Defining Healthy (Revelation 4)
Passage: Revelation 4:1–4:11
The Best News Ever
October 2nd, 2011
Way of Grace Church
I. How are You Feeling This Morning?
120 over 75.
What do all of these numbers mean? Those numbers represent healthy vital signs, specifically temperature, respiration, pulse, and blood pressure. In most cases, when a person's vital signs are outside of these ranges, then something's wrong; numbers above or below these numbers are usually a clear confirmation that we are sick.
How are you feeling this morning? Are you healthy or sick?
This morning I want us to think about a sickness that affects every single one of us. Listen to the words of Jesus in Mark 2:17:
Now notice in this verse how Jesus connects sickness and sin. Jesus came into our world as the Great Physician. And the sickness He came to remedy was the sickness of sin.
So are you healthy or sick this morning?
Here is a simple, but significant truth: like those in this passage that Jesus describes as “well”, people who have not turned to Jesus Christ in faith fail to do so because they ultimately reject the idea that they are spiritually sick.
So how can you tell if you are spiritually sick or not? Well, before anyone can understand the spiritual sickness that Jesus is talking about here, they must first have some idea of what “healthy” looks like. Imagine a person born with a constant cough, and an incessant infection, and a regular runny nose. Now imagine if that person was born on an island where everyone had the same chronic symptoms. Would anyone consider these afflictions as abnormal?
But if an outsider came parachuting onto the island, a man with no cough, no infection, and no runny nose, what would the islanders do? What would they determine about the man's condition? Would he be labeled as abnormal, or even “sick”? Or would they recognize their true condition because of his presence?
This morning we've one goal: to define, in terms of spiritual, ultimate things, to define healthy.
And when it comes to defining this kind of health, we don't need a second opinion: we only need to ask God. We need to listen to the One who created us.
I think most people recognize that something is wrong with the world. Few people would argue that the world is a perfect or perfectly functioning place. Violence. Hate. Greed. Indifference. Fear. Anxiety. But listen again to the words of Jesus in light of our question about spiritual health:
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.[or may your name be revered as holy]  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)
Did you hear that? When Jesus teaches broken people to pray in the midst of a broken world, He teaches us to plead for God's will to be done here on earth. There's a corrective for a world that's off-track: that in every way, every day, God's desires would characterize our desires; that God's divine demands would be fulfilled right here.
But notice the standard Jesus points to in light of this prayer for the earth: “your will be done on earth...as it is in heaven.” When it comes to spiritual health, heaven has great vital signs.
Now the Bible does use the term heaven to refer to the sky and to the stars. But here, as in so many places throughout the Bible, “heaven” refers to the dwelling place of God; that spiritual realm in which God 's presence is manifested fully in transcendent glory and power. And as Jesus reveals in this prayer, it's that spiritual realm where God's will is always done.
And so if we want to define healthy in terms of spiritual, ultimate things, we need to look at heaven. Turn with me with to Revelation chapter 4.
II. The Passage: “Behold, a Door Standing Open in Heaven ” (4:1-11)
As we arrive at Revelation 4:1, we find ourselves at a new stage in this unfolding revelation that is being given to the Apostle John. As the glorified Jesus told John in chapter one: Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. (Revelation 1:19)
So John has just heard about what he is supposed to write to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia minor about the things “that are”. But look at what we read in Revelation 4:1...
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet [that's the voice of Jesus], said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (4:1)
Now, it's beyond the scope of our study this morning to talk about when this “after” actually takes place. What we need to see this morning is not necessarily the “when”, but the “where” mentioned in this verse: ...behold, a door standing open in heaven!
Here is our chance to get a glimpse of heaven, and thus, a glimpse of what is truly healthy.
A. Healthy: God at the Center (4:2-7)
Look with me at verses 2-7...
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.  And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.  Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.  From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God,  and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:  the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. (4:2-7)
Right away anyone reading the book of Revelation from the beginning knows a shift has taken place. From this chapter onward, the book will be dominated by imagery like this. In fact, the imagery described in this chapter, and in chapter 5, that imagery will dominate the rest of the book. (churches of 2-3 needed to see heavenly perspective; that God is reigning)
But the imagery described here is just that: imagery. These are not literal, concrete, journalistic descriptions of how things are in heaven. No, the revelation John has been given here was custom designed to communicate ideas like authority and majesty and radiance and beauty and power.
That's why John was shown things like a throne and golden crowns. That's why things are described in terms of precious jewels and lightning and fire even the color white. It's all significant!
