After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying, 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.' Once more they cried, 'Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.' And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who is seated on the throne, saying, 'Amen. Hallelujah!' And from the throne came a voice crying, 'Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.' Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying, 'Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure'—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' And he said to me, 'These are true words of God.' Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, 'You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.' For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
Bethlehem is a vision of God—
- a God of salvation and glory and power (v. 1),
- a God whose judgments are true and just (v. 2),
- a God who vindicates his servants and avenges their blood (v. 3),
- a God of small people and great people (v. 5),
- an almighty God who reigns sovereign and
absolute over all things (v. 6), and
- a God who arranged from all eternity for the marriage of his Son Jesus to a countless host of saved sinners, purified and beautified by his own blood (v. 7; 1:5).
Bethlehem is a vision of this God.
What We Need to Reassert the Centrality of God
I said at the leadership retreat, and in last week's STAR, that we exist to reassert the rightful place of this God in all of life—to reassert the truth that the secular neglect of God under the guise of openness and neutrality is in fact a rejection of God's purpose to be loved and trusted and enjoyed and followed and glorified in everything his creatures do.
But to have the kind of love and freedom and courage that it will take to make a case for God in all the areas of life outside this church—to stand up and say what God wants said, no matter the cost—to have that kind of love and freedom and courage will mean that we meet together in small bands of deep camaraderie to stir each other up to love and good deeds. That was the point of last week's message.
In order to reassert God's rightful place in all of life we have to be stirred up to love with risk-taking freedom and courage. And in order to be stirred up like that we need to encourage each other with the promises of God and the faithfulness of God. And in order to encourage like that we need to meet together in small groups. That was the point of Hebrews 10:23–25.
Bethlehem is a vision of God, and we exist to reassert and spread that vision in all of life, and to that end we also exist to strengthen the vision through meeting together in small groups.
A Certain Kind of Heart
But if that strengthening (in small groups) and that spreading (in all the areas of life) is authentic, it comes from a certain kind of heart, namely, a heart that really savors the vision—really loves God, really enjoys his fellowship, really stands in awe of his glory, really trembles at his holiness, really looks look forward to his appearing. Unless there is this heartfelt attachment to God and gladness that he is God and admiration of all that he is as God, then all talk of stirring people up to spread his fame is phony.
So Bethlehem exists at its very heart to savor the vision God. If we are going to spread it in all of life, we have to strengthen it in small groups, and if all that is going to be authentic, we have to savor it—and that is what worship is all about. And that is the point of this morning's message.
John's Vision of the Destruction of Babylon
An angel had been communicating to the apostle John on the island of Patmos where he had been exiled because of the testimony of Jesus and the Word of God (1:9). All of chapters 17 and 18 are John's vision of God's destruction of Babylon, which I think stands for the final, climactic expression of rebellious civilization. Babylon is the end-time center of human power and glory and wealth.
The angel calls Babylon a great harlot. Chapter 17:1–2 begins, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication." And at the end of the chapter (v. 18) the angel says, "The woman that you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth."
She exerts power over them because of the lust they have for her wealth and power and glory. And everything human that a city pulls together, instead of offering it up to God in thanks and praise, she prostitutes to commercial gain and gives herself to the lusts of the nations. And in the process she attacks God's people. See 18:24, "And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth."
The horrendous downfall of this godless city (and civilization) at the end of the age is described in chapter 18. See v. 2: "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!" In verse 21 John sees an angel take up a stone like a great millstone and throw it into the sea, saying, "So shall Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and shall be found no more."
The Celebration of God's Triumph
Then in chapter 19:1–10 (our text) John hears the worship service in heaven celebrating God's triumph over Babylon. Verse 1: "After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying, 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just.'"
And at the end all this overwhelming revelation of what would happen to Babylon and how heaven would celebrate, John is so stunned that he falls down (in verse 10) and starts to worship the angel who had come to him with all this revelation. But the angel stops him and says (see the middle of verse 10), "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God."
The Goal of the Revelation
That's the goal of everything the angel has been revealing. That's what the whole book of Revelation is about. That's the point of all God's judgments, all God's dealings with the world. All God's plans for history from beginning to end have this one goal—WORSHIP GOD! Don't worship the wealth of Babylon, don't worship the power of Babylon, don't worship the pleasures of Babylon, and don't even worship the holy messenger who brings you the news that Babylon has fallen forever. WORSHIP GOD!
Bethlehem is an alien outpost in Babylon. And we exist to reassert God's rightful place wherever it has been prostituted to secular commerce or secular education or secular entertainment or secular media or secular arts or secular sports. All the people of God, exiled in Babylon, are called to be filled with the Spirit of prophecy (Acts 2:17f.), and the Spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 19:10)—the testimony that Jesus is the Lord of the universe and that means Lord over every area of secular life in Babylon.
