Over 50 million people have now watched a youtube clip of unsuspecting shoppers who get a surprise while eating lunch. A young woman, seemingly enjoying her lunch in a food court, stands up. She appears to be on her mobile phone. She begins singing the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus. All around her, over 100 (clearly prearranged) opera singers stand one by one and join in.
‘Messiah’ is George Frederick Handel’s most famous work. It tells the story of Jesus – the Messiah. Part Two is about his death on the cross, his resurrection and his ascension into heaven. It ends with the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus. In the spring of 1742, King George II rose to his feet as the first notes of the triumphant ‘Hallelujah’ chorus rang out. Royal protocol has always demanded that, whenever the monarch stands, so too does everyone in the monarch’s presence. Thus, the entire audience and orchestra stood. King George II had accepted that he too was subject to the Lord of lords and King of kings.
The word ‘Hallelujah’ is an invitation to worship – it literally means ‘Praise (Hallal) the Lord’ (Yahweh). It occurs twenty-four times in the Old Testament (mainly in the Psalms) and it occurs four times in the New Testament – each of them in our passage for today.
The Hallelujah psalmsPsalm 148:1-6
At rock concerts, football matches and other big sporting events, we see extraordinary scenes of exuberant enthusiasm. Yet all these should pale into insignificance compared to our exuberant worship of God.
The opening words of this psalm are, ‘Hallelujah! Praise God from heaven’ (v.1, MSG). The last five psalms (Psalm 146–150) each begin and end with ‘Hallelujah’. The Psalms, as with the New Testament and the whole Bible, end with exuberant praise, blessing and delight.
‘Hallelujah! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights. Praise him, all his angels’ (vv.1b–2a, HCSB).
Even the angels praise God. As we will see in our New Testament passage for today, John, when he saw one of the angels, fell at his feet to worship him (the angel). But the angel said to him, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow-servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!’ (Revelation 19:10).
As with all the psalms, it can naturally turn into your own prayer and praise:
‘Praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Let them praise the name of the Lord’ (Psalm 148:2b–5a).
The Hallelujah partyRevelation 18:17b-19:10
My father was a German Jew. Many of his family suffered and died in concentration camps under the evil empire of the Third Reich. That empire came to an end. Not long after, another evil empire arose. In Stalin’s Soviet Russia at least 20 million people were murdered. The people of God were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Today there is Isis, North Korea, and other evil regimes around the world.
The New Testament passage for today starts with the complete destruction of the great city of ‘Babylon’. We have seen that this is a way of describing, not only the destruction of the Roman Empire, which the writer has in mind, but also the destruction of every ‘Babylon’ that has flourished throughout history.
‘Babylon’ stands for the Roman Empire, the Third Reich, Stalin’s Russia, Isis and all the other evil empires, totalitarian and philosophical systems. Whole nations were led astray (18:23) and the people of God persecuted: ‘In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints’ (v.24a).
This is why there is such relief when their power is brought to an end. The mass choirs of heaven sing ‘Hallelujah’:
‘After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah!”’ (19:1). They praise God that justice has been done. God’s judgments are true and just: ‘O Heaven, celebrate!... God has judged her; every wrong you suffered from her has been judged’ (v.20, MSG).
‘Hallelujah!’ is repeated (v.3). The whole church and all creation falls down and worships God who is seated on the throne (v.4). And they cry for a third time, ‘Amen, Hallelujah!’ (v.4).
Finally, a fourth time: ‘Then I heard the sound of massed choirs, the sound of a mighty cataract, the sound of strong thunder: Hallelujah!’ (v.6, MSG).
Then the party begins:
‘Let us celebrate, let us rejoice,
let us give him the glory!
The Marriage of the Lamb has come;
his Wife has made herself ready.
She was given a bridal gown
of bright and shining linen.
The linen is the righteousness of the saints (vv.7–8, MSG).
A human wedding is a whisper of the gospel. Our earthly marriages point to something even more amazing and eternal – your relationship with Christ Jesus.
The wedding of the Lamb is the marriage of Christ and his church (see Ephesians 5:32; Revelation 21:2). In contrast to the gaudy clothes of the adulterous and promiscuous Babylon (18:16), the church is dressed simply in ‘fine linen, bright and clean’ (19:8). You are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and every righteous act (v.8b) is remembered, valued and celebrated.
This is the great and eternal party of the ‘wedding supper of the Lamb’ (v.9). To be ‘invited’ (v.9) is the greatest blessing of all. The rest of the New Testament tells us that you are invited, but you have to choose to accept the invitation.
It is not surprising that John wants to fall at the feet of the angel and worship him. But you are not to worship the messenger, only the one whom the message is about: ‘Worship God!’ (v.10). And you are to go and tell others: ‘For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (v.10).
Lord, thank you that the story of this universe is going to end with ‘Hallelujah!’ – praise, thanksgiving and worship. Thank you that we can look forward to the wedding of the Lamb. ‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!’ (v.7).
The Hallelujah peopleNehemiah 7:4-8:18
As we have seen, just as God called Nehemiah and his people to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, he calls us to build and rebuild the church. One of the ways God guides you is that he puts ideas into your heart. Nehemiah said, ‘God put it in my heart to gather the nobles, the officials, and the people in general to be registered’ (7:5, MSG). Nehemiah listed the exiles who had returned (vv.6–73).
When the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem was completed, the people gathered to hear the Scriptures being expounded by Ezra. ‘And all the people listened – they were all ears – to the Book of The Revelation’ (8:3, MSG). ‘As he opened the book everyone stood’ (8:5, MSG). They stood out of respect for the word of God.
‘Then Ezra praised God, the great God and all the people responded “Oh Yes! Yes!” with hands raised high. And then they fell to their knees in worship of God, their faces to the ground’ (v.6, MSG).
Our bodies express our hearts. That is why, when I’m on my own, I like to kneel as I read the Bible as a mark of reverence and respect for God. I have come to listen to him and worship him.
To raise hands in worship was the common practice of both the Jewish people and the early Christians (‘hands raised high’, v.6). ‘The oldest gesture of prayer in Christendom is prayer with arms extended’ writes Pope Benedict. This gesture is ‘the radical form of worship’. It expresses opening ourselves to God and at the same time opening ourselves in love to others.
All of our gatherings to praise and worship God are an anticipation of, and participation in, the great worship of heaven – the eternal Hallelujah chorus. In this passage in Nehemiah we see an example of this. It echoes and anticipates the great worship of Revelation 19.
Nehemiah the Governor, Ezra the priest and scribe and the Levites instructed the people. They wept as they listened to the words of the Law (v.9).
But Nehemiah told them that it was a time for joy and celebration: ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks… Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (v.10). There was a time of celebration and great joy (v.12).
As Joyce Meyer writes, ‘Each day that God gives us is holy and a precious gift from him. We should enjoy it fully. Joy is powerful. Nothing releases supernatural joy in our lives more than being a blessing to other people.’
Lord, I praise you for the coming of Christ on the first Christmas Day. Thank you that we anticipate now his coming again, the marriage feast of the Lamb that will take place, and the great praise and worship of heaven that will go on forever. Hallelujah!
It is good to ‘celebrate’ and enjoy ‘choice food and sweet drinks’, but if it is only for our own consumption then it seems a little selfish and shallow. They combined it with sending ‘some to those who have nothing prepared’ and the reading of God’s word. That gave it a different dimension and depth.
Verse of the Day
‘… the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10).
Joyce Meyer, Everyday Life Bible, (Faithwords, 2013) p.741
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.