Saturday 31st December 2022

REVELATION 22

Every great city has a great river that sustains all life within it.  The New Jerusalem is no exception.  Just as the Garden of Eden had rivers flowing through it, so the New Jerusalem has “the river of the water of life” proceeding from its source, the throne of God and of the Lamb.  Fresh water always symbolises eternal life, salvation, and the gift of God’s grace.  The imagery here is similar to that in Ezekiel chapter 47, except that there the river continues into the Dead Sea and brings life to it.  Here, it appears to bring life only to the people of God. 

The Tree of Life also features in this chapter, just as it did in the Garden of Eden, fed by the river and bringing life to all who ate of that fruit.  The Greek word here literally means “wood of life”, which points significantly to the cross which has been the source of eternal life for us all.  The leaves are for their healing.  How wonderful!  Mankind began life in a garden and the life of the new age continues in a garden.  In this garden city will walk the Lamb of God and we will see him and talk with him face to face.  We will bear his name and he will acknowledge us openly and joyfully.

Then the angel begins to draw all these great visions to a close, affirming that they are trustworthy and true.  These things must ‘soon’ take place, and ‘the time is near’!  Certainly, these prophecies began to be fulfilled almost immediately, even if their total fulfilment is not yet complete.  For the remainder of the chapter, vision, revelation and teaching turn into preaching and exhortation: “Look, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me…”.  We need to ensure that we will be inside that great city and not remain outside with the unrighteous.  The vision has brought John right back to his present day with that encouragement in verse 14.

Jesus has sent his angel – his personal messenger – as a witness to the churches that all that has been written is true.  The Apostle John is the second witness.  Jesus, through his Spirit, is the third one.  He promises to come soon, and we see that one of the responsibilities of the ‘Bride’ (us) is to pray for his appearance to be hastened – as aided by the Holy Spirit.  If we are thirsty, genuinely thirsty, we can drink of this water of life now – and so can anyone who wishes to!

And so, the Father will come and make his home with us for ever, in the land that he has provided for us.  We will live in the Father-Land of God.

To finish this description of our everlasting and wonderful life, I cannot do better than to quote C.S.Lewis, one of the greatest of Christian writers, writing at the end of his Narnia children’s book ‘The Last Battle’:

“’The term is over; the holidays have begun.  The dream is ended; this is the morning’.  And as he spoke, he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them… And we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.  But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before”.

That is what we have to look forward to in Christ!

NEHEMIAH 12 and 13

What’s the point of music in the household of the Lord?  It’s a good question, and one that does not have as definite an answer as many of us have been brought up to think.  In the New Testament there is very little mention of musicians at all in church gatherings, although singing hymns and songs is referred to in 1 Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5:19, and Colossians 3:16, by way of examples. 

The questions are: what was the Old Testament worship like?  And: was the New Testament worship intended to be different from even that?

We see here in chapters 12 and 13 of Nehemiah that they intentionally re-established the pattern of professional musicians that King David had created.  Musicians played a variety of instruments including percussion, melody (trumpet, lyre), harmony (harp), perhaps bass versions of these, and then principally the human voice, the true ‘king’ of instruments.  Choirs of singers sang ‘antiphonally’ – that is, alternately, facing each other.  Many of the Psalms are excellent for antiphonal singing and were clearly written for it by David and others.  When the Jerusalem city wall was completed and dedicated to God, the two choirs processed clockwise and anticlockwise around the tops of the wall, meeting up at the temple for a combined period of thanksgiving.  They may well have sung Psalm 126, part of today’s reading.  “On that day they offered great sacrifices because God had given them great joy” (Nehemiah 12:43).  As genuine songs of praise are given, God responds by filling us with joy.

We see at the end of this chapter that the musicians and gatekeepers were employed full-time by the priests and supported by the tithes of the people.  Some roles in a believer’s life can be done perfectly well – and probably better – by them supporting themselves with a normal ‘day job’; other roles are impossible to do without being ‘full time’ and being supported financially by other believers.  Yet other roles achieve a better standard and higher quality by being financially supported (or they should be!).  This is not a plea for church musicians to be paid employees, but just an observation that a church always puts it money towards the things that it regards as a priority; if any such church examines its own financial accounts, it is easy to gauge what its priorities are, therefore!  (“Where your treasure is, there is your heart also”, said Jesus.)

The Jerusalem temple community therefore regarded music and singing as a key part of their worship life.  They employed sufficient musicians and singers to fill a 24-7 rota, to enable the singing to be maintained day and night.  One of the problems that Nehemiah discovered after he had returned from a trip back to Babylon, was that the tithing and giving had significantly diminished, so the musicians had stopped and had needed to go back to their own fields to provide for themselves and their families. 

In the New Testament, the focus changes dramatically from a centralised temple building to a diverse local temple ‘body’.  The complex paraphernalia that made up the old temple worship – both animal sacrifices and human structures and roles – these were practically and theologically swept away in Christ and by Christ.  The main problem of much Christian so-called ‘worship’ today is that it attempts to return to the temple-made-with-hands and to recreate the atmosphere and the architecture in 21st century church life.  Walk around many ‘high’ Anglican or Roman Catholic buildings and compare their layout and implied theology to the Old Testament temple or tabernacle.  Then read the Book of Hebrews!  We mock the Jews for wanting to return to Egypt, but sometimes we try to return to Jerusalem!

What does the New Testament say about worship?  Romans 12:1 is pivotal: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship”.  The sacrifices of the old temple have been declared obsolete, replaced once for all time by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  Our sacrifice today is not an animal, therefore, but a human one: it is to offer ourselves 100% to the service of the Lord 24-7-365.  In terms of worship, it is clear that worship is not just singing Christian songs accompanied by musical instruments.  Rather, Christian songs are part of a life of worship.  We should perhaps avoid the term ‘Worship Team’ or ‘Worship Leader’, therefore, since this implies that the most important worship is only musical.  Actually, the Holy Spirit is the real worship leader!

Whilst singing and music clearly played an important part in the life of the New Testament church, it was certainly not over-prominent, since the small-to-medium sized groups that believers habitually met in would have precluded large-scale organised ‘bands’ of musicians.  That isn’t to say that high quality music (there is no such thing as Christian music, by the way) and singing (the words make it Christian) should be neglected, but simply that we need a perspective on every believer’s activity.  The emphasis of the New Testament was ‘mission’ rather more than ‘music, and ‘community’ more than ‘choruses’; there is nothing wrong with any of it, but we must exercise wisdom in prioritising our God-given time.  

As leaders, let us examine our church meetings to test whether they are aiming at New Covenant standards and practices (Acts 2:42 onwards,  Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 14  etc).  If we are in reality recreating a museum-piece temple, then we need to repent and move on!

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