The Power of Sacrificial Love

Pastor Kim Gilliland
May 1, 2022 Easter 3
SCRIPTURE: Revelations 5: 11-14
Revelation 5:9 (NIV)

REVELATION

Last week, we began to look at the book of Revelation. I introduced the book and said a few things about it generally. First of all, Revelation may have been written by John but it was revealed to him my Jesus, the Risen Lord. These are Jesus’ words. John is only the scribe.

Second, Revelation is an apocalypse. The proper definition of an apocalypse is not a horrible, destructive event as is sometimes assumed in modern thinking. Rather, an apocalypse is an unveiling, a pulling back of a curtain to reveal what is behind it. Jesus is revealing something to us in Revelation.

Third, the context of Revelation is that the church is beginning to experience major persecutions by the Roman Empire. The Romans have set up Caesar not only as a ruler but also have bestowed on him a sense of the divinity. That makes Caesar a god who is to be worshipped. This is not a problem for most Romans who are polytheistic anyway but it’s a huge problem for Christians who believe in only one God and that God alone is to be worshipped.

There is extreme pressure on the early Christians to compromise and bow the knee to Caesar. And some do. They are the ones who compromise their faith and prefer to take the easy road, the convenient road, the safe road. But the book of Revelation is written to those who choose to overcome and follow the way of Christ regardless of social and political pressure that they face. Revelation teaches them that overcoming is better than compromising because the those who overcome will follow Jesus into the eternal kingdom. But those who follow Satan will end up in the lake of fire. And so the ultimate question become a choice. Are we compromisers or are we overcomers? Compromisers follow Satan in the lake of fire while overcomers follow Jesus into God’s eternal kingdom. Our choices are important because they come with eternal consequences.

BEHOLD THE LAMB

Today, we find ourselves in Revelation 5. In this chapter John sees a scroll lying at the right hand of God’s throne in heaven. It is a sealed scroll, sealed with seven seals. The number seven is important because in Revelation the number seven is the number of completeness. Seven seals means that it is completely sealed. No one can see what is written on the scroll. It is hidden. But what good is a scroll that no one can read because it is completely sealed?

In Revelation 5:2 (NIV), a mighty angel cries out: “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one can be found either on earth or in heaven who can open the scroll or even look inside. And John weeps.

But then in Revelation 5:5 (NIV) one of the elders says to John: “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.” The Lion of Judah, the Root of David is able to open the scroll. This is Jesus. He is the Lion of Judah. He is of the line of David. He can open the scroll.

John looks up with great anticipation expecting to see a power, roaring Lion. But what he sees is not a Lion but rather a Lamb. The Lion has turned into a Lamb. The Lion is powerful, the king of beasts, the one whose roar will strike fear into those who hear it. But the Lamb is none of these. The Lamb is not powerful. The Lamb is a lowly beast whose tender bleat will frighten no one. The Lamb is something else. We read about this Lamb in Revelation 5:9 (NIV) where the living creatures and elders all fall down before the Lamb and sing this 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

    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

This is the Lamb that was slain. This is the Lamb who gave up his life so that by his shed blood he made it possible for all people of every language, people and nation to stand before God. This Lamb, of course, is Jesus. He is the Lion, God incarnate on the earth but he is also the Lamb who became a sacrifice for our sins. This Lamb alone is worthy to break the seven seals and open the scroll.

With this knowledge, with the appearance of the Lion who was transformed into a Lamb, heaven erupts in a mighty chorus that John records in Revelation 5:11-12 (NIV):

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. In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,

          to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength

          and honor and glory and praise!”

Let’s break this down a little. Verse 11 tells us that ten thousand times ten thousand angels join in this chorus. Do you know what ten thousand times ten thousand equals? It equals 100 million. That’s a lot of angels. In fact, it is more than that because, in Hebrew numerology, it represents all of the angels. All of the angels in heaven sing this chorus.

What is the Lamb worthy to receive? Power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honour, glory and praise. These are seven things that the Lamb is worthy to receive. Seven things. Do recall the significance of the number seven in Hebrew. It is the number of completeness. By saying that the Lamb is worthy to receive seven things, it is clear he is not only worthy to receive these seven things. The Lamb is worthy to receive all things. Why is that? It’s because the Lamb alone is worthy. He is worthy because as a spotless, sinless Lamb only he could pay the price for the sins of the world with his shed blood.

