The Posture of Worship (Revelation 4:9–10)

When I was a pastor, I usually sat on the front row. I did this not because I was some sort of liturgical brown-noser, eager to earn worship points from God for my enthusiasm. I was a pastor; I was paid to sit on the front row. Unfortunately, I could not see my fellow worshipers from the front row. My back was to them. So, on occasion, while the worship team led congregational singing, I turned around for a look. On even rarer occasions (only once or twice a year), I sat in the very back row. From there, I … Continue reading The Posture of Worship (Revelation 4:9–10)

Worshiping God for Who He Is (Revelation 4:8–9)

Familiarity breeds contempt. At least that is often the case with our relationships. In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis writes, “When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other.”[i] And all the people said, “Amen!” Or, as the kids might put it, “Been there, done that.” Interestingly, when it comes to a relationship with God, familiarity breeds not contempt but ever-increasing wonder. Consider, for example, these words from Revelation 4:8–9: “And the four living creatures, each of them … Continue reading Worshiping God for Who He Is (Revelation 4:8–9)

The Worshipers of God (Revelation 4:6–8)

Around the throne of God are gathered “twenty-four elders” (Rev. 4:4), “four living creatures” (4:6), and “many angels” (5:11). Although he does not see them in his vision, John hears the voices of “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them” (5:13). All creation, John is telling us, unites to worship the God who made them and the Lamb who would save them (Rev. 4:6-8). In Reversed Thunder—my favorite book on John’s Revelation—Eugene Peterson comments on the significance of the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures. Of … Continue reading The Worshipers of God (Revelation 4:6–8)

Shock and Awe (Revelation 4:2–6)

Who is the God Jesus Christ invites us to worship? Several years ago, J. B. Phillips wrote a helpful little theology primer with the title, Your God Is Too Small. In the first half of that book, he exposed numerous “inadequate conceptions of God which still linger unconsciously in many minds,” including God as a “resident policeman,” “parental hangover,” “grand old man,” “managing director,” “and pale Galilean.”[i] More recently, in Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah and his colleagues told the story of a woman named Sheila, who said: “I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t … Continue reading Shock and Awe (Revelation 4:2–6)

‘Come Up Here’ (Revelation 4:1)

Today, many American congregations are casualty-strewn battlefields of the “worship wars,” in which defenders of traditional hymns, pianos, and organs face off against partisans of contemporary choruses, guitars, and drums. Such wars, I fear, reduce the worship of God to a question of style rather than substance: “How do we worship?” instead of “Whom do we worship, and why?” Revelation 4–5 counters this reductionism with a mind-expanding vision of God and his Lamb, whose character and actions call forth our unceasing, full-throated, knee-bending “glory and honor and thanks” (4:9). Let’s take a closer look. The worship of God begins with … Continue reading ‘Come Up Here’ (Revelation 4:1)

Wholeheartedness: The Seventh Mark of an Ideal Church (Revelation 3:14–22)

The seventh and final mark of the church, according to Revelation 2–3 is wholeheartedness. It is a character quality that the church in Laodicea lacked (Rev. 3:14–22). Listen to what Jesus says to them: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Three times in two verses, Jesus drives home the point that the Laodicean Christians were neither extreme in their faith nor extreme in their disbelief. Theirs was a complacent, half-hearted … Continue reading Wholeheartedness: The Seventh Mark of an Ideal Church (Revelation 3:14–22)

Mission: The Sixth Mark of an Ideal Church (Revelation 3:7–13)

Mission is the sixth mark of the church (Rev. 3:7–13). Before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, he gave his disciples what we now call the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20). This commission consists of three elements: the fact of Christ’s authority, … Continue reading Mission: The Sixth Mark of an Ideal Church (Revelation 3:7–13)

Sincerity: The Fifth Mark of an Ideal Church (Revelation 3:1–6)

Sincerity—also known as authenticity—is the fifth mark of the church (Rev. 3:1–6). Its opposite is hypocrisy, which derives from a Greek word for actor. Just as an actor dons a costume and assumes a character for the stage, so a hypocrite dons a public persona that is at variance with his private self. The church in Sardis was a hypocritical church: “I know your works,” Jesus says. “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Several years ago, I read an article praising hypocrisy in The New Republic. The author did not voice a full-throated praise of … Continue reading Sincerity: The Fifth Mark of an Ideal Church (Revelation 3:1–6)

Holiness: The Fourth Mark of the Ideal Church (Revelation 2:18-29)

The fourth mark of the church is holiness (Rev. 2:18-29). At the church of Thyatira, there was a woman whom Jesus refers to as “Jezebel.” The name is aptly chosen, for just as the Jezebel of the Old Testament had done (1 Kings 16:29–34), this woman led God’s people astray. Specifically, she convinced some of the Thyatiran Christians “to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” We readily understand Jesus’ condemnation of sexual immorality. Although the Old Testament often uses the language of adultery as a catchword for idolatry (e.g., Hos. 9:1), in the church of Thyatira, … Continue reading Holiness: The Fourth Mark of the Ideal Church (Revelation 2:18-29)

Truth: The Third Mark of the Ideal Church (Revelation 2:12-17)

The third mark of the church is truth (Rev. 2:12-17). Situated on a conical hill more than a thousand feet above sea level, the city of Pergamum dominated the Caicus River valley below it. Its name, in Greek, means “citadel,” which it certainly was: a fortified city, both powerful and prestigious. The proconsul of Roman Asia resided there, exercising the ius gladii or “power of the sword” over the inhabitants of the province. The Greek gods Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Asklepios each had a temple there. Augustus and Trajan erected temples for the worship of deified Caesars such as themselves … Continue reading Truth: The Third Mark of the Ideal Church (Revelation 2:12-17)