GOD’S IN CHARGE, SO GET WITH THE PROGRAM audio (4MB)
Some of you here may know that up until the end of 2008, Heather and I were living on the Gold Coast, where we had been for four years. I was working as a full-time Lay Pastoral Worker in the Catholic Church and Heather was in her second last year of formation for ordained ministry. And I was thriving in my work but wrestling with the possibility that God might be calling me to ordained ministry too.
It came to pass, over the space of about twelve months, that Heather and I both discerned—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that God was calling us back to my home parish in Melbourne … that somehow God’s purpose was wrapped up in us coming back … so after many painful good-byes and much planning, we made the transition and moved back to Melbourne to take up this new role. But when we got to Melbourne:
- We discovered that the parish did not have a full-time wage for me;
- We discovered that the Anglican Church wanted Heather to jump through additional hoops that she had not originally thought she’d had to;
- For Heather adjusting to a new Theological College and Parish Placement was tough;
- The house that the Church had provided for us was in need of an Extreme Makeover!
- After three months of arriving at my parish – the Parish Priest – who I had a great working relationship with retired
- And as the months unfolded – there was so much additional pressure on both of us respectively – that it was seriously impacting on us spending any quality time with each other …
And we found ourselves asking the question: What is God up to?
The call to return to Melbourne and the Catholic Parish in Rosanna had been unmistakable and we felt that we had responded faithfully despite financial, social and emotional pressure …
What is God up to? Is there really a plan?
Well … I have entitled my sermon today: “God’s in Charge … So get with the program!”
And I’m going to tell you the rest of this story a little later …
I want to suggest that this passage can be divided into three parts:
- God has a Program … what is going on is not simply a set of random events;
- Only ONE is worthy to enact the program;
- God’s program is GREATER THAN WE CAN IMAGINE … so we need to get with it!
1. GOD HAS A PROGRAM
So the context of today’s passage is the continuation of where we were last week …
Where we were last week … if you have your Bible open, you will see that John, in the Spirit, sees a vision of the Heavenly Throne Room, Chris preached about this last Sunday. And with great, magnificent and terrifying imagery, John describes how unapproachable and indescribable the throne room of God is and how all the Elders and living creatures fall before the one on the throne saying “You Are Worthy.”
NOBODY – not even the elders or the living creatures are worthy to approach the throne.
Today’s passage begins with John seeing something … v1 What does he see?
He sees a scroll in the right hand of the one sitting on the throne.
A scroll with 7 seals – remember 7 represents completion.
In the ancient world sealing a scroll with 7 seals meant that it was of particular importance (like a Last Will and Testament) and that the contents of the scroll would not come into effect until the seals were broken.
The Throne Room Scene of Chapter 4 has already affirmed that GOD IS IN CHARGE and hence worthy of true worship.
The sealed scroll demonstrates that GOD HAS A PLAN
But ‘Houston, we have a problem’ … v 3 … NO ONE in all of creation is worthy to open the scroll.
And this is why at verse 4, John weeps bitterly.
For he was promised back in chapters 1 and 4 that he will be shown what will take place
after this time … GOD’S PLAN … how can he be shown if the PLAN is locked in this scroll with unbreakable-seals? The PLAN of God will never take effect and the People of God that John is writing to, will be destined to perish because of their submission to all the evil and sinfulness that surrounds them.
JOHN DESPAIRS AND JOHN WEEPS!
2. ONLY ONE IS WORTHY
But then … John is told (v. 5) “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 the seven seals!”
Now remembering that Revelation is a type of literature that involves story and moving imagery. Our modern equivalent might be a FILM:
If this was a movie … this would be the climactic moment of the drama, where the soundtrack that had been slowly building would peak because something HUGE yet UNEXPECTED was about to happen!
If this were an action movie – it would be the moment when the HERO breaks down a door, subduing 5,000 bad guys and rescues the damsel-in-distress from the jaws of death!
