"Behold the Lamb" a sermon on Rev. 5 prepared by Joe Ellis, April 4, 2021
In my eight years in this church, we have looked at Easter from each of the different Gospels, once we looked at Romans. Never from Revelation. As we will see, this passage is exceedingly fitting to be read on Easter, especially this Easter — perhaps it will help us see the death and resurrection of our Lord with fresh eyes.
Let me refresh you on what has happened before this chapter. Remember, John is on the Island of Patmos because that’s his prison. The Roman Empire has sent him there to rot on account of his witness to Jesus Christ. It was the Lord’s Day, John was worshiping when suddenly there before Him stood the Risen and Exalted Christ — His appearance was absolutely awe-inspiring. Jesus spoke to Him with the voice of rushing water, explaining to John that what he was about to see was a Revelation regarding what soon must take place. In chapter 4, John looked and saw a door before Him into heaven. The voice of Jesus peals like a trumpet saying “Come up here, and I will show you what must soon take place after this.” So John steps through that door and on the other side finds himself in heaven. What next he beheld, John scarcely has words to tell. He is in the presence of the throne. The one on the throne, the Father, is resplendent with such power, such might, such majesty, such glory. The creatures before and around the throne cannot but offer their worship day and night, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who Was and Who Is and Who Is to Come.” O Lord, our God, you deserve to receive glory and honour and power, because you created all things; because of your will they existed and were created.
Then in the midst of this heavenly worship, a scroll appears in the right hand of the one who is on the throne, God. Now a shift takes place in focus. John instinctively knows the scroll has a significance that directly pertains to him and the suffering of his churches. Remember, John is writing at the very beginning of a wave of Roman persecution about to wash over the church — and when John sees the scroll he instinctively knows that this scroll concerns this persecution, and it holds the hope for justice. There has already been one martyr in one of the churches, and more are to follow. Now this scroll appears with hope that what is written on it will have the answer for a people so badly abused — that they might find justice. Yet for justice to take place, the scroll first must be opened. We are told the scroll has seven seals. Think of a rolled up scroll, with seven pieces of string tied around the scroll in seven different places. Think of seven pieces of wax holding those pieces of string in place. These seals must be broken before the contents of the scroll are revealed and justice can take place. So a mighty angel calls out in a loud and booming voice, “Does anybody deserve to open the scroll and undo its seals?” The angel is looking for someone worthy to open the scroll. Not someone who is able to open the scroll, but one who is worthy. And John says, “Nobody in heaven or on earth or under the earth can open the scroll, or even look at it.” No one was worthy. Why? This scroll is all about giving justice. This scroll is about making wrong things right, about holding people to account who have done great harm to others. Now to be worthy to bring about justice, one must keep the law. It will not do if the one who is bringing about justice is to be accused of being a lawbreaker. As we will see, this chapter leans heavily on Isaiah chapters 52 and 53, and in that we hear the people of Israel confessing, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” There is no one who is found worthy to open the scroll, for no one is found who has walked blameless. No one is above reproach. No one is able to give an adequate answer to this question: “Who are you to hold me to account, when you yourself are a lawbreaker?” No one is found worthy.
Then what happens next must be taken quite seriously. John says, “I burst into tears because it seemed that there was nobody who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside it.” This is an appropriate response when justice cannot be served. This juxtaposition presents a picture of what heaven would be like without justice. We have a picture of the glory of heaven, unending praise to the one on the throne — and someone weeping and the injustice on the earth. This is a picture of heaven without justice, weeping in the midst of worship. John sees the scroll, and instinctively recognizes that the scroll contains what is needed to put things to right. He thinks of his friends and loved ones who are troubled, persecuted and afflicted back on earth. He thinks of his friend Antipas, who was already killed. He thinks of the many more martyrs to come, and he weeps and he weeps and he weeps. He weeps that there is no one who is worthy to put things to right. For unbroken worship to take place in heaven, there must be justice. Things must be put to right — or there will be weeping. Where do you find yourself needing to weep? Where are you inclined to weep over what is not right in this world?