But notice the focus here. In verse 1, John wrote, “behold, a door standing open in heaven”. In verse 2 he declares, “behold, a throne stood in heaven”. If we had the time to look at the entire book of Revelation, we would see just how important this “throne” is to the visions that John received. The term “throne” is used sixty-two times in the NT. Forty-seven of those instances are right here in Revelation.
Even though John doesn't say it explicitly, it's abundantly clear that this throne is throne of God. Now, there is a lot we could talk about in these verses, but take a look at what verses 4 and 6 have in common. Both of those verses contain the phrase “around the throne”. Who or what is “around the throne”? In verse 4 we are introduced to the “twenty-four elders” and in verse 6 we are introduced to the “four living creatures”.
Now the living creatures here seem to be the same cherubim described by the prophet Ezekiel. Who these elders are is less clear. They may be angels. They may represent God's people. We can't be sure.
But the fact that all of these heavenly inhabitants are “around the throne” does tell us something critically important: God is at the center of everything. He's the hub around which everyone and everything in heaven revolves. Do you see that?
If what is happening in heaven can help us define healthy, then healthy means having God at the center of everything...everything. There are no secular parts of heaven. The throne dominates. God is inescapable.
To be spiritually healthy, to be truly healthy, in terms of what matters most, God must be at the center of everything!
B. Healthy: A Right View of God (4:8)
But look at how verse 8 develops this same idea. We read...
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (4:8)
Even though Ezekiel describes these creatures with four wings, here they are described as having six wings. But again, remember, this imagery is meant to communicate, not how they look, but how they function; their essence.
But the essence or nature of the creatures is overshadowed by the nature of the One they surround, the One on the the throne. That's why these creatures are constantly crying out “holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty”. As one commentator explains, “In Hebrew, the double repetition of a word adds emphasis, while the rare threefold repetition designates the superlative...”
These creatures cannot overemphasize the holiness of God. What does holy or holiness mean? It means God is separate and distinct...there is no one, there is nothing like Him. He is distinct in His power, His justice, His mercy, His wisdom, and the list goes on. He is the living God...the God who was, and is, and is to come.
What we can learn from this unceasing declaration? We are reminded here that healthy does not simply have any God at the center of all things. 'Healthy' has this God, 'healthy' has THE God at the center. Healthy has a right view of God.
This isn't the friendly, greeting card God that makes you feel good when you need a positive pick me up. This isn't the the “big man upstairs”. This isn't the distant and disinterested God who just 'leaves you alone' or probably doesn't have time for the mundane details of your life.
No, the God who is at center of everything is a holy God. There is no one like Him. He is so big. He is incomparable. He smashes all of our categories. And He has revealed himself in the Bible; that's where our “right view” comes from. Healthy has a right view of God.
C. Healthy: Undivided Adoration (4:9-11)
Look with me at the final three verses of this chapter, verse 9 through 11:
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever,  the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,  “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (4:9-11)
We learn in verse 9 that what these living creatures are doing day and night, as they cry “Holy, holy, holy”, is giving “glory and honor and thanks” to God. Do you see that?
And this is exactly what the “twenty-four elders” are doing as well. Whenever the creatures cry out, the elders are right there to back them up. The elders are incessantly inspired to, verse 10, worship God.
They even take their crowns and cast them before God, and they do this to demonstrate the very thing verse 11 makes explicit: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power” They are saying, “Here are our crowns, God. You gave them to us and we lay them down in order to acknowledge that fact. We submit to you as the Creator and Ruler of all things!”
So again, if 'heaven equals healthy', then what we see in these verses is that having God at the center of all things, and having a right view of who God is, should lead us to an undivided adoration of God. To be spiritually healthy is to give God, and God alone, “glory and honor and thanks”...to “worship” God...to acknowledge his position over us...to acknowledge our dependence on Him!
And how often is this “undivided adoration” at work inside one who is spiritually healthy? Verse 9 tells us these elders worship God whenever the living creatures cry out, and verse 8 tells us that the living creatures cry out “day and night”. It says they “never cease” to declare God's praise. So this undivided adoration of God is a 24/7 kind of thing.
III. The Ultimate Check-Up
So let's stop and think about this amazing picture God has painted for us here in Revelation 4. When God created the earth in Genesis 1, he declared it was “good”, even “very good”. But as we look around at this world, we know things have changed. The world is no longer “very good”. Something's wrong.
