The Lion who is the Lamb - Revelation 5
Move on in time to a few years ago to a large evangelical church in Oromo, Ethiopia. There they were, Christian men women and children meeting very much as we are this morning, when the sermon was abruptly interrupted as government soldiers burst through the doors. Many of the worshippers were arrested, some of them later died in prison. The minister, however was set free, but only after his eyes had been gouged out.
What will the 20th century be remembered for? Two world wars? Splitting the atom? Man walking on the moon perhaps ? For God it will be remembered as the century in which more Christians died for their faith than in all the previous centuries added together. Welcome to our Brave New World.
Now, what guarantee is there for such believers that their deaths are not in vain and are no more significant than, say, the extermination of cockroaches? What assurance is there that justice will finally triumph and faith ultimately vindicated? Those are two very important questions, because if they cannot be answered in the affirmative, we all might as well pack up and go home now. And it is an attempt to answer such questions that the passage we are looking at this morning is concerned - Revelation 5. In this grand apocalyptic vision, packed with intriguing symbols and metaphors John is allowed to see, and we with him, why we can be certain that Gods justice and blessing will win out in the end.
First of all John is faced with a desperate situation - v1 - 4 (read). Now what is all that about? Well, as we saw last week, we find ourselves in the throne room of heaven. God is seated on that throne in ineffable majesty, wholly transcendent, so removed from us that we cannot even contemplate approaching him unaided for that would mark our death - he is holy, we are not. So how can such creatures as ourselves ever know this God, ever have fellowship with him when he is so removed from us? How can he achieve his saving purposes on earth in a way that is just without consigning us all to oblivion because of our sin? The drama which is about to unfold tells us how. Its as if the camera zooms in for a close up shot of one portion of the one who sits upon this exalted throne and what do we see? but a scroll with seven seals in Gods right hand. Now the right hand of a monarch in the ancient world denotes his rule, his regal reign over his kingdom. It is as we might say the hand of power. Now what is significant here is that in the hand with which God rules his world is a document - a scroll which is sealed with seven seals indicating that it is in fact a legal document, like a will for instance. Now as we shall see in the next two chapters, what this document contains is the sum total of Gods purposes for redemption and judgement. This is the Kings royal decree, his royal will if you like, written down. And the fact that there is writing on both sides of the scroll (when normally you would only write on one side) shows that it is the totality of Gods purposes for rescuing his people and judging the world.
Now the point is this, as with any legal document which is sealed, until those seals are broken, the contents of the document cannot be executed. So who is able, to put into effect Gods will on earth? Is there anyone who can do it? That is the cry of the angel. We are told he was a mighty angel and proclaimed in a loud voice. You see, before the days of amplification systems the only way an announcement could be made and heard by many was by having some sort of town crier. Here is the angelic equivalent. So the desperate call goes out from one end of the universe to the other: Is there anyone who is so pure and holy, who has attributes so majestic and marvellous that they are in a position to approach God so at to open the scroll and so put into effect Gods will? And then there is a long silence for no one could be found. And John simply breaks down and weeps and weeps. And the reason he is reduced to uncontrollable weeping, is the reason why so many people today are weeping. For if God is not able to do what is right, to bring about the triumph of good over evil, then life is meaningless and devoid of all hope. History has no meaning, it is going nowhere. What is more individuals have no meaning either, their lives count for nothing if they are not judged and their lives assessed and given value. Several years ago Saul Bellow wrote a novel called Herzog in which he penned these lines: This generation thinks - and this is the thought of thoughts - that nothing faithful, vulnerable, fragile can be durable or have any true power. Death waits for these things as a cement floor waits for a dropping light bulb. You see, if there is no God, or even if there is a God and he is not able to bring his purposes to pass, life is not simply futile it is tragic. And more and more young people are coming to that conclusion. So on October 7th 1994, three young men drove their car across Canada to end their journey in a garage near Vancouver. With the garage door tightly closed and the car engine running, it didn't take long for them to succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning. They left behind a 60 page suicide journal, bearing the ominous title - The Last Trip. It ended with these telling words: We have lived our lives and this life is not for us - goodbye. They were only eighteen years old. Now that is what is at stake if Gods will cannot be enacted, if God is in effect dead. Now do you see why John weeps? Why he feels as if he is in some kind of celestial nightmare? What of all his Christian friends who have died? What of the cruelty of the Emperor - will that never be avenged? Is justice for ever to be excluded from Gods universe, he seated on his throne while the rest of us have to suffer the abuse of tyrants and villains and ultimately Satan himself? Is that it? It certainly seems that way, if there is no one who can open the scroll - hence the bitter tears of utter despair.
But it is in the midst of his tears, and it is often there isnt it ? when we feel crushed and forsaken, John hears a voice of hope. It is the voice of one of the elders, which as we saw last week is one of the higher order of angels charged with the responsibility of caring for Gods people, and he speaks of a divine remedy - (v5 - read).
Now John, being familiar with his OT would have immediately known who the Lion of the tribe of Judah was - the root of David. Genesis 49 spoke of the tribe of Judah being a lions cub, that is from this tribe would come Gods appointed royal ruler - the Christ. Similarly later on in Isaiah 11 the promise is made that a shoot would spring up from King Davids line, which would also be the root of David, King Davids greater son. This is the one who can take the scroll and put into effect Gods will. Why ? Because, we are told, he has triumphed, the Greek word suggesting some sort of victorious struggle which qualifies him for this unique role. And just what that struggle was we discover next as John lifts up his water-filled eyes to look around for this Lion of which the angel has spoken but only to see... what? . ... a lamb! But a lamb which looked as if it had been butchered only to come to life again - v6 - standing at the centre of the throne. The vision of a conquering lion is displaced by a vision of a slaughtered lamb in Johns eyes - a sacrificial lamb, like the ones used during the exodus to ensure that the angel of death passed over Gods people or those used on the day of atonement in the Temple to wash away sins and so averting Gods anger. But what is more, this is a powerful lamb, having seven horns - horns always being a symbol of princely strength, and seven eyes - which are the seven spirits of God - indicating omniscience - he knows everything, he is perfect in both knowledge and power. This is the one who sits on the throne with God reigning and is able to execute his will on earth.
