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The Lion is a Lamb

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Sunday, February 6, 2005 - 11:00am
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Over the years from time to time people have asked me if there are going to be animals in heaven.  Usually the person asking that question has a pet and they want to know if they're going to see their dog or cat or hamster or gerbil in heaven someday. Not having a pet of my own growing up my answer has pretty much been, "No.  There are no animals in heaven.  Heaven is for people. The Bible doesn't say anything about dogs and cats being in heaven."

Then we got a dog, a cute, little, ferocious dog named Cuddles. And my theology changed! Now I'm not so sure. After all, it would be kind of cool to have Cuddles in heaven. She wouldn't take up much room. She doesn't eat much, doesn't shed, she's even potty trained. I don't think she'd mess up the carpet. So maybe there will be pets in heaven.

This week I read about the cat that died and went to heaven and the Lord said to the cat, "We're so glad you're here. What can we do to make your stay in heaven as comfortable as possible?"

And the cat said, "Lord, all my life I lived with a poor family and had to sleep on a hard wooden floor." The Lord said, "Say no more. Here's a big fluffy pillow for your bed!"

A few days later, six mice died and went to heaven. And again the Lord was there to greet them with the same offer. And they said, "All our lives we've been running from cats and dogs and ladies with brooms. We're tired of running. Do you think we can each have a pair of roller skates?" The Lord said, "Hey, whatever." And he gave each mouse a beautiful set of skates.

About a week later the Lord ran into the cat taking a nap on his big, fluffy pillow and he asked him how things were going. The cat stretched and yawned and said, "Wow! This please is better than I ever imagined.  And those meals on wheels have been the best!"  

Are there animals in heaven? Well, if you were here last week we saw a few animals in the description of heaven given in Revelation 4. We're not sure if they're real animals or just look like animals. They were described as four living creatures. One was like a lion, one was like an ox, one was like a man, and one was like an eagle. An eagle. Now that's interesting. I don't know what team God is pulling for today, but I've read through the whole book of Revelation, a few times now, and I haven't found a patriot or a falcon or a giant or a cowboy for that matter. But I do find eagles in heaven.

And today we're going to discover more animals in heaven. Turn in your Bible to Revelation 5 as we continue our series called Apocalypse: The Revelation of Jesus Christ with a teaching I've called "The Lion is a Lamb."

Listen as I read Revelation 5:1-14, Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.  2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" 3But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.  4I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.  5Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." 6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  7He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.  8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  9And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation.  10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." 11Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  12In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" 13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" 14The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Wow! Revelation 5 is a continuation of the scene described in Revelation 4.  Last week, we were left speechless and breathless, standing in the control center of the universe, in the oval office of God himself. And it was filled with beautiful thrones and dazzling colors and roaring sounds and blazing fire and a sea of glass and worshiping elders and singing creatures praising God for his holiness and his worthiness. He's the creator of all things, the God of the universe who is in charge of everything that happens and we need to be absolutely convinced of that as we move ahead into the cataclysmic events that lie ahead of us in this book. God has every right to do whatever he pleases. But we need not be afraid if we are his children and are rightly related to him. His throne is a place of safety and security for those who are on his side.

And now as the curtain lifts on Revelation 5 we find that God has something in his right hand. Look at verse 1, Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.  2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" 3But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.

In the hand of the one who sat on this throne was this incredible scroll, sealed with seven seals. We don't read from scrolls today, we read from books. But in John's day, most writing was done on scrolls, rolled up pieces of parchment that were sealed to keep them together. And if you had a lot to say you wrote on both sides of the scroll.

One seal was usually enough to secure the document, but this scroll had seven seals, which meant that it was an extremely important document. The only document that Roman law required to have seven seals was a last will and testament. In fact, when a will was recorded the Romans held a ceremony involving seven witnesses and each witness would apply a seal to the document to make sure it was secure.

And in addition to the seven witnesses, there would always be a reliable friend who would be part of that ceremony. He was a very significant person. Today we would call him the executor of the will. And he would symbolically pay for all the items mentioned in the will, the land, the possessions, the inheritance, so that when the person died, everything would symbolically be left to this friend. He would be the only one worthy to open the scroll, because he had symbolically paid the price for his friend's estate. And as the worthy one he would break the seals one at a time and read the inheritance that was left behind and distribute it to all the beneficiaries.

So we have this scene in heaven where this scroll, this last will and testament, is to be opened. But at first it looks like no one is worthy to open the scroll. And John breaks down, not so much because he wants to know what's in the scroll, but because he doesn't see a person worthy to open it. Where's the reliable friend who's paid the price? Is there no one in the whole universe that God can trust with his secrets?

Look at verse 5, Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." 6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  7He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.

