I love the book of Revelation. I think it fits my poetic sensibilities. You may look at me and I know you must be thinking, Ray, he looks like a guy who drinks root beer all day and watches sports. I don’t like root beer, but I do love sports. But that is only one part of me. You may not know it, but I am a 21st century modern man. I have a soft side. I am in touch with my feelings. I am not afraid to cry, under circumstances that warrant tears like my team losing. I love to read poetry, and to write, to listen to music. I love to sit around a café and talk to friends.
That’s why Revelation appeals to me. The poetic language, the vivid imagery of eyes and horns, red dragons and 4 horsemen. Symbolic numbers – 144,000 (12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10 = God’s people)
Eugene Peterson wrote a book called “Reversed Thunder” and in it, he says that Revelation allows for the rebirth of our spiritual imagination. He points out – there is no new truth in the book of Revelation. But Revelation takes truths that we know and adds a fresh dimension that perhaps we never considered before. It’s like going to a 3D movie and you can see the main action going on but it’s a bit fuzzy until you put on the glasses and everything sharpens and you see angles you never saw before.
One thing I would like to say at the outset — if you like things clearly defined and neatly worked out, then you probably won’t like Revelation. After all, it is poetry. Sure, you can analyze a poem, but there are so many layers of meaning and nuances of expression, making it hard to interpret the entirety of a poem with any sort of precision.
Take Leonard de Vinci’s Mona Lisa. While you can try to describe it in words, anyone who knows art will admit that words fall short of being able to capture the totality of a work of art. The same goes when we try to describe God in words. Words only scratch the surface and at best our limited vocabulary allows for rough approximations of who he is.
So Revelation and all of its poetry and images remind us of the mystery of God. While He is knowable and intimate, at the same time, He is transcendent, far beyond what we can imagine. Theologians try at times to put into words God’s attributes, but God cannot be put into a box and stuffed in our back pocket. He is infinite, way beyond us. And we find ourselves in that poetic tension between the intimate God who draws near to us and the holy, awesome God before whom all creation falls down in worship.
Even in this chapter, you see this mysterious tension between Jesus depicted as a Lion and then immediately a Lamb. Is Jesus a Lion or a Lamb? Well, He is both. It seems counter intuitive. He is like a Lion – royal, fearsome, powerful, king of the jungle. But he is also a Lamb, but not a lamb in the traditional sense. In Greek, the word used is “arnion” which is translated as “little” lamb. This is not your ordinary Mary had a little lamb. I call him Lambo. Don’t mess with Jesus.
Revelation is more accurately translated as the Revelation of Jesus Christ and it is this revelation which came to the apostle John in the form of a vision while he was on the prison island of Patmos during the latter half of the first century. From Emperor Nero to Domitian, the first century was a bloody one for Christians who were being persecuted to the point of death because they refused to bow the knee to the emperors of Rome. John was an elderly, prominent leader of the early church at the time when the vision came to him. Perhaps due to his leadership in the church and his old age, instead of being martyred, John was sent to this island to die off quietly. And in that kind of impossible situation, God came to John and spoke to him a message of timeless importance and relevance.
Many scholars argue that Revelation 5 is the most important chapter in the entire Bible. And it is my prayer that as we explore this chapter together, it may become clearer to all of us why this chap. is so significant.
To set the stage, Revelation 1 talks about God as the Alpha and the Omega, then Jesus walking among the 7 lamp stands, or the 7 churches. Then Revelation 2 and 3 record problems with 5 out of the 7 churches and calls those churches to repent. Then, chapters 4 and 5 talk about the throne of God.
Even that sequence of chapters from God, to Jesus among the 7 churches, to the call for repentance for 5 of the 7 churches, to the throne of God, there is a sense of directionality. You get the feeling that God is moving us somewhere.
But the question is where is God leading us? Our experience with Revelation is like reading a book. But instead of reading from the first page to the last, you read the intro, the main characters are introduced, there is significant plot development by the time you get to the middle of the book, but then you skip the rest and you jump to the final chapter because you want to see how the story ends. So you know the beginning and you know the end, but while reading through the middle chapters of the book, things are still unclear, messy.
