CHRISTMAS EVE 2002

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 MESSAGE FOR CHRISTMAS EVE, 2005 FROM REVELATION 4-5

 

          One of the great challenges a sincere believer in Jesus Christ confronts as he/she seeks to celebrate Christmas in a God-honoring way is by God’s grace to keep the preciousness of the message and meaning of the incarnation of Christ from fading with time.  That is a significant challenge when you consider that some in this room have celebrated 50, 60 or even 80 Christmases.  You have sung the Christmas hymns countless times and heard the biblical texts on the incarnation preached over and over again.  Because the message is so familiar to us, it’s easy to minimize the truly profound nature of the truth of Christ’s incarnation.  Obviously, it’s the Holy Spirit who makes these familiar truths repeatedly fresh to us, but our part in cooperating with Him is to be ever looking for truth and seeking after fresh insights and affections from the Holy Spirit.  One reason the truth of the incarnation grows lukewarm is because we spend far less time reflecting on the wonder of the incarnation than on questions like, “I wonder whether she would like the blue sweater or the pink one better.” 

          Another reason the message of Christmas can become dry and lifeless to us is because our theological perspective is skewed.  Let me explain.  The general message of the incarnation of Christ is profoundly simple.  John says it this way, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”--God became a man and lived among us.  More specifically, God took on humanity a little over 2000 years ago in the particular form of a Hebrew baby born in Bethlehem to a virgin named Mary.  So, each year we again revisit the manger scene and focus on the baby--and that can hold great meaning for us, but the depth of that meaning is necessarily limited.  The problem in our perspective is we can easily focus too much on the baby’s humanity and the historical circumstances surrounding his entrance into this world, but not nearly enough on the most important “One” in this drama and that is of course, God. 

          We must understand that the wonder of the incarnation of Christ is not ultimately about a baby.  Our sense of wonder at the incarnation springs NOT from our depth of understanding of the baby, or even the humble trappings surrounding his birth.  All of us know what a baby is—they are small, cute, and completely dependent on others. The humble setting around which the story of Jesus’ birth is played out is full of wonder, but not even the events of this wonderful story can produce in us an inexhaustible supply of wonder.  The only source of endless wonder and amazement and worship connected to Christmas is that GOD—the eternal, immortal God of the Bible took on flesh and became a human being. 

          If our understanding of God is comprehensively Biblical and is informed by texts that speak of his majesty and awesome power and glory--if we spend much time meditating about things like his infinitude and his glorious splendor and those truths serve as a backdrop to the stories of Christ’s birth, THEN we will be in a position where we can be utterly astounded by the truth that God became a man.  One way to have an appropriate and unfading sense of wonder over the incarnation is to spend good time meditating NOT about a baby, with which we all can readily identify, but rather to spend time contemplating the glory of God because what sets the birth of Jesus apart from every other birth in history is that baby laid in the manger in Bethlehem was and is the eternal, Lord God Omnipotent.

          That’s why today we want to think about the majesty, the radiance, and the splendor of God as we move into the very throne room of God as the Bible presents that in the book of the Revelation.  When many people hear even the name of the book of the Revelation, a perplexed look crosses their face and their minds race with thoughts like, “who can understand that?”  Before we look into the text, let me give you two truths that will help set some perspective for us.  First, Revelation is a book of symbols and though the symbols have a specific meaning and must be interpreted, the author also writes in much the same way an impressionistic painter paints.  For instance, when the author opens the door to God’s throne room here in Revelation chapters four and five, in addition to communicating some very important truths about God, he also intends for us to feel something. He wants us to come away with an experience of the glory of God.  If we know that we are supposed to not only know something about God from this text, but also experience something of God, we will approach the text with the right perspective. That principle will keep us from being so hyper literal in our interpretation of the meaning of the symbols that we become confused when (for instance) we read of creatures who have eyes all over their bodies. 

          Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John’s point is not to confuse, but to convey something of the glory of what he has seen.  He would expect our circuit breakers to be blown by this picture of the glory of God as he has seen it in his throne room.  Second, we must understand that the symbols, even the most graphic, powerful and striking, only very weakly portray the full manifestation of God’s glory.  The apostle John has been to the very throne room of heaven and has pierced the veil into the very presence of Almighty God.  What he saw there simply cannot be fully contained with finite words.  We must never forget that this verbal picture he paints, as moving and vivid as it is, only suggests through a very faint image--the actual reality of God’s glory.  The reality goes well beyond this inspired description.

