April 1, 2017

March 26, 2017 - Revelation 5:8-14

Theme: Worthiness Weighs on the Heart
1) A weight of sorrow from our sins
2) A weight of sufficiency from the Lamb

What’s your greatest fear? Maybe you’ll find some similarities with the rest of America. According to a 2015 poll, the top ten greatest fears that Americans hold are:
1) corruption of government officials,
2) cyber-terrorism,
3) corporate tracking of personal information,
4) terrorist attacks,
5) government tracking of personal information,
6) bio-warfare,
7) identity theft,
8) economic collapse,
9) running out of money in the future, and
10) credit card theft.

It’s interesting that each of these fears involves something outside of the individual, that is, something that the average person cannot control and does not contribute to.

I don’t argue with anything on this poll. I understand the legitimate fear of each of these things. But, I also don’t think this poll gives us the whole story. Very often, the deepest fears that a person has are in their own hearts. Those are the types of fears that people are reluctant to open up about. They don’t show up on a public poll precisely because part of the fear is having them come to light. We typically use the word insecurities to describe this type of fear. They involve an inward feeling that keeps us from confidence and assuredness.

One of the greatest insecurities we have is the fear of failure. A different study offers these questions as a determinant for whether or not you have a fear of failure:   

·       Do you ever put off doing something because you’re “not sure how it will turn out”?
·       Do you avoid situations where you will have to try something new in front of people?
·       Have you ever put off doing something you know will improve your life, even though you have “no good reason” not to do it?

No matter who you are, we have all had these types of fears in certain ways. These things grow in a culture like ours which is both highly competitive and filled with examples of success. In that setting, no one wants to fail. There is absolutely a great fear in not meeting expectations; that itself is part of the competitive situation that drives so many to success. But, in the back of each of mind, we know that not everyone succeeds in accomplishing their expectations.

What is really at stake is not so much failing, but fitting in. The reason we want to succeed is not only to accomplish what we want but to be accepted by others. To put it bluntly, we want to be worthy. Worthiness Weighs on the Heart. No one can escape that feeling. The same is at work in our lives with God. We have a weight on our hearts that lies heavy, and it’s all about being found worthy of eternal life. Consider the words of our text today, with those thoughts in mind, as we read part of John’s vision of heaven: 

Revelation 5:8-14 Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth." 11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!" 13 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: "Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!" 14 Then the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.

The chief virtue of this section is worthiness. John pictures that through the chief object of the section – the scroll. This scroll represents God’s activity for mankind. The one who is able to open the scroll is the one who can extend God’s blessings to people. Imagine knowing what the scroll was but not being able to open it. You get a sense why John tells us in verse 4 that he “wept greatly” at the prospect of no living creature being able to open the scroll. One translation says that he “cried and cried.”

What changed between that melancholy scene and the victorious praise at the end of the chapter? Christ came forward. John tells us what he saw, 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 triumphant a scene as this was, in the end it was not the Lion of Judah who opened the scroll. Well, it was and it wasn’t at the same time.

In the very next verse, John saw something much different. A Lamb, slain, in the midst of the 24 elders rose and took the scroll from Him who sat on the throne. And at that point, the verses before us today begin. Let us not miss the significance of this powerful scene. The elder who commanded John to cease weeping did not lie. It was truly Jesus, the Lion of Judah, who went forth to claim the scroll. But, it was Jesus as the crucified and risen sacrifice, as the Lamb of God, once slain but now alive. Only through His death and resurrection could Jesus open the blessings of God for mankind. His status as the Lion of Judah remains, He is all-powerful. But, He was required by the Law of God to humble Himself to the point of death and the grave in order to be found worthy.

This is why the song of praise exalts the Lamb who was slain, not the Lion who was powerful. Only in Jesus could such a humble picture of a slain Lamb take precedent over the power of a Lion. Because only Jesus was worthy.

The word for worthy in our text literally means something that is weighed against something else. In the ancient world, things which were considered valuable were measured their weight. Worth was determined objectively in the balance of scales. This runs contrary to the measure of worth in our culture. So often, worthiness is determined subjectively today. What is valuable to one person may be trash to another. And so this change has had an effect on faith in Jesus too. Each individual becomes the sole judge and jury in determining worth. If that is the case, why not discard one teaching of God’s Word in favor of another? Why not exalt experience of faith over objective truth. Yet, in God’s Word, worthiness is an absolute measure that is true regardless of if we feel it or not. Either you have enough on the scale of righteousness, or you are found lacking.

