July 22, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
9th Sunday after Pentecost
Hollywood paints a wonderful picture of heaven for us, doesn’t it? As the camera pans into heaven, the Pearly Gates open wide. Saint Peter is standing at the gate motioning us in with a warm smile and a friendly greeting. We see streets paved with gold and angels relaxing beside cool streams of water strumming their harps. We see floating about the clouds angels dressed in long flowing white robes with large wings. We see a grand palace, the throne room of God. But even though no one has ever seen God, Hollywood certainly knows how to cast him. God comes to us as Morgan Freeman or George Burns or Graham Chapman of Monty Python.
We also see thousands of people, our loved ones, looking down on us from their big screen televisions. People we have known in the past are there to greet us. We see angel messengers flying between heaven and earth to deliver messages from God. Have I touched on some of the things you have in your mind about heaven? I think we all have some picture of what heaven is like.
Here in chapters four and five of Revelation we get a chance to read and hear John’s vision as he was allowed a glimpse into heaven. We are transported from the praising and scathing letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor in 95 A.D. to the innermost throne room of God, to “the things which will take place after these things,” John tells us.
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.
My Heavens, folks! You and I get to peer into the throne room of God! God knows that we have to begin our Revelation story with the end in sight. He wants the Christians to know that heaven awaits them for persevering and maintaining the faith. The Christians in 95 A.D. were suffering great persecution and many times death. Jesus is about to reveal to John in chapters 6 to 20 the horrible trials and tribulations that the Christians of the Roman Empire under Emperor Domitian would face before God would intervene in their suffering and bring the persecution to an end. Revelation is a book of hope to a people under siege. Those people needed to know that if they were martyred and had stayed faithful to Jesus Christ, they would certainly see the throne room of God. You and I get to look at it today. Would you pray with me?
Bill Crockett tells of the time he was delivering a motivational lecture to a group of young Navy men. “I spoke in great detail about why I joined the military and how much it meant to me. Finishing my story, I pointed at a sharp looking sailor out in the audience and asked him why he decided to go to sea.”
“Well, Chief,” he said, “my old man’s a farmer. And when he put lights on the tractor, I knew it was time to leave the farm.” That sailor knew how to read his future. He knew his future because he watched his dad. And what his dad did revealed to him his future and the decisions he had to make.
As our scripture opens today, God is revealing to John future things and the first thing on which John focuses is the Father. When we focus on the Father, we know what decisions we have to make. And so the throne of God is mentioned no less than eleven times in Chapter 4. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. John could only describe the one sitting on the throne in terms of brilliant gems. The jasper represented God’s holiness and the carnelian, which is red in appearance, represented God’s wrath. And does the rainbow sound familiar? It represents the covenant with Noah. It is God’s mercy poured out to us.
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. These twenty-four elders represent the two covenants of God, the old covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the new covenant that is in Jesus Christ. Twelve of the elders represent the twelve tribes of the Old Testament and the other twelve elders represent the twelve disciples of the New Testament. The number “twelve” is symbolic and represents the people of God. This number is mentioned in different multiples of twelve throughout Revelation. So these twenty-four elders represent all the people of God both before and after the time of Christ.
We then see God’s presence and majesty as represented by the flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder that emanate from the throne and we see the presence of the Holy Spirit near the throne represented by the seven lamps of fire. I think we can just imagine John’s senses being overloaded as this scene unfolds before him. And in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.
Each of these four creatures represents the best of God’s created order and are right out of Ezekiel, chapter 1. The lion is the noblest, the ox is the strongest, the man is the wisest, and the eagle is the swiftest in all of God’s creation. Covered in eyes they are full of the knowledge of the created order and see everything. In other words, all of creation surrounds the throne of God and worships him day and night with the words, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.
And each time the creatures worship God, the twenty-four elders, representing all of God’s people, fall down and cast their crowns before the throne. This is also symbolic. When the Roman Emperor’s army conquered another nation’s army, the conquered king would come before the general, fall down prone in front of him and place his crown at the general’s feet. It was a total act of submission. The elders falling down before the throne of God represent the people of God recognizing God as Lord and Conqueror and Creator of all things as they sing: Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created. The praise never ceases.
If we stop here for a moment and review chapter four, it speaks volumes for us today. John is showing us how we can overcome the trials and tribulations that all of us face at one time or another in our lives. Look at what they are doing in heaven. All creation and all people are singing praises to God. All creation and all people are worshiping the Father. All creation and all people are focusing their attention on God, the God of power, holiness, wrath, mercy, majesty, and might. Everything in heaven is centered on the throne of God which sits in the midst of all creation and of all people.
