************ Sermon on Revelation 5:8-14 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 17, 2008
"You are Worthy"
What have we seen so far as we have looked at Revelation?
We have seen that John has been given an apocalypse, a revelation, from Jesus. He writes to the persecuted Christians of Asia Minor in order to give them hope and encouragement. He tells them what must soon take place.
We have seen that John writes with word pictures because Revelation is a book to be seen and imagined. However, you cannot understand John's pictures unless you know the Old Testament.
We have seen a portrait of the glorified Christ and He is absolutely awesome.
We have seen that the early Christians and churches are not perfect by any means; they have the same sins and struggles that we have. But to those who are faithful, the glorified Christ makes promise after promise.
We have seen a picture of God in heaven: a throne and an unapproachable light. We have seen a series of astonishing circles surrounding the throne: a rainbow, 4 living creatures, 24 elders, tens of thousands of angels, a sea of glass, and every other creature in the universe (cf similarity to Daniel 7:9-10). From the throne we have seen lightning, rumblings, and thunder. Before the throne we have seen the 7 spirits of God.
We have seen the choir directors of heaven – the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders – falling in worship before the Lord God Almighty.
From a distance we have seen the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. He is the only One worthy to take the scroll, to open the seals, and to set into motion God's eternal plan to judge and to save. But when we take a closer look at this Lion and Root we don't see what we expect – we expect to see a ferocious beast and a warrior king; instead, we see a Lamb Who has been slain. He takes the scroll from the Father's hands.
What happens right after the Lamb takes the scroll? There is worship. In fact, John describes 3 worship scenes to us. There are 3 general things we can say about this worship.
First, the worship is immediate. All the Lamb has done is taken the scroll. He has not opened even one of the seven seals. Yet, there is an immediate, spontaneous explosion of worship. The choir directors of heaven cannot wait. They cannot hold back. They break out into song. Which, in turn, causes the angels to sing. Which, in turn, causes all the creatures of the universe to also break out into song.
Second, the worship is total. There is no holding back. The rich content tells us it involves the mind. The falling down tells us it involves the body. The passion tells us it involves the emotions. The singing tells us it involves the voices.
Third, the number of worshipers keeps increasing. It starts in chapter 4 with the 4 living creatures. Then the 24 elders. Then the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders. Then tens of thousands of angels. Finally, there is every other creature in the universe. In other words, the worship of God and the Lamb starts with a quartet and ends with a universal choir.
II The First Worship Scene
A The first worship scene in front of us this evening is actually the third (or middle) of five worship scenes that John sees in the heavenly throne room. This is also the longest worship scene. From John's point of view we have to conclude that this is the most important worship scene.
The worshipers are those who are closest to the throne of Almighty God – the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders. They are the highest and the second highest order of angelic beings.
In chapter 4 they worship the God Who created all things. Here in chapter 5 they worship the Lamb Who has been slain for our sins. So, do they worship the Creator or do they worship the Redeemer? Both. But this does not mean they worship two gods. John makes clear to us that there is only one God. And He does this with a picture.
Where is the Lamb? John tells us He is "standing in the center of the throne" (Rev 5:6). Go back to chapter 4. Remember what John first saw? He saw "a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it" (Rev 4:2). And, to complete the picture of the triune Godhead, before the throne are seven blazing lamps representing the Spirit of God (Rev 4:5). So, who is on the throne – is it God or is it Jesus? Both. God is on the throne. Jesus is on the throne. They are both on the throne. At the same time. In the same place. How is this possible? Remember? This is apocalyptic literature! John is giving us a picture of the oneness of God. There are not two gods that are worshiped by the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders. There is only one God. He is both God the Creator and Jesus the Redeemer. And, He is on the throne.
B Notice how the worship starts: "the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb" (Rev 5:8). They "fell down." This happens 9 times in the book of Revelation – 1 time in chapter 1, 3 times in the vision in front of us, 5 times in the rest of the book:
(Rev 1:17) When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. [THIS IS JOHN'S RESPONSE TO THE GLORIFIED CHRIST.]This is the most basic response to God the Creator and Christ the Lamb. You fall before Him Who is great and glorious and awesome; you fall before Him Who is terrifying and scary and frightening.
(Rev 4:10) the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever.
(Rev 5:8) And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.
(Rev 5:14) The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.
