[Another sermon on the theme of worship, but focusing on who it is we are to be worshiping, preached July 2011, as part of a series on last day events.]
What is the key issue in the last days?
Seventh-day Adventists have sometimes said it was the Sabbath. But that’s just a piece of it. In fact, the word “Sabbath” never appears in the Book of Revelation.
Turn to Revelation 14, verse 6.
6And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
What does the angel call the world to do as it approaches its last hour? WORSHIP THE CREATOR.
Go down a couple of verses.
9And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, 10The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God.
What does this angel call the world to avoid? WORSHIP OF A CREATURE.
The word “worship” is used 22 times in Revelation, either calling men to worship God or warning them against worshipping creatures.
Here is the real dividing line. It’s the issue that goes back to Eden—will we let God be God, and worship him alone, or will we try to exalt a creature, and worship a creature, and give allegiance to a creature?
The Sabbath is important insofar as it helps us answer that question. The Sabbath itself is not of ultimate significance. Let me say it again: The Sabbath itself is not of ultimate significance. We don’t worship the Sabbath. We worship the One who created us and rested on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is important insofar as it tells us something about our Creator, and how and why we worship him, and what he wants our relationship with him to be like.
So let’s talk about the God we worship, and what we know about him.
St. Paul tells us in Romans 1 that the human mind on its own can know a little about God. Romans 1:19,
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
There is a religious sense in man, and men of all nations and tribes throughout history have been in awe of what Rudolf Otto named “the numinous,” a sense of the divine. He described it as a mysterium tremendum et fascinans, a mysterious force that both invokes fear in us, yet fascinates us at the same time.
But is this natural knowledge of God enough? No. Because though we can discern that there is something there, we can’t say with certainty what is like. As one philosopher once said, it’s like that feeling you get when you know someone is staring at you—but you cannot turn around and see who it is. And so humans have put their own names and concepts upon it. They have divinized forces of nature, and living things, and wondrous places. They have projected their own desires and hopes upon this force, trying to get their hands upon it, trying to find some way to relate to it. That’s what paganism is, in essence. It is putting human labels on powerful forces that the mind cannot comprehend.
Abram lived in a place filled with gods. But he turned his back on this entire way of thinking when the one God, the creator of heaven and earth, spoke to him.
The call of Abram marks the separation between the Abrahamic religions and all the other religions of the world. The world’s religions are based on human labels for God. The Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are based on God’s self-revelation to man.
God initiated a relationship with Abram, whom he led on a journey to a new land, where he gave him a new name, Abraham, and made him the father of all who believe. This was not God’s final revelation. It was the beginning. Abraham used the same name for God that many pagans did: El. He spoke of El Shaddai, God of the Mountains, and of Elohim, which some pagans used to refer to all the heavenly beings.
And then came the Exodus. This marked a giant leap forward from even the revelation to Abraham. Exodus 6:3, “God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the LORD. (Literally, I am YHWYH). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name YHWH I did not make myself known to them.”
And God revealed his law, and his will, and what he expected of them, and how they were to love him, and their neighbor. And he gave them the sanctuary, to dwell among them. And he taught them how to worship him. Not through statues, not through self chosen sacrifices, but by offering up what he asked for, by assembling together to sing hymns and psalms, by breaking bread and telling the story of their salvation, by resting from their labors on the day he rested from his.
But still he was not finished revealing himself. He continued to speak to them in the wilderness. He spoke through Moses and the prophets. He spoke to them in dreams and in visions. But it wasn’t enough. Still he hid himself. He held back something …
Turn now with me to Hebrews chapter 1.
1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
5 For to which of the angels did He ever say:
“ You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”?[c]
“ I will be to Him a Father,
And He shall be to Me a Son”?[d]
6 But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
“ Let all the angels of God worship Him.”[e]
7 And of the angels He says:
“ Who makes His angels spirits
And His ministers a flame of fire.”[f]
8 But to the Son He says:
“ Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”[g]
“ You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
11 They will perish, but You remain;
And they will all grow old like a garment;
12 Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail.”