But heaven, the dwelling place of God, is different. It is and always will be “very good”. That's why Jesus taught us to pray that earth would become more like heaven. And when we go with the Apostle John through that door in Revelation 4 into heaven, we discover 1) a place where is God is recognized as being at the center of all things, 2) a place where God is understood rightly, where God is known in truth, and 3) a place where the creature's response to the Creator is one of undivided adoration and unceasing praise.
Brothers and sisters, friends, that is what healthy looks like.
This morning, in light of what we've learned, I believe God wants us to come into His 'office' for the ultimate check-up.
He wants us to allow His word to examine us and take our spiritual vital signs.
And if you are willing to do this in light of the baseline that God has established in His word, in light of the reality we see in heaven, then I think that any honest person will be forced to admit that he or she is hopelessly sick.
How many of us live each day with God at the very center of our lives? We are quick to put success and pleasure and family and romance and comfort and acceptance at the center of our lives, we are quick to make sure everything revolves around us, but we fail to recognize what is so obvious in heaven: God and God's throne is at the center of everything, always.
In the same way, how many of us operate every moment with a clear, unhindered, unvarnished view of a holy God; how many of us are walking in truth? We so easily and so quickly bring God down to our level. We are prone to either dismiss God or design Him according to our own agenda. We put Him in a box. We put Him on a leash. We make Him safe. We make Him easy. All of our religions and our personal 'spiritualities' confirm this.
And even if, somehow, we believe our vital signs are acceptable in these two areas (God at the center and having a right view of God), even if we believe we are generally healthy in these things, how many of us can honestly say that we live lives of undivided adoration and unceasing praise to God? That God is worshiped in all of our thoughts, words, and actions? And that we do this “day and night” without ceasing?
The truth is our hearts are easily divided. The truth is our praise is easily redirected. We adore so many foolish things. We praise so many things in this world that are not worthy of our praise. Our thoughts, desires, priorities, words, and actions confirm all of this.
How are you feeling this morning? Are you healthy or sick?
The fact is that we so often deny we are sick because our definition of 'healthy' is just plain wrong. We tell ourselves, ‘healthy’ means being a “good person”; being nice, having manners, having thing generally under control. We think ‘healthy’ means paying our bills on time and having kids who can generally be taken out in public and knowing the difference between the brake pedal and the gas pedal.
We so often think we’re ‘healthy’ because are not in jail, or in debt, or in a troubled marriage; because we are not on drugs, or on the run, or on the ‘chopping block’ at work. We think we’re ‘healthy’ because we go to church, we give money to charity, and feel sad about starving children; because we know that Moses led the Exodus and Noah built an ark and Zaccheus climb a tree.
And if any one of these things gets off track, we reassure ourselves that we’re still ‘healthy’ because “no one’s perfect” or because “it wasn’t my fault” or because “I’m stressed out”.
But these things do not define “healthy”! It’s like a disease-ridden person who tells himself he’s “okay” because his clothes are ironed and his shoes are shined.
No, ‘heaven equals healthy’! And heaven tells us that ‘healthy’ means living a God-centered, truth-informed, worship-filled life every day, in every way.
All of us are hopelessly sick. And the One seated on the throne has told us that, because He is holy, because He is the perfectly just Judge, and because we fail to live God-centered, truth-informed, worship-filled lives…our sickness is fatal. In fact, not only has this sickness killed us spiritually, but it will kill us physically; it will even kill us eternally according to the “second death” of Revelation 20:14.
And there is no medicine or therapy, there is no amount of research or funding, there is no breakthrough that will ever allow us to cure ourselves.
Are you healthy or sick?
If are ready to accept the fact that your are hopelessly sick, then let me ask you a question: for a person in your position, what would “the best news ever” sound like? What news would you desperately want to receive?
Revelation chapter 5 is an amazing chapter. Listen to how it clarifies our vision of heaven. Verse 6: And between the throne [notice the location here…between the throne] and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain… (Revelation 5:6)
Not only is this lamb an amazing sight to behold, but amazingly, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, along with countless angels (v. 11), we read that all of them begin praising the Lamb in the same way they were praising the One seated on the throne! Why is this Lamb worthy of their praise? Because (v. 9) “…you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed [you bought back, out of slavery] people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Revelation 5:9)
This vision simply bring us full circle: On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."(Mark 2:17 NIV)
Jesus is the Lamb of Revelation 5. He was slain on the cross and by his blood we can be healed. And now He lives, risen from the dead He lives to offer us the cure we so desperately need, but could never obtain on our own.
By grace, through faith, we can receive this cure. Isn’t that “the best news ever” you’ve ever heard?