January 19, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 17:50 in the audio file.
Or, Worship of Him Who Opens the Scroll
When it comes to worship there are two categories that must be distinguished and must be taken together. If worship is a bookcase, it must have two shelves or the whole thing will fall apart. The shelves are not just corporate and individual, let alone formal and casual. The two categories are comparative and integrated.
I remember reading about these categories for the first time in a book titled The Things of Earth. In some ways I had been trying to live according to these categories, but naming them was very helpful.
Comparative worship asks the question: Who or what do I love the most? As Christians, we know that the first and greatest commandment is to love God, and that our affections for Him should not only abound still more and more, but our affections should also abound above everything else. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). Love Him with all you’ve got. Nothing compares with Him; “To whom will you liken Me and “make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?” (Isaiah 46:5)
Integrated worship asks the question: How does He want me to love Him the most? As Christians, we know that once we’ve loved Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37-38), He still makes another loving command: love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). And husbands, love your wives (Ephesians 5:25). And love your enemies (Matthew 5:44). And love righteousness (Psalm 45:7). When nothing compares to Him, then we’re ready to be thankful for His gifts without fear that we love the gifts more, and we’re ready to do our work as stewards without fear that we’re trying to be our own lord.
Comparatively, nothing is more necessary than gasoline for an engine to run. Integrated, gas in the engine gets you somewhere. Comparatively, having a heart beat is crucial for life. Integrated, if all you have is a beating heart, that’s not much of a life. Comparatively, the only one worthy to take the scroll and open the seals is the Lamb, and every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea will sing His praise. Integrated, worship of the worthy One in heaven precipitates His kingdom come to earth.
We are taking a break from our study through the book of Revelation in order to renew our minds on worship proper, as in, on the shape of and shaping power of our Lord’s Day liturgy. And also we are getting help in that renewal from Revelation 5, partly because Revelation 5 was the preaching text in our very first church service, and largely because Revelation 5 keeps our eye on the Lamb. He will set things straight.
Chapter 5 can be seen in four things John says he saw: a scroll (verse 1), a mighty angel with a heralding question (verse 2), the slain but standing Lamb (verse 6), and a multitude of worshippers (verse 11).
Last week we considered the seven-sealed scroll on the hand of the One sitting on the throne, the same One who occupied our attention in chapter 4. Then the mighty angel announced his question: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” None could answer this classified, causing John to weep loudly, but weep too quickly. An elder told him to stop his crying because the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David “has conquered, so that he can open the scroll.”
This paragraph is obviously in the center of the chapter, but in it is the center of history, the center of redemption, the center of worship.
John heard the elder refer to the Lion, but when he turned back to the throne he saw a Lamb. And I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth (verse 6).
Looking at this is like looking at an M.C. Escher drawing; it all connects, but not from the usual perspective.
John has been in the heavenly throne room for an indefinite amount of time, but long enough to observe the throne, and the twenty-four elders on twenty-four thrones, and the four living creatures around the throne. He saw lightening and heard thunder coming from the throne, and saw the sea of glass around the throne. He heard the worship of the living creatures, praising the holiness and eternality of the One on the throne, and heard the follow up from the elders praising the creative and sovereign work of the Lord. How did John not see this One?
The elder told John to “behold, the Lion,” to behold the one who “has conquered” (verse 5), and near the throne, among the heavenly beings John did not see a Lion, roaring as though it had a great mane, but instead he saw a Lamb standing as though it had been slain. A lion is the king of the beasts, stately and powerful. A lamb is food for a lion. Even the Greek word used for lamb is the diminutive, the word used for a “little lamb.”
The apostle John is the only one in Scripture who calls Jesus a Lamb; Peter compares the sacrifice of Jesus to a lamb (1 Peter 1:19), but doesn’t call Him one. Lamb is the preferred reference for this being in the rest of Revelation, used almost thirty times in the Apocalypse.
And what John describes is that the Lamb is standing. Of all things, not whiteness of wool or like snow (see Revelation 1:14), not a robe or golden sash, not a face shining like the sun in full strength, but the Lamb is not dead, at least not anymore. The Lamb has been slain, and the marks are still visible, but is alive.
