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In the past couple of weeks we’ve heard about John on the isle of Patmos being in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and having a vision of the risen Christ, dressed in a white robe, a golden sash across his chest, his feet burnished like bronze, his eyes like fire, a sharp two-edged sword coming from his mouth, his right hand holding seven stars, and the same hand reaching out to touch his servant John. Last week we heard about the seven messages to the seven churches in Asia – Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. We heard how these messages addressed very real and present issues and concerns that these churches had. The next 19 chapters will describe John being taken up into heaven and what he sees there. Chapter 4 begins with “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’” John accepts this invitation and the rest of the book of Revelation will describe what he sees. And what John describes in Revelation 4 and 5 provide the focal point for the entire eschatological vision that is contained in this book. One writer describes it like this: “This scene is the theological fountainhead and anchor point for the whole document. The bulk of John’s writing will be composed of visions of the catastrophes represented in the traditional apocalyptic imagery of the seals, trumpets, and bowls of chapters 6-18, hence its gloomy reputation. Yet at the heart of things God rules in sublime majesty...”(Boring, Revekation, 102) At the heart of things, God is on the throne. We were at a Blind Boys of Alabama show at Massey Hall a few years ago. Toward the end of the show, one of the singers spoke for a moment and what he wanted to tell the crowd was – “God is in control.” For John’s readers and listeners, they are being reminded that despite how things look, the Roman Empire is not the one who will win at the end of the day. From this heavenly viewpoint, acclamations like “You are worthy” and titles like “Lord and God” are not for the emperor as the wider society practiced, but they are fit for God alone. It is God who is owed our ultimate allegiance and loyalty, not the government or the accumulation of things or how much money we make or what we look like or whatever else the wider society tries to tell us give life ultimate meaning. God is in control. It was alluded to at the end of chapter 3 when Jesus speaks to the Laodicean church about conquering and sitting down with his Father on his throne. Now John is going to see it. In chapter 4 John describes the scene. One seated on a throne looking like jasper and carnelian. A rainbow that looks like emerald. Twenty four elders sitting on thrones because God doesn’t rule on his own, he invites us to take part! He’s been doing that since he told Adam and Eve to look after his creation. Flashes of lighting, rolls of thunder, a sea of glass, seven flaming torches and around the throne four living creatures with faces representing different aspects of creation – a lion, an ox, a human and an eagle and they sing and “Holy, holy, holy , the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come” and they’re not described as singing day and night without ceasing because that’s all we’ll do in heaven and doesn’t that sound boring but because at that point every act is an act of adoration toward God. The elders fall before the throne whenever they hear this and sing “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” We have this wonderful picture of God who was, is, and is to come, who has created all and rules over all and is worthy of our praise and adoration. As I said earlier, the text we’re looking at this morning along with chapter 4 are a prelude to chapters which are going to be all about the breaking of seals, and bowls of wrath, and trumpets sounding – a series of eschatological woes and visions of judgement that happen before Christ returns to earth to establish His kingdom once and for all. Throughout these scenes we have John returning to the vision of the heavenly throne. God is proclaimed as being the one who was, who is, and who will be all at the same time. While we await Christ’s return as it is envisioned at the end of Revelation, I don’t think that these events are there to give us some kind of end-times check list of things to watch for. As Christ himself said, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set up by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7) What John bases his message on is the fact that God is in control. The important thing is not knowing what the future holds, but rather knowing and remaining faithful to the one who holds the future. And the one who holds the future is seated on the throne. The future that he’s holding is in his right hand in the form of a scroll. In Daniel 8 the angel Gabriel predicted the future and told Daniel to seal up the vision. In Psalm 139:16 the psalmist writes “Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none yet existed.” So it is God in this vision who is holding the future, but this is when the problem in the text arises. John sees a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice “Who is worthy to open the seals?” Opening the seals would enact God’s plan, but there is no one found to open them, either in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth. John begins to weep. No one is found to enact God’s plan, and so John weeps. We get this don’t we? The churches that John was writing to got this. They were facing persecution, ostracism, a lot of messages about what was worthy of their worship. They got the human condition. They had questions about what this all means. We have the same questions. We can look around the world and see what’s going on in Syria, in Iraq, in western Africa. We can look around our country or our city. Three young men shot to death on a Monday afternoon two weeks ago. We can look at our own lives. Illness, estrangement, the breakdown of relationships. The human condition. One writer describes these tears like this – “It is indeed reason for weeping if there were no one to initiate the end-time drama, if the ambiguity of history were all that is left forever.” (Krodel, Revelation, 163) And so John weeps. Before there is the good news of the Gospel, there is bad news. Before Calvary and the tomb, there is the anguish of Gethsemane. There is no one to break the seals and put God’s plan in place, and so John weeps. But John doesn’t weep for long. He gets the message from one of the elders in verse 5 – “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Before we get to what happens next, we need to understand the role of the Lion of Judah in Jewish thought at the time. The commonly held expectation was that the Messiah would be a military leader who would free the Jewish nation from Roman rule. In the book of 4 Ezra, the Messiah appears as a roaring lion who destroys an eagle representing the Roman Empire. We’ve become so used to the image of Christ as Lamb that this vision is maybe no longer shocking. But when John looks to see this Lion of the Tribe of Judah who has conquered and who is going to be able to open the scroll and its seven seals he sees.... A lamb “Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth,.” A lamb standing as if it had been ritually slaughtered. The Lion of the tribe of Judah a lamb – and not just a lamb but the diminutive of a lamb. The Greek equivalent of “lambkin” or “lamby”. How unlikely does this seem? How crazy does this seem? As crazy as a young teacher who’s been out on the road and he’s been beaten up pretty badly and he’s standing in front of the Roman governor in Jerusalem and he’s been bound and the question