Monday, April 11, 2016

Sermon on Revelation 5:1-14, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, "Worthy is the Lamb"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Last week we met the Risen Lord Jesus, portrayed in Revelation 1. He’s introduced, and takes front and center position as the revealer of this vision and mystery, and as the central character. His resurrection victory promises His victory to extend to all believers. In Revelation chapters 4-5, we see one of the most exalted worship scenes in all the Bible unfolding. The scene takes place at the throne of God in heaven, surrounded by four angelic, living creatures, and 24 elders, or honored saints, who worship and praise God. God, exalted in all His glory, and surrounded by worship, holds in His right hand, a special scroll, sealed with seven seals. This scroll contains a message that is vital for the church on earth to learn—but no one is found anywhere in heaven or on earth, or under the earth, who is worthy to open it, and access its message. No one, until one of the elders announces Jesus—the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who has conquered—He will open this secret scroll.
Just pausing a moment before we go any further, take notice of what’s happening in the vision—a detail that might have escaped our notice: in Revelation 5:1 and 7, God is holding a scroll in His right hand and gives it to Jesus, the Lamb of God. Scripture says that the “right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly” (Psalm 118:16). Jesus at His trial before the High Priest, said that “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). Standing at God’s right hand is no passing detail—it is the place that is reserved for One and only One individual—the Son of God. We confess in the Creeds that Jesus ascended into heaven, and “is seated at the right hand of the Father.” The “right hand” conveys power, authority, and honor—just as Jesus has been given, “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). No one else takes this honor, and no one in heaven, earth, or under it, in all the universe, was worthy to open this scroll, except Jesus, who has conquered. Revelation 3:21, Jesus says, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on His throne.” Jesus has sat down with His Father on His throne.
So in chapter 4-5, Jesus approaches God’s throne, both to receive this special message, but also to receive “power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” All the heavenly host gathered around God’s throne, break into worship and praise of God and the Lamb. This raises another major point that underlies the rest of Revelation—what does obedience to the First Commandment look like? “You shall have no other gods before me.” You may not realize it today, but for the first century Christians, it was a major question, how to understand the Trinity—God being One, yet three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If God requires and commands that we only worship Him, the One True God, and no other—where does Jesus fit into this? Does worship of Jesus conflict with the first commandment? Is Jesus a second ‘god’ and the Holy Spirit a third? Revelation shows us the answer, inside heaven’s worship—“‘to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshipped.”
Jesus is worshipped in heaven, by saints and angels, and His worship is so closely enfolded in worship of the Father, who is seated on the throne, as to be indistinguishable. Jesus is not an alternative object of worship, but He shares in the glory due to God, and as Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). The worship of Jesus is included in the worship of God. Jesus said, “I and the Father are One.” Nothing in Christian teaching, certainly not in Jesus’ teaching, or in the book of Revelation, ever questions or reinterprets this First Commandment—“You shall have no other gods.”  Rather, the New Testament affirms just as strongly as the Old, that there is only One God and that God is One and only object of our worship. When John mistakenly falls down to worship at the feet of a glorious angel, in Revelation 19:10, the angel refuses his worship and immediately corrects him, saying, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!”  Jesus never does this. Neither in His earthly ministry, nor in heaven, does He refuse worship and honor given to Him, because Jesus is true God and rightfully receives our worship. Obeying this commandment looks like this glimpse of heaven, worshipping Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three persons, but One God, One Being, One essence.
When Jesus receives the scroll from God’s right hand, the heavenly host break into song, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe, and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” In addition to recognizing these words from our liturgy, the song, “This is the Feast”—we should notice that the heavenly host are explaining to us, WHY Jesus is worthy. He is worthy, #1 because He was slain, #2 because He has ransomed His people by His blood, and #3 made them a kingdom and priests to God, to reign on earth. Jesus’ worthiness is directly tied to His death on the cross, accomplishing our salvation. His worthiness to stand at the throne of God and to rule and receive worship, is because of Jesus’ conquering victory, over the cross and grave. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! 
Jesus is deserving of all power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing. Everything is rightfully due and deservingly owed to Jesus because of the cosmic greatness of His self-sacrifice, as the only Son of God. One hymn sings, “were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a tribute far too small—love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” It’s perfectly true that all of creation would be too small a gift to repay Jesus for His love. We can never repay it, or earn God’s favor. My soul, my life, my all, are but small tokens of my gratitude to Him. What can Jesus do with such things? He makes us to be a kingdom of priests—remember last week we talked about our kingly and priestly roles? Here is the same thought—that we reign forever with Jesus. The meek shall inherit the earth, and so we follow the example of Jesus, our Servant King. The priestly service we make through our prayers, our praises, and our good deeds, in lives lived in service to God and our neighbor. In other words, Jesus uses us mightily to His service, because He is the Creator and Giver of all good gifts, and makes us vessels of His service, and moves us by His Spirit.
