Are You Worthy?

The Following is a sermon I wrote for my Graduate Class at Johnson University (Knoxville, TN). My prayer is that my thoughts from this glorious passage of scripture bring much encouragement to you in these seemingly treacherous of times.

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

   and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

    from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.(Revelation 5:1-14)

“Do you think you’re worthy…? Strange question I admit, but ponder it for a moment. Do you think you are worthy…? Sit back, and consider it briefly. Allow it to soak in a bit; do you think you are worthy? What is your response? Your first inclination I am sure is to ask “worthy of or for what?”  Allow me to elaborate. Do you think you are worthy to fix the brokenness of life? The pains, the struggles, the hurt, the tears of sadness felt all over the globe—are you worthy to fix it? You might be nervously thinking “what kind of question is that—am I worthy to fix the brokenness of life—of course not! Who would ask that sort of thing? And how is that any way to begin a biblical sermon? Thanks a lot for the encouragement pastor!”

Well, before we get carried away and dismiss the question, I truly believe it deserves a second glance. Because when we begin to think about the significance of the world’s brokenness combined with our unworthiness (and by that I mean our inability to carry it out), then we are left with a sincere, deep, and heavy problem—one of hopelessness, despair, and doom. It’s bleak I admit, but it’s a reality if in fact the only resolve to our world’s brokenness is dependent on our worthiness, because as we have already admitted, we are in fact not worthy.

Revelation 5 perhaps helps us resolve this terrifying and complex situation. It is my desire that at the conclusion of all that has been said, concerning this most majestic text, that each of us will have a renewed sense of hope and awe of Christ; that our only response will be one of true worship. But first, may we set some context for our passage.

CONTEXT

Revelation, as we are aware, deals primarily with future events. John, the author on the isle of Patmos writes down visions that are supernaturally given to him regarding “last things” that is, events that will transpire during the last age of history, the church age (the time between Christ first and second coming). In fact John tells us the clear outline of the book in 1:19: Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are (chapters 1-3) and those that are to take place after this (chapters 4-22). Thus, while chapters 1-3 discuss the present situation facing the seven churches in Asia Minor, our present passage until the end of the book depicts how the rest of human history will unfold, climaxing with the final return of Christ.[1]

It may be important to remind ourselves that the book Revelation is written in a special type of genre. One in which has been appropriately called “apocalyptic (taken from the very first word of the book, ἀποκάλυψις).” In its very nature the book is to be taken symbolically and not literally. Therefore, as we unfold the main points of the passage we will have to unpack a few images John describes for us in order to get the overall idea.

Our specific passage (5:1-14) picks up in the midst of a tremendous worship service held in the splendor of Heaven itself! The transitional word “then (καί in Greek, but no doubt a note of sequential transition, thus rightly translated “then”) in 5:1 points us back to the events described in chapter four. There we discover John being transported to the doors of Heaven. The imagery given reminds us of the similar picture pained for us in Isaiah 6 as Isaiah also observed the majesty of Heaven. Here we are introduced to God himself—a description that is seemingly indescribable, and yet John with the best of precision, pictures God in all His splendor being worshiped by all of creation (depicted by the four living creatures of verses 6-8), and the twenty-four elders (most likely the superior order of  angels, so Morris, p. 88).  And they never cease to praise God:

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

who was and is and is to come (Revelation 4:8)!”

So, the setting of our passage is Heaven, and the focus is on the creator of the cosmos, Yahweh, the Great I AM. But the focus takes a slight shift as we enter into chapter five. And it is here that we are introduced to the dilemma—who will fix the brokenness?

OUR UNWORTHINESS

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

The scene seems somewhat simple but it may be helpful to unpack a few images here. First, it seems obvious that the one on the throne is God (see 4: 1-8). Second, we observe a scroll with seven seals. Some have suggested that this scroll is (1) the lamb’s book of life, (2) The OT scriptures, (3) or perhaps a testament that guarantees the inheritance of the saints. But most likely the scroll simply contains, as Mounce puts it, “the full account of what God in His sovereign will has determined as the destiny of the World (Mounce, 142).” In other words, the scroll contains the events of the rest of history—the events between the time of Christ ascension and His second coming. The scroll is protected with seven individual seals which when opened will reveal the description of what will happen during the end time events.