In Jesus Christ we have God’s final self-revelation. In Jesus Christ, the baby of Bethlehem, the man on the cross, the Lamb victorious, and returning in glory—in Jesus Christ we see the full picture of the God we worship.
Note what the Book of Hebrews says so clearly. Jesus is not a mere man. Jesus is not an angel. He is not some lesser level of divinity. He is the creator. He is the express image of his Father. He is the eternal Son. He is to be worshipped.
And that is underscored in the book of Revelation, this book that is all about who is to be worshipped. Revelation 5, starting with verse 8:
Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:
“ You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
10 And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice:
“ Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:
“ Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”
As we approach the last days, we can expect errors and false teachings to abound. And do they ever. All the ancient paganisms have revived. They have been joined by agnosticism and atheism. Some want to worship nothing, others want to worship everything, and most are really about worshipping yourself.
There are false teachings in the church, too. Some old heresies are being revived. Even within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. There are some folks saying that we should believe like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are saying that Jesus is not the eternal Son of God. They are saying the doctrine of the Trinity is an error. They’ve been making inroads in some of our Hispanic churches.
But these texts show how wrong they are, and how serious is their error. Now, as we approach the end, we need to have this right. Now we need our eyes fixed on Jesus. Now we need to see him for who he is.
In Jesus, God revealed himself fully. The Father revealed himself as Father, when he revealed His Son. Father isn’t a name we call God because he is fatherly—it is a name we call the Father because of His Son, who has made us his brothers. Jesus was sent by the Father; he prayed to the Father. He said the Father is greater than I—but also, “The Father and I are one.”
And Jesus revealed more about God, too. He revealed the Holy Spirit. He spoke of the Spirit as a person, who would lead the church into truth, as we read in John chapters 14 and 15. He says the Father would send him; later in John, the risen Jesus breathed on the disciples and they received the Spirit. Not an impersonal force, but a person who testifies to Jesus, and points to Jesus, and refuses to speak of himself. Not just another name for God, not a mere title for the risen Lord. The Spirit speaks of Jesus. The Spirit is breathed by Jesus. The Spirit intercedes for us to Jesus. The Spirit is sent by the Father. The Spirit is thus a person in eternal relationship to the Father and the Son.
Jesus revealed that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And in that name he told us to baptize. Not three Gods, but only one God. God is not a committee made up of three members. God is not three gods. But the one God is Father, Son and Spirit, three persons eternally related to one another.
In the centuries following the New Testament, lots of errors crept in, and the church had to clarify its terminology, while always sticking with these clear Biblical truths. Some said Jesus was just a man, uniquely filled with the Spirit and adopted by God. But the Bible says Jesus preexisted and is the one through whom the Father created the World.
Some said the names Father, Son, and Spirit were just different masks God wore at different times in history—but in the Bible we see the Son speaking to the Father and sending the Spirit.
In the fourth century Arius said Jesus was a created being, preexistent, but created. He was “of like substance to the Father,” but not really God. In contrast, the leaders assembled at the Council of Nicea confessed the truth of Scripture, in words that have echoed through the centuries:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.
This is the faith that was confessed by the apostles. This is the truth as revealed by Jesus. This is what God has chosen to reveal to us about himself.
Let no one lead you astray. Let know one destroy your faith. Let no one pull Jesus’ from off his throne. Let no one say he is a mere creature. Let no one tell you he is less than the Creator.
Instead, bow before him. Worthy is the lamb. For he is the Creator of the universe. He is the eternal Son of God. Yet he humbled himself for you, and became flesh. And he died on the cross. The Lamb was slain for you. And through his body there broken and his blood there shed has opened a way for you to be in relationship with him, and his Father, and the Holy Spirit—the one God, now and forever, world without end. Amen.