WHO DO YOU WORSHIP?
Over the next few weeks we are going to look at my favourite book in the Bible – the book of Revelation. The exception to that is on May 15 when we are planning our first anniversary worship in three years. Our guest speaker for that Sunday will be The Rev. Orville James who is a retired minister and dear friend. And I’ve always been of the opinion that it is best to let guest preachers pick their own scripture. But apart from that, we will be look at Revelation until the end of May.
It’s a fascinating book. It was written by the Apostle John while he was in exile on the Island of Patmos. In form, it is a letter addressed to seven of the churches in Asia Minor – in present day Turkey. The purpose of the letter is very simple. It is an apocalypse. What is an apocalypse? It is not what you think. It is not a terrifying and destructive event. It is rather an unveiling. In an apocalypse, the writer pulls back the curtain to reveal something that the people need to hear. It is prophetic, not because it talks about the future – which is does in the last three chapters – but because it calls people back to faithfulness which is the purpose of all prophecy.
And while it is prophetic, it is primarily pastoral in nature, written to Christians who are suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ. Through its vivid imagery, it teaches people how to live faithfully in times of persecution. It was written at a time when loyalty to Rome was strongly encouraged. As a sign of that loyalty, everyone was required to worship Caesar. That was done by bowing before an altar dedicated to Caesar – there was one is most major centres – and tossing in a pinch of incense into the fire that was burning near it.
Most Romans have no trouble with this because they already worship multiple gods. Adding Caesar to the list is really no big deal. But for Christians it’s a huge problem. They know Deuteronomy 6:13-14 (NIV) which says, “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow the gods of the peoples around you.”
In Luke 4:8 (NIV) Jesus echoes the thoughts of Deuteronomy when he is being tempted by Satan for those forty days at the beginning of his ministry. “It is written,” he says, “‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” That is very clear. There is only one God to be worshiped and he is the Lord God Almighty. Worshiping Caesar is out.
The trouble is that not worshiping Caesar comes with consequences. It is seen as unpatriotic and to be unpatriotic in the Roman Empire is to be disloyal and to be disloyal is to potentially suffer fines, corporal punishment or even exile. Undoubtedly, that is at least part of the reason why John finds himself exiled on the island of Patmos, for refusing to worship Caesar.
Not only are there official sanctions there are also social ones. Romans can refuse to buy or sell from people who do not worship Caesar. They might physically beat them, rob them or destroy their property. The results could be persecution, suffering and hardship.
All of that, however, goes away the moment someone walks up the Caesar’s altar, bends the knee and tossed some incense into the fire. But how does a follower of Jesus Christ do that? It is a serious dilemma.
OUR EXCLUSIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
There is real pressure placed upon all Christians to go with flow, bow the knee, toss some incense. Is that be so hard? You don’t have to actually worship Caesar. All you had to do was go through the motions and make it look like worship. Cross your fingers behind your back if you must.
Will God understand that? No! God will not understand that. God can forgive that but God could never condone it. There is nowhere in the Bible where it says that there are caveats to worshipping God alone. It doesn’t say, “Worship the Lord your God when it convenient.” It doesn’t say, “Worship the Lord your God only when there are no hardships.” I don’t know where it says, “Worship the Lord your God in these circumstances but not in those circumstances.” I don’t know where it says those things. But I can show you lots of places where it says, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” What we have to understand is that there is an exclusiveness about our relationship with God. To be faithful to God is to worship him and him alone. That’s it. That’s all.
Why is that? It’s because worship is the most intimate thing we can give to God. It is in worship that we draw closest to God. It is worship that we, in fact, become one with God. It is the oneness connection between us and the divine. It is the like the closest intimacy that exists between a husband and wife when they join together physically. That’s why later in Revelation 18, God declares that those who worship other gods are guilty of adultery. He doesn’t just call it idolatry. He calls it adultery because it is an unfaithfulness to God which breaks the exclusive commitment that exist between God and his people.
