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“Worthy of Worship”

Revelation 5:1-14
Bob DeGray
May 2, 2004

Key Sentence

Our worship is as significant as it’s object’s worth.


I. Who is Worthy (Revelation 5:1-4)
II. Worthy by His Blood (Revelation 5:5-10)
III. Worthy by His Perfections (Revelation 5:11-14)


        What’s the most important role on a football team? Many people would say quarterback is most important. But could he complete a pass if he didn’t have any receivers? Could he run or hand off if he didn’t have blockers? No. Each of the eleven players on the field is important to every play. If even one aspect of the way the play was drawn up is missing, it doesn’t work. Everything has to work.

        Second example: One thing we’ve learned watching the shuttle fly for twenty years is that everything has to work. The loss of the Challenger showed that the failure a part as small as a gasket can bring disaster. The more recent loss of Columbia can be traced to a few pounds of foam that didn’t stay adhered, and struck the critical leading edge of the wings. And there are dozens of other systems on the Space Transportation System that have to work or it’s a scrubbed mission or worse.

        The sermon series that starts today, is called ‘The Most Important Ministry in the Church’ and somebody may wonder, ‘What is the most important ministry?’ The answer is, they all are: every ministry has to do it’s part and every part has to work. We start today by thinking about worship, and we’ll find that it is very important, and those who lead us into worship play an important role. Is worship the most important ministry in the church? Since our purpose is to glorify God, some would say it is. But later in this series we’ll look at prayer - and we could argue that prayer is the most important thing the church does. Or is it teaching? Or service? Or outreach? Or discipleship? Or missions? The truth is that no one ministry is the most important, but like a football team or a Space Shuttle, every part matters. I hope by the end of this series that we’ll see how important every part is, and understand the role each of us has to play in making the ministries of the church effective.

I. Who is Worthy? (Revelation 5:1-4)

        We begin, as I said, with worship. Not that that’s more important than the rest, but it is something we need to do effectively, whether as a church or individually. So we’re going to spend three weeks exploring out what worship is and what the ministry of worship should look like, and how it should affect us. We’ll start in Revelation chapter 5, one of the greatest scenes of worship in the whole Bible. What I want us to see is that worship is inevitable when we recognize the worth of the one who has created and redeemed us. Our worship is only as significant as it’s object’s worth. Let’s begin with Revelation 5, verses 1 to 4. Then 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.

        We join this scene in progress. In Revelation 4 John is taken, in a vision, to the very throne room of God, and makes an attempt to describe it, an attempt to describe the indescribable, saying things like: ‘the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.’ Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders, who may represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. Even closer to the throne were four living creatures who Ezekiel tells us are cherubim. It is they who constantly respond with praise to all that God is and does. Their refrain is the one Isaiah heard in Isaiah 6: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." Revelation 4 ends as the living creatures and the 24 elders worship God the creator: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

        But the real action takes place in Revelation 5. John sees as scroll, written on both sides, in the right hand of the one on the throne. Many have speculated about what is written on the scroll, but in view of what happens as it’s seals are opened it seems clear that it is the God’s word for the future, future judgement for sin, and the fulfillment of redemption for those who have been saved by Christ.

        But then one of the mightiest angels asks: ‘who is worthy to take this scroll and open it’s seals?’ Who is worthy? No one. No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth can open the scroll because no one is worthy to do it. This is probably the key word of our study: it’s the Greek word ‘axios’ which means deserving, having the right qualifications. Let me show you in few verses the use of this Greek word: Matthew 10:10 ‘take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.’ - he deserves what he’s given. Luke 15:19, the prodigal son says “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” I’m not qualified to receive the beefits of sonship any more. 1 Tim. 5:18 For the Scripture says, "The worker deserves his wages." You give wages or any honor to somebody according to what his achievement makes him worth. Finally, John the Baptist says of Jesus, John 1:27 “He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." This is key because he is saying ‘I don’t have the status, position or achievement to even be considered the lowest of slaves compared to Jesus.

        Revelation is telling us that no one in all creation deserves to open this scroll of judgment and redemption, no one has the status, position or achievement needed for that honor. If this scroll holds the fulfillment of redemption and judgement for the whole world, then there is only one person who is deserving and who has the right qualifications to execute it. It cannot be a mere man, because no man has the power or authority to judge. But it cannot be God the Father, because only a man could pay the price of sin and win salvation for men. It must be Jesus. Only he is deserving and qualified. And in his absence, John says, ‘I wept and wept.’

II. Worthy by His Blood (Revelation 5:5-10)

        But even as he weeps, one steps forward who is worthy because of his sacrifice, and his blood. Verses 5 to 10 5Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." 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. 8When 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. 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."

