The Worship of Jesus (Revelation 5:6-14)
Sunday, April 21, 2013
In a vision, John is taken from his prison on Patmos Island into Heaven, into the throne room of God. He sees a great throne occupied by one he cannot even describe except to say he resembles precious stones. Jasper and carnelian are gems whose breathtaking beauty come to John’s mind as he looks on this throne and the God who occupies it.
The center throne is surrounded by 24 thrones where there are seated elders, in white robes. Does John think of 12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples who followed Jesus? Twenty-four thrones.
There are strange things here, heavenly creatures likes those described by the prophet Ezekiel. These beings are all-seeing. One resembles an ox, one a lion, one a human, and an eagle. What sort of place is this with a throne where the indescribable is seated and surrounded by lesser thrones and flying, living, all-seeing creatures?
It is place full of sound – songs John has never heard. The living creatures sing and sing and sing – “Holy, holy, holy: the Lord God, the Almighty who was and is and is to com.” On and on the song goes and it never grows old. The music is joined by a choir, the 24 elders. They cast off their crowns putting them at the feet of the one on the center throne and they sing to Him who lives forever. “You are worthy our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power” (4:11a-b).
John sees all this. He sees a scroll in the hand of the one on the center throne. He knows the fate of the world is written on that scroll. It just needs to be opened. But no one is worthy to open it. No one on earth, no one in the history of earth can open it. Nothing matters more than what is on the scroll. It must be read. And no one can open it. John weeps. He looks around. He is in Heaven and no one is able to open that scroll.
The tears roll down his face. He has suffered so much for Jesus’ name. He has seen friends arrested. Families have fallen apart as the son follows Jesus and the father kicks the son out of the house. Members of John’s church in Ephesus were stoned – bludgeoned to death by boulders because they would not bow to Caesar. They were killed because they worshiped Jesus. His story, Jesus’ word for the world is written on this scroll and no one can open it. How has it come to this? John falls, broken, shaking.
One of the elders comes and lays a gentle hand on John’s sagging shoulder. The man tenderly raises John to his feet. “Do not weep. The Lion of the tribe of Judah … can open the scroll” (Revelation 5:5). Through bleary John looks up and remembers. Yes, the Messiah, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the mighty one, the heavenly warrior; of course he can open it.
But when John turns, he doesn’t see a mighty one at all. “I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” (v.6).
We hear the experience of the visionary – the Christian named John, of 96 AD. He was sent to exile because he refused to offer cult worship to Roman Emperor Domitian. The emperor did not care if Christians had church and sang about Jesus. But they were required to acknowledge and proclaim the divinity of the emperor. Christians knew that Jesus and only Jesus is Lord. To proclaim Jesus as Lord, they had to deny Domitian as Lord. Denying Domitian brought on them the wrath of Rome. In John’s case that meant hard labor in a penal colony.
There, he met the risen Jesus and was taken into Heaven in a vision – the one described in Revelation chapters 4-21. I have been imagining the beginning, what we see in chapters 4 and 5. In these chapters, we see that the best Christian response is worship.
Wait, response to what? Response to tragedy? The events at the Boston Marathon served as a rude reminder to our nation. We were reminded of the horrors of the Newtown school shootings and the Aurora, CO theater shootings; and Virginia Tech; and Columbine; and many others. We were reminded that a quiet Monday can be violated by the worst kind of news; reminded of 9-11. We were reminded how fragile life is. The disillusionment and fear casts a more destructive shadow than the precipitating event.
How is worship an appropriate response to that?
The man who received the Revelation lived in scarier times than we do. He saw friends arrested and executed. He was imprisoned as an enemy of the state. He was powerless before the power of his day – Rome. Every terror story we can recite from our times, John can match. His response was to write about worship because worship reminds us all that there are powers in the universe that are greater than life and death. There is God who not only overcomes death, but sees us, small as we are. In the eyes of Rome, John a Jew in Ephesus, was small, insignificant; just one more political prisoner to be silenced. But God saw him and was with him. Yes, worship is one of our responses to the Boston Marathon bombings. The only one who can bring order to the chaos and comfort to the pain is God. Our response is to worship Him.
Worship is also a response to times of great joy. A wedding of two Christians is a time of worship. Graduation includes a baccalaureate and naming of the graduates in the Sunday morning worship service. Whenever a new baby is born, the pastor visits and touches the baby and prays, and later the new parents bring the baby to church and the child is dedicated to the worship of God.
Worship is the way to respond in times of spiritual confusion, frustration, or emptiness. When we are filled with questions we come together and worship God. When we are not so sure there is a God, we come together with the church and sing praises and pray together and baptize and commune. Sorrow, horror, joy, confusion, boredom, anger, doubt – worship is the response to all these things.