But as an alien outpost in Babylon we know what's coming. And we know what the worship of heaven is going to be like when Babylon comes down, and God stand's forth to vindicate his Son. And we know from verse 10 that the reason this has all been revealed to us ahead of time is that we might WORSHIP GOD. God let John hear the celebration of heaven so that in his exile and his suffering he might join in and worship God. And John wrote it down in a book so that we might listen to the worship of heaven and join in.
What Corporate Worship Is to Be
The outposts of the kingdom of God in Babylon are meant not only to reassert God's rightful place in all the areas of life, and not only to strengthen each other's hands in small groups, but also to be a powerful people of worship drawing down into the darkness of Babylon the light and glory and joy and power of heaven's celebration of God's final triumph over all evil.
Corporate worship at Bethlehem is the declaration in the midst of Babylon that we will not be drawn into her harlotries, because we have found in God the satisfaction of our souls. In his presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore. Corporate worship is the public savoring of the worth of God and the beauty of God and power of God and the wisdom of God. And therefore worship is an open declaration to all the powers of heaven and to all of Babylon that we will not prostitute our minds or our hearts or our bodies to the allurements of the world. Though we may live in Babylon, we will not be captive to Babylonian ways. And we will celebrate with all our might the awesome truth that we are free from that which will be destroyed.
Worship is not the performance of a routine of hymns and prayers and preaching and anthems. When the angel said to John, who had fallen at his feet, "Don't do that to me. Worship God," he did not mean, recite a creed, or open your hymnal, or listen to a sermon. He meant connect with GOD! Focus on God, not the messenger. Concentrate on God, not the hymn tune. Pursue God, not just knowledge about God. And in all your focusing and concentrating and pursuing after God, seek to stir up your feelings to love him and honor him and admire him and fear him and enjoy him and savor him.
Corporate worship at Bethlehem is the blatant, public savoring of God in the midst of a very seductive Babylonian culture. Worship is the flagrant, open enjoyment of God as the fountain of life. And therefore it is a public declaration that God is more to be desired than all the pleasures of Babylon.
Three Things the Multitude of Heaven Saw of God
For us to worship God the way the multitude of heaven worshiped, we have to see God the way they saw him. So I want to close this morning by focusing your mind on three things that they saw. In Revelation 19:1 they cry out, "Hallelujah [which is a Hebrew word for praise God]—hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God." Three things: salvation and glory and power. Where do they see these three things?
Babylon's Judgment and the Avenging of God's Servants
First, they see them in the judgment on Babylon and the avenging of the servants of God. Verse 2: "for his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants." Heaven worships God for his truth and justice manifest in his final judgment on Babylon. And not only that, verse 3 says that heaven worships God because his judgment is everlasting: "Once more they cried, 'Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.'" Evil and rebellion against God will never escape to arise again to torment the servants of the Lord.
God's Absolute Sovereignty
The second thing that moves heaven to worship God is the sight of his absolute sovereignty as the Ruler over all things. Verse 6: "Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying, 'Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.'" He is the Lord. He is God. He is Almighty. And therefore he reigns.
This is the rock bottom foundation for all worship in the midst of Babylon. How does a little band of believers, a little alien outpost of faith keep on singing the praises of God with hope and confidence and joy in the midst of mighty Babylon? The answer is that God reigns over Babylon.
Look at Revelation 17:16–17, "And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the harlot [that's Babylon]; they will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled."
This is what heaven saw. And it brought a thunderpeal of Hallelujah from the great multitude. And this is what will keep us singing with all our might right in the midst of Babylon, even if it costs us our lives. Our God reigns over Babylon and over the beast and over every power in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
The Marriage of God's Son
And finally the third thing that moves heaven to worship is the sight of the marriage of God's Son. Verse 7: "Let us rejoice and exult and give God glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready." All of redemptive history for thousands of years has been aiming at this one thing; the final union of the Son and God and the people of God in glory forever and ever.
Someone may ask, "If verse 7 says that the Bride made herself ready, why does heaven cry, 'Give God the glory'?" The answer is given in verse 8: "It was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints." So how did the Bride make herself ready? By putting on fine linen, bright and pure. And what is the fine linen? The righteous deeds of the saints. But how did the saints come to do these deeds? By what power or means did the Bride of Christ clothe herself with fine linen? Answer (v. 8): "It was granted her to be clothed with fine linen." By whom? By God.
We do our righteous deeds, and therefore it is fitting that heaven cry out: "The Bride has made herself ready." But we do not do them in our own strength. They are a gift from God—prepared before the foundation of the world that we might walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). And therefore it is even more fitting that heaven cry out, "Give God the glory."
And that is what we will do from the bottom of our hearts, as long as God gives us breath and faith. Amen.