Revelation 5:1-14 (Third Sunday of Easter—Series C)
“Worth is the Lamb”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 10, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Second Reading recorded in Revelation 5:
1And I saw in the right hand of the One who was sitting on the throne a scroll written front and back, sealed with seven seals. 2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?” 3And no one was able in heaven or on earth or under the earth to open the scroll nor to look into it. 4And I began to weep much, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5And one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping. Behold, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has won the victory so as to open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and in the midst of the elders a Lamb standing as one who had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent into all the earth. 7And He came and took [it] from the right hand of the One sitting on the throne. 8And when He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each having a harp and a golden bowl full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they began to sing a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain and bought for God with your blood [a people] from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10and you made them for our God a kingdom and priests, and they will rule on the earth.” 11And I saw, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and around the living creatures and the elders, and their number was ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands times thousands, 12saying in a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” 13And every creature which is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all the things which are in them I heard saying, “To the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” 14And the four living creatures continually said, “Amen.” And the elders fell and worshiped.
Recently my son Aaron completed a writing assignment for school. His topic was the top ten Star Wars quotes. He selected his top ten and wrote a little blurb on why each belonged in his listing. One quote that didn’t make his top ten was from Episode IV, A New Hope. The golden interpreter droid C-3PO, walking through the desert sands of Tatooine, remarked of droid-kind, “We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.” Do you agree with this statement if we apply it to humankind? Life in this world is plagued by suffering and discomfort, pain and turmoil.
This is a tragic reality, the result of the first man and woman’s disobedience. The effects of sin are great and the effects of sin are real. All of creation itself has been corrupted, not just humanity. The contents of the scroll written on the front and back, sealed with seven seals, has to do with events on earth from the time of Christ’s victory and ascension to the end of all earthly things. It is about the tribulation and suffering that the human race, including the church, will experience, from the ascension of Christ up the end of this world.
Every form of tyranny which is won and acquired by power and force, usually warfare or forms of it, and which by dictatorial control exploits, enslaves, dominates, and terrorizes, will be the rule, not the exception, throughout the time period from Christ’s ascension up to the end of history. People will treat other people inhumanely through fear and exploitation. Human freedoms will be the exception (Rev. 6:2). What follows as a result of tyranny is bloodshed, which in turn is followed and accompanied by scarcity of goods and famine. From the ascension of Jesus to the Second Coming, there will be both scarcity and famine, an economic imbalance in the supply of food and the daily necessities of life. There is always present on earth, at various times and places, hunger and famine. Finally, in the end the result is death and the grave. At any given moment part of the earth’s population is dying because of the sword, famine, and diseases (Rev. 6:3-8).
As the scroll is opened in Revelation chapter 6, these things are revealed. They are revealed to help us be realistic. We are not to live in a fool’s paradise. As you read the message of Revelation, the first sevenfold vision is one of horror, tribulation, suffering, and fear, from the time of the Lord’s resurrection and ascension up to the End. The whole thing is nothing but woe and lament, even for God’s own people. We are not exempt. These are the very things we endure day in and day out in our own time. Christians suffer with the rest of the fallen world. We endure job losses and financial hardships, even hunger, not knowing where the next meal is going to come from. Christians are victims of violence and bloodshed. Disease and death claim their victims every day. You know this; you live this. It’s part of your world, your life, perhaps from a distance, but perhaps too close for comfort.
And that, brothers and sisters in Christ, is why we must keep in the mind what our text today shows us visually—the glory of God in heaven and the coronation of the exalted Jesus Christ, with the twenty-four elders (representing the church in heaven) enthroned around Him. The Lord says, “Yes, there is suffering now. But remember what you have just seen and will experience—all that tribulation and horror—is not and will not be your end. Your end is to share in My exalted glory. And no matter what you suffer for My name’s sake, I will defend you and keep you until I take you to Myself.”
So when you are found weeping in the midst of trouble and heartache, hunger and tyranny, disease and death, this Word of God is for you: “Stop weeping. Behold, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has won the victory so as to open the scroll and its seven seals.” To borrow the language of John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” “And [John] saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and in the midst of the elders a Lamb standing as one who had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent into all the earth. . . . And they began to sing a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain and bought for God with your blood [a people] from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you made them for our God a kingdom and priests, and they will rule on the earth.”
The Lamb who had been slain is Jesus Christ. The Crucified is the Victor! The victory was won by Jesus the Lamb in His death on the cross and His resurrection. He stands at the center of the throne room of God the King, the Servant who has gained life by losing it and has become the Servant, “exalted and lifted up,” at whose appearance kings shut their mouths and cease to chatter of glory and power (Is. 52:13, 15). As the victorious Lamb lives, He exercises total power on earth (represented by the seven horns). He is omniscient, all-seeing and all-knowing (represented by the seven eyes, the complete presence of the Holy Spirit), exercising supreme authority and power on behalf of God’s people through the Spirit.
This victory of Christ is shared with His faithful followers, you, the people of God. “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11 ESV). Jesus’ victory determines the Christian’s life on earth. “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:26 ESV). The Lamb’s victory guarantees life forever with God. “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev. 21:7 ESV).
The ultimate purpose of Christ receiving the scroll and then revealing its contents to John and to the church is to strengthen the church’s faith and to encourage the church in the midst of all the sufferings. By the power of the Holy Spirit given us by the victorious Christ, we, the church, are encouraged and empowered to remain faithful to Jesus and so to attain the promise of everlasting glory. That faithfulness involves carrying out the mission Jesus Christ has given the church.
But the comfort and good news doesn’t end here. The angels and the church in heaven sings again, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” And every creature which is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all the things which are in them I heard saying, “To the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” The entire destiny of the human race and its history is under the lordship and control of Jesus Christ, the victorious Lamb! In the midst of trouble and hardship and persecution and famine and death Jesus reveals that humanity is not under the guidance of some mindless evolutionary force. We are not subject to the ambitions and works of people. All things are under the will and power of God as now exercised by the Lord Jesus Christ! The Lord Christ rules everything on behalf of His heavenly Father and for the benefit of His church, so that the church will be protected in faith and hope and will be enabled to carry out her mission unto the End.
This vision of God’s heavenly glory and the enthronement of Jesus Christ and of the celebration begun and now ongoing introduces the prophetic message of Revelation, but it also dominates and controls it and shows how it’s all going to end. Jesus Christ is the Lord of the message. Jesus controls the message for the purpose of strengthening you and me, His saints, for the purpose of aiding His church to carry out her mission on earth, and for the purpose of judging the power and people of wickedness and evil. Everything seen and heard in the prophetic message of Revelation is to be interpreted in view of this inaugural vision of Christ’s coronation. Everything that we endure as the people of God in Christ, God’s kingdom and priests, is to be seen in light of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil through His cross and resurrection. Christ, the Lamb, was slain and rose again so that He might be Lord of all, so that He might control all things for the benefit and blessing of His people, the church, and so that the mission can take place and salvation in His name be preached to the ends of the earth, until the time of the End, no matter what is suffered. “In all the chances and changes of the terrible history which lies between the Now of redemption and the Then of God’s ‘It is done!’ (21:6) there is one will at work in which we can wholly trust,” the will of the Lord Christ, the victorious Lamb who was slain for us and is risen and ascended, who rules all things for our blessing and benefit as His people! (Franzmann, The Revelation to John, 59),
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be the blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” Amen.
Special thanks to the now sainted Rev. Dr. Lou Brighton, my seminary professor, who opened the text of Revelation to me in a pastoral, Christ-centered way, for the material used in this sermon.