If you read the passage above silently, go back and read it again out loud, blessing yourself and anyone else in hearing distance (Yes, I am going to mention that every week! – Revelation 1:3).
What brokenness have you experienced? The death of someone you love? Your marriage falling apart? Having a child that wouldn’t come home? Living with a physical illness that wouldn’t get better or a mental illness that wouldn’t relent? Struggling to find a job to meet the practical needs of your family?
Imagine for a moment that someone held before you a locked box, and told you that inside this locked box is the answer to all of those problems, a solution to all of that brokenness. In fact, what is contained inside this box is the only way these things are ever going to get put right. Close your eyes for a moment and see the box and feel the emotions that would rise at the thought of being a few feet away from your salvation.
The only problem is, you don’t have a key and the box is indestructible. You search the entire planet for someone who holds the key to this box, but the right person cannot be found anywhere. How would you feel in that moment when you realised that this means your brokenness will never be healed, your pain will never go away, and your problems will never be solved?
For me, there would be some initial shock, and then I think I would cry. More than that, I think I would weep and sob uncontrollably, until my tears dried up and my eyes burned, much like I did when I learned our unborn baby’s struggle for life had ended, and he had died.
This is pretty much where we find John in the beginning of Revelation 5. Just as in chapter 4, John is still having a vision of God’s heavenly throne room, the control room of all operations. As he gazes on this progressing scene, he sees a scroll that is completely sealed up. This scroll is like your locked box, it represents God’s secret plan to rescue everyone and everything that is broken. But not just anybody can be the Saviour to the world, and as John looks over all of God’s creation, there is no one who is able to put this plan of God’s into action. So he weeps and weeps; for his brokenness, for the brokenness of those he cares for, for yours and mine.
Although it is unlikely that I will have met everyone who reads this blog, I can say with quite a large amount of certainty that we can all relate to the horrifying pain of hopelessness. Hopelessness tears at our very souls, as if it steals away what it is that makes us special as human beings. It burns and gnaws, and drags us into a darkness that can deceive us into walking away from our dreams, or our families, or even life itself.
If we are honest with ourselves, it deeply hurts to be taken to this place, with these thoughts and feelings. But Revelation must take us here, a few times, if we are to begin to deal with this question that lies at the heart of Revelation of why Christians experience such great pain and suffering.
Thankfully, John is not left in this place of hopeless despair, so neither are we! What follows on from here is one of the most exciting moments (in my opinion obviously) in all of Scripture. One of the 24 elders interrupts the tears and sorrow to tell him that the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David is able to open the scroll. This Lion is of course Jesus himself, who has already been triumphant over the powers of sin, death, and brokenness through his death and resurrection. Imagine the moment, see the relief rush over John’s face like a tsunami, hear the victorious roars of the Lion proclaiming his victory, and feel yourself tremble from its power.
An incredible moment, but the drama is only just beginning. As you would, John turns to see this Lion; but instead of a muscular beast of power, he sees a Lamb that has been slaughtered standing on the throne of God. Jesus isn’t just the Lion who was victorious, he is also the Lamb that was slain; he is both the Lion and the Lamb, at the same time. The Lamb has seven horns representing Jesus being completely powerful, seven eyes representing him knowing everything completely, and seven spirits representing his presence being everywhere completely.
As Christians we all face the temptation to reduce Jesus to just one of these opposing pictures, because holding both at the same time doesn’t fit the way we understand things to work very easily. Over the centuries there have been plenty of Christians whose only focus is on Jesus being the Lion. They know that God sacrificed his life for us, but see God’s kingdom advancing now through brute force and violence. These Christians place their weight of hope onto Christians taking the most influential positions in the world, becoming Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Kings. What they fail to understand is that the Lion was victorious by being a Lamb that was slain, and therefore their actions tend to add to the brokenness that exists in our world, instead of put it right. Other Christians place all of their focus on Jesus being the Lamb, the sacrifice for our sins. To them, that is the only reason Jesus died, so their sins could be forgiven and they could leave this mess of a world and go into a perfect heaven. These Christians do their best to cut themselves off from the hurting and broken world around them, failing to realise that the Lamb’s sacrifice carried the Lion’s power and has permanently defeated all sin, death, and pain.
The Gospel, the message of what Jesus has accomplished for us, is a story that is only complete when it contains both the Lion and the Lamb. Only then is it the “power of God that brings salvation to everyone” that Paul writes about in Romans chapter 1. Jesus is the Lion, so we can claim his victory over the things that are broken in our life, but if we do that whilst neglecting to humble ourselves and repent, we will find ourselves still chained. Jesus is the Lamb, so we can claim his forgiveness over our sins and mistakes, but if we do that whilst neglecting to work towards putting right the pain and brokenness in the world around us, we will find ourselves fruitless and barren.
The scroll can only be opened by Jesus, who is both the Lion and the Lamb; if you want hope that your brokenness will be put right, you will need to understand both sides to Jesus and what he came to do.
One last thought that I find deeply challenging from this short passage in Revelation 5. In this dramatic moment, John HEARS that the Saviour is a Lion, but he SEES that the Saviour is a Lamb. In God’s revelation to John he SPEAKS to him the Lion, but he SHOWS him the Lamb, and that is exactly what we are called to do. We need to proclaim with our voices the Lion part of the Gospel, declaring that Jesus is alive and has been victorious over all that is broken; and we need to live out the Lamb part of the Gospel, showing the unconditional love and self-sacrifice that drove Jesus to die on our behalf.
Switching those things is very dangerous by the way. If all we ever talk about is the forgiveness of our own personal sin and all we ever show people is an arrogant climb to the top, we strip the Gospel of its truth and its full power.
Speak the Lion. Live the Lamb.
This is a continuation of our series on Revelation at Birchfield Church. So if you want to listen to my talks (and others as we go along), please feel free to visit our website here and do that. Also, Tom Wright’s book, “Revelation for Everyone”, has been a big help in understanding this book; so go and buy it now and then read it.
Grace and peace to you all.