“And singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
(Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26)
As we have discussed above, the place to which they were going that dark evening was located on the Mount of Olives, just to the east of Jerusalem. Yet, Matthew and Mark add an important little detail…they went out singing. We are not told exactly what it is that they were singing apart from that it was a hymn of one sort or another. Some have suggested that it was likely Psalm 118, as such would be sung or read at the end of the Passover celebration, and this may very well be the case. The term that is used is uJmne/w (humneo), which is the word from which we get the English term, “hymn.” This is a different term than yalmo/ß (psalmos), which is the term from which we get the English word, “psalm.” The verbal form of this, ya/llw (psallo) is the literal translation of the Hebrew word for psalm, rwømzIm (mizmor), both of which mean to sing a song accompanied by plucking a stringed instrument—the traditional Hebrew musical accompaniment for singing.
The fact that the language distinguishes between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (the term wjˆdh/—ode) implies the distinction. If indeed it was Psalm 118 that they sung, there is a good chance that rather than singing a metrical form of it (as we might sing today), they sang a hymn based on that psalm (again, as is a common practice today as well).
Regardless of the exact content of the hymn they sang (for the Gospel writers do not give us this), we must take note of two things. First that they were singing and second that they were singing praises to God. It is amazing how valuable hymnody is to the church. We will find that there are hymns that will get us excited and hymns that will comfort us when we are low. There have been a lot of different traditions and aspects of worship that characterize the worship of God’s people, but one thing that ties all of our traditions together is that we sing—in fact, I would argue that one could not call a church service worship unless it did include singing…that is, if we wanted to be Biblical.
Loved ones, do not get anxious about singing. Sing regularly and sing often. Sing in the presence of God’s people and sing in private. Sing in formal worship and extend your private worship as part of all you do. And do not get carried away singing the songs of this world, but sing songs that praise God. Indeed, there may be some songs that are worthy, but none so worthy as the great hymns of the faith. The subjects of which worldly songs speak may honor worthy subjects (although all too often their subjects are base and unremarkable), but who is more worthy of honor and praise than God himself? He is perfect and beautiful and infinitely praiseworthy. The rich man does not take notice of pennies in the street, but he does get excited about a way to add another thousand or million dollars to his portfolio. Believer, you have been given a relationship with one of infinite worth—why sing of the corroded pennies of this world rather than of the God of all creation? To do so is to busy yourself with picking up old pennies and miss the fact that you are walking on streets of pure gold.
Salvation’s joyful song is heard
Where’er the righteous dwell;
For them God’s hand is strong to save
And doeth all things well.
I shall not die, but live to tell
The wonders of the Lord;
He has not giv’n my soul to death,
But chastened and restored.
“The Contagiousness of Worship”
Worship, when it is filled with the Holy Spirit, is contagious. I expect that this is part of the reason that the scriptures emphasize that believers are to live within a covenant community. Not only can we support one another, but in our joined worship, we enable each other and lift each other up. I don’t expect that this principle could be displayed any more graphically than it is displayed here at the end of Revelation, chapter 5. As soon as the twelve elders finish their song (which we have been looking at), they are joined by the four living creatures, the four cherubim, that are around the throne. Then they are joined by “myriads of myriads” of angels.
If you are interested in mathematics, a myriad is 10,000. Thus, a myriad of myriads, would be 10,000 times 10,000, or 100,000,000. And John describes “myriads of myriads,” both being plural. Thus, if we take this number literally, there are hundreds of millions of angels around the throne singing praise (this would require a choir loft that was 10 miles long and 10 miles deep!). Regardless of whether you take this number literally or figuratively as an uncountable number, it is one heck of a large chorus!
I had the blessing a number of years ago to participate in a evening worship service at a youth retreat where there were an estimated 90,000 youth and adults—all lifting their praises to heaven. It was a beautiful thing to behold. In Exodus 15, we are told that when the Israelites had crossed over the Red Sea safely, they sang praise to God—the men being led by Moses and the women by Miriam. We can safely assume that there were at least a million people present at this event. The sound of their voices must have shook the earth! Now multiply that and imagine for a moment hundreds of millions of angelic voices lifted up in perfect harmony to our Lord and God! What an amazing thing that must have been for John to witness!
And if that wasn’t enough, all of creation lifted its voice to join the heavenly song! True worship is contagious, oh believer, what joy you have to look forward to! This chapter closes appropriately, indeed. Once this amazing chorus finishes it’s last verse, the four cherubim around the throne, say, “Amen!” And the elders fall on their faces and worship. Loved ones, this is what God has planned for you. Don’t be too busy worrying about the individual blessings that are promised in scripture—in comparison to this—they are nickels and dimes.