Yet, look at what happens next — one of the elder approaches John and he says, “Don’t weep. Don’t weep! Look! The lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has won the victory! He can open the scroll and its seven seals.” The lion from the tribe of Judah. He is worthy. Don’t cry. He has won the victory. He will put things right. The Lion from the tribe of Judah. This title goes back to when Israel blessed his son Judah, saying that he was like a lion, and that the one who comes from his line would have a sceptre never to be taken away. The obedience of the nations would be his. He will bring justice. He is worthy to put all things right. He has conquered and will conquer still! So do not weep — justice will come, all will be well. Every manner of thing will be well.
John dries his eyes and looks. Instead of a lion, he says, “I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a lamb.” That’s the only lion you’ll see in heaven. “A lamb, standing there as though it had been slaughtered.” That’s the only lion you’ll see in heaven, a lamb that had been slain. As I said, this image is right out of Isaiah 53 who tells us more about this Lamb: “He was despised and rejected by humankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hid their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter… After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied, by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many and he will bear their iniquities.”
Let me tell you three reasons why the Risen Lamb gives us reason to wipe our eyes. The risen Lamb is the one who is able to bring justice. The risen Lamb can bring justice to the Earth because No one was able to say to the Risen Lamb — “Who are you? Who are you to judge us? Who are you to bring justice to the Earth?” He alone is righteous. He alone is spotless. He alone is worthy. Worthy to hold the unjust accountable. He alone is worthy to bring justice to the Earth.
Yet in itself, this may not appear to be such good news. If He alone is worthy, then that means that the rest of us are unworthy. The rest of us must be recipients of his justice — anyone who has dared to face the reality of their own sins knows that if we are to stand before God based on our own righteousness — then we are doomed, we are hopeless. We have reason to weep. We all, like sheep have gone astray. Yet the Lord has laid upon this Lamb the sins of us all. Jesus gathered in Himself all of our sin, all of our violence, our lust, our wrathful anger, our jabs at our brothers and sisters, our desecrations of creation, our indifference to pain and suffering — all of it has been placed on the Lamb. The punishment that brought us peace was placed onto the Lamb, and by his wounds we are healed. Like a lamb he was led to the slaughter. And our sin died with Him. We are then able to stand with Him, and the wrath of God passes over us.
The wrath passes over us. In John’s Gospel, the moment Jesus was crucified was the same moment the lamb was slaughtered in preparation for the Passover. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was not just any lamb — He was the Passover lamb. Let’s go back to that first Passover. You’ll remember that the people of Israel were enslaved there in Egypt. God promised His people justice. God promised His people freedom. God promised His people passage into the Promised Land. Yet Pharaoh would not let God’s people go. So God made it so that Pharaoh had to let God’s people go. God instructed all His people to slaughter a lamb, a Passover lamb. After slaughtering the lamb, God instructed His people to paint the blood of the lamb over their doorposts. God said, “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood I will pass over you.” So death passed them over. God’s people were freed from the bondage of the house of Slavery into freedom of God. Jesus is our Passover lamb. We are covered by His blood. We are protected from the great and final enemy — death. Through the blood of the Lamb we have been given resurrection freedom — and now we are on a journey, following the Risen Lamb into the Heavenly Kingdom. That’s the hope of the book of Revelation. Death is no more. The enemies of God have been put away. Satan is defeated. Justice is served. All things are put to right. There is no cause for weeping. John says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” And from the old order of sin and death — God resurrects something new — he says, “Behold! I am making all things new!” John says, “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.” That’s the picture of Resurrection in Revelation — through the blood and victory of the Lamb, God will make all things new. You and me, heaven and earth will follow the Lamb into resurrection life.
So no wonder, when the Lamb was shown worthy to take the scroll, all heaven burst forth in praise. No wonder. The curse would be put away. Death and sin would be utterly destroyed. The resurrection of all things would take place, for God would make all things new. So worship breaks forth in heaven when the Lamb walked up and took the scroll. The 24 elders called out, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God, persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom of priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth.” Then John says, “I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.” They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” Then John says, “I heard every creature 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 praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever.”
The four living creatures said “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.