4th Sunday After Pentecost, July 10, 2011
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings on earth.
To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
We return to the book of Revelation again this week, finding St. John no longer quite alone on the isle of Patmos, his isolation and his fears alleviated by the presence of the Son of Man, and His Word both to John and to the seven churches that John had helped to found. Now we find St. John after the letters have been dictated by Christ and diligently copied down.
We find John, here in chapter four, verse one, again in the presence of that voice—that voice that speaks in his ear like a mighty trumpet blast, “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet,” John does not just see that open door from afar, the heavenly light streaming out, but that voice, the voice of Christ invites him in, , “Come up here,” come in and see what is inside, Come in “and I will show you what must soon take place after this.” Then, being in the Spirit, he began to look upon heaven itself, able to glimpse the Holy place, making him one of the few to see such things while he was still alive, joining a select company which included men like Ezekiel and Isaiah, St. Stephen and St. Paul.
And in the middle of this vision is a throne, and upon that throne sits One who can only be described by the impression he leaves upon the senses. The color that radiates from Him in verse 3 “having the appearance of jasper and carnelian (or sard or ruby)”—a deep red in color. and around the throne a rainbow of emerald, a reminder of the sign that God set in the heavens for Noah after the flood; a promise that he would never again destroy the whole earth with a flood, “an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Gen 9:16). And the sounds coming from the throne in verse five, the flashes of lightning, and rumblings, and peals of thunder, much like what the Israelites saw from the foot of Mt. Sinai as Moses went up to receive the commandments from God. So, at the center of the vision of heaven is the One who is, and Who was, and Who is to come, who reflects both His glory and His grace for His creation, and with him the Holy Spirit, represented by the seven torches of fire in chapter four verse five.
Around the throne in four verse seven , John sees the four living creatures, with heads of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle, reminiscent of the seraphim in Isaiah chapter six and the cherubim of Ezekiel ten. The glorious creatures, closest to the throne of God, whose task it is to lead the heavenly choir day and night, never ceasing to say, in verse eight “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And we hear the twenty four elders, humanity’s representatives before God, the twelve patriarchs of Israel, and the twelve disciples of Christ, hearing the heavenly song, lay down their crowns at the foot of the one who lives forever and ever, saying in verse eleven, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and power and honor, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Unlike false gods and idols, devised by the minds and hands of sinful men, our God is worthy of praise because He is the one who made everything.
And yet, in the midst of all of the glory and splendor, and the heavenly singing, there is a problem. As chapter five begins John sees that God, seated on his throne, has a scroll in His right hand. All those present, the angels, the elders, St. John, long view the contents of that scroll, long to know God’s will and plan for His creation, long to know those things which must quickly take place. But no one in all creation was found who could open the seals. The singing stops as John weeps loudly, seeing that Creation is separated from its Creator. No one is worthy to bridge that gap. And it appears that the will of God toward creation will never be known, that it will remain a mystery forever.
But now, something new happens in the vision. Someone new has come along to set things right. One of the elders said to John, as we read in chapter five, verse four, “Weep no more, behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” The Lion of Judah…the Root of David…the one who has conquered…we expect John to turn and see a mighty, strong man, maybe a description of how impressive his clothes are, a recounting of the great battles he has won, those who have died at the end of his two-edged sword, all the great deeds that he has done in order to be worthy of the honor of opening the scroll.
What does John see instead? He sees, in verse six, in the midst of the elders, a Lamb. And not even a pure-white, unblemished lamb without defect. John sees a Lamb as though it had been slain, as though been slaughtered, butchered, murdered. Out steps a Lamb still bearing the wounds from where the blood was drained from its body, the stab-wound, given for an extra measure of cruelty still visible in its side…Hardly a figure seeming worthy of the title of Lion, or descended in the line of David, certainly not one who has conquered…And yet it is this Lamb, and this Lamb alone who is worthy, in verse seven, to step forward and receive the scroll from the right hand of the One who created all things. It is this Lamb who will be worthy to open the seven seals. And it is this Lamb who will be worthy of the praise and adoration of the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders of the Old and New Testaments, and the prayers of the Saints, as they fall down before the Lamb and sing from the very core of their being the New Song of verse 9, “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 nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
In the Lamb who was slain, we are invited to recall the Passover Lamb of Exodus 12. The lamb , there, who was sacrificed and his body was given as food to sustain the people of Israel as they fled Egypt, whose blood—spread on the doorposts of Israelite homes would protect them as the final plague of destruction and judgment, the death of the firstborn—would set them free from their bondage under Pharaoh, free to be the people of God.
And now, here in John’s heavenly vision, we see that Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” as John the Baptist proclaims, by His death, by the pouring out of His Blood on Calvary’s cross, has now “redeemed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…and made them a kingdom and priests to our God,” (5:9b-10) by His victory over death at Easter, by His ascension into heaven, and now in His reign at the right hand of the Father, this lamb whose flesh has been bruised and torn, has bridged the great distance between the Creator and His creatures. Through Him, we are able stand in God’s presence. And through Him, God’s will for His creation will be revealed as the seals are opened and the scroll is unrolled.
As we will see next week, the vision, as this scroll is unrolled, will not be particularly pleasant. Just like the ten-plagues of Egypt, as the seven seals are opened, God will judge his enemies through famine and disaster, war and pestilence, destruction and death. And yet, even in the midst of all of this, will be the Lamb whose blood will continue to save His people. Because of this, we are join in the great hymn of the heavenly hosts, the hymn of the elders, and saints, the Church, and all creation in verse 13, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” Amen.
The peace of God which Passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.