Fall On Your Knees

Read: Revelation 5

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. – Revelation 5:12-14

The scene in Revelation 5 reveals a glimpse into heaven, and at the heart of what is going on in heaven is worship. But, if you’re like me, worship can often feel mysterious. There are times when my heart overflows with love for Christ, but a lot of the time worshipping in spirit and truth feels elusive—something I want to hunger for but often don’t. But in Revelation 5, we see worship—fall on your face, sing a new song to the Lord, overcome by the glory of our beautiful King Jesus worship. It is this kind of adoration that we will one day participate in with the angels for all eternity. Though today we gaze upon the beauty of Christ in a mirror dimly, not seeing him perfectly face-to-face (1 Cor 13:12), we are still invited, and called, to worship our risen King for what he has done and for who he is. 

What He has done

O Holy Night is one of my favorite Christmas hymns because it captures the same spirit of adoration that we see in Revelation 5. Listen to some of the lyrics:

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees, O, hear the angels voices. 

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger, in all our trials born to be our Friend. He knows our need—to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your king, before him lowly bend! 

Truly he taught us to love one another; His law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
and in his name all oppression shall cease. 

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we; let all within us praise his holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise his name forever! His power and glory evermore proclaim!

O Holy Night connects the birth of Jesus to the restoration of all things and his glorious reign forevermore, and throughout it all is worship. Fall on your knees, behold your king, bow before him, let all within us praise his holy name! But the song also articulates what Jesus has done to deserve our response of adoration and praise. He breaks into our weary world with hope, he knows our weakness and needs intimately, he is our friend, his law is love and gospel is peace, and in his name all oppression shall cease. 

Likewise, in the throne room of heaven that Revelation 5 depicts, the angels and elders fall down in worship of Jesus because of what he has done. Their weeping ceases, they sing a new song praising Jesus as the worthy one because he was slain and ransomed his people to God so that they might reign on the earth. The works of God are wonderful and make him worthy of our worship every single day. And yet, often we don’t. 

Our God has worked throughout history making a way for us to know him and love him, but it is all too easy to want more. Our world is broken, we are broken. Painful circumstances come our way, families separate, children starve, disaster strikes time and again. Sometimes the way God has worked in the past doesn’t feel like it’s enough to keep us going today. We need to learn to love God for himself as well as for the things he has done for us.

Who He is

Adoring Jesus is not only about what he has done, it is at least about that, but it is also about who he is. This is the difference between prayers of thanksgiving and prayers of adoration. Thanksgiving is thanking God for the ways he has revealed his character in our lives and what he has done for us. But adoration is about loving God for who he is. It is often difficult to even express our love of God in ways apart from how he has acted in our lives—God’s actions are always a perfect reflection of his character, but loving God for what he has done is just a part of loving him for who he is. 

When I worked with college students, the question came up that if God never answered another one of your prayers and your life became like the life of Job, would you still love Him? Most of the students said, how could we? Their love of God was fixed primarily on what God might do for them in the future, not what he had already done for them, and certainly not for who he was. But when Christ entered the world, the Magi and shepherds came and bowed before him as a tiny infant, a baby who hadn’t done anything. The full glory of God manifested itself as a baby, and even before he spoke a word or healed a blind man, Jesus was worthy of our worship simply because of who he was. 

In the throne room of Revelation 5, the elders and angels worship Jesus because of what he has done but also because they experience the glory of Christ. The same glory that passed over Moses and covered him because it would be too much (Ex 33:22), the same glory that kept Israel away from Mount Sinai (Ex 19:23), the same glory that dropped Uzziah dead when he touched the ark of the covenant (2 Sam 6:7). God’s glory is the summation of all of his perfect attributes—his perfect justice meeting his perfect righteousness, his complete power held in tension with his boundless mercy, his just wrath and his gracious compassion. When we come in contact with this utter perfection, we cannot help but worship. 

Jesus is described as both the conquering Lion and the slain Lamb, images that capture the beauty of this King we worship. He is not just a roaring Lion who judges the world with wrath, he is also the meek and humble Lamb who gave himself up for the sake of others. Christ in his glory is the beautiful one who draws us into worship for who he is.

In this season, may we adore God both for his actions towards us in the incarnation, but also for the perfect beauty of Christ; his glory that will one day be fully revealed and we join with the heavens in declaring, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing (Rev 5:12)!”

Reflect: Spend time considering what God has done in your life that is worthy of worshipping him. Reflect upon what those gifts reveal about God’s character that is beautiful and worthy of your adoration. Take time to thank God for his gifts and to adore him for who he is.