Now, it is here that we discover a complicated dilemma. As we read in verses 2 through 4 there was a call for someone, anyone, in Heaven, on earth, goodness…even under the earth, who was worthy enough to open the scroll and unveil the events of History. And all at once it’s as if the overwhelmingly joyful, hopeful, majestic, and praiseful, mood of 4:1-11 takes a complete downward spiral to despair and dismay. No one is worthy. No one was able (δύναμαι) John writes in verse 3, to open the scroll.

The implication seems to point toward a hopeless and saddened conclusion. John himself begins to weep (κλαίω, carries the idea of weeping loudly or intensely) in verse 4 because “no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”

But why…? Why such saddened emotion at the fact that no one was found worthy to open the scroll? I think it lies in a couple of factors. First, John was told earlier in 1:19and in 4:1 that he was going to be shown what would take place—that is, how history would unfold in God’s grand plan. Upon hearing that there was no one worthy communicated the sad possibility that this amazing revelation would actually never come to fruition.

However, I think this text points to a more subtle truth. This scroll containing the rest of human history would undoubtedly reveal not only how the world would end but more importantly how God would make all things right (the point of the entire book for that matter)! There is magnificent hope within the content of that scroll. Within its pages lie the greatest news ever—God’s complete plan for mankind’s final redemption! So, when John heard that no one was worthy—that no one had the ability—to open the scroll, it conveyed a huge message: the world’s brokenness would never be fixed by our worthiness. The fact remains that we are completely unworthy to bring hope to our final destination. We are unworthy!

These verses develop, I think, a most fundamental truth about understanding our relationship to God. Worship must begin with an understanding that we are unworthy. Our first acknowledgement when faced with the reality of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ, should always be the overwhelming sense of our inadequacies and inability to fix the problems of sin and pain that this world is saturated in. In light of this, one of the greatest obstacles each of us face when seeking to relate and acknowledge the almighty God, is our self-pride. Deep within us, we may feel like we are worthy— that we deserve and are able to open the scroll, break the seals and reveal the divine plan for humanity! How egotistical of us!  Instead what we need to do, what we must do, is respond like John, weep bitterly. John realized, just like Isaiah, that he was a man of unclean lips, among a people of unclean lips! And if no one was worthy to unseal the scroll then what was to become of the state of humanity? And I believe that when we get to this point we begin to realize genuine worship. We begin to realize that God is longing for brokenness, humility—when we get there, we begin to worship. N.T. Wright articulated this realization well:

“When we begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven’t yet really understood who he is or what he’s done (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian.).”

And this text seems to indicate that a part of glimpsing the reality of God involves acknowledging our unworthiness. We then begin to look for someone who may fit that description. And that brings us optimistically to the rest of the passage.

CHRIST’ WORTHINESS

The sorrowful tone of verse 4 is quickly interrupted by the enthusiastic news of verse 5.One of the 24 elders reassures John that there is no need to cry, there is in fact someone who can open the scroll, an individual who is in fact worthy to do so! Look at how the elder describes him in verses 5-9:

 

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

    and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

    from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

    and they shall reign on the earth.”

I don’t believe there is any other passage of scripture that elevates Christ in a more dynamic and significant way. As an announcer at a boxing event introduces, to a highly anticipated crowd, the undefeated champion of the world, so the elder announces the reigning Lion and Lamb! It is Christ—He is the one, and the only one, who is able…who is worthy…to open the scroll and its seven seals!

And let’s refrain from reading too quickly the text to miss a most profound imagery of Christ here. Verses 5 and 6 convey a rather significant truth about the conquering Messiah, and the means by which He has established His kingdom. Read closely again verses 5 and 6:

“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

As we know, the Jews of the 1st century were looking for a messiah who would in fact be an earthly King establishing an earthly Kingdom, who inevitably would put away all oppressing rulers and authorities. So, when Jesus entered the scene claiming to be the anointed one, the religious rulers were more than a little suspicious about the claim. In fact, they counted it as plain blasphemy. And as a result they had him executed on a cross. So much for Christ reigning as king—or so they thought.

In verses 5 and 6 we get a glimpse of how Christ actually did conquer as the reigning king and messiah—he conquered through his death! He is the lion of Judah, the root of David—this points to his kingship. But he’s also the “lamb that was slain”—this is the means by which he conquered. Through his death on the cross Christ conquered sin and death and by his resurrection overcame the power of death allowing all to live forever (1 Cor. 15:53-58).