O For a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace.
Hear him, ye deaf; his praise ye dumb,
your loosen’d tongues employ;
ye blind, behold your Savior come;
and leap, ye lame, for joy.
“We will reign with Christ”
One of the major themes of Revelation is that the prize to those who overcome is not only eternal life with Christ, but a co-reign with Christ as well (see Revelation 2:26-27, 3:21). As the Messiah is given authority over the nations (see Psalm 2:8), here we see Jesus, who is the Messiah, sharing that authority with believers.
We are not given all of the details as to exactly how this will look, though some have built entire theologies around their speculations as to what this is about. While we don’t know all of the specifics, one thing that we can say is that any authority that we might be given will be given through Christ himself. The new heavens and earth, will be a world restored to the perfection of Eden, and we, in our glorified bodies, will fill it. Just as Adam and Eve were given governorship of the world as stewards of God, so too, we will be Christ’s stewards over the world. If we add much more we enter into the realm of speculation.
What amazing gifts and blessings Jesus promises to his own! Not only does he bless us and provide for us while we are here on earth, but he has prepared a land for us and has promised to shower us with blessings upon joining him in paradise. Simply being in the presence of God is infinitely more than enough, but Jesus goes beyond our capacity to imagine and has prepared a city in which we may live blessedly with him forever! And yet, at times, we begrudge him the praise he is due…
He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders, wonders of his love.
“Our Great High Priest”
Though not specifically mentioned here in this particular hymn, where there is a nation of priests, there also must be a high priest. And, of course, that high priest is Jesus. He is the one who makes constant intercession for us before the father, and it is he who provided the sacrifice that brought us into fellowship with God the Father. Jesus is the only head of the church.
With this in mind, there can be ecclesial hierarchy within the church, though we see hierarchies within many denominations. Many call themselves Bishops or Arch-Bishops or Cardinals, etc… These have no place in Christ’s church. While it is true that the term e∆pi√skopoß (episkopos), from which we get the term “bishop” is a biblical term, it is a term that is used interchangeably with presbuvteroß (presbuteros). Both of these terms refer to one who is an elder in the church. In a sense, then, it is perfectly acceptable for any local pastor to call himself a Bishop, yet, given the way the term has been mis-appropriated by certain denominations, it would be the heights of pride for him to refer to himself in this way. Even the Apostle Peter refers to himself as a “fellow elder” in the church (1 Peter 5:1).
Elect from every nation,
yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.
“ Kingdom of Priests”
Just as the Levites (the Old Testament priesthood) were not given an allotment of land when the Israelites entered into Canaan, but rather lived amongst the rest of the tribes of the nation, we as Christians are a priesthood without a land here on this earth. We are called, just as the Levites were, to live as strangers and aliens in this land, for our land is a land that is not of this world, but has been reserved for us in heaven.
With this in mind, there are two things that we must always keep before us. First is that we are not to allow ourselves too high a degree of comfort in this world. This world is passing away and it has not been given to us; our world is imperishable. When the Christian becomes too comfortable with the things of this world, he begins to compromise his faith. Just as the Levitical priesthood allowed the idolatry of the land to corrupt their pure faith, so too, when we become comfortable in the land, we invariably compromise the truth of our faith, and we sink into idolatry.
Secondly, the reason that the priesthood was spread about the promised land was so that they would be a blessing to the rest of the Israelites. Yes, the Levites served an important function within the temple, but when they were not physically serving in the temple, the Levites were to teach the scriptures to God’s people and to be an advocate for the widows and orphans, or those otherwise excluded from the society. Just as the nation of Israel was blessed to be a blessing to the world around them, the Levites were blessed to be a blessing to Israel.
And friends, this also remains as our task. Not only must we seek to keep our faith pure and focused on Christ (as opposed to the things of this world), but we are also to be a blessing to the world around us. We need to care for the widows and the orphans, and by extension, all those who have been discarded by society. We are to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people and teach them about our God. And, as we are priests to God, we have an important role in worship itself, for the writer of Hebrews tells us that our sacrifice (as opposed to the Old Testament temple sacrifices) is a sacrifice of praise to our God (Hebrews 13:15).
Take my will, and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.
Take my love, My Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.
“The Limited Scope of the Atonement”
At the same time that Jesus’ ransom was for people from every tribe and nation, do note that it is not performed for all people or tribes without exception; rather, it is for all people and tribes without distinction. Christ’s atoning work was fully effective for the people he came to save, often referred to as the elect. The names written on the Lamb’s Book of Life were written before the foundation of the earth, nothing could ever erase them, and Jesus died to atone for the sins of those whose names are written within.
