Sunday, October 3, 2010

By All, in All Places, at All Times

Texts: Micah 4:1-5; Revelation 5:6-14

I WANT YOU TO LOOK AROUND. WHAT do you see? The same familiar church sanctuary, right? Look more closely. What do you see? The pulpit's in its usual place; the Communion table is front and center, today with the elements of the Lord's Supper laid out on it . . . But what do you see? Look at each other. All around you are the same old-- or young!-- church friends and family you see every week, correct?

But look more closely. Look with the eyes of the spirit. Look with eyes opened and made keen by the Holy Spirit of God. What do you see now?

It is my hope and desire that you see yourselves gathered together with apostles, martyrs, and evangelists of every time and place, with saints of every nation, race, tribe, and language. I would that you knew yourselves to be worshipping in the presence of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. It is my prayer that you see yourself falling down before the spotless Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of the world; that you experience how He, the Crucified One, has even now raised you up with Him to the very throne of God.

For, brothers and sisters, that is among whom and where we are today, and among whom and where we are every time we worship our holy and living God in spirit and in truth. We are more than just the visible group you see congregated here Sunday after Sunday. The Church of Jesus Christ includes all His people who have ever lived and ever will live, and together with them we join in confessing that one true faith that is to be held by all people, in all places, at all times. We join with them in receiving the life-giving truth of God as He imparts it to us through His Word read and preached. We come to Him with our praises and petitions. We share our Lord's Holy Spirit and receive Jesus' own self by taste and touch as He gives Himself to us in the bread and the cup. What we do this morning is not something restricted to the Dallas Presbyterian Church, nor does it happen only on World Communion Sunday. No, brothers and sisters, whenever two or three or two or three thousand are gathered together in Christ's name, we are one in Him with all His Church. And in this holy meeting we with all Christ's saints know the joy of sacred union with our God and Father through our Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Do you know what your purpose in life is? Your purpose is to find your highest joy and fulfillment in worshipping your almighty, infinite Savior God. But we tramp through this world day after day, and it can be hard to realize that. It's difficult to imagine that receiving God's word and praising Him is our ultimate enjoyment! The troubles and tedium of everyday life simply get in the way.

It's not just that we get distracted, either, or that other good things take up our attention. It's the sin that dwells within us. We're not really inclined to worship God. The natural inclination of every person ever born is to worship his or her own will and desires; actually to worship himself, and what a dead, dark, and lonely worship that is! Our sin cuts us off from almighty God; it makes us liable to His wrath; it keeps us far from His presence. The prophets of old declared the judgement of the Lord against the idolatry of all people, Jew and Gentile alike. And that idolatry continues today. The natural human inclination is to find the worship of God to be a bore. "Pastor, get us out of church in an hour!" people say. "Forty-five minutes if it's a game day!" And that's regardless of whether the true riches of the faith are being proclaimed from the pulpit or not.

But the will and purpose of our Father in heaven for us, is that we should know our greatest joy in worshipping and enjoying Him, both in this world and the next. And that this joy be shared with all peoples from all times and from all places.

So out of all the nations, God called the Hebrew people to be His very own, that He might teach them to worship Him as He deserved. He gave them the sacrificial system in the tabernacle and the temple, not as an ultimate solution to sin, but as a looking forward to the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world. And for centuries this special relationship was only for the Jews. For centuries before the coming of our Lord Jesus only Israel had the right and privilege to worship and enjoy Him. The Gentile nations were enmired in the worship of idols and demons opposed to the God of Israel. They liked it that way. If you asked the Gentiles, they would have said that that Lord-- whom they knew as God Most High-- was worth worshipping, sure, but you could get so much more of what you wanted out of gods like Molech or Astaroth. The foreign nations were enemies to Israel and their God and Israel and its Lord were opposed to them.

But the word of the Lord came by prophets like King David in the Psalms, by Isaiah and Micah and others, looking forward to a day when the Gentiles would be included in the glorious worship of God. This would happen after Israel had been judged for their own unfaithfulness to the divine covenant, in "the last days" after the Messiah was revealed and the holy remnant that is the true Israel was called forth.

Micah says,

[T]he mountain of the LORD's temple will be established
as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.

By this we understand that the time would come when peoples all over the world would recognize that the God of the Jews was not just another national god, but the high and exalted holy Lord of the Universe, to whom all owe devotion and honor. This will not be according to the natural way of things, for look, the stream of peoples is flowing up the mountain of the Lord, drawn there by His majesty and power. This is the same scene we see in our reading from Revelation 5, where every creature in heaven and on earth is gathered around the throne of God praising and falling down before Him. This is not the natural order of things: This can only happen by the hand of God!

