Chapters 4-5 - Who's in Charge? - Revelation 4

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 27th January 2008.

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I am becoming increasingly convinced that every Christian needs a healthy belief in the sovereignty of God.

There are many truths we can learn from the Bible which will change how we live and affect how we feel. However, I am more and more persuaded that what each of us needs as a first priority is a certain confidence in God’s governance of his world. We need to be assured that despite the chaos we often perceive there is a control centre at the very heart of the universe.  And at the very heart of the control centre is an all-powerful God who is in charge of the world we inhabit.

I read this magazine at the weekend. It’s called The Week and it’s for busy people who want a selected summary of the news events of the previous seven days. It’s mostly filled with bad news. Except for two sections, “It wasn’t all that bad” and “It must be true I read it in the tabloids.” As I read through and hear about the world as reported to me, what is my temptation? My temptation is to panic. If I really think about them. If I don’t instantly move on to the next thing and contemplate what I’ve just read, what should I do? Panic! From my perspective it seems that chaos reigns. The more I read the more persuaded I am that perhaps there has been a revolution in heaven, perhaps a coup has occurred, and God is no longer in charge of his world.

Or consider the world much closer to home. As much as we try and control our lives, as much as we try to plan and prepare and organise, what happens?

Unforeseen events shake our confidence and make us concerned. Lots of things can do it. The health that seemed so certain is suddenly taken away from us. It only takes one conversation with the doctor to bring the feelings of anxiety to the very centre of our emotions.

Or the job that seemed completely secure, well that gets announced on the next list of redundancies.

Or the house move which is delayed again and again or whatever it may be for you.

How do we cope in world where the events at a distance and the events on our doorstep shake our confidence and make us worry?

There is only one answer. We need a healthy belief in the sovereignty of God. We need to be assured that despite the chaos we often perceive there is a control centre at the very heart of the universe. And this is where we are taken in Revelation chapter 4.

Look with me at what John writes in verse 1. “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.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.”

Imagine the scene. His mind is already whirling with everything he’s just been told by the glorified Jesus. Everything we can read about in chapters 2 and 3. Then before he can catch his breath he hears the voice of Jesus again, who gives him an invitation to visit the control centre at the very heart of the universe.

I don’t know what you would expect to find in such a place but I do love what John finds there. Verse 2, “There was before me a throne in heaven, with someone sitting on it.”

Encouraging. At the very centre of the universe is not a power but a personality, not a something but a someone.

And what is he doing? Sitting on a throne. That is, he is a King who is in charge of his creation.

The throne dominates chapter 4. It’s almost as if John cannot say anything without making reference to the throne.

Verse 3: “And the one who sat there had there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.”

Verse 4: “Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones.”

Verse 5: “From the throne came flashes of lighting, rumblings and peals of thunder.”

Verse 6: “Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.”

I could go on and on but I think you get my point by now. The throne of God the Father is the major theme of Revelation chapter 4. We are being told again and again that God is in charge. That despite the chaos we might see God remains on his throne.

Raises a few interesting questions. Does God have any power? Is he merely a symbolic ruler without any real influence? A bit like her majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She looks pretty and sits on a throne but she has no teeth (I don’t mean she wears dentures!) but has no power to change things. The power lies elsewhere and she is merely a symbolic ruler.

What about God the Father? Is his throne in the control centre simply a rather grand observation chair? Or does this ruler have any control over the events in his world? Well, let’s discover more about this person who sits on the throne. First of all, verse 3. “The one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.”

No one is quite sure of the exact colours of these precious stones. But what is clear is that John is trying his best to describe something of the beauty of God.

As he observed the throne he was captivated by the dazzling beauty that emanated from the person who sat there. Very hard to describe, very difficult to pin down. Like gazing at beautiful jewels that sparkle and give off wonderful colours and leave you awe struck.

Not like staring into the sun. You are blinded and you want to cover your eyes. This was not a light which caused him to turn away but to stare in wonder and be captivated, drawn in by the beauty that emanated from the throne in front of him.

What causes God to be beautiful? In our style obsessed culture it is very often the outward appearance of things and people which concern us. But with God the idea seems to be rather different. The outward beauty emanates from the beauty of his inner qualities.

Trying to thing of an example to help us understand. Some people are not blessed in the looks department.  They have a beautiful character and in their presence there is almost a tangible beauty shining through. With God this is perfect. His perfect goodness has a visible effect on the eyes. John was transfixed by the wonderful of God’s beautiful character.

Next time you see a beautiful sunset or go all gooey inside when you see the stars. Multiple that feeling by a million fold and this will be something of the reaction we will have when we see God’s character in all its goodness.