          With that as background and with our goal being a deeper appreciation of the incarnation, let’s take a brief look at Revelation four and five.  John writes in 4:1,After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."  2At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.  3And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.  4Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.  5From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God,  6and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

          And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:  7the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight.  8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"

          9And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever,  10the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11"Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."   5:1Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.  2And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?"  3And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it,  4and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.  5And one of the elders said to me, "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."

            6And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  7And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.  8And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  9And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."

         11Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,  12saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"  13And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"  14And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

          In light of this glorious heavenly scene depicted in Revelation four and five, let me make three very general observations about God that are clearly impressed upon us by this text.  First, God has a throne like no other.  No other throne has “a rainbow that has the appearance of an emerald” encircling it.  This is not created with laser lights or other pyrotechnic technology.  John intentionally mixes the images of a rainbow and a precious gemstone to communicate that this was beyond words—beyond quantifiable categories.  It was so breath-taking, so stunning, so captivating—it was like a sweeping, horizon-bridging rainbow, only it wasn’t made of little droplets of water creating a prism of light—it was more similar in quality to a flawless emerald—something normally small enough to hold in your hand, but this is on the scale of a rainbow and it circled the throne.  This must be an utterly immense throne to be have something as vast as a rainbow for its frame.  Do you get the impression John is trying to give here?  What we need to see is the awe-inspiring essence of what God has chosen as the backdrop for his glorious throne and we must never forget that this throne represents Christ’s rule or reign.  This is indeed a throne consistent with the reign of the Omnipotent, inexhaustively sovereign One from whom and through whom and to whom are ALL things.  This is the throne of the King of ALL kings and the Lord of ALL lords.

          A second observation from the text is God has a royal court like no other.  In any king’s throne room there is always some sort of royal court attending the king and the more powerful the king, the more impressive is his royal court.  You can tell how impressive a monarch is by the quality and number of people he keeps around him and what their response is to him.  In First Kings 10, we read of great King Solomon’s throne.  “The king also made a great ivory throne and overlaid it with the finest gold.  19The throne had six steps, and at the back of the throne was a calf's head, and on each side of the seat were armrests and two lions standing beside the armrests,  20while twelve lions stood there, one on each end of a step on the six steps. The like of it was never made in any kingdom.”  (Purely human kingdom, that is)

          As impressive as that scene no doubt was, John describes a royal heavenly court here in Revelation that is qualitatively different than any other.  In closest proximity to this heavenly king are not simply wise and trusted advisors, but enormously intimidating supernatural beings.  These four creatures resembling a lion and ox and the face of a man and a flying eagle are symbolically portrayed as the personification of nobility, (the lion) strength, (the ox) wisdom (the man) and the swiftness (flying eagle) of the entire created order.  Whereas earthly kings have noble beasts and gifted and respected people surrounding them, these creatures before God represent the highest expressions of those qualities embodied not in sin-tainted, fallen creation but in sinless and mighty angelic beings.

          Their response to God is never ending worship—the glorious creatures “day and night never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is and is to come.”  Our reaction to someone who endlessly repeats something is that they must be suffering from severe dementia or have a very low I.Q and can therefore be easily captivated.  Let’s face it, the first time we see the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls it is awe inspiring, but for the tour guides that work there, these scenes eventually become just part of the furniture.  After you have seen it thousands of times, the level of awe and wonder greatly diminishes.  Not so with God!  Being in his presence is much different than watching something created by Walt Disney or Stephen Spielberg or George Lucas—God never “gets old.”  His glorious luster never fades in the sight of even his sinful creatures.  Creatures who have beheld his glory for 1000’s of centuries—even creatures who are dazzling and awe-inspiring in their own right--like these four creature and the 24 gold-crowned elders--have never acclimated to him!  They cry out over and over, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.”  They don’t do respond that way because that happens to be the place in the production where they shout their well-rehearsed line—this is not staged or contrived.  They do it because the glory of God, which they behold, forces that up out of them in inexhaustible supply.