God wants us to put him first, ahead of and above all other relationship. Really? Does that mean that God wants me put him above my wife or my husband? Yes, it does. Does that mean that God has to be more important that my children? Yes, it does. Then do my mother and father take a back seat to God? Absolutely. In Luke 14:26 (CEV) Jesus says, “You cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters.” “Wow!” you say, “that’s pretty intense. You mean that we’re supposed to love Jesus more than anyone else?” That’s exactly what it means.
“What if my wife doesn’t understand this? I’ve always told her that she’d first in my life. And what about my children? They are so precious to me. How can I love anyone more than them?” I want you to note that Jesus did not say that we should not love our parents, our spouses and our children. I simply said that we have to love him more than all the rest of these.
In our household Ruth knows that. She knows that she takes second seat to God. I don’t think she’s offended by that. My children know that God comes first in my life. Does that bother them? I don’t think so. That’s because when I put God first in my life it makes me a better husband, a better father and a better person. When I put my God first, he directs my path and guides me into the way that he wants me to go. Remember that. Faithful people put God first in their lives and everything else follows from that.
We worship God and put him first because ultimately each of us has to decide whom we follow. That is the big question that the Christians who first read the book of Revelation are facing. Whom are they going to follow? In Revelation, there are two choices. You can follow either the Lamb or you can follow the beast. Pick one. The Lamb, of course, represents Jesus Christ. And the beast represents the evil forces of Satan. Whom do you worship: Jesus or Satan? If you’re not sure of the answer then look at whom you worship. The person you worship is the same person you follow.
Revelation divides people into two basic groups. There are the overcomers and there are the compromisers. They may not be named quite like that but that’s who they are. The compromisers are the people who choose to bow the knee to Caesar. They choose the way of comfort and security. Because they compromise, they avoid hardship and suffering. The overcomers, on the other hand, never bow the knee to Caesar. They stand firm in their faith despite the hardships and suffering that they experience. They choose to follow Jesus no matter where he leads them.
Why do they do that? Because they understand who Jesus is. He is described in Revelation 1:4-8 (NIV):
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Jesus, here is described as the one who offers eternity. He is the firstborn of the dead. His glory and power will be forever and ever. He is the Alpha and the Omega who is, and who was, and is to come. He is the Almighty.
There is more to life than what happens between the time of conception and the moment of death. There is also what comes after death. We call that eternity and eternity lasts a very long time. The average life expectancy for a Canadian is now somewhere around 81 years. That might seem like a long time but 81 years is just a moment in time compared to eternity.
So, what does Jesus offer us in eternity? Listen to his promises to those who overcome. To the church in Ephesus, he says, “To the one who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is found in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7 NIV).
To the church in Pergamum, he says, “To the one who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna” (Revelation 2:17 NIV).
To the church in Thyatira, he says, “To the one who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over nations…” (Revelation 2:26 NIV).
To the church in Sardis, Jesus said, “The one who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white.” (Revelation 3:5 NIV).
To the church in Philadelphia, he said, “The one who overcomes, I will make a pillar in the Temple of my God” (Revelation 3:12 NIV).
And finally to the church in Laodicia, he says, “To the one who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21 NIV).
All of these things are promised for those who overcome and do not worship Caesar or anything or anyone else other than God. Those are God’s promises to the overcomers. Given that, which group do you want to be a part of? Is there really any question? Isn’t it obvious? You’d think so. But if it were so obvious how do we explain the number of people who choose not to overcome but to compromise? It’s because they get so caught up in the lure of Satan and the treasures of this world that they forget that God has a promise for the compromisers as well. It’s found in Revelation 20:15 (NIV) and this is what it says: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Each of us needs to make a choice. Who do we follow? The answer to that question comes with eternal consequences because the person you follow in life is the same person you will follow into eternity. The one you worship in this life is the one you will worship eternally.
Make no mistake about it. Jesus is coming back. In Revelation 1:7 (NIV) it says this:
Look, he is coming in the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierce him;
and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.