The angels have started the chorus. But now the creatures on earth join in. Revelation 5:13-14 (NIV) tells us what John hears next:

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

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

          be praise and honor and glory and power,

for ever and ever!”

The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.

Every living creature on the face of the earth and all the angels of heaven are offering their praise to the Lion who became the Lamb that was slain. It’s because it is the Christ, seen here as the Lamb, who was responsible for creation. That surprises some people. But the Bible is very clear. In John 1:3 (NIV), which speaks of Jesus the Christ as the Word of God, we read: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” It was through Christ that God made the earth and everything in, on and around it. Many in the Church today get this wrong. Many well-meaning Christians equate the Creator with the Father. They may be sincere in their conviction but they are also sincerely wrong. The Father was not the agent of creation. That was Christ’s role.

But if Jesus, the Lamb of God, was the agent of Creation, this may explain what is written on the scroll with seven seals that only he can open. Perhaps, as John seems to expect, this scroll contains the details of God’s plan for creation. But John is in for a surprise for it is nothing of the sort. It is not a plan for creation, it is a deed of ownership.

The imagery goes back to the Roman traditions of that day. Title deeds were sealed after being completed. And only one person was worthy to break the seals and view the title deed. This task fell on the owner and the owner alone.

Jesus, the Lion who became Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is worthy to break the seven seals for one simple reason. He is the owner. Creation belongs to him because he made it. The Lamb of God holds title to creation. When he takes the scroll and is found worthy to open it, he is simply taking back what has always belonged to him. This is his world. He has ownership. His creation is filled with sin but he will sweep creation clean and make it holy again. Nothing will stand in his way. He will win. The Lamb that was slain will be victorious over sin as he claims what has always rightfully belonged to him. And, as we said last week, those who compromised to the ways of the world will become aware of their error while those who held firm and overcame despite the pressures of the world will find that their faithfulness was worth it.

The Lion became the Lamb that was slain. He is worthy to receive the seven sealed scroll, the title deed to the earth. All heaven and earth sing his praises. The four living creatures end the singing with a resounding, “Amen!” And all the elders fall down and worship.

THE POWER OF THE LAMB

But what does this mean for us? How does this impact the way that we live our lives today? One of the key points to this vision is that the Lion is not the one who can open the scroll and reclaim the creation he created. It is the Lamb. This is important because the Lion is symbol of power, the roaring king of beasts. The Lamb on the other hand was slain. The Lamb have no power. A slain lamb scares no one and rules over nothing. So why is the Lamb so important? This Lamb gave himself to free and redeem the creation of his making. The Lamb is sacrificial love. Power cannot break the seals of the scroll, the title deed of creation. But sacrificial love can. This is the love of Jesus who gave himself on the cross for us. This is the love of Jesus that breaks the power of sin and death that has ruled creation since the fall. This is the sacrificial love that enables Jesus, the Lamb that was slain, to reclaim that which always was and always will be his, the creation that he made.

Sacrificial love is the means by which we are reconciled and renewed. It is this sacrificial love that ultimately wins. Never forget that. We see that now in the war in Ukraine. What a great example that is for us today. The Ukrainian homeland, invaded by one of the most powerful military forces in the world, stands in defiance against the aggressor. So far the Ukrainian people have done what no one thought they’d be able to do. They have not been defeated. That have stood strong and united.

Why is that? Is it because they are powerful? Perhaps to a point that is true. The Ukraine has a significant military force but, on paper, it is no match or the Russian military might. Power alone will not allow the Ukrainians to defend their homeland but they have a secret weapon that the Russians do not have. The Ukrainian people have a willingness to give sacrificially and do whatever it takes to defeat the enemy. They will not compromise Ukraine is their land. They hold the earthly title deed to it and through their sacrifice, they will prevail and keep what is rightfully theirs.

Power alone is limited. In the end it will not prevail. But as Jesus shows us, those who are willing to sacrifice will eventually win and recover that which is theirs.

This is not only good news for nations, it is also good news for us. Too many people like power; they have fallen for the lie of the world that power is good and that through power they can get what they want. And to a point that is true. Powerful people tend to get what they want. Money, influence and connections count. With them, people can influence outcomes and attain their goals sometimes at the expense of the powerless. But what they gain through their power will come to an end because the things of this world will pass away. All ill begotten gain will wither away and cease to exist. Ultimately, it fails because it will be overcome by the Lamb that was slain. In the end, Jesus wins.