         One of the elders describes the worthy one to John: He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Root of David. Both are titles for the Messiah. ‘Lion’ comes from Jacob’s dying prophecies to his sons, in which he says that Judah is like a lion, and that the kingdom will be ruled by his tribe. David was of that tribe, the first and archetype of those rulers, but ‘the root of David’ indicates that the person John is about to see fulfilled not just of the promises of the patriarch, but the promises to David that one of his descendants would reign on his throne with justice and righteousness forever.

        We are led to imagine, with John, that we’re about to see a lion. But the lion turns out to be the Lamb. “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.” Even more than the previous verse, these phrases tell us that we are now in the presence of Jesus. He is, apparently, standing in the open area where the throne sits, surrounded by the living creatures and the elders. More significantly, he is a lamb that had been slain - the word is the one used when a lamb is offered as a sacrifice, and it implies a violent death.

        The term lion is used of Christ only here in Revelation, though the book does reveal Christ’s lion_like majesty and authority. But the term “Lamb” is used 28 times. The point is that his kingship, rule and power flow from his saving work as the Lamb of God who died in our place. The battle for this kingdom was won on the cross. If he were not the Lamb that was slain, known by his scars, he wouldn’t be worthy to open the book. The tense of these verbs is revealing as well. They’re both what Greek scholars call the perfect tense, which indicates action in the past with abiding results. That implies, first, that the Lamb’s death was an action in the past with abiding results. Jesus’ sacrifice has as much power today as it did in 90 a.d. Second, though the lamb was slain, it is now and remains standing. Christ has been raised, and the abiding result is that he is alive today, for you and me.

        The final thing to notice in this verse is that God the Father would not have given the scroll to one who was unworthy. By giving Jesus the scroll he testifies to his worth, and affirms that both judgment and redemption are to be carried on by the Son.

        This affirmation inspires the heavens to even greater heights of worship than any before. Verse 8: “And 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.” Notice a few things about worship. First, who is worshiped? In the previous chapter God is worshiped as sovereign Creator, but here the right object of worship is the Redeemer of mankind: the living creatures and the elders recognize the Lamb’s finished work of redemption and His worthiness to accomplish what He is about to do. Second, look at the aids to worship. There are harps, instruments played to express adoration to the Lord. There are golden bowls of incense, representing the prayers of the saints. From this we sense that our prayers are valuable to God - in bowls of gold they are offered up to him as worship. Also, that our prayers should be abundant - the bowls are full. And that our prayers are pleasing to God. Like incense, biblical praying and praise fills God’s presence with a sweet aroma .

        Even more important though, is the example of their words. Verse 9 “And 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.” They sang. Singing is not the only means of worship, but it’s an important one, and music isn’t the only way to lift our hearts, but it can sure do that if we let it. They sing a new song. They don’t just repeat what was sung in ages past, but they put new words and new melodies to new revelations and new acts of redemption. Later in Revelation John will describe a worship chorus, rich in the imagery of the Psalms, as the song of Moses and of the Lamb - the words of Moses applied to the worship of Jesus. It’s a good model.

        And what they sing tells us why they sing: “You are worthy” The big idea this morning is that we worship, not because of something special or admirable in us, but because of the worth of the one we worship. Worship is focused on recognizing and affirming and magnifying his worth - both in who he is and in what he has done. Here they recognize the worth of what he has done: you are worthy to take the scroll and open it’s seals ‘because you were slain’. ‘because you were slain’. Later this morning in communion we will remember his body broken for us, and in that remembering we will worship - he is worthy of our worship because he was slain.

        And his death wasn’t meaningless. They go on to sing ‘and with your blood you redeemed men for God’. It was his blood that paid the price of men’s sins, that bought us back from slavery to sin and from death and from hell. This is what we celebrate when we take communion - his blood shed for us. We drink the cup of redemption.

        Though this is the only mention of redemption in the whole chapter, it is a central idea. His self sacrifice for us is, more than anything else in all history, more than all of God’s other deeds, the work that makes him worthy of our praise. This is why so many songs have been based on this verse: ‘worthy is the lamb that was slain’ and ‘thou art worthy’ and ‘worthy of worship’. In fact you could argue that this is the high point of worship in the Bible. We worship him because he was slain, and because his blood redeemed us, and not just us, but every tribe and tongue and people and nation. In Isaiah 49:6, God says to the Servant, Jesus: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” That’s what Jesus did on the cross and is doing in history and will have done for eternity. He is worthy of worship.

        Furthermore, he has made all the redeemed “to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Through the cross Jesus has established his kingdom. Whenever a person trusts in Christ, they are rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light in which God’s people serve Him wholeheartedly. In fact Jesus has made us “priests to our God” This stresses not only our service, but our intimate relationship. We have access to God, not through an intermediary, but as it were, face to face. Finally, they point to our future hope. Christ is worthy of worship not just because of what he has done, nor even what he is doing, but for what he has promised, specifically that the redeemed will reign on the earth. This is our future - we certainly don’t reign on earth today, but when Jesus comes he will bring us with him to reign.