comes about him being a king of all things and he answers “My kingdom is not from this world.” His kingdom is not from this world where conquering and power are all about might makes right and whoever dies with the most toys win. Christ here is redefining winning. The victory has come, is coming, and will come through the power of self-sacrificing love. Does this sound crazy? Could this plan be just crazy enough to work? John says in verse 7 that he went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. God is in control and his plan is being enacted. Conquering has come about for Christ through dying and being raised up. John uses the same word to describe the people in the seven churches who remain faithful – not in the sense of believing in God but in the sense of remaining loyal. Christ remained faithful even to death and to those who do the same John gives the name conquerors. Victory through self-sacrificing love which is rooted in and enabled by Christ’s unfathomable love for us! What do we do in response to this? Sing of course. In the text we hear of a new song to the lamb – “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation: you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God.” They’re singing in praise of this new thing God has done, is doing and will do. When we’re reading these visions it’s important to keep the God who was, God who is, God who will be aspect of all of this in mind. This kingdom of saints from every tribe and language and people and nation has been established, it is being established, and one day when Christ comes it will be established once and for all! The last song of our passage reflects the once and for all establishment of the God’s reign that we read about in Revelation 21. Look at verse 13 “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and in the sea, and all that is in them singing ‘To the one seated on throne and to the Lamb (they’re one and the same!) be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!’” Exclamation mark and that is good and right and fitting and proper. How could it be otherwise.... So is this just heavenly scene that has nothing to do with what’s going on in the here and now – both for John’s original hearers and for us? There is a great mystery here. In this scene past present and future are collapsed into one. The victory has already been won and the victory is still to come. Don’t ask me to explain this because I can’t. Nobody can. The question for us is “Are we going to join in this heavenly worship scene that has been revealed to John?” The fact that this scroll contains the mystery of God’s ultimate plan for the world doesn’t mean everything has been predetermined. It doesn’t call for fatalism on our part. This scene calls for a decision from us. Do we wish to be part of this group of saints from every tribe and language and people and nation who have been made and are being made and will be made to be a kingdom and priests serving our God? Look at the practical implications of this. In verse 8 the elders “fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” I always like what CS Lewis says about why we use musical imagery to describe heaven. He says it’s because for many, music is the most evocative representation of the eternal there is. They’re holding the prayers of the saint in these bowls, offering them to God. Those are our prayers my friends. When we say we believe in the communion of the saints in the Apostle’s Creed, we’re not just talking about the communion we have with one another – the connection that we have through the Holy Spirit with one another and with followers of Christ throughout the world. We’re talking about the communion with, the connection with, those who came before us, these 24 elders in heaven who are presenting our prayers to God. When we worship together we are joining in this heavenly worship that has happened, is happening, and will happen – celebrating what God has done in creation, what God has done through the person of His son, what God is doing through the person of his Holy Spirit, and what God will do when Jesus comes once again and the victory is finally won and the time for weeping will be over. When we go out from this place, we’re reminded that God has called us to be a kingdom and priests serving our God. We’re not called to be a kingdom of people who seek what the world sees as power, what the world sees as winning in all the different ways our world sees winning. In Christ God has redefined the concept of winning. Victory is won through self-sacrificing, serving, forgiving, healing love. In that passage from Isaiah 61 which Jesus reads in Nazareth and has become so foundational for us here at Blythwood, the prophet proclaims “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord God has anointed me; to bring good news to the oppressed , to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour...” Later on in the same chapter we read “You shall be called priests of the Lord, and ministers of our God.” Servants of our God. Freedom in servanthood. Losing our life to find it. What does this look like as we go from this place? What might it look like? We’ve heard this morning about one of the ways it looks at Blythwood from October to March every year. (OOTC ref) What else does it look like? How has it looked for you and what has God done in and through you because of it. A kingdom of priests. John reminds us in this passage that there is more going on than meets the eye. When we gather in worship together, it’s not just a bunch of people with like-minded interests getting together to sing some songs, close their eyes at times and listen to somebody give a speech. When we gather in worship together we’re joining in this heavenly worship that John describes. We’re proclaiming that there is a reality beyond what we might be able to see with our eyes. We’re proclaiming that God is on his throne and in control and that the victory of the Lamb has already been won and will be won – despite how things may seem otherwise (and sometimes they really see otherwise). There is more to the story than what might meet the eye. There is a minister in Vermont named Garret Keizer who wrote about his experience in a small Episcopal church there. He describes a Saturday night Easter vigil service which was attended by him and two other people. This is what he writes: The candle sputters in the half darkness, like a voice too embarrassed or overwhelmed to proclaim the news: “Christ is risen.” But it catches fire , and there we are, three people and a flickering light – in an old church on a Saturday evening... The moment is filled with the ambiguities of all such quiet observances among few people, in the midst of an oblivious population in a radically secular age. The act is so ambiguous because its terms are so extreme: the Lord is with us, or we are pathetic fools.” (Keizer, A Dresser of Sycamore Trees, p. 73) Either the Lord is with us, or we are pathetic fools. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:19) “It is indeed reason for weeping if there were no one to initiate the end-time drama, if the ambiguity of history were all that is left forever.” I believe that God is with us my friends. I believe that one has been found worthy to take the scoll and open it and break the seals. One who ransomed us. One who is has made things right, is making things right, and one day will make all things right. One who holds the stars in his hand, and with the same hand reaches out and touches us, invites us to join him. What other response should we give than to say with the four living creatures at the end of this passage – “Amen” – “So be it” and fall down and worship him? Amen! D