When God is Big… is a sermon series examining what happens when you have a bigger vision of who God is. Worship is Obvious — If God has created us, then he deserves our lives. But if God has saved us, then he deserves our love. When you see and celebrate God as Creator and Savior, worship goes from optional to obvious. Recorded on Sep 12, 2021, on Revelation 4-5, by Pastor David Parks.
All year, we’re focusing on The Greatness of God. And today we get to start a brand new sermon series called When God is Big… And the big idea of this sermon series is this: Way too many Christians have way too small a view of who God is. And when God is small, not necessarily in reality but in your mind, imagination, and heart, that has a direct impact on your life. Even though you might believe in God, when God is small, other things become big. Your circumstances, emotions, and failures can not only become big, they can become all-consuming. But what happens when God is big? What happens when you have a better/truer/bigger vision of who God is? Well, it changes everything. So in this series, we’re going to start by considering what changes in life through the lens of our four core values of worship, community, ministry, and mission. These things change with a bigger vision of God. Then, after that, we’ll consider what changes in your life in a few of the main issues that many people in/outside the church struggle with today including fear, personal identity, and addiction. When God is big, it has a huge impact on how we live out our values and how we deal with our issues. But today, we’ll start with how the greatness of God changes our experience of and priority for worship. My goal today is that you would see that when God is big…worship is obvious. Please open your Bible/app to Rev 4, starting with v. 1. Now, this is a longer passage, so we’ll unpack this as we go. v.1.
Revelation 4:1-6, “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. 6 Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.”
So Revelation is fascinating. Some Christians obsess over it. Others avoid it. Now, one of the reasons it’s hard for us to understand is that it’s an ancient work, similar to other works of Jewish apocalyptic literature. It’s full of otherworldly images, beasts, and symbols. It’s difficult to know if it’s meant to be taken literally, figuratively, or a combination of both. So my goal today is to be clear on the parts that are clear and tread carefully when the path isn’t as clear. So with that, let’s consider the text we just read. First, can you imagine if you found a door that was open, and on the other side was heaven? Not the heaven of TV and movies. But the actual heaven? God’s space. A spiritual realm outside of space-time. What do you think you’d see? John says the first thing he noticed was the voice of Jesus. The first voice he had heard, the voice like a trumpet, was Jesus Christ. John says that he was “in the Spirit.” What does that mean? Well, every Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit, but he isn’t saying he became a Christian here. He’s describing a spiritual vision or being caught up in the Spirit, similar visions that several OT prophets had such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. In fact, this whole passage seems to reference/echo aspects of those heavenly visions. So John caught up in the Spirit, sees a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. There’s a king in heaven. And what does this king look like? Good question. What’s the most beautiful, most expensive, most dazzling thing you could imagine? That’s what John is trying to communicate by using descriptions of jewels and rainbows. In other words, the heavenly king can’t really be described using earthly language. John is stretching words to find descriptions that fit the radiant glory of his vision. And the heavenly king is surrounded by twenty-four elders who together with the thunder and lightning, the lamps and spirits, and the sea of glass, the throne room of heaven must’ve been an awe-inspiring vision, to say the least. v.6.
Revelation 4:6-11, “In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 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.” 9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 11 “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.”
Let’s pause here. So now, to add to this vision, we have four living creatures that look like nothing we’ve ever seen. However, these creatures are similar to the cherubim and seraphim, or angelic creatures, that are present in throne room visions from other prophets. So we’re meant to see a continuity to those visions. This isn’t some fever dream. This isn’t just an over-active imagination. This is John seeing into the throne room of God. The four living creatures are continually praising God saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” And following their lead, whenever the living creatures praise God, the elders fall down before the throne and worship God. They cast down their crowns before the throne saying, what? “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.” The content of their worship is rooted in God’s work as the Creator of all things. And this brings me to my first point.