The first thing we are told is that God is beautiful.

The second thing we are told is that God is gracious. Look at the end of verse 3. “A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. 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.”

Rainbow was not just there for colour intensification. We could say that God simply likes his throne room decorated in a beautiful way. That’s true. I’m convinced there will be no florescent strip lights in heaven surrounded by white walls. Much more likely that heaven will be full of uplighters, corner sofas and cushions because God is not only beautiful but someone who loves beauty.

Rainbow has more significance than mere effect. It is supposed to remind us of the graciousness of God. Supposed to remind us of that covenant with Noah that God made after the flood recorded in the book of Genesis.

Read about this in Genesis 8 and 9. The promise we’re most familiar with is God’s assurance that he would not send a global flood every again. Another promise that Melvin pointed out to me on Thursday. The promise at the end of chapter 8, “And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will cease.”

We take our weather patterns for granted. What we are being told here is that the very sustainable of life is a gracious provision from the God who has every right to wipe us off the face of this planet.

The one who sits on the throne is gracious in his provisions.

Notice too that he is also gracious in his appointments. What surrounded his throne? 24 other thrones with people called elders sitting on them.

Disagreement about who they are but what makes most sense to me are that these elders are angels in heaven who are representing the whole of God’s people in the Old and New Testament.

Why? Numbers are important. 12. How many tribes in the OT? 12. How many apostles in the NT? 12. 12 and 12 gives 24 and so a symbolic number representing the whole people of God.

Why are they on throne? All because of the gracious appointment of God. He wants to share his rule. Every since the beginning. We were given the chance to rule God’s world under him. But we blue it. Yet God’s gracious gives this promise to his people again. We don’t deserve it but in the New Creation we will rule again. We are to be joint rulers with God. Stewards of a wonderful new universe.

Don’t understand everything but makes me very excited about what this could look like in practice.

The one who sits on the throne is gracious.

Thirdly, he is powerful. Notice what comes from the throne in verse 5. “From the throne came flashes of lighting, rumblings and peals of thunder.”

Lightning is powerful. Energy contained in one bolt is enough to kill us. Imagine the power necessary to create lighting. The God who sits on the throne has immense power.

This should make us pause a little and perhaps even quake in our boots. If you know your Bible history you’ll know that when God appeared to the people of God at Mt Sinai after the Exodus there was a massive thunder and lighting storm over the mountain. How did they respond? Exodus 19:16, “Everyone in the camp trembled.”

When was the last time we trembled at the power of God? Very easy to domesticate God but rightly understood we are dealing with a being so powerful that he only has to speak and a universe is created.

CS Lewis puts it well in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The great Lion Aslan is the Christ figure and in the book there is one significant point where the youngest of the children who have set out on their adventure into Narnia, Susan, meets Mr and Mrs Beaver. And this is what we read: ‘As Susan heard the strange name, Aslan, she began to tremble, "Oh", said Susan, "is he quite safe?" "Safe?" said Mr Beaver. "Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

Not safe but he’s good. The one who sits on the throne is powerful.

Fourthly, he is calm. Verse 6, “Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.’

Amazing description of how unflustered God is by the apparent chaos we see day by day. A sea of glass – no ripple at all! At the very heart of the control centre God is not tearing his hair out, frantically panicking as information comes his way. No, there is calmness in heaven.

We must not confuse calmness with apathy. This is not a picture of an uncaring God but a portrait of a God who is in complete control.

That’s what people who are in complete control do. They stay calm. I remember preparing to preach once at a church in Oxford and the man about two rows behind me had a heart attack. I tell you many people in the church were panicking. Then in came the paramedics and took control. They were calm. Why? Not because they didn’t care but because they were in control.

The one who sits on the throne is calm.

Fifthly, he is holy. We’re introduced to a number of other-worldly creatures in verses 6-8 and although it’s interesting to think about their identity the most important thing for us to get clear is not who they are but what they say.

And this is what we discover at the end of verse 8. “Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and is, and is to come.”

They are shouting out, “The one who sits on the throne is different from everyone else. He is perfect and free from sin. And he is distinct. He is not part of the creation. He is eternal. The Lord God Almighty is holy.”

It’s vital for us to remember this when we contemplate the state of our world and are tempted to panic about who can sort out the mess. God is outside the mess. He is holy and distinct. He is not tainted in any way by the mess. God’s holiness assures us that he is both all-good and all-powerful!
Therefore, he can step in and he will step in to sort out the mess when he decrees that the time is right.

The one who sits on the throne is holy.

Last of all, or at least last of all in chapter 4, the one who sits on the throne deserves to be worshipped.