And so based on his work on the cross Christ then approaches the throne of God and takes the scroll—He alone is worthy to break the seals. And as a result the entire heavenly assembly shakes the walls with adoration, praise….worship!

The song sung to Christ offers us the reason why Christ is worthy to open the scroll (notice the “for” in verse 9, ὅτι equals a causal conjunction) .These statements differentiate clearly the unworthiness of man and the worthiness of Christ:

First, Christ is worthy because he “was slain, and by your blood, you ransomed people for God.” It’s clear, is it not, why in verses 1-4 there was no one to be found worthy? The fact remains, the only requirement worthy of opening up the pages of History, and revealing the outcome of God’s divine and redemptive plan (and by implication resolving the salvation for the world), was the perfect and unblemished sacrifice of God himself. This is the heart of the Gospel! It was “He who knew no sin, becoming sin, that we might be the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 5:21).” And it was by Christ’ sacrifice that our sins were “ransomed,” that is, purchased, bought. Our redemption and salvation was not free—it cost Christ taking the form of a servant, walking our ugly sod, and dying a wretched and spiritually overwhelming death! And as the end of verse 9 makes clear, that salvific event of the cross was available for every nation in the world!

May we just pause for a second and take in the implications of all of this?! I think we may begin to see the foundation of true genuine worship taking place here. Notice, that the assembly in Heaven expresses their gratitude and praise, their adoration and worship, in light of the worthiness of Christ. Worship must always be Christological. It must always be Christ-centric. Once we acknowledge our unworthiness to fix the brokenness of life—our inability to unseal the scroll— and shift our eyes to the only one who is worthy to bring salvation to all—Christ Jesus—then there is nothing left to do but to worship! When we come face to face with the realization of Christ and his salvific work on the cross we must worship! This is what it means to truly worship in spirit and in truth.

  • This is Moses taking his sandals off on Mt. Sinai
  • This is Abraham raising a knife to slay his only son
  • This is David dancing naked in ecstatic joy
  • This is Isaiah in the presence of Yahweh
  • This is Thomas falling down and saying “my Lord and my God.”

May I repeat Wright’s words once more:

“When we begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven’t yet really understood who he is or what he’s done.

OUR WORTH IN CHRIST’ WORTH

We are unworthy, Christ is worthy. This seems to be the formula given in our passage for

true worship. But I am drawn to one more simple truth this text seems to indicate. Let us read slowly verses 9-10 once more:

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

    and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

    from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Notice again the words “you ransomed a people for God.”  Worship is acknowledging our unworthiness, Christ worthiness, to bestow unto us His worthiness! Worship happens when our unworthiness meets Christ’ worthiness. Worship therefore, is an expression of our overwhelming gratitude to Christ for redeeming us to God. And di d you notice the rest of the passage? Through Christ’ sacrifice he has made us a “Kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth!” That’s incredible! The story of Revelation, and the Bible for that matter, points to God, in His divine mercy, taking our brokenness and replacing it with Christ’ perfection! Through Christ, God has adopted us in to His family, called us His own, and has blessed us with every spiritual blessing that is in Heaven! He has taken our unworthiness, and replaced it with Christ’ worthiness! It’s no wonder that for the rest of the passage everyone represented in Heaven can only respond with worship. It’s no wonder that verse 14 ends with these words: “and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

Let me ask you, are you worthy? Perhaps now you pause a moment before answering. Because the answer to that question depends on a proper perspective doesn’t it? If we are asking if we are worthy to fix the brokenness of life based on our own worthiness then the answer is a resounding No! However, if one was to ask if I am worthy to be fixed, then the answer is an overwhelming Yes! Based on the worthiness of Christ I am worthy! I find my identity, my worthiness in Christ. So, may we this morning take time to confess our unworthiness, acknowledge Christ supreme worthiness, and bask in the blessings of Christ’ worthiness in us! As we do I am sure we will find ourselves bowing in worship to our Savior Christ Jesus!

 

 

[1] I am aware of the various viewpoints regarding the structure and interpretive stances in the scholarly community. I personally take what is popularly known as the “spiritual” interpretive view and see Revelation in light of the cyclical structure view held by many amillennialist. Due to time restraints I neglected to go into further detail concerning the books structure and its relation to the passage at hand.

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