Rehearsing For HeavenErwin W. Lutzer | April 6, 2014
Selected highlights from this sermon
On this side of heaven, our lives should be filled with the worship of God in order to prepare us for an eternity in heaven filled with worship.
As Pastor Lutzer reflects on the worship, specifically the music, of the past 150 years of The Moody Church, he takes us through an interesting song that will be sung in heaven: the song found in Revelation 15—a song sung while the wrath of God is being poured out on Earth.
If I were to ask you to define the word worship, what would you say? Would you say it’s something we do on Sunday from about one time to another, maybe an hour and fifteen minutes, and then the rest of the week we do something else?
Worship actually in its basic form means worthship. We ascribe worth to God, but because we are such sinners we tend to worship other things as well. You hear people say, “Well, he worships money. He worships himself.” You can even worship your children. So when we talk about worship we have to make sure that it is even more carefully defined. Worship is really proclaiming the supreme worth of God. “Offer unto God the praise and the glory due His name.” So we offer praise and glory to God with no competition. What this means in practical terms is that we worship all the time, really. When you wake up tomorrow morning, when you go to work or when you are with the family, you are worshiping. Whatever it is you do, the fact is that if God is supreme, if nothing else matters except God, and your vocation and all is an offering in effect to Him, then you are worshiping God in many different ways and in many different contexts exactly as the Scripture says we should do. We worship in spirit and in truth, and our lives should be worship before God.
But part of worship has, of course, to do with singing and music. And why is that? Why don’t we just simply quote the words of A Mighty Fortress is Our God, a bulwark never failing? Why do we sing them? And why are we so inspired when we sing them? Well, the answer is because what music does is it involves the whole man or the whole woman, so to speak. What it does is it touches our emotions. It touches our souls. It invigorates the imagination so that when we stand to sing these great hymns of the faith, we are in effect singing with the totality of our being in a way that we simply can’t do because we intellectually quote words.
Music, you see, is connected to our moods, isn’t it? When Israel was in Babylon you remember they said in the Psalm, “When we got to Babylon we took our harps and we hung them on the willows because,” they said, “who can sing the Songs of Zion in a strange land?” Who can really sing praise to God when you’re in depression and you think about your failures and where you are? It’s difficult to sing praise. It’s because music is really a reflection of our moods, but music can also influence our moods.
I can’t whistle. I don’t know why. I never tried very much, but there are some people who whistle, and sometimes whistling annoys me (when other people are walking around whistling), but I do have to say this about those of you who whistle. You must be in a good mood because nobody really whistles when they are going through depression or despondency or when life seems hopeless because of the connection between our moods.
And that’s why it is that there are so many different kinds of songs. I mean there’s the dirge. There’s the great hymnody of the faith. There’s gospel singing, and different kinds of genres (I didn’t know I’d use that word but it came out.) because of the fact that what we recognize is that music reflects our moods. And because of that, when Moody and Sankey were in Great Britain in the British Isles, singing played such a huge part in communicating the Gospel, because it is so powerful.
In their crusades this was the advertisement. It says, “Come hear Moody preach the Gospel,” and then it says, “and Sankey will sing the Gospel.” And so the Gospel was sung all throughout Britain during a two-year period when they had hundreds of meetings and spoke to literally millions of people. How they did it without a P.A. system and all I do not know. But Moody was so famous that his messages in London would be taken down by a stenographer and printed in the newspaper the next day, even as he preached to 20,000 people.
And today we build upon that heritage. We believe that music has always been a part of Moody Church, and it has even expanded and become much more (What shall we say?) blessed in so many different ways throughout the century and a half that we have been in existence.
Could I say a word about our philosophy of ministry? First of all, as all of you know, we treasure the past. The great hymns of the past are absolutely important to our worship, but also what we want is balance. And when I speak about balance we’re speaking about the ancient and we’re speaking also about the more modern forms. We’re talking about the simple kind of music as well as that which is very eloquent. We’re speaking about that which is familiar (and most of us like the familiar) but also the unfamiliar, and we are able to learn.
There are some churches that have decided to have one service for the young people with their kind of music, and then have another service for the adults and their kind of music. Personally I don’t like that at all, and the reason is because I think music should be trans-generational. It should bind us together as different generations.
Let me say to those of you who are young (teenagers, college students, children) that I hope that you come to appreciate the great hymnody of the past. (applause) Yes, I’m getting some affirmation. Young people, I hope that you are clapping too. That would bless me even more.