Eat the book

A few years ago a friend of mine who is not a Christian criticized Christians for not embodying their faith. Their faith was mostly about knowing a set of rules, but they didn’t seem very joyful or alive. While this critique was harsh, it also felt true. It is all to easy for Christians to know things about God without ever digesting that knowledge, getting the teaching of Christ into our bellies where it might course through our bodies and make us different. When we settle for training our minds and neglect bringing our whole bodies into alignment with the knowledge we profess, we find ourselves living an undernourished faith. But this is not the way it is supposed to be.

In Revelation 10, John listens to an angel in heaven read about the mysteries of God from a scroll. His voice is like a lion’s roar, thundering across the land. Intuitively, John moves to write down what he hears, but the angel forbids him from writing down the words and rather invites him to eat the scroll. Though Revelation may seem to be full of bizarre snippets such as this, Revelation is all about worship. Here, John is being instructed about what true worship is—it is not simply knowledge, writing down information so our minds might absorb it, worship is about our bodies. 

In response to this passage, Eugene Peterson says, Why, that [writing the words down] would be like taking the wind or breath out of the words and flattening them soundless on paper…It’s as if the heavenly voice said, “No, I want those words out there, creating sound waves, entering ears, entering lives. I want those words preached, sung, taught, prayed—lived. Get this book into your gut; get the words of this book moving through your bloodstream; chew on these words and swallow them so they can be turned into muscle and gristle and bone.” And John did it; he ate the book.

Most of us are in danger of living a life flattened on soundless paper. Christians can fall into a way of life that exists primarily in the mind, the place of knowing and thinking, but fail to fully digest our knowledge. This has always been a religious person’s problem; Jesus criticized the relgious people of his day for this very thing because knowing and believing something that does not produce congruent actions is called hypocrisy. Those pharisees knew the law and the traditions, but their religion was like a fine table set at a party at which no one feasted; they were missing the point of all that knowledge. Their concepts never nourished their heart; they hadn’t eaten the book. And unfortunately, this is the modern churches’ problem too. We are an undernourished people, hungry for intimacy with Christ and settling for knowledge of him. We need to be people who eat the book. 

An undernourished people

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. -Ezekiel 3:1-5

The prophet Ezekiel receives his call from God to be a prophet to Israel, but rather than filling Ezekiel’s mind with perfect theology or knowledge of God’s law, God goes for his gut. He wants to fill Ezekiel, get his word inside his body, coursing through his bloodstream and sustaining his muscles for the task ahead of him. 

His task to is prophesy to Israel, God’s own people. These people knew God. They had the law to instruct them and their story of God freeing them from Egypt so that they might dwell in his presence and worship him. And yet, Israel had not gotten the law into their hearts, they had not come to hunger for the ways of God. Later God and Ezekiel would have a conversation about Israel in which God calls them dry bones, dead and wasted away. The question of the conversation is can they come alive again? Is God able to raise them back to life, to put muscle on their bones, give them breath and empower them to walk in the ways of God?  

The same question goes for us. When our faith is predominately an intellectual faith or a faith situated in our minds, we are on the path to becoming dry bones, bodies that are unnourished and wasting away. It is not because our minds are unimportant—- on the contrary, they are critical to our faith and we are commanded to used them (Mt 22:37)— but a faith that is only about knowledge will always trend towards hypocrisy. We must put what we know into action, we must be people who don’t just read the book but eat it. We need to hunger for more than knowledge about Jesus, we must hunger for him—his presence, love, and peace in our lives. And fortunately, this is exactly what God wants for us. 

The nourishment we need

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. – John 6:53, 55 

Though Ezekiel and John were invited to eat the written word of God, we are invited to something much stranger—to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ. It is no coincidence that Jesus chooses food to be the way his people remember him and participate in his covenant. He knows that humans trend towards anemic lives that lack the fullness we were made for. So he chooses food. 

My sister is a naturopathic doctor who says that food is the fastest way to teach people to connect with their bodies. When we eat wholesome, nourishing foods, our bodies are fueled and empowered to do what they are made to do. Food changes us from the inside out, repairing our cells, giving us energy, and teaching us to hunger after the right things. Just as the word of God nourished Ezekiel to fulfill his calling as a prophet to Israel, to speak against their ways and call them to repentance, Jesus, the incarnated word of God, offers himself as our spiritual nourishment so that we might live sacrificial lives and fulfill our calling as Christians to follow him. God is not interested in only teaching our minds, he is first and foremost interested in getting into our hearts and guts. As we feast on Jesus, the true word of God, he softens our hearts, strengthens our limbs for his work, and empowers our bodies to move through the world like he did. 

How to eat the book

Prioritize intimacy with Christ over knowledge about him. It is much easier to learn things about God than to get to know him. We need to know him, and knowing God comes from spending time in his presence, listening to him, and loving him for who he is rather than what he can do for us. He is more than worthy of our time, let’s give it to him.

Don’t be a hypocrite. Be hearers and doers of the word (Jas 1:22-25). Ask yourself where and why you aren’t taking God’s word seriously. Repent and ask the Spirit to make you hungry. Jesus says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 6). Make this your prayer: that you would hunger after the ways of God, not your ways, not the ways that are comfortable, but the ways of God. 

