Easter Day

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Imagine, if you can, someone walking along the street texting a friend. They are so caught up in what they are doing that they don’t notice the steps, or lamppost or wall or bike rack that they are walking towards or even a canal up ahead that they are about to fall into. It is easy to be distracted. But it can be dangerous – especially if you step in front of that car doing 40 mph. My task tonight, however, is not to warn you of the danger of not looking where you are going when you are texting (as important as that may be) although I would like you to keep that imagine in mind.

What I want to do is help explain that reading we had from Revelation chapter 5.5-10 and to show you a few of the ways you can respond to what God is saying to us from his Word.

I've had the privilege of spending a lot of time studying this incredible part of the Bible as I've prepared for tonight and I am convinced that for every one of us it bring a serious warning. It can be so, so easy to walk through life caught up in the details and so distracted by them that we fail to engage with the reality of what is going on all around us. Walking into a lamp-post might be funny - at least for those watching. But the spiritual equivalent of that - of living our life without reference to the fact that God is on the throne and that one day we will have to meet him face to face is no joke. My prayer for tonight has been that this passage will wake us up from our distracted state and help us see what is really going on around us...

Let me say two things about the context of this chapter as we begin.

First, we need to keep in mind that the book of Revelation was written to Christians who were struggling. Look back to 1.9. The Apostle John, who wrote down the book, did so while in exile on the Greek island of Patmos because he was preaching the word of God.

"I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus." (Rev. 1.9)

Chapters 2 and 3 contain letters from Jesus to 7 church and we see that they were a) struggling with sin and compromise and b) some were suffering even to the point of death because they belonged to Jesus and spoke about him to others. A key issue was - will they survive? Will they persevere to the end. You see that because every one of those letters contains a promise from Jesus that will be claimed by those who conquer.

Let me show you one, as an example. Look at Rev 3.21:-

"The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne." (Rev. 3.21)

Which leads neatly onto the second thing we need to bear in mind about the context. Chapter 5 is the second half of a vision that begins in Chapter 4.1. Take a look at that:-

"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, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (Rev. 4.1)

John is then ushered into the very presence of God the Father and he describes for us - in the symbolic language that is typical of this book - what he sees. He sees a throne which speaks of the awesome power and majesty of God - who sits at the centre of the universe. The Lord God almighty who lives for ever and ever and who is surrounded by unending praise. He describes for us the indescribable God - yet we see clearly, as it says in 4:11, that:-

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev. 4.11)

Around the throne of God two groups are described for us who we need to know about because they reappear in chapter 5 - the 'four living creature' and the 'twenty-four elders'. Their identity is debated, but I agree with those who seem them as 'an exalted order of angelic beings who, as the immediate guardians of the throne, lead the heavenly hosts in worship and adoration of God' (Robert Mounce)

So without further ado, let's read together the text of Revelation chapter 5, stopping as we go along to pick out the key lessons we need to take note of.

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.( Rev 5.1-4)

John saw that in Almighty God's hand there was a scroll with writing on both sides and locked with 7 seals. The contents of the scroll were secret and contained God’s plans for history and the end of the world. All will happen as he has decided. Nobody can know what is in God’s plan unless someone breaks the seals and opens the scroll.

1. Our sovereign God holds the destiny of the world in the palm of his hand. 'He's got the whole world in his hand'.

Next John saw a strong angel, who asked in a loud voice, ‘Who can open the scroll? Who can break the seals?’ The sound of his voice went to the ends of space, heaven and the earth. And so the search begins.

But there was a problem! In all that God had created, nobody could open the scroll! There was no angel who was good enough. No man or woman had earned the right to open it. So, nobody could read what was in the scroll. And the silence of heaven testifies to the sinfulness of man.

2. The state of man before God is utterly hopeless.

No one is worthy and this made John so sad that he cried.

And one of the elders said to me, “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.” (Rev. 5.5)

One of the elders spoke to John and told him not to weep. There is someone who can open the scroll and who will break the 7 seals. The elder used two special names to describe The One who can open the scroll and its seven seals. The Lion of the tribe of Judah. And the Root of David. Both of these are references from the Old Testament.

The nation of Israel grew from the 12 sons of Jacob - each son's family became a tribe of Israel. When Jacob blessed his sons (see Genesis 49:8-12), he called his son Judah a young lion and promised that a great king would come from his tribe who will rule the earth. He would also be known as the Messiah.

The Old Testament also spoke of a king who would come from the 'root' of King David. In other words - one of his descendants. That king would be even greater than David was and would come to save them. These are two descriptions of the same Messiah.

The elder says 'behold' - and old fashioned word maybe - all it means is STOP AND LOOK! Here is the one who can do what no one else in the whole of creation can do. Here is the Lion who has conquered. Look, over there..... This is the most dramatic moment in the whole vision. Imagine the spotlight moving across the stage to draw our attention to the one the elder is pointing at. Drumroll please... What does John see?

