Revelation 5: 11-14
There is a commercial on television about a younger generation starting to act like their parents. In one scene the narrator says: “We can’t keep you from becoming your parents,” and in the background a man comes up to a scenic overlook and, instead of looking at the beauty of what’s before him, says, “Look! A plaque!” And he begins to read it aloud for all to hear. My mother used to do that at most every place we stopped (Eye roll). Today I become my mother! Not with a plaque, but as a guide, I want to help you approach the overlook of the book of Revelation! Do not fear! I am well trained in this book. Dr. Bruce Metzger, New Testament professor at Princeton Seminary when I attended, taught this book to a whole class of us for an entire semester. He is the one who translated and complied the Bibles in front of you. He taught us well. I have taught this book to our Men’s group recently and will teach it to our Disciple class in 2020. So get ready as you peer over the edge; your guide will read the Revelation plaques for you momentarily!
So, yes, I have become a plaque reader because I’ve learned so much by reading them. When Mary Ann asked me to accompany her almost five years ago to the Salvador Dali Museum in St Petersburg, Florida, I went with reluctance since I found his painting strange and incomprehensible. I went with attitude, but I came out a fan, thanks to plaques and guides; they helped me understand the man behind the strange paintings! Today you may also be sitting with attitude regarding the Salvador Dali-like strange book of the Bible, but by the end of this month I hope to allay your fears and help you find the book meaningful, rather than strange and incomprehensible. Let’s begin.
Dr. Metzger was fond of saying, “Revelation doesn’t mean what it says; it means what it means.” Gibberish, right? No. My grandson Calvin once heard a woman say about another person: “She’s as big as a house.” Calvin said, “She’s not as big as a house!” which of course, she wasn’t. I explained to him it was an expression, and an exaggeration. You’ll need to think like that to unlock the codes of Revelation! And indeed, there is a code to this book. It was written by John, imprisoned on the isle of Patmos for being a Christian witness. I have been to that island and witnessed that prison cell. Roman Emperor Domitian was brutal toward Christians, much as his predecessor Emperor Nero was. He is said to have burned Christians alive to light the games at the Circus Maximus. John was writing to seven churches in Asia Minor, which are in present day Turkey. I have also been to those sites. He was seeking to encourage them in Christ, even amidst persecution. His bottom line: “God wins; Rome loses.” His letters were meant for those specific churches, but they are timeless in the sense that they speak to modern churches as well. In order to get his letters passed the guards, he had to write them in such a way that they would think he was a ranting lunatic, hoping that the Christians, steeped in the words of what we call the Old Testament, would understand his meaning. You see, 75% of the symbol, images, and allusions in Revelation came from those early scriptures! John counted on the Christians getting his meaning and for the Romans to let the letters get to their destination. He said in a vision that he saw seven lampstands, (seven the number of completeness, and lamps being the light of Christ in each church). Each church also had an angel, a messenger and protector of sorts, and he mentioned them too for encouragement. He clearly described the tribulations of those congregations. Then in chapter 4, “A door in heaven opened.” That was the first of his visions of that glorious place called heaven, but remember, it is symbolic, not literal, when “around the throne were twenty four thrones (12 for those who came from a Jewish background, 12 for those who came from a Gentile background.) They were clad in white garments which symbolized purity. And golden crowns were on their heads meaning they were honored for following Christ. They were praising the one on the throne singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come!”
Then comes chapter 5, our chapter for today. In the right hand of him seated on the throne (the right hand is always known as the hand of blessing) there was a scroll, closed up with seven seals. “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” asked an angel. No one was worthy on earth; no not one. But an elder said: “Weep not, for lo, the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals!” So all the creatures and angels and others in heaven began praising and magnifying the name of the one seated on the throne—the glorified Christ! They were so grateful that they praised the only one who could share the blessings and open the seals! By his stripes, he was worthy!
Then we come to our text today: 5: 11-14. We are viewing what in music is called the “crescendo,” and in life it might be called a culmination. Imagine it being accompanied by timpani drums and herald trumpets, for it was a great announcement! Everything that had life and breath, as Psalm 150 describes, began praising the Lamb, who is the one who was slain and was granted all power by God! What a dramatic, majestic scene it must have been, unlike anything human special effects teams could create! Together they proclaimed what all of them knew; “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” Because he is so worthy, we are also are invited to transport ourselves to that heavenly throne room and bring his glory back here to earth: in our services of worship; with our witness; and through the majesty of rocks and trees and skies and seas, for all to hear and see! If this Lamb is worthy—this one we call Jesus Christ—of what is he worthy? The angels—myriads and myriads, thousands upon thousands, literally a heavenly host—tell us he is worthy to receive: Power! Wealth! (Things humans often clamor to get) Wisdom! (The Lamb’s wisdom is great; ours is wanting) Might! Honor! Glory! Blessing! Accolade upon accolade is poured out from the mouths of thousands! Why? So hopeless Christians will be reminded of how much power and wisdom has been given to their Savior; so that, as Paul put it in his letter to the Romans, we will never forget that nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:39)
Don’t run from Revelation; we need the message of Revelation! And together, we will continue to unpack its message, including dazzling flashes of heaven and unfailing messages of hope. Now this joyous service of Holy Communion will get us in practice for the Heavenly praise and the banquet table that awaits us! The hymn we turn to now has as many superlatives in it as the book of Revelation does! Let us praise the Lamb of God!
Jeffrey A. Sumner May 5, 2019