And God is trying to help us navigate through this messy middle we call life.
Life is messy because we live in a unique era. Christ has won the final victory on the cross and we can claim that victory in our lives here on earth. But while we are on this side of eternity, many of God’s promises won’t be fully realized until the Second Coming of Christ when Christ will come to inaugurate his new kingdom on earth. So we live in this messy, already but not yet era.
So the question, remains how do we navigate through this messy middle? Another way to ask it, while we are living in this messy middle called life, what is the goal or role of a Christian?
9And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."
From this passage, we read in verse 9-10, that through the death on the cross, we were made into a kingdom and more specifically, priests of God.
The simple answer is that our role as a Christian is to be a priest. And priests from this passage are called to do the following:
1) trust that is God is sovereign in all things worldwide and personally, 2) worship God, 3) intercede for others. And today, I want to go over each of these priestly roles.
I. TRUST IN THE SOVEREIGN GOD
First, priest need to trust in the sovereignty of God.
Getting Lost during first date – Spinnakers, so many bridges, got lost, Denny’s.
I recall my first date with Jackie back in 1998. Wow, 10 years ago.
It is a simple lesson — before you start driving, know where you are going. In other words, get a map.
For Christians, what is our spiritual road map?
1Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" 3But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.
Revelation 5:1 offers us a clue. God is on the throne and in his right hand he is holding a scroll with writing on the inside and the outside and sealed with 7 seals.
Scrolls were unraveled and read horizontally. And all scrolls were written on one side only and that makes sense since the contents were confidential which explains why they were sealed.
Theologians believe that the scroll is a collection of
vents about human history which ultimately is God’s history. But there is writing on both sides of the scroll. No one knows for sure why because this was atypical to have writing on both sides of a scroll. It almost seems as if the writing is still happening and there is not enough space on the inside so text is spilling over to the outside.
The scroll is in not your typical history book because when you read a history book, you just get the broad strokes of a particular country or era. What national leader or politician achieved what, or what larger nation conquered what smaller nation? It is just a story of the rich, the powerful, the important.
But I believe God’s scroll is different. It contains not only a road map for all of human history for generations, from the first, long before we arrived and to the last, long after we are gone. What is unique about this scroll I believe is that it also contains each of our personal histories. Thus, while the ending is clear, the middle section of the scroll is still a work in progress.
Jesus alone is worthy to open the scroll and unveil God’s direction or destiny for humanity because verse 9 – because he was slain on the cross.
What is the connection? You see, since the Fall of Humankind, God’s singular focus has been redemption, how do I bring humankind back to me was God’ only desire. Given the fact that redemption was God’s single and highest desire, it makes sense that Jesus who made that reconciliation possible through his life and death on the cross is the only one worthy to open the scroll.
The cross is like a key that unlocks the 7 seals and allows the scroll to be opened.
But history, or God’s story, doesn’t end there. The cross is not the end. The cross merely demonstrates that God is indeed sovereign and that Jesus was the solution to our sin problem. Now that the scroll is opened, the rest of history along with each of our personal histories continues to be written each day. And the culmination is when Christ returns.
So the scroll that was in God’s right hand is opened by Christ. And the best part about it is this – The Sovereign God already knows how this is all going down. He knows the end game. Therefore, as priests called by God, we can have confidence to put our full trust in Him by surrendering our lives to him.
We want so desperately to plan out our lives, know exactly what we will be doing a year from now, 5 years from now, the typical things potential employers would ask you at an interview. And when things do not work out the way we plan or life throws some curve balls our way, what do we do?
Verse 4 – it shows John weeping because no one is worthy to open the scroll. Many times, we, too, feel that the scroll of our personal history is sealed shut. And because of that, we weep, too, each in our own way.
Who doesn’t want to know what the future holds and who doesn’t want to have our past fully explained so that we can do connect the dots with our lives? Faced with an anxious future, we want a road map.
