January 12, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 17:05 in the audio file.
Or, Worship of Him Who Opens the Scroll
Timing matters. When an event happens may not always be the most important thing about the event, but it frequently matters a lot. Sex after making marriage vows brings glory to God, but sex before marriage damages souls and relationships. God gives His beloved sleep, but not through harvest time. Men with guns pay no attention when you pay your taxes early, but missing the deadline may earn you a visit. Timing matters.
The timing of Revelation 5 matters on a couple levels. The acknowledgement of the worth of the Lamb, and the worship of the Lamb by a multitude in heaven, occurs before everything is made right. As we’ll see, the initial problem in the chapter is that no one anywhere is worthy to open the scroll that is on the hand of the One sitting on the throne. That scroll contains the righteous judgments of God against the evil on earth, judgments that start in chapter 6 and aren’t finished until chapter 20. The kings of the nations and the unfaithful cowards, the beast and Babylon’s prostitute have not been defeated yet when the choir of heaven sings to the Lamb. Worship is the end for which God created the world, but worship is also a call to get started before the end.
On a more immediate level of history, the timing of Revelation 5 matters because it was the first Scripture I preached on our first Sunday as a congregation. We celebrate our nine year anniversary as a local body today. Many who are here this morning assembled on the second Sunday in January 2011 and, whether you remember it or not, the sermon was titled “Every Eye on Him.” The message that day, still applicable today, is that amidst broken things, heavy things, unfinished things we need to behold the Lamb. We need to worship first.
How do we look up when we’re down? Where do we find stable footing on an iffy floor? Can wobbly faith become firm? Can heavy hearts also be hopeful? Is it even possible for heavy hearts to help others be hopeful, too?
Christians have answers to these questions. We are Christians. We are those who believe God. We are made stable amid changes and made hopeful amid challenges when we keep our eyes on the worthy One.
Seeing the glory of the Lord is how we are transformed into glory. Praising the sovereignty of the One sitting on the throne leads to more of His sovereign will being brought about. We sing because He has saved, we sing because He isn’t finished saving, we sing because He is the Savior.
So it is fitting for our little local church to worship the Lion and the Lamb again, both as part of our ongoing series through the Apocalypse and also as part of our annual series on liturgy and worship.
Liturgy is like a pit stop in the race of worship. The point is to run the race, wherein the race is a life of obedience and worship to the Lord. We are living sacrifices, and there is no time off. The meeting of the church on Sunday is not like putting the car in the garage, up on the lift, for major overhaul. We are still in the race, and if the liturgy works the way it’s supposed to, our empty tank is filled, the worn tires are retread, minor realignments made, and bugs wiped off the windshield. Most of the time you don’t really need to think about all the things happening in pit stop, you just know that afterward you can drive again, maybe even a little better than before. That said, the pit crew chief better know what needs to happen, and a driver would be benefited by learning more about it himself.
We are worshippers, when we gather and when we scatter. It isn’t if you are or not, it’s what kind are you? Are you a living sacrifice pleasing to God? Or are you looking to put as little of yourself on the altar as possible?
This morning we’ll start our look at Revelation 5. The chapter has four parts, divided by the phrase “and I saw” in verses 1, 2, 6, and 11. Today we’ll see the first two things John saw.
The scroll, Greek biblion, with its seven seals is the concern of chapters 6-8. It actually covers more than that, since the seventh seal of the scroll contains the seven trumpets, and the seventh trumpet leads to the seven bowls. So the scroll is kind of a big deal. And in one way the scroll is also the concern of the previous chapter, since the one sitting on the throne in chapter 4 is the one who holds the scroll as chapter 5 opens.
I saw a scroll … written in front and back, sealed with seven seals. It is probably rolled up parchment rather than a codex, a book of pages bound on one side, though not because of when John wrote. God could have a whatever shape of book He wanted regardless of the technology on earth at any given time. But written within and on the back sounds like one sheet of paper rolled up. Documents such as this were typical in the day, for contracts and wills, and the writing on the outside either summarized what was on the inside or was necessary because of how much information there was to include.
A seal was a blob of wax or clay usually attached to the seam that needed to be broken in order to open it. There were seven seals on this scroll, and it may be that these seals were on the edge of the scroll rather than along the same seam since they are not all broken at the same time. The seven indicate that it was important, and that the contents were not just for anyone.
What is this scroll? What does it contain? On one hand we shouldn’t answer that yet because opening it and looking at it is the problem that needs solving.
