* This article is the text of the address given for the graduation exercises of the PRC seminary for Seminarians Dennis Lee and John Marcus on June 20, 2005 in Byron Center PRC. The speech was based on Revelation 4, and is given here much as it was actually delivered, thus retaining the spoken style.
The graduation tonight brings the PRC to the conclusion (and a celebration of that conclusion!) of the training of Mr. Dennis Lee and Mr. John Marcus—two men who feel deeply that they are called to preach.
The Protestant Reformed seminary (the churches, really) is interested in and committed to training men to be preachers. I am thankful to God for that commitment, and insofar as I have a part in that training I am thankful to be a part of the seminary’s work. We depend on God to maintain that commitment among us, as well as to use that training to make preachers. Without God’s blessing and grace, we neither have the commitment nor can we expect fruit in faithful and able men.
But the reason we seek preachers must be clearly understood. It is not only, and not even primarily, because the preaching is the means of grace to save God’s elect, to gather and preserve His church, to forgive sins, to comfort saints, to give grace to bear burdens and obey the commandments—though the preaching is God’s mighty power to do all that. To limit preaching’s purpose to that fails to keep in mind the ultimate goal of the preaching and the real purpose of the church—that the gathered church may be a worshiping church, a church that lives for one purpose— to praise and honor God.
It is my contention tonight, a contention that you must test by the Scriptures, that at the heart of the Scriptures is this truth: that the revelation of God’s glory leads to a glad worship of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And … it is my contention, that it is the function of preaching to give that vision of God as He is revealed in Scripture, so that the people do worship Him whom they have seen. That’s the battle that we—as churches and preachers—are engaged in.
Vision and Worship
Repeatedly in the book of Revelation a clear vision of the glory of God and His Son leads to a holy and zealous worship of God. The twenty-four elders of Revelation 4represent the victorious, worshiping church. “Twenty-four” is the number of the complete, elect church of God—the twelve of the Old Covenant and the twelve of the New Covenant combined. Crowned with crowns (also 2:10 and 3:11), and sitting on thrones, reigning with Christ (Rev. 1:6), this church is a victorious church.
What we have not usually seen is that these twenty-four elders represent theworshiping church. In the Old Covenant’s temple, priests led the people of God in worship— twenty-four courses of priests. Also in the temple, there were singers and instrumentalists engaged in the worship of God—also numbering twenty-four courses (cf. Leviticus). John, who saw this vision, and the saints who heard of it, would have recognized this number as the future and perfect fulfillment of the Old Testamentworshipingpeople. “Twenty-four” had been a feature of worship for 2,000 years.
But this victorious churchworships because she has seen God!
She has seen the one sitting on the throne, beautiful like a jasper and a sardine stone, an emerald rainbow arching above and about Him. From His throne proceed thunderings, lightnings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire burn before Him. A sea of crystal stretches out in front of the throne to reflect the glory of the one who sat upon it. The whole creation (that’s the four creatures full of eyes around the throne) surrounds the throne and rests not to give praise, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was and is and is to come.”
Then, when the twenty-four elders witness that, they fall down before Him in honor, worship this one who lives forever, cast their crowns before the throne, and cry out, “Thou art worthy, O, Lord, to receive glory and honor and power….”
The central purpose of the church, and of all creation, is: To see, exult in, and praise God.
This is one of the great themes (if not the great theme) of the book of Revelation. Chapter 1 is the vision of one like unto the Son of Man on the throne, before whom John fell down in the terror of dread. Chapter 5 has the four beasts and the victorious church bow down again to worship; except here they are joined by an innumerable multitude of angels, and here the reason is that they have seen and heard of the Lamb’s power and authority to execute the decrees of God. They say with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing…. ” Then every creature in heaven and earth, under the earth and in the sea, says, “Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down andworshipped him that liveth forever and ever.”
In chapter 7 John sees the innumerable multitude, clothed in white robes,worshiping God: “Salvation to God who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb.” Then the angels join inworship and say, “Amen: Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be unto our God forever and ever.”
So no one is surprised by chapter 14 where John sees another angel fly in the midst of heaven, carrying the “everlasting gospel.” What gospel does this angel preach with a loud voice? “Fear God and give glory to him … and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” Worship God.
When the song is approaching the final refrain (Rev. 19:1-7), John hears the multitude like the sound of many waters, and mighty thunderings, “Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice and give honor to him….”
