Sunday, May 09, 2010

Sermon: Revelation 5 Worthy is the Lamb

Who has the right to rule? It’s the question that we thought might be answered when the nation went to the polls on Thursday, but as we’ve seen, the discussions are continuing as attempts are made at coalition government. As it stood yesterday, either David Cameron or Gordon Brown could still have been Prime Minister, depending on which way Nick Clegg went.

In our country, we see the question answered every few years, with power changing hands based on the election results. Who has the right to rule? Or, as we find in the reading today, who is worthy to rule. But as we come to Revelation 5, we’re not just talking about Northern Ireland, or the UK, or even Europe - we’re in the throneroom of heaven itself, seeking to find who is worthy to rule the universe.

But first, just a bit of background to help us as we explore this chapter. The apostle John is given this revelation - the apocalypse. We’ve already seen apocalyptic writing as we studied the second half of Daniel - signs and symbols and numbers and visions are used to communicate the message - but it is still a revealing - Revelation is given to encourage Christians facing suffering and persecution for their faith, and gives them a behind the scenes glance at reality from heaven’s perspective.

In chapter four, John was shown heaven, with God on the throne, and the 24 elders (representing the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples - the old and new testament people of God) and the four living creatures (representing all of creation) and angels all worshipping God. But at the start of chapter five, John sees a rolled up scroll which is sealed, in the right hand of God. The scroll is God’s plan for the universe, the whole of history, as we find later in Revelation. An angel with a loud voice shouts out the challenge to the whole of the universe: ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’

Who is worthy? Who has the right to rule the universe and control all things? In the first section (v1-4), we find that no one is worthy. Look at verse 3: ‘And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.’ Is this a shock for us? Just think of some of the greats of history - Alexander the Great, or Nelson, or Winston Churchill or Barack Obama. No one was able to open the scroll. No one is found worthy to rule.

No wonder John begins to weep. It looks like God’s plans for the universe will be dashed, if no one can take them and run with them. No one is worthy.

But straight away, one of the elders tells John to not weep - there is one who is worthy. Let’s read verse 5. ‘Weep no more; behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

And so John looks out for this Lion, the conquering Lion, watching to see its teeth and its mane and its awesomeness. This is the champion of heaven, a glorious sight, and as the living creatures and the elders around the throne part, as the camera focuses in on the centre of everything, John can see there in the centre, beside the throne - a Lamb? He looks for a lion and sees a Lamb? And not just a Lamb, but one ‘as though it had been slain.’

Is there some mistake here? Like when you’re in a restaurant and you order chicken but you get beef? We’re expecting a Lion, please, and you’ve given us a Lamb? Yet in verse 7, the Lamb takes the scroll (and in chapter 6 will begin to open the scrolls). What is going on?

There is no mistake. The Lion is the Lamb - and all is explained as the living creatures and elders sing a new song to the Lamb. The Lion Lamb is worthy - why? ‘for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God.’ The Lion has conquered because he died as a Lamb - there’s no mistaking who this picture is showing us. The Lord Jesus, the Lion of Judah, died like a lamb led to the slaughter (Is 53:7), upon the cross. But his death wasn’t meaningless or purposeless. No, it was through his death - by his blood (!) that he ransomed people for God.

Here we see the praise and glory given to Jesus following his death and resurrection. We’re thinking particularly about the ascension today - how after forty days of appearing to his disciples, teaching them, and then sending them out to proclaim his kingdom, Jesus was taken from them up into heaven. Jesus isn’t just in heaven because it’s the place that good people go to when they die. No, Jesus is in heaven because he has been exalted to the highest place - and through his death has opened the way to heaven for all who trust in him, all who he has ransomed and redeemed.

Who is worthy to rule? The Lord Jesus, the Lion of Judah and Lamb of God, who gave his life so that we might live; who redeemed us for God. The Lord Jesus is the one who is worthy to receive the praises of heaven.

You see, the ascension isn’t just a fairy tale ending, or a bizarre way to finish the gospel accounts - the Lord Jesus is bodily in heaven, and reigning, in control of the universe - because he died and was raised to life. Today we’re focusing on his role as king, but he is also our high priest in heaven, interceding for us as Hebrews makes clear. Jesus is worthy, and all of heaven praises him.

But more than that, do you see how the three songs from verses 9 to 13 open up? The first is sung by the four living creatures and the twenty four elders. The second is sung by that great crowd of angels. The third is sung by ‘every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them’. Could that be any more comprehensive? Do you find yourself in that group?

Every creature in every place will praise God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and give them the blessing, honour, glory and might. This blows out of the water any notion of inter-faith worship, or of religious pluralism. Jesus is the only one worthy to be praised - not Allah, or Mohammed, or Buddha, or angels, or crystals, or the whole universe, or the virgin Mary, or saints or any other created thing you care to mention. Jesus receives the praises of heaven, and will receive the praises of all of creation one day. Who is worthy to rule? The Lord Jesus is the one who is worthy to receive the praises of every person and every creature.

As we seek to apply Revelation 5, there are a few things that we need to think about as a result. Where do you find yourself in this passage? You see, there are two groups of people within Revelation 5 -like concentric circles but are you in both, or just one?

The larger circle is ‘every creature’ (v 13). One day everyone will praise Jesus, whether they want to or not. No matter how rebellious you are against God, one day you will worship Jesus, either joyfully or despite yourself. You are automatically in this group, because all that God has made will praise God.

But within that large group, there is a smaller group - are you in this group? It’s back in verses 9-10. Jesus, by his blood ‘ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation - a kingdom and priests to our God, who shall reign on the earth’ (that is, share in Jesus’ reign with him). Are you part of this blood-bought ransomed, saved people of God? Jesus offers salvation through his death - we just need to trust in him, and believe that he has indeed died for us, conquering by his cross. Are you in this group?

Next, have we a right vision of Jesus? Do we see him, as this passage presents him, right at the centre of the universe, ruling over all? Or do we see Jesus as less than God? Revelation 5, indeed the whole of Revelation presents Jesus as the ruling, reigning, sovereign Lord of history. History is his story. Are we seeing Jesus rightly?

And finally, how do we respond? Very helpfully, the passage shows us the response of the living creatures and elders - they said Amen, and they worshipped. To say Amen is to agree with what has been said - we use it at the end of our prayers. Here, to say Amen is to recognise that Jesus is the Lord.

But to worship? What does that mean? Is it that we have to stay in church all week and constantly sing? What is worship? Worship is more than what we do in church together, but it is not less than that. To worship is to give praise and glory - not just through singing, but through everything that we do. It is to live each day seeking to praise Jesus, honouring him through the thoughts we think, the words we say, the deeds we do (or don’t do). As Paul writes in Romans 12, ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ (Rom 12:1-2)

As you go about your day tomorrow, in school/work/home/holiday - ask yourself - am I worshipping Jesus by doing this? Am I living for Jesus’ glory and to show his kingdom?

We may not yet know how things are going to turn out following the General Election. We don’t know who is going to run the country. But Revelation 5 shows us who is worthy to rule the universe - not politicians, not popes, not pop stars. The Lord Jesus is worthy to rule, and worthy to be praised. Are you worshipping him?

This sermon was preached at St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald, on Sunday 9th May 2010, marking the Ascension a few days early.

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