O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The Book of Revelation: Worshipping with All of Heaven Part II - Taking the Throne
The Book of Revelation: Worshipping with All of Heaven Part II - Taking the Throne
Based on Rev. 5:1-14
Preached on April 14, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints, have you ever been in a throne room? We're back again this week with our Revelation sermon series - the second of five. We've been turning heaven's video cameras on, and "watching in" on the way God is worshipped up there. We've begun to see that there is a lot more going on in our boring old liturgy than meets the eye. For it does not have its origins in man, but is a picture of what is happening in heaven, even uniting us in worship with those worshipping in heaven. We've learned that the book of Revelation is not written in chronological order, with one thing happening after another. But is actually one event seen from many sides. Like multiple video cameras all filming the same stage from different angles. We've also learned that Revelation is full of pictures. Pictures from the rest of the Scriptures that give meaning to what is being revealed. One example we had last week, which will come up again today, is the use of numbers. Numbers are not to be taken literally, but as pictures. Pictures with a Biblical meaning, such as the number seven which is a picture of "completion." This morning, with these lessons under our belt, let us hit the play button on heaven's video camera once more to see all that John saw in the throne room of heaven.
There stood John, amazed and astonished, in God's court. How did he get there? He didn't know, but he knew he was supposed to pay attention. "Then [he] 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." Everyone was fixed on it. The scroll in the Father's right hand. It was His grandmaster plan. His full plan, prepared before time. Words covered every inch of the scroll. It contained the beginning and the end. But it was sealed with seven seals. Completely sealed, even from the eyes of the holy angels.
A strong angel called out 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. No one was worthy. The future was closed. The plan was lost to us. We were cut out of the plan, for it could not be revealed. What could be worse? What more could be said? This was utter ruin. The worst thing imaginable. So John broke down. Standing there in the throne room of heaven, John began to weep loudly.
His eyes blurry with tears, John missed something. He missed the entrance of the Lamb. But someone said to him, "Weep no more; behold, [Look] the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." Stop crying John and look. Someone was coming to open the scroll! Someone who has conquered. John wiped his eyes and gave them a blink. And there between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders he saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes.
Now this picture needs an explanation. What might seem very foreign at first is actually the same picture we saw last week, but perhaps from a better angle. Last week, John told us he saw Christ standing in the midst of His Church in worship, protecting it with His angels and ruling it with the power of His Word. This week the picture is the same but it gets fuller. Like we have the wide angle lens on the camera. For that IMAX experience. Let's take a look.
Where the focal point of the image used to be the scroll in the Father's right hand, suddenly the focus has shifted to this Lamb standing before the throne. Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world - that takes it away by being slain for it. This Lamb has been slain, yet behold He is alive, standing in their midst. He is described as having seven eyes and seven horns, which are pictures of His attributes. Remember the number seven is a picture of completion. Seven eyes is a picture of complete knowledge. This Lamb knows all things. Seven horns is a picture of complete power. This Lamb is all-powerful. This slain but living Lamb that knows all things and is all-powerful, also stands before the throne with the Holy Spirit, here called the seven spirits of God.
Worthy is the Lamb to open the scroll. Worthy is the Lamb to approach the throne, for it is His throne, and we are watching Him come back to it once more, but something is different this time. Something is new. Christ comes to take His throne not only as God, but now also as a crucified and risen man - the Son of God and Son of Man. Having done His Father's will, taking on our flesh and dying our death, this slain and risen Lamb returns to His Father. He presents Himself to Him. He shows Him His hands and His feet. His side and His brow. "Am I worthy Father? May I take my throne?" And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne.
This incredible moment is one we confess in the creed, that Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. The right hand of the Father is not a physical place where Jesus is confined, but a picture of God's saving power. The scroll. Jesus has become God's saving power, this Lamb who was slain. He is the saving power of His Father, the fulfillment of the plan, and He will always hold that position. He will always be the power in God's plan of salvation.
Now, while the Lamb is certainly the focal point of this picture, the wide angle lens captures a lot of other activity. The Lamb is standing among the elders, surrounded by four living creatures. This is significant. The four living creatures represent the angels we call cherubim and seraphim as the prophet Ezekiel described them, and the elders represent all of God's people, all of those who trust in the Lamb. So much the same as last week, John saw a picture of Christ the Lamb standing among His people surrounded by angels. No wonder John was told to weep no more, look at what He was missing. In fact, we have a familiar Easter hymn that confesses this truth.
"Weeping be gone, sorrow be silent, death put asunder and Easter is bright - Splendor the Lamb, Heaven forever, Oh, what a miracle God has in sight. Jesus is risen and we shall arise: Give God the glory Alleluia!"