        So this worship recognizes the worth of what Jesus, the Lamb of God, has done, is doing, and will do! If our worship is only as significant as it’s object’s worth, then the worship of the church is of infinite and inestimable importance, because Jesus, by what he has done, has shown his infinite and inestimable worth.

III. Worthy by His Perfections (Revelation 5:11-14)

        But worship has another component, because worth has another component, and that is the worthiness not of what God has done, but of who he is. We hear this worship of his perfections in Revelation 5:11-14 “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! 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.”


        Worship is contagious! The living creatures and the elders worship, and that inspires the angels to worship. John hasn’t mentioned yet that the throne room was filled with angels. He says thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. Now this obviously isn’t intended to be a precise number. But if it was, it would be one hundred million angels, plus thousands upon thousands more. Conservatively they’d need a throne room four and a half miles in diameter. But as they encircle the throne they praise Jesus with one voice for his perfections - they reflect his perfections back to him, saying “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"

        Notice again the word worthy. Our worship is as significant as his worth - it is meaningful and important because of his worth. And Jesus is infinitely worthy not just because of what he has done, but because of who he is, because of the perfections of his character. They say he is worthy to receive seven things - in the Bible seven is the number of perfection. But what does it mean when it says he is worthy ‘to receive’ these things? Does it mean he lacks them - power and wisdom and strength? No. Does it mean that we have them and add to his by giving from what is ours. No, though as sold out believers, we certainly ought to offer him every ounce of power and riches and wisdom and strength we have. But do we add to his supply? No.

        So what does it mean? Two theories appeal to me. The first is that Jesus the God-man, having conquered, is celebrated in heaven by the awarding to him of the authority and majesty that are fitting for his next role in the drama of redemption. That fits with some Scripture, including Hebrews 5, which says “Although he was a son - he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Jesus learned something and earned something when he offered himself as a sacrifice.

        Daniel saw these same honors given to the Son of Man. Daniel 7:13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” It is very possible that Daniel is looking at the same scene John is, only from the perspective of an Old Testament prophet. And in this scene, Jesus is given authority, glory and sovereign power and he is worshiped. So it’s possible that when Jesus, as Son of Man as well as Son of God, receives these things it is as a reward for his sacrifice.

        On the other hand I think a better fit with the Biblical concept of worship happens when we acknowledge that these angels are not giving him these perfections, but reflecting them back to him.

        All that Jesus has done reveals his power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. Nothing diminishes these perfections. But, when his people recognize these things and worship him for them, they become mirrors, reflecting his glory back to him again, and lenses, magnifying his glory to a watching world. That’s worship: to recognize his greatness and glory, and reflect it back by praising him for it, and to magnify it so that others see who he is and what he has done.

        So these angels see his infinite power, his infinite riches, as creator of all things. His infinite wisdom, in ordering all creation and especially in the drama of redemption. His infinite strength, by which he conquered sin and death and won the victory. His honor - the unblemishedness of his character. His glory - the radiance of these perfections, and his blessing, how his goodness is a blesses us and how blessed he is in and of himself. They worship him by recognizing these attributes, reflecting them, magnifying them. And such worship is contagious - it started in the center, and it is working it’s way out. The principle is that as we worship others will catch the vision and give the Lord the honor he deserves. That’s one reason why worship as a ministry is important, and why those who lead worship have a key role - because it’s contagious and works out from the center. So now, verse 13, John says “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!"”

        Paul teaches in Philippians that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Jesus himself said that if the voices of men were silent the very stones would cry out his praise. The Old Testament teaches that the mountains sing together for joy when the lord comes to judge the world.” Romans teaches that all of creation is groaning, waiting for that moment when it can once again bow down and worship before it’s true Lord. This is that moment; and we’ll be there, we’ll be the voices leading the symphony of praise, because unlike even the angels, even the mountains, we’re the ones for whom the sacrifice was made and to whom the perfections were directed. It was us he loved, it was us he rescued. If he is worthy of anyone’s praise it is yours and mine, forever and ever. Don’t you long for that?

        We can’t really imagine this worship of heaven, though many have tried. Our worship, as a church ought to help us imagine the unimaginable. This is what George Frederick Handel did in the “The Messiah”. The Hallelujah Chorus is the most famous of those grand imaginings, but my favorite is the one at the end, and I’ve often said that no matter how much grander the music of heaven turns out to be, I’d like just once for the choir of the redeemed to sing this ‘worthy’ as orchestrated by Handel. Ray Stedman agrees with me. In his commentary on Revelation 5, he says Handel’s “Worthy is the Lamb” is “the closest thing we have on earth to the scene described here.” As we close I want us to sit quietly and meditate on that scene, and worship as we listen to George Frederick Handel’s setting of Revelation 5:9, 12 and 13.