Revelation 8: 1-5
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
As we move to the next section of Revelation we need to remember to read it not from a Western mindset that sees everything as linear. In other words, we typically think that what happens in chapter 7 follows what just happened in chapter 6, and now chapters 8-11 follow what happened in 6 and 7. Hebrew thinking wasn’t so much linear, as it was cyclical. So we see something, we come full circle, and we are back at the start and we see it again, only from a different perspective.
And we’re going to see that again as we come to the next series of judgements – the 7 trumpets. The technical name is progressive parallelism.
We have four sets of 7 in Revelation.
- 7 Letters
- 7 Seals
- 7 Trumpets
- 7 Bowls
So we'll be watching the same thing from 4 angles. During the last few days we saw the Tribulation from the church’s perspective – we saw it as God’s people going through it see it. They cry out to God for justice, He seals them, there’s a great multitude of them worshipping the lamb.
Now we switch channels and see the same things happening from the world’s perspective, from the angle of those who don’t follow Jesus. In fact they are opposed to Him, they are hard-hearted in their rebellion against Him.
But before that, we start Revelation 8 with a period of silence.
Up until this point it has all be noise and chaos and activity. Then suddenly heaven goes silent – sshhhhh. Why? What’s going on?
It’s a picture of the cries and prayers and worship and devotion of God’s people reaching Him - "Sshhhh, quiet, Let me hear my people."
It’s almost like God inhales these prayers, the incense, He takes it all in, and what happens next is in direct response to His people’s prayers.
The point is simply this – God hears prayer, God answers prayer, prayer shapes and influences human history.
I’m not sure that most of us really believe prayer can actually make a difference. That God hears you and He has all of the resources of the universe at His disposal. He summons His angels in response to your cries and petitions.
R. A. Torrey put it like this:
“Prayer is the key that unlocks all the storehouses of God's infinite grace and power. All that God is and all that God does is at the disposal of prayer. But we must use the key. Prayer can do anything God can do, and as God can do anything, prayer is omnipotent.”
Prayer is omnipotent – it is all powerful.
If only we could really get this. If only we could grasp what prayer can do. That prayer releases God’s power on our behalf. That prayer is the primary means God has given us to make the make the impossible, possible, to move mountains, to bring heaven to earth, to bring the invisible into the visible.
There are things that will happen if we pray that won’t happen if we don’t pray.
As Christians we are so fatalistic. Que sera sera, whatever will be will be. If God wants to do it He’ll just do it.
No He won’t. In His sovereignty He has set up the universe that He will be moved by our prayers and has chosen to respond to the intercession of His people.
John Wesley who founded the Methodist Church said this:
“God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.”
That’s pretty extreme.
Not everything is set in stone. Not everything is predetermined. The prayers of God’s people affect history. They affect human history on a wide scale, but they also affect history on a personal scale. People’s lives were different because they prayed.
Jack Hayford says this:
“You and I can help decide which of these two things – blessing or cursing – happens on earth. We will determine whether God’s goodness is released toward specific situations or whether the power of sin and Satan is permitted to prevail. Prayer is the determining factor....If we don't, He won't.”
One writer says this:
“Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees.” William Cowper
And so God here moves and acts in direct response to the cries and prayers of His people. What has been their cry?
Back to 6:10:
“They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’”
It’s been a cry for justice, a cry for God to act, to do something on their behalf to stop all that they are going through.
Let’s be honest – to our minds this doesn’t sound very Christian: "God – move in justice, judge these people, God get them."
That’s frankly because we have absolutely no idea what real tribulation and persecution and suffering for the Gospel is. For most of us the great tribulation is when we can’t get a parking space or we have a bad hair day or when we get a huge bill we weren’t expecting or the pizza we ordered is 20 minutes late. Poor us.
Imagine today you live in Iran or North Korea or Syria or certain regions in Nigeria. You’re a parent. Your 12 year old son has been shot, your husband has had his head chopped off, you are homeless and on the run, pursued by men who have one goal – and that is to destroy you. All for one reason – you follow Jesus.
If that was you – do you think you might cry out for God to act? Do you think you might shout to the heavens: "God come and judge now? How long O God? What’s keeping you? Do something!!!!"
And so He does.
Prayer is potent. And as the cries and prayers of God’s people reach His throne – He hears, He responds. He moves. He acts. In judgement – but as we will see - always with the intention of showing mercy at the first sign of repentance.