In our study of The Book of Revelation, we've been cautious in our approach to the imagery and words of John's vision. We know some people can get lost in phantasmagorical interpretations and predictions of the straightforward text. There's a profound theological word for how people can get carried away with The Book of Revelation…whackadoodle. Almost all of us have seen it or heard it or read about it sometime or another.
Here's something to help us maintain clear-eyed focus:
THE VISIONS ARE INTENDED TO CONFRONT READERS WITH VIVID PORTRAYALS OF THE TRUTH OF A FINAL DAY OF JUDGMENT RATHER THAN TO SUPPLY THEM WITH DATA FOR A PRECISE CHRONOLOGY OF THE END TIMES.
Chapter fifteen is the preamble to chapter sixteen. In other words, all the certainty and completeness of divine wrath against all sinfulness is going to
break loose in chapter sixteen. Chapter sixteen will build in intensity, from putrid and grievous sores, through water turned to blood, and scorching sun, to an earthquake so great that the entire configuration of the earth is violently altered:
Show Slide of Pangaea…
While this took tens or probably hundreds of millions of years, the next movement is going to be sudden and convulsing and cataclysmic. Absolutely horrific.
With chapter sixteen comes the final judgment.
So, in order to lead us confidently into chapter sixteen, chapter fifteen is all about praise and worship. That's a great place to be. The momentousness of chapter sixteen calls for words of assurance that God's ways are just.
Before we begin with verses 1-2, let's look at an obvious Biblical fact:
GOD HAS TOLD US COUNTLESS TIMES THAT HE WILL ACT AGAINST SIN.
Going all the way back to Genesis, we read of God's anger over sin and the rebelliousness of His people. Over and over again we read of God's anger
with the wicked.
But here's where God's grace and mercy come in. God is gracious in His warning of His wrath. We've spent the first fourteen chapters, in one way or another, hearing warning after warning that the time to repent is coming to an end. That's why they're euphemistically called the end times. Sands are slowly falling through the hourglass marking the time to turn from wickedness. God warns of damning judgment. Here's something you might want to write down:
GOD'S HOLINESS DEMANDS THAT HE JUDGE AND HIS LOVE DEMANDS THAT HE WARN.
The bottom line is that chapter fifteen isn't written to defend God's wrath. God doesn't need any defense. God will bring judgment to pass. His character demands it. If God were to let sin Go unpunished, He wouldn't be Righteous. He wouldn't be True. He wouldn't be Holy. And if God couldn't do anything about that which He ultimately detests, then He wouldn't be Creator. He wouldn't be Marvelous. He wouldn't be Almighty.
But God is all those things. And God's judgment flows out of His character.
God's Holiness demands wrath. God has to hate sin. It is His nature to destroy sin forever. Remember, on the cross, Jesus Christ destroyed sin's power over us in this life so we could live eternally in his glorious presence. So when history comes to an end, all wickedness will be vanquished. It is God's nature to destroy sin forever from His presence. He will burn it away. As Habakkuk 1:13 says, "You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?" Habakkuk is affirming that God will do what is in His nature to do.
Do you remember the old saying, "God hates the sin, but loves the sinner?" That's why Jesus said, "For God so loved the world…" Jesus died for our sins. While we were still lost in our sins, Christ died for us, that we might repent and turn to him. Love the sinner…hate the sin. God hates sin so much that He sent His Son to die for sinners. That's love. Nahum 1:3 and 6 puts it this way:
"The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty."
"Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him."
Then verses seven and eight give us this contrast:
The Lord is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
In the earlier chapters of Revelation, clearly God loving the sinner and hating the sin was fully operative. But it stops here after chapter fifteen. We are entering the time in history where God loves His own and hates the sinner.
Fifteen is the chapter we need. Let's first look at verses one and two:
Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.
And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire - and also
those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its
name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.
What is happening here? What do those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life do before the wrath of God is finished? Right…they worship. We cannot underestimate the power of worship and the connection between what we do here and what we will be doing when history comes to an end. We worship now and we will worship then.
Harps indicate praise…rejoicing…singing. It's a beautiful thing. Voices are joined in heaven - and our voices will be among them - voices are joined in heaven in an anthem of praise celebrating the Holiness of God and the Righteousness of His works. Amen?
"Great" of verse 1 = incredible.
"Amazing" of verse 1 = marvelous, impressive, astonishing.
Those words describe and define the worship. All those who did not
succumb to the wickedness of the beast are in the heavenly choir.