The hymns of the past have gravitas. They have gravity. I mean you cannot possibly compete with “And can it be that I should gain an interest in my Savior’s blood,” or the songs of Isaac Watts that have been sung – “Alas, and did my Savior bleed.” I hope that you appreciate those, and you can appreciate those. You need to listen to them. You need to let them express your own emotion because they are filled with theology.
And now I probably won’t get a lot of claps here but I’m on a roll so I’m just going along. And those of us who are older, what we need to do is to flex somewhat and realize that there are modern forms of worship and expression, and so many choruses are being sung today that so honor God. Today, on my way to Moody Church, I had the radio on, on a Christian station that isn’t too far from here, and I heard You Are My King. I’ll see if I remember just the first words. “I am forgiven because you were forsaken. I’m accepted because you were condemned.” What a worship experience I had in the car. I couldn’t raise my hands because I was going 55 miles an hour along the Kennedy. But we need to be able to appreciate that.
Now if you are talking about why it is that Moody Church has such a powerful and compelling music ministry, and why it is that when we have our concerts we have the largest crowds of any events, I’ll tell you why. It rests with the faithfulness of hundreds of volunteers who sing in our choir. They play in our orchestra. They are involved in so many different ways in all of our music ministry. And can we thank them for their involvement and their commitment? (applause)
And that’s why I thank God so much for the music ministry. Now I’m not saying that every Sunday every number is going to be your favorite or appreciated equally. That’s not possible, but if you come to Moody Church regularly you will see this balance. What we do promise you is that every Sunday the songs are directed toward God. Every Sunday we intend to give ourselves wholly to God through song, and in my mind I see singing as depositing us in the presence of God, and leaving us there so that by the time I stand up to preach everybody also is ready to listen, though that is not the main purpose. The main purpose is that we might become worshipers of the Most High, and to that we are committed.
Now what we are going to do is we are going to look at a song in the book of Revelation. What a song this is! I hope you have your Bibles. It’s in Revelation 15 where we have a wonderful song that is sung, and the context is judgment.
Revelation 15:1 says, “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.” We usually never think about singing within the context of the wrath and the anger of God, but in heaven we’re going to sing songs that praise God for His love, that praise Him for His forgiveness, that praise Him for His power and his other attributes, but we’re also going to sing praises to God because of His righteous judgments. “True and righteous,” the Bible says, “are your judgments.”
And so, just at the end of the Tribulation period when the wrath of God is being poured out on the earth, there are those who died a martyr’s death. These are the ones, the Bible says, who are standing on a sea of glass, mingled with fire, and those who have conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass, with harps of God in their hands, and they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. They are singing because of the triumph of God over evil and over God’s enemies.
And you know, there’s something about the justice of God that makes us realize how wonderful it is that we can sing a song like this. I mean, just imagine for a moment being an atheist. In an atheistic world there is no final judgment. There is no time when the Hitlers of this world, or the Stalins of this world, or the child abusers of this world will ever be judged for what they did. All of these evils will go unanswered. But part of our answer to the problem of evil is that there is a day of judgment coming, and in heaven we will give thanks to God for that day.
So there are three victories that they are giving thanks for. First of all, they are giving thanks for the victory of Moses. The Bible says they sang the song of Moses. In Exodus chapter 15 – that’s where the song of Moses is. Now you know the story, don’t you? The Israelites were in Egypt. It was time for the plague of the firstborn, and God said, “If you kill a lamb and put the blood on the lintels of the door, I will pass over you,” and that’s what we call the Passover. So God says, “It’s much better to be a good Israelite than a bad Israelite, but ultimately you’re not going to be accepted as to whether you are good or bad. What I’m going to look for is blood on the door.” And that applies to us today. It’s not a matter of whether you are a good person or a bad person, though it’s much better to be a good person than a bad person. But at the end of the day what will get you into heaven is blood on the door of your heart, that you received the free gift of eternal life, purchased by Jesus on the cross, and resurrection.
So what happened is simply this: They were redeemed by the blood and then they were delivered from Pharaoh by the Red Sea because they went through the Red Sea. Pharaoh and his armies drowned, and the song that Moses sang is in Exodus 15:15. He said, “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them by Your strength to Your holy abode.” And verse 22 says, “Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea.”
