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Revelation 19: Homesick for Heaven, lessons about the power of praise and worship

Unsplash/Ben Vaughn
Unsplash/Ben Vaughn

On April 10th, 1852, under the African sun, an American passed away. He was laid to rest in a remote cemetery in Tunis, Africa.

Thirty-one years later, as a gesture of gratitude from the American public, the United States sent a warship to the African coast. American hands carefully opened his grave, gathered his remains onto the battleship, and set course for his homeland.

When they arrived in an American harbor, cannons were fired from a nearby fort, and flags were flown at half-mast. His remains were transported to the nation’s capital on a special train. All business was temporarily halted, government departments adjourned, and as the funeral procession moved along Pennsylvania Avenue, the president, vice president, cabinet members, congressmen, Supreme Court justices, military and navy officers, as well as a diverse group of citizens – rich and poor alike – stood with their hats and head coverings removed as a show of respect.

To whom were they paying their respects? They honored a man who had expressed his heartfelt yearning more than his life’s happiness — as a man who had longed for the peaceful comfort of a devout home.

That man’s name was John Howard Payne. Payne composed the 19th century’s most beloved song, which echoed the deep longing of his heart: “Home, Sweet Home.”

“Home, Sweet Home” is a sentimental and nostalgic song that reflects on the idea of one’s home as a place of comfort, happiness, and emotional refuge. The song’s enduring popularity can be attributed to its relatable and universal theme of homesickness and the desire for a sense of belonging.

The Bible teaches that everyone who believes in Christ will one day have a glorious home-going. Several passages emphasize that this world is not the ultimate or permanent home of a Christian. Instead, Christians are seen as temporary residents here. In many respects, Christ’s followers are like aliens in a foreign land, who yearn for home.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews said,

“All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously, people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

In his epistle to the Philippians the apostle Paul wrote, “But we are citizens of Heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control” (Philippians 3:2-21).

Since I became a Christian, I believe I’ve possessed a strong sense of my mortality. However, now that I am a senior citizen and have suffered serious, even life-threatening bouts with my health, I have a stronger sense that the time left to me is short. And, with the prospect of Christ’s near return, it could even be shorter than I’ve thought.

However, I must confess that I’m getting more homesick for Heaven by the day. This world, more specifically, Western culture has rapidly changed. The decline in Christian morality has been breath-taking:

1. There has been a shift away from traditional Christian moral values in basic areas of life such as the family, marriage, and human sexuality. For example, there is the easy acceptance of divorce, premarital sex, and same-sex relationships, which have increased exponentially and are unquestionably a departure from biblical teachings.

2. The secularization of Western societies has led to a decline in religious adherence and practice. Fewer people now identify as religious, attend church services, or prioritize the Bible’s teachings in their daily lives.

3. There has been a rise in ethical debates related to topics such as abortion, euthanasia, and bioethics, which have resulted in deep divisions within our society. These issues and their proponents challenge, practice, and arrogantly defy clear moral positions that underscore the inherent and inviolable value of human life.

4. The pursuit of material wealth and consumerism has taken precedence over the Christian values of humility, charity, and selflessness. One might argue it has always been this way, and they would be correct. Nevertheless, one must admit the intensity and obsession for pleasure, goods, and possessions is quickly cresting to heights unknown.

5. Moral relativism, the idea that moral principles are subjective and vary from person to person, has become quite prevalent. Society is looking more and more like those cultures described in the Scriptures that God judged and destroyed, where “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

6. Changes in media, entertainment, and popular culture have introduced new norms that are starkly at odds with the proclamations of God’s Word. Many of these new norms flout common sense.

7. Worst still, so much of the church now reflects the same kind of value system embraced by this wicked present world. The Church is supposed to be a force for transformation, instead, it’s made peace with sin and iniquity, mostly in an attempt to placate or appeal to those who despise
God’s ways.

