“Worthy Is the Lamb!”
(Revelation 5:11-14 – Easter 3 – May 5, 2019)
Revelation 5:11-14 – Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.
Dear Redeemed, in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ:
If you were given a chance to know the future, how much would you want to know? Let’s say there were cards laid on a table, with titles relating to various aspects of your life – HEALTH, WORK, FINANCES, MARRIAGE, FAMILY… On the side of the card facing down was a description of exactly what would happen. If you were given the chance to turn over any number of cards and read them, how much knowledge of the future would be good for you? Let’s say you turn over some of the cards and find out that you will lose your job and home, or that your marriage and family life will become very stressful due to unforeseen circumstances, or that you will be racked by painful health troubles, or that life will end in a tragic accident. Such knowledge might make us live with a fearful and fatalistic outlook, unable to cope and carry on as God intended. On the other hand, let’s say you turn over some of the cards and find that you will enjoy success and riches, safety and security, good health and a long life. Such knowledge might make us live with an overconfident, self-centered outlook on life, no longer feeling a need to cry out to God as our only source of strength and hope.
There is a reason why God only reveals as much of the future as He deems good for us. He never wants us to consult evil sources like psychics, tarot cards, palm reading, astrology and horoscopes, and other occult practices. Satan is always behind those with his lies. But everything that God wants us to know about the future is revealed in His Word, the Bible.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ gave the apostle John a vision of the future (1:1). It was meant to comfort His people living in these end times. There are some images in Revelation of things to come that are not so pleasant, but they are reality for the Church Militant on earth. It shows that until the end of the world, Satan will fiercely fight against God’s truth and His people, trying to get Christians to abandon the true faith under persecution and pressure to conform to the evil world. But the overarching theme of Revelation is positive. Far from giving us a self-centered, fearful, and fatalistic outlook on the future, it gives us a Christ-centered, confident, and hopeful outlook. It shows Christ overthrowing Satan and his kingdom. It shows that He who once died for us now lives and reigns for the good of His Church. It shows the Church Triumphant, safely gathered at last around heaven’s throne in eternal joy with our Savior.
In the context of Revelation chapters 4 and 5, John sees a vision of God the Father seated on His heavenly throne. God the Spirit is also there (4:2, 5). God is surrounded by 24 elders, reminding us of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles, symbolizing all true believers. He is also surrounded by countless angels. All God’s people and angels worship Him.
Now in chapter 5, a critical question arises in connection to the future – our future. God is holding a scroll with seven seals. The scroll reveals the future. It reveals God’s plan of salvation by which He has worked out all things in time and eternity for the good of His people. But in verse 2 the question is asked: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” At this point in the vision the apostle John begins to weep, for “no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it” (5:3). Not the best of men, not even the strongest angel – can reveal or make secure the eternal future of God’s people.
But then in verse 6, John “looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne… stood a Lamb as though it had been slain.” The Lamb took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne. Now in verses 9-10, all believers break forth in singing “a new song” of praise to the Lamb: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”
As we come to our text, countless angels are singing that song of triumph: “Worthy Is the Lamb”; and all God’s people join the heavenly chorus. Only in the Lamb do we know that our eternal future is secure. Only in the Lamb, are we confident that God is for us no matter who is against us. He is worthy of praise, for 1) He was slain for us and 2) He lives and reigns for us.
1) He was slain for us
Of all the possible images of God’s triumph over Satan’s kingdom, His victory over death, and our eternal future made secure, who would have ever imagined a Lamb who was slain? Yet this Lamb of God is worshiped at the center of heaven’s throne, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit – one God. The Lamb is the Son of God who was slain on the cross, but who rose from the grave for our salvation. He is Jesus Christ, to whom John the Baptist pointed said: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Why was it necessary that He be slain? As the heavenly choir sang to Him in verse 9: “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood.” That ransom price of His blood had to be paid to set us free from our sin and from Satan’s dominion. Our sins had separated us from God and His kingdom, and caused us to be shut out of heaven forever. Revelation 21:27 says of God’s eternal dwelling: “There shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”
A person might be tempted to think: “I have not been so unclean and unholy before God as to “defile” His heavenly courts. I have never done anything so detestable or false as to be called “an abomination or a lie”! I live a good and decent life. I try to be honest. I try to obey God’s Commandments. Look at all the sacrifices I’ve made for God of my time, talents, and treasures. Surely God will reward one like me by letting me into heaven.”
