Sunday, October 9, 2016

In the Midst of the Chaos, Listen to the Music

If this blog post has a slightly different “feel”, that’s because it is intentionally designed to provide a mini worship experience for those who will be missed church this morning due to Hurricane Matthew, and for those who just love to worship.  I’ll be sharing some thoughts based on events in our world in light of the book of Revelation.  I’ll also be providing links to some music videos with worship songs that capture the same themes I’m writing about.

All Kinds of Reminders that We Live in a Dark, Chaotic World

We are constantly reminded that we live in a world full of evil, suffering, and pain.  We see it everywhere:

In our home town:  On the way back from picking Hope up at Walmart during the storm, we saw that part of our little town of Severn was severely flooded.  We heard that our local emergency workers had to get out the boats to help some people out of their flooded homes (we thank God for those who serve in our fire and rescue service!).  After getting a little dried out back home a thought hit me, “I wonder where the people went who they evacuated?”  We drove the very short distance across town and found some who had chosen to go to the local community center (I later read that the fire department offered to take people to a shelter in a nearby town).  One lady at the community center was so distressed she could barely lift up her head.  Her friend told us that her dog had drowned in the flood.  We offered to let them come stay in our guest room, but they declined.  I think they were hoping the water would soon recede, and in fact when I checked this morning the water had receded.  I am sure that a lot of damage was done to homes and to some cars that were not moved in time.

In Haiti:  Of course, far, far greater devastation was experienced by the people of Haiti.

And Ugly News in Politics:  As bad as the hurricane was, much of the news was dominated by the ugly revelation of Trump’s evil statements regarding his actions towards women.  When this comes from the candidate who is leading the party which is much more aligned with godly values in many ways, it is deeply discouraging.

And much more . . . Wars continue in the Middle East, Africa, and other locations. Every day there are reports of both personal tragedies from friends and neighbors, and news of large scale human suffering in our world.

How the Book of Revelation Helps us Deal with All This

Like the rest of the Bible, Revelation is completely realistic about the suffering and moral darkness we experience in this current age.  The four horsemen of the apocalypse is a vivid picture of war, poverty, and death running rampant in our world (Revelation 6:1-8).

But, thank God, there is much more in Revelation than doom and gloom.  Not only does Revelation end in glorious victory, but all throughout John’s vision there are outbursts of Heavenly praise.  In the title of the blog post I say we need to “listen to the music”.  Specifically, I mean the songs of praise found throughout Revelation. When I say “songs”, I am using the word broadly to include exclamations of jubilant praise, whether or not they were set to music in John’s vision (some clearly were musical, as singing and harps are mentioned, in other cases we don’t know). I also am referring to hymns and songs that we sing and listen to which are inspired by the songs of praise in Revelation.  These songs of praise are designed to remind us of encouraging truth.  The rest of this blog post will consist of looking at seven songs of Revelation.  We will think briefly about the meaning of each song, and in some cases will include a modern (relatively modern, compared to the book of Revelation) song of praise on the same theme.  You may want to stop and say a short prayer, asking God to encourage and strengthen you through His Word (I’m stopping now to pray for you!).

#1 A Song about God’s Holiness

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: "'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,' who was, and is, and is to come." (Revelation 4:8, NIV)

This first song reminds us that our God always has been and always will be absolutely holy.  It is so important to remember that while God temporarily allows evil to exist in His Creation, He Himself is not even 0.00000001% evil.  He is absolutely, entirely, completely, wholly, pure and good.  He has never done anything wrong and He never will.  When He allows evil for a short time, and in limited ways, He does so for entirely good reasons.  We can always trust Him to be good and to do right.

#2  A Song about God’s Power Seen in Creation

"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 4:11, NIV)

This song reminds us of God’s great power seen in the fact that He created everything.  When we say that God is worthy “to receive glory and honor and power” we don’t mean that He ever lacked those things.  We mean that it is good and right for all people to recognize how powerful and glorious He is and to praise Him in response.  God is far more powerful than hurricanes!

#3 A song about God’s Great Love Demonstrated by His Redeeming Act of Sacrificial Love

9 And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."
 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
 12 In a loud voice they were saying: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
 13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!"
 14 The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.
 (Revelation 5:9-14 NIV)

This song celebrates the sacrifice Jesus made in order to redeem us. In the first three songs we have seen God’s perfect goodness, His great power, and His amazing love! This third song also celebrates the great success of God’s plan to save people from every language and nation.  This plan is visible throughout the Bible, but is most famously revealed in the Great Commission.  Here we get a glimpse of the great joy we will experience when we see that the Great Commission has been completed. This vision of a great Heavenly song has inspired many songs here on earth.  One moving example which gives just a tiny hint of what Heaven will be like can be seen here:

#4  Continued Praise because God Saves People from Every Nation!

Revelation 7:
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."
 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
 12 saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!"

Despite all the darkness and suffering in this world, God saves us. In fact, He actually uses the suffering as part of His plan to bring and spread His salvation. His plan of salvation is a stunning, worldwide success.  One contemporary song which captures this truth well is this one by the Newsboys:

#5  A Song Thanking God for Using His Power to Make Everything Right

Revelation 11:
15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever."
 16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God,
 17 saying: "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.
 18 The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small-- and for destroying those who destroy the earth."

While we understand that God is patiently allowing evil and suffering to continue in order to give time for people to be saved all over the world, we still long for Him to use His great power to establish His perfect rule and end all evil.  In response to all the evil we face, we long for a day of justice.  This song celebrates the day when God finally stops all evil and brings perfect justice.  For those who have served Him, this day will bring great rewards.  We thank God for the vision of the end which He has given us through John.

As far as a “modern” song we sing inspired by this passage, I am going to wait and share a song which incorporates elements of the next two Revelation songs along with this one.

#6 A Song Celebrating God’s Justice

Revelation 15:
2 And I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God
 3 and sang the song of God's servant Moses and of the Lamb: "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations.
 4 Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed."

When God judges He always does so in a way that is entirely just and true.  This is true when He brings judgments in our world now in various forms.  Of course, in this world justice is never complete.  So we look forward to His final judgment to come.  It is wrong for us to seek revenge ourselves. But it is not wrong to desire final justice.  Every sin will be fully paid for, including all the hidden sins and all the sins which powerful people appear to get away with in this world.  For those who truly repent, their sins are paid for by the blood of Christ.  For the rest, a day a terrifying justice is fast approaching.  In the end no one gets away with anything. And that’s one more reason to praise God.

#7  A Final Song of Final Triumph

Revelation 19:1 After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
 2 for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants."
 3 And again they shouted: "Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever."
 4 The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: "Amen, Hallelujah!"
 5 Then a voice came from the throne, saying: "Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!"
 6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
 7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God's holy people.)

This final song in Revelation continues to celebrate God’s judgment and destruction of all evil.  It also celebrates God’s eternal reign.  Finally, multitudes shout with joyful thunderous praise because all of God’s people have been made perfect and will enjoy loving intimacy and perfect union with our God for ever and ever.  Hallelujah!

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

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