Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside 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 bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’
Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.’
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,
‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!’
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man named Andy who found himself at the pearly gates of heaven one day, waiting to be admitted. St. Peter was leafing through his files to see if Andy was worthy of entry. “Andy,” said St. Peter, “I can’t see that you’ve done anything really bad in your life but I also can’t see that you’ve done anything particularly good that would qualify you for heaven. Can you tell me of ANY good deed you’ve ever done?” Andy thought for a moment and said, “Sure. I was driving through a bad part of town when I saw about 50 biker guys assaulting this poor, young man. I slammed on my brakes, grabbed a tire iron, and walked up to this big guy who seemed to be the leader. All these guys let the young man run away and they formed a circle around me to see what I was gonna do. I laid that tire iron right across the big guy’s head and he dropped like a stone. Then I turned and yelled to the rest of them, ‘If I ever see you guys around this town again, I’ll give you a real lesson in pain.’” “WOW,” said St. Peter, “I guess you really do qualify for heaven! So tell me, when did this happen?” “Oh,” said Andy, “about two minutes ago.”
Well, surely our friend Andy did more good deeds in his life than the one that ended it to make him worthy to enjoy his heavenly home! St. Peter just needed to dig a little deeper in his files. Few among us live lives absolutely devoid of good deeds, however trivial they may be. Yet we, too, have times when we struggle to recall them and question our overall worthiness to receive God’s grace. But that’s the funny thing about God’s grace–it is completely independent of anything we do or say in this life! God’s grace, by its very nature, is a free gift from God! God continually blesses us with his grace and mercy each and every day of our lives, why should it be any different in our next life? God’s grace abounds for both the deserving and the undeserving.
But worthiness is at the center of our reading for this morning. I’m sorry I wasn’t here last week to formally kick off our last summer sermon series on the book of Revelation. We’ll be here for the next few weeks and, contrary to popular opinion, there is plenty of hope and wisdom to be gleaned from John’s powerful vision. Recall that this entire book that closes out the Bible consists of a vision that the apostle John had of the afterlife. There are a lot of powerful images and situations conveyed that spark the imagination but, as the skeptical are quick to note, they are unique to John and John alone. Who can prove or disprove the authenticity of John’s vision? Well, no one can with absolute certainty but his vision should be regarded in the same way we regard much of Scripture–through eyes of faith. After all, it is a vision that is consistent with who we believe God and Jesus to be. The Father does reign over all so it is only fitting that He should be seated at a throne surrounded by the 24 elders and 4 creatures as we should have heard last week in chapter 4. The Son is the sacrificial lamb as we heard in today’s reading from chapter 5. The angels and multitude of heavenly saints should be singing their praise and adoration of God, our eternal Lord and master. These are images that support what we already believe about God so stop being so critical of John’s vision!
Now then, back to our discussion on worthiness. In our passage, we heard how the Father was sitting on the throne with a scroll in his hand. An angel cries out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Naturally, no one spoke up, neither angels nor saints, because no one is worthy to know what is written on the scroll. Why? Because what is written is not only the unknowable wisdom of God but also the uncontrollable power of God. We’ll hear in our reading for next week what is unleashed in the opening of the scroll and nobody would want to be held responsible for unleashing such power! Nobody except the one who can fully understand and accept such responsibility, Jesus himself. In his living and dying and rising again, Jesus proved himself more than worthy of such knowledge and responsibility. Jesus is the most worthy to receive what the Father has to offer and we ought to give thanks for his worthiness.
But instead we can’t help but weep over our own unworthiness, as John did in our reading. Yes, it’s good to have Jesus but why, oh God, why are we so unworthy? Well, before we succumb to a miserable pity party, let us remember how worthy we are. Jesus may be the most worthy but he did prove his worthiness on our behalf. That means we’re pretty special to him and the Father! Jesus opens the scroll on our behalf and the world is changed for our benefit. Jesus loves us, Jesus died for us, Jesus rose for us! We may not be worthy to fully know the mind of God or wield his power but that doesn’t mean we aren’t fully loved by God. Paul writes in his letter to his Roman congregation, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (5:8) God doesn’t love us because we stop our sinning. God loves us despite our sin! God loves us so much that He allowed his Son to die for us! Recall the words of Jesus in Matthew, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (6:26) Even birds, who toil very little in this world, are provided for. We who toil greatly in this world are also provided for greatly. We have great value in the eyes of God!
Indeed, we are most worthy to receive his full love. God has placed his love in us and He delights in seeing his love blossom. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (1:6) God has begun a good work in you and me, his love is within us and his love will transform the world. We ARE worthy to receive such love! Let us rejoice in Jesus’ worthiness as well as our own worthiness. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.