Friday, October 05, 2007

Music Matters: Heavenly Music

The church is looking for a norm, a musical standard that will tell us what is right, what is pleasing to God – a model for biblical worship that gives God the honor and glory he deserves. Many standards have been set. Some have adopted an almost hedonistic standard – whatever people like. If it is popular, if it draws a crowd, it is pleasing to God. Others have taken the more traditional stance – sing the songs we have always sung. Open the hymnal, call out a hymn number and break into four part harmony.

I believe there are two primary places we look to find the biblical ideal. First, we can look the creation before the fall. To find out what marriage is supposed to be, look at what the Bible says about how Adam and Eve related to each other before they nibbled the fruit. That tells you what marriage was meant to be, unhindered by the curse of sin. If you want to know the ultimate purpose of man, read through the biblical visions of heaven in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and especially in Revelation. The eternal destiny of the redeemed is to magnify God. If that is our eternal purpose, it is also our highest motive for life in this world.

There is nothing about music in the creation story, except the deduction that God built music into the very fabric of creation – the wind in the trees, the chirping of birds, the percussion of thunder and lightning. And music comes naturally to human beings. If your heart is full of joy, you will be whistling or humming whether you want to or not. Music is infused into the natural order. It is a part of our nature. That is why it is such an important topic in worship.

But, since there is really no information about music in the Creation story, we must look to the other source for our norm – to the order of eternity. As we examine the glorious worship service recorded in Revelation 4 and 5, we can learn the eternal purposes of music. Since our earthly worship services are really just rehearsals for heaven, we can learn from eternity what we should do next Sunday.

Revelation 4 and 5

Revelation 4 and 5 describes a worship service that takes place in heaven. The exact context of the passage depends on your view of the end times – a subject too involved to argue here. My view is that this scene takes place just after the Rapture, after the trumpet summons us to meet the Lord in the air. It is our first experience in glory in our resurrected bodies.

Here’s my point: this is not some fictional scene, but a preview of what you will do the moment you enter heaven (and for eternity thereafter). You should read the story, since for the sake of brevity I will not give a complete description.

There is a common view of heaven given in scriptures. There is a great throne in the middle of the heavenly scene and everything focuses on the throne. It is exalted and glorious, and the one seated on the throne is the Creator, Sustainer and Ruler of the universe. When Jesus told us to pray that things would happen “on earth as it is in heaven,” this is what he meant. In heaven, God is the center of attention. He receives all glory. As it is in heaven, it should be here on earth.

Note that the Father is seated on the throne. He is not running for office or standing against Satan. He is seated. He is the undisputed ruler of all. No one on earth or in the spiritual realm can stand against him or become a serious threat to his throne. All rebellion will be quashed and the rebellious will be judged. There is no future in disobedience and rebellion against him. “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.”

The Elders

Around the glorious throne of God there are 24 thrones and on those thrones are seated “The Elders.” They are the rulers of the redeemed. Some believe that they represent the combined people of God (12 apostles and heads of Israel’s 12 tribes). Others believe that they are a symbol of the redeemed, of the church purchased with the blood of Christ. We will find out one day. Until then, we are left to conjecture and speculation on some of the specifics. But one thing seems clear, that these 24 do stand as representatives of the redeemed. We are told by Paul that we are not only purchased by Christ but will one day rule with him. We are royalty in heaven, the adopted sons of God. Isn’t it amazing to think that worthless sinners like you and me are not only permitted in heaven, but are honored! That is why they call grace amazing.

Lightning flashes from the throne and the glory of God rumbles like thunder. It is a scene so awesome that in our current state of being, the power and glory of it would strike us dead. God told Moses he could only see a veiled version of God, or it would kill him. But now, having been transformed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye into our glorified bodies, we are fit for heaven. Every trace of sin removed from us, we can now be in the unveiled presence of God and enjoy the full force of his glory.

Both Isaiah’s vision and this one describe magnificent creatures, angelic beings who inspire an awe second only to God’s and shout praises to God. In Isaiah 6, they are described as seraphim - “burning ones” – on fire with the glory of God. They continually call out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory.” In Revelation, they are described as the four living creatures, and their words are similar. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” Over and over they repeat these phrases, never ceasing to shout the praise and glory of God.