Have a look at what the elders do in verses 9-11.

“Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the 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: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

Two motivations to worship God. First, he is the Creator and, secondly, he is the Sustainer of all life.

Quite a chapter full of inspiring theology. Designed to give us a healthy belief in the sovereignty of God. Despite the apparent chaos we are to continue to believe that there is a someone at the very heart of everything.

There has been no coup in heaven. There has been no takeover. There has been no revolution. The powerful creator and gracious sustainer of the world remains calm in his control centre. So take heart my friends and don’t panic.

Now before we finish tonight there is one more truth I want to share with you about this God who sits on his throne. Everything in chapter 4 is fantastic. However, if we stopped at the end of chapter 4 there is a danger that although we would certainly be very clear about God’s power and calmness, we might wrongly conclude that the one who sits on the throne merely reacts to situations as they happen. Yes he may be able to deal with them with ease but until we read 5:1 we may be tempted to think that God simply waits until events are reported to him before he responds.

So I want to end tonight by showing you from Revelation chapter 5 that the one who sits on the throne also has a plan.

Listen to what John writes at the beginning of Revelation chapter 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.”

We discover what this scroll is in chapters 6 and 7. It turns out to be God’s plan of judgement and salvation for the human race. Element of permissiveness, where God allows evil to flourish as a judgement on sinful human rebels. Personal return of Jesus which will usher in the final judgement of all. Through all this there is the protection of God’s people. Not from all harm but spiritually protected so that they will endure to the end and spend eternity in heaven. All this is in the scroll. It is God’s plan of judgement and salvation for the human race.

And yet there is a problem in verse 1. It is sealed. Not simply the problem that we can’t know what’s in it but a sealed scroll means the contents cannot be implemented. This is a serious problem, isn’t it? And that’s why a mighty angel in verse 2 proclaims in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break and open the scroll?” Who is worthy to implement God the Father’s plan of judgement and salvation? “But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth [the whole dimensions of the universe were searched] could open the scroll or even look inside it.”

No wonder John reacts like he does in verse 4. “I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” No wonder there were uncontrollable tears.

Can you imagine living in a world where evil always triumphs, where justice would never be done and where God’s people had no certain future?

This is what John was thinking to himself. He couldn’t contain his emotional reaction so he went through the whole box of Kleenex.

Or maybe not the entire box because look at what we are told in verse 5. “Then 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.”

These were ways of referring to the Jewish Messiah. He is referred to as a Lion in Genesis chapter 49 and the root of David in the book of Isaiah. John is being told that a great victory has taken place. The Messiah of Israel, the long expected King has triumphed and so here is a person worthy to implement God’s plan for his world.

Can you imagine what was happening to John at this point? Try and picture the scene. He is sobbing uncontrollably. He hears an announcement that brings him joy. There is a person who can carry out God’s plan. In fact, he is told to look because the very individual who has conquered is now entering the heavenly throne room.

So John looks up verse 6 and what does he see? “I saw a Lamb, looking as it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.”

He was expecting a mighty conqueror and what did he see? He saw exactly that. A mighty conqueror except that this victory winner won his battle in a very strange. He died to become victorious.

Ingenuous way of talking about the victory of Jesus on the cross. Jesus was the Lion. He is the King of King and the Lord of Lords. But he was also the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.

Now in John’s vision we see the risen and ascended Jesus, full of power and wisdom [symbolised by the horns and the eyes] approaching the throne of his Father to take responsibly for putting that plan into action.

And don’t you just love what happens when he takes it? Verse 8, “And 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 of incense, which are the prayers of the saints [all Christians]. And they sang a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God, from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Why does this make him worthy to carry out the Father’s plan for the future judgement of the world and the salvation of his people? Shows he has perfectly carried out the Father’s plans already. He has been the obedient son who left the splendour of heaven to die on a cross to save sinful rebels like you and me from the consequences of our sin. It was always the Father’s idea to send the Son and the Son willingly followed his Father’s directions. And so now he is given the responsibility to carry out the Father’s wishes until he comes again in glory.

The one who sits on the throne also has a plan.

What does all this mean for us? Simple: don’t panic! Our temptation is to be overly anxious when we don’t need to be.

Easy to believe that God is on his throne when things are going the way we want them to go. These chapters of Revelation were written for people who are finding that hard to believe. They assure us to keeping on trusting God for our future. We may not know all the reasons why things are happening the way they are but we do know that whatever the circumstances of life God is good, God is powerful, God is calm and God has a plan. Doesn’t mean we sit and do nothing. We do pray and act. We do the best we can. But don’t need to panic because there is a someone at the very heart of the universe.  Let’s pray.

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