So shall it be! Amen.
Every eye will see him and the people of the earth will mourn. Who are the people of the earth? They are the compromisers. They will mourn because their time will be up. They will finally realize that because they followed Satan in life, they will follow him into eternity. And just as he will be thrown into the lake of fire, so will they.
So what are you? Who do you worship? Who do you follow? Are you a compromiser or an overcomer? The answer to that question is crucial. Be careful whom you follow in life because your decision comes with eternal consequences.
That’s today’s introduction to Revelation. Next week we will skip along to Revelation 5:11-14 where we will encounter the angels, the elders and the living creatures that circle the throne of God and worship him.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We give you thanks for the joy of this season, for longer daylight and warmer evenings, for cooler days that seems to come and go and for flowers poking their heads above the earth. We thank you for the many bird that are flying north and building nests where they will raise their young.
We offer our thanks for the wonder of this Easter season. This is a time of resurrection and new life. May your Spirit so infuse us in a new ways that we will be vividly aware of your presence and praise you for all of the ways in which you have blessed us so abundantly.
This is a season of new life. Renew us in your love. Renew our relationships. Renew our structures. Renew our hearts. Take away our desire for vengeance. Free us from greed and hypocracy. May your Blessed Spirit flow though the veins of our being bringing hope, help and healing.
We continue to pray for the people of Ukraine as they see peace and justice. Protect their soldiers and put an end to this needless invasion. We give thanks, O God, that the world can stand almost as one in opposition to oppression.
We lift up in prayer those of our community who are in need of your Healing Touch. We remember Carol, Mark, Ron and Hazel. Fill them to the brim with your grace that they may experience your presence even in the midst of illness. You are a God who desires that your children be well. Send your Holy Spirit upon us this day.
Help us, O God, to keep you as the focus of our lives; not only of our worship but also of our work, play and relaxation. In all things, help us to look towards you for you alone can fulfill our needs and make us whole. Only through the power of the cross are we able to come to you as whole and forgiven people. We lift our praise. We life our voices. We lift our hearts to you. Do your will within us and guide us in the way that we should go. We ask these prayers in Jesus’ Holy Name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 24, 2022 / Easter 2
Psalm 150; John 20:19-31; Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8
CALL TO WORSHIP
Praise the Lord! Praise God in the Temple!
Praise the Lord! Praise God’s strength in heaven!
Praise the Lord! Praise the mighty things of God
Praise the Lord! Praise God’s supreme greatness!
Praise the Lord! Praise God with harps and drums, flutes and cymbals.
May all living creatures praise the Lord!
The earth rejoices and the heavens declare your greatness. The hills sing and the valleys cry out in gladness. The sea is yours for you made it. Your hands prepared the dry ground. You have opened to us your Holy Kingdom. You have made us citizens of your Heavenly Realm. Come to us now, Lord Jesus. Fill us anew with your Spirit as we worship and lift our lives in praise and thanksgiving. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
You, O God, have created the mountains heights and the depths of oceans. You have strung the stars together and caused the planets to spin our their axis. Yet, like Thomas, we doubt. We ask for proof of your existence. We want evidence that your love for us is real. We demand that which we should already know by faith. Forgive us, God of Mercy, for our untrusting hearts. Help us to come, in faith, to your table with the gifts of assurance and grace.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
When we doubt, Jesus comes to us and assures us of God’s love. When we mourn, Jesus comes to us, offering the soothing balm of God’s touch. When we repent and confess our sins, God forgives, forgets and brings healing to our brokenness.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Creation rejoices in the works of your hands. We, your people, praise you for the goodness of your abundance for us. We give, now, a portion of your gifts to the work of your Church. Bless these gifts and each giver, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Praise the Lord, all you people. Praise God in your comings and in your going. Praise God in the waking and in your sleeping. Praise God in your sorrow and in your joy. Praise God in your shouting and in your silence.