"The Lamb upon the throne"

Message preached May 6, 2001
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Revelation 7:9-17

Order of Worship

Do you remember this past Palm Sunday, and the wonderful music with which our children blessed us? I can still see them as they lined up along the center aisle, waving their palm branches. At the appropriate moment in the song (do you recall it?), young Carson Scala started his journey forward, portraying Jesus. I donít think Iíve ever seen so serious a portrayal of our Lord. He was intent upon his task, focused upon where he was headed.

When he arrived up front, seated upon his stick horse, he turned and faced us, still very serious, perhaps a bit nervous. Part of me wanted him to smile. It was, after all, a bright and glorious day. The other part of me sat in awe, nearly in tears, for in young Carson I caught a glimpse of the lamb of God. Funny how such moments of revelation catch us when we least expect them. We think we are enjoying something "cute," and then God opens a door and blows away what we thought we were seeing...

Letís turn our attention, just now, to the last book of the Bible, which is simply described as "the revelation of Jesus Christ ... to his servant John" (1:1). I confess that I have not always expected much out of this particular book in the Bible. Not because it is a "cute" little epistle, mind you, but because it seemed to me to be very strange, and open to just about every crackpot idea imaginable. Funny how God works, though. Often, where we least expect it, God opens a door and blows away what we thought we were seeing.

Before reading this morningís scripture from Revelation, let me set the scene from the wider section in which it falls. Iím referring specifically to chapters 6 and 7, which Eugene Peterson (to whom I am indebted for helping to understand this book) calls "the last word on evil." In these two chapters there are a series of word pictures of frightening and terrible things, bad things happening in this world. Whether we see these as events that have already taken place, as things occurring right now, or as circumstances yet to come does not really matter. Evil has been around for a long time, but it is not to be the final word.

War (6:3-4), famine (6:5-6), sickness (6:7-8), persecution (6:9-11), natural catastrophes (6:12-14), are the result of evil. Do we really need to be told that? No. It doesnít take a rocket scientist to realize it, though we can blind ourselves to the truth. We can pretend, for instance, that how we live in this world has no impact upon it, that choices we make have no ramifications - but is that the truth? Of course not. There is something deadly at work, beyond us and in us, whether we think of it as a deeply entrenched system or as a devil whose fingers are into everything. Thatís not the real revelation in this book, though.

Art used by permission by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992.
Click here to visit her "Revelation Illustrated" site.

Indeed, the truth as revealed by this Word is that evil in this world is already surrounded. Itís days are numbered. You see, before the "players" in this deadly game symbolically portrayed in the 6th chapter of this book take to the field, before evil is unsealed and works its cancerous way into this world, someone is already there - the first of the field. Again, whether we see these as scenes from the past or the future, or even as a present reality for believers somewhere in the world right now, does not matter, for the first and last word here is not evil. The one who enters the scene upon a "white horse" is the first one there (6:1-2).

Think back to Palm Sunday, and young Carson riding a stick horse, portraying our Lord. This Jesus, seated upon a donkey, is the same as the one mounted upon the white horse. He is the first word spoken when it comes to evil in this world. He will also be the last word. Evil is "bracketed" between this first and last word. It is surrounded. Itís days are numbered. That was an important word to be spoken long ago when John first passed this revelation on to those churches he oversaw from his forced exile away from them on the isle of Patmos. They were facing great difficulty, as believers have over the centuries since, even today, and will face in the future. This "revelation of Jesus Christ" is an encouraging word.

You see, in the face of evil - of all the rotten things that can happen in this world, intentionally or not, the question always is this - who can stand? We even have a phrase to describe the trembling behind this question. "I canít take any more," we say, "I canít stand it!" Literally, "I canít stand." When push comes to shove, who can? Courage takes flight... Faith, however, is not just for the bright moments when everything fits together. Itís for the rough times when everything threatens to unravel.

