What do you hear? What do you see?

August 20, 2017 – Revelation 5:1-13

We are back in the throne room of God, right where we left off last Sunday. Now, if this is your first Sunday with Revelation, here’s a re-cap: Revelation is a letter, written by a guy called John who had these crazy, wild visions that he then communicated, via letter, to the 7 churches in Asia Minor. 5 of the churches are fat and happy and 2 are actually being persecuted for their faith. Many think the book of Revelation is a series of clues and puzzle pieces to be put together to figure out the timing of the end of the world. But I invite you to see it as a novel that reveals the truth about our faith in God, the truth of God, and the siren call to worship government. This book is not meant to trick or frighten. It’s meant to expose the corrupt, oppressive, abusive Roman government and the churches relationship to it. It’s a letter where John (no, not John the Baptist, or John the disciple Jesus loved, but a Whole New John) is trying his very best to tell the churches what God is like. And what their situation is like.

So today, we pick up where we left off last week – in the throne room of God with God in the center along with the 24 elders who have thrown off their crowns in honor and praise to God, and creatures that are like a lion, and like an ox, and like a human face, and like a flying eagle lead the praise.

Only now, the newest development is that God is holding a sealed scroll. Sealed with seven seals, each would reveal a different section of the scroll when broken. In the scroll is what God wants for all of creation and so it’s not surprising that John, the one having this vision, is upset that no one can be found who has the authority to break the seals so that the scroll can be read! Seals were used for legal documents and give a sign that the message contained within is authentic. They search everywhere for someone with the authority to break the seals, to break this seal of authenticity to reveal what God wants for all of creation on the inside. Did you catch where they searched? In heaven and on earth or under the earth. *[Behind the couch?]

John is told to look at the Lion of Judah, the mighty warrior. Lions are a symbol of royalty, of power and might. And the tribe of Judah is where the royal class comes from, so no doubt this lion will have the authority and the divine knowledge and the sheer strength to the break the seals. John hears, “hey, the Lion will do it!” And he looks and what does he see?

He sees something entirely different. He sees a lamb. A lamb who had been slaughtered.

We know this imagery points us to Jesus. Jesus is the one to break the 7 seals and to reveal what God wants for all of creation. Then the whole host of elders and the 4 creatures begin to sing and with them myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands of angels began to sing:

Worthy is Christ the lamb who was slain whose blood set us free to be people of God.

Power and riches and wisdom and strength be to God and the lamb forever amen.

This is the feast of victory for our God. For the one who was slain has begun is reign.

Sound familiar? This is where this imagery comes from, folks! Did you know that?

It’s a weird thing we do, week in and week out. We sing these words, or some variation of them, and we come to the table, an altar, an ancient symbol of a time and place when to communicate with God you had to slaughter stuff and offer them to the priests to offer it to God. But first they’d have to pay for the lamb to give to the priest to be offered up to God. A lamb would have been an image the people of this day got. They would know the significance of this savior, like a lamb who was slaughtered. They knew it was Jesus.

Yet, it makes sense to look for the lion, doesn’t it? That’s our instinct. John is revealing a new kind of strength and power. This savior uses power that will not threaten to kill us in the name of superiority as we’ve seen in Charlottesville. No, this is power that shows itself through vulnerability and sacrifice. This is not lion-power, but slaughtered-lamb power. This is power that looks nothing like the power of their oppressive Roman government they have been living under. This savior, like a slaughtered lamb, was not power that kills them but instead power that dies for them.

When this letter was being written times were chaotic. People were suffering under the violent and oppressive regime of the Roman government. And 5 of the 7 churches had learned how to make nice with the government. They’d become, in fact, a little too comfortable or they were beginning to give up their moral and ethical convictions in order to fit in.

I wonder if we can put ourselves in the place of John for a moment. When looking for the truth to be revealed, uncovered for us, not just anyone can do that. And so we listen for wisdom. And in today’s story, John hears, “look to the lion. That is the answer.” John hears this and looks and what he sees is not this at all. What he sees is quite the opposite. He hears “search for power” and he sees absolute weakness. And that is revealed as the truth. It messes with you, doesn’t it?

So what do you hear? And what do you see?

We hear that we must define ourselves and divide ourselves by our political affiliations. That this, who we vote for to lead our government, above all other things, matters most.

So then, we see our country divided.

We hear our president say that he demands loyalty; we see a revolving door at the White House. We hear promises that the government says they’ll make and keep. We see people killed standing up against hate.

We hear fear shouted out in the staggering bravado of Nazi propaganda, anti-Jewish, racist slurs. We see militia armed and ready.

I’m not sure why we think Revelation is so far off. It is about the chaos of their, our time. It’s a guy writing to churches who have lost the center of worship. It’s a guy writing about the Roman Government and exposing that it should not be the center of their worship. Their allegiance is to God, not government.

Spoiler alert, Rome will fall. Their worship and trust in human structures will give out and their lament will sound out and be an echo to the sound of praise we find here today.

Craig Koester, the author of the book some of us are reading this month, concludes his chapter on this part of Revelation with these words:

Readers live during the time when the power of God and the powers opposed to God are still in conflict. Therefore, the question is whether they will join with those who sing praises to the Lamb, or whether they will refuse to do so, and later join in the laments of those who have sought their security elsewhere.[1]

We listen to scripture. We listen to what God says to us in our prayer lives. We look for the lamb, the way of sacrifice and love. That is who we follow. We do not follow shouts of triumph and threat. We do not follow empty promises. We follow the savior, like a lamb slaughtered. That is our strength. That is our power and might.

Thanks be to God.


[1] p. 80 Revelation – Koester