Our worship started at 10:30 a.m. this morning but we joined in what was already going on in heaven. Revelation 4 is always going on in heaven. We are simply joining in this morning. He deserves our worship. He deserves us to join Him and declare His work.
So, as we began, is the world going to end? Are we on the edge of collapse? Are we in danger of mass extinction? Is the natural order about to cease to exist? Are humans going to be wiped out by Coronavirus? Well, we need not be fearful. Everything that exists is by God’s control, by His sovereign hand. It will not cease to exist except for Him allowing it to stop. It is by God’s will that anything exists, and it is by His will that we, as humans, and every other creature on this Earth, continues to have their being. It is by His will. We see He is the sovereign Lord who is on the throne of heaven, who is in control of all things, who holds all things His hands. He is unapproachable yet He has revealed Himself to us and He is worthy of all of our worship.
Luke 2:7 “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn.”
Caesar Augustus declared all to be registered, to go to the place of their birth. Picture the scene of Jesus’ birth. His mum and step-dad Joseph were brought up in Nazareth. The Holy Ghost came upon Mary in a miraculous way, according to God’s great plan, planned in eternity. God knew we’d be cursed and Jesus would come and save millions. Jesus Himself would leave heaven, leave communion with the Father. Jesus, at the right hand of the Father, would come into this world as a baby. Miraculous! He would be born and conceived in the womb of a virgin. The Holy Spirit came upon this young girl, who asks, ‘How can this be?’ Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit. Mary was a godly young woman, blessed to be the mother of the Son of God – but not worshipped. He was her Saviour, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47).
So Mary and Joseph took the long, arduous journey of some 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, travelling on a rough, dangerous road. They were registered in Bethlehem as Caesar Augustus had decreed. They had to go according to the law of the land, but more importantly, ordained by God and prophesied by Micah.
Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have been on their own. Quite a few were also travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Finally, towards evening time, as they came towards Bethlehem they saw an inn. Surely this would be somewhere to stop, to have a warm meal and a room? The innkeeper may have heard of Mary’s pregnancy and thought she may have been an adulteress. Mary may have been shamed and shunned simply because God worked in her life. However, the innkeeper pointed them to a little shelter, less than a stone’s throw. Mary and Joseph made a place there, where Jesus was born and laid in a manger. Here Joseph would have held the very Son of God. Staggering! God the Son being taken out of the womb of a virgin. How they must have praised God!
Jesus could have come down from heaven in all His glory and splendour, bringing sinners unto Himself. He could have come down with angels and a great cry of triumph. But He humbled Himself, He took on flesh. He came as a baby, totally dependent on His mother. The Son of God. It blows your mind! That was His first Advent. He will return.
Everyone born of a woman is a sinner. We have inherited Adam’s genes. Christ lived a life without sin. He came to live a perfect life. At the end of His 33 years He was rejected. He came to bring the gospel, heal the sick, bring life abundantly, raise dead sinners to life. He was mocked and put to death. He was beautiful, perfect, spotless – He was killed in the most cruel way – the death of thieves and robbers, nailed to a cross after being beaten. Nails were driven into Hs hands. The nails were probably about 4 to 5 inches long, with the top of the nail about 1 ½ inches across. The nails were driven into His hands and feet as they lay Him down on the ground on a cross, before lifting Him up. Psalm 22. He dragged the cross, a spectacle for all to look at as they mocked Him. They put a reed in His hand. God turned His face away from His Son. His wrath was poured upon His Son so we might live forever, our sins washed away.
After the taxation was over people would have made their way back to their home. Joseph was warned to escape to Egypt, eventually returning to Nazareth. We can be so caught up with the things of Christmas we forget why we’re here, why Christ came. There was no room in the inn but room in a cattle shed. There is no room in the hearts of many people yet they celebrate Christmas. What has the birth of Christ have to do with Santa, reindeer, crackers and snow? Nothing at all. Let’s get our minds focused on why Jesus came. Let’s go again to Bethlehem and see the Lord who was born to save our souls. Oh that we might not stop talking about Jesus, like the shepherds. One day He’s coming again. Praise God. We’ll see Him glorious and holy. Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners. Do we love Him because He first loved us?
