Heavenly Worship

“Whenever the living beings give glory and honour and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honour and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.””
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭4:9-11‬ NLT

We have reached the final three verses, that bring Revelation chapter four to a close. Once again the Apostle John writes down what he saw. But we mustn’t forget that there is probably a disconnect between what was actually happening in Heaven and what he saw. His glimpse through Heaven’s open door was being filtered by his human lens of understanding. John was given an incredible revelation, and we earlier read in Revelation 1:19 that he was told to write it down. With the help of the Holy Spirit, he translated the vision that he was given into a form and language that his, and subsequent, generations would understand. 

So we read again that when the living beings gave “glory and honour and thanks”  to God, it prompted an act of worship from the twenty four elders. But what sort of picture does this give us? The verses start with the word “Whenever”, implying that every now and then the living beings initiated something. But John didn’t say how often this happened. So before we conjure up in our minds a cartoon-like repetition of strange looking beings and twenty four elders bobbing about we must pause to think this through. 

We pilgrims must all pray that the Holy Spirit helps us to understand what was going on. Firstly, I would say that the worship, so willingly acted out by the living beings and the twenty four elders, was spontaneous because God never created automatons. Secondly we must remember that there is no time, as we understand it, in Heaven. Thirdly, in some way incomprehensible to us humans, the worship in Heaven was continuous and at an intensity that consumed the worshippers. They desired nothing else, because they had finally arrived at a place of complete understanding of who God is, with a continual and spontaneous worship response resulting.

Of course, God never needs the worship of His creation. But in a way, incomprehensible to any but his committed followers, the worship of God is unstoppable and eternal. I’m writing this in the late Spring here in Scotland and the vegetation in the local woods has exploded into a created mass of greenery, stretching up as though to get close to their Creator. The birds are singing their hearts out. There is an excitement present that can only be interpreted as worship of the Creator.

To us pilgrims, worship of God is, or should be, an integral part of who we are. When we pause at Calvary and think through the implications of what Jesus did for us, how can we not respond in worship? By a long way we fail to understand why God loved the world so much, but He did, and that incudes each one of us. The credibility gap between the omnipresent Creator and the insignificance of His creation has to invoke worship. Nothing else is possible or even comes close to what God deserves.

Dear Lord God. How can we thank You enough for all You have done for us. We are a truly privileged people, and we fall to our knees this morning in worship. Amen.

The Seraphim

“In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal. In the centre and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty— the One who always was, who is, and who is still to come.””
‭Revelation‬ ‭4:6-8‬ ‭NLT

John saw, in his vision, four living beings. He couldn’t really work out what they were but he managed to find enough similarities to associate them with earthly creatures. He could see features he identified with a lion, an ox, a human, and an eagle. But there the similarities ended. 

We must pause for a moment, to reflect on what is really happening. God graciously gave John a glimpse through a door into Heaven, which is a place we will only be eligible to enter once we have left our earthly lives. It’s perhaps a place we can consider as being like a parallel universe from a science fiction novel, but, most importantly, it has a spiritual basis, which provides us with quite a few ideas about Heaven. So John was seeing a spiritual environment, a world if you like, through a human, earth-bound, lens. A bit like a translator hearing someone speak one language, and then translating it to another. The translation can be straightforward while on familiar and simple linguistic grounds, but the translator will start to struggle when ideas or strange concepts are needing to be communicated.

So, bearing that in mind, we have four living beings. Two Old Testament prophets, Ezekiel and Isaiah, also had a glimpse of them. We read in Ezekiel 1:10-12, “Each had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back. Each had two pairs of outstretched wings—one pair stretched out to touch the wings of the living beings on either side of it, and the other pair covered its body. They went in whatever direction the spirit chose, and they moved straight forward in any direction without turning around.” And in Isaiah 6:2, “Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.” So these living beings were perhaps angels, the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision, with a special job to do. They were, in this glimpse, leading Heaven in the worship of God and His Son Jesus. 

What do we pilgrims make of all this? I suppose we can only continue to marvel as we try to get our human minds around the Heavenly vision. But one thing we mustn’t do is to discard these verses and ignore or reject them as being irrelevant. They are are included in the Bible for a reason. And one day what that is will be revealed.

Dear Heavenly Father. As we unfold these pages in Revelation, we pray that You help us understand what is there. We thank You for Your love and care, helping us in our daily walk towards our Heavenly home. Amen.