No serious follower of Christ, in any age, figuratively speaking, is comfortable living in Babylon. He would rather go home and be with the Lord, breathing the clean and pure air of heaven and not the putrid smells of moral rot and decay. He would rather leave this life of chaos and confusion, and be welcomed home by his Savior and loved ones who have gone on before, to a place of peace and perfect rest. Every believer who walks in the Spirit feels a certain homesickness for that blessed place where disaster, discord, despair, doubt, deception, defeat, disease, and death are no more — a place of eternal worship, where every voice from the greatest to the least joins in praise and adoration to God.

Revelation chapter 19 begins with a portrayal of the redeemed in heaven praising God in unison. They have witnessed from the heavenly realms the fall and utter destruction of Babylon — the epicenter of all that is opposed to God.

Revelation chapter 19 should be seen as part of the lead-up just before the physical return of Christ to Earth when he sets up his millennial or 1000-year reign. The praise assembly of the redeemed in Heaven reflects their joy and worship in response to God’s judgment and victory over evil.

What do the Scriptures say?

“After this, I heard what sounded like a vast crowd in heaven shouting, ‘Praise the LORD! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. His judgments are true and just. He has punished the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality. He has avenged the murder of his servants.’ And again their voices rang out: ‘Praise the LORD! The smoke from that city ascends forever and ever!’ Then the 24 elders and the four living beings fell down and worshiped God, who was sitting on the throne. They cried out, ‘Amen! Praise the LORD!’ And from the throne came a voice that said, ‘Praise our God, all his servants, all who fear him, from the least to the greatest’” (Revelation 19:1-5).

No one should ever underestimate the importance of giving praise to God. Praise is an essential part of worship, and as John A. Broadus, long recognized by many as the “dean of the American teachers of homiletics” once claimed, “Only the worship of God can satisfy the highest and noblest aspirations of our natures.”

Overall, the Bible tells us that praise is a necessary means of rightly honoring and exalting God (Psalm 95:3; 145:3). It fosters gratitude within us (Psalm 100:4). It strengthens our relationship with him (Psalm 22:3), brings joy and invites blessing into our lives (Psalm 67:5,6), and defeats the enemy (Psalm 149:6-9).

The admonition to praise is especially interesting when considering from whence the apostle John was penning Revelation. James S. Stewart, formerly professor of theology and New Testament at the University of Edinburgh wrote that the apostle heard the shouting of God’s praises in heaven, not when he was “idly dreaming on a day of summer ease and spiritual complacency.” Stewart continues:

“[N]o, he was writing when the shadow of the devilry of the emperor Domitian was on the world, when withering blasts of militant atheism were scorching the earth and the empire was running red with martyred blood, when no Christian’s life was worth a moment’s purchase and John himself was a prisoner in the mines and in the concentration camp on the island of Patmos…

“John brought that majestic vision of the heavenly worship back with him. Why? In order that the church on earth, the poor, frail, persecution-battered church he knew, should learn for its own worship something from the worship of its friends in glory: so that the Magnificat of heaven should not be quite unknown on earth in days of darkness and confusion.

‘Some day or other I shall surely come
Where true hearts wait for me;
Then let me learn the language of that home
While here on earth I be:
Lest my poor lips for want of words be dumb
In that high company.’

For what did the heavenly company praise the Lord? The account says they praised him because salvation, glory, and power belong to God. In other words, God was due this praise accordingly.

Surely praise begins with the salvation God offers freely in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Andrew A. Bonar, a minister of the Free Church of Scotland during the 19th century wrote:

“When God takes the sinner out of the miry clay [of sin], and when he sets his feet upon the rock [of Christ], it is then that he begins to sing the new song. You may have joined in many a tune, you may have been delighted with many a hymn, but you have never offered praise all your life long to this moment unless your feet have been taken out of the miry clay and set upon the rock. The new song begins on the rock. And it is a new song. There is not a believer here but will tell you how differently he felt from the moment he saw his Savior, and how completely different was his song of praise onward from that hour. Have you, then, got into the right position for praise? Are your feet upon the rock? In that day you will sing: ‘I will praise you, O LORD! You were angry with me, but not anymore’” (Isaiah 12:1).