Seeing the Lamb who was slain, Jesus, the crucified One, standing at the throne of God, shows us that the death and resurrection of Jesus for us, belongs to the way God rules the world (Bauckham). God could rule by justice, with no mercy, and simply hold us accountable to His holy law—but there would not be one of us who could hope to be saved. God could rule through blunt power and force—yet He chooses, in this time and age of the church, until Jesus returns in glory—to rule in the mercy and mediation of Jesus Christ. The One mediator between God and man, and the One who opened the way for mercy by dying for our sins, and rising to defeat death. We live under the kingdom of God’s grace, with Jesus as our Servant King. We reign on earth together with Him, not as lording lords, but as servants bearing the almighty truth of Jesus.
As we look over this reading again, there are two final takeaway points, to emphasize. One is the make-up of the royal priesthood whom Jesus has redeemed. The other point is that we see that Worship is a “W”, not an “M”—I’ll explain. First, the royal priesthood, the redeemed believers, are from every tribe and language and people and nation. This four-fold phrase shows up several places in Revelation, and shows us the universal makeup of the people of God. The people who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and who follow Him into eternity, come from every people group, nationality, and language on earth. The picture of heaven is a beautifully diverse family of the children of God, who are united in their worship of the One and Only God who is to be worshipped—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And why does this passage show us that worship is a “W” and not an “M?” This is a phrase I often use with our confirmation kids, to understand what worship is. Think of a capital “W” and a capital “M”. If you draw the lines as arrows, the direction of a “W” is from top to bottom, back up, and top to bottom, and back up again. (Continue illustration, with motions). Do the same for an “M”. Worship is a “W” because it begins and ends with God. It starts, centers, and returns to Him. He first gives to us His gifts and blessings. We respond in prayer, thanksgiving, and songs of praise. But we return it to Him. He continues to pour out His gifts, and everything begins and ends with Him. But worship is NOT an “M”, that begins and ends with us. We don’t originate worship by what we do for God, but on the receiving end of what He does for us. Worship doesn’t begin or end with us, but like a W, always returns to Him.
Jesus is Worthy of all our praise. He has shed His blood to redeem us, He has made us royal priests in His kingdom of grace. We live and serve by His gifts and under His rule. All our worship returns to Him. And He keeps us constantly supplied, fed, and nourished by His gifts, every generously proceeding from His hand to ours. We feast on His Word and at His table. We receive His forgiveness, His Spirit, and His life. And for all of it we thank and praise Him. Worthy is the Lamb!! Amen, and they fell down and worshipped.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Revelation chapter 5. In the first 7 verses, a little scroll with 7 seals is introduced. Who alone is worthy to open it, and what did He do that made Him worthy? Revelation 5:6, 9-10. See Revelation 6 for the opening of the first several seals. What is the content of this special scroll? What is revealed when the seals are opened?
  2. Revelation 5:6 and 5:8 give explanations to two symbols in the vision. What are the symbols and what do they represent? How our prayers like “incense” to God? Psalm 141:2
  3. The four living creatures that attend the throne of God, show up not only in the visions in Revelation, but also Ezekiel 1:5ff. What do the 24 elders around the throne likely represent? (hint: what did 12 and 12 represent in Old and New Testaments)?
  4. What was the value of Jesus’ “buying us back” or redeeming us? 1 Peter 1:18-19. Why was this a costly sacrifice for Him? The phrase “every tribe, language, people, and nation” appears in different order in Revelation 7:9; 11:9; (13:7); 14:6. What does this phrase tell us about the makeup of the church of God, that is redeemed in heaven? Where do they come from? Why is the number “4” associated with the earth, and people living on it? Revelation 7:1
  5. How do we reign as a kingdom of priests on earth? What is our “kingly” and “priestly” service? Revelation 22:5; 1 Peter 2:5; Romans 12:2; Hebrews 13:15.
  6. Who shares the throne with the Lamb? Revelation 3:21. Who shares worship and glory with the Lamb? Revelation 5:13. Why is this HUGELY important, in telling us who Jesus is? Isaiah 42:8; 48:11. What does the first commandment also teach us about this? What mistake does John make in Revelation 22:8-9, and how is it corrected?
  7. What should our attitude and posture toward God and Jesus be in worship?

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