For our Mission Sunday morning service Andy spoke on three points about heaven:
Where is heaven? What’s it like? What’s the key to the door? How can I be sure of going there?
Where is heaven? In 2010 55% of people in the UK believed in heaven. 95% of people in South Africa believed in heaven. Belinda Carlisle once sang that ‘heaven is a place on earth.’ It’s not! People tend to believe it’s ‘up there somewhere.’ It’s not so much ‘up there,’ it’s a real location. The Bible explains heaven is the unreached presence of God. Sometimes, a little bit of heaven impinges on earth. The shepherds on the hillside saw and heard an angelic choir as God burst in. Heaven appeared briefly when the disciples witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration, then disappeared again. There will come a time when the trumpet will sound and His glory will appear. Heaven is the immediate presence of God.
What is heaven like? In John 14 Jesus Christ speaks a little about heaven, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubles. You believe in God; believe also in me.’ (John 14:1). Trust in God, give Jesus the same amount of trust. When the Apostle Paul thinks of his troubles, he thinks of them as being light and momentary, not worth comparing to eternal glory. Troubles are very real to us but there’s something coming far better for the believer that wipes it all away. Keep your eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus calls heaven ‘My Father’s House.’ It’s a lovely phrase. It’s a place where families get together – one dwelling place. We are all together, there are no divisions, we all get along. “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). The King James Version states, “In my Father’s house are many mansion.” It is spacious. All have a place to dwell. It’s a great truth. There are some pretty great mansions on earth with spectacular views, but these are nothing compared to what we will have in heaven.
When Paul writes to the Corinthians he quotes Isaiah, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love Him,” (I Corinthians 2:9). Those who love Him – that’s the key to entering heaven.
Paul also writes (in the third person, although he is speaking of himself), ‘I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. And I know that this man … was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.’ (2 Corinthians 12:2 &4). Paul had a glimpse of the third heaven – the dwelling place of God. He saw and heard inexpressible things. What will heaven sound like? The sounds of heaven will be far superior to anything we’ve ever heard.
Heaven is a place prepared for us, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). Everything is prepared, nothing will be out of place.
Our body is just a shell. I’m an eternal soul. I’m spirit. My body can move. I’m the bit that thinks, communicates ideas, thoughts and soundwaves. When I die my body goes into the ground but my spirit lives on. When Christ returns I get a new body.
Jesus Christ had a physical resurrected body. He could eat and drink. He could appear and suddenly disappear; at the Ascension He was talking to the disciples then disappeared. So our resurrected bodies will be physical, spiritual bodies, able to move around freely, travelling great distances.
Revelation 21 is highly symbolic of something wonderful. It’s a parallel to Revelation 7:16-17, ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘He will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” We will never again hunger or thirst. Eating and drinking will have no side effects. There will be feasting. There will be no sorrows, no painful memories of things that happened on earth. The judge of all the earth will have done right. There will be no sin in heaven.
Isaac Watts writes,
Sin, my worst enemy before, Shall vex my eyes and ears no more; MY inward foes shall all be slain, Nor Satan break my peace again.
Heaven will have mansions of glory and endless delight. Heaven’s gates are always open and light always shines. Heaven is home. It’s there we will be satisfied.
How do we get there? Thomas asked Jesus “How can we know the way?” To which He replied, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
‘I am’ is ego-centric. Too many people make the fundamental mistake of wanting to reform their own lives. It won’t get you to heaven. Going to church is very good, something you should do – but it won’t get you to heaven. Even going twice to church, attending mid-week meetings, reading the Bible and praying is all great – but it won’t get you to heaven. In every other religion it’s what you have to do. Even in some churches! There are some parents who believe that because they are Christened they will go to heaven. Or they may think that because they have family who believe they are Christians so this gives them access to heaven. Some say they believe in God – even demons believe in God – and tremble!
Jesus is the one who gets you to heaven. He is the door, the gate to the sheepfold. It’s not what you do that gets you to heaven. If you want to get to heaven, it happens through Jesus Christ, He is the only way. He is the only one who has dealt with the problem – sin. Our concern ought primarily to be God. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27). Love God. He is your creator.