But the Bible teaches that no one will enter heaven on his own merit. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even if it were possible for us only to sin once in our entire lifetime, that one sin would shut us out of God’s holy presence and condemn us to hell. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). But God’s Law uncovers a myriad of sins on our part. It exposes our lack of love for God – from the ways we put other people, things, work, and activities before Him; to the ways we show lack of respect for His Word and use His name irreverently. The Law also exposes our lack of love for people – from our selfish and unloving attitudes, to our laziness in duties, to our little white lies and half-truths, to our disrespect for God-given authority.
Due to sin, our eternal future was hopeless. Imagine browsing those cards laid on the table telling your future, and turning over one with the word: “ETERNITY.” What if all it said was: “Your sins merit eternal suffering and death in hell.” Certainly, such knowledge would make us live with a fearful and fatalistic outlook, unable to cope and carry on. We might spend our life trying to make up for our sins by our own sacrifices. But Scripture says of sinners: “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him – for the redemption of their souls is costly, and it shall cease forever – that he should continue to live eternally, and not see the Pit” (Palm 49:7-9).
Thankfully, in the Bible God gives us more than His just Law; He gives us His gracious Gospel. The Gospel declares that God Himself has provided the ransom for our life – that costly sacrifice He deems worthy to pay for all our sins and redeem our souls forever. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith” (Romans 3:23-25). Therefore “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” We are redeemed from sin, death, and hell, not with corruptible things like silver or gold: “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Before Jesus came into the world, God’s Old Testament believers celebrated this coming blood sacrifice of the Lamb. Year after year, unblemished lambs were chosen and slaughtered, and their blood ran on Jewish altars. Yet, all those sacrifices were a “shadow of things to come; but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:17). God’s chosen Lamb humbled Himself to be slain on the cross, so that His blood cleanses us of all our sin. Now God counts the holy and unblemished life of His Son to us. Therefore we sing:
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
2) He lives and reigns for us
Having finished His work of redeeming us, God’s Son rose from the grave. He ascended in flesh and blood to His rightful place in glory, exalted to the right hand of His Father. There in the midst of heaven’s throne, the Lamb of God lives and reigns for us. He holds that scroll revealing how our eternal future is secure in His hands. By God’s gift of grace, through faith worked by His Spirit, our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 21:27).
We now join His joyful song of salvation: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” Consider those words of praise that are sung around heaven’s throne, as Jesus lives and reigns for our good.
Already from eternity, according to His divine nature, He possessed unlimited “power and riches and wisdom.” Yet during His state of humiliation, He who has infinite power made Himself weak in order to lay down His life for us. He who owns riches beyond all the wealth of the world and the universe made Himself poor in order to make us eternally rich. He whose wisdom is unsearchable made Himself needing to learn and ask questions from youth (Luke 2:46), not always using divine knowledge as the Father (Mark 13:32), and even crying out in His suffering: “My God, My God, why…?” (Matthew 27:46)
But now in His state of exaltation, as Jesus lives and reigns on high for us, He makes full use of His divine glory. This means that we need not fear the future, because He is using His infinite wisdom to rule for our good. Who understands our needs like Him who is our God and our brother in the flesh? He understands our sufferings, troubles, and trials – for He endured the same. According to that divine wisdom, He is working all things for our good.
Also, He is using His infinite power to rule for our good. As members of His Church, united to Him by baptism and faith, not even the gates of hell can prevail against us (Matthew 16:18). Jesus sends His mighty angels to serve and protect us as His Church Militant in these Last Days in the great battle against evil. He sends His powerful Gospel to strengthen our faith to the end. He who conquered death is powerful to raise us up to eternal life.
When He has fulfilled every promise and brought us into His Kingdom of Glory, the Church Triumphant, He will share His heavenly riches with us. Who can speak of the riches of His eternal kingdom? Jesus says to the faithful: “I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). He will treat us as royalty in His Kingdom, as we reign with Him forever (Revelation 22:5).
How blessed we are to know the future God reveals to us in His Word. What is our response to the exceeding riches of His grace toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7)? In John’s vision, the 24 elders representing all believers cast their crowns before the throne in joyful worship and praise of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (4:10). We too join the countless saints in heaven and on earth, from every age and nation, in harmony with countless angels; and we sing that joyful song: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain… Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever! … Amen!”