Gemstones

The One sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled His throne like a rainbow.”
Revelation‬ ‭4:3‬ ‭NLT

John’s glimpse through the door of Heaven must have been amazing. Apparently just inside the door was a throne, and his eyes fixed, as far as they were able, on the Person sitting there, a Person who must have been God. And this is where his ability to communicate what he saw started to struggle. The only way he could make sense of the vision was to compare it with precious stones. And shining through those stones was light. Lots of it. Making them glow and sparkle with a brilliance almost too bright to bear. John, a one time fisherman, would not have had ready access to precious stones but he must have been knowledgeable enough to know what they were.

What about these precious stones? Jasper is a naturally occurring, silicate based, piece of quartz, that can be found in several different colours, caused by whatever minerals were in its presence when it was formed. So we have red, yellow, green, occasionally blue, stones with manifestations of streaks or spots. It is translucent but not clear. Apparently, it may have been two of the gemstones included on the Old Testament Jewish High Priest’s breastplate. Carnelian is another naturally occurring, silica based mineral, coloured with varying amounts of iron oxide that give it colours extending from pale yellow to the deepest reds. Again, it was a translucent, rather than clear, semi-precious stone much used for jewellery. It was also the first stone on the High Priest’s breastplate.

So we get the picture of God’s appearance to John as being like these gemstones, multicoloured and with an extremely bright light source behind them, so bright that it made God glow with a presence and appearance formed by the gemstones. God’s appearance must have been substantial enough for John to recognise who He was – it wasn’t just an amorphous blob he saw – but like nothing on earth that he had ever seen before. I think of the quartz pebbles commonly found on Scottish beaches – they are white and semi-translucent and, when held up to the light, pass enough of it through to make them glow. But with Heavenly light behind them they would have been transformed into something else altogether.  But John did his best to describe what he saw. Imagine the difficulty someone would have describing a mobile smartphone a century ago to their next door neighbour. Much of the description would be incomprehensible because the knowledge would not have been there to describe 5G communication, digital data, Apps for messaging and so on. Even batteries, so powerful and small, would have been a marvel. John saw something no man had seen before, through that Heavenly door – one day we too will get a chance to see it.

Finally, John described the glow of an emerald. This is another silicate based gemstone. There are often inclusions of minerals introducing flaws in the stone, but sometimes emeralds can be clear and flawless, with a greenish colour. But an emerald does not glow on its own, so again the light source behind it would have made it appear to glow. This would have been a special light, perhaps combined with the physical form of the emerald, making all the colours of the rainbow encircle the throne. 

So what does a modern pilgrim make of all this? Well, this initial glimpse precedes a rolling exposure of Heaven, which we will see in the coming weeks, as Jesus and His servant angels reveal this wonderful place to John. In reality, I think Heaven will be amazing. I’m sure John only got a glimpse of a fraction of it – it will be incomprehensible to a human being. Through the grace of God, John received a revelation, a hint, of what Heaven will be like. But here’s the thing – there will be many pilgrims there. Let’s make sure we will be in their company.

Dear Lord. We know Heaven will be a wonderful place because You live there. Please help us on our journeys, as we draw nearer and nearer to be with You. Amen.

Heaven’s Door

“Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven, and the same voice I had heard before spoke to me like a trumpet blast. The voice said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this.” And instantly I was in the Spirit, and I saw a throne in heaven and Someone sitting on it.”
Revelation‬ ‭4:1-2‬ ‭NLT

In our pilgrimage through the book of Revelation, we now find ourselves in chapter 4. The messages to the seven churches are behind us, and now Jesus wants to show John something else. He wants to give John a glimpse of that is inside this place we call Heaven. A door opens. And a very loud voice, sounding to him like a “trumpet blast“, grabs John’s attention. Why a “trumpet blast”? In those days it would have been a common way of grabbing people’s attention, at least those who were out and about in the market places or the town square. So it would have certainly grabbed John’s attention, particularly as it was from what seemed to be a speaking trumpet. A trumpet wasn’t the only way God spoke to mankind. God’s voice sounded like thunder in John 12:28-29, “Father, bring glory to your name.” Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him”. In 1 Kings 19:12, Elijah heard a still small voice, a whisper. In Psalm 18:13, God’s voice was accompanied by natural events, “The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded amid the hail and burning coals”. 

