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Last Sunday we began a six-week trek through the Epistle readings assigned for this Easter that are all from the book of Revelation. With only six stops, we know we're not going to see it all. We could fill six months of Sundays touring this book and still not see it all. But these six stops are the Easter sites. We are stopping where we see the church in heaven celebrating the victory that our Lord Jesus Christ has won by His resurrection from the dead.
Last Sunday we met the writer, St. John who, with two feet still on the ground found his head in the clouds, seeing what no eye has ever seen and hearing what no ear has ever heard. He's told to write what he sees and send it to the churches. The churches of course are the congregations of the Church on earth. As long as they are on earth, they remain this confusing, conflicted, tangled up mixture of saint and sinner, filled with doubts and allured by temptations, sucked into sin.
They need a peek behind the veil to reassure them of what's really real and truly true, and certainly certain. And there's nothing more real and true and certain that God's Word. And what do we see and hear? We see Jesus Christ and the church in heaven. We see our destiny.
The scene for this morning's text from chapter 5 was actually opened in chapter 4. John sees a "door standing open in heaven." He's told to "come up here." And before John has a chance to check his calendar to see if he has time to squeeze it into his schedule, we read, "at once I was in the Spirit and behold a throne stood in heaven with one seated on the throne."
And the one seated on the throne is God the Father. All around the throne where God is seated, John sees and hears the same thing that Isaiah saw and heard when he had a vision of heaven. Angels, archangels and all the company of heaven singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come." Sound familiar? It should. It's the same song that we, the church on earth, sing with the church in heaven when we see the Lord God is seated on this throne in the bread and wine.
I. The Scroll
That brings us to today's stop on our tour, chapter 5. John writes, "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."
God the Father is seated on His throne and He's holding a scroll in His RIGHT HAND.
Now, one thing about scrolls is you only write on one side of them. Writing on both sides makes it near impossible to handle. But this scroll is written on both sides, "within and on the back." In other words, it's not like any other scroll and it's full. There's no room for anything more and there's that still needs to be written, IT IS COMPLETE. And IT IS FINISHED.
And it's sealed with seven seals. The number seven is a very significant number in this book. Seven is the number of days that God created the word, including the day He rested from all His work. It's the number for completeness. So, this scroll is completely sealed.
II. Who is worthy to open it?
Then John writes, "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."
What's in the scroll?
Whatever it is that is written on this scroll, it's remained sealed up to this point. No one has been able to break the seals. But now, THE TIME HAS FULLY COME. Whatever it contains is to remain sealed up no longer.
The rest of the book of Revelation is a detailed description of what the scroll contains, as it is opened seal by seal. It is God's plan for the salvation of His people and the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth – the home of righteousness. Remember, it's figurative language. You don't read this the same way you do a blueprint or an appointment schedule. It's figurative, visionary, prophetic. You get the clear idea that God's in control and knows what's going on and how and when it all goes on, and you take comfort in that.
Take it from our brothers and sisters in heaven who see it all clearly. They absolutely love what's in this scroll and they never stop celebrating and praising God for it all. They love it because it's the story of all that God has done through Jesus Christ for their salvation. It never depended on them knowing the times or dates or interpreting the signs.
Who can open it?
But before the contents of the scroll are revealed, it must be opened. And the strong angel presents John with this dilemma, 'who is WORTHY to break the seals and open it.' This is not a question of strength or power, but worthiness. This scroll can only be opened by one who is "WORTHY" to do so. What does it mean to be "worthy?"
If you have a 'will,' (and if you don't you should), your will remains sealed until you die. It may not be sealed with seven seals but it's sealed in that it doesn't go into effect until you die. (This is what made the demand of the prodigal son so outrageous. He asked his father for his inheritance before he was dead, as if to say, "I can't wait until you die.")
Before you die, you appoint an executor of your will. After you die, the executor has the authority to open your will and read it to whom it is addressed. And it's not just a reading of the will for information purposes. As the executor reads the will, the will goes into effect. And the executor is the one who puts them into effect and sees to it that things go as the will specifies. No one else can open the will and put the will into effect but the executor.
So, who is WORTHY to open and read this scroll that contains God's will for His creation? Only the One whom the Father has appointed. "And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it."
What good is a will if it can't be opened and is never put into effect? What is ever to become of God's people and His creation if His will is never executed? No wonder John weeps. He doesn't just whimper and pout. He weeps loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and look into it. No one else is heaven is weeping. Just John.
But suddenly John stops his crying.
III. The Worthy One
The Slain Lamb
"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 into the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne."
Who is this Lamb, looking as though it was slain? Who else but our Lord, Jesus Christ, who was slain on the cross. There, He was HANGING by nails and LYING in a tomb. But here, He is seen STANDING, alive and well.
There, He was powerless against the forces of evil at work against Him and His eyes were closed in death. But here, He has seven eyes, he see everything. He has seven horns. Horns are the symbol for power. He has complete power. Even the power to lay down His life and raise it up again.
The Lamb of God, is the One appointed by the Father to be the Executor of the Last Will and Testament of the Triune God. He and He alone is worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. Now that He has died, it may be opened. Now that He has risen from the dead, He is worthy to break its seals and read it. Now that He has opened it and read it, He will see to it that it is carried out exactly according to its terms.
The Coronation of Jesus
What is this that we are seeing through John's eyes here? Let's try this on for size. In the first chapter of Acts, we're told that 50 days after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus was with His disciples. "And as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." (Acts 1:9).
John was one of those who were looking on. With two feet on the ground, He saw Jesus ascend until a cloud blocked his view. That's what the ascension of our Lord looked like from the Church on earth. But with his head in the clouds, John sees Jesus' ascension from heaven's point of view as the Church in heaven sees it.
Remember that the scroll is in the Father's RIGHT HAND? John sees the ascension of our Lord to the RIGHT HAND of the Father. What we are seeing here is what we confess every time we speak the Apostles or Nicene Creed. We say that Jesus Christ, "ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty." And here we're seeing it from heaven's view.
This is the coronation of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. "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 of priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."
The destiny of the whole human race and the whole creation rests in His hands. How incredibly comforting that is. Our eternal destiny rests in the hands of the One who was slain for us, and whose blood has paid the ransom price for our sin that we could never pay. He made us and loves us, has set us free from our sins, from our death and from the power of the devil and made us His people, the people of God.
Thanks to God that our fate and destiny does not rest in the hands of mindless, uncaring evolutionary forces. Praise God that our destiny doesn't depend upon earthly rulers or evil powers. The entire destiny of all things rests safely in the hands of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
And the church in heaven never gets tired of singing their hymn of praise. And wouldn't you know, it sounds like they're using the Divine Service right out of the Lutheran Service Book. "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."
And we who still have two feet on the ground, join our voices with those who live above the clouds and we "Sing with ALL THE PEOPLE OF GOD (those in heaven and those on earth) and join in the hymn of all creation. For the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. Alleluia."