Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Revelation 5:11-14[1]
When I was an eager college freshman starting out on my educational journey, because I had already committed my life to ministry, I was a “ministerial student.” Those of us who fell into that category underwent significant testing at the beginning and end of our college careers. We took various personality profiles, including one that measured how dogmatic we were. One of the “tests” we took was to arrange in the order of importance the various tasks of ministry, at least according to our perspective. I don’t remember all of how I answered that test, but I do remember that I placed worship near the bottom of the list. Thankfully, by the time I graduated, it was at or near the top.
I’m afraid that many of us might have made the same mistake. If your experience was like mine growing up, worship was a boring event you had to endure. It was a place where you heard the same old things over and over. The sermons were dry and mind-numbing. The music was typically less than inspiring. And the prayers were hollow repetitions of standard phrases everybody said every week. There just didn’t seem to be much of a reason to be there. For all I know, some of you may still feel that way about worship, although I certainly hope not. But I think we’d have to admit that, for the most part, worship is not something that is a high priority for many people these days.
So, when we hear the lesson from the Book of Revelation for today, it may strike us as odd. It comes from two chapters that are completely dominated by a scene of worship. In chapter 4, those who are gathered around the throne worship God, saying, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). And in chapter 5, the vast throngs of all created beings worship Jesus, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12). In our setting, all that may leave us scratching our heads.[2]
As I mentioned last week, the Book of Revelation provides struggling believers with images of God’s rule as the true reality in this world to counter the claims that contradicted their faith. One of the most basic ways in which the Bible has done that throughout the centuries is by reminding people of faith that, regardless of what may happen to us in this life, God remains on the throne, ruling all things with mercy and love and faithfulness.[3] One of the most familiar expressions of that vision is found in the Book of Psalms. Again and again, the Psalms reassure those who may be struggling in this life that we can trust that God will see to it that his grace will have the last word.
One of the fundamental premises for this faith is the belief that God is the one who created all things in the beginning. As the innumerable voices cry out in Revelation, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, … for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). The idea is that God is the only one powerful enough to create all the heavens and the earth and everything in them. And for that reason alone, for the fact that God has created a marvelous universe, God is worthy of our worship.[4] But more than that, Revelation reminds us that this God is the one who is powerful enough to right all the wrongs in this world.
That, in and of itself, would be reason enough for our worship of God. But the vision in this passage goes on to declare that the Lamb who gave his life for us all is also worthy of our worship. Again, the vast multitude praise him, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12). Part of the reason for this worship is actually found in the verses preceding our lesson: the Lamb who was slaughtered “ransomed for God [those] from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).[5] Because he gave his life to set us all free, he is worthy to receive worship alongside the one who sits on the throne.[6]
I think it’s important to recognize that the scene of worship around the throne of God is framed by the fact that the risen Lord is “the Lamb who was slaughtered.” [7] The Easter message is not that a ruling monarch was “assumed” to heavenly glory.  Rather it is that the power to vindicate one who was executed as a criminal is a power that can transform everything and everyone.  We hold this hope in the assurance that if death could not stop him, then nothing can.[8] And he will continue to transform all things until every knee bows and every tongue joins in the chorus, “worthy is the Lamb”!
Our lesson from Revelation, and the context from which it is drawn, presents us with the two most basic reasons for worshipping God. First, God is the creator of all things, and as such he also has the power to ensure that all things work out for good in the end. Second, Jesus is the one who gave his life for us all, and nothing can stop him from finishing his work of making all things new. Like Christians throughout the ages, we worship God because we constantly need to be reminded of these two central affirmations of our faith. We don’t worship because God needs some kind of ego boost. We worship because we need to be reminded who it is who is at work in our lives here and now. We worship because our Creator and our Savior are worthy.

[1] ©2016 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/10/2016 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] In fact, in the overall purpose of Revelation, “The issue of true versus false worship is fundamental to John’s prophetic insight into the power-structures of the world his readers lived in. In the end, the book is about the incompatibility of the exclusive monotheistic worship portrayed in chapter 4 with every kind of idolatry—the political, social and economic idolatries from which more narrowly religious idolatry is inseparable.” Cf. Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 35. Cf. similarly Craig R. Koester, Revelation, 383, where he points out that the visions of the worship of the beast in Revelation includes features that were common to the Roman imperial cult. He says, “It was common to give gold wreaths to Greek and Roman rulers, who might be called ‘lord’ and ‘god,’ but in Revelation the wreaths and titles are given to the Creator (4:10-11). Similarly, hymns were sung to the emperors, who wanted it known that they ruled by the universal consensus of people in their realm …; however, in Rev 5, God and the Lamb are acclaimed worthy of rule by all creation.”
