Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 19, 2010

2010.04.18 “The Lion Who is the Lamb” Revelation 5: 11 – 14

Central United Methodist Church

“The Lion Who is the Lamb”

Pastor David L. Haley

Revelation 5: 11 – 14

April 18th, 2010

“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.” – Revelation 5: 11 – 14 (The New Revised Standard Version)

To introduce today’s text from the Book of Revelation, I’d like to show you one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, Shawshank Redemption.  

Here’s the story: While in prison for crimes he did not commit, Andy Dufresne is put in charge of the prison library. One day, a shipment of used books and records gets dumped in the warden’s office.  When Andy discovers that one of the records contains a beautiful aria from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” he locks out the warden and plays the aria over the prison loudspeaker.  Watch the scene as everyone in Shawshank Prison stands transfixed by the music, a moment of intrusive beauty in a horrible place.

      Today, just as Mozart’s beautiful aria descended onto those prisoners in Shawshank Prison, out of the pages of the Book of Revelation, out of the vision of John the Revelator, a song from heaven descends upon us:

     “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”   

      That is, after all, what we’re about in this Easter season, to sing on earth the triumph song of the Risen Christ, as it is sung in heaven.  We do this, not that we might know the future, but that we might better know the God who holds the future.  Once we know our God, I think you will agree with me, we will want to join the song.

      For those not here last Sunday, here’s what’s we’ve learned so far. The last book in the Bible – the Revelation of St. John – is a pastoral letter from a Christian prophet named John, written near the end of the first Christian century, to Christians in Asia – the area around modern day Turkey – who were confronted with a critical situation.

      What had happened was that a sporadic persecution of Christians had begun, for engaging in illegal cultic practices. There were rumors of orgies (“love feasts”), cannibalism (“eating flesh and drinking blood”), and atheism, because Christians didn’t believe in the Roman gods. If questioned, you could be asked to prove your obeisance to Caesar, considered a god, using the words: “Kurios Kaisaros” (Caesar is Lord”).  Except . . . that’s the exact counterpart to the Christian confession: “Jesus is Lord.”  So what happened was, some Christians denied their faith to save their lives; some kept their faith and affirmed Caesar; and some refused to bow to Caesar, and were therefore executed. In such a situation, Christians began to wonder just exactly what it meant to claim that God was sovereign and Jesus was his anointed King?

While himself in exile on the Greek Island of Patmos, it was to such Christians that John addressed his letter, to encourage and inspire them to endure hard times and remain faithful.

      To do this, John turned to a form of religious literature common to tumultuous times, known as “Apocalyptic.” 

      Let me give you a formal definition, as developed by a team of scholars with the Society of Biblical Literature and led by John J. Collins of the University of Notre Dame:

      “Apocalypse” is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.  (J. J. Collins, ed., Apocalypse, p. 9) 

      Translated, what this says is: though your body may be imprisoned, your spirit soars free in mystical visions, where what you see there, affects how you live here.  (All this without benefit of hallucinogenic drugs.)

      This is one of the great wonders of the mystical imagination. Some of the great mystical visionaries of history have been those who – though their bodies were imprisoned, ill, or frail – their spirits soared free. Nearer our own time, one thinks, for example, (on Native American Sunday) of Black Elk, of Black Elk Speaks, or the poet Emily Dickinson, who, though she rarely left her room, wrote some of the greatest mystical poetry ever. 

      So there is John, in his cell on Patmos.  I’ve not been there (yet), but I understand that when you go there, you can see his cell, with one small window through which he looked out over the blue Mediterranean. Even now, what he saw was fantastic:

      “I saw one . . . like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. (1: 13 – 19)

      As you see, the Book of Revelation is a book of symbolic imagery, with both words important.  It is symbolic, a form of code understandable to its hearers, though not necessarily to us today.  It is also rich in imagery: stars and swords and thrones and rainbows and rivers, just to name a few. Through John’s imagery, not only will we see: we hear, taste, smell, and touch.  It’s like 3D TV for people who lived in an oral/aural age.

      It gets better.  In chapter 4, someone leaves open the door to heaven, and in his vision, John is invited there:

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.” (4: 1 – 3)

      In chapter 5, John notices, in the hand of the One sitting on the throne, a scroll.  An Angel asks, “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and unroll it?” “But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it.  “And,” says John, “I wept and wept and wept,” like a bad dream from which you can’t wake up.

      “Then,” says, John, “One of the angels said to me, “Stop your crying! Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne has conquered.  He is worthy to open the scroll and break its seven seals!”