But I was thinking about today – our lifestyles don’t tend to revolve around public places, so how would God grab our attention today? I don’t know, but what I do know is that God will tailor-make a way of grabbing the attention of those who want to listen. As we see in the John 12 verse, some interpreted the voice of God as thunder. Others as the voice of an angel. We hear what we want to hear because we have a tendency to try and rationalise things we don’t expect or understand. If the sacrifice of God’s Son on a Roman cross at Calvary doesn’t grab the world’s attention and get a response, then I don’t think people are listening. Jesus ended each of the messages to the seven churches with the verse, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches”. 

John received an incredible invitation from Jesus. He opened Heaven’s door for John and invited him to join Him there. What a privilege. But what a responsibility. Don’t forget that John was languishing in a prison cell, in exile on the island of Patmos. We know it was the Lord’s Day and John was lost in worship. Little did he know that day that he would be invited to join Jesus in Heaven. John was instantly transported into a spiritual world. Prison cell and exile forgotten. And he received a glimpse as he peeped through the door of Someone, of God probably, sat on his throne.

What else John saw in Heaven unfolds in the Revelation pages. And it’s quite a story!

Dear Lord. We thank You that there is nothing dull in a relationship with You. Please help us to get so lost in worship to You that we too get lost in a Heavenly place. And I’m sure the things of the world will go dim in comparison. Thank You Lord. Amen.

Up and Down

Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:9-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

At first sight, these two verses might seem a bit difficult to understand. They describe something that seems at odds with our understanding and experience. In the previous verse, verse 8, we read that Christ ascended somewhere. We know that happened because we read in Acts 1:9 that Jesus, “was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him.” Jesus ascended into Heaven, as witnessed by His disciples. And, as an aside, in Acts 1:11 we read that this is the way He will return. One day soon? We don’t of course know when this will be but happen it will.

Another question we have is, “Where did Jesus go to when He ascended?” The disciples saw Him reach the clouds but after that they lost sight of Him. So is He floating around somewhere above us, sitting on clouds, as some artists have portrayed? Perhaps a lot of the confusion we have is because we try and mix the physical and the spiritual. We know and believe, from other Scriptures, that Jesus is in Heaven. We read in 1 Peter 3:22, “Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honour next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.” 

Paul, in these verses in Ephesians, sets out a picture of Christ being able to move where He wishes throughout the entire physical and spiritual environment in which we live. More than that, Paul said He did this, “so that he might fill the entire universe with himself”. The Bible seems to provide a little glimpse that this “entire universe” consists of three heavens. There is the physical “heaven” that we can see in part, and which many of our scientists spend their lives in exploring with all the technology at their disposal; the physical universe we can see with its myriads of galaxies and stars. Then there is the “Heaven” where Jesus lives, as described by Peter in the verse quoted above. Where He is sitting on the right hand of God the Father. 

But we also read that the devil and his rebellious angels were cast out of Heaven down to earth (Ezekiel 28:17). Now satan is a spiritual being, so that is why we can’t see him wandering around our planet complete with a red suit, tail and horns holding a pitchfork and accompanied by similarly red-suited demons. But he and his cohorts are here spiritually, as we read in 1 Peter 5:8. “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” But as a spiritual being, our enemy will be living somewhere. Some say in hell, but hell doesn’t exist yet – it doesn’t appear in God’s plan until He needs it at the time of the last judgement (Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 20). So some theologians say that there is a “second heaven” where the devil lives with his minions. The third Heaven is where God lives; the place where Paul was taken up to – we can read his account in 2 Corinthians 12. He called it “Paradise”, as did Jesus to the repentant thief on the adjacent cross.

