“Circles of Worship”
April 25, 2010
Join with all creation in the worship of the Lamb!
I. The Lion and the Lamb (Revelation 5:1-7)
II. The Inner Circle (Revelation 5:8-10)
III. The Angelic Circle (Revelation 5:11-12)
IV. The All Creation Circle (Revelation 5:13-14)
Gail and I first visited Yosemite National Park in 1987. We pulled a trailer out to California behind our first mini-van, which had a four cylinder engine. And I remember wanting a plastic explosive in the hitch as we climbed slowly up the mountains toward Yosemite, barely moving with the gas pedal floored.
It was a long way up, but it was almost like arriving in heaven. You come over the edge of this huge mountain basin. and then descend into beautiful Yosemite Valley. One of my clearest memories in swimming in Mirror Lake, which is at the top of a short hike, a little bit above the valley floor and surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery in the world. I remember thinking and saying that I was in awe every time I looked up.
It was like being in the middle of concentric circles of beauty: sitting on a rock in the middle of a lake, which at that time had much more water in it than it does now; surrounding the lake is an evergreen forest; behind that on all sides are the cliffs and mountains, especially the one they call El Capitan; beyond that the peaks stretch away seemingly into infinity. It all made me very aware of the beauty of God’s creation, and how all creation from the smallest detail to the highest height speaks in the language of worship.
And as we turn to Revelation chapter 5 this morning we are going to see and hear and join in with the worship of all creation before God and before the Lamb, Jesus Christ our Lord. I want to encourage you to do that: to join with all the circles of creation in the worship of the Lamb.
I. The Lion and the Lamb (Revelation 5:1-7)
Let’s begin by reading Revelation 5:1-7 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.
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.
In the first chapters of Revelation the Apostle John, exiled to the island of Patmos, has seen a vision of the risen Christ, who told him to write what he has seen, plus “what is now and what will take place later.” The ‘what is now’ came in the form of the seven letters from Jesus to the churches of Asia Minor, calling them to faithfulness in their present circumstances.
The ‘what will take place later.’ began in chapter 4. John was invited to come up into heaven where he attempted to describe the indescribable: ‘before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. 4Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. 6Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.”
He then goes on to describe four living creatures, like a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle. It is these living creatures who never stop saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." And the 24 elders worship saying “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.”
As chapter 5 begins, John notices a scroll in the hand the one sitting on the throne. The Greek is ‘biblios’, which was used of any written document, the root of our word ‘Bible’. But the context shows this wasn’t a page book, but a rolled book, a scroll, sealed on the outside with seven sealed ties. Given the way Revelation unfolds, it seems this scroll contains the plan for the judgment of the world and the beginning of eternity for all believe. The seals are broken one by one, in Revelation 6, opening the way in later chapters for seven trumpets of judgment and seven bowls of judgment poured out on the earth.
But it seems for a time the plan may be thwarted. One of the angels cries out “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" Who is worthy to be mediator of death and judgment, life and eternity? Who has authority? Who deserves to do this? John is appalled to find that “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even look inside it.” There is no man, angel or living creature who deserves to carry out God’s judgment on sin or to extend his mercy to sinners. No human being has this right for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. No un-fallen creature has this right for they’ve never faced the world’s temptations.
Furthermore, no created thing has the power to reverse the fall. Only God has that power, yet only a sinless man has the moral authority. John apparently sees this dilemma; he wants so much for someone to be found to break the seals that he weeps. He understands the significance of this scroll: if none can be found to open it, God’s plan for judgment and mercy will be frustrated.
But one of the elders who represent humanity before God’s throne, speaks to John and says “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.”
This is a reference to Genesis 49, where Jacob the patriarch pronounces deathbed blessings on his sons. He says of Judah “your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons will bow down to you.” He makes Judah, who was not the firstborn, chief among his sons. Then he says “You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness--who dares to rouse him?” He makes the lion the symbol of Judah’s strength and authority.
Jacob also says “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” This is clearly prophetic: it looks forward to the day almost 800 years later when David, of the tribe of Judah, becomes king of Israel. In fact Judah will produce many kings until one comes who is truly worthy, ruling over not just one nation but many. This is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, prefigured in David, fulfilled in Christ. This Lion, this great David’s greater son has triumphed. He has conquered.
What is his triumph? Well, the Lion is about to be revealed as the Lamb who was slain and has redeemed men for God by his blood; he has bought back men from sin by paying the blood price they owed. He is God made man, sinless but paying the penalty for sin, dying but defeating death. He has both the moral authority as sinless man and the power as incarnate God to take that scroll and open its seals, to pronounce both God’s judgment and God’s mercy. He is risen; he has triumphed; he is worthy.
Yet it’s not as a lion that he is revealed. Verse 6: “Then 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.” Michael Card, in one of his Revelation songs, pictures this: “I wept, for none was worthy to open the scroll, look upon what it contained. Then a voice said, "See the Lion of the Tribe of Judah"; so I looked to the Lion and saw a Lamb that was slain.”
The lion is a lamb; he is John’s ‘lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’. He is Peter’s ‘lamb without blemish or spot’. He is Isaiah’s “lamb led to the slaughter”, He is the sacrifice lamb, for without the shedding of blood there is no atonement of sins. He is the substitutionary lamb, offered in our place, just as God provided a lamb to be offered in Isaac’s place. He is the Passover lamb, the one whose blood was placed on the doors so that the angel of death would pass over the people of Israel. On the night he was betrayed Jesus re- made the remembrance of that Passover into a memorial to his sacrifice; ‘this is my body; this is my blood’.
