Summary: John saw the 144,000 singing around the throne and their characteristics. That tells us who "could not learn the new song" -- those with unresolved sexual issues, those with perfectionistic tendencies, those who had accepted lies about themselves.
Alongside every group that gathers to sing, there is also someone who cannot sing. No matter how professional, no matter how disciplined, Alongside any group that gathers to sing, there is also someone who cannot sing.
Have you been to a sporting event, where we are supposed to sing, “The Star-Spangled Banner”? You see some people mumbling words they cannot remember, you see others downing their six-dollar hot dogs, and you see still others with their caps down, catching forty winks before the game begins. They are not singing. By the way, you do know, don’t you, what the last words of the National Anthem are? It’s NOT “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” The final words of the National Anthem are,“Play ball!”
When the crowd gathers to sing the National Anthem, some will not sing it, but some cannot sing it. Some cannot sing it, maybe because its range of an octave and a half is too much for most voices, but it is also that some cannot sing it because they are not American citizens. The anthem does not express their commitment. They are not a part of this nation and therefore cannot sing that song. They don’t belong.
Alongside every group that gathers to sing, there is also someone who cannot sing.
Several years ago Margaret and I went on a tour of her native England. As tourists do, we went to all those glorious cathedrals, drinking in the splendors of buildings built for the worship of God a thousand years ago. I fantasized about what it would be like to preach there, with hundreds of thirsty souls waiting for my every word. Margaret fantasized, or maybe it was a nightmare, about what it would be like to be on the Building and Grounds Committee for a thousand-year-old facility! But one of our favorite things was to attend late afternoon prayer in these ancient cathedrals. It’s called evensong, and it includes not only prayer, but also beautiful choral music. Often there were more choir members than worshipers in the congregation. The singing was glorious, the service inspiring, the brief messages instructive – I learned that the British pronounce the name of the last book of the Old Testament Mal-AH-chee. But there was one thing that was disturbing. There was one aspect that was troubling. The choirs were made up of men and boys, only men and boys. Women and girls cannot sing, not in a cathedral choir. They are excluded, just because of who they are. It had nothing to do with their voices, their musical ability, or their spirituality – it had only to do with their gender. If you are female, you cannot sing – excluded.
Alongside every group that gathers to sing, there is also someone who cannot sing. And when we come to worship on Sunday morning, there are not only those who love to sing, and not only those who try to sing, and not only those, like me, who squawk and call it singing. There are also those who cannot sing. There are also those who feel left out and excluded. Oh, you may bravely pick up a hymnal and render some tune; but the heart is not singing. You go through the motions, you lift your voice; but there is an emptiness in the soul, a heaviness in the heart. We cannot truly sing. Try as we might, we do not feel joy, we do not experience peace, we cannot grasp grace. There are some who cannot sing for the heaviness of the heart.
Why not? Why cannot some of us sing? Why cannot some of us find a settled heart? What is it that troubles us and steals our song? When John, in this climactic 14th chapter of Revelation, glimpsed the Lamb of God on Mt. Zion and the thousands singing a new song, he caught not only a vision of who was there in the throng of singers, but also of who was not there. John saw not only the tribes of all the nations, making music before the Lord; John saw also who was kept out, who was excluded, who did not belong. John saw why some cannot sing.
He said, “No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth.” No one could learn the song except the folks on the inside, those who have it all together, in the bosom of the Lord. But the others? Others cannot learn that song. Why? I see three kinds of depressed and anxious people in John’s vision. Follow me carefully.
First, some cannot sing because they live with unresolved guilt. Some cannot sing, some feel depression and pain, because they have done things that have never really been dealt with. And so they cannot feel release. They’ve done something that just won’t go away.