Stained glass image of Jesus with lamb

Worship on Earth as it is in Heaven: The Great Surprise

What is the difference between unworthiness and worthlessness? How should the humility of Christ inform our worship? What is the significance of the scroll in Revelation 5? We asked Art Azurdia…

Listen to sermon:

Text: Revelation 5:1-7

Why does John in this text make such a big deal of the fact that no one is worthy to open the scroll?

Seeing our unworthiness lays the foundation for us seeing the majesty of Christ.  Opening the scroll requires someone who is like us in some sense, in that he is human, but he is altogether separate from us.  It’s like laying a beautiful diamond on a black cloth- you see all of its brilliance and sparkle and splendor in ways that you would not if it were not set against the cloth; the contrast would not be so stark.  Of course underpinning all of this is the fact that it’s true.  John is teaching us good theology.  And we need to keep in mind that John in the Revelation is setting forth a Christian worldview in a culture that is being dominated by a pagan government.  That’s also why I think Revelation is so important for our day- it’s worldview forming.  If you allowed me to choose one book to preach in order to establish a Christian worldview, I’m going to choose the Revelation, hands down.

How do pastors adequately distinguish for their congregation the difference between unworthiness and worthlessness?

I think again we go back to our biblical theology and discover from Genesis that we have been created in God’s image.  Even post-fall in Genesis 9, the death penalty is legislated because human beings still reflect the image of God.  So that’s why we do not tell people ‘you have no worth.’  At the same time it is true that you have no worthiness in that there is nothing in you to compel you to God, so as to justify your right to take the scroll of human destiny from His hand.

This is probably not the most cited text in defense of the divinity of Christ, yet you say it’s one of the strongest statements regarding His divinity in all of Scripture.  Would you expand on that?

It seems that a lot of people are developing their theology exclusively out of the Pauline literature, over against a comprehensive Biblical theology.  What is so compelling about this text is that He is the object of worship in a book where the Apostle John is told by an angel, “Don’t worship me; worship God.”  No one but God is worshiped.  So we learn something here about the nature of the Lamb.  So much of Revelation is taught by narrative and description, over against propositional statements that may, to our ears, more readily lend themselves to building a theology.

Any advice for pastors who might be comfortable with preaching the propositional statements found in Pauline literature, but less so with the narrative imagery found in Revelation?

What is important is to identify the portion of the story you’re telling.  I think there is a story, and that is key to understanding the book of Revelation.   There is a storyline, a storyline that to my mind cycles itself several times over the whole book.  Then the preacher’s task is to figure out what is a proper periscope that tells enough of the story.  In these messages I think I went unusually slowly because we felt as a congregation that we wanted to hammer out some things in regards to worship.  So even as I broke it up into smaller sections, I wanted to make sure that each section told enough of a story to make sense on its own, even as it contributed to the larger story.   If that level of focus on worship was not our burden, and I was just doing exposition, I would probably do all of chapter four in one week and all of chapter five the next week, or maybe even both in one sermon.

You make the point that our worship should be controlled by the gospel, specifically that we must remember that we worship a God who was humiliated.  How might that concept express itself in our worship?

We must remember that we worship a God who has revealed Himself most fully and finally in the Lamb.  I think then that any worship that in any way intentionally draws attention to us is a contradiction.  So we always want our worship leadership especially to be self-denying, not self-promoting.  In my mind, having that kind of Christ-centered humility in place will take care of all the other lesser issues, such as style or taste, that we tend to want to argue about.

About Art Azurdia

Dr. Azurdia is the Doctor of Ministry Program Director and the Associate Professor of Pastoral and Church Ministry at Western Seminary. He is also Director of The Spurgeon Fellowship and Pastor at Trinity Church in Portland, Oregon.