[sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 11/28/2010]
[audio link not yet available]
Invitation to open to Revelation, chapter 5.
Part 2 in a 2 part series on the Apocalypse. Apocalypse meaning “to lay bare, to make naked, to reveal, as in the lifting of a veil.” St. John’s Apocalypse is not a book about the end of the world, as many assume, but a book that helps us see reality as it really is, helps us see what’s going on behind the scenes of our everyday, ordinary lives.
[Biggest loser race for the car…Revelation 5 shows us what was really going on there…]
Reiterate key idea from last week:
Apocalyptic language is designed to engage our imaginations, to wake us up to things that have already been revealed, but that are easy to forget as we get numbed to them by ordinary life. Kind of like smelling salts for our souls. Revelation brings us to our senses.
Like a stylized painting, not a Polaroid picture…
For example, 4v4 says: Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.
Option A: There are 24 people in heaven with crowns and front row seats to God. This is good information because if you do get to heaven and you meet one of these blokes, you really should ask for an autograph. Plus, it makes God look kind of cool because he’s got these guys falling down before him several times a day, singing songs to him. Or…
Option B: The crowns and thrones and white clothes are all meant to paint a picture of people in whom the image of God has been restored, who are now able to finally take their proper place in the purposes of God in creation. The picture of 24 elders in thrones is meant to reveal to us that when we place God at the center of our lives, his image in us is restored, and every surrendered, faith-filled action becomes an image-bearing action, filled with the restorative authority of the creator of all things.
(So when you serve the needy out of love for the God who says that when you serve the least of our brothers and sisters you are really serving him, or when you love your enemies, or forgive those who wrong you, or give hospitality to the stranger, or mourn with those who mourn, or rejoice with those who rejoice, or give generously out of faith in God’s generosity, or confess your sins to your friend and repent so that their power over your life comes undone, when you pray for the sick, or intercede for the weary, or encourage the broken hearted, or seek justice for the oppressed, or rouse yourself from your bed so that you can join the church in worship and sing glory to the saving one, when you do any of these or countless other faith-filled actions, you are in fact taking your proper place in the universe with the children of God, the princes of the king.)
What seems to be mundane and ordinary actions are, in fact, noble and holy, and humming with the energetic power of the heavens.
For what it’s worth, I’ll take option B.
As we discussed at length last week, the first thing we notice in Revelation 4 and 5 is that we are not the center, that there is another center to the universe, a true center, a throne which is not ours and on which we are not meant to sit. Which of course, gives us great freedom when we apprehend and make our peace with that reality.
But the second thing we notice, the thing which is really meant to arrest our attention in this apocalyptic vision, are the ones who are at the center of everything. The one on the throne, and the lamb.
[play Revelation 4&5 composition, inviting congregation to join their voices to the 5 songs contained in it...]
4 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. 4Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. 6Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“ ‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”
9Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
11“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
The Scroll and the Lamb
5 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center before the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
members of every tribe and language and people and nation.
10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
11Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
14The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
The entrance of the lamb is the climax of everything. St. John wants us to be awakened to the lamb at the center of it all. Because everything in the universe must one day come to terms with the one at the center, the one who is the gravity drawing all things unto himself. Because everything in the universe is shaped by its center, and what is at the center determines where everything is heading and how everything is going to get there.
Notice how the lamb’s entrance is made dramatic by everything that precedes it. The stage is set with the throne, and the elders, and the creatures, and the sea of glass. Visual splendor. Majestic figures. John has our attention. Then he directs it at a mystery: this scroll.
A sealed scroll in the right hand of the one who sits on the throne. And a loud voice talking about the scroll, asking a question, bringing all of the worshippers’ attention to that one question.
Who? Who? Clearly, it matters who.
This is the question of the hour, the century, the millennium, the ages. Who?
That’s why there is weeping when no one is found.
What’s up with that? Have you ever seen someone weeping when something is lost? We don’t weep when we can’t find our toothbrush, or even our keys. [my experiences…emotions a far cry from tears…] But have you seen a child when they cannot find their special blanket or stuffed animal? The world collapses around them. Or, perhaps closer to the sense of this passage, a mother who can’t find her child? (wept and wept, the grief of the mourner…)
We only weep when we cannot find something of supreme value, something that cannot be replaced. That’s what’s going on here. There is something absent from the throne room of the universe - from the center of everything - that is of supreme value. And the heartrending image of John’s weeping helps us see that, feel that, share in that devastating absence. It brings to mind a woman named Mary, doesn’t it, weeping in a garden one Sunday morning outside of a tomb because she cannot find the one who was buried there, the one who cast 7 demons out of her and saved her life.
What is the importance of someone to open this scroll sealed with 7 seals that would inspire such terrible grief if he could not be found?
It was ancient Roman custom that last wills and testaments be written on a scroll, wrapped in 7 strings, and each string would be sealed with a wax seal to verify and protect its integrity, its contents a mystery locked away and impotent until the authorized executer of the will opened it. This will is no ordinary will, though, is it? It is in the right hand of the one seated on the throne at the center of the universe, the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. What does this Father of all things leave to his children, to his creation? And who will carry out his will, ensure that it is perfectly executed?