Bonar concludes that praise begins “when the sinner’s eyes rest upon the sacrifice [of Christ] when the guilty conscience has felt the power of the atoning blood, when the sinner’s vacant heart has been filled with the person of the great sacrifice, the Great Atoner Himself.”

God should also be praised because all glory belongs to Him. To say glory belongs to God means acknowledging that honor and recognition rightfully belong to him alone. It signifies the recognition of his greatness, majesty, and perfection, attributing credit to him for our abilities and achievements.

When I was a teenager, I played baseball and people said that I was an amazing first baseman. I had a good batting average, stole a lot of bases, and was never thrown out when stealing them. I stole home once when the pitcher turned his back to me on the mound. But when I became a Christian, if ever I made a great play that resulted in the crowd cheering, or when I hit a home run, my newfound faith in Christ compelled me to say the credit and glory belonged to God.

Sometimes you could tell people didn’t know what to make of my giving God the praise. It was a foreign concept to them.

Former professional football player and current professional baseball player, known for being outspoken about his Christian faith, Tim Tebow, frequently praises God publicly for his athletic prowess. So do many other athletes, and so do some celebrities. It’s something the Spirit of God leads his people to do as an expression of worship and adoration for the blessings and abilities God has given them.

Praise is also due to God because he holds the power. The power to do anything of significance or eternal value is with God. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

I have a colleague, one that I haven’t seen in many years, who is from India. He is one of the finest preachers one could hear — very powerful in his content and delivery. But he told me that whenever someone compliments him, saying he preached a wonderful sermon, he always says, “Praise the Lord.” He doesn’t say, “Thank you,” for that would be taking credit himself. He always says, “Praise the Lord.” He knows and acknowledges the power of his excellent preaching comes from God.

Finally, Heaven praises God because His judgments are true and just. To say this means the Lord’s decisions, actions, and verdicts are morally upright, righteous, fair, and in alignment with his divine character and standards.

If and when someone is drawn into court, they hope the judge will make his decisions based on the facts of the case, the relevant laws, and established legal principles. They hope he will make his judgment without favoritism, discrimination, or personal bias.

When a judge renders a verdict that is fair and under the law, it’s considered a true and just judgment. Similarly, the belief in God’s judgments being true and just is rooted in the understanding that he is the ultimate moral authority and the embodiment of perfect justice. His judgments are based on his infinite knowledge and righteousness of character. They are entirely free from any form of prejudice or error.

The former president of Moody Bible Institute has written:

“Most people think of God’s judgment as a negative thing. Sermons on judgment are unpopular. But God wants us to be encouraged by the knowledge that his judgment is good.”

Yes, God’s judgment is good. Praise the Lord!

There is a quaint old legend about a monk named Basle, that tells of a time when he faced unjust excommunication by the Pope and met with a unique fate. An angel was sent to guide Basle on a journey to find his place in the netherworld.

What set Basle apart was his genial disposition. His warmth and charm seemed to win friends wherever he went. The good angels went out of their way to visit with him and spend time in his company.

Despite being relegated to the lowest depths of Hades by a corrupt Papacy, Basle’s remarkable qualities remained unchanged. His unwavering politeness, kindness, patience, and unceasing praises of God persisted amid tremendous misunderstanding, cruel criticisms, and emotional pain and rejection. It was as if his presence had the power to transform any environment of hell into a semblance of Heaven.

Eventually, the angel who had been tasked with guiding Basle returned to Earth with him in tow. The angel reported there was no place to be found in which Basle could be justly punished. His character, devotion, and praise of God, had not wavered. As a result, his sentence was divinely revoked, and he was granted a place in heaven, where he was canonized as a Saint.

The story is only a legend, but the principal behind it is true. The praises of God are the theme of Heaven — the ultimate and final home of every believer in Christ — a place for which each follower of Christ yearns. Though earthbound for now, God’s children pray as the Lord Jesus taught, “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

The worship of Heaven is our model and the praises of God should be the whole tone of our lives. The Lord’s praises should constantly be in the mouths of his people, from the greatest to the least, in good times and bad.

God hasten the day when Christ will come again and we shall join together joyously praising our great God throughout eternity.

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

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