John could hardly use a phrase with more Biblical significance than ‘the lamb that was slain’. Now this lamb stands in the center of the throne. He is the resurrected Christ: he was slain but he stands; he was dead but now he lives. John describes him as having seven horns, a Biblical symbol of sovereignty, of rule over nations, and seven eyes ‘which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth’, or the sevenfold Spirit of God. I find it wonderful that in this scene we have God the Father on the throne, God the Son at the center of the throne, and the Spirit present as seven lamps before the throne, and as seven eyes on the lamb. That’s a marvelous use of visual symbolism.
The lion of the tribe of Judah, the lamb who was slain, is able to come and take the scroll from the one on the throne. Every part of his nature, his character and his behavior makes him worthy of the honor and able to do the deed.
So what have we seen? At the center of the throne, and therefore at the innermost circle, the focus and heart of our worship, are God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Here the main focus is on Jesus as the lion of Judah and the Lamb who was slain. It is only because of his death, his resurrection and his reign that we are able to come and worship. We said last week that the Holy One at the center of the throne should be at the center of our worship. In the same way the Lamb who was slain for our sins should be at the center of our worship and our lives.
II. The Inner Circle (Revelation 5:8-10)
The worship of Revelation 5 is a series of concentric circles, like the glory of creation surrounding Mirror Lake in Yosemite. We’ve seen the Lamb at the center of the throne, and now we take one step back. Revelation 5:8-10 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.
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."
This first circle of worship is that of the living creatures and the elders. We said last week the living creatures may well symbolize all animate creation, represented by the lion, the ox, the man, the eagle. The elders, we’re pretty sure, represent the redeemed, those whom God has chosen for salvation. This is the inner circle because these are the ones salvation has saved – not only the redeemed, but the groaning creation that was made subject to the fall and longs to be liberated from its bondage to decay when Christ returns.
Notice that though Scripture teaches that only God is worthy of worship, these eminent beings worship the Lamb: it’s because he is God. They worship with their bodies, falling before the throne, they worship with harp and song, and by offering up bowls of incense which are the prayers of the saints. They offer as worship both prayer and praise; praise because he is worthy and prayer because he is the mediator between God and man.
What has Jesus done to make himself worthy when no other person in all creation is? They sing “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.” He is worthy of worship because he was slain. He is worthy of worship because he was slain. He is worthy of worship because he was slain; his shed blood paid the price of our sins. He purchased us, redeemed us, for God. This is the sacrifice that gives meaning to all the other lambs slain in Scripture, the one that accomplishes what no other sacrifice could do.
So in our worship we are to praise Jesus for the salvation of all the redeemed: those from every tribe and language and people and nation. If he had not done so you and I, Gentiles far removed from the chosen Jews, would have no salvation – but his blood paid the full price for all those who would believe around the world and across the ages. He is worthy.
And in this redemption we have been made a kingdom and priests to serve our God. This idea of Jesus’ followers as ‘priests who serve’ is found often in Revelation. In ancient Israel it was only the priests and the Levites who had the privilege of worship. But now all of us have that privilege: to worship in the inner circle in the very presence of God. Here, now, today. Let’s worship using the words of these great worship verses.
III. The Angelic Circle (Revelation 5:11-12)
The circle of worship widens. Verses 11 and 12: 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 blessing!"
This is the third ‘then I looked’ in our passage. John looked and saw the scroll; he looked and saw the Lamb; now he looks and sees the whole population of the throne room in worship of the lamb. He says there were many angels, thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand.
A similar phrase was used in a related prophetic scene. Daniel 7:9 “As I looked, "thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.”
Then, Daniel 7:13-14: ‘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. 14He 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.” The Son of Man and the Lamb are different visions of the same person, who has received authority because he is worthy, and will now exercise that authority in the judgments to come.
The myriad of angels takes up the praise of Jesus: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" If we understand the word worthy to mean deserving, and say ‘he’s deserving of these things’, we still have to ask ourselves ‘doesn’t he already have strength and wisdom and glory? I mean, he’s God, he’s infinite in all these qualities.’
As I’ve said before, I’ve become convinced that we’re not wishing these qualities upon Jesus, but recognizing and praising him for these qualities and desiring praise for him. Psalm 96 says “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 8Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” I think you could almost substitute the phrase ‘ascribe to the Lamb’ or ‘recognize in the Lamb’ for ‘worthy is the Lamb to receive’.
Ascribe to the Lamb power - he is omnipotent; riches - he owns all we think we own and more; strength - he can do what he says. Give him honor, for he is faithful; give him glory, for all his perfections shine; give him blessing, for he always blesses. Give him the praise he deserves. Why? Because he is the Lamb that was slain, and worthy in character and actions to receive the applause of heaven and earth. Let’s continue to worship Him.
IV. The All Creation Circle (Revelation 5:13-14)
The final and largest circle of worship is found in verses 13 and 14: it is nothing less than all creation. 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 blessing and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" 14The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Now all of God’s creation, all in heaven, on earth and under the earth, joins the praise. The rocks and stones themselves, stars in distant galaxies, one celled creatures and the creatures of immense spirit all sing. They ascribe to god the Father and to the Lamb ‘blessing and honor and glory and power’. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Give him the Amen, give him the worship because he is the one who was slain, the one who was resurrected, the one who is here today. In his character he is worthy to show judgment and mercy. By his actions he is worthy because he’s redeemed men for God by his blood. You and I are to join all creation in the worship of the Lamb. We were created to be his worshipers. We were redeemed to be his worshipers.
As I said a few years ago, I’ve always had a little fantasy that when we all get to heaven, when we sing those words with the all creation choir, we might have the chance just once, to sing using the melodies and harmonies and scoring written by George Frederic Handel over 250 years ago. The music of heaven may be better than Handel, but maybe God will indulge those of us who hear the Messiah every time we read this text. After we pray the choir will come and remind us of Handel’s genius in worship – and we’ll worship too!