Now verses three and four:
And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
Again, what are we doing? We are worshiping. We are singing and praising. We aren't concerned over that which we have no control. God is exercising His divine authority. We are caught up in an interlude of victory and praise. Horrible things are going to happen in chapter sixteen. But that
is no longer our concern. We are caught up in glorious, heavenly worship.
Did you ever have a younger sibling or friend who had a hard time keeping up when you went on childhood adventures? You know, that one kid who was always yelling, "Hey, you guys, wait up!" Or, "Hey, guys, wait for me!"
Well, the sermon prep for this message was broken up into two days, mainly because of a computer issue. Anyway, overnight a passage came to mind that fits perfectly into our transition from chapter fifteen to chapter sixteen. 1 Samuel 2:12 says:
"Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord."
We remember the saying God hates the sin but loves the sinner. That time is drawing to a close. I'm reminded of a headline from Christian humor/ satire website, The Babylon Bee…"'People Are Basically Good,' Says Man Unfamiliar With People." 1 Samuel 2:12 is kind of a foreshadowing of God's justice, righteousness, and holiness in its full expression. Worthless people will be judged. The full expression of God's hatred for sin and sinners is about to open up.
Before that happens, we need to pause for praise. We're not praising God
for the horribleness that's about to happen. We're praising God because He is God. We all understand that.
The song of Moses and of the Lamb is a song of praise to God for His great and marvelous acts. Specifically, the song of Moses is from Exodus 15. It is long. Here are some excerpts:
The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.
“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
Do you hear what I hear in the song of Moses? It deals with God's faithfulness, God's deliverance of His own, and judgment of the ungodly. It is a beautiful accompaniment to the song of the Lamb.
Listen again to the expressions of God's character:
"Great and marvelous are your works." God is Creator. God upholds the universe by His power.
"Righteous and true are your ways." God does not change. God is always right.
"You are the King of Nations." This is about God's sovereignty. God is in charge.
"Who will not fear and glorify Your name?" In other words, God and God alone is worthy of Honor and Glory and Praise.
"For you alone are Holy." This one is huge, because it proclaims God's absolute moral perfection.
When you listen to them, most of the best worship music reflect some or all of these character attributes of God.
Here's something else you might want to write down:
TO GLORIFY THE NAME OF GOD IS TO PRAISE HIM FOR WHAT HE IS AND ALL THAT HE HAS DONE.
Let's finish with verses five through eight:
After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.
God calls us to a place of worship as He sets in motion the vivid expression of His righteousness. God is about to move against those under the influence of the beast. He will judge powers and principalities. He will judge governments and rulers. He will judge elected officials and appointed bureaucrats. He will judge those who wield authoritarian power against free people. He will judge those who turn from the cross. He will judge those whose greatest desire is to be on the right side of history rather than on the right side of the truth of His Word. He will judge those who use their coercive power to deny people their God-given freedom. He will judge those who arrogantly reject the gift of salvation through Christ and Christ alone. He will judge those who ignorantly reject the gift of salvation through Christ and Christ alone. He will judge those who have neither fear in judgment nor joy in salvation. The time for mercy and grace is ending.
Make no mistake. The eternal God will not have sin and sinners destroying His universe forever. God is forever, but sin is not. Just as darkness hates the light, God will not allow sin to live forever. And so the unfolding of God's plan. He will destroy sin. He will destroy sinners. God will remove from His presence and the presence of those whose names have been written in the Lamb's Book of Life those who are lost in their sin. No longer will the beauty of God's creation be polluted with the presence of wickedness.
We end with a smoke-filled room. God is now present in all His glory and power to carry out His judgment upon the wicked. The smoke indicates that the time for repentance has passed. The smoke signals God's unapproachable majesty and power. The end has come. No longer does God stand at the door knocking. He is now bursting in with sovereign judgment. This glorious worship in chapter fifteen prepares us for the
outpouring of divine wrath. The worship in chapter fifteen shares with us God's plan for holiness…His plan for peace…His plan for perfection…His plan for joy. That is a wonderful thing.
Father, we thank You for this day of grace. We pray that hearts will be sensitized to Your grace and mercy before it's too late. We pray that people will come to You before the coming judgment. We also lift up prayers of thanksgiving that You have delivered us from the wrath to come. We look to Christ as the Author of our salvation. Thank You for the faith You have poured into our hearts. And thank You for the privilege of following Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Amen.