Only one person was worthy to rule Britain – the person who could pull the sword from the stone. In the novel, ‘The Sword in the Stone’, the king’s son had died. The king had no heir. Rival dukes and lords fought over who was fit to reign. Magician Merlin created an orderly way to identify the King’s worthy successor. He inserted a magic sword in an anvil that he put on top of a stone. An inscription on the stone said, ‘Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone is rightwise king born of England’. Only the one fit to rule could pull the sword out.
Nobles came from far and wide to pull the sword out. Everyone tried. No one could. Soon it was forgotten. But Merlin in the meantime saw potential in a teachable weakling name Arthur. He tutored him. Finally, Merlin brought Arthur and his royal step-brother Sir Kay to the stone. Sir Kay pulled as hard as he could on the sword. It didn’t budge. Arthur tried. The sword came loose. Arthur was the one worthy to assume the throne of Britain.
In the apostle John’s revelation, he is shown into heaven. A question looms over the courts of heaven: ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ No one in heaven or earth could open the seals. This morning I want you to look with John into heaven. With your mind’s eye see the One seated on the throne. Rejoice, the question was answered by the Lamb slaughtered. Rejoice, those washed by the blood of the Lamb have been purchased. You? You have a bright future!
The first three chapters of John’s revelation relay our Lord’s words to seven churches in Turkey. They are words of encouragement, rebuke, repentance, warning, and promise. Basically, Jesus says ‘Wake up! Shape up! Get a move on it’. We learn the reason for “Waking up! Shaping up! Getting a move on it”. The rest of the book, chapters 4- 22, reveals the apocalypse: Armageddon is coming.
In the time period Jesus speaks to these seven churches Christians are living in danger. The Roman emperors are unleashing their cruel whims upon Christians. Emperor Nero set Rome on fire in 64AD. Three quarters of the city burned. Nero blamed the Christians. He accused Christians of ‘hating the human race’. He executed Peter and Paul. He put Christians to death in horrific ways. In 81 AD Emperor Domitian followed with a reign of terror.
The Son of Man speaks to John the words for the seven churches in this fearful context. He shows John heaven. ‘After his I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open!’ A voice like a trumpet commands him, ‘Come here’. The next thing John knows is he’s peering into the court of heaven. There is a throne and the One seated on the throne. What a contrast with being on earth! The one seated on the throne had the appearance of precious stones – jasper, a transparent crystal-like stone; and carnelian, an opaque, blood red stone, like fire smoldering. An emerald rainbow encircled the throne like a halo. The forest and meadow greens cooled the crimson. The rainbow reminds one of the rainbow Noah saw: the sign of God’s pledge and promise. Lightning and peals of thunder came from the throne!
Around the throne are 24 elders dressed in white robes and golden crowns. Also, four, strange living creatures – a combination of animal and man – sing to the One on the throne, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty who was and is and is to come.’ Three ‘holies’ – one for each, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three holies to stress God’s perfect Otherness. The living creatures sing day and night without ceasing. I listen to a radio station from Wake Forest, NC that broadcasts non-stop music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays. God is being praised without ceasing. All the elders and living creatures fall before His throne, casting their crowns before him. ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God…’ That’s the greeting the Roman Emperor Domitian demanded. ‘You are worthy, ‘Lord and God’. Christian believers prostrated themselves only to the Lord God, the Almighty.
The One on the throne is alone worthy! He alone has dominion over all. By Him, all things – visible and invisible - were created. By His will all things exist. All things – even you – are rightfully His.
If you were a Christian back on earth in the seven churches, you knew the evil oppression of the Roman emperor. You, reader, are on the planet today – North Korea is launching threatening missiles; terrorists are running vehicles into pedestrians; Syrian leader Assad is spraying his own people with Sarin gas; Christians are labeled people who ‘hate’. The earth is coming apart at the seams. One wonders who rules?
‘God is in his heaven’…He is being worshipped, praised, and adored without pause: this, the sweet spot of the universe; this, the universes’ safe haven; the port in the storm; the supernal shelter, the universe’s safe space. Here is the impregnable, impenetrable citadel, the high command and headquarters of everything. It has no rivals, no competitors, no counterparts, no equivalents, or no contenders. Enemies, yes…but no equals. The core of the universe and beyond is at peace, unperturbed and under control. Fear not.
Colton Burpo was a four year old when his appendix burst. The doctors missed diagnosing it. He walked around another five days with infection taking over his body. By the time he got properly diagnosed and into surgery, his survival was iffy. He pulled through. Then he began telling his father about heaven and Jesus. His dad Todd knew Colton couldn’t know what he was talking about - unless he’d been there. Father Todd tested his little son Colton. Todd said, ‘You said you were with ‘Pop’ – his grandpa – what did you do when it got dark’ in heaven? Colton blurted out, ‘It never gets dark in heaven…It’s always bright.’