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw 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. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. (Rev. 5.6-7)

If you haven't guessed it already, who John sees is King Jesus standing next to God on the throne. But Jesus did not look the way you would expect a king to look. He was not like a lion but like a lamb.

And get rid of any images you may have right now of a cute and cuddle little lamb. In this vision, the Lamb looks like it had been dead but it was now alive. The marks of that death were still there and would have brought to mind the image of the lambs sacrificed in ceremonies at the Jewish temple. It's a surprising scene.

Normal lambs, of course, have two horns but this one had 7. The number 7 in the Bible often means that something is perfect or complete and a horn is a symbol of power. Put that together and the point is obvious. Jesus has perfect power. He may look like a dead lamb, but is most certainly still powerful and divine. And so the Lamb steps forward and takes the scroll from the right hand of God.

3. The greatest news in all the world is that the slaughtered Lamb of God reigns as the sovereign Lord of all.

And one of the elders said to me, “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.” (Rev. 5.5)

Weep no more! Finally has come the only one who has ever conquered over sin, Satan and death. How? By suffering death as a lamb.

But Jesus, The Lamb of God has not only endured death in our place; he has defeated death by his power. He bears the scars of death, yet he is sovereign over death. He died but he overcame death. Now, he is alive and he will always live.

Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.

Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

M Bridges (1800-1894) and G Thring(1823-1903)© in this version Jubilate Hymns CCL No 2054

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. And they sang a new song, saying,
“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.” (Rev.5.8-10)

As soon as the lamb takes the scroll, the four creatures and the 24 elders fall down and worship the lamb in exactly same way they had worshipped God earlier in the vision. Christ the Lamb is one with the Father. Jesus is God.

In the hands of the elders are the golden bowls full of incense, the prayers of the saints - so apparently useless on earth, yet so precious in heaven.

Next the elders and 4 creatures sing a new song to the Lamb. It spoke about what the Lamb had done. The Lamb had earned the right to take the scroll. He had done what nobody else could do. He alone was able to break the seals. He was worthy!

Why? Because of what he had done in saving us from the punishment we deserved for our rebellion against him. When he died, he took the punishment we deserved on himself.

"But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53.5-6)

By his death, he bought men and women from all the countries of the world by his blood. He had given his life for us and died as a sacrifice for us.

4. Jesus is the ‘the Lamb of God’ who takes away the sin of the world
(John 1:29).

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." (1 Peter 2.24)

All who believe in Jesus and trust in his death for them are part of his kingdom who will also rule with Him. That is the awesome news we remember as we share in the Lords supper tonight!

But death could not keep him. He has risen from the grave. And that is the awesome news we celebrate on this Easter Day!

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshipped. (Rev. 11-14)

We then reach the amazing climax of this vision - countless numbers of angels joined the choir of those praising the Lamb. They surrounded the throne of God and with loud voices, they sang to praise Jesus the Lamb.

They sang that the Lamb deserves to have seven qualities. These are power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honour, glory and praise. The angels praise him because he has all these qualities. He always had them as the Son of God. But then he earned them. He died and he rose again from death in order to save the whole of the world and he obviously now deserves that all people and angels should praise him. And sure enough every creature that God had created joined in the song of praise to God and the Lamb.

5. Jesus is worthy of all our praise

It reminds me of what we read in Philippians 2:8-9. Jesus was “obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”

What then does this mean for us?

It might be you are like that image we began with of someone so engrossed in texting they fail to realise what's coming up ahead. There is a God on the Throne and he holds the destiny of the world in the palm of his hand. And one day we will all stand in front of that throne and face his judgement. Are you ready for that day? Have you allowed Jesus, the lamb of God, to deal with your sin and the punishment you deserve? If not, then maybe today is the day to do that. Pick up, 'Why Jesus?' or come and speak to me.

Remember this book was written for those struggling with sin and facing persecution. In that context it is very easy to get caught up in the details, distracted by those things and to face the spiritual equivalent of walking into a canal or a map-post. What we need is a vision of God that allows us- forces us even - to engage with the reality of what is going on all around us. To look up so we can see what is ahead.

'To churches about to enter a period of severe testing and persecution a declaration of God's unlimited might would bring strength and encouragement... surely the intent of this is to remind those who are about to suffer that God is nonetheless sovereign Lord of the universe.' (Mounce)

This vision of God also enables us to escape temptation and resist sin. 'A vivid portrayal of the one who has won the crucial battle against sin supplies the confidence that in the troubled times to come there remains a hope that is steadfast and sure.' (Mounce)

We can be confident that it is God himself who will enable us to persevere till the end- to resist sin and to endure persecution. Jesus says of those who trust in him, 'I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.' That's John 10.28.

But how does Jesus preserve and protect us? How does he bring to completion the work he has began? He says to us - like he said to John - "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." He gives us a vision of himself. That is how we are enabled to persevere to the end. And not just to survive – but to be willing to lay down even our lives if necessary to tell people in places like Afghanistan about Jesus. So - let's response by trusting him. And living for him. But most of all, let's respond by praising him.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!

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