On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Seeking a Biblical Pattern for Worship

worship.jpegIf Scripture stands against our natural and cultural bent towards innovative worship, it also provides a biblical pattern for the kind of worship God requires. Last week I considered the first problem—namely, the problem(s) with man-made worship. This week, I want to show how a pattern of worship repeats throughout the Bible.

Actually, Jonathan Gibson has provided this biblical-theological survey already. In his chapter “Worship On Earth as It Is in Heaven,” in Reformation Worshiphe traces a basic pattern of worship from Genesis to Revelation. In what follows, I’ll employ some of his findings to help us see what “biblical” worship looks like.

Worship in Eden: The Basic Pattern

The basic pattern of worship begins even before the Fall. In Genesis 2:15–17 Adam is commanded to “serve” and “guard” in the garden-temple of Eden. These verbs are used later to speak of the priestly service of Levites. From the light of later revelation, we can see worship is not something that emerged after redemption. It was the reason why God made humanity in the first place.

And thus, Jonathan Gibson lists the basic elements of worship like this:

  • Call to Worship (through God’s Word)
  • Response (by faith and obedience, love and devotion)
  • Fellowship meal (union and communion with God)

Reflecting on this prelapsarian (i.e., before the Fall) worship, he states,

Adam was commanded to fast from one tree in order that he might feast at another three, and thus enjoy consummate union and communion with God—everlasting life. And so, for Adam and all his descendants, a liturgy was fixed, stitched into the very order and fabric of human life on earth: call–response–meal. (4) Continue reading

Getting A Vision of Heaven on Earth: Heaven, Earth, and the Bible Project

22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.25See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
— Hebrews 12:22–25 —

Yesterday, I argued in my sermon that the local church is an earthly display of a heavenly reality. From Hebrews 12, we learn that when we gather in the name of Jesus, we are (imperfectly) revealing the glories of heaven—a myriad of saints and angels gathered around the throne of God. Or better, we are foreshadowing the final assembly of the nations who will worship around the throne of God.

In making that argument, I assumed a certain amount of background information about how heaven and earth relate. I want to fill in some of the gaps here. (This brief temple story may help too). Continue reading

The Glory of God In The Heavens

At Christmas time, God’s glory is seen in the babe born in the manger, but in truth, the glory of God reflects in all creation.  Psalm 104 describes this glory, and the first place to see God’s great glory is in the heavens.  Consider three ways that God’s glory is seen in the canopy that covers the earth. 

The light of the heavens.  In verses 1-2, the Psalmist describes the splendor of God which is reflected in the skies everyday.  Oh sure, entering December, we are about to embark on three or four gray months in Indiana.  But remember that while we suffer the effects of the Fall  and endure winter, there are others in the Southern Hemisphere who are enjoying spring showers and summer rainbows, orange sunsets and pink sunrises.  The earth below has various forms of artistic splendor; some places are more beautiful than others.  But above it all are the violet curtains of God’s cosmic temple, bespeckled with jewels in the night, and a blazing ball of fire in the day.

In the skies, God has put clouds, winds, and fires.  Verses 3b-4 describe this.  God has created a world that tells of his glory, power, and presence (cf. Ps 19:1; Rom 1:20).  In the original context, these atmospheric phenomenon function as messengers of this reality.  However, Hebrews 1 the author interprets “messengers” as angels and winds of fire, more than simply creation itself.  How can this be?

I think this is legitimate move because “messengers” and “angels” are the same word in Hebrew.  In the context of the Psalter, Psalm 104 should be seen in loose connection with Psalm 103, which concludes with three verses commanding the angels, messengers, to bless the Lord. Still, in its most immediate context, it is most appropriate to see the creation itself as a messenger of God.  As Psalm 19 Willem VanGemeren puts it,

The Lord is surrounded by his servants, whether they be created like the angels or be powers inherent in his created order (winds, lightning).  The Creator-King is, as it were, driving his chariot, symbolic of his governance of his creation.  All his created works reveal the splendor and wisdom of the Creator, because he remains constantly involved with his handiwork (“Psalms” in The Expositors Biblical Commentary, vol. 5, 659).