And in the very last chapter of the Bible, when John is ready—mistakenly, again—to worship the angel, the angel said, “See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.”
The book of Revelation concerns worship.
The entire Scripture calls for worship. The first commandment enjoins: Worship God.
Isaiah has similar themes. Early on, Isaiah has a vision of the glory of God, before whom angels cry out, “Holy, holy, holy….” And Isaiah says, “Woe is me, for mine eyes have seen the king….” And then he preaches what he has seen: “Behold your God!” For, “everyone called by my name … I created … for my glory” (Is. 43:7). “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise” (Is. 43:21).
Then, I mention the angels. (Does anyone think or speak of angels today? Plenty of nonsense, but little of biblical truth.) Michael, great Archangel of God, has a work that accords with the meaning of his name—to say to all angels, and then all created beings: “Who is like unto God?”
Thus, redeemed men will say: “Who is so great a God as our God?” (Ps. 77:13). And, from the core of their being: “All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him?” (Ps. 35:10).
Is it any wonder that Revelation 14 teaches: “The everlasting gospel is, worship God.”
This is what the Reformed faith is all about.
This is the commitment of the PRC and our seminary.
And this is the Grand and Glorious Occupation of a preacher: to see and speak of the glory of God! This is why we train preachers.
This is how we must train them.
It is the business of preachers to describe God as He has revealed in Scripture, so that the people can, and will, worship! The people will not praise Him unless they see and know Him!
It’s not “Man and What Man Must Do”—mainly—that the preacher preaches, even though that’s a part of his ministry. The preacher must describe God and what God has done. And then when it is “Man and What Man Must Do,” the message is, “This is what you must do: Worship God! In all your doing, worship Him.”
Preachers must resist the temptation to try to address what the people think they need. The people think—and we preachers are inclined to agree—that they need to hear sermons on divorce or drugs or parenting or anger or abuse or intimacy or depression. Then the people are attracted to the church because it meets their “felt needs.”
I am here to contend for the truth that the preachers must show the people God! And that’s not unrelated to their depression, and experience of abuse, and need to struggle against anger, and all the rest. But it goes this way: The goal of preaching is the honor of God, so that the people may say: “How good is God, who works in Jesus Christ to save us, out of thankfulness for which we work, serving Him and His cause in Jesus Christ.”
We must see God before we will worship Him! It’s the preacher’s duty to say, “SeeHim.”
Brothers Lee and Marcus, call the people to see God in His absolute sovereignty (He’s on His throne in the vision!), His holiness and beauty of holiness (the visions in Revelation have God and His Christ beautiful if anything!), His beauty in Himself, in all His works, and especially the beauty of His grace, His power over and judgment upon his enemies (the thunder and lightning come out of His throne in fearful power and judgment). Really, call them to see Him in all His virtues and works in Jesus Christ: who He is, what He has done, and what we are on account of His great work of salvation. His value and worth in Christ’s precious blood. His triumphs over sin and death and hell and Satan. His knowledge, which makes the library of Congress look like a matchbox, and quantum physics like a first-grade reader. His wisdom, which has never been and can never be counseled by men. His authority over heaven and earth, without whose permission no demon can move an inch. His providence, which upholds and governs the universe and keeps the atoms and molecules together. His power to walk on water, cleanse lepers, heal the lame, open the blind eyes, cause the deaf to hear, still storms, raise the dead. His trustworthiness, never to break His word or let one promise fall to the ground. His justice, to render all accounts settled, either in hell or on the cross. His patience, endurance. His grace, which justifies the ungodly. His love, to die for us even while we were yet sinners.
This will get at their “felt needs.” This will satisfy the longings of their hearts. This will address their problems—in a thousand wonderful ways!
When we have such a vision of God, and see Him as He is for us in Christ, we truly say, “There is no one like unto God; there is nothing that will satisfy me except Him.” A good sermon is not one designed to make the people feel good, or even happy (although it will!). It is certainly not one that makes the people go home and talk about the minister.
A good sermon is one that makes the people go home and think about God, love God, serve God. It will make them wonder in awe (the important Greek verb isthaumazo—please remember that word). And if they say anything at all about the preacher, they will humbly and quietly reflect on how God has used him to exhibit the glories of the God who chose them and loves them in Jesus Christ.
Until the great day of days, when Christ shows Himself directly, the work of preachers will be to show the people their God, and bring them to say: “WHO IS SO GREAT A GOD AS OUR GOD?” (next time: “The Battle”)