So back to our verses in Ephesians 4. Paul laid out for his readers a word picture of our almighty God and His omnipresence, throughout the entire, limitless and eternal physical and spiritual universe that he created. We will never get our human minds around its extent, but we can rest assured that because God is everywhere, He can be with each one of us right now. We are not alone. Jesus was right when He said in Matthew 28:20, “…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” On our pilgrimage through life, we can feel His love and grace around us, lifting our spirits whatever the circumstances. Reminded that one day we too will ascend into Paradise, to join Jesus there. And able at any time to reach out to Him in prayer. Let’s finish today with the first three verses of Psalm 46. A great comfort and reassurance for wobbly pilgrims, as we are sometimes.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, 
though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging

Psalm 46:1-3 NIV

Heaven and Hands

“Oh, praise the Lord, 
all you servants of the Lord, 
you who serve at night 
in the house of the Lord. 
Lift your hands toward the sanctuary, 
and praise the Lord. 
May the Lord, who made heaven and earth, 
bless you from Jerusalem.”
Psalms‬ ‭134:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Another Psalm from the pilgrim’s song book. A short one, easily remembered, and with a refrain that echoed around the crowd as they ascended up to Jerusalem. Perhaps in the way a football crowd will start a song, lustily singing in support of their team. 

This time the song encouraged the priests in their nightly worship of God. Encouraging them to lift their hands in the direction of where they understood God to dwell. And the last verse is one entreating our wonderful Creator God to bless His people, right from the seat of His power in Jerusalem.

Two thoughts came my way today as I meditated on this Psalm – where does God live and when we worship Him what do we do with our hands? To the Israelites, God had to live somewhere. It was either the tabernacle in the wilderness, a portable building – its blueprint is detailed in Exodus – or the elaborate temple buildings erected in Jerusalem. In the AD years, churches and cathedrals have dominated towns and cities throughout Western societies. Ornate and decorated with statues of saints, stained glass windows and a variety of edifices, they have been the focus of worship in many generations. But where does God really live? Perhaps the best indication is what Jesus said. After all, He is God’s Son. In Matthew 6:9 we read, “… Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name“. So we know that God lives in a place called Heaven and we also know that Jesus is there, preparing a home for us (John 14). So it must be a real place. But its location in the universe is unknown – perhaps mankind doesn’t yet have the technology to find it. Perhaps only God can reveal it to us. Or it may be in a different physical form beyond our comprehension. We also know that we will be given new bodies when we get there (1 Corinthians 15). However, we can assure ourselves a future in Heaven by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. There will be an exciting time for us when we cross the “great divide”. 

My second thought today concerns what we do with our hands when we worship God. There is the traditional religious pose of putting our outstretched hands facing upwards, palm to palm, finger to finger, holding them close to our chests. Not too ostentatious. Not bringing attention to ourselves. Or in wild abandon, we can stretch out our arms and hands upwards to the heavens, in a deeply felt heart attitude of worship to our Creator God. But what is in our hearts is the key. What are we thinking about when we worship God? Are we reviewing what we watched on TV last night, or are we overwhelmed by God’s love and kindness to us, and in response reaching out to our Heavenly Dad? Stretching upwards with every sinew in worship to God, expressing what is within. God has done so much for us – how can we not respond to His love and grace in whatever way we can? Wherever He lives.

A Holy Kiss

“Unfailing love and truth have met together. 
Righteousness and peace have kissed! 
Truth springs up from the earth,
     and righteousness smiles down from heaven.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭85:10-11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I love the poetic language in the Psalms. The descriptive words used, even in a translation, capture the Holy Spirit inspired message, lyrically flowing from the writer’s pen onto whatever medium was used in those days. In verse 10 we have four God-words – love, truth, righteousness and peace – coming together in a cosmic coincidence, intimately acquainting us with a glimpse of God in his Heavenly home. It’s the purity behind these words that has grabbed my attention today. Not just the limited human love, but unlimited, unfailing, God-love. Not the truth tarnished by human minds, but total God-truth. But what happens when just these two aspects of God’s character meet? A priceless jewel is birthed and it has a new word to describe it that hasn’t yet been conceived, awaiting us in Heaven. Something so significant has happened in Heaven that it can’t be held back, and in response, truth, a poor copy though, emerges in our sin-ridden domain here on planet earth. The imagery continues when two more God words appear on the Psalmist’s parchment – God-righteousness and God-peace. We are bounded by our very limited human understanding of what these words even mean, but we read that they come together in a kiss, in an intimate embrace, producing another jewel. Heaven is full of priceless objects that totally escape our human comprehension. An unlimited treasure chest of precious jewels that will take us eternity to discover and enjoy. Jewels safe in an environment uncorrupted by sin. I appeal to my readers this morning – make every effort to ensure your future. Make every effort to make the right investment. Make that faith-leap through the blood of Jesus into an assured future, beyond human understanding and comprehension, safe and sound in God’s presence.