          Oh, don’t you long for something or someone the glory of which will never fade?!  You hear a piece of music for the first time and it moves you to tears so you buy the CD and you take it home and play it on your stereo and by the fifth of sixth time, the wonder has faded.  If you listen to it often enough, you will ultimately come to the point where if it is playing on the radio, you barely even notice it.  But there is something within us that longs to be perpetually awed—we long for that stimuli to which we will never acclimate.  That longing is nothing less than a longing for GOD.  We will never grow accustomed to his glory.  His glory will never fade—we will be as overwhelmed by it a billion years into eternity as we were the first moment we beheld it. 

A third and the most important observation here about God is:  He has a Son like no other Son.  In chapter four, the One seated on the throne is the God of creation—that’s clear from all the worship and symbolism.  But in chapter five, the spotlight shifts to the Lamb on the throne and notice the scene doesn’t change!  It’s the same throne, the same court worshipping him with the exact same blood earnestness and intensity.  It is precisely the same context.  Christ sits on the throne of God because he is God. In John 17:5 Jesus prays to the father on the eve on his crucifixion, “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.  Though we can’t know all of what he was praying for there, this scene and the glory he receives here is certainly part of the answer to his prayer. 

          Another layer of heavenly worshippers is introduced in chapter five.  In addition to the other beings John says, “11Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,  12saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"  An utterly innumerable quantity of different angelic beings also worships in a loud voice.  We can’t possibly imagine how loud and magnificent this would be. In the 1991World Series, the Twins took the Atlanta Brave to game seven and after nine innings it was a scoreless tie.  Finally, in the bottom of the tenth inning, Gene Larkin drove a ball into the outfield to score Dan Gladden to win the series for the Twins in the Metrodome. 

If you would have been in the Metrodome at that moment when the crowd exploded, you would perhaps have felt a very small level of the intensity (not the grandeur, but perhaps a bit of the intensity) that will be around the throne of God forever and ever.  We must hear something of the enormity of this spectacle.  If that weren’t glorious enough, in verse 13 yet another group is heard from.  13And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" In addition to what is happening inside the throne room, God gives John the supernatural capacity to hear the worship of everyone on the earth and under the earth and in the sea who are all also worshipping Christ. 

Do you in some small way get the impression John is trying to give us here of the glory of God?  And keep in mind; this portrayal of this heavenly scene is only a pale shadow of the reality that goes well beyond what finite words can communicate.  Do you get it?  Take that—what has just gone into your head from the Revelation—this glorious, exalted throne room of Almighty God, and import THAT understanding of our glorious, enthroned King to a cold, dank cave in Bethlehem and place all THAT into your understanding of that baby lying in a manger.  In the incarnation, GOD!!! became a baby. These dazzling heavenly creatures have been replaced by a few cows and sheep.  The inexplicably wondrous throne of the Great King is now exchanged for an animal’s feeding trough.  And while that heavenly vision of Christ is still fresh in your mind, transport all that willingly surrendered glory and bring it to your understanding of a broken, bleeding, spit-covered man impaled onto a wooden cross on a hill called Calvary.

          The apostle Paul summarizes this ultimate condescension this way in Philippians 2:6-8.  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,  7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself

and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!” If you are here today and you have not received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior to pay the just penalty your sins deserve then the door of heaven’s throne room is closed to you.  For those who have not placed their trust in Christ God has another, very different, but no less real place—a place of eternal torment and banishment from God.  If you want to know this mighty King—if you want to one day be among those who cry out to him, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and “Worthy is the Lamb” repent of your sins and place your trust in Him alone.  John wrote, “For as many as received him to them he gave the right to become children of God.”  In order to one day in the future worship God before the heavenly throne, you must now repent of your own self-centered rule of your life and instead allow him to rule your life from the throne room of your heart.  Come to Christ—repent of living for yourself and know this God personally who for a short while surrendered his glory to be born as a man and executed as a criminal on a cross.  May God give to each one of us the grace to come to more and more know and love the majesty and glory of God, so that we can more deeply appreciate what He did for us in the incarnation.

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