Chapter 6 of the Revelation of John is the unraveling. Evil seems so very strong. However, this tearing apart of the fabric of life is not the final word. Funny how revelation catches us when we least expect to see it. I mean, in the face of the really rotten stuff in life, weíre used to seeing what? The really rotten stuff. We donít get much good during the evening news, do we? Mostly life unraveling. God, however, has a peculiar habit of opening a door at such times, and blowing away what we thought we were seeing... Well, in chapter 7 the question is answered. "Who can stand?" ... The servants of God can and will stand!

This morning, we continued our Easter "season of baptism," rejoicing in the response of Daniel and Patty to Godís love in Christ and Jesusí call to discipleship - the initial steps in a lifelong journey of faith. After being immersed in the water of forgiveness and new life in Christ, we prayed for the Holy Spirit to fully encourage and empower each of them for the steps that lie ahead. The apostle Paul referred to this as being "marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit" (Ephesians 1:13).

In the 7th chapter of Revelation, John beholds the servants of God - 144,000 strong - with this seal upon their foreheads, like the waxen seal of a king upon a letter which indicates this really is a message of the one who sits upon the throne. They are his. Thatís a significant word to hear when everything seems to be unraveling all around. We belong to him.

As I said, Faith is not just for the bright moments when everything fits together. Itís for the rough times when everything threatens to unravel. Think about how, after he was baptized himself, our Lord endured 40 days in the wilderness. We often say that after significant moments in our life of faith, such as baptism, we experience real times of testing, when we are tempted to let go of our faith, to give up, or give in to the way things are, to check out - physically or mentally, to say "I just canít take it any more." After all, who can stand in the face of the rotten stuff that can come our way?

Well, I am here to say that it is precisely at those times that this seal of the Spirit becomes less like a piece of wax on our forehead and more like a power within us, the very presence of the Living God, the risen Christ, who is the first and last Word, surrounding evil with goodness and mercy, encouraging those who struggle to stand faithful to the end. This promise is not just for some future generation that will experience a great tribulation. No, itís for Godís servants of every age.

Now, I know youíre wondering when this prelude to the scripture reading from Revelation is going to be over and you can actually hear the good word for this hour. In the bulletin, I probably should have listed the scripture as being after my "Message," for I want it to be the last word. It answers the question, "who can stand?" by envisioning "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation," from all time, "standing before the throne" of "the Lamb." Folks, Iíve got to tell you, you are in this picture - that is, if you want to be, if you trust in the Lamb who was slain, who has already begun his reign.

The answer to the question, "who can stand?" is a song. When Godís people face difficult times, what do they do? They stand and sing! And the song is powerful. Remember that even when Jesus was nailed on the cross, he sang out a Psalm (Matthew 27:46, Psalm 22:1). The song of the Lamb is the final word, and it strengthens Godís servants to keep on keeping on - no matter how dark the valley they travel.

Patty, to you and to all others who walk a similar path - which probably includes us all in some way, shape, or fashion - we rejoice that you have overcome so much on your way to this day. The fact is, though, that you will probably have some difficult times ahead. Addiction, after all, is a life long struggle. Itís power is great, yes! However, never forget - God is greater! Always remember, "he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4) Thatís a good word for us all, isnít it?

Okay, weíve held off long enough. If you havenít already, would you open up the Bible in your pew (RSV) to Revelation, chapter 7 (itís on page 1076)? Youíre going to help me read it, or should I say, sing it. Using the same translation might be better. Iíll start with the ninth verse. When I prompt you, would you give voice, first to the song of the faithful in verse 10, then to the song of the angels in verse 12, and finally to the song of the Lamb in verses 15-17? As you read/sing/shout, remember Palm Sunday, and the "Lamb of God" riding into Jerusalem amid waving Palm branches. This scripture is our post-Easter Palm Sunday, "the revelation of Jesus Christ."

Art used by permission by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992.
Click here to visit her "Revelation Illustrated" site.

Revelation 7:9-17

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©2001 Peter L. Haynes

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