Now notice where the lamb, the Christ, comes from. He comes from the throne itself, he is already standing at the centre of the throne, he doesnt have to approach it. It is true there is no one else in who is able to make his way through the sea of glass, through the seven spirits, the thunder and lightening, then the ranks of angels to get to this throne. And so it is God himself, through his Son, the second person of the trinity who takes the initiative. After all, did not John introduce his own Gospel In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and the Word became flesh? You see, God has first of all to deal with the fundamental cause of the rot in his world, which is sin. All that corrupts and separates us from him has to be dealt with. And God cannot do this by mere say so from heaven. He has to come down from the throne, as it were. The Lion of Judah has to become the Lamb so as to take upon himself the sins of the world. He alone lived the perfect life of obedience, being obedient even to death on a cross. And it was not until on that little hillock, just outside Jerusalem, when sin, Satan and death were defeated, that God could go on to complete his purposes of saving his people, creating a new heaven and new earth devoid of sin, and finally usher the end of the world in judgement. So there is one who is worthy to take the scroll by virtue of his sacrificial death which lies at the heart of all Gods purposes for the world and that is the Lord Jesus - the Lion who is the lamb.
Now do you realise what this means to have that Lamb reigning in heaven? It means that at the very centre of the universe, the place so holy, so pure, that no human being could ever dwell, there is now a man - the God - man Jesus. He is the lamb that looks as if he has been slaughtered. That is, for all eternity in his gloried body he will for ever bear the scars of his atoning death. Those wounds inflicted by the nails and the sword are still visible. Why? Because they are a constant reminder to God the Father that the price has been paid to enable sinners like ourselves to approach this throne without any fear of condemnation. It means that the one who has trod this earth and endured hell itself for us, is the one who has been invested with all power and all wisdom and all authority in such a way that nothing can ever happen which will threaten the eternal destiny of his people - you and me. He can open the seals and ensure that Gods perfect will, will be achieved. You know, God is never taken by surprise. Oh, his people may be persecuted, but they can never be defeated, for he has triumphed. People might take away their physical life but they can never rob them of eternal life, not while he is on the throne watching over us and weaving everything great and small for our eternal good and his supreme glory. He will not be shamed by losing a single one of his children for whom he has died. Our names our carved on the palms of his hands and he will never let us go. That is what this imagery means.
And all of this is reinforced by the dramatic response of vv 8 - 14 encapsulated in these magnificent hymns continually resounding around the throne of God. This is a new song, a song of redemption to go alongside the earlier song of creation. Both the cherubim - the four living creatures and the seraphim, the 24 elders, fall down before the Lamb with harps, that is instruments of joy, and they sing praises to king Jesus, with bowls of incense wafting up the prayers of Gods people to Gods throne. Jesus you see, is now the object of the worship of heaven and that is why we can never reduce Christ, put him on some stall in a faith zone alongside Mohammed or Gottama Buddha, he alone died for us, he alone has occupied the throne of heaven with hi father for all eternity and will not share his glory with any other and neither can we his people, for that would be an act of the most appalling betrayal and ingratitude. Mohammed did not die for me, Jesus did. Jesus is not only unique he is exclusive.
Why is Christ and Christ alone worthy of our trust and worship? - v9 because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God. This was a bloody atonement. Blood had to be split
1for our wounds to be healed. A price had to be paid for us to be brought back from bondage to sin and the devil. And the blood spilt was divine. All the money in the world could not buy one drop of that blood - for you cannot put a price upon Gods Son. But I tell you this he would freely give every last drop of that blood so that men and women could be set free from the consequence of sin, despair on earth now, and misery in hell then.
And this is a broad atonement too, notice v9 from every tribe, language, people and nation. Christ did not die just for bad people, but good people, black people, white people, yellow people, red people, educated, illiterate, selfish, kind, sexually pure, sexually deviant people. Whatever social, racial, political or moral group you may care to name, in heaven we shall be singing Gods praises with representatives from every group who have repented and put their trust in him - no man made barrier is an exclusion to salvation. That is why we want to tell everyone in this parish about Christ and why we need all hands on deck for Jesus 2000 to make that happen. I know Hull sometimes gets a bad press, the most unchurched city and all that - but there will even be people from Hull in heaven, 1000s and 1000 and 1000s of them. Now, will you be there? You will be if you are trusting in the Lamb but you wont if you are not.
But finally this is a bountiful atonement. Not only are we freed from our sin but freed for service - v10 (read). All believers are priests, representing people to God in prayer and representing God to people in proclamation, calling upon others to submit to this so loving a ruler. And we will reign on the earth. We not only look to a new heaven, but also a new earth, a renewed earth which Christ will establish when he returns and we shall fulfils Gods original intention to care for the earth under the headship of the God - man Jesus Christ. That is our future. All made possible by the victory of the lamb.
So little wonder that the whole of heaven and whatever else there is in creation erupts in a sustained chorus of rapturous, ecstatic praise - v12 - 14 (read). What other response could there be to so great a Saviour?
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