In the right hand of the one sitting on the throne I saw a scroll[a] that had writing on the inside and on the outside. And it was sealed in seven places.
I have a lot of interest in World War II. I’ve read heavily about the Allied effort in Europe, and a few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Normandy and walk on the beaches where the massive effort to liberate Europe found a foothold. On those beaches, on D-Day in 1944, hundreds and thousands of soldiers threw themselves against the German wall in a coordinated attempt to take back what the Nazis had stolen by force.
The true measure of an effective war leader is not their ability to draw up a plan that will defeat the enemy. The way we judge the leaders of the troops is how they are able to adapt their plans when the enemy attacks and everything begins to fall to pieces. Is the leader able to regroup and refocus the troops so that they are able to maintain their forward momentum and still capture the objective? Or does the actions of the enemy scramble the carefully laid plans and prevent the troops from reaching their objective?
Today, I want to begin talking about purpose. I want to talk about overall objectives. See, I believe that God acts with a purpose. I believe God has a mission, what you may hear called mission Dei, and that God has been singularly focused on this objective since the beginning of time. What is God’s mission? I believe God’s mission is to gather all people to himself. This is the purpose towards which God has been always acting. There is a great book called The Mission of God, in which Christopher Wright begins in Genesis and moves toward Revelation, unfolding how Scripture communicates this one singular theme, this Biblical arc in which God is always moving. From God reaching out to Abraham to God’s calling of the Israelites to God entering into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, this is God’s purpose unfolding in human history. When human sin threatens to thwart God’s action, God continues to reach out, offering forgiveness and new life, always reaching out and adapting to the human condition. God’s love is not stopped by human sin.
So here, in Revelation 5, we begin with John seeing the scroll in the hand of God. One way to interpret this scroll is to understand it as God’s plan for humanity, God’s overarching purpose, which will be fulfilled when the seals have been broken and the scroll is unveiled. This scroll is, quite literally, what we’ve always been waiting for.
From here, we move on to verses 2-4.
“I saw a mighty angel ask with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or see inside it. 4 I cried hard because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or see inside it”
Here, we move the focus from God’s purpose to human sin. From the moment Adam and Eve fell prey to the temptation to move beyond the role assigned to humanity, our sin has been rampant in human history. Sin separates us from God, and sin prevents the grace and love of God from flowing through us and into the lives of others. Sin is selfish, grabbing up glory for ourselves when we ought to be selflessly laying ourselves down so that others may see the glory of God shining through us. Sin breaks relationships, between one another and between us and God. Sin is personal, in you and in me, and sin is systematic, causing breakdowns in how humanity relates to one another. We see sin in the selfishness of a child, and we see sin in the wars that divide nations and turn citizens upon one another. We see sin in the breaking of relationships due to addiction, and we see sin in the casual disregard we cast upon the least of these as we seek to accumulate more for ourselves. Sin is around us, and it is in side us. Sin seeks to thwart the promises of God.
John, here in Revelation 5, recognizes that the reality of sin threatens the purposes of God. The scroll of God, the fulfillment of God’s purposes in and for all the world, is sealed, and there is no one worthy to break the seals and free the mission of God in the world. No one is sinless, and thus sin threatens to conquer.
Here, recognizing the threat, John weeps.
Here, there is a valuable lesson for us.
See, sin is all around us. We’ve actually grown used to it. We grow accustomed to seeing the poor among us. We’re so used to the reality of war in our world that we tune out the devastation in Ukraine, the refugees in Syria, the despair in Central America, the gang violence in America. We’re so used to the brokenness that surrounds us that we become immune to it. I saw it in myself in Chattanooga, when I was constantly bombarded by the poor, that my heart stopped breaking for those who had fallen behind. I hardened my heart, and in so doing I joined a long Biblical tradition.
When Pharaoh didn’t want to hear God speaking to him through Moses, he hardened his heart. When the Israelites didn’t want to listen to where God was calling them in the wilderness, they hardened their hearts. When the people didn’t want to listen to the prophets, when Judas refused to hear the love of his Savior, they hardened their hearts. They stopped listening to where God was calling them, and God’s purpose could no longer flow through open conduits, but had to find other ways to enter the world.
In Hebrews we hear the urge not to harden our hearts. In Revelation, we see John weeping for the ways sin has threatened to prevent God’s purpose from unfolding.
I urge you, brothers and sisters in Christ, do not harden your hearts. When you see brokennjess and sin in the world, let it break your heart. Recognize what is happening, and weep for the sin in the world, because in this way, when we feel the impact of sin, we recognize how important it is, and then we can be led into being part of the solution.
What is the solution?
Here, we keep reading:
5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop crying and look! The one who is called both the ‘Lion from the Tribe of Judah’ and ‘King David’s Great Descendant’ has won the victory. He will open the book and its seven seals.” 6 Then I looked and saw a Lamb standing in the center of the throne that was surrounded by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb looked as if it had once been killed. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, sent out to all the earth.
7 The Lamb went over and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who sat on the throne. 8 After he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders knelt down before him. Each of them had a harp and a gold bowl full of incense,[e] which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 Then they sang a new song,
“You are worthy to receive the scroll and open its seals, because you were killed. And with your own blood you bought for God people from every tribe, language, nation, and race.
10 You let them become kings and serve God as priests, and they will rule on earth.”
11 As I looked, I heard the voices of a lot of angels around the throne and the voices of the living creatures and of the elders. There were millions and millions of them, 12 and they were saying in a loud voice, “The Lamb who was killed is worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and praise.”
13 Then I heard all beings in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea offer praise. Together, all of them were saying,
“Praise, honor, glory, and strength forever and ever to the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”
14 The four living creatures said “Amen,” while the elders knelt down and worshiped.
What is the solution to the problem of sin?
There is only one answer. Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior of all, is the answer. He, and He alone, can atone for sin. Only Christ is able, only Christ is worthy, only Christ can make the required sacrifice to repair the breach sin has caused.
When we try and substitute any other solution, we take the honor that belongs to Christ and try and give it to someone or something else.
Friends, Christ alone is worthy. When we go out into the world, we can only begin to work to heal the damage of sin if we listen to Christ and let the love of Christ flow in and through us. We must fix our eyes on him and his redeeming and saving love, and in doing everything we can to purge sin from our own lives, we allow Christ’s love to flow in and through us to heal us and the community around us. Sin is real, and it is breaking the world, but God will not allow it to thwart his overall purpose, and that is to gather all people to himself. God longs to forgive, to heal the pain sin has caused, and when we recognize sin’s power and it’s real effect on the world, when we allow our hearts to be broken, we can then begin to join with God in being part of the solution.
God has not called us to sit idly by. We, whose hearts should be broken by the poverty and brokenness around us, are called to join with Christ in being part of the solution. Christ sent the disciples into the world to proclaim the truth of God’s redeeming love, and you, too are sent. The challenge for each of us is twofold:
Where in the world, in your community, in yourself, is sin breaking through, threatening to thwart God’s redeeming love working in you?
How can you join with Christ, in your worship and in your service, to make your life an effort of co-creating the Kingdom the God here on earth, healing the brokenness and letting the power of the Lamb flow through you, leading you to a life of selfless service, rather than idleness?
Let us pray