It isn’t just the juxtaposition of Lion and Lamb that messes with one’s perspective, but it is the explanation of His conquering as His sacrificing. The Lion of the tribe of Judah was a ruler, not a redeemer. The Root of David was expected to win by slaughtering his enemies, not win by being slaughtered. But what makes the Lamb worthy to take the scroll is that He was slain and that His blood purchased worshippers (verse 9). This is what the enemies of God did not expect. Had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8).
The Lamb was slain but now standing; He is alive, of course. But it is not the resurrection that makes Him worthy to take the scroll. Him “standing” is the only reference to resurrection in the chapter; His alive-ness is assumed. The Lamb receives worship, unlike the One sitting on the throne for all His exercise of authority and power in creation, for all His exercise of authority and power on the cross.
The Lamb stands “as having been slain,” a past action with ongoing results, similar to when Paul said that he knew nothing but Jesus Christ and Him “having been crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). It isn’t just that His sacrifice will be remembered, His sacrifice is how He will be known.
John observed more about this Lamb. He had seven horns, horns expected on a ram, not a lamb. Horns are for butting heads, horns are for battle, and seven of them are for winning. The image of a lamb with seven horns is found in 1 Enoch, as the Maccabees are called “horned lambs” (Mounce). He also had seven eyes, a fullness of perception and understanding, which are explained as the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. The spirits of God are the “Spirit of Christ,” sent from the Father and the Son.
And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. He didn’t have far to go, just like a prince comes to forward to be crowned before the passing of his king-father. Here Jesus is not taking the place of His Father, He is receiving the authority to put their plan into effect, a vision first anticipated in Daniel 7:13.
At this signal all heaven is called to worship.
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
We’ve met both of these levels of celestial beings in chapter 4. In verse 11 they will be joined by virtually numberless angels, and in verse 13 by the rest of animate creation. The reason that the living creatures and the elders come first is because they know who they are worshipping. They worship the One taking the scroll just as they worship the One holding the scroll.
They’ve got instruments, incense, and a song. Each one is holding a harp, not just the chosen tool of cartoon angels sitting on clouds, but a favorite of King David. They are also holding golden bowls full of incense, used in making an offering with smell and smoke pleasing to God, though these are described as the prayer of the saints, which is interesting. I believe that these prayers are our prayers, the prayers of God’s holy ones, and especially those who endure great suffering at the hands of God’s enemies as they cry out for justice, which is what the worthy One is about to accomplish.
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you
ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people
and you have made them a kingdom and priests
to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
There are three explanations for the Lamb’s worthiness: 1) He was slain (what happened), 2) in being slain He ransomed people for God (what it meant), and 3) He made the ransomed a kingdom and priests (what it led to).
Slain is cultus context, ransomed is marketplace terminology.
I mentioned when we considered the identity of the twenty-four elders in chapter 4, that there is a textual question in verse 9. Some handwritten copies (namely the Textus Receptus), those used by the KJV translators, have:
“thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 9b-10, KJV)
The copies that are believed to be older, and therefore likely more accurate, do not have “us” or “we” at all. What’s more, verse 10 has “You have made them” very clearly. The argument that the elders are among the redeemed is not solid. But that doesn’t make the
Here is a great, global group. These international descriptions occur seven times in the book of Revelation. The Lamb saves regardless of ancestry, geography, politics, language. Also note that the Lamb bought people from every group, He did not purchase everyone in every group.
The Lamb made us a kingdom and priests, 1:6, here, and 20:6. We will reign with Him on earth, as promised to those who just conquer in Revelation 2:26-27, to be fulfilled 20:4 (in the millennium) and 22:5 (in eternity). He is Lord.
The Lamb is the redeemer and the ruler, the sacrificial sheep and the Great Shepherd. He has conquered by sacrifice, He will conquer again by sword. Who has more power? Who has made a greater sacrifice?
What is the attitude of this heavenly liturgy? It is celebratory and triumphant. Even the harp music is happy (used alongside cymbals and tambourines and lyres in the Psalms). Stop weeping; He has conquered.
Our Lord’s Day liturgy focuses on the Lamb. Through Him we are forgiven. It is into His likeness we are transformed. We commune by eating His body and drinking His blood. Then we are blessed by Him to integrate our worship of Him the rest of the week.
Christian, you were purchased for God with Jesus’ blood. You are not your own. You were bought with a price, so glorify God. By comparison, value no one as much as Him. By integration, value His gifts to you and His work for you until He comes to get you. He has purchased you, and everything you need to please Him.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21, ESV)