The Lion and the Lamb
Scripture: Revelation 5
Last week, my family watched Spirited, the new Christmas movie with Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. It’s a musical comedy based on the classic Charles Dickens story, A Christmas Carol.
The movie is OK, but it raises a very important question. What do you do with someone who is unredeemable? That’s a basic plot point in the Bible too, so it got my attention. The best moment in the film is when Will Ferrell’s character sings these words:
Am I forever unredeemable?
Can I be the man who breaks
From a lifetime of mistakes?
Can my worst be left behind?
And do I deserve to find
The kind of love that I could lean on every day?
Or will I learn I have to stay
It’s a human question – an important question. It hits a nerve because the Bible places all of us in this category of despair.
But this is Hollywood and the answer given by the movie was disappointing. How do I become redeemable? The last song of the movie tells us to do a little good, give a little more, work a little harder than we did the day before.
And that’s the basic answer given by most religions. Do you feel unredeemable? Try a little harder. And that’s what most people think life is all about. And it means that most people think about God the way they think about Santa Claus. He’s watching to see if we are naughty or nice.
But that’s not the God of the Bible and it’s not the Christian faith.
I want to read a chapter from the Bible that you won’t typically hear during a Christmas sermon, because it’s found in the book of Revelation which contains a lot of symbolism and mystery. But I want us to be clear about whose birth we are celebrating tomorrow, and this chapter will help us do that. Revelation chapter 5:
1 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.
The chapter begins in the throne room of God, which was described in detail in chapter 4. God sits on a throne holding a scroll that contains his will… literally his will.
At that time, a legal will often had seven seals and seven witnesses. With reference also to the book of Daniel, the scroll contains God’s plan or destiny for the world.
2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”
Opening the scroll means carrying out the plan and purposes of God. Who is worthy of doing this?
3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.
John begins to feel despair at the possibility that nothing will ever change – that nothing will ever get better. What if no one is worthy? What if this world is unredeemable?
5 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.”
This is the turning point. Someone is found worthy! And there is only One person it could be. The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David – it is Jesus, the Messiah!
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.
Notice that Jesus is described as both a Lion and a Lamb. One animal is fierce and powerful, the other is gentle and mild. He has seven eyes, which represent His perfect presence. He has seven horns, which represent His perfect power.
And notice that the lamb looks as though it had been slain. If the scroll is a will, it can only be legally opened once the person has died. And that is the symbolism here. Jesus is worthy because He died! Now, let’s finish reading the chapter.
7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 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.
9 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, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
11 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, 12 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!”
13 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!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
After Jesus takes the scroll, there is an instant response from ever creature in heaven and earth. What would this be like?
To put it in perspective, there are 8 billion people currently alive on planet earth. 1 billion of them watched the World Cup final last Sunday. There were about 80,000 people in the stadium.
I have a friend from Brazil that attended the final. I asked him what it was like, and he said it was magical. Imagine the energy in the stadium watching the last moments of the game, when the last penalty was kicked – everyone on the edge of their seats watching a ball roll into a net.
It was a great game. It was watched by a record number of people. But in the end, it was only entertainment. A billion people took the time to watch, but it changed nothing about our lives and 7 billion people don’t really care at all.
It meant the most to the players who won, and many of them actually fell down in tears, celebrating their victory.
By comparison, Jesus receiving the scroll causes every single creature in heaven and earth to instantly cry out in worship with all that is in them. Physical emotion pouring out of every single creature. Every angel. Every human. Every animal. As if all of them had just won the greatest prize in the universe.
All of it because the unredeemable have been redeemed – from every tribe and every language and every people and every nation.
How do we experience this kind of emotion? How do we experience the joy described in this vision? This is what we want Christmas to be about, if we believe in Jesus.
I want to suggest that to experience the kind of worship described at the end of this chapter you must first experience the kind of despair described at the beginning. Do you remember? John said, I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy.
If you’re going to celebrate Jesus the way Jesus is meant to be celebrated, then you first must feel the despair that no one else is worthy – and that includes you. And me.
Martin Luther said it well:
“God has assuredly promised His grace to the humble, that is, to those who lament and despair of themselves.
But no man can be thoroughly humbled until he knows that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, devices, endeavors, will, and works, and depends entirely on the choice, will, and work of another, namely, of God alone.
For as long as he is persuaded that he himself can do even the least thing toward his salvation, he retains some self-confidence and does not altogether despair of himself, and therefore he is not humbled before God, but presumes that there is—or at least hopes or desires that there may be—some place, time, and work for him, by which he may at length attain to salvation.
But when a man has no doubt that everything depends on the will of God, then he completely despairs of himself and chooses nothing for himself but waits for God to work; then he has come close to grace.”
This is the Way. We will worship Jesus when we really believe He is the only One worthy of it. Until then, we will enjoy our traditions, sing our carols, light our candles, try a little harder, give a little more – and be no closer to the God who created us… the God who redeems the unredeemable.
The table before us is an opportunity to feel both the despair and the joy typical of people who love Jesus. That’s the mystery of the cross… It’s both the worst thing ever and the best thing ever at the same time. The judgment of God intersected with the mercy of God. We come to the table feeling completely unworthy of what it represents, but we leave confident and cheerful because of what it represents.