Wrath and Rejoicing - Revelation 15-16

A few weeks ago, one of my greatest fears as a pastor was realized. One of our members came up to me and said, “I heard you singing a solo last Sunday night.” Now, it is a very well-known fact in our congregation that I could not carry a tune in a bucket. Wide-eyed and terrified, I stuttered, “I…ah…I…mean…what are you talking about?” She said, “On Sunday night during the livestream that is broadcasted to the internet your voice was the only one picked up on the microphone during our congregation singing.” Yes, the livestream that is broadcasted to the entire world showcased my stellar singing voice. Normally Adam’s smooth, deep baritone feels the sanctuary, but this night someone else lead music from the floor so I was left on the mic to broadcast my awful out of pitch voice.

        And even though I can’t sing, I love to sing. I sing loud and out of key. One of my favorite times as a congregation is when we sing acapella. I love hearing the voices of God’s people fill the sanctuary. Although it is great for me, it is harder for out music leader because as they try and stay on pitch, they must do so with me in their ear. I love to sing. Singing is one way we express our joy and celebration. We sing at birthdays and weddings and when our college football team scores or when the greatest baseball team ever, the Chicago Cubs, win a home at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

        On April 9th, 2003 thousands of Iraqi citizens filled the streets to watch the fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square marking the end to the battle of Baghdad. I remember watching the news from the security of my Washington, D.C. apartment amazed at the joy and happiness of the Iraqi people. I have never lived under a brutal dictator and therefore I could not fully understand their joy. Saddam Hussein repeatedly used the power of the state against his citizens. From February to September 1988, Saddam conducted what has been called a genocidal campaign against the Kurdish population killing upwards of 180,000 Kurds. An estimated 5,000 men, women and children were killed in a single day in a mustard and nerve gas attack at Halabja. At the of Hussein’s reign, there were 250 mass graves discovered spread throughout Iraq.

Hussein’s brutal reign lasted for 24 years. Twenty-four years of oppression and death. After convicted of crimes against humanity, Hussein was executed. The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki said, “Let the families of Iraqi martyrs killed in mass graves, Anfal, Halabja or those executed in the cells of the dead regime be happy. The mothers, orphans and widows should celebrate the death of the buried dictator.[1]” The reign of terror was over, and it was time to rejoice. One can only understand the joy in which those Iraqi citizens sang if one understands the terror of their regime that was overthrown. The level of their joy is linked to the level of their oppression. The more one is oppressed the greater their joy when liberated.

There is an evil regime in our day. The prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, the roaring lion, the accuser of the brethren, the Dragon is actively oppressing and tormenting the saints of God, but one day his ‘reign’ will end. And when his reign ends, will you sing? Will you join the chorus of the saints and celebrated your exodus from oppression to the promise land?

Can you Sing?

John is experiencing the active oppression of the Beast in exile on the island of Patmos placed there because of his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And while on the island God gave him a vision for the church to encourage perseverance and faith in midst of oppression and persecution. John saw two signs in heaven in Revelation 12 and now another sign in heaven in Revelation 15, “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 do not normally associate “great and amazing” with the wrath of God. The seven angels with the seven bowls are going to bring the wrath of God against sin and those who stand against God. After years of oppression and brutality, the people of God are going to experience liberation.

  And John sees the church, those who conquered the beast through the blood of the lamb standing in the presence of the Lord. Revelation 15:2, “And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had 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.” The saints were in God’s presence experiencing his majesty. The sea of glass is used also in Revelation 4 to describe the throne room of the Lord. I believe the 144,000 in Revelation 14 that were redeemed from the earth and learned the new song of the Lamb who followed him wherever he goes are the same gathered around the throne here. I believe it is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ that will sing the song of the Exodus. Revelation 15:3-4, “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

 “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, 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.”

The song of Moses and the song of the Lamb are the same. God’s victory through his great and amazing deeds in the exodus, freeing God’s people from the oppression of Egypt, was foreshadowing the great and amazing deeds of the second exodus, finally freeing God’s people from the oppression of sin and death of the Devil.

The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. I sat down with a young man this week and asked, “Do you know the difference between the Old and the New Testament?” He quickly replied, “God in the Old Testament was one of wrath and God in the New Testament was one of love.” This idea has been around for a long time first being proposed by Marcion in the middle of the 2nd century and it could not be further from the true. God is love and God is wrath. We cannot divide his attributes. God was kind and gracious to Israel in giving them victory of Egypt through the visible manifestation of his power and now he will do the same for the church. But while God is gracious and kind for his people his wrath was extended against Egypt in the Old and against those who stand with Beast in the New. Salvation always comes through judgment. God saves one by judging another.

  Can you sing the song of Lamb? Can you rejoice in your salvation? Bryan Chappell tells this story that happened in his hometown:

Two brothers were playing on the sandbanks by the river. One ran after another up a large mound of sand. Unfortunately, the mound was not solid, and their weight caused them to sink in quickly. When the boys did not return home for dinner, the family and neighbors organized a search. They found the younger brother unconscious, with his head and shoulders sticking out above the sand. When they cleared the sand to his waist, he awakened. The searchers asked, "Where is your brother?" The child replied, "I’m standing on his shoulders"[2] 

One is saved. One dies. Friend, the only way we can experience salvation is if we stand on our Elder brother’s, the Lord Jesus, shoulders. Hebrews 2 says that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers. He took on flesh and blood so that he through his death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who were subject to lifelong slavery. Jesus is our elder brother who died to deliver us from slavery to sin and death. Salvation comes through judgment. Can you sing of salvation? Only if you can rejoice in the judgment of Christ on the cross. Jesus took the wrath of God for us in his death on the cross. He was dead and buried but God raised him from the dead. He now leads us in the new exodus from his world to the promise land of glory.