Now in response, someone might ask: What do the clouds, winds, and flames of fire (lightning) say to us?  Think about it: Have you ever been caught in a thunderstorm?  Or brave (or stupid) enoughto stand outside when the tornado sirens are going off?  God’s whirlwind teaches us of his awesome power and righteous judgment.  He “makes the clouds his chariot; he rides the wings of the wind!”    The power of the heavens remind us that the power of God is nearby, and more than that, interpreted by God’s word, we come to realize that all that takes place in creation is for God’s express purpose.  Just listen to Job 37:9-13

From its chamber [i.e. the heavens] comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud w/ moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance,  to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.

 God’s creation is never random, arbitrary, or out of God’s control.

Sun and Moon.  Finally, verse 19 tells of the sun and moon which are placed in the heavens.  Developing Day 4 of Genesis 1, the Psalmist speaks of how God formed two satellites in our solar system to govern the day and the night. Together, these two great spheres power the world, move seas, mark time, and set the schedule of our daily lives.  Even more, God’s word tells us that the consistency with which we regard the sun and moon is a confirmatory sign that God’s redemptive promises will stand.  We close with Jeremiah 31:35-36, which forecasts the New Covenant, a covenant that has been established by the work of Christ, and a covenant whose certainty is as unfailing as the sun and the moon.

Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.”

May we look into the heavens today and remember the love and mercy of our Creator and the work he has done to reconcile us to himself!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Will Revelation 11:18 be Green?

On October 7, Harper-Collins will release the newest “designer” Bible.  Written on recycled paper, using soy ink, and focusing on the eco-friendly aspects of the God’s Word, the Green Bible will draw attention to more than 1000 verses of Scripture that speak about the earth.  Drawing visual attention to these divine statements regarding creation, they will color these verses in a verdant green.  Like the traditional, red-letter Bible, this book will make its environmental mark by “going green.”  Concerning the project, Time Magazine reports:




Green runs through the Bible like a vine. There are the Garden and Noah’s olive branch. The oaks under which Abraham met with angels. The “tree standing by the waterside” in Psalms. And there is Jesus, the self-proclaimed “true vine,” who describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a mustard seed that grows into a tree “where birds can nest.” He dies on a cross of wood, and when he rises Mary Magdalene mistakes him for a gardener.

I would agree, sort of.  From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures are very creation-conscious, but always for a larger purpose.  God created the earth for humanity; God sustains and prospers the earth for his image bearers; and one day God will one day regenerate the cosmos so that Jesus Christ and his disciples will superintend that New Earth (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28; 2 Tim. 2:11-13). 

Trent Hunter, a good friend and the one who clued me in to the Green Bible’s release, makes several cogent points in his blog on the Green Bible.  He remarks:

Jesus did not enter the earth for the earth. Neither does he redeem humans for the sake of the earth. God’s creative and redemptive purposes are about God’s glory in the praise he receives from those who uniquely bear his image.

I agree.  The pinnacle of creation is the Image Dei, that is humanity, you and me.  However, I would add that while God did not redeem humans for the earth in an ultimate sense.  In another sense, he did.  Jesus died on the cross so that redeemed humanity would again reign over his creation with Him (cf. Revelation 2:28-29).  Thus God is greatly concerned about the earth and its restoration, but his aim in recovering the planet is for His Son and the humanity that his son saved for destruction.  Likewise, God’s wrath is poured out on those who destroy the earth.  This isolated point might be cheered by those who campaign “Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!”  But in truth, it may be those who are most outspoken about the earth that are in fact destroying it by their idolatrous hatred towards its Creator and Restorer.  Consider Revelation 11:15-18:

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.
The nations raged, but your wrath came,
and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
and those who fear your name, both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth
(Revelation 11:15-18)

In all this green-talk, I wonder what color Revelation 11:18 will be in the new Green Bible?

In John’s apocalyptic vision, the beloved disciple records the words of the saints who hear the announcement of the kingdom come!  They give praise to the Lord almighty, the one who created all things (see Revelation 4:11), and they exalt him for taking his place as the king of the world he created and established.  They praise because the terror of this age, namely the raging of nations, has come to an end, and they sing for joy because God has come to reward his faithful remnant.  And then they announce these prophetic and perhaps ironic words, “destroying the destroyers of the earth.”  In context, the passage reads: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was…for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”  In other words, with the coming of the kingdom (Rev. 11:15), the time has come for the creator of the earth to judge the earth (Rev. 11:17-18), and this judgment is not upon the flora and the fauna.  It is on the quick and the dead! 

