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“Worthy Is the Lamb!”

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+ In the Name of Jesus + “Worthy Is the Lamb!” Sermon on Revelation 5:11-14 for Easter 3 April 28-May 1, 2022
  1. Through the Easter season, our Second Readings are from the book of Revelation. I want you to think of the disciple John, the writer of Revelation. We think he must have been the youngest of the Twelve. He refers to himself in his gospel in a very touching way as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” In later life he stayed and taught at the church in Ephesus and was known as “the Elder” (See 2 John 1). By the time he wrote the Revelation in the mid-to-late 90s, John was the last of the apostles—all the others had been killed because they were preaching the gospel of Jesus. He was no longer “the Elder” in Ephesus because he was now exiled to the island of Patmos. (If the Romans couldn’t kill you but wanted to get rid of you, they would put you on a boat and drop you off on an island.) So I think of John, feeling very alone. Alone as the last of the twelve. Alone as an exile on an island. Alone, apart from his church in Ephesus. And feeling alone with the state of the church in the world. Nero had been gone for over thirty years by this time, but persecution of Christians was continuing. That’s why John was on Patmos. What would happen to him? What would happen to the church in Ephesus and the other churches in Asia / Turkey?
  2. So Jesus gives his Revelation to the disciple John so he wouldn’t feel alone in a hostile world. Jesus showed John the heavenly reality to help him deal with the earthly reality. First, for John, the Revelation was the sound of a familiar voice—the same voice that he heard say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). And here in Revelation, John hears Jesus say, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last—the Living One. I was dead and, see, I am alive forever and ever! I also hold the keys of death and hell” (Revelation 1:17-18).
  3. What had John seen? He may have been the only disciple to see Jesus on the cross. He saw the risen Christ. He saw Jesus ascend to heaven. That was all sixty years earlier. In the years since, he saw or heard about the deaths of the remaining disciples. He certainly knew about Saul the persecutor who turned into Paul the missionary, and who did so much work with those churches in central Turkey and Ephesus. He saw or heard about the persecution of the Christians in Rome. He saw or heard about the destruction of Jerusalem which Jesus had predicted. He saw the fulfillment of what Jesus had said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Jesus shows him the heavenly reality, “I have overcome the world.”
  4. John 5 is about the heavenly reality—the victory of Christ that was and still is overcoming the world. Just as the Holy Spirit moved Paul to write, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37), Jesus shows John the victory celebration in heaven, even as the battles rage on the earth. It is a celebration, a feast of victory, with a high song of praise, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” At that time, such praise and such honors were only for the Roman emperor. But here John hears a host of thousands upon thousands of angels praising “the Lamb who was slain.” Jesus, the Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sins of the world, put to death by a Roman governor—still persecuted by that same Roman government—but now, sitting on heaven’s throne and receiving the only praise that matters.
  5. That is the truth that is reflected in the conclusion to so many of our prayers in worship; “…you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” This is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come.” In that petition, we aren’t praying for the end of the world to come. We aren’t praying for a “Christian triumphalism” that we advance Christ’s kingdom by legislating the Christian faith. No. Christ’s kingdom comes and advances as his Word is proclaimed, heard, believed and lived. The earthly side of things may not look like much. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Jesus said “the kingdom of God  is not coming in a way you can observe… because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). At John’s time, the Romans were still ruling with fear and force—and Jesus was still ruling as his Word spread from one person to another.
  6. Now go from that one, last disciple sitting on the island of Patmos at the end of the first century to the modern disciple at the beginning of the twenty-first century. So many things are different, and so many things are the same. The Roman empire is long gone, but there are other people who are dedicated to conquest, destroying peace and oppressing God’s people. I think of what is happening in Ukraine and Russia. What misery is being suffered on both sides for the sake of territory. Christian persecution is still happening, especially in communist and Muslim countries. In our country we see a culture war going on—Christians are being marginalized and silenced while the culture continues to decay. And then there are shootings, violence and lawlessness of all kinds, and it looks like no one is trying to stop it. Feel alone? Do you feel like the earthly reality is overwhelming? Think of our confirmands—like John, they have been instructed in the Word and taught the truths of God’s commandments, his power and promises—now pledging their faithfulness to Christ, now facing this world—a daunting and discouraging world.
  7. We also need that vision that Jesus gave to John of the heavenly reality, the hosts of heaven, singing the praise to the Lamb who was slain, the risen Christ, who lives and reigns—our King who rules in the heavens at his Father’s right hand, but who also rules in our hearts. There is something beyond what we see with our eyes. St. Paul said, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). We aren’t alone, but the one who holds the keys to death and hell has promised to be with us “always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). As we wait for faith to turn into sight and prayer into praise CW93 465:4, CW21 694:4), we also “join in the hymn of all creation, “Blessing, honor, glory, and might be to God and the lamb forever. Amen.” … because God also placed all things under his feet and made him head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:22). Yes, in the course of time and history, it can seem Jesus rules slowly. We’d like to see the problems in Ukraine end now. We’d like to see the culture war gone completely now. But Peter tells us that God is patient, not wanting any to perish. That’s why it seems slow to us. To his disciples, Jesus said, “In a little while you are not going to see me anymore, and again in a little while you will see me, because I am going away to the Father” (John 16;16). Jesus was speaking to his disciples from his heavenly perspective. We live in time—and everything seems like a long wait. From his eternal perspective, everything is a little while. In a little while we will see him again. As we wait, he sustains and strengthens us with his gospel promise, including this blessed (beatific) vision of saints and angels, singing his praise in heaven. We are not alone. We are not losers or the refuse of the world, but brothers and sisters of Christ, the King. His dear people who share his victory.
Amen.

Revelation 5:11-14 (EHV)

And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels who were around the throne and around the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands upon thousands. 12 With a loud voice they were saying: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. 13 I also heard every creature that is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever. 14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders bowed down and worshipped.

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