Wait a minute!  Just at that moment, the reliable friend appears, the one who will pay the price. And the friend is described as a lion, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.  That title comes right out of Genesis 49:9 and Jacob's prophecy that the Messiah would be a ruler from the tribe of Judah. The friend is also called the Root of David, a reference to Isaiah 11:1 where Messiah will not only come from the tribe of Judah, but also from the family tree of King David.

But notice the Lion is also a Lamb, two animals on the opposite end of the food chain, the strong, mighty lion, the king of the beasts and the meek and mild little lamb. This is a description of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, John 1:29.

And he has seven horns and seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God. This is not a picture of Jesus of Nazareth the man who walked the earth.  This is a symbolic image of Jesus. The number seven in apocalyptic literature is the number of perfection or completion. The horns represent perfect power and the eyes represent complete insight and understanding and the seven spirits most likely refer to the Holy Spirit of God.

But notice the Lamb is not perfect. It's not snow white. It looks as if it had been slain. This is not a pretty picture. There are gashes and wounds and bloodstains on the matted wool of this Lamb. They're the scars that Jesus endured for us at his flogging and at his crucifixion on the cross that were so graphically portrayed in last year's movie The Passion of the Christ . Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of the David, the Lamb that was slain and for all eternity he will bear the marks of his sacrifice as reminder that he is the trusted friend who has paid the price for our forgiveness and our redemption. He is the only one worthy to reveal the secrets of God.

Jesus stands right in the midst of the throne, worthy of worship, surrounded by the elders and the four living creatures and takes the scroll from his Father.  Who else could do it? Who else could pay the price for all humankind?

Look at verse 8, And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  9And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."

Often when we think about heaven we think about harps. Well this is the first reference to harps in heaven. Harps were commonly used in Old Testament worship. Harps are symbols of praise and they make beautiful music. This fall I performed a wedding where the only instrument used was a harp and it was heavenly. I'm not sure we'll all be playing harps in heaven, but here we see the worship leaders, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, playing harps and singing too. They're singing a new song about this amazing friend who has paid the price and purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation to make us a kingdom of priests who will reign on the earth.  In the ancient world, the priest was the only one who could dare approach God. Now, because of the Lamb that was slain, we can approach God and have a relationship with him and we will one day be kings and queens who reign on this earth. That's worth singing about!

Along with the harps and the singing we see the worship leaders holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Incense was often used in Old Testament worship as an illustration of our prayers climbing up to heaven. There was an altar of incense that burned continually, 24/7/365, in the holy place inside the temple.

David says in Psalm 141:2,  May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.  These are your prayers and these are my prayers captured in heaven and used in worship of the Lamb. Somehow every prayer we pray is viewed by God as an act of worship and used to praise the worthiness of the Lamb.

Do you see what's going on here? Just like in the analogy of a Roman will, Jesus is the friend who has made the purchase by dying on the cross in our place, spilling his blood for our redemption, so that we can be part of God's kingdom. And now he alone is worthy to open the scroll and give out the inheritance that it contains.

In one sense, the book of Revelation is about how God gives his inheritance back to his people. The world was created as a very good place and given to Adam and Eve to rule and reign over. It was there's to inherit. But when Adam and Eve sinned they lost that inheritance to Satan, the evil one.  The Bible says that he is now in control of this world. Satan is the prince and the power of the air. The whole world lies in the lap of the evil one. But God is going to get it back again and the scroll tells us how that's going to happen. And Jesus, who made it all possible when he defeated Satan by his death of the cross, is the only one worthy to open the scroll.

Look at verse 11, Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  12In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" 13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" 14The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.

This is heaven, folks. This is throne room of God, worship central. Make no mistake about it, whatever is about to happen when this scroll is unrolled, God is in control. As we come to the end of these two incredible chapters the worship builds to a crescendo. First you have the twenty-four elders. Then the four living creatures that are singing "Holy, Holy, Holy."  Then there are angels and more angels and even more angels. Ten thousand times ten thousand is 100 million angels, more than can ever be counted and they're all singing "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise." Then everybody gets into the act, all those in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and in the sea sing praises to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And the four living creatures say, "So be it!" and the elders fall down and worship. Imagine the scene. What a moment this will be and one day we will be a part of it! I get filled up often with just a few hundred of us praising God, let alone 100 million!

This reminds me of what the apostle Paul describes in Philippians 2:8-11, Jesus became obedient to death-even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The beauty and the wonder of these two chapters is going to provide a startling contrast with what is to come. This is heaven's perspective. This is the sunny side of the picture above the gathering storm that is about to engulf the whole earth starting in chapter 6. What we've just seen here is eternal, this is what will last forever, in contrast to the horrific events coming up which are temporal and will one day pass. Revelation puts earth and heaven into proper perspective, which is why our worship here and now is so rich and just like a little piece of heaven come to earth each Sunday morning. We're going to continue that worship right now as we move towards the Lord's Table, our symbol of the sacrificed Lamb of God.

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