And that was exactly the way all of heaven reacted. When He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. They physically fell down in worship. They were overcome by the majesty of what they saw. Brought low by the inexpressible glory of this slain and risen Lamb taking the throne.
Now, in John's vision of God's people there were a few intriguing details that are worth our attention. Everyone that fell down in worship was holding a harp. A harp? Put your hand up if you know how to play a harp. I mean, do you know how big a harp is? Can you picture it? Row upon row of God's people packed together around the Lamb all holding these enormous instruments falling down before Him in worship. All I see are harps colliding and strings snapping. It's ridiculous. Well, don't worry, John didn't see a literal harp. The harp is a picture of a beautiful voice. He saw that all of God's people had voices like harpists. Yep, even you. Not a singer? Don't think you have a beautiful voice? Well, John saw you there bowing down before the Lamb with a beautiful voice. So get ready, because you are going to sing and you are going to love the sound of your voice as it magnifies the Lamb, for it will sound like a harp.
Now, everyone that fell down before the Lamb was also holding something else, a golden bowl of incense. Finally John throws us a bone. He actually tells us what these golden bowls of incense represent. He says they are the prayers of the saints. All the prayers of God's people ready to be answered by the Lamb. Keep this in mind, because it'll come up again in a moment.
So there stood John with all of God's people and the holy angels, and Christ the Lamb takes the scroll, takes the position of saving power even now as a man, and all of heaven breaks out in a new song, "Worthy is Christ the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God. This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. Power, riches, wisdom and strength and honor and blessing and glory are His.
This is the feast. Right now. This is it, in the liturgy. Look at the picture we take part in each week. The Lamb approaches the throne, represented by this guy in the white robe and stole, approaching the altar during the introit. We cry to him Lord, have mercy in the Kyrie, take the scroll, Lord and save us. And because He does, we break out in the exact same words as those in heaven - Worthy is Christ the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God. And when we finish this new song, we collect all the golden bowls of incense, the prayers of the Church, and bow our heads as we pray them before the Lord in the collect of the day. The liturgy is a picture of worship in heaven.
But not only is the Divine Service the picture of worship in heaven, it is what delivers you Christ's heavenly gifts. This is the feast. Christ the Lamb is feeding you a feast of His heavenly gifts right here on earth. It is the only reason we have the liturgy, that He may deliver you the forgiveness of sins. That is the purpose of the Divine Service. If ever you find yourself going to church on Sunday morning and you do not receive the forgiveness of sins - sleep in. Don't even bother getting out of your bed, for church isn't church unless it is delivering Christ's forgiveness to His people. For that is what this slain and risen Lamb does at the right hand of the Father, He executes His saving power by purifying His people with Word and Sacrament.
You see, this is God's throne room - where you are sitting right now - this altar is His throne- His body and blood are even present here in the Holy Supper - Christ takes His throne here with us each week in the Sacrament of the Altar. Think about what that means. Consider anew what this place really is. The Scriptures describes God's throne as beautiful and glorious, emanating with thunder and lightning and surrounded with torches. Are we aware of this reality among us? Do we recognize where we are and treat it accordingly? If we were to enter Queen Elizabeth's throne room, how would we behave, much less before the throne of Almighty God? This is why worship is conducted reverently and formally. This is why we hear that all of heaven falls down in worship. Bowing before God's throne is not just for pastors and acolytes. It is a reverent position for all worshippers that stand before God's holy throne.
But when do we do it? When is the appropriate time to physically bow towards the throne of God? It is appropriate to bow your head during prayer, because in that moment you are addressing the One on the throne. It is also appropriate to bow when you hear the Name of God, Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, for at His Name every knee shall bow. Another fitting time to acknowledge the presence of God on His throne is as you approach it, when you enter and leave your pew, that closest point you come before Him. And finally a most fitting time is when the Words of Institution are spoken and the real presence of Jesus' body and blood take their place upon the altar. You may notice that I bow at that time, for in those words, Christ takes His throne among us in a physical way. He is present then also in His body and blood. What an honour? What a presence? I could fall flat to the ground like the hosts of heaven, but He wants to serve us, and that might make it difficult. Bowing is part of worship, and you are free to do it anytime that you are overcome by the reality that you stand in God's holy presence.
Fellow baptized saints, those who surround the Lamb, hear this eternal message. This One who sits on the throne has your future in His hands and He wants the very best for you - in fact His whole life has served to secure it for you. Weep no more - fret no more - don't let the devil lead you to worry one more moment. Instead, fall down before His throne of grace - open your ears, your heart, and your mouth to receive all that He has to give you. Worthy is the Lamb. This is the feast. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr