(Revelation 4-5)

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Call To Worship

In the Revelation, John saw a door in heaven that stands open. A voice invited him to come and witness heaven’s interest in earth. That door remains open even today. God is not closed off to us; rather the way to his throne is open. Though God is praised and worshipped with all the majesty of heaven that John witnessed on the other side of that door, the prayers and worship of believers on earth rise up to heaven like a sweet incense that is pleasing to God. The worship on earth is linked to the worship in heaven.
So, let us take as our call to worship the words that John wrote when he witnessed the worship in heaven. This will be a responsive reading in order to remind us that our worship here coincides with the worship in heaven. If you will follow the reading on the screen as I read, the part that you read will be in gold type. After our reading, we will continue our praises with singing, "All Hail the Power of Jesus Name." ...

Revelation 4 (Leader)
  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. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. 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.
  From 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.
  Also 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. The 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. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

Revelation 4 (Church)
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."

Revelation 4 (Leader)
  Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor 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:

Revelation 4 (Church)
“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.”


Words fall short of describing the full majesty of God enthroned in heaven. John uses what he knows – he uses what we know – to describe the glory of God. He appeals to our imagination. He mentions the brilliance and gleam of gemstones to describe the holiness of God and the justice of God that burns against evil. He also uses the symbol of the rainbow to remind us of God’s mercy.

Other old scriptures are called into service to remind us of God’s power. The thunder and lightning accompanied God when he descended on Mt. Sinai. And so did the pavement of glass.

God is honored in heaven. John uses words to describe 24 elders – men of wisdom and honor – decked out in their authority with thrones and crowns. But they do not sit on their thrones because they are on their knees and they have cast their crowns before the only one who is worthy of honor.

John uses words and appeals to our imagination to describe the awesome creatures that surround the throne. These are the cherubim that the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah witnessed in their visions of the throne of heaven. Cherubim are not cuddly babies. They are more like God’s special forces among angels. They are God’s agents who extend his almighty rule over all the earth. They cover the four directions of the earth. They are equipped with wings and are full of eyes, so they see everything and they can move quickly. They resemble creatures of earth who are the noblest, the strongest, the wisest, and the swiftest of all creatures. They represent the eternal power and glory of the one who was, and is, and is to come.

And in heaven there is constant worship before God as the cherubim and elders declare his praises – not because they have to, but because God is worthy of it and they can do nothing else in the presence of the holy creator.

This is the setting and now John unfolds the drama ... There is a scroll in the hand of the one who sits on the throne. This is his decree, an edict to be carried out. It is the will of God. It has seven official seals on it. Seven – when John uses that number he means that something is complete. There won’t be an eighth. So the decree of God is truly sealed. Only one who is truly worthy can open the decree and put it into action. But who? The 24 elders? No. Perhaps God’s special agents, the cherubim? No.

Can you see why John weeps? There is God in all of his majesty and glory – all of his eternal power. And there is no one worthy of putting his will into action! Who can enact his will on earth as it is in heaven?

The Messiah! The Lion of the Tribe of Judah. There’s our hero. He is the root of David. We have waited so long for our hero king to stride onto the stage of history. And we wait for the Lion to roar ... but all we get is a lamb. And a lamb that looks like it has been slain.

We would be disappointed except that the lamb slain is able to take the scroll and open it. He is worthy. And John again appeals to our imagination to inform us that this is no ordinary lamb – it has seven horns and seven eyes. He may be slain, but he has complete strength and authority. Nothing escapes his sight. Doesn’t this remind us of the vision of the Risen Christ – who was dead and yet still lives. Whose eyes shine like fire and who feet are like burnished bronze. He is worthy to enact the will of God and the praise that belongs to God is also due to the lamb that was slain.

What is being said? John presses our spiritual imagination into service to encourage Christians – especially those who may be fearful or disappointed. We might expect a mighty champion who comes like a roaring lion, but instead we get a lamb that looks as if it had been slain. What is being said?

First, the will of God is not carried out through violence. We live in a world that labors under the illusion of redemptive violence. If you strike us, we will strike you – but harder. In fact, we may just do unto you before you do unto us. But didn’t God in the OT allow for an “eye for an eye.” Sure! And that was an attempt to put a limit on violence because God knew how bad we tend to escalate violence. We take a life for an eye. Cain killed his brother because of an argument in worship. The will of God is carried out through sacrificial love.

Second, the one who is worthy to carry out God’s will is not just the strongest guy on the block. Rather, it is the one who is so obedient to God that he will go to his death before forsaking God’s will. Humanity used its greatest power – the power to create death, in an attempt to resist God’s power to save. Why, because we wanted to be God. (It’s the problem that created this whole mess). But God used his great power to create life. To create, to sustain, and to resurrect.

Third, Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David – but he is also the Lamb that was Slain. And yet he lives. He does not hurt other, but he takes upon himself the hurt of others. He suffers with those who resist violence and remain obedient to God though it costs them dearly.

The way of violence and force can only make people fear enough not to disobey, but it cannot make people obey to the point that they would lay down their lives in love. The way of violence and force only creates rebels and more violence, but the way of the Lamb, the will of God, redeems us and calls us to live our lives for God. The way of violence and force creates borders and makes enemies of people. But the way of the Lamb, the will of God, is that people from every tribe and nation should become one in his kingdom. People everywhere are united by the blood of the lamb to be priests who serve God. Whoever you are, wherever you are from, the Lamb, Jesus Christ, has purchased your redemption with his blood.

You are invited to join with the chorus in heaven that sings the new song: “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 2 July 2006

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