Similarly, we look at our troubled past and all the messes and we want nice, tidy explanations. We want to say that such and such event happened for this reason. It is like our life is a novel and we want to know that there is a common thread that ties everything together and someday a theme will emerge in our lives that makes sense of our lives.
We all want to believe that ultimately our lives mattered. We want to believe that our lives are achieving a greater purpose. And when those answers or assurances don’t come, we weep.
As priests, God says you need to let go of all of that. The fretting over the future. The endless calculations to try to figure out our past.
Sure, in this life, we are living in that messy middle, the middle section of the book called human history/personal history. As priests, we have to acknowledge that God is indeed in control. God, you are seated on the throne at the center of the universe and you are holding the scroll in your right hand.
Therefore, you can say, I trust you. My life, Lord, is a blank canvas. Here is the pen, I surrender to you. Write whatever personal history you have in mind for me. This is the basic posture of a priest of God.
II. WORSHIP GOD
Second, as priests of God, we are called to worship God.
Read 6-8, 13-14
6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. 13Then 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!" 14The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Let’s quickly list out the major players in these verses.
Four living creatures – creation
24 elders – 12 tribes of Israel from the OT, 12 apostles in the NT – the redeemed
Lamb – 7 horns/perfect power, 7 eyes/perfect wisdom, 7 spirits of God/filled perfected or completely with the Spirit
God on the throne at the center of the universe with a scroll in his hand
Everyone, the creation and the 24 elders are prostrate before the throne of God in worship and singing songs of praise.
I don’t know about you, but I am weak in terms of personal worship to God. Even if you take the A.C.T.S. model of prayer that many of us have learned. Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. I think many times I skip the adoration portion and jump to confession, a little thanksgiving if God answered some prayer and then a laundry list of supplications.
Think about your devotional life. How much do you spend time in worshipping, adoring God, praising Him for who He is?
There seems to be a growing sense of spiritual hunger in our society.
Oprah has a series on the radio about spirituality, not that I listen to it, but I accidentally stumbled upon it. She has Rabbis, Buddist nuns, Christians, Meditation experts on the show and from the way she makes it sound, all of them are on the same quest to tap into some higher power.
Then there is an international bestseller, “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I haven’t read it, but the book is built on the notion of a woman trying to heal herself from a severe emotional and spiritual crisis. She is a NY journalist fractured and tattered by the hectic schedule of life in a metropolitan city. So she takes a year-long break and ventures off to various places – first to Rome, Italy where following the title of the book, all she focused on was eating. Then she went to India where she focused on prayer, meditation and yoga. And you can guess what happened to her final destination, Bali, Indonesia, she found the love of her life.
Co-worker – life coach, Chinese tea ceremony, meditation, forgiveness routine, discover inner warrior. People are spiritually hungry, more than ever before, and for good reason. We were never supposed to be satisfied by materialism or worldly affairs.
We are made to worship, people want to worship because there is eternity in our hearts, it is in our very DNA to worship.
The simplest definition of worship that I could come up with is the act of losing yourself in something larger than yourself.
We get hints that we were created to worship something whenever we are out in nature and witness a beautiful sunset overlooking the ocean. Time seems to st
op and you lose yourself in that moment.
I get most worshipful when I am cheering for my favorite sports team, like a few years back when the Eagles were playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I don’t remember the outcome, but it was worshipful for most of the game until the ending. During a game, your fellow fans are your family. The home crowd is on their feet cheering for your team. It doesn’t matter if people had road rage and were about to kill each other in the parking lot. It doesn’t matter what personal problems people had prior to the game. When the whistle blows, all hearts are focused on cheering for your team. And a made basket or a touchdown or a homerun causes the entire crowd to cry out in jubilant, joyous worship.
I mentioned earlier how Revelation reveals a directionality in our Christian faith journeys. At our retreat recently, John Piper also touched on this theme. He said that justification, ministry, the cross are not the ends. They need to move us beyond those good things toward God Himself. The end is glorifying God, God being most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Worship of God is the end game.