  2 Peter 3:9-10, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” God is showing you mercy today by sharing with you through his word that he offers salvation to you through the judgment of his son. He does not want you to perish but wants you to stand on the shoulders of your brother and experience salvation. Salvation must come through judgment. Can you sing of this salvation? Do you know the song of the Lamb?

When Satan tempts you to despair
And tells you of the guilt within
Upward do you look and see Him there
Who made an end of all your sin
Because the sinless Savior died
Your sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon you and me[3]

Can you sing in the song of the Lamb?

Beloved, whenever we sing the song of the Lamb, we also are confessing the wrath of God against sin. We sing because Jesus has taken the wrath against us. We sing because Jesus has delivered us from the wrath to come. We sing because Jesus will one day deliver us from his earth to heaven. We sing because Jesus will come in wrath against the Beast and his worshippers. We cannot have salvation without judgment. Salvation brings God glory as does his wrath. Revelation 15:5-8,

 5 After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. 7 And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, 8 and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. [4]

The wrath of God shows the glory and the power of God. In the face of such power the saints sing, “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?” God’s wrath is glorious and awesome.

Can you Hide?

            God’s wrath is also comprehensive. Revelation 16:1, “Then I hear a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” God sends his angels to pour out his earth. The plagues God sent on one nation, Egypt, in the first Exodus, now he will send on all nations in the second exodus. And as in the first Exodus, with each plague there was an opportunity for repentance so there is here. Friends, no one can hide from the coming wrath? Notice how comprehensive and total this judgment is, Revelation 16:2-21,

2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.

3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.

4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,

“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,

for you brought these judgments.

6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,

and you have given them blood to drink.

It is what they deserve!”

7 And I heard the altar saying,

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,

true and just are your judgments!”

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.

10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.[5]

I will not go through the details of each bowl but will offer some observations. First, the bowls of judgment mirror many of the plagues in Exodus. The water is turned to blood, painful sores on the people, the land is put in darkness, and the unclean spirits from the unholy trinity (Dragon, Beast, False Prophet) like frogs. Second, these bowl plagues are comprehensive. Every living thing died in the sea, every island fled away, and no mountain was found. Every living creature and every non-believer on the earth is affected. Revelation 15:1, says with the angels, “the wrath of God is finished,” and the Revelation 16:17, “a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’

Third, the coming wrath is meant to bring people to repentance. After the fourth angel, “They did not repent and give him glory.” And again, after the fifth angel, “They did not repent of their deeds.” When we experience discipline, it is meant to bring repentance. Those who were rightly experiencing the consequence of their sin cursed the name of God and the cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. God offered relief and deliverance through his Son, but they rejected his grace. Do you view discipline as grace or do you view discipline as another reason to curse God for your circumstances?

Fourth, God’s judgments are just. There have been many people who have been wrongly convicted and sent to jail and sadly some who have even faced capital punishment for crimes they did not commit. God’s judgments are true and just. The angel declared, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” Know this, there will be no person in hell that does not deserve to be there. God’s justice is perfect. And the saints who die agree for from the alter, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments.” We submit to God’s perfect righteous judgments. We may not understand now, but we will.

Fifth, the saints are encouraged to stand fast and persevere. It is hard to find a chapter in Revelation that does not have an inherit call to perseverance to the saints. Revelation 16:15, “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed.” It is a common image in the New Testament to encourage the church to be vigilant and stand for the Lord today. The Lord may return any moment. Live each day as if it were your last day because it could be. Turn from your regrets and live each day for the Lord.

Let this be a reminder to us to live without regrets. What do you need to stop doing? What do you need to start doing? Friend, the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  Let us be ready. Life is short. I am more and more aware of the brevity and speed of life with each passing year as I watch my kids grow. They are growing up right before my eyes. I do not want to regret the time I have with them. Beloved, do not waste your youth. Do not waste your strength. Give it to the Lord. Persevere. Hold Fast. Press on to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

How can hide from this wrath? Augustus Toplady was a Methodist believer who became convinced of Calvinist doctrine. He wrote many hymns, but one of his hymns has stood the test of time. It has been told that his inspiration came when he was traveling one day in North Somerset England when he was overtaken by an awful storm. He sought refuge in the Burrington Combe gorge where a plaque still stands today. Toplady was hide in the rock from the storm which inspired this hymn,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

 

Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

 

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

 

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.

Friend, our only hope in the storm of God’s wrath is to hide ourselves in Him. It will come.BE ready.

Can you sing? Only in the Lamb. Can you hide? Only in the Lamb. Beloved, salvation always comes through judgment. We will be saved if we sing of and hide in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the Lord.

 

[1] http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/IraqCoverage/story?id=2761722&page=1 accessed 3.11.2018

[2] https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-dana-chau-stories-christianlove-3870 accessed 3.11.2018

[3] Adapted for the sermon. Before the Throne of God Above. Bob Kauflin.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Re 15:5–8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Re 16:1–17:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.