This does not mean that others, who will eventually and eternally reject the work of Christ, do not benefit from the blood that was shed by Jesus. Yet, the benefit they enjoy is secondary and it is not salvific. The world benefits from the good work of those who are saved. Hospitals, schools, relief agencies, and homeless shelters almost always have their roots in the work of Christian believers. Missionaries have been willing to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to every corner of the earth, where others would never dream of going, in the hopes of taking the gospel to some. Missionaries have often had to create a written language based on the spoken language that a culture used so that they can translate the Bible for them, this allows the tribes to communicate and learn, preserving their thoughts in written form for future generations.
God also gives some general blessings to all people. He gives rain to the crops without distinction; he gives air that is breathable, and new life in the womb. It is through Jesus that God the Father created and it is through Jesus that all things are held together, thus, without Jesus, the fabric of the universe would have torn itself asunder.
Were the scope of Jesus’ work to have been universal, there would be no people in Hell. Yet, Jesus talks more about the reality of Hell and those who will be sent there than any other New Testament writer or person. He ought to know, I think. Thus, if Jesus’ work is effective and unable to be frustrated, and if there is a Hell and it is populated, then by definition, Jesus’ atoning work was only for those he came to save.
Can you have any assurance that you are elect? Sure. If you have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, if your life was drastically changed by him, if you are holding to him, clinging to him as your Lord and Savior, if you have served him by serving others, if you hunger and thirst for the things of God, and especially if you have remained faithful even through many difficult valleys, then you are one of the elect. These things mentioned above are works done within you by the Holy Spirit; they were not things you did on your own strength. And if Christ has begun a good work in you, he will bring that work to completion (Philippians 1:6).
Come, thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.
“A Mission to the World”
The Jews assumed that the Messiah, when he would come, would be a political ruler who would restore the Jewish nation state to independence, as in the time of David. Yet, this is neither how the Old Testament prophets anticipated the Messiah to be, nor was it how Jesus was. He came as the suffering servant of Isaiah’s prophesies (Isaiah 49:6) who would be a light to the nations, drawing people from every corner of the earth to himself.
Yet, how would this ministry be ultimately fulfilled? Jesus would tell his disciples to “go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:16-20). And that job has been passed down to us. Believe it or not, even after all of these years, there are still parts of this world that have never been confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are still un-reached tribes in un-reached regions; there is still much work to do.
We must also remember the commission is to go and make disciples. That means that we need not only go to convert the people in these nations and regions, but we need to plant churches, build schools, and establish seminaries to teach and train these people up in the truth of the gospel. This is an ongoing work.
And this work is work that we all can participate in. If we are unable to go ourselves, we can send. We can raise up our children to see missions as a normal and regular part of Christian service. We can help fund missionaries who are working in the field so that they can concentrate on the work that they have been sent to do. And we can pray for the missionaries that are at work and pray that God will raise up more missionaries, even from our midst, to go into the field. This is what God has commissioned us to do, that people from every tribe and tongue and nation would come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
We’ve a message to give to the nations,
That the Lord who reigneth above,
Hath sent us His Son to save us,
And show us that God is love,
And show us that God is love.
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
And the dawning to noonday bright,
And Christ’s great kingdom shall come to earth,
The kingdom of love and light.
“The Ransom Paid”
We must be careful when we talk about the ransom to be paid, or the debit owed, because we must be absolutely clear as to whom that ransom was paid to. Through the history of the church, some have argued that Jesus’ death was a ransom paid to the Devil for sin, to redeem his people from the clutches of the enemy. Loved ones, this theology is wrong, for God owes no one, especially not the devil, anything at all. Scripture tells us that God chose the elect even before he began creating, which means that he chose the elect before there was sin in the world and before there was any need for a ransom.
Yet, there is a debit that is owed, and that is a debit that we owe to God. In ancient days, when countries were at war with each other, if one country was loosing badly and wanted to bring an end to the warfare, they would sue for peace. They would pay a large sum of money to the other nation, and the war would be considered over.
In a way, that is the same with us. We, in our sin, have been rebels against God for hundreds of generations. Our sin is an affront to a Holy and Righteous God, and there is a just penalty—a price—that is owed to God as a result. The promise is that no matter what we do, and no matter how good we are, we can never hope to repay that debit. Not even someone like Mother Theresa or William Carey could do it. Yet, Jesus chose to do it on behalf of those who put their faith in him as Lord and Savior—the elect. And, oh how grateful we should be!