Remember that our God wants to nourish us. In Christ, the incarnated word, God has revealed himself to us and given us the same spirit that gave breath and put sinew and muscle back on those dry bones. He is able and he wants to nourish us. Let’s ask him to do so.

The Joyful Loss of Covid Weddings

Theology for the Pandemic

Covid has reduced our lives to their simplest terms, but this reduction has allowed us to recover the beauty of a simplified life. Home cooked meals. Uneventful weekends. Sweatpants. Lots of family time. Most of our life has been simplified, including weddings. 

I’ve attended three Zoom weddings in the past few months, and they have been striking. Any fairy tale sentimentality is stripped back by a full dose of reality. The world has not stopped turning for this couple, and they are fully aware of it. People are missing–siblings, grandparents, best friends. Masks remind everyone second by second that something is amiss that even love does not overcome. But in spite of the harsh reality that there is a raging pandemic unlike anything we have seen in the past century, there is something profoundly beautiful happening during zoom weddings.

The reality check: grief and joy

Life exists in a tension between beauty and grief, hope and suffering. But Covid weddings have captured this dynamic in an elevated way as they allow grief to show up like an uninvited guest. Weddings are supposed to be the best day of your life precisely because it is a day without grief or loneliness or sadness, a day that is meant to offer supreme happiness–bliss. But Covid has knocked this idea off of it’s pedestal, and its actually a good thing. 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4

Just after John’s vision in Revelation of the marriage supper of the Lamb, he sees the new Jerusalem, the city where God will dwell with his people in perfect wedded bliss. At this wedding death shall be no more and every tear will be wiped away. 

Weddings often feature crying; I cried when as my dad walked me down the aisle, Andrew cried when he first saw me in my dress. But these are the tears of hopeful expectation or joyful remembrance. At the Covid wedding, there are tears of joy, but also tears grief over loved ones that aren’t there, the brokenness of our world, and a day that did not go according to plan. 

But in spite of sorrow that tinges this wedding day, Covid weddings are more in tune with reality. They embody the truth that the days ahead of you will not all be easy. Your life will be marred with loss and sadness just as much as it is blessed with joy. And that is ok. 

As Christians, we don’t need to pretend that the brokenness of our world isn’t there, to sterilize a day from sadness in an attempt to imagine a world without pain. We have this perfect wedding day as our hope that we look forward to. At the marriage supper of the Lamb there truly will be no more tears or pain or grief. The beauty that we so long to create in earthly weddings will be realized and the tears will be of remembrance for the broken world that our savior has restored and redeemed once and for all. Whether we like it or not Covid weddings remind us that we are not there yet and force us focus center our attention to the purpose of the wedding ceremony: the covenant. 

The Beautiful Covenant

A covenant is a promise; two people promising to stick it out for better or for worse. Covid weddings offer an embodied experience of “for worse” in a live fashion. At my wedding, our pastor pointed out that we will probably never look this good again. We were getting married at a “for better” moment in our lives. It was easy to marry Andrew when I wasn’t exhausted all the time, when I felt like our world was stable albeit broken. But when the world is falling apart before your eyes, protests threaten your second wedding venue, or you may be deported because you are an international PhD student, you are getting married in a “for worse” time (all real examples). 

The Bible begins and ends with a wedding, and all through the middle God chooses to describe how he relates to his people as a husband loving his wife. Biblical marriage is sacramental because it points to the greater spiritual reality of the church’s ulitmate and forever marriage to Christ. In Ephesians 5 Paul says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Paul quotes Genesis 2, anticipates Revelation 21, and says that human marriage is actually about Jesus and his bride, the church. 

This is what weddings are about, and this is why people are getting married in the middle of a pandemic. I have heard about weddings being indefinitely postponed, a couple opting to wait it out. But when a wedding is about this beautiful covenant, a promise that embraces suffering with joy, it is a celebration that can’t wait. Covenant chooses to enter into a broken and beautiful relationship because it is a physical reminder of God’s promises to his people. These small weddings in a broken world are acts of faith that one day Jesus, our true groom, will make all things new. 

The Perfect Wedding

The marriage supper of the Lamb is the ultimate wedding and what every wedding on earth is testifying towards: perfect union with Christ and the redemption and restoration of all things. At this wedding grief is wiped away with joy, once and for all. 

But this hope is also something we participate in today. Jesus, the beautiful one, our savior who is acquainted with grief (Is 53:3) stands by us in our longing and sorrow. He enables us to face brokenness and despair knowing that our joy is in him rather than our circumstances. When we are disappointed or grieving he stands firm in his covenant to us, promising that he will never leave us nor forsake us.

Today, he stands beside you promising for better or for worse.