Clearly in this passage, the Green Bible would have linguistic reasons to mark the text green: Those who destroy the earth shall be destroyed!  Don’t miss that, Al Gore may say!  However, the question becomes: Who destroys the earth?  Is it those who litter?  Those who refuse to recycle?  Those corporate industries who emit toxins and dump chemicals into EPA-protected wetlands?  Or is it something else?  The Scripture does not blush.  The destroyers of the earth are those who rage against God (cf. Psalm 2).  The reason that the earth is groaning is not because of carbon dioxide, but because of the curse (cf. Gen. 3:14-19).  The curse that has been declared upon you and me, because of our creation-destroying  sin.  Romans 8 tells the story,

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

From the beginning, the earth has been subjected to futility because of Adam’s sin and ours (cf.  Rom. 5:12ff).  And as the rest of Scripture indicates, the only atonement for sin is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Consewquently, the earth will groan until all sin is dealt with and the sons of God are revealed.  Therefore, the environment will not be restored by legislative efforts to reduce the burning of fossil fuels; the earth will not be saved by green-thumbed gardeners, and it will not be saved by a Green Bible.  It will only be saved by the one man who can re-create and resurrect. 

The testimony of Scripture is clear, we are all destroyers of the earth, and we all deserve to be cast into the burning lake of fire (Rev. 20:14), but the good news is that God sent his son to redeem humanity and the earth.  Again, not through environmental policies, but through his son Jesus Christ–the vine, the gardener, and the second Adam–can humanity and all creation have new life (cf. Col. 1:20).  He alone is the hope of all creation. 

So, what about the Green Bible?  I hope that the Green Bible does well in its sales!  I hope that lovers of God’s creation will pour over the Scriptures that speak of creation and the only One who can bring about the new creation.  I pray that as they read the green and the black ink that they will see that the regeneration of the earth comes not by human effort and green verses, but by one man, Jesus Christ, who alone as the True Vine can save us from our earth-corroding sin.  He alones saves.  He alone restores.  This requires more than just green ink though, it requires red blood.  As Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood, their is no remission of sin,” and as Revelation 11:18 makes clear, without red blood there is no green earth!

May we who enjoy God’s creation and His redemption, praise him for saving the earth by saving a people who are saved by his death, burial, and resurrection.  May those who read the Green Bible come to know the resurrecting power of Jesus Christ purchased with Red Blood.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

(For further reflection check out: Trent Hunter’s Blog “A Scripture for the Prius Age”, Robbie Sagers and Dr. Russell Moore message Environmental Protection and Animal Stewardship, taught at Ninth & O Baptist Church last year, and John Piper’s sermon on the subject, “God’s Pleasure in Creation.”)

Heaven on Earth: RDM’s reflections on heaven

Today, on his weekly blog, “commentary,” Russell Moore reflects on the “earthy”-ness of heaven. Sitting under his teaching at Southern Seminary and church, the Lord has used Dr. Moore in profound ways to shape my own understanding of eschatology and how good it will be to taste and see (both corporeal activities) the Risen Christ reigning bodily on earth and to participate with him in the earth he created and redeemed.

Dr. Moore’s point, in short, is that the goal of earth is not an ethereal pilgrimmage to the heavens above, but rather the age to come is to be that of a restored Eden–a renewed earth reclaimed by Jesus, shared with his followers, and enjoyed forever by all those who are found in Christ. It is a powerful vision and one that glorifies Jesus, the King of Glory, as eternal God and the firstborn Son. Here is a sampling of Dr. Moore’s reflection.

For believers, the intermediate state is blessedness, to be sure. But in heaven there is yet eschatology. The ultimate purpose of God is not just the ongoing life of believers but that his kingdom would come, his will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). That awaits the end of all ends, the return of Jesus and the final overthrow of death.

What a thought to ponder that dwelling in the presence of God in heaven is a temporal thing to be improved upon. “In heaven there is yet eschatology“! At the end of the age, there will be a restored garden (Rev. 22), a universal gathering of the elect (Heb. 12), a wedding feast and a boundless celebration (Matt. 22:1-14; 25:1-3; Rev. 19:7-10; 21:1ff), and finally “the kingdom of the world men [will have become] the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:15). What a day that will be!

Read the whole thing here.