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July 28, 2019

Sermon Revelation 5 . . .“Bible songs:  Worthy is the Lamb”

“Bible songs:  Worthy is the Lamb”

Revelation 5

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

It’s been said that the last thing anyone says or does has an inevitable fascination, poignancy, and poetry.  As one author put it:  “It’s a mirror that has seen me for the last time, a door I have closed until the end of the world.”  It’s especially true of music.

For example, when Johann Sebastian Bach came to the end of his life, blind and suffering from a stroke, he asked a friend to play his organ chorale on the hymn, When We Are in Greatest Distress.  And ever the perfectionist, he dictated some changes to the piece, then asked that it instead be called, Before Thy Throne I Now Appear.

Even though he was only thirty-five years old, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart knew he had come to the end of his life.  In fact, the day before he died, he said to his sister-in-law:  “You must stay here and watch me die.  I already have the taste of death on my tongue.”  The last piece he ever wrote was called Requiem, a “mass for the dead.”  And the last movement was called, Lacrimosa, a word that means, “weeping.”  Historians tell us it was as if he was staring into his own grave.

Franz Schubert was only thirty-one years old when he died.  His hair had fallen out, his bones ached, and there were sores in his mouth and throat.  He said:  “I find myself to be the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world.”

His last song was called, The Winter Journey, a song that tells the story of a man who fled life and love to wander in a winter landscape, with a raven as his only companion.

Over the last number of months, we’ve looked at quite a lot of Bible songs.  Moses sang:  “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea.”  David sang:  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes to lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.”  And Solomon sang:  “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”

And those are only the songs we touched on.  There are so many more!  As Jesus and His disciples joined to celebrate a last Passover meal, they sang a song.  And as Paul and Silas sat in prison at midnight, they sang a song too.

But as important and beautiful as their songs must have been, we’ll look at just one more, what is likely the most important and beautiful song of all.

In the words of Joni Eareckson Tada:  “Let’s not get too settled in, too satisfied with the good things down here on earth.  They are only the tinkling sounds of the orchestra warming up.”  And she said:  “The real song is about to break into a heavenly symphony, and its prelude is only a few moments away.”

Please turn in your Bible to page 1314, Revelation chapter 5.  I’ll start at verse 6:  “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne.  And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’  Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’  And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in 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!’  And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

As you most likely know, the book of Revelation is the very last book in the Bible.  And it’s a book full of both majesty and mystery.  It tells of the end of sin and suffering here on earth, and the beginning of eternal life with God.

And here in chapter 5, the apostle John pulls back the curtain, for just a moment, and gives us a glimpse of our eternal home.  It’s what a preacher by the name of W.A. Criswell once called:  “The most dramatic moment in all of redemptive history.”

Look at chapter 5, verse 1.  It says:  “Then I saw in the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.  And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’”

So what’s going on?  Here in Revelation chapter 5, the apostle John has come to heaven at last.  Before him stands a magnificent throne, surrounded by myriads of angelic creatures, glorious and awesome to behold.  A bright rainbow encircles the throne.  Flashes of lightning and twenty-four elders wearing crowns of gold surround the throne.  Everywhere there is singing, worship and praise.

And as that incredible scene stands before him, his eyes dart from one detail to another.  There are four living creatures, and armies of angels all around--cherubim and seraphim.  There’s smoke and incense and light and joy.  And suddenly, spontaneously, and joyfully, all bow down before the One seated on the throne.

This is heaven.  This is what it’s like to stand in God’s presence.  And as we look at all the sights and sounds all around us, we can’t help but think it’s nothing like we expected, but everything we had hoped for, and so much, much more.  And while nothing we heard or saw or imagined on earth could have prepared us for this moment, we are at home with God.

And after a few moments pass, (or was it an hour or a day--time doesn’t seem to matter), our eyes turn to the scroll in the hand of Him who sits on the throne.

What is it?  It looks like a long parchment, with writing on both sides, sealed with some kind of wax.  And while we watch and wonder what it means, suddenly an angel cries out in verse 2:  “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”  

But no one steps forward.  No one is worthy to look inside.

What a strange thing!  A scroll that no one can open.

Until finally, one of the elders speaks up.  Verse 5:  “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.”

Who is it?  It’s Jesus!  He alone is worthy, because He was slain.  And though He was slain, He lives!

And at that moment, heaven’s silence is broken as millions of angels begin to sing a song.  Verse 12:  “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”  Then another chorus of every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea join to answer.  Verse 13:  “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!  Amen!”

Dwight L. Moody was a preacher back in the late 1800s.  And whenever he preached in England, Canada, and in our own United States, crowds of as many as thirty thousand came to hear him speak.  To this day, some call him the greatest evangelist of the nineteenth century.

And when he preached, he liked to tell his audiences that death would not be the end of his life, but only the beginning.

This is what he said:  “Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead.  Don’t you believe a word of it!  At that moment, I shall be more alive than I am now.  I shall have gone up higher, that is all; out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal--a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body.  I was born of the flesh in 1837.  I was born of the Spirit in 1856.  That which is born of the flesh may die.  That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”

And finally, in December of 1899, after sixty-two years of life, his words came true.  His heart began to fail.  And as his family gathered around his bed, he said:  “If this is death, it is sweet.  God is calling me, and I must go.”  And he said:  “This is my triumph!  This is my coronation day!”

I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of people I’d like to meet in heaven.  First, of course, is Jesus.  He’s the one and only reason I’ll be there.  He’s the One who lived and died for me.  Also, there are those whom I have known and loved here on earth.  Of course, I’ll want to see them too.

But what about all the others I never knew on earth?  Which ones do I want to meet the most?

There’s the thief on the cross, the one to whom Jesus promised Paradise.  And I’ll ask him, “What was it like to see Jesus die on the cross, and to experience grace in your very last breath?”

Or think of Samson, the one who was so strong and so filled with God’s Spirit.  Even though Delilah tricked him into telling her his deepest secret, God still used him to do His will.

Or how about Noah and his wife?  Imagine the conversation--”Hello, dear.  Had a nice talk with God today.  He told me He’s going to destroy the world, and He wants me to build an ark.”

“That’s nice, honey.  What’s an ark?”

“It’s a boat, only bigger.  A lot, lot bigger.  Then I have to cover it with pitch to make it waterproof.”

“Waterproof?!  Look around, husband!  We live in the middle of a desert!  Besides, the pitch will get all over your clothes, and I’ll have a horrible time getting them clean again.”

And when we meet them, we can ask, “What was it like to live in the ark with all those animals, and to see the destruction of everything you knew?  And what was it like to start life all over again?”

There are so many we want to meet in heaven.  And, by the grace of God, we most certainly will.

So what does Revelation chapter 5 mean for us?  It means that no matter what happens here on earth, even though things sometimes seem so out of control, God is on His throne and He is holding the scroll.  And blessing and honor and glory and might is His forever and ever.

 

O God of God, O Light of Light, O Prince of Peace and King of kings:  to You in heaven’s glory bright the song of praise forever rings.  To him who sits upon the throne, the Lamb once slain, but raised again, be all the glory He has won, all thanks and praise!  Amen, amen.

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