(cf Rev 7:11; 11:16; 19:4; 19:10; 22:8)
C Each of the worshipers are doing three things. They are holding a harp. They are holding a golden bowl of incense. They are singing a song. I am told that some of us males have a hard time doing two things at the same time; that women are the true multitaskers. But here are angels multitasking 3 things: playing a harp, holding a bowl, and singing a song. Does this make sense? How can they play a harp and hold a golden bowl at the same time? Remember? This is apocalyptic literature! This is not meant to be taken literally. John is giving us a picture of heavenly worship. What is important is the meaning behind the picture.
First, they are holding a harp (Rev 5:8). This is a worship scene so the harps are not just being held – they are being played. Forget the image of the large modern harp; the instrument in mind here is more like a guitar than a harp. In Bible times it was the primary instrument used in singing psalms. It is associated with joy, gladness, and celebration. John hears music of joy and celebration in heaven because God's plan to judge and to save is now coming to pass.
Second, they are holding "golden bowls full of incense" (Rev 5:8). Today, incense is used because its fragrance helps to set an atmosphere. I don't particularly care for incense or scented candles or strong perfume or strong cologne because it gives me a headache so we don't have any of this in our home. In the Bible, however, incense is not used to set an atmosphere – rather, one of the things the sweet smell of incense is associated with is prayer. Notice what John says about the golden bowls of incense? He says they "are the prayers of the saints" (Rev 5:8). This is not the only time incense and prayer are joined together in the Bible:
(Ps 141:2) May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.To God, the prayers of His people are a sweet-smelling scent. He loves those prayers and wants those prayers.
(Rev 8:3-4) Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. (4) The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand.
What exactly are the prayers of the saints being held by the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders? What is the content of those prayers? We are given a glimpse in chapter 6:
(Rev 6:9-11) When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. (10) They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (11) Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.Do you hear the prayer? "How long?' "How long until God's plan to judge and to save becomes reality?" "How long until God judges the persecutors of His people?" "How long until God defends His name and His honor?"
Do you know why this prayer is a sweet-smelling savor to the Lord? Because the saints are requesting the very thing Jesus has already set into motion. Because they are praying what is God's will to be done.
The third thing the worshipers do is sing "a new song" (Rev 5:9). Throughout the Old Testament a new song celebrates a new act of deliverance or blessing. So, for instance, a new song is sung by the shores of the Red Sea – Israel celebrates the Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the sea on dry ground (Exodus 15). Isaiah looks into the future and he sees that when the Israelites return from the captivity of Babylon, a new song will be sung (Is 42:10ff). In front of us is a celebration of the final Exodus so, of course, a new song is sung (Rev 5:9; 14:3).
D Listen to the song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals." "Worthy." That is the key word in Revelation 5. Remember the question of the mighty angel? "Who is worthy?" "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" "Who is worthy to reveal the contents of the scroll and set those contents into motion?" (Rev 5:2).
"You are worthy," sings the choir directors of heaven. Who are they singing about? They are singing about the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. "You are worthy."
Why is He worthy? Why is He worthy to take the scroll, to open the seals, and to set in motion God's eternal plan to judge and to save? We are given three reasons. First, they mention a sacrifice – "you were slain." Second, they mention the reason for the sacrifice – "with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." Third, they mention the result of the sacrifice – "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth" (cf Rev 1:5-6).
Why is Jesus worthy? First, the song says Jesus is worthy because He is the Lamb Who was "slain." If you are a reader of the Old Testament this reminds you of the Passover lamb that was slain at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Jesus is the Passover Lamb Whose blood was shed. The blood tells us something about His death. It wasn't clean and painless. It was a bloody sacrifice. His life ended violently. His lifeblood was poured out. He was slaughtered.
Why is Jesus worthy? Second, the song says Jesus is worthy because with His blood He "purchased men for God." The bloody sacrifice of Jesus brings results: people are purchased for God. If you are a reader of the Old Testament this reminds you that all the firstborn males belong to God: the firstborn of Egypt, the firstborn of Israel, the firstborn of cattle and donkeys and sheep. When the Angel of the Lord went through Egypt, the firstborn of Israel were just as deserving of death as the firstborn of Egypt. The Israelite firstborn were not spared because they were better or more righteous. They were spared because they were redeemed or purchased by the shedding of blood – the blood of the Passover lamb. With His blood Jesus has purchased undeserving sinners for God.