Worship is not the only response. We pray individually and with friends and mentors, silently and out loud. We question, study, and seek. We get advice and give it. We work hard. We wait. We do many things. We spend time doing nothing. But we always worship.
John shows us in Revelation that worship is constant and surprising. He turned to see the Lion that was worthy before God and he saw a Lamb. Jesus is both. The raging Lion, roaring God’s power from the dawn of creation; this is Jesus. So too is the lamb, the man who would not fight back when ruffians came and beat him up and dragged him off in the night. He told his disciples to put their swords away. Willingly, he went to the cross and was slaughtered.
So John sees a lamb, the meekest, most vulnerable of creatures, but wait! All in the throne room worship the Great One on the center throne, but they don’t dare approach. The living creatures, the 24 elders, they sing to God, but they don’t walk right up to Him. The Lamb does. This image of weakness walks right up to the throne and takes that scroll that God is holding.
Now those living creatures, heavenly beings, aren’t flying around anymore. They’ve fallen to their knees. The elders are no longer on their thrones. All twenty four of them are there next to the living creatures and they too are bowed in humble reverence. To the Lamb they sing, “You are worthy” (v.9).
We’ve had our attention on the throne and the Lamb, the elders and the living creatures but they are not the only ones in the picture. There are all about this throne room of God thousands and thousands and thousands of angels. And they have all stopped doing whatever it is angels do, and now, with music you’ve never heard, they sing. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (v.12).
What more could come than this? Oh, there is more. We have not even noticed the uniqueness of this throne room. We think of it as in some faraway place. But it is actually close enough that we can see the earth – the whole earth. Where can one go and see the entire earth – see everything up close? Here. And on the earth every living being is singing. We might expect to see every person, but this is more. The people are joined by the trees and the waters and the birds and the animals. When he came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus told the protesting Pharisees that if his followers did not sing “Hosanna,” the rocks would cry out praise. Here in the throne room of Revelation, John sees the people and the rocks and the mountains all singing together. All created things add their voice to this song. “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” And when all of creation sang that song, the living creatures shouted, AMEN and the elders fell on their faces and worshiped and it all happened because worship is our response and worship is our response because God is God.
Last week we began our time in Revelation receiving. Revelation is a letter in which we are given grace and peace, gospel truth, and life. This is to us from God – the eternal God who is over and over seen in the son, the Messiah, Jesus. God has something for us and it is good. When we receive from God, we have abundant, eternal life. This promise is enough to sustain us through harsh, dark times.
Yet, we don’t live only waiting for the fulfillment of it. We have activity to which we are called. As we receive from God grace and mercy, forgiveness and peace, love and hope, we have something to give God. Worship is our primary vocation. As living creatures, elders, angels, and every created thing attest, our worship is specifically to Jesus. Our life is lived to worship Him.
Worship happens when we gather as a church body, in our songs, in our prayers, in baptism and communion. Even in the time of the sermon, there is worship as the remarks and the receiving of them are all centered on the Word of God.
Worship happens at other times in the life of the church: in small groups; in meetings; in one-on-one get togethers. It happens with music and without.
Worship happens when we are alone or involved in secular activities. It can come about while driving or hiking or gardening or golfing. Even at work, as we pray in the lunchroom, as we glance at the scripture verse we keep in a frame on our the desk, as we utter a silent prayer for a troubled colleague; yes even there worship occurs because it first and foremost proclaims in our hearts and in the loving way we see the world that someone else is in command. God is over all this and God is Jesus and Jesus is God. So, in Holy Spirit, Jesus is here and our loyalty is to Him. There is probably a supervisor to whom we give the respect that is due even if he doesn’t live up to it. There are rules we uphold except when God tells us to do otherwise. We live within the world but all the while we are turned to the God who sustains the world and will one day redeem and renew and remake the world.
So worship is an orientation; it is a heart attitude; and it is activity. It is worship of God as we know God in Jesus Christ and it is what we are all about. More than all this definition though, worship is relationship. There are professional clergy men and women, but he has made us all priests and sons and daughters of God.
Thus we join the song. Deep within us, whatever our emotions and experiences, in good times and bad, we seek God, see God, and sing. This is the best response a Christ-follower can make to all things because all is under the lordship of Jesus. My friends find your voice. You are sad? Meet God in your sadness. He will give comfort, you give worship. You aren’t sure? He will give clarity and answers, you give worship. You are broken? He will heal and mend and raise you. You and I – we worship.
He doesn’t always give what we think He should when we think it should be given. But God’s gifts are the best and the timing is perfect. We worship. Along with the Heavenly chorus we sing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and glory and honor and might forever and ever!”