So in heaven these martyrs who died sing the song of Moses, and then they sing another song and that is The Song of the Lamb. And isn’t it appropriate that in the Old Testament under Moses you have the blood of lambs put on the door posts of the houses, symbolically prefiguring the time when Jesus would come, the Lamb of God, and throughout the book of Revelation, Jesus is frequently referred to as a lamb, because He is frequently referred to as a Savior who came to save us, to sacrifice Himself for our sins. So they give thanks for the victory over Pharaoh.
They also give thanks for the victory over Antichrist. Now here I begin to really get excited because Antichrist is mentioned in chapter 13 of the book of Revelation. If you want to, you can turn back a page in your Bible. You’ll notice it says in verse 5, “And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words.” It says in verse 7 of those who dwell on heaven and on earth, “Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” Doesn’t this give you chills? “An authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the Book of Life of the Lamb who was slain.” They are the ones who never succumb to Antichrist. The Bible says they overcame the beast and his image and his mark. They didn’t take the mark of 666, and so it says they were slain. And now they give praise to God.
In chapter 13 they are losing. In chapter 13 it appears as if they are defeated because they are being killed. In chapter 15, two chapters later, here they are totally victorious. They had to die before they became victorious, because death for the Christian is a gateway into eternity, and victory and unending triumph. And so what you have in this passage of Scripture is they are giving thanks.
Things are not what they appear to be. Antichrist seems to be winning. Evil seems to be winning in our land as well, but things are not what they appear to be. You have to go to the other side of the curtain to find out who the victor is, and to find out who those are who have received the grace and the strength to be able to withstand even martyrdom for the glory of God.
And then they give thanks because God triumphs over the nations. Revelation 15:3-4 says, “Great and amazing are Your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. All nations will come and worship You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed.” Authority over the nations, the triumph of Jesus over the world and all things, and they give thanks for His justice!
I want us to think about this song. As the Bible says, “They sang this song. They had their harps in their hands, and they began to participate in it.”
First of all, the best preparation for heaven is to worship well on earth. When you look at the Church in the book of Revelation, there are several vignettes thrown in the midst of all of these judgments. When you find them, what is the Church doing, such as in chapter 5? They are worshiping. It says, “They sang a new song saying, ‘Thou are worthy to take the book and open the scroll.’” And then it goes on to say, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”
If you want to prepare for heaven, memorize all those songs of praise to God in the book of Revelation. And become a worshiper of God. And as we learn to worship Him here on earth we will get to worship Him in heaven. You say, “Well, is that all that heaven is going to be – just worshiping God, singing songs?” It’ll be that, but it will also be working for God. The Bible says that His servants shall serve Him. His name shall be on their foreheads, and they shall reign with Him forever and ever. We can only imagine what that might mean. But if you want to prepare for heaven, become a worshiper on earth, because that’s what the Church is doing in heaven.
Secondly - and this ought to excite some of the folks who are into music, Tim and others – songs sung on earth may be sung in heaven. I mean I look at the text and I say, wow! They sang the song of Moses. When Moses had that triumphal victory you remember he composed this song in the 15th chapter of Exodus, and there he is. He’s giving praise to God. He dies without a clue about the fact that the song that he just wrote is going to be sung in heaven some day.
I began to think about this and thought, might it be that in heaven we sing some of the same songs there as we sang here? Why wouldn’t we sing The Hallelujah Chorus in heaven? Why wouldn’t we sing How Great Thou Art? Why wouldn’t we sing some of the contemporary expressions of music in praise and worship?
You know every once in a while we get letters and e-mails from people (not often but occasionally) who maybe don’t like some aspect of the music or perhaps the instruments, and they are all convinced (And they are all good people. They all love God.) that the music they like is exactly the same as God likes. And we’ve all felt that way at times. You know, “God wouldn’t have this. He would have this.” I have to be a little careful here to speak on God’s behalf, but wouldn’t we be surprised that if some of the songs that are sung in heaven are some of the ones that we weren’t really too wild about on earth? God is going to receive expressions from all the different peoples of the world and all of the songs that you and I have never heard that perhaps have been composed in other countries and other languages. And He may receive praise and honor from them as well.