What weight has God put on mankind? Acts 17:26-27, 30 "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 "so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 30 "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.

As we think about the weights of life that rest on our shoulders, nothing is heavier than sin. But this is not a valuable heaviness before God. David wrote of this weight by saying how it caused his bones to grow old and his vitality to dry up like water in the scorching sun. Because of his sins, God’s hand was heavy upon David, and it was a burden he could not bear. Only when David confessed his sins to God was he restored with forgiveness (Psalm 32). Revelation pictures the same struggle and the same salvation as John saw it in a vision of the culmination of all history.

No matter what your greatest fear is, you can be sure it stems from sin. We might answer with things like: spiders, the dark, or even the government. But, the things we are most terrified of are the things we keep hidden. And being found worthy before God and one another is often kept in deep hiding. Sometimes it’s easy to hide our fear of being unworthy because life offers so many distractions. We can find plenty of things to consume our time and energies so that we can continually put off the more important aspects of life. If someone knew ahead time that Jesus would be visiting our church today in person, would they ignore it and go do something else? No one would miss that. Yet, His presence in Word and Sacrament often isn’t enough to prioritize above other weekend activities or worth rearranging the schedule for. 

Don’t be mistaken, I completely understand that great drop-off in hearing the Word of God though the filter of my presentation and being able to see Jesus Himself. But, at the end of the day, His Word is His Word no matter who speaks it. The weight of sin lies on the heart, and because of sin that weight means we are unworthy.

Part 2: A weight of sufficiency from the Lamb

Instead of concealing that sin, or trying to distract yourself from its eternal consequence, the Lamb offers to bear it for you. In fact, He’s gone one step further; He has carried it for you. Your sufficiency before the Father has been met. Your debt has been paid. The scale is balanced. You stand forgiven today. What joy there is in that sentiment! But, do you read this text and wonder, why doesn’t my worship feel like this?

Well, perhaps it’s because we don’t have the thousands of angels and the twenty-four elders among us each weekend. But, we are still just as forgiven and Christ’s blood was shed just as much for our sins. What was it about this worship that was so magnificent? You can sense the expressions of joy and power in phrases like “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood,” and “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

Well, to answer, look no further than those words themselves. For those present, the joy of worship was all about Jesus. They had His blessings, so they were happy, and so they praised the Lord. It had nothing to do with all things that are so often associated with worship today. Feelings, atmosphere, music, Bible translation, cultural relevancy, or anything else. We aren’t even told that they had any music present. Yet, what a powerful demonstration of true worship.

Have you ever considered that perhaps we struggle in our worship lives because we focus on the wrong things? Maybe we’ve strayed too far from what is most important and that’s why we think we’re not getting anything out of it. For the four living creatures and the twenty four elders, which coincidently represented God’s angels and saints, respectively; the basis of joy was in the slain Lamb.

In Jesus, the Lamb, the weight of our sins is replaced by His weight of sufficiency. Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).” We now carry His weight by faith, but that is not a burdensome task, it is a joyful blessing and honor. It is beautifully said this way in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, “We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-- 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 12 So then death is working in us, but life in you (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 12).

Everyone carries something around. We all have a weight that leads us to certain actions, beliefs, and outcomes. The pressure of that weight shapes who we are, what we believe, and finally where we reside for eternity. The sorrow of our sins is a heavy weight. The desire for worthiness and the expectations that come along with that, can be over bearing. You don’t have to choose that weight, everyone has it because of sin. But you don’t have to carry it either.

But, on the distant horizon, at God’s throne, in His right hand is that scroll. All of His blessings and work for mankind, bound up and just waiting to be loosed. What sorrow there is in seeing the gift yet not having it within reach. Who will go for us? Who will take our place? The Lion and the Lamb – Jesus. He who once was dead, but now lives. He who was slain on account of our burdens. Do not weep for Him or for yourself. By faith, you carry His death and resurrection with you, every day. Not only has the scroll been opened, but you have access to it every day. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. May we always fall down with reverent humility and joy at His presence, and be thankful for the opportunity on each occasion. Amen. 

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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