In the text, the moment passes by in a heartbeat, but if you’ve ever experienced one of those heartbeats where you thought everything was lost, you know it feels like an eternity, doesn’t it? Time stops. And we are meant to feel that stoppage of time in John’s weeping. He wept. And wept. Because no one was found. Which implies a search was underway, and the results were not promising.
If no one is found, what does that mean? Does that mean there is no true heir to the life and glory of the heavens? Does that mean this Father’s sons have all died before him, or been disowned? Does that mean it all is coming to an end?
And then, “Don’t weep, see!” Something had happened while he was weeping, and his tears were obscuring his vision. Don’t weep. See! See what?
The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David.
When the patriarch Jacob (Israel) blessed his sons, this was his blessing to his son, Judah:
9You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations be his.
The root of David is a reference to the prophecies that the Messiah would come from ancient King David’s lineage. Here, in the throne room, in other words, the Messiah has arrived. The strong one promised in Judah’s blessing who will rule over all the earth. He, the elder says, has triumphed, and is standing in front of you, able to open the scroll and the 7 seals.
Only, when John looks, he doesn’t see a lion, does he? He sees a Lamb. Talk about a double take. Lions were the ultimate symbol of power, and lambs were considered powerless. And this lamb looked as if it had been slain (although, at the same time, it was standing, alive before the throne).
This lion/lamb is Jesus of Nazareth, the one worthy son of the Almighty God. The one who has triumphed over death and now is ready to take the scroll from his Father, the almighty God, and open it up so that he can carry out his Father’s perfect will. And so that the inheritance of the adopted children of God can be generously distributed.
Did you see the recent Robin Hood film with Russell Crowe? In it, the central mystery revolves around a sword the inscription: “Rise, and rise again, until Lambs become lions.” A stirring quote, is it not? Yet, it is exactly the opposite of what has taken place here in Revelation.
John is painting a word picture of a Lion who stooped, and stooped again until he became a lamb. A Lion, the son of the living God, the word of God through whom all things were made, in heaven and on the earth, stooped down to be clothed in human flesh. Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph. And he stooped to live the life of a servant to all. And he stooped again to die as the worst kind of criminal, a sacrificial offering for the redemption of all human kind. And in so doing became the Lamb of God, the lamb who was slain for our transgressions.
At the center of everything is a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.
You and I are shaped by our center… Families are shaped by their center… Crowds are shaped by their center… Nations and kings are shaped by their center… The earth is shaped by its center… The solar system is shaped by its center…The universe is shaped by its center…
At the center of everything is a lamb looking as if it had been slain.
The real power at the center of everything is one who emptied himself of power. So that the love of power would be defeated by the power of love. If we want to be tapped into the power at the center of the universe, that is the kind of power we must be tapped into.
We’ve heard the expression: “You become what you worship.” It is absolutely true. Worship money and you will become cold and hard, like cash. Worship success and you will come out on top, and empty. Worship popularity and you will become nothing but surface and image, weightless and blown by every passing breeze.
But when we worship at the throne, at the true center, we worship the Lamb, looking as if it had been slain. And it is like him that we are becoming as we worship him. Humble, generous, servants of all, living sacrifices.
Because notice, he looks as if he had been slain. He had been, but He is no longer. He is alive now. Brimming with life, life that spills over as his blood had previously done, and makes members of every tribe and language and people and nation into a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth. And triumphant, as the elder first describes him.
This is the way of triumph in the kingdom of God. We follow our savior in dying to ourselves, and resurrection life fills our veins. It is in embracing powerlessness that God’s power is released for new creation, and everything is set right.
Those who have as themselves the center look at those who embrace powerlessness, and they mock. It looks like foolishness. (Worthy is the Lion who takes down his prey to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”) [The Apprentice boardroom…]
But John’s apocalyptic vision reveals that the way of the Lion who becomes a Lamb is the wisdom of God. (Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive…)
And so we, the community of worshippers gathered around the lamb looking as if it had been slain, when we’ve seen the one who is at the center, and we see how he looks, are to say “Amen.” Yes. So be it. Believe. May it be fulfilled. Yes! Whenever we see forgiveness. Amen. Whenever we see generosity. Amen. Whenever we see sacrificial suffering. Amen. Whenever we see someone dying to themselves so that others might live. Whenever we see someone enduring judgment in favor of casting judgment. Whenever we see someone serving under instead of lording over. Amen. Amen. Amen. Wherever we Lions looking like lambs, we say, Yes, that is what the Lion looks like now.
1. Look at yourself in the mirror of your most important relationships. What are you starting to look like? More like a lion or more like a lamb? More angry? Or more gentle? More powerful but less loving? Or less powerful but more loving? More defensive and aggressive? Or more willing to lose so others can gain? If you’re brave enough, ask one of those people for their opinion. The answer you come up with may show you what’s at the center of your life. The Lamb who was slain, or something else.
2. Go do something lamb-like this week. If we want Jesus to be worshipped as the Lion that he is, we would do well to reveal him by being lambs.
3. Write a note applauding someone who is imitating the Lamb. Tell them the strength and triumph you observe in their lives. You may think you sound like a lone voice, but your voice will be joined by myriads and myriads, and it will swell up louder than every other voice in their life.
4. Celebrate the Lord’s supper. Regularly. Nothing keeps lions at bay as well.