Now all of this, of course, makes me realize that you know, of course, that when I get to heaven, I’ll be out of a job. I’ll not have to preach the Gospel anymore. I’ll not have to stand up and expound the Scriptures, though I have enjoyed doing that for an awfully long time. I won’t have a job anymore, but Tim might be busier in heaven than he has ever been on earth. Can you imagine this choir, this choir and this choir? Remember I told you about the Moravians. Rebecca and I went to Herrnhut many years ago to look at where the Moravians lived, and they were deeply into music. I could mention many things, but one of the places we wanted to go was the cemetery, because their choirs were buried together in the cemetery. So here you have this choir. You all get that plot of land. And then over here there was another choir. This choir gets to be buried over here. Well, on the Day of Resurrection, you see, when they come out of those graves, they’re going to be ready to sing right away. And who knows how many different choir directors might be needed at that time?
Songs sung on earth might be sung in heaven. What preparation singing and worship is for heaven! All of life, basically, is a rehearsal for that final time for heaven.
There is now a final lesson and that is this: The Gospel can be sung through music. I mentioned to you that during the day when Moody and Sankey were in the British Isles and they advertised their crusades, they said, “Moody will preach the Gospel; Sankey will sing the Gospel.” It was as if when Sankey was singing he really expected that people would come to saving faith in Jesus Christ just by hearing the song.
A woman who was present at a meeting said this. “Mr. Sankey sings with the conviction that souls are receiving Jesus between one note and the next. When you hear The Ninety and Nine you know that down this corner, up in this gallery, behind this pillar, the hand of Jesus has been finding His sheep, and lost ones are coming into the fold.”
I really do believe that there are many people who have come to saving faith in Christ, not only from The Ninety and Nine but a song that happens to be one of my favorites.
Just as I am without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
Oh Lamb of God, I come.
Why would the Gospel not go out in powerful expressions of worship? I believe that music has that power.
In the year 1850 there was a young woman who attended a meeting where they sang a song. I think it is by Isaac Watts,
Alas and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die,
Did He devote that sacred head
for such a worm as I?
When it was over she devoted herself completely to God. She was born blind. At least she was born with inflammation around her eyes, and as a result, as a baby she was blind. Her name, of course, was Fanny Crosby. Fanny lived during the Moody era, and she began writing even before Moody began his crusades, and he credited her with giving him the kind of Gospel music that was sung throughout the British Isles. I counted in our hymnal and if I counted correctly we have 16 songs in our hymnal written by Fanny Crosby who wrote 8,000. You do the math. How many did she write a day? I don’t know.
But when she was very young and she was blind she decided to accept her blindness, because in acceptance there is peace, as Elizabeth Elliot has said. She wrote the poem,
Oh what a happy soul I am,
Although I cannot see.
I am resolved that in this world,
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t,
To weep and sigh because I am blind,
I cannot and I won’t.
She wrote a song called Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine, sung in Billy Graham crusades, sung around the world. We’ve all sung it many, many times. Just think of the words of that song.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,
Oh what a foretaste of heaven divine.
You see, what she believed was that it is possible to have that assurance because her faith was in Christ and not in anything else.
This past week I had interaction with a person whom I happened to meet who said that she believed in reincarnation. She said, in fact, that if you are really bad, you can come back as a rat in the next life. I looked at her and I smiled. Always smile. I said to her, “I am so glad that you are wrong – so glad that you are wrong.” I said, “Reincarnation is based on the notion that you get exactly what you deserve.” I said, “Let me explain the good news of the Gospel where you don’t have to get what you deserve. Jesus died and He got what He didn’t deserve – our sin – and we get what we don’t deserve – His righteousness and His forgiveness.” (applause)
Jesus paid it all, and when we sing Blessed Assurance, if you say in your heart, “I don’t have that blessed assurance today; I can’t really sing it,” would you sing it and believe it if God has worked in your heart? And would you, whether you are in the balcony, or listening by radio or the Internet or whatever way, right now receive Jesus as your Savior, and say, “By faith, I receive what He has done.”
The Law says, “Do this, do this.” Grace says, “It is all done, finished, complete for you, as a sinner, to receive. (applause)
Let us pray.
Father, we want to thank You today for the gifted musicians and songwriters that You have given to the Church throughout its 2000 years of history. We thank You today that in a very rich way we can stand upon the shoulders of those who have preceded us and enjoy their music; enjoy, Father, and benefit and worship also because of the wonderful salvation that You have given that is being demonstrated in so many new forms. We praise You. And so we ask Your blessing upon us now as we once again rejoice in the blessedness of knowing You. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.