And so, once again, we are faced with a choice. Last week we had to choose who to follow, Satan or Jesus. To follow Satan is to compromise but to follow Jesus is to overcome. Are we compromisers or are we overcomers. The choice is ours and we have to choose carefully because our choice has eternal consequences.

This week, we are called to make another choice. How matters most to us? Is it power or is it sacrificial love?

The irony, of course, is that the greatest power in creation is found in sacrificial love. That’s because sacrificial love is the only real power. It is the power the lasts. It is the power the heals, that reconciles, the binds us together as the people of God. It is the power that enables us to overcome when the world tempts us to compromise.

Jesus shows us that love. He demonstrated it on the cross as the Lamb that was slain. Revelation tell us that Jesus is both Lion and Lamb. These are not separate but are two parts of the same Christ. And the beauty of it all is this: it is the through Lamb that the Lion roars. It is through the Lamb that the Lion restores creation and reclaims that which has always been his.

Worldly power or sacrificial love, which do we choose? The choice, once again, is ours. But choose carefully because this choice too has eternal consequences.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Your glory, O God, shines from the heavens. Your Spirit fills the earth. Your love reflects from the hearts of believers to nourish the world around us. Thank you for the opportunities to minister that come our way. Thank you for the guidance that you provide sometimes in the most surprising ways. How can we ever count our blessings? How can we adequately speak of your love which is so far beyond our understanding? Still, you call us to do such things and you equip us for this ministry. How great and wonderful you are, full of mercy and grace.

Regardless of the circumstances that arise in our lives, we will choose to have a thankful attitude, acknowledging the good things that you have done. It is very easy to focus our attention only on our own needs and desires, but you call us to a higher reality. Thank you for your promises and the way that you are always faithful to keep them.

We lift up in prayer our political leaders as they seek to guide our nation through interesting times. Our prayers are for all leaders, local, provincial and federal. May they always seek to govern out of concern and for the good of all people.

We pray also for the people of Ukraine as they seen peace and justice in the face of tyranny and oppression.

We lift up in prayer this sick of our congregation and community. We remember, especially, Carol, Mark, John and Ron. We do not confess to know what healing always means. Only you know that, O God, and we would ask you to help us to see the healing when it happens and to give thanks for all things.

Holy One of Israel, we desire that every word that we speak, every decision that we make, every action that we take, and even the motives and intents of our hearts would declare our commitment to faithful relationships with you and one another. Enable us to be like you to the best of our ability so that your Kingdom may be made known and your love shared.

We lift our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

May 1, 2022 / Easter 3

SCRIPTURE

Psalm 30; John 21:1-19; Acts 9:1-20; Revelations 5:11-14

CALL TO WORSHIP

Come, let us lift up the name of the Lord;

for God has lifted us.

Come, let us bless the Lord;

for God has blessed us abundantly.

Come, let us worship the one who gives us life;

our every breath belongs to God.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

You, O God, are the source of all wisdom and truth. We come to worship hoping to better learn how to appropriate your many blessings in life. Help us to truly appreciate the wonders of your love as we grow in faith day by day. Keep us from being distracted and deceived by clever words that would weaken our faith and impair our relationship with you. We desire to draw ever nearer to you for you are the source of our hope. Your Word is truth and your message is love. We give you praise and glory.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Merciful God, sometimes even the best intended actions are misunderstood or wrongly received. When we are confronted with pain, help us to respond with your love, rather than react in anger or hurtfulness. Help us also to remember that the unrighteous responses of others may reveal a need for healing in their lives from past hurts or abuses. It might be that our response to them may be the only example of your love that they will ever know. Therefore, in everything that we say and do, enable us to exemplify, to the best of our ability, your character and ways.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

The stone is rolled away. The tomb is empty. The price of our sins was paid and we are given the gift of eternal life. God is faithful. God is just. God forgives all who truly repent. Praise be to the one who was and who is and who is to come.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

We give our gifts to you, O God, for your work and service. Enable us to give generously out of our abundance for there are many who have much less. May your ministry thrive, spreading the Good News of hope and salvation to all people through Jesus Christ our Risen Saviour.

COMMISSIONING

It is time for us to leave this place and cast our nets in the direction of God’s choosing. Let us go with courage. Let us go with confidence. Let us go with the knowledge that God is there casting with us.

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