Like I said, I am weak in my personal worship of God. In the past, I did my fair share of repenting at the foot of the cross, a lot of ministry and sacrificing for others, a lot of teaching and being taught. But where do all of these good things lead? It has to be worship. And from Revelation 5, it appears that when I get to heaven, there is going to be a lot of worshipping going on so I better get good at it.
When I read this passage again a few weeks ago, I stopped at verse 6 –
6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne…
I had to repent because I realized that I treated the cross so much as an end, an event, and that led to some undesirable consequences. , I was led down in some wrong directions. Meaning, because I focused so much on the sacrificial death of Christ, that perspective colored everything else I did for God. By treating the cross as an end, what naturally followed was that repentance became supreme because after all, it was my sins that put God there. Sacrificing for others became so essential because Jesus sacrificed everything for me. You see the logic.
But reading this verse really reminded me that Christ, though he looks slain, is not dead. Sounds very obvious to say – Jesus is not dead – but that means that Jesus is not forever pinned to the cross as some kind of timeless sacrifice. In fact, Christ is standing, looking as if slain. He has the marks of the cross, but he is very much alive. He is risen in post-resurrection glory. He is Lambo, the Roaring Lamb and He is standing in the center of the throne with the scroll of history forever opened.
The secret is out. The solution to our sin is the cross of Christ. It is a major event, no doubt about that. However, the story doesn’t end there. The cross as well as our repentance ought to move us toward the worship of God.
If you think about it, worshipping God is an act of completely losing yourself in the midst of becoming God-centered. This process of removing ourselves from the equation and being God-centered is very important. Compared with other Christian activities, there is a purity and innocence in worship because it is all about God and not about ourselves.
When we are not completely removed from the picture, things go wrong because even while we are doing kingdom work like serving others, carrying each others’ burdens, or preaching the gospel, or enjoying Christian fellowship, there is an imminent danger of our sin getting in the way.
We need to spend more time in worship of God because worship is like a spiritual tuner. No matter how well you play an instrument, if the strings are out of tune, you will sound bad. As Christians, our tuner is worship. Time of recalibration. Time of refocusing on the One who started it all, and the One we will end up with for all eternity. And all that we do for God must flow out of our worship of Him.
As priests, we are called to 1) trust God, 2) worship God, and third and finally, we are called to intercede for others.
8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Intercession is admitting that we are powerless to accomplish anything on our own to help others. Instead, as we intercede for others, we are bringing those o we are basically commit to bringing those whom we love to the throne room of God, for He alone can change people.
Therefore, one of the most selfless and God-centered things you can do for another person is to intercede for another person.
Among the roles that Jesus had on earth – King, Savior, Lord, Great High Priest, the only role that we can actually carry out fully is that of priest. Think about it – we can never be a king, a Savior, a Lord. But priest, that is within our ability.
Just as Jesus is the Great High Priest who served as a bridge to God and lives to intercede for us, we, too, can follow His example in our trust, in our worship and in our dependence on God as we intercede for others.
So how do we navigate through the messy middle called life? Trust in the sovereignty of God and worship him all the days of your earthly pilgrimage.
Worship of God is our spiritual tuner and recalibration mechanism. Worship tunes our spiritual lives so that all Christian obedience that follows will be honoring to God, God-centered and not about us.
In closing, Revelation is described as a worship service already in progress. It has been going on since the beginning of time, well before the foundations of the world were laid, and we just happened to knock on the heavenly gates and get a chance to peer in and see what’s going on.
And when we get to heaven, there, at the center of heaven, will be God in all of his brilliant glory and we will join creation and the 24 elders in all-out worship of God that will continue for all eternity.
Let’s commit as a church to intercede for one another, that we would become a body of believers that know how to worship God. And let’s pray that we can become priests who recognize our limitation in helping others on our own strength, that we may turn to the Almighty God and ask for him to act.