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.
(In the first part of this speech [Standard Bearer, August 2005, p. 436], I explained the truth that the worship of God results from the redeemed church seeing God; and that they see God only when the preacher preaches God. The calling of the minister is to declare: “Behold, your God.”)
This all takes place in the context of a battle, a war. This is the real war regarding worship.
Usually, the phrase “worship wars” refers to the battles in the churches between those who support contemporary worship and those who want traditional worship; between those who support praise songs and praise bands and special music and those who call for traditional songs and congregational singing; between those who would govern the worship services according to the command of God and those who make decisions according to their pleasure.
Here, I am talking of a more basic battle—the battle of the ages between those who would worship God at all, and those who would worship another. The question is not, here, how will man worship, but whom will he worship? Here is the issue: Will we worship God, or man?
Preaching is the fundamental weapon in that battle.
Revelation is the book that describes this one, fundamental issue: Who will be worshiped, God, or man? The great question that lies behind the visions and the theme of Revelation is: Who will receive honor—God in His kingdom, or man in his? In the end, the outcome of all things is the destruction of the kingdom of man, so that God may be worshiped and glorified in His kingdom.
The terrible and final judgment will be centered in this query: Whom did you worship? So fundamental isworship that the judgment comes down to this: Those who drink the wine of God’s holy wrath poured out without mixture are those “whoworshipped the beast and his image….” Decisive in the day of judgment will be the question: Whom did you worship, serve, honor, and bless? (Rev. 14:9). When the viles are poured out, they will fall upon those who refused to turn from their sin. What sin? They did not give God the glory (Rev. 16:9).
And the souls who live and reign with Christ a thousand years? They are identified as those who had not worshipedthe beast (Rev. 20:4).
Think about it: If Archangel Michael’s task is to ask the beautiful, rhetorical question, “Who is like unto God?” it is not surprising that we find the false worshipers in Revelation asking, “Who is like unto the beast?” (Rev. 13:4).
Think about it: If the worship of God comes about because the people of God wonder at the marvelous works of God, is it any “wonder” to you that the great work of the Antichrist will be to make people “wonder” at the beast (Rev. 13:3; 17:8). This word,wonder, used almost exclusively for the believer’s response to God, now is used in the book of Revelation to describe the reaction of the unbeliever to the beast. Here, worship is given to the dragon and to the beast.
Think about it: If the work of the true church is to call the people of God to worship God, it is no surprise that the occupation of the second beast is to exercise the power of, and cause the inhabitants of the earth to worship, the first beast. Such is the power of the second beast that he causes all those who do not worship the first beast to be killed.
In this battle the preaching is engaged.
The minister is aware (and the congregation helps him maintain that consciousness) that the whole world challenges the contention that God is worthy. He is aware that false doctrine opposes this worship—the essence of which false doctrine is to deny God His due, His worthiness to be praised, to receive honor and power and wisdom and strength. He is aware of the enemies without.
But the minister will never have strength to battle out there, unless he realizes that the battle begins within him. It begins within us: on our pulpits, in the members of the PRC, and in our preachers.
Let me mention a couple of examples.
In order for a minister to speak about God, he must know God. In order to speak properly about God, one must have a true and spiritual knowledge of God. At this point, we usually say, “God can use an unbelieving man to bring His Word and save His people.” I always say to myself when I hear that: “And man can live on bread—dry, stale, bread—and water, too. Barely. For a while. But he can live.”
But the issue (remember my thesis here) is not that the preaching serves only to savethe people of God; preaching serves to bring the redeemed church to worship God! And for the people of God to wonder in awe and to worship this great God, the minister must first have seen Him himself, ascended Sinai to stand in the presence of God Himself, and then descended among the people with his face radiating with God’s glory. The prophet must receive the vision, have the dream, hear from God, so that he can then repeat what he himself has seen.
How can an unbelieving preacher do that? How can believing but lazy preachers do that—preachers whose time in the Word and prayer is minimal?
