A sermon by Rev. Prof. John T. Pless on April 22, 2010 at Concordia Theological Seminary
A strong angel. A sealed-scrolled. A teary-eyed seer. An eschatological zoo of four living creatures-one like a lion, one like an ox, one with the face of a man, and one like an eagle. A lamb with seven horns and seven eyes. Twenty-four elders with harps in their hands. Incense swirling from golden bowls. Interpreters ancient and modern have had a hermeneutical picnic in the Bible’s last book. Little wonder that G. K. Chesterton would remark: “though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” Let that be a warning to all who would dare preach on Revelation!
That being said, those who would preach are not to apologize for a text but to preach it. That goes also for the Book of Revelation, bizarre though it is with its cosmic strangeness and its apocalyptic twists and turns. The book finally does live up to its opening line: “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” John is not concealing Christ, but revealing Him. No deus absconditus here; but God revealed.
In the midst of this heavenly liturgy, John weeps. He weeps for God’s mighty angel raises a question that seems to be unanswered and unanswerable: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seal?” No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was found worthy. And if the book remains closed, we are left with hope. The outcome of the church’s future is futility. The reckless assaults of those who scorn the living God might indeed go on unpunished. Sinners are left to their own destructive devices. Evil triumphs and God’s righteousness falters and fails. A sealed book would mean that the will of the Lord God Almighty is inaccessible and hidden. So John’s tears are plentiful for no human being has the capacity to break the seal and peer into the words recorded on this scroll.
John hears a voice that brings what all preachers worthy of the name deliver- consolation. An elder says “weep, no more John…dry your tears for there is One who is here who has the authority to pry off its seven seals.” This One is the Lion of Judah, the Root of Jesse. He is the One promised of old. He is the Lord who opens the Scriptures to the sad-hearted disciples on the highway to Emmaus, showing them that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and then enter into His glory. When John looks up, he sees not a raging lion but standing their in the midst of the heavenly congregation, he beholds the Lamb of the God. This indeed is the theologia crucis, the theology of the cross- the Lion comes as a lamb. The all powerful Lion of Juah comes in the weakness and meekness of a lamb destined for death. This is the Lamb who went uncomplaining forth as sacrifice for the sins of the world. It this slaughtered lamb who stands. Not a lifeless, butchered carcass hanging of a meat hook, but a Lamb now standing with seven horns depicting His power and seven eyes with are the seven spirits of God now penetrating all creation. He is the Lamb who forever bears the mark of nail and sphere, rich wounds in beauty glorified as the hymn puts it. He is the Lamb to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given.
The Lamb alone can open the scroll which He receives from God’s own hand. When He opens it the twenty-four elders and that quartet of living creatures, strange as they are sing a new song. It is not the ancient dirge that recounts the sad and predictable saga of sin and always ends with death devouring its prey. It is not the archaic song of unbroken bondage. It is not the ponderous chorus of prisoners plodding along a path that has condemnation and death as its destiny. It is the new song. It is the Easter song that bids hearts to awake with gladness and see what this day has done. It is the song of the Paschal Lamb who sets us free for He was slain and by His blood, He has ransomed people for God of every tribe and language and people and nation and He has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and our God who will reign on earth forever.
We are not left to be slaves of sin, the property of the devil, and the victim of death. Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, His open scroll reveals that His open tomb gives you a hope and a future. Some of you are anxious today because decisions will be made today and tomorrow about your future. Where will you go on vicarage, internship; where, if anywhere, you will you be called to serve as pastor? Your future is not locked up with those decisions. The scroll is open, never to be closed again. Your future is not with the Placement Committee; your future is with the Lamb who alone is worthy. He has redeemed us that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. Worthy indeed is the Lamb for He has made you a kingdom of priests to His God and Father to reign with Him forever! Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.