Micah goes on to say,

Many nations will come and say,
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths."

Here we see that the proclamation of the word of God is basic to true worship! Some, even many, people these days believe that "worship" is all about what we give to the Lord in our songs and praises, and that reading, teaching, and preaching aren't really needed at all. But if we do not first receive from Him, we grow weak and dull of spirit, and we forget what we are praising Him for. When we come together as a church God first of all serves us, and we respond to His gifts with our praise. All true worship of God is centered around the word of the Gospel of Christ, where we hear again how He was born and lived a sinless human being, true God but fully man; how He died on the cross to take away the sins of the world; how he rose again in victory to give us new and everlasting life; how He sits at the right hand of God forever interceding for us. We who have been Christians for years need to hear that good news over and over, too, just as much as the most wandering sinner needs to hear it for the first time. In fact, I think we can appreciate it more, for we've had longer to think about everything Jesus has saved us from! We know better than any new convert what He has done to make us rejoice!

And so in Revelation the divine worship centers around Jesus Christ the Lamb and His infinite worthiness. The scroll symbolizes His judgement against sin. Jesus accomplished it on the earth by the victory of His cross, and it will be totally fulfilled when He comes again in glory. For as it says in the new song of the elders and the living creatures,

"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation."

Jesus' righteous blood gives Him the right to execute judgement on all who remain in rebellion against the Lord of all; but His blood covers our sins, having purchased us for God out of the evil of this world.

This word of mercy compels us to fall down in worship and adoration! We deserved nothing but wrath, but Christ through His cross has brought us joy and salvation and communion with God forever! And this mercy is not only for us, it's for people of every tribe and language and people and nation!

In fact, we are among those nations who have been streamed up to the mountain of the Lord. Are our ancestors Jews? Were we among the original covenant people? No, we were Gentiles, we represent the tribes and languages and peoples whom Jesus has redeemed for God! As St. Peter says in his first Epistle, "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy"! So in Revelation it says,

"You have made them to be a kingdom and priests
to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth."

I hope you are struck as I am that we with all the saints have been purchased for God. Together we are a kingdom and priests to serve Him. How does a priest serve? By bringing the good gifts of God to the people and leading the people in praise to God. Our whole lives should declare the goodness of our Lord, shown to us in the cross of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Our whole lives are called to be acts of praise to the Lamb, who was slain, who is worthy

"[T]o receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!"

Brothers and sisters, the glorious worship of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father will be made perfect in the Last Day when we receive our resurrection bodies and see our Lord face to face. But by His Spirit it goes on whenever we gather together in His name. Especially He makes it happen when we gather around the Table of our Lord. Here He gives us the benefits of His broken body and His shed blood in the elements of bread and wine. Here He renews in each of us His life-giving presence and unites us with saints of all times and in all places, while angels look on with rejoicing and awe.

But is our worship then finished? No, as the kingdom of Christ reigning on the earth we take our worship into the world. Micah declares that

They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

This verse has often been applied to the secular sphere; it's even engraved on a monument outside the United Nations building in New York. But unless and until every last UN delegate and every last national leader willingly bows the knee to Jesus Christ, that monument is a waste of real estate. Micah says,

"All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods;
we will walk in the name of the LORD
our God for ever and ever."

And without the grace of our God extended to them, the nations of this world will continue to walk in the name of their false gods. But the Spirit has called us to walk in the name of the Lord and to enjoy the peace and unity destined for the people of God. We are one in Jesus now! So let the old weapons of your warfare with your family, your neighbors, your co-workers become instruments of cultivation and growth! Use your thought and will and creativity to make peace with one another. You have been redeemed by one Lamb into one holy body to be ministers of the one true God! So say No to all racial or ethnic or regional prejudices! Away with economic envy or factional strife! Among our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all one in Him. And although the world may not respond with peace, we can extend the peace of Christ even to those who do not believe and so show the holiness and grace of God in this fallen world.

Brothers and sisters, together we stand with angels and archangels and all the company of the redeemed in heaven and on earth, singing glory and praise to the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb who is worthy, the Lamb who has purchased us for God. It's no ordinary thing we do here. It's no ordinary life you lead. You are not alone in your most holy faith. You are joined together with the faithful people of God in every time and place, confessing His mighty acts and rejoicing in what He has done.

"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!"

Let us fall down and worship! Amen and amen!

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