Why is this? Because when our attention is focused on God, offering him all of our praise and worship and submitting ourselves to his glory and majesty, then we are not focusing on our own circumstances, difficulties, failures, and tragedies. When we learn to worship and praise God as those in this heavenly throne room do, then we are focusing on the God who has the power and the desire to lift us out of our despair and hopelessness. God has always been there for us in the past, he is here in the present, and he will be there in the future when we need him. He will never leave us or forsake us, even in our darkest moments if we keep our attention on Him and cast our crowns of pride, self-centeredness, and selfishness before him. God is worthy to receive our glory and honor and praise.
As we move into chapter five, a great scroll is produced that is written on both the inside and on the outside. Since scrolls were usually only written on the smooth inside, this scroll is very important indeed. Its contents are sealed, with seven seals, that is, completely sealed, so that its contents are hidden from John’s view. And only one person in all of the universe is able to come forward and open the scroll. Behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.
Now John is expecting to see Christ as a mighty lion, a strong and noble conqueror, but instead he sees something else. And I saw between the throne…and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God. Instead of a lion, John sees a lamb. Symbolically, Christ is the lamb offered to us as a sacrifice in place of what should be our eternal death. It is the same lamb that was offered to Abraham as a sacrifice instead of his son Isaac, a foreshadowing of things to come. Remember, seven means “all” of something. The seven horns represent all the power of God. The seven eyes represent all the knowledge of God, and the seven spirits represent all that is the Holy Spirit.
John is able to see the whole power, knowledge, and spirit of Jesus Christ in this lamb, because the might of Christ is the power of love. The might of Christ is in his perfect sacrifice for us. And as soon as Christ takes the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders once again fall down before the Lamb and offer prayers, incense, and song to the one most worthy to judge all of creation. Listen to their song:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, [You see, Jesus’ death was sacrificial for us.] and with your blood you purchased men for God [Jesus’ death was emancipating for us, that is, it freed us from sin and death.] from every tribe and language and people and nation.[Jesus’ death was universal. It was for every man and woman on this earth from all time.] You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. [Jesus’ death was availing, that is, it gives each one of us the chance to be a minister of the Word and to bring the things of heaven to earth.]
And if John was not already seeing and hearing enough in heaven, thousands upon ten thousands of angels join in, encircling the already large chorus singing the praises of Christ. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. Once again we hear seven words that represent Christ’s glory and the fullness of praise: power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing.
And if that were not enough praise to God and Christ, added to the four creatures, the twenty-four elders, the thousands upon thousands of angels, was the praise of every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and on the sea, and in the sea! To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.
What a tremendous praise and worship of God and of our Christ who is Lord and King! Can you see the multitudes, stretching as far as the eye can see, all turned to the center of heaven, eyes fixed upon God and Christ? Can you hear the multitudes, singing in unending praise, the glory which is God and Christ? Can you feel the power of the presence of the spirits, which represent all of God’s created universe, directing their worship to the one who is above all else, the one who is to be glorified because of his holiness and his sovereignty?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you don’t have to imagine what heaven is like. John has seen it and he tells you right here. Our lives are to be focused on God’s position, on God’s power, and on God’s perfection. God is the ruler over all the universe. He is the only one with the power to create, with the power to judge, and with the power to bring life and death. He is the holiest of the holy, perfect in every way, completely and totally pure, the embodiment of perfect love.
Let this picture of heaven and the ringing of praise in your ears stay with you. I believe it is what God wanted John to experience first before he showed him the terror and the trials that would be let loose on the Christians by the Roman Empire before God would intervene. God wanted John and us to know that no matter the difficulties, failures, and tragedies that might come our way, with faith in Jesus Christ and with keeping our focus on God, we can and will survive to witness the perfect praise and glory that can only be found in heaven.
But you need to tell your friends and family this, while we are still on earth, we get a chance to prepare ourselves for an eternity of worship in heaven. My, heavens! We get the opportunity to come here every Sunday to train ourselves for heavenly worship and to drive into our hearts, that the only sure power we have to face the fears and anxieties of this world, is to focus on the Father and upon his throne. Who needs Hollywood? We have John’s magnificent vision of heaven!
And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. Folks, come to worship, come to submit yourself to God, come to focus your eyes on the center of all things, the throne room of God. Once again, read the words of John in Chapter 4 and 5 and say, “Amen. Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power. Amen.”