There is the battle, isn’t it? The minister’s sinful nature inclines him rather to look for pleasure in the wilderness among the people than to trek up the steep slopes of Sinai alone. On Monday morning, it’s easier to do almost anything than begin another climb. His carnal nature makes him prefer to read books about anger and intimacy and marriage and everything else under the sun than those about the transcendence and beauty and holiness and majesty of God in Jesus Christ (ask the publishers what sells—even to pastors). The battle begins within.
And that battle rages in the catechism room, where the question is: What makes the children wonder and stand in awe? Does the minister teach them to wonder at the power and wisdom, love and mercy, judgments and wrath, of God? They aren’t in awe over something trivial, something man-centered, something carnal, are they? Who is like unto Jehovah, God and Father of Jesus Christ!
The glorious calling of the minister is to lead the people, as Michael leads the angels, to ask: “Who is like unto God?”
When the gospel minister understands these issues, and engages in this struggle, great things will happen.
First, the people of God will be thrilled, and they will worship.
In awe at the grace that chose them, saved them, preserves them, they worship God. When they have a vision of the awesome holiness of God and thus a proper sense of their own unworthiness and uncleanness (“Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips!”), and then come to know that God still loves them … lovesthem … no one will be able to stop them from loving and worshiping God.
They will “cast their crowns before the throne” (Rev. 4:10). The crown is a symbol ofvictory and of royal honor. The redeemed worshipers are victorious over sin, death, hell, and the devil, and have a place as children in the king’s palace. That place, and that victory, they acknowledge as a gift of God to them, by casting their crowns before His throne. To God is the glory for giving us the victory, and our place in His own family.
By the way, when you grasp that, you grasp the truth that preaching is worship. Sometimes it is a question in our own hearts—how can preaching itself be worship? Perhaps we suppose that preaching only leads to worship; or, worse, that preaching is an intermission between acts of worship. But when we understand that preaching is to be a setting forth in all His glory and beauty, power and riches, wisdom and strength, God … we see how preaching is worship—on the part of the preacher and on the part of the people. With thrilled hearts they hear a man speaking with joy of what he has seen: God’s gracious love for us; His righteous judgments that fall upon the wicked—that should have come upon me but instead came upon Jesus Christ; His perfect wisdom in governing our lives…. Then we worship—during the preaching. For “mine eyes have seen (see!) the King, the LORD of hosts” (Is. 6:5).
Second, the preacher himself will be thrilled… and humbled.
What an amazing privilege to have this occupation. Nothing in all the world compares with this occupation. Every week the minister is privileged to ascend to the top of Sinai, catch a glimpse of the glories of God, and come down to the people with a glow on his face and in his heart and say: “You simply must hear about what I’ve seen.” Every weekhe finds the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, for the joy of which he sells everything he has and purchases it (Matt. 13:44-46).
But this humbles him, too. “Why is this calling mine? Why does it remain mine? I am an unworthy sinner. Yet God called me. And I so much fail.”
Especially as the minister gets older, he is convicted of weakness in the pulpit. “Why haven’t I come more with a sense of the beauty of God, a grasp of the majesty of God, an experience of the grace of God? Why haven’t I conveyed better to the people that God is so good, so great, so wise, so powerful? Why am I sometimes more interested in going out into the wilderness with the people to play, than up to Sinai to see God? The people need me.
Then, when he’s thrilled at the privilege and humbled at his own weaknesses, he’ll come to the pulpit properly. With the truth in his heart and the right tone in his spirit, he will speak. Not in monotonic boredom. Not in anger and declamation. Nor in arrogance and pride. And certainly not with the shrill tone of someone who doesn’t know his own sin. But in gladness, sincerity, humility, and the boldness of the authority of God Himself, who commissioned him to say: “Behold, your God.”
By that, God will be honored.
Graduates, He will be honored by your preaching. And the people will be prepared to join the saints made perfect, and spend eternity both seeing and praising the God of grace. Eternity will not be long enough to exhaust the “power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” of Jehovah God.
The everlasting gospel is: “Worship Him.”