If God has created us, then he deserves our lives. If God is the Creator — if he is the maker of heaven and earth if he is the one who formed the stars; if he is the one who thought of things like space and time and gravity and particles and people. If God is the one who is the author and the source of all life in heaven and earth, including your own. Then all of us, every single one of us, owe God everything. Because none of us would be here, in fact, nothing would be here without his divinely creative power and will. The twenty-four elders have thrones and they have golden crowns, implying both a measure of honor and glory and authority for themselves. But what happens when they worship the Lord? They get off their thrones, they bow down, they humble themselves before God. And they cast their crowns down before him. Why? Because if God has created us, then he deserves our lives, even the best of our lives, which is what the crowns represent. According to the Bible, the whole of reality is founded on its opening verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” However, the fact that God is the Creator isn’t by itself good news. After all, what if this Creator God was a tyrant? What if he was evil? What if he created us just to play with us or to use us or to abuse us? If God has created us, then he deserves our lives whether or not he is good. We would still owe him everything and I believe we would still owe him our allegiance and our worship. But the Christian claim is that God is more than just the Creator, he is also the Savior. The claim is that God is great, but God is also good. Let’s continue with chapter 5 and we’ll see this theme as well. Chapter 5, v. 1.
Revelation 5:1-10, “Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 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.”
So here we have an initial problem, which is a big problem. And the problem is the scroll with writing on both sides. This is either the book of life that is mentioned later in Revelation, that is, the record of those who have been saved by the redemptive work of the lamb. Or this scroll is a scroll of judgment. In Ezekiel’s vision, he is given a scroll with writing on both sides that is a book of judgment and mourning and woe — a record of what is wrong with the world. And the initial problem is that there is no one who is found to be worthy to open it. And John weeps and weeps because a creation that is broken by sin and death, without a savior, isn’t just disappointing, it’s devastating. It’s hopeless. It’s judgment and condemnation alone. Many people today are ambivalent about God, they’re casually agnostic but they haven’t fully thought out the implications of their position. If there is no lamb, if there is no sacrifice to atone for our sin, if there is no savior, then life is worse than meaningless. We too ought to weep and weep. But wait. One of the elders tells John there is hope. And he is the one who is called the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, the Lamb who was slain. Of course, this is Jesus. But is Jesus literally a lion/root/lamb? No. Jesus is a man. But this symbolic language helps us understand more about who Jesus is and what he has accomplished for us. How was Jesus the conquering lion? He died as the sacrificial lamb. And because of his death on the cross, for the sins of the world, he was found to be worthy to open the scroll and to purchase or redeem people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. So first, if God has created us, then he deserves our lives. Second…
But if God has saved us, then he deserves our love. God isn’t evil. God doesn’t delight in the death and condemnation of the wicked. In John’s vision and in the gospel we see God’s heart to rescue and redeem the lost/last/least among us. We see the willingness of Jesus to step out of heaven and step down into the earth. We see his willingness to serve/teach/live with/love his disciples. We see his heart in calling them his friends and saying that he was willing to lay down his life for them. We see his desire that they and we would share the depth of love and relationship that he had experienced for all of time with his Father in heaven. This is Jesus, this is the lamb that was slain, this is the one who is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise. The one who took our place and bore our sin, so that we might be set free from the power of sin and death and hell forever. The one who rose again on the third day, victorious, risen, alive, and reigning as the King of Heaven. If God has created us, then he deserves our lives, even the best of our lives, whether we want to worship or not. But if God has saved us, through the person and work of Jesus, then he deserves our love. We don’t have to weep any longer. He will wipe every tear from our eyes. Revelation 5 ends with the whole of creation, every living thing in heaven and on earth, singing in praise and worship of this God of creation and salvation. This is the song of heaven.
The big idea today is this: When God is big, worship is obvious. John had a vision. He found a door that opened into the throne room of heaven and what he saw inside, as crazy as the imagery is, was a vision of how life should be here and now. When you see God for who he is, especially in his work of creation and salvation, as you read through the Bible or you hear a sermon or you just remember/contemplate who God is, he becomes very big. He is everything. And you realize we not only owe him everything but he deserves the primary place in our hearts and our affections, the place above all else. And when God takes that place in our hearts, worship is obvious. Let’s think for a moment about what happens when God is small — again, not in reality, but in our hearts/minds. When God is small, then worship is optional. If it works, great! If not, no big deal. You only participate if fits your preferences or it fits in your schedule. If we do the songs you like, you’ll be there. If the preaching is good, you keep coming back. If you aren’t busy this weekend, you plan on it. But when God is big…worship is obvious, it supersedes your preferences, and reprioritizes your schedule. Why? Because Jesus is worthy to be praised. He has formed you and redeemed you and is transforming you by the power of his Spirit. Now, I know that sometimes people get sick or go on vacation or life conspires against our ability to gather in worship. But when God is big, worship is obvious. And is simply a natural overflow of a heart that sees and celebrates the beauty and glory of Jesus, the lamb who was slain, the only one who is worthy of our worship.