A sermon on Rev. 5:5-10, given by the Rev. Justin Clemente, prepared for the third Sunday in Advent, December 13, 2020. Preached via video to the good people of Church of the Holy Spirit
I. The “Advent Side” of Jesus’ Work
In his book Imagine Heaven, John Burke relates the story of Eben Alexander, Harvard neurosurgeon.
“On November 10, 2008, [he] was struck by a rare illness causing his entire neocortex – the part of the brain that makes us human – to shut down. What he experienced reversed the conclusions he had formed through medical school. He found himself alive like never before, experiencing a world where time and space become far more expansive than we could ever conceive.
“I remember ascending up into this brilliant, ultra-real valley…this brilliant greenery lush with life… I remember the rich textures and colors beyond the rainbow. In that beautiful valley as we would come up and ascend above all that greenery, I could see that there were hundreds of souls dancing. I describe them as being dressed in pleasant garb – very simple clothing, yet beautiful colors, and tremendous joy and merriment, and there were lots of children playing and [apparently!] dogs jumping. It was just a wonderful festival.” (pgs. 120-121)
Well, though near-death testimonies like that are wonderfully encouraging, I wonder how much time we’ve spent this Advent meditating the sure and unshakeable “glimpses of glory” we have in the Scriptures, because that’s where we’re to fix our hearts, right?. And I know of no better place to go in Holy Scripture than the book of Revelation. For all that’s been written about Revelation, we need to remember that it was written to encourage Christians! It was written to show them what’s really going on from heaven’s perspective.
You might have noticed something odd this morning. We read from Luke’s account of the Ascension –why did we do that? We did that because Revelation 5 is the heavenly outcome and counterpart to the finishing of Jesus’ earthly work. The Apostles saw him go, but the angels received him in triumph. Ever since that time, Christians have been living on the “Advent side” of Revelation 5, if I can call it that. Christ is present, but absent, sin is defeated, but remains for the present, Christ is risen, but we know him by grace through faith, and not by sight.
So, being with you the “Advent-side of faith,” there are three lessons in this passage that I want us to focus on. Revelation 5 teaches us that 1) we are to rejoice in the patience of God, 2) trust in God’s in power displayed in weakness, and 3) display the uniqueness of Jesus to others.
II. Three Lessons for Advent from Rev. 5
- Rejoicing in the Patience of God
Read with me from verses 1-5:
5 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. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
As all heaven worships around the throne of God, something big happens. First, there is weeping because no one can open the scroll in the hand of God the Father. Briefly put, the scroll is the scroll of life – the meaning of life, if you will – God’s good intent for history and creation. But, no one is found worthy. No created person is worthy to unlock that kind of revelation.
You may know that Andrew Peterson’s song, “Is He Worthy?” is based on this passage. The lyrics ask the question,
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
In verse 5, John hears the announcement, “Weep no more!” for the Lion of the tribe of Judah is worthy. As we hear this with John and see what’s going on in heaven, we expect Aslan to step out onto the stage of heaven, mighty and strong, with a purity that would dissolve anything or anyone unholy like a sheet of printer paper on the surface of the sun.
Only that’s not what happens. Look at verse 6. Between the throne and creation, God and everything else, appears the Lamb, standing, but freshly slain for the sins of the world. This unveiling is what strikes up the new song in verses 9-10. “Worthy are you… for you were slain, and by your blood you have ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
And here’s the point I’m driving at. If we get this glimpse of heaven in our souls this Advent, we’ll be people who are able to rejoice in the patience of our God.
It is right and good to pray the prayer of “Maranatha” (that’s how the book of Revelation ends), but we must also have on our lips the words of 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God was patient with you, wasn’t he? Are you joyfully bearing with him in his patience with others? In the mercy of God, Christ has not yet returned because God the Father says, “not yet – there are more who must yet still come.” What else would we expect when there’s a Lamb, freshly slain, on the throne with him?
In this broken, sinful, and difficult world, it easy to dig in our heels, retreat into what’s comfortable, and lose our expectant joy that more might come to sing of the Lamb. That’s our first lesson.
2. Trusting in God’s Power Displayed in Weakness
Think back again over verses 1-6. Here is One so powerful that he can tear open the seven seals of the scroll of life, that is say, he is able to open them completely! And yet he continues to stand in heaven as one slain.
G.K. Beale writes, “The Lamb continues to exist as slain to indicate the ongoing victorious effect of his redemptive death. Christ’s death – as well as the ongoing sufferings of the church – are continually being turned into victory.”
So, in Christ, God delights in displaying his power in what looks like weakness.
Christians have wrestled with this from the beginning. How is that the Lord can be so readily present to me, so real, so powerful in my life, and yet, not so to others?
One the disciples asked that same question in John 14:22-23. John writes, “Judas (not Iscariot) said to [Jesus], “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Judas (not that one) is essentially asking the question, why don’t you just show everyone who you are? And Jesus says I will, but by the power of my word & Holy Spirit. Whoever loves me and keeps my word, my Father and I will come to him and make our home with him, says Jesus.
As Jesus’ church follows him, we too look weak, but that’s not the same as powerless – far from it. Think of how weak we look! We have his words, said from a book, proclaimed through a minister. But these words are breathed forth from the Holy Spirit. We have his Table, with ordinary bread and wine, but there he has promised to meet us and fill us with his body and blood. We have our Baptism in ordinary water, but there we die and are raised to new life with Christ. And we have each other, ordinary people, sinners made into saints.
God delights to display his power in weakness, and we trust in him as he does. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
3. Displaying the Uniqueness of Christ
Ch. 5 leaves no doubt as to who Jesus is: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.”
Jump down to verse 13: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” The Father and the Lamb share perfect union and glory, unto all eternity.
What does this mean? For one thing, it means we are called to display and proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the need all people have to receive him by faith. I’ll never forget watching Life of Pi a few years a back. You may recall this as movie that traces the spiritual journey of its main character, Pi, as he is adrift at sea. At one point, the narrator reflects on Christians and says, “Christians have one story: that God has a Son. And they keep telling that story.”
That’s right, we do. If the story is true, it demands nothing less. A few years back, I can remember hearing Bishop Neil Lebhar say that if we do not believe in the necessity of knowing and receiving Christ for salvation, we and our people will never be good evangelists. He’s right.
Advent is time to come back to the claims of Christ, and to display him, with joy, for all he is to the world around us.
III. At the Name of Jesus
In closing, I want to take us back to that image we first heard announced in Revelation 5, that of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. One day Aslan will roar, and all the world will hear it. Revelation 19:11-16 displays the awesome fury of his coming, at which the living and the dead will be judged. But for now, he stands between heaven and earth as the Lamb, and the message we have in this glimpse of heaven from Revelation 5 is that we are to rejoice in God’s patience, trust in God’s kind of power, and display all that Jesus for our world.
Let me read to you some of the words from that powerful hymn, “At the Name of Jesus.”
At the Name of Jesus, every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess Him King of glory now;
’Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call Him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.
Humbled for a season, to receive a name
From the lips of sinners unto whom He came,
Faithfully He bore it, spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious when from death He passed.
Bore it up triumphant with its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures, to the central height,
To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast;
Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.
Name Him, brothers, name Him, with love strong as death
But with awe and wonder, and with bated breath!
He is God the Savior, He is Christ the Lord,
Ever to be worshipped, trusted and adored.
Brothers, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
With His Father’s glory, with His angel train;
For all wreaths of empire meet upon His brow,
And our hearts confess Him King of glory now.
And so, to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.