      What follows is the BIG surprise.  John looks to see a Lion, the king of beasts, and instead sees a Lamb with the marks of sacrifice. He sees not the Lion who slaughters, but the Lamb who was slain. He looked to see power and force, by which the enemies of God would be destroyed, but instead sees sacrificial love as the only power which triumphs. In fact, the “Lamb” becomes John’s definitive title for Christ, occurring 29 times in the book of Revelation and only once elsewhere in the N.T. (Breaking the Code, Bruce Metzger, p. 52)

      It’s important to note these two images of the Messiah, the Lion and the Lamb, which appear in this vision.  The relationship between them is crucial to understanding Revelation’s theology, and for shaping our own. 

      There are a lot of Christians out there who believe, first comes the Lamb, then comes the Lion. That is actually the name of a chapter in a book of pop-eschatology by Hal Lindsey: “The Lamb becomes a Lion.”  The belief that though in Jesus’ first coming he came as a sacrificial Lamb, in his Second Coming he will return as an Avenging Lion.  Though I confess I’ve not read them, it’s my understanding that’s the theology of the best-selling “Left Behind” series, which I consider a form of religious pornography.

      Because, really, it is a retrogression from Christian to pre-christian apocalyptic ideas: “You’d better get it together or God’s going to get you.” After all, that’s what they were looking for in a Messiah at Jesus’ first coming, and that’s what a lot of Christians are still looking for in Jesus’ long-awaited Second Coming.  But as Eugene Boring says in his commentary on Revelation, “Love was not a provisional strategy of the earthly Jesus, to be eventually replaced by transcendent, eschatological violence when ‘they’ve had their chance’ and love has not worked.” (M. Eugene Boring, Revelation, p. 109) The Lion is the Lamb, the ultimate power of God. The Lamb conquers by dying, not killing.”

      When, through John’s vision in the Book of Revelation, we look into the Heavenly Throne Room, what we see at the heart of the universe is God who rules in sublime majesty, sharing his throne with the Lamb who suffers for others. It is John’s way of declaring that the throne of the Lamb and the throne of God are one and the same: God is the one who has defined himself in Jesus Christ. When Christians say “God,” the one we refer to is the one definitively revealed in Jesus, the Crucified.  Considering what we learned in our “24 Hours That Changed the World” about the horror of Roman crucifixion, I think you will understand what a radical claim that is.

      But if that makes us rejoice, we’re not alone.  So great is the joy in heaven over the “Lamb Who Was Slain”, that the four living beings and the 24 elders fall down before him in song, to be joined by the angels, and then by every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, who sing, in mighty chorus:

      “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”

      Just as today the band plays “Hail to the Chief” when the President enters a room, so in the first centuries the crowds shouted, “Worthy is the Emperor!” when the Emperor appeared in public.  But in Revelation it is not the emperor who is worthy, no matter how much power he claims, but the Lamb Jesus. 
Because of his worthiness, John assigns seven attributes to the Lamb — seven being the number of completion and perfection. (Walter F. Taylor, Jr., Working from Luther Seminary, April 18th, 2010)

      If you haven’t figured this out already, you may be surprised to discover when you read the Book of Revelation that it’s supremely a book of worship. Time and again you find yourself falling on your knees, singing doxologies.  Whether you do this to the music of George Frederick Handel or Charles Wesley or Darlene Zschech is your choice.  But you can’t read the book of Revelation – especially if you read it aloud – without becoming positively Pentecostal. 

      And maybe also Unitarian! At the end of chapter 5, the last words of the heavenly chorus worship God as the creator of all; and the choir is comprised of the whole creation:

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.”

The grand vision of chapters 4 & 5 proceeds in concentric circles from God through Christ to the living creatures, to the twenty-four elders, to an innumerable host, to absolutely every- thing that is.  No one and nothing is excluded.  All means all!

      Having joined this chorus, we are now prepared to hear the message of judgment that will come in the chapters that follow. But having joined this chorus, we understand this judgment to be penultimate, knowing that God’s last word will be the song of salvation which already sounds in this scene.

      Thus, John’s message to us is about more than you and me and Jesus.  It is the vision of a whole new world, not of streets of gold and an eternal choir rehearsal after we die, but a vision of God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, beginning, at the very least, in our hearts and on our lips, with a song of praise that descends from above, just like that Mozart aria did upon the prisoners of Shawshank Prison:

      “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”  

      With the four living creatures, let all God’s people say, “Amen.”


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