Well we have all this drama here:
- John representing humanity is in distress and sees the Church spiraling into sin and death;
- He weeps because there is no one in all creation who is GOOD enough to reverse and subdue the stronghold of EVIL;
- And then he is told a LION – the most powerful, noble, strong creature of the animal world – is the HERO that will save him … the Church … the world … and bring about the PLAN of the one who is SUPREMELY GOOD;
- And just in case – John – has any doubt about the power of this LION – the language used by the Elder is rich with Old Testament Messiah-imagery;
- And now the LION (just like the fictitious hero of action movies) has materialised at the crucial moment and is going to come and rescue us … sinful humanity … by breaking (not a door-down … but) the seven seals and hence enacting GOD’S PLAN.
And yet … when John looks up to see this LION, he sees … A LAMB (v. 6) … Not only a Lamb … but a Lamb that cannot even stand properly because it appears to have been slaughtered.
WHAT’S GOING ON? … THIS IS NOT THE HERO I WAS EXPECTING …
I mean … how is a slaughtered-lamb going to subdue 5,000 bad guys and rescue the damsel-in-distress?
But read on …
The Lamb has 7 horns – 7 the number of completeness … and horns are an ancient
symbol of power – so THE LAMB IS ALL-POWERFUL.
The Lamb has 7 eyes – COMPLETE PERCEPTION / wisdom / seeing of all things …
But wait there’s more …
The Lamb is in the midst (Gk trans) of the throne (not the throne room, but the throne). Closer than the elders and others – somehow the Lamb’s very being is connected … intertwined with the one on the throne and he has the authority and the worthiness to take the scroll from his hand … and eventually in the coming chapters … to break the seals and ENACT THE PLAN!
THE LION IS THE LAMB – there is no absence of power here.
THE LAMB IS THE HERO
AND THE HERO IS TRIUMPHANT
And even though he has not yet opened the scroll – the heavenly host recognise that the very fact that he has taken the scroll is reason for worship and celebration.
And we read that the four living creatures and the 24 elders immediately fall down and worship … the Lamb … just as they previously worshiped the one on the Throne and each one has a harp and golden bowls full of incense.
Well … replace harp with instrument of choice
- the orchestra played “Ode to Joy”
- the electric guitar broke out a solo … you get the picture!
- Heather and Tom’s Crew performed Fruit of the Spirit with actions.
And the golden bowls full of incense are most likely allusions to Hebrew temple worship. These are the prayers of God’s people – offered in praise and anticipation of what God is about to do.
THE POINT IS THEY WORSHIPED AND THEY CELEBRATED
BECAUSE GOD’S PLAN WOULD BE FULFILLED!
And they sang a new song … v9
In the Psalms and in the Old Testament – A New Song was sung when God had delivered his people to victory (a victory song) – just as when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, Miriam sang a New Song.
A VICTORY HAS TAKEN PLACE!
And what is this new song?
You are worthy … for you were slaughtered … and by your blood
you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and nation …
If we had any doubt previously … the LION-LAMB has been identified as JESUS.
And we've been told that:
- HE IS IN THE MIDST OF THE THRONE (equal in majesty to the one on the Throne)
- HE IS THE ONLY ONE IN ALL CREATION WORTHY TO ENACT GOD’S PLAN
- HE IS WORTHY BECAUSE HE WAS SLAUGHTERED / HIS BLOOD WAS SHED
- AND HE HAS RANSOMED FOR GOD SAINTS FROM EVERY TRIBE LANGUAGE AND PEOPLE AND NATION – this salvation is offered to all.
You see in Revelation, we stand with the cross behind us – that’s happened. That’s why the Slain-Lamb is significant. The all-powerful resurrected one, still bears the marks of our redemption. And this is also the sign of his worthiness.
3. GOD’S PLAN IS GREATER THAN WE CAN IMAGINE – GET WITH THE PROGRAM Save
Let’s turn now to the second part of the song that is sung:
v 10. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God and they will reign on the earth.
What does this mean?
Well … being a priest in a biblical Hebrew context was the one who mediated between God
and people … and one who was completely devoted to the work of God.
But what does it mean to be ‘Royal’?