When things go wrong people shake their fists at God and blame Him. Yet when things go right it’s all ‘me’. God sent His Son Jesus, the second person of the Triune God, to deal with sin. Why? So we can go to heaven. Why? Because He loves us. God sent Jesus to earth. He lived a perfect life. He met God’s demands. He’s our representative. He went to Calvary, laid down His life. Isaiah foresaw this 700 years earlier, ‘But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.’ (Isaiah 53:5). When Jesus went to Calvary He took on Hell. It’s love. ‘But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8). He died the death for us. Because He did nothing wrong, death is conquered.
Jesus Christ is the only one who has dealt with the problem. All I need to do is rest in His finished work.
Will you be there? If you are not sure, why not? The door is wide open. Faith implies repentance, repentance implies faith. The good news is God wants us in heaven. What do you want for eternity?
This is a fundamental Christian teaching, anyone who denies it is a heretic. If you don’t believe it, you empty the gospel of all of its power.
What is original sin? Often Christians will say because Adam sinned we have a corrupt nature. It’s true – we have inherited a fallen nature. It’s why we find it easy to lose our temper, to be jealous. However, you need to go further back. Ultimately, because of what Adam did, we are all counted guilty for his sin before God. God sees the whole human race through Adam – worthy of eternal death. This is why we are still subject to death the moment we come into this world. The human race is counted worthy of death. But in Jesus Christ, God has chosen to view those who believe in Him as righteous, as Jesus Christ is, and not worthy of death but the riches of glory.
God only sees two men in the human race; all humanity hangs from the girdles of these two men – the first Adam or the second Adam. Forget about good works, works of righteousness which you have done. It is all of faith. The big question is whether you are of Adam or Christ.
Is this a teaching of Scripture? ‘But now, Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.’ (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). Some Corinthians were denying resurrection is possible. Paul says in verse 20, ‘One man brought death into the world, but Christ brought resurrection into the world.’ Are you in Adam or are you in Christ?
‘Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned – For until the law sin was in the world, but sin in not imputed when there is no law.’ (Romans 5:12-13). There was a law given to Adam in the Garden of Eden – don’t eat of the fruit or you shall surely die. From the time of Adam until Moses there were no other laws. Adam transgressed that law. Death reigned during that time. (Romans 5:14). Humanity was in big trouble. Humanity is still in trouble. But in Romans 5:15 we read of the free gift God offers the human race – the free gift of righteousness. When we stand before God all our sins are gone. Paul compares this to the trespass of Adam, he compares and contrasts what Adam and Christ have done. Many died through one man’s offence but God has now flooded people’s lives with grace. The free gift of the gospel came after many, many sins had happened. God sent His Son into this world to bring grace and justification. If you’re justified you are guilty of no crime, you are innocent. That’s how God wants to treat us in Jesus Christ, He wants to see us righteous because of what His Son has done. Enter into this by faith alone.
In verse 17 Paul says because of one man’s sin, through his one offence, death reigns. But in Jesus Christ we have salvation. If you receive that abundance of grace, you receive the gift of righteousness. We are all sinners by nature. Ultimately, we are all guilty of Adam’s sin. Jesus was sent into this world so we might have the gift of righteousness.
‘Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgement came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.’ (Romans 5:18). Judgement will come to all through one man’s offence. We were born into this world worthy of death. But how gracious God is. He chooses to see us fully righteous. If we enter into Jesus Christ, God won’t see all our sin because of the one righteous act of Jesus. What was this? The giving of His life on the cross. Adam sinned because of a tree. Christ died on a tree, on the cross, in obedience to His Father. Jesus came into this world as the most astounding teacher, but ultimately He came to die, to undo what Adam did. All our sins are blotted out and we are justified. We are righteous because Christ is righteous. God takes it all out of our hands. The righteous act of Jesus Christ takes us into heaven if we believe in the Lord Jesus. Trust in Him, receive Him.
‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.’ (Romans 5:19). By one man’s disobedience many were breakers of God’s law. We came into this world, we didn’t choose to be guilt of Adam’s sin, but by God’s grace He sent Christ. It doesn’t depend on our works, what we do. Christ has done it all for us. Be saved! What a gracious set up! Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be reckoned to be fully righteous before God. By His mercy He saved us.
‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.’ (Ephesians 2:9). You have to believe. Just get into Christ, look to Him, see Christ crucified for your sins.