Back on February 12, I started a 27-sermon series teaching through the book of Hebrews, the most extensive expository set I’ve done at my present church. Twenty-five of these sermons are down, we have 2 to go…and I gotta say, I love Hebrews and I think it well worth the time for my church to spend the better part of the year absorbing the book, and its main theme: Jesus is greater than everything!
For an upcoming young adult fellowship this Friday night, I spent some time today preparing a lesson to go along with Francis Chan’s DVD series (based on his book), Crazy Love. In the first session on prayer, he encourages us to read Revelation 4 and asks the question, “What do you think would come out of your mouth the moment you first saw God?”
In Revelation 4, John saw a vision of God’s throne room in heaven and he came face to face with the Mighty One described with “the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” And, “From 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.”
It was an awe-inspiring sight matched by the praise of six-winged heavenly creatures, likely the seraphim Isaiah saw (Isaiah 6), who cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” As these creatures sang, the twenty-four elders surrounding the throne added their own voice of praise, “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.”
Of course, like most things Revelation, a plethora of interpretations abound concerning the identity of the elders. Personally, I side with the view that these 24 stand as the representatives of all the people of God from the Old Testament times and the New.
There stands a striking difference between the words of these elders and the words of Isaiah when he first sees God in Isaiah 6. With the prophet, instead of words of worshipful praise, we find words of terror, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” It is then a seraph must fly to the altar, take a burning coal, and touch Isaiah’s lips to say, “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
So to answer Chan’s question: What will our first words be when we stand face-to-face with our great God and Savior? The answer is more Revelation 4 and less Isaiah 6.
In Hebrews 12:18-28 we find a magnificent description of our response to God before and after Christ—both as a fact of history and as a personal experience in regards to our sin and salvation.
In the Old Testament, at Sinai, the place representing the Law’s exposure of our unrighteousness and sin, the place that we stand without Christ, there was terror before God. God spoke through fire, darkness, storms, and trumpets; and the people responded with fear begging to hear the voice of God no further. And as if this were not enough, even their mediator, Moses, who stood as a representative between the people and God said, “I tremble with fear.”
But if we belong to Christ we no longer stand in terror at the base of Sinai. In Christ, we come to a new mountain and city, a heavenly one—Zion, the mount of our salvation which we stand upon. We come to the celebration of the angels as the righteous made perfect, all through the work of a mediator who does not tremble with fear. Instead of terror, there is awe with thankfulness and worship.
It is a complete paradigm shift where we are not just invited into the presence of God, but we have confidence by the blood of Jesus to enter the holy places and draw near to God with the full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-22).
Because of the work of Christ on the cross, a work we receive through repentance and faith, when we see God for the first time instead of “Woe is me!”, we will cry out, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.”