John tells us what he sees in his vision. In the right hand of God he sees a scroll, written on both sides and sealed with 7 seals. And of course the crucial questions are, “What is the scroll? What does it represent? What is written on the scroll?” The scroll contains the fate of the entire world for all future times. It represents the history of the world as well as the conclusion of that history. And the angel asks, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll? Who is capable of assuming God’s destiny for the world? Who is able to take the tragedies and suffering, the paradoxes and intricacies of life and history and direct them, redeem them, and weave them into a pattern whereby God’s will may be discerned and finally done? Who is worthy to preside over the judgment and re-creation of the world?
All of heaven and earth wait for someone to step forward and speak – but there is silence. The tens of thousands of angels who fill the vaults of heaven with ceaseless praise have fallen silent. The elders surrounding the great white throne who worship without pause the King of kings and the Lord of lords – the four living creatures who never cease to sing the praises of their Creator – all of them are silent! The seraphim, the cherubim, the emperors and kings of the earth, the Beast, and the hordes of hell all are silent. In the face of this silence, John understandably weeps. John, who is imprisoned in a slave work camp on the Isle of Patmos and is intimately acquainted with the cruelties, injustices, and apparent pointlessness of history, despairs for no one seems worthy to take all of this history and redeem it in God’s image. But then a voice comforts him: “Weep not, for the Lion of Judah, the Root of David has conquered. HE can take unto himself all of history and through judgment and re-creation redeem this world.”
John is encouraged by this voice as he thinks of all the change that a Lion/Messiah/Conqueror/Mighty Ruler/King of the Jungle could possible bring on earth. For this world is a jungle and needs a mighty lion. So John looks up to see this mighty lion – this invincible conqueror who is worthy and able to take on the whole world and all of its history. And what does he see? A lamb. A Lamb!! Do you see the irony and contradiction behind these words? Lambs are not meant for destiny. A lamb is a transitory thing. Frolicking about in the early spring, lambs are destined to disappear – either to become mature sheep or lamb chops. A lamb is not for destiny. It is more often for slaughter, and so, too, is this lamb. “I saw a lamb standing, as though it had been slain.” Slain indeed – on a cross in agony and defeat–one more of the tragedies and injustices of a history gone awry.
But there is more to be said about this lamb. He had been restored to life. He had conquered death, and he stood with seven horns and seven eyes. The number seven equals perfection. Horns equal power. So the lamb has perfect power. Eyes equal knowledge, so the lamb has perfect knowledge.
Through its obedience and suffering this Lamb was worthy to take control of the world and guide its history to a divinely shaped end. So the Lamb, simultaneously slain and living, victim and victor, takes the scroll, and the heavens break forth with a new song. The silence is broken and the singing spills over the boundaries of heaven and all creatures join in. Every creature in every nook and cranny – wet or dry –touched by light or hidden in darkness –every creature joins in this chorus of praise. (Does this remind you of any other passage of Scripture? It reminds me of Philippians 2 – At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.)
But our reaction is to question this assertion. Certainly Christians in John’s Day had reason to doubt that every creature had, in worshipful praise, accepted Jesus as worthy to guide history. There was still the mad Emperor Domitian, injustice, idolatry, war, greed, immorality plaguing the earth. And what about our day? Is there much evidence to suggest such a universal acceptance of Christ and his ways? What we must realize at this point is that the Book of Revelation has a habit of sliding back and forth between past, present, and future – of bringing all three together in one scene so that we might catch a glimpse of God’s destiny for our world and stretch our imaginations into envisioning how comprehensive and glorious that redemptive work of Christ is and shall be.
No other book in the Bible is as severe as Revelation regarding the judgment of God upon sin and evil. But at the same time, no other book in the Bible is as hopeful as Revelation regarding how inclusive God’s final goal of redemption and re-creation will be. So, John, even in his cruel world on the Isle of Patmos, sees and hears every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth cry out in genuine worship, “Worthy is the Lamb!” and thus he has a preview of the great redemptive work of God in Christ even for this world.
My hope is that the rich images of John’s vision have already played with your minds and have sent you into all kinds of directions regarding the significance of these verses. There is so much here, but I will focus on one aspect of this vision. This chapter as well as the entire Book of Revelation looks to the new creation God will bring, and Revelation is not alone in that expectation. From Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures to Revelation in the New Testament, the Bible is forward-looking. The Bible believes history is going somewhere and that somewhere is not “to hell in a handbasket,” but rather a place, a home, a Peaceable Kingdom forged by God out of suffering love and redemptive patience. That new creation, unlike the world in its present form, will be characterized by peace and justice, compassion and healing, integrity and the intimate experience of God. It will be a place where not only every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, but also where every tear will be wiped away, and every pain removed. The New Testament asserts that the fate of this world, crippled and diseased by sin and self-indulgence, will not be destruction and ruin but redemption and re-creation. But with this promise the Bible does not invite us to dream of “pie in the sky when we die” or to sit on our blessed assurances or to become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. No, what the Bible does with this promise of a new creation is to force us to realize that we serve a forward-moving God – a God on the move who is committed to the point of a cross to making that Peaceable Kingdom a reality. And once we realize that great truth (that God is on a journey – a pilgrimage), then we are faced with a choice. Either we move with God toward that goal through faithful obedience to God’s holy will, or we cast our lot with this world and settle into its agenda, its values, and its way.