As their chant rises to the throne, the 24 Elders get up off their thrones and come before the great throne. Each of them has crowns on their heads. These are not kingly crowns, but crowns of achievement, rewards for their service on earth to the King of kings. The New Testament authors, especially Paul, refer often to crowns. They are the kind of crowns that athletes received at ancient Olympic Games for running their races well. Our service for Christ is not in vain. It may sometimes go unnoticed here on earth, but it heaven it will be rewarded. We do not really know what these crowns are, but they are worth working for.

But the Elders are not parading around to display their crowns to others. They are giving credit where credit is due. They take their crowns to throne of God and kneeling in humility, they lay their crowns before him. “Whatever I am is by your grace, whatever I have is by your power, whatever they see is you in me; whatever I receive belongs to you.” They recognize that they are only ruling because they served Jesus; they are only glorified because he demeaned himself and went to the cross.

Voicing their praise and that of all the redeemed, they say, “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.” All the glory belongs to him.

The Lion Who Is a Lamb

Then, there is a problem in heaven. An angel appears with a scroll. This is not a pleasant scroll. On it are inscribed all the judgments that God is about to pour out on sinful mankind in the Tribulation period which is about to commence (again, that’s my view). The angel commences a search of heaven to find someone worthy to open the scroll and pronounce that judgment. No one in all of heaven is found worthy to deliver the message of God’s wrath on a sinful world. John bursts into tears in this awful moment.

But then the angel tells him not to grieve. Something big is about to happen. There is one who is worthy. “The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” has triumphed over evil and his is worthy to open the seals and pronounce the judgment of God. It is interesting that the right to judge sin is earned. I can warn people of the coming judgment, but the only one worthy to pronounce judgment had to earn that right by bearing the weight of the world’s sin on himself.

John looks out to see this Lion, this glorious conqueror of sin who will pronounce the judgment of God, but he is surprised when the Root of David appears. It is not a creature of glory who appears, but a Lamb, one who looks as if he has been slain.

I wish I was preaching right now, because this is powerful. It was not Jesus’ glory that triumphed over sin and death and hell, it was his death. He humbled himself and became obedient to death on the cross. The awesome Son of God became a Lamb and died. But that Lamb was raised by the power of God and exalted to the right hand of the throne. The Lamb has become a Lion. The sacrifice for sin has become the judge of sin. The one who humbled himself is now magnified in glory before all of heaven. By his death, the Lamb has redeemed men and women from every tribe and language on earth. And by his resurrection, he not only secured our salvation, but he earned the right to judge the world.

And that, my friends, is when the music starts in heaven! Before this, everything is the spoken word, but when the Lamb appears, music rings throughout heaven.

The 24 Elders, having just laid their crowns before the throne, now fall down before the Lion/Lamb. All the redeemed in heaven join them in this song. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and with your blood your ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on earth.”

Then all the angels gather and join in the praise, and the entire host of heaven rises up to be a part of this massive, glorious, heavenly choir. “Worthy is the Lamb who slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and power forever and ever.”

I have been a part of some great times of worship in my day, times when I was caught up into the presence of God and was lost in his praise. It is frustrating though, here on earth. The music stops, the benediction is pronounced, and we go back out into the world. The next day, the glow of glory has dimmed and the weight of the world is back. But this time will be different. Not only will it be more intense and wonderful than any experience I have ever had here on earth, but it will never end. Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever, the song of praise will rise to heaven. We will sing a neverending song of praise to the God who created us and Lamb who purchased our souls.

The Destiny of the Redeemed

Music is a gift from God, the language of heavenly praise. He has given us this gift here on earth so that we can practice for the moment when we see this scene I have just described. It is a high and holy calling, this gift of music. Whether your singing brings tears to people’s eyes or just makes them cry out in pain, it is a precious gift God has given. Whether you sing like the birds or croak like a frog, you have the responsibility to sing the praises of God. In heaven, your voice will be perfected and you will join the celestial choir.

But if you will be singing God’s praises for all of eternity, shouldn’t you be practicing now? Christians should not be fighting about music, we should be uniting in song to rehearse for that day when we join with all the creatures of heaven to sing the praise of God.

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and power forever and ever.”

1 comment:

Andrea Hall said...

Music is indeed, an incredible gift! How sad that it has become a barrier between believers. There are many, I fear, who will have spent more time allowing music to divide than have spent time "practicing" for the Heavenly choir. They will be the poorer for it in eternity and perhaps, miss out on having the capacity to fully appreciate the act of offering music to the Lamb.