Is it the record of history, the “scroll of destiny”? Is it the sentence(s) of judgment? Is it the title to the earth and its kingdoms (think Revelation 11:15)? There is a similar scroll with writing on both sides handed to Ezekiel with “words of lamentation and mourning and woe” (Ezekiel 2:10).
The immediate focus of John’s second I saw is a mighty angel, but the angel sets the scene for the burden of the chapter.
I saw a mighty angel heralding with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” The mighty angel isn’t named, which argues against the angel being Gabriel or Michael, since both of them are named not just described in other visions. This angel is making an official proclamation, which is a great question. The word worthy refers to something of appropriate weight. Here it speaks not just of ability to break the seals, but of proper authority, a certain level of clearance. This scroll is for the worthy One’s eyes only.
“Worthy” must mean more than disclosing God’s future judgment; God has revealed His plans through a donkey. Worthy means executing the judgments, unrolling justice. He doesn’t merely break the seals, He brings the things to pass. He doesn’t just read the scroll, He does it. This is a call for One who will finish history.
The answer comes swiftly. And no one was able, in heaven or on earth or under the earth, to open the scroll or to see it. No one was able, none were worthy (per the angel’s question in verse 2 and John’s response in verse 4). In the whole cosmos was not one among men and among the angels; heaven and under the earth are dwelling places of non-human beings, the “bottomless pit” in 9:2. As each region reported back: none were able to open or even to look at it.
No wonder then that John is upset. And I wept greatly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look at it. Why is John weeping about this? He couldn’t know what was in the scroll because the problem was no one could open it and read it. But perhaps based on a summary on the outside, or maybe just because of the heaviness of the moment, John knew that the scroll, in the hand of the One sitting on the throne, was critical.
But he is prohibited from crying. One of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping. Behold, the Lion, the one who is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Whether or not this scene is still future for us, it was obviously future for John. He was given a vision of the things that would happen (4:1). But he is not just seeing and hearing things, he is part of it; an elder talks directly to him.
First the elder says to Stop weeping. Weeping is not appropriate. Verses 2 and 3 do set up the scene, but John is the only one who apparently didn’t know the answer to the mighty angel’s question. This would be similar to a coronation ceremony when the king asks who is worthy to take the crown, while his son is sitting beside him ready to kneel, and someone in the crowd starts bawling.
Then the elder tells him to look. Behold there is a worthy One. He is identified by two names and one action.
He is the Lion, in particular the one who is from the tribe of Judah. This name goes back to Genesis 49:9-10 as Jacob/Israel blessed his sons on his death-bed. Judah was like a “lion’s cub,” and Israel promised that he would rule, “the scepter shall not depart.” God’s people came to understand this as a promise fulfilled in the Messiah. They expected a ruler to come from the line of Judah, and this ruler would be like a lion, stately and powerful, and “to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
He is also the Root of David, a reference to Isaiah 11:1, which is interesting because He is in the line of David. From this One David came, while also understanding that God promised a king from David. Here is more about sovereign kingship.
This Lion, this Root, has conquered. The verb is a form of nikao as all the conquering/overcoming verbs to the churches. This one has done his conquering, and we see how that happened starting in verse 6. But the fact of his victory means that He is the worthy One to open the scroll. This is exactly why weeping is wrong.
This is Jesus, the Son. This is the one whom John saw in Revelation 1, and as glorious as that vision was, the realities of Revelation 5 are even more so.
It’s not a secret what happens. The Lion is also the Lamb slain who redeemed a people for Himself. His sacrifice was His conquering, though starting in Revelation 6 He will conquer in another way. He has defeated death for His elect, He will judge to death those whom He has not died for.
We do not need to weep. We do not need to wonder about the future for the elect or the evil. Weeping may seem like the right thing at certain moments, but it isn’t necessary. Weeping in uncertainty stops when we worship. In worship we gather before the One sitting on the throne, ruling history. In worship we behold the Lion, the Lamb, the Lord. In worship we remember our redemption by Him, our identity in Him, our future with Him.
So we start with worship. Things are not all right, and the One who knows it most has it in His hand. Worship first. Worship before the battle is part of the battle.
Ecclesiastes tells us that the end of a thing is better than its beginning. That is easy for us to believe. But it does not follow that we should never begin anything, or that there is no joy in the process. Without starts and middles, how else would we ever get to the ends?
We will celebrate when our evangelism of the world is finished, we will rejoice when we are made complete in Christ, we will celebrate when the worthy One rules from His throne on earth. But, if we have faith, then we don’t wait to give God thanks or worship Him until everything is finished. Let us go from this place amid our uncertainties and our burdens, acknowledging that much work remains. But let us work with our eyes on the worthy One.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:20–4:1, ESV)