The church has always been its best when it has been a pilgrim church – when we have been free to move from yesterday’s folly into tomorrow’s newness in Christ.
We have always been our best when we have travelled lightly, unencumbered and unburdened by the destructive attitudes and vested interests of a world unfamiliar with the divine agenda. We have always been our best when we have lived by faith and not by sight – by risky hope and not stock-piled security.
We have always been our best when we have understood that the form of this world is passing away and that God in Christ is making all things new. But let me ask a sobering question. Are we at our best today? Does the biblical vision of a new creation make any sense to us? Is it something that burns in the marrow of our bones and in the deepest desires of our hearts? Are we truly on a journey and a pilgrimage with God? Are we on the move, faithfully bearing witness to the Peaceable Kingdom by our words, our deeds, our lives, and what we do with our earthly treasures? Or have we abandoned the journey? Have we left the path and settled down into a comfortable homestead whereby we have become no more than a panel in the mosaic of this world with its twisted values and interests?
Many years ago I read an interview in Sojourners magazine with a Russian Christian who talked about the cost of being a follower of Jesus in the Soviet Union. This was before Gorbachev, before the reforms, and certainly before the breakup of the Communist state. This Russian Christian talked about the discrimination, barriers, low-paying jobs, denial of educational opportunities, delays in receiving medical attention, inadequate housing, and “psychiatric” rehabilitation. He said it was hard being a Christian in the Soviet Union. The interviewer then asked if he would prefer to live in America.
“No,” he replied. “For one thing, I love mother Russia – its people, its potential, its deep spirituality. And for another thing, here in Russia, we Christians understand the enemy. We understand the injustices, greed, and violence of our world. But in America, I’m not sure you understand the enemy.”
The interviewer misunderstood the Russian Christian and replied, “In other words, you don’t think we understand the threat of the Soviet Union.”
“No,” the Russian replied. “Russia is not the enemy. Your world with its materialistic values is your enemy. But you Americans have been seduced so thoroughly by that world, that, in most cases, there is no real distinction between those in the pew and those in the streets. Enticed by the form of this world, you have forgotten your destiny and your calling in Christ. I would much rather endure the cost of discipleship here than be subjected to your kind of tyranny.”
Sadly, I believe that Russian Christian was right. In fact, I believe he was so correct that until we – the church – can move beyond the seducing influence of our materialistic world, we shall never be free to move forward with God and to travel lightly with the Lamb into that Peaceable Kingdom.
Worthy is the Lamb? Yes, he is worthy and he is able to re-create this world and us. The question is, are we willing and ready to follow that Lamb into God’s tomorrow? Or will we elect to stay put, seduced and grounded while God’s Kingdom soars to new heights. No decision made by us will be as important as that decision. Today we are harvesting the bitter fruits of greed, prejudice, violence, and narcissism that have been sown for many decades. The current evil administration is possible only because it reflects the malicious and xenophobic attitudes and fears that have long been simmering in our society. And tragically those attitudes and fears are found the most today within a part of the church which claims to accept Jesus as its Lord and Savior. It prefers the lion to the Lamb and has lost the ability to see the difference between the two. For such a time as ours, John’s vision is powerfully relevant. He invites us to see afresh the radical and profound truth of the gospel: Jesus reveals for us the character of God. As we “turn our eyes upon Jesus,” may God grant us the courage and the desire to journey bravely with the Lamb as God strives to make all things new.
It is one thing to say that the destiny of the universe and the fate of history end in the arms of Jesus. It’s another thing to say that we personally and ultimately matter to God. In Revelation’s grand vision of the redemption of creation, the individual is not lost. God will personally wipe away every tear that drops from our eyes. Even the solitary sparrow that falls, Jesus said, does not go un-noticed by its Creator.
When we come to this table, we are bringing our little lives to the Lamb for healing, regeneration, and transformation. And along with the vast sweep of history and the incredible expanse of creation, Jesus takes us unto himself and seals our destiny with his so that God may be all in all.
So come. Eat from the loaf and drink from the cup and bring your life to this Jesus of Nazareth–because “Worthy is the Lamb” to redeem and make whole each person here.
Have you ever watched a suspense thriller twice? If so, did you notice how different the experience was the second time around after you knew the ending? You didn’t worry about the star whose life was in danger or the hero who was trying to rescue her or the ultimate triumph of justice. You knew it would work out because you had seen the ending.
In a sense, John through his vision on the Isle of Patmos had seen the ending of God’s experiment with this universe, and he saw that creation resting in the arms of Jesus who was worthy to receive all that was, is, and ever shall be and make it new after God’s own image.
As we go out into this world to serve the Lamb of God, let us take courage in this vision, and through our love and faithfulness live as though we believe that the Lamb is indeed worthy to receive all things and make them whole.