Helicopters

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3:8 NIV

Behind the trees this morning I heard the sound of a helicopter. First in the distance a popping noise and then, as it got closer, a swishing sound . It then appeared through a gap in the trees. So I looked it up on the “Flightradar24” App (if you are interested in flying then this is a great app to get and it’s free!) and was told that it was an “Airbus Helicopters AS355” but no information about where it had come from or where it was going was available. Of course, it must have started somewhere, and there will be a time when it has to land, if only to refuel. But the relevant data about its origin and destination was missing. 

The helicopter could be seen and heard but I couldn’t tell where it had come from or where it was going. In today’s Scripture, Jesus uses the analogy of wind. It can be heard but we don’t know where it came from or where it is going. It’s the same with our natural lives, we don’t plan either our origin or destination. That is, of course, unless we embrace the teaching of Jesus in John 3. But it is “sad but true” (to quote the title of the Metallica song) that most people seem unconcerned about their destination in life. They obviously cannot do much about their origins, but they can take steps to ensure the right destination.

In His discussion with Nicodemus, the Jewish leader who crept into Jesus’ presence after dark, Jesus explained the need for a spiritual birth. He said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5-7). So by being born again, we can determine our spiritual origins, and this starts us on the right journey through life. But how can we be sure that we are on our way to the right destination? We have a choice. We can either spend eternity with the devil and his demons in hell, or we can spend eternity with God and His angels in Heaven. A wrong choice and a right choice. A wrong destination and a right destination. And we can make the right choice by believing in Jesus, God’s only Son, to forgive us for our sins. On a cross at a place called Calvary He took upon Himself all our sins and gave us in exchange His righteousness. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21. And by being righteous in God’s sight we are assured of a future with Him in eternity.

So as Christians, we have an origin and a destination, and the spiritual App equivalent of Flightradar24 will record our journey between them. Not more “N/A” against the points of origin and destination. We have been born again through the Spirit of God, and assured a future in Heaven through our salvation. Our flight plan has been recorded in God’s Book of Life.

If you are unsure of where you are going and want to know more, please message me. It could be the most important decision you have ever made.

Don’t Give Up

“I pray to you, O Lord, My rock. Do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if You are silent, I might as well give up and die. Listen to my prayer for mercy as I cry out to You for help, as I lift my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.” Psalms‬ ‭28:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

To David, his relationship with God was so important, so profound, that if God was to ever withdraw from that relationship, David said he might as well stop living. We don’t know what David was praying about, though we get a few clues later in the Psalm, but at this critical moment in his life, he felt as though the heavens were made of brass and his petitions were falling on deaf ears. But as we read down this Psalm, we find that God did answer him. He writes in verses 6 and 7, “Praise the Lord! For He has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust Him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.”

So the question is, how important is my relationship with God? If the heavens were closed to my prayers and petitions, what would I think and do? Would I give up, spiritually speaking? It’s a sobering thought, but, like David, I can praise Him this morning because a theme of God’s love for me runs through the Bible, like letters through a stick of seaside rock. He says that I am His child (1 John 3:1). He says He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7). He reassures me that there is nothing I should be anxious about (Philippians 4:6-7). And so on. There are many such reassuring verses throughout the Bible. So this morning, I can praise and worship my Father, my Saviour God with a grateful heart. Can you?

Sanctuary

“I love Your sanctuary, Lord, the place where Your glorious presence dwells.” Psalms‬ ‭26:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

There’s an old film I saw in my childhood where Quasimodo cried out, “Sanctuary, Sanctuary” in a scene from the film depiction of Victor Hugo’s book. The hunchback was claiming his right to being in a safe place, free from abuse. Or so I remember. A sanctuary is a place or state where we feel secure, and to the Psalmist, David, his sanctuary was the place where God lived. And having been brought up in an era when churches were revered, I still get a sense of peace and tranquility in a church building with stained glass windows and an altar. Perhaps I was brought up to think that God lived there.

But where does God really live? Where is His glorious presence? We are informed in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. So God lives within us. And one of Jesus’ titles was “Immanuel” which means “God with us”. And so it is. Through Jesus, God came to live on this earth, offering us the opportunity to live with Him for ever, in His “sanctuary”, eternal life. And it is in and through Jesus that we will see and experience the “glorious presence” of God. Make sure you don’t miss it, Folks.