- A sovereign ruler with dominion over a nation / geographical area;
- One who upholds the interests of the Kingdom;
- Usually royal status is by hereditary succession;
- A member of the Royal Family enjoys certain privileges …
So how can we understand this in terms of reigning in God’s Kingdom?
Well … we take our example from Christ:
- A sovereign ruler of “a Kingdom not of this world” (Jn 18); and a holy nation of people (1 Pet 2) from many nations, cultures and places;
- He upholds the interests of the Kingdom – doing what he sees his Father doing (Jn 5)
This is because he is descendant from the Father – hence HEREDITARY SUCCESSION
- Who emptied himself of his status and privileges taking the form of a slave (Phil 2);
- The Lamb that was slaughtered (Rev 5).
It is so easy in our day-to-day life to lose sight of this …
You see … John’s audience were like us except in one way: they had expected Christ to return in their lifetime. Now they were faced with persecution … some were being seduced by the materialism of the Roman Empire … some were being led into Emperor Worship.
Jesus gives the Church this vision, via John, to remind them that GOD’S IN CHARGE AND GOD HAS A PLAN AND THEY SHOULD GET WITH THE PROGRAM … Jesus’ return may not take place in the time frame they had expected – But with this powerful, magnificent, terrifying imagery of a God that has all things under his feet – they were to have confidence that all the evil and seduction of their world would pass and they should not lose sight or become lukewarm in their devotion to God.
This is even truer for us who read these words several centuries later …
Isn’t it easy to be down on the Church? Isn’t it easy to be down on life … I am so guilty of this at times and I’m sure all of us have been at one time or another …
Yet Jesus is transforming us into ROYALTY … PRIESTS …. ROYAL EMISSARIES FOR GOD to be about God’s transforming, renewing work in the world.
YES. WE MAY FEEL POWERLESS
YES. IT’S HARD WORK
YES. SOMETIMES IT FEELS LIKE IT’S NOT GETTING US ANYWHERE
BUT GOD HAS A PLAN – TO RAISE US UP TO SUCH A HIGH POSITION IN THE KINGDOM …
IF THIS IS THE CASE … SHOULDN’T WE BE JOYFUL? … SHOULDN’T WE BE EXPECTANT? … SHOULDN’T WE BE CONFIDENT?
SHOULDN’T WE GET WITH THE PROGRAM?
This brings me back to my story …
Often I experience God directing me toward something … but I do not necessarily know what the reason is—I think this is consistent with Scripture—So when Heather and I returned to Melbourne and to the Church at Rosanna, I imagined that this was the way that God was opening up for me a better more fulfilling experience of pastoral ministry … instead the exact opposite happened … it felt to me [like the people of John’s time] that GOD WASN’T IN CHARGE … or that WE HAD MISREAD GOD’S PURPOSE … because we were so miserable …
BUT THAT WASN’T THE CASE.
For reasons not completely clear to me, God wanted to bring me back to the Church where I had first encountered Christ to realise that his PLANS for us were BIGGER than this place and BIGGER and GREATER than our own imaginings … He also brought us back to Melbourne where possibilities for ministry … for being in an Evangelical Parish … and studying at a College like Ridley Melbourne were possible for us where they had not been in Queensland.
The vision in today’s reading is a timely reminder:
THAT GOD IS IN CHARGE
THAT THERE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO IS WORTHY
AND THAT GOD HAS A PLAN FOR US THAT’S EVEN GREATER THAN WE CAN IMAGINE!
And the passage ends in this way:
In Chapter 4, last week, the one on the Throne, our Lord and God, was worthy of glory and
honour and power … at the end of today’s reading we read: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever.” (v13).
The one who bears the marks of our redemption shares the throne and the heavenly worship of our Lord and God – with his blood he has ransomed us for God and transformed us to be a Kingdom and Priests and to one day reign with him.
Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth make this proclamation (v13).
And the four living creatures give their ascent with a triumphant: AMEN.
This AMEN is a confident proclamation of God’s Sovereignty and of Christ’s worthiness and of God’s plan in action - YET - not fully realised. May our AMEN express the same CONFIDENCE and may we also fall down in humble worship as our minds grapple with the inconceivable awesomeness of our God.