Those who are purchased, notice where they are from: "from every tribe and language and people and nation." These 4 words are meant to be synonyms. Tribe, language, people, nation are 4 ways of saying the same thing. So why does John use all 4 of these words when one word would do? In apocalyptic literature the "4" represents the four corners of the earth and therefore all the nations of the earth; so John is saying people are purchased from every tribe. Take special note of that word "from." Not everyone is saved. Not everyone of every tribe and language and people and nation. Not everyone scattered to the 4 corners of the earth. Rather, people "from" the 4 corners of the earth. I want you to further notice that this grouping of 4 words is repeated 7 times in Revelation – 7, the number of fullness and completeness. From the full number of tribes, from the complete number of languages, from every people, from all the nations. That is whom Jesus has purchased.
Why is Jesus worthy? Third, He has purchased men "for God." "For God." What is the purpose of salvation? Not to save me. Not to save you. Not to give me eternal life. Not to forgive my sins. The purpose of salvation is not me or anything about me. The purpose and focus of salvation is God. Notice how verse 10 puts this: "to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God" (Rev 5:10). This should sound familiar to readers of the Old Testament. Listen to what God says about Israel:
(Ex 19:5-6) ... out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, (6) you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.The purpose of salvation? The glory of God. The honor of God. The service of God.
"You are worthy." Because He was slain. Because He purchased men for God. Because they now serve God.
III The Second Worship Scene
A A circle of angels hear this worship of the 4 living creatures and the 4 elders. They hear about His bloody sacrifice, His purchase, His kingdom and priests. What do they do? They respond in worship.
Notice who is in this circle: "many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand" (Rev 5:11). Now, it is not John's intention for us to do some math. Let's see, a thousand times a thousand equals a million. Ten thousand times ten thousand equals one hundred million. One hundred million plus one million equals one hundred and one million angels. Can you imagine John counting all these angels just like we count sheep or cows: 1,2,3 ... 1000 ... 10,000 ... 1,000,000 ... 100,000,000 ... 100,000,001 ... 100,000,002 ... How long would this take? How come he didn't get mixed up? The point is not the number but that it is a big number. The point is that the Lamb is praised by a countless number of angels (cf Daniel 7:9-10).
B Notice that the language of praise and worship starts off with the key word of Revelation 4 & 5: worthy. "Worthy is the Lamb." "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain." There is that word "slain" again. Christ is worthy because of the cross. Because of the blood. The angels recognize that this is the single most important event in the history of the universe. That this is the pivotal event in the story of salvation.
C The worship continues with a list of Christ's excellencies: power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, praise. Does this list sound familiar? In chapter 4 we see glory, honor, and power being ascribed to God (Rev 4:11). In 1 Chronicles 29:11 we see greatness, power, glory, majesty, and splendor being ascribed to God. In other words, the language used for the worship of God is also used for the worship of Christ. Here is another statement that Christ is God.
Power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, praise. Look at the list. What really is the difference between power and strength? What really is the difference between honor and glory? One of my commentaries sees a difference but it is not clear to me. I looked at the Greek. The list is introduced with the word "the." The power. The wealth. The wisdom. The strength. The honor. The glory. The praise. "The" means the ultimate, the absolute, the best. Jesus is worthy of our absolute best. Then I counted the attributes – there are 7 of them; seven, remember, is the number of fullness and completeness. As the Lamb Who is slain, Jesus is worthy of the fullness of all praise and all adoration; Jesus is worthy of complete praise.
IV The Third Worship Scene
A We have seen the inner circle at worship. We have seen the worship of a myriad of angels in the next circle. In the last circle we see the entire universe engaged in the worship of God and the Lamb:
(Rev 5:13) Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!"
B Will this circle include you? Let me tell you, some day you will fall before the throne. You will do so either in worship or in fear. You will do so either as a believer or as an unbeliever. You will do so either as one of those serving God because of the Lamb Who was slain or as one of those hating and opposing God.
C This final worship scene returns to the choir directors of heaven. They listen to the entire universe singing the praises of God and the Lamb. "Amen," they say. "So shall it be." But of course it shall be – because the Lamb, the Lion, the Root, is worthy to reveal the contents of the scroll and to set into motion God's plan to judge and to save.
And the elders fell down again and worshiped.
This is the only possible response to the Lamb Who is worthy. Is this your response?
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