Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Heavenly Posture: Praise Is Becoming To The Face-Down Upright (Revelation 4:1-5:14)

William Monteguhe Dyke was a young man who became blind at the young age of ten. Despite the handicap, he grew to be a very smart, witty, and handsome young man. While attending graduate school in England, William met the daughter of an English admiral and they were soon engaged.

Though having never seen her, William loved her very much. Just before the wedding at the insistence of the admiral, William submitted to special treatment for his loss of sight. Hoping against hope, William wanted the gauze from his eyes cut during the ceremony. He wanted the first thing he ever saw to be his wife’s face. As she came down the aisle during the wedding, Williams’ father started unwinding the gauze from around his head and eyes--still not knowing if the operation would be a success. With the unwrapping of the last circumference, William looked into the face of his new bride for the first time. “You are more beautiful than I ever imagined,” he said.

Though we have never seen Jesus, it will be worth the years of darkness to “see Him as He is.” This is sort of the approach we have enjoyed as we gaze with the apostle John into Heaven, becoming overwhelmed not with a place but The Person. Imagine the horror if William’s eyes were unwrapped on the day of the wedding and he immediately became overjoyed at the view of the church!

When all is said and done concerning the book of Revelation, let us revisit something we saw in the previous post concerning the overall survey of the big picture: God is overwhelming and His beauty is a demonstration of that. When people see Him, they can’t seem to stand up (literally) before Him. The common posture of witnessing the glory of God is “face down.” When I hear of people having visions or dreams of heaven, I take special note of exactly what they saw. If they say they saw God, I am wondering how their lives were changed.

Peter, James and John were with Jesus on the mountain when He was transfigured before them and they saw Him in all His glory. The moment Peter began talking about the blessing of being there, a cloud overshadowed them and a voice came out of the cloud. When they heard what the voice had to say, they “fell face down to the ground and were terrified.” (Matthew 17:1-6).

When Abram was ninety-nine years old,” Moses writes in Genesis 17, “the LORD appeared to Abram.” The Lord revealed Himself to Abram saying, “I am God Almighty,” then followed with instructions: walk before Him, be blameless and He would establish a covenant and multiply him. Abram said, “Ok,” but he said it sort of muffled and perhaps with a little dirt in his mouth because “Abram fell on his face.” (17:3).

Joshua was out by Jericho one day and saw a man standing nearby with his sword drawn (Joshua 5:13). Joshua wanted to know if he was friend or foe (5:14)—what else does one ask an armed man? The reply was “no.” When the man revealed that he was neither friend nor foe, but was in fact the captain of the Host of the LORD, “Joshua fell on his face to the earth and bowed down” (5:14).

Ezekiel saw the glory of the LORD fill the house of the LORD, to which he responded by falling on his face (Ezekiel 44:4).

Saul was traveling along the road one day, on his way to Damascus to kill him some Christians, when “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and hard a voice saying . . .” (Acts 9:1-4). You get the idea.

Why is everyone falling down? Because they are catching a glimpse of the glory of God and it is simply too much. A couple of years ago, I was interviewing a New Ager who seemed to understand something about the name of Jesus—he spoke of the overwhelming power that is packed into that name. I was intrigued and though he was not about to move from his position regarding his worldview, he still could not help but agree with scripture that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)

How Is Praise Becoming To The UPRIGHT Who Are Face Down?

Psalm 33 is only one scripture among so many we could consult to answer this question (such as Psalm 2, 66-67, 72, 98, 117, and 145 where we find the nations of the earth responding in worship). The upright are defined as those who are made upright by God’s Word, and the whole earth has knowledge of His loving-kindness. While God did make everything, we find the inhabitants of the earth actually responding to Him in awe. Praise is what characterizes those enraptured with Him.

Psalm 95 not only expounds the same theme of the creative acts of God, but shows He deserves worship and bowing down. “Let us kneel before the LORD our maker.” Why? Because “He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.” Our only other response would be to rear up with a hardened heart in defiance against Him. This Psalm addresses that as well.

Deborah and Barak sang the praises and exploits of God in the ears of the kings and rulers of the earth on the day God defeated the Canaanites before the sons of Israel (Judges 5:3). No enemy stands before God (5:31). Singing and worship is a way to publicly proclaim what God has done and use the whole being to express joy in Who He Is.

When the Ark of the Covenant was brought into The Temple, the priests came out “blowing trumpets in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the LORD saying, ‘He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,’” but then something happened. The glory of the LORD filled the house, and the place was so filled with cloud (see previous post) that the priests could no longer stand before the LORD in ministry (2 Chronicles 5:11-14). Wouldn’t that be incredible: serving the LORD until He came and filled the place so much that even acts of worship got crowded out?

When God’s people are humbled, bowed down and they lift Him up with expressions of worship in singing, amazing things happen. For Paul and Silas, the house came down and men’s hearts were moved to repentance, more bowing before God (Acts 16:25-34).

One of the commands of scripture is that we speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19-21) The reason we are to do this is found in the last few words of that passage: we are to reverence Christ in the way we speak to one another.

What amazes me is by the time we come to Revelation, we understand that all creatures have a similar response to God: living creatures, elders, multitudes, the hosts of heaven bow and worship God. Some do this in unique ways that others cannot: “And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth” (Revelation 14:3).

Heaven is about celebrating God as the creator and redeemer, not walking about in an eternal daze or riding celestial busses from mansion to mansion (as Heinlein once suggested). All creation is waiting for this moment of praise (Romans 8:19-22). Heaven thrives on the 1st Commandment!

This brings us down to some very important questions:

1) If worship is about what matters most, and what matters most will be the everlasting focus of heaven, then what matters most now? What is worth all our time, energy, emotion, affection?
2) According to Philippians 2:19-11, will there be less worship of God in hell?
3) What does Revelation 18:20 teach us about worship and the exercise of God’s justice?
4) “Knowing that the redeemed in heaven will include people from ‘every tribe and tongue and people and nation,’ what should our attitude be toward other races, countries, and cultures? How should this affect our philosophy of missions?” (John MacArthur)

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