John tells us that Jesus is the propitiation for our sin (1 John 2:2). Propitiation is different from atonement. Atonement is the making of peace between two parties. Propitiation is the act that brings atonement. We stand convicted and guilty of sin. Jesus acknowledges that and he acknowledges the price we owe as a result. And Jesus paid the price, beloved; he paid it all.
For nothing good have I
whereby your grace to claim—
I’ll wash my garments white
in the blood of Calvary’s Lamb.
Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe;
sin had left a crimson stain,
he washed me white as snow.
“Jesus Was Slain”
To those who would deny the crucifixion, this song affirms even this gruesome detail of Jesus’ ministry. Without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22); each year, the priest, on the day of atonement, would slay a lamb for the forgiveness of the people’s sins (Exodus 30:10), and Jesus has become that lamb for all of the elect (Matthew 26:28), and as Jesus’ sacrifice is perfect and effective, it is a sacrifice that never needs repeating (Hebrews 9:25-26).
In addition, it is a reminder to the historicity of the crucifixion. So many liberals would simply say that there was no real Jesus of history, and if there really was, he wasn’t anything like the Jesus we find in the Bible. Friends, ignore their lies. This song, as does all of scripture, affirms the historical sacrifice of Jesus.
Friends, Jesus was willing to pay a gruesome price for the redemption of believers. If you are a believer, born again by the Spirit in Jesus Christ, then he paid a terrible price for your eternal redemption. Yet, This is something that Jesus gladly did. Don’t take it for granted. It is too easy to relegate the words of scripture to a list of abstract concepts. There was nothing abstract about Jesus. He lived and he died, living in this world as you and I. He was slain for the sins of you and me. Yet, he arose, and therein lies our hope, for he has promised that if we put our faith in him as our Lord and Savior, then he will raise us as well on the last day.
Death cannot keep his prey—
Jesus, my Savior,
he tore the bars away—
Jesus, my Lord.
Up from the grave he arose,
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes.
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Though there is some debate as to just what the scroll that is depicted here in Revelation represents, in context, it seems that the scroll represents God’s redemptive plan for history, namely as is unfolded in the Lamb’s Book of Life. For that book to be opened, God’s righteous judgments against mankind need to be brought about (the opening of the seals). And Jesus is the only one who is worthy to unfold the plan of God in history.
Paul speaks of God having chosen his elect since before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 1:4). That means that before God even began the work of creation, God wrote this scroll. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, he wrote your name on this scroll before the ages began. And he sealed the scroll up with the judgments that would come as a result of the fall. Yet, these judgments are only opened up through the mitigation of Christ—Christ who God promised to Adam and Eve at the fall (Genesis 3:15). Were it not for Christ, we would have perished long ago. Judgment and redemption are intimately interwoven with the person of Christ. What a gracious God we have. What a wonderful savior we have been given!
A wonderful savior is Jesus my Lord,
a wonderful savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock.
where rivers of pleasure I see.
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
that shadows a dry, thirsty land;
he hideth my life in the depths of his love,
and covers me there with his hand,
and covers me there with his hand.
“Jesus is Worthy”
Jesus is worthy of our praise and no one else is. Mohammed was not worthy, Buddha was not worthy, Krishna was not worthy, our governments are not worthy, humanistic teachers are not worthy—no one but Jesus is worthy of our praise and adoration.
Jesus is worthy first because of his perfect character. From the beginning of time, Jesus is and was infinitely perfect in all of his ways. He is God. And for that simple fact, he deserves our worship. Friends, not only is the unbelief of the non-Christian a sin, but the refusal to worship both of the non-believer and of the casual churchgoer is also a sin. Had Jesus never done any work of redemption, he still would have been infinitely worthy of our praise and honor.
Yet, in his work of redemption, how much more worthy is he! He condescended to take on flesh and walk with us. He came to us while we were still rebels against God, wallowing in our sin—and he called us to himself. He did the work of redemption that bridged the infinite gap between a Holy God and a sinful man. He did that for me. And if you are a born-again believer, he did that for you as well. Because he did for me what I could have never done for myself, how much more is he worthy of my praise!
Praise Him! praise Him! Jesus our blessed Redeemer!
Sing, O Earth, his wonderful love proclaim!
Hail him! hail him! highest archangels in glory;
strength and honor give to his holy name!
Like a shepherd, Jesus will guard his children,
in his arms he carries them all day long;
Praise him! praise him! tell of his excellent greatness;
praise him! praise him! ever in joyful song!