There is no cause for worry here. Until the apostle John saw what the One on the throne was holding. In His right hand, was a scroll with writing, front and back. It was sealed with seven seals. A friend of ours served on a British submarine in World War Two. The sub left the harbor with sealed orders. No one – including the commander – could open the seals until they were well at sea.
Then, a mighty angel asked with loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ No one, in heaven or on earth or under the earth, was able to open the scroll. The only thing perturbing in heaven was John’s bitter weeping. Things future that John was supposed to learn could not be told. No one could open the scroll. Humankind could not learn the purpose of why we are here; we could not know the goal for which we live.
For many secular historians, the future is a sealed scroll. What characterizes modern history is it doesn’t know the goal of history. It’s a mystery. What’s the purpose toward which we live? Who knows? What’s the goal of history? What’s our future? If there is no goal, then no one knows who they should be, or what they should be doing to reach a goal that’s not there.
Then, one of the elders said to John, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals’. There is one who can open the seven seals! The Lion of Judah! Jacob prophesied from the beginning ‘the ‘scepter will not depart from Judah’ – a lion’s whelp (Gen 49:9). A figure of a lion designated the conquering Messiah. The Hebrew Scriptures promised a divinely inspired, messianic lion - King would come. The Jews knew a coming Lion Messiah would destroy evil. He would deliver God’s people from their number one and number two enemies –from spiritual powers and, eventually, political powers. He would establish a new order of peace, righteousness, and joy (Isa 11: 9-11).
No Jew was prepared for what John saw next. The Lion is a Lamb. John saw a Lamb standing there. Sheep were the primary animals used by Israel for sacrifice. At Passover, each family took a lamb. In the evening they killed it by slitting its throat. They sprinkled the lamb’s blood on their front door posts and lintel. They ate the lamb’s roasted flesh. The Lord’s angel passed through Egypt that night. Every firstborn in the land that was not in a house with blood on the doorposts was killed.
Also, a sheep is what the prophet Isaiah compared the Suffering Servant of God. Like a sheep, the Suffering Servant was defenseless –no weapons or defenses – no sharp teeth, no claws, no rippling muscles. He would be mistreated and oppressed by harsh treatment. It was treatment he didn’t deserve. Yes, treatment others deserved. By this very mistreatment He would redeem His people. By this suffering He would bear their transgressions in his own person.
The Jews never knew what to do with this Suffering Servant of Isaiah fifty three. In fact, no Jew reads Isaiah fifty three. There is no evidence the Jews ever applied the Suffering Servant of God to the Messiah. The Lamb standing before the throne discloses something Jesus’ ministry revealed – the Messiah is - the Lion and the Lamb. He is first the slaughtered Lamb who dies. He is later the conquering lion - King who returns.
The apostle John sees a Lamb standing in front of the throne. The Lamb standing there looked like it had been ‘slaughtered’; that is, it’s neck had been slit. Now John sees the elders in their white robes and the living creatures fall before the Lamb- just as they had fallen before the One on the throne – and sing,
‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’
There is someone who can open the seals! The Lamb standing there is worthy! He is worthy to open the seals! Why? Because He was slaughtered: ‘Christ died for us’! John the Baptist identified him, ‘Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ Jesus told his disciples, ‘Was it not necessary Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory’ (Lk 24: 26)
He is worthy to open the seals because by His blood He purchased us. If he had not, you and I would have no history … no future – only sin, death and judgment. In 1993 an interfaith conference of liberal, feminists’ theologians met in Minneapolis. Professor Delores S. Williams of Union Seminary of New York was asked about the meaning of Jesus’ death. She said we don’t need any meaning of Jesus’ death. ‘I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff’ she said.
No? The Cross is the engine of Christianity! The Lamb is salvation and redemption! Without the Cross, your only future is death, judgment and despair. By Jesus’ death, through His blood, he has purchased saints out of sin, death and despair. I deserve judgement. You deserve judgement. He took your judgment. He took my judgment. He purchased us out of sin, judgment, and death. You have a future! There is a goal toward which you live!
My cousin had an old rocker sitting in her basement. It had been my great grandparents. She never used it. It had 1960’s fabric. The foam seat was hard. But it was solid mahogany wood. It was still as strong now as it was in 1910. She did not want it. So she put it in the auction with my aunt’s things after my aunt died. My wife and I bought it. We paid what was necessary to buy it from being lost.
Jesus paid what was necessary to purchase you from sin, death, and judgment. He is worthy to open the seals. History can go forward toward its redemptive end. The Lamb’s blood can redeem as many as possible from judgement and death. When history arrives at its end, we will live with God and He with us. The Lamb’s death is the only reason for the hope. Do you know you have been purchased from sin, death, and judgment? Is your faith in the Lamb’s blood?
Image: Angus Dei by Francisco de Zurbarán. CC license.