[3] Cf. Bauckham, Theology of Revelation, 32, where he observes that in Revelation, “true knowledge of who God is is inseparable from worship of God.” Cf. also M. Eugene Boring, Revelation, 102, where he says that “This scene is the theological fountainhead and anchor point for the whole document. The bulk of John’s writing will be composed of visions of the catastrophes represented in the traditional apocalyptic imagery of the seals, trumpets, and bowls of chapters 6-18, … . Yet before portraying these eschatological woes, John wants the hearer-reader to see what he has seen: At the heart of things God rules in sublime majesty, the God who has defined himself as the Lamb who suffers for others.”
[4] Cf. Bauckham, Theology of Revelation, 48: “The one God is defined as the One who brought all things into existence. As Creator, he alone has ultimate power over everything. As Creator, to whom all creatures owe their very being, he alone is to be worshipped.” He says further (ibid., 50) that “the roots of the religious apprehension of the uniqueness of God” is “the awareness that beyond all the interdependence of creation there is One to who alone all things owe even existence …. This awareness is inseparable from monotheistic worship, in which worship is acknowledgment of the ultimacy and incomparability of this Creator ….” Cf. also Koester, Revelation, 350, where he affirms that in Revelation God’s “sovereignty over the world is legitimate because he brought all things into being.”
[5] The language is intentionally inclusive. Cf. Koester, Revelation, 380: “God’s intent was that the earth’s tribes (Gen. 12:3; 28:14; Ps 72:17; Amos 3:2 LXX) and nations (Gen. 22:18 LXX) should be blessed and that all peoples would serve God (Pss 67:3; 117:1; Mic 4:1). Similarly, Revelation calls people of every tribe and nation to worship God and shows them being redeemed by the lamb (Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 14:6).” Cf. also Boring, Revelation, 111, where he observes that both worship scenes conclude on “an absolutely universal note.” He continues, “The last words of the heavenly chorus of 4:11 worship God as the Creator of all; the choir that sings the final chorus of 5:13 in praise to the Lambe is comprised of the whole creation.”
[6] In answer to the objection that the worship of Jesus would seem to be incompatible with exclusive worship of God, Bauckham, Theology of Revelation, 60, answers, “John does not wish to represent Jesus as an alternative object of worship alongside God, but as one who shares in the glory due to God. He is worthy of divine worship because his worship can be included in the worship of the one God.” He elaborates (ibid., 62): “It was because Christians owed salvation to Jesus Christ that he was to be worshipped. …. The salvation was too closely connected with Jesus himself for Jesus to be bypassed in worship offered to God for it, but at the same time it was salvation from God that Jesus gave and so Jesus was not treated as an alternative object of worship alongside God. He was included in the worship of God. More generally, we could say that it was because Jesus functioned as God in early Christian religion that he was worshipped. All the divine functions in relation to the world—as Saviour, Lord and Judge—wre exercised by Jesus, of course on God’s behalf.” He hastens to add (ibid., 62-63), however, that “it is doubtful whether, once Jesus was worshipped, Jewish [Christian] monotheists could for long be content with merely functional divinity. The one who is worthy of the worship due only to God must somehow belong to the reality of the one God.” Cf. also Koester, Revelation, 392: “In Revelation, Christ is not a second object of worship alongside God but is included within the worship of the one God, since God’s purposes are accomplished through him.” Cf. Boring, Revelation, 106, who goes further when he says, “the throne of the Lamb and the throne of God are one and the same—God is the one who has defined himself in Jesus Christ.” The result is “that when Christians say ‘God,’ the one they refer to is the one definitively revealed in Jesus, the Crucified.”                                                                    
[7] Cf. William Willimon, “A Song to Shake the World,” a sermon preached 4/26/1998; accessed at viewsermon.aspx?id=70 . He explains how this scene encapsulates the Easter message: “The Lamb, who knows what it’s like to suffer, to bleed, and to die, now rules with God, as God, at the center of a great shout of acclamation.” Cf. also Koester, Revelation, 386, where he points out three aspects of the “slaughter” of the Lamb as his victory: first, “Jesus conquered by dying as a witness who remained faithful to God”; second, “Jesus’ death is unique in that it alone redeems people for life in God’s kingdom”; and third, the fact that the Lamb is seen as standing means that the slaughtered Lamb is alive, thus “Jesus’ victory continues in resurrection.”
[8] Cf. Bauckham, Theology of Revelation, 73: “Fundamental to Revelation’s whole understanding of the way in which Christ establishes God’s kingdom on earth is the conviction that in his death and resurrection Christ has already won his decisive victory over evil.”

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