The busiest place to be in the Navy would probably be on-board an aircraft carrier. Over 300 m in length, home to thousands of people, hundreds of warheads, dozens of planes and helicopters.
And, in full-flight, during an operation, it must be an incredibly frantic, scary, chaotic, and exhilarating place to be. There’d probably be NOWHERE an observer could stand, and be out of the way.
Just imagine it! Wherever you look there’s action. People running everywhere, shouting commands. Working at a feverish pace, doing their particular job. Getting in each other’s way, bumping into walls, and one another.
Planes being moved, fired up, weapons being checked, equipment moved around. Guns being loaded.
The noise would be incredible. Sirens, loud-speakers, planes taking off. Guns firing. The throb of the engines.
On the SURFACE of it, things would look OUT OF CONTROL, DISORDERLY, CHAOTIC. Everyone doing what THEY wanted. Seemingly INDEPENDENT of everyone else. HINDERING each other, rather than helping.
But if you walked onto the BRIDGE, my guess is you’d get a DIFFERENT impression. It’s the control room for the whole ship. Where the CAPTAIN is. And all his assistants. Each one responsible for different area.
UP THERE it’s ALL CALM and ORDERED. There’d be the captain. Sitting in the middle of the room. You’d be able to hear the INSTRUCTIONS he gave. And you’d see the effect they had. You’d realise that everything down below – each person, and each piece of equipment – was going EXACTLY WHERE IT WAS INTENDED TO GO.
Suddenly what’s going on BELOW starts to make a WHOLE LOT MORE SENSE.
While things may look CHAOTIC on the flight-deck, or in the equipment hold. When you see the VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, in fact, they’re COMPLETELY UNDER CONTROL.
View from the bridge (4:1-2)
And that’s what John gets to see in these of chapters. The guided tour of the ship’s bridge. But rather than controlling an aircraft carrier. This room controls the WHOLE UNIVERSE.
And where the chaos and mess that we see going on HERE, is replaced with the perspective and purpose of God. Wisdom and eternity and holiness and worship / replace chaos and short-sightedness and suffering and godlessness.
In v1 John sees a door standing open in heaven. It’s an invitation to be an eyewitness. And he’s taken in a vision to HEAVEN ITSELF.
So let’s travel with him. Let’s step through the door. And into the throne-room of heaven. Look around you. What do you see?
You see a series of circles. All concentrated on the centre. Which is the focal point. And the focal point is God himself. Who you’ll notice is indescribable. Even in a vision. Think of precious jewels. Jasper and carnelian. And he’s … LIKE that.
Think of a rainbow made of sparkling emerald. There’s something LIKE that in a circle round the throne.
Because even in a vision, that’s as close as you’re going to get to picturing God.
Then AROUND THAT you’ve got ANOTHER circle. 24 thrones in a ring. And on each throne, he says there are one of 24 elders. Picture them. Because they’re dressed in white, and each of them has a gold crown. These guys are important. These guys have got thrones and they’ve got crowns.
But they’re all facing inwards. To the centre of attention. God himself. On the throne.
And from the centre. From the throne, you SEE lightning. And HEAR thunder. Symbols of God’s majesty and power. Just like when God appeared to Moses on Mt Sinai. That’s what the people saw as they looked up onto the mountain.
There’s never any doubt… as to who’s the centre of attention.
Have you got that picture in your mind? Because there’s MORE. In the centre, immediately around the throne, are four living creatures.
But not just ANY creatures. These are the pinnacle – the cream of the crop. If you had to pick four creatures to represent the whole animal kingdom, these four would be as good as any.
There’s the lion. The greatest PREDATOR. The most-feared animal. There’s the OX, the STRONGEST animal. There’s MAN – the ruler over the other animals. And then there’s the EAGLE – the king of the air.
And they’re covered with eyes. Perfect insight. Perfect perception and discernment. They see things the way the WHOLE CREATION should see things.
No matter HOW IMPRESSIVE THEY are, they’re impressed by someone ELSE. Day and night they never stop saying, :
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,: who was, and is, and is to come.” NIV
And as they do that, can you see in verse 10, the 24 elders join in. And they worship him who lives for ever and ever as well. And they take off their golden crowns, and they lay them before the throne, and they’re saying, you’re the worthy one, Lord and God… to receive glory and honour and power.
You’re the worthy one to be worshipped. You’re the one to be thanked. Because you’re the one who created all things. And by your will they were created… and have their being.
When lots of OTHER things holler for our attention and worship. Seduce us into giving THEM our energies and emotions and awe. There’s only ONE who actually DESERVES it.
Have you seen “The Wizard of Oz”? Dorothy is transported from Kansas, and lands in Oz. She longs for home, so she must travel to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard of Oz. He’ll be able to send her back to Kansas.
Along the way she meets a lion, a tinman and a scarecrow. And each of THEM is headed to the Emerald City to make requests of the Wizard. The lion lacking courage, the tinman needing a heart, and the scarecrow who longs for a brain.
When they finally arrive. And are granted an audience with the Wizard, they’re terrified by the awful flashes of light, smoke, and thunderous booming voice that fill the great hall.
Until Dorothy’s dog Toto pulls at a curtain in one corner. And reveals a little old man operating buttons and levers, and speaking into a microphone. In fact, he looks just like the medicine-show con-man back in Kansas. The wonderful Wizard of Oz.
He CALLS for their fear and awe. But he can’t DELIVER what the group want. The whole country looks to him as the one worthy of their respect and honour. Yet, his terrifying splendour is all an act –smoke and mirrors.
The point the movie makes is that what the Wizard COULDN’T do, the travellers could do THEMSELVES. Over the course of the journey the tin-man had revealed his compassion, the lion his courage, and the scarecrow the ability to think. Even Dorothy had the power to return to Kansas.
The perfect fable of humanistic, rationalistic, individualistic, post-modern Western culture. “The power is within you – you don’t have to look anywhere else”.
If we take a step back from the movie. And think about how this Ch of Revelation critiques it. We see that the movie ITSELF is using smoke and mirrors.
Because the humanistic individualism of Western society, which says that the answer to every problem can be found by searching INSIDE yourself. Is just as barren and bankrupt as the trickery of the Wizard.
Mankind worships EVERYTHING BUT the only One who’s WORTHY of our worship. The one who sits on the throne, who was, and is, and is to come. The one the four creatures, and the elders worship.
It’s what the Bible keeps saying over and over again. In the midst of idolatry, where men keep bowing to created things; things they’ve made with their own hands. Or to a puny little Emperor of Rome. Or thinking that THEY can solve all of earth’s problems.
It might be OBVIOUS idolatry like other religions, or materialism. It might be LESS obvious, and be the idols of personal fulfilment, family intimacy, education, physical fitness.
Revelation 4 says “Don’t waste your time. Worship the one who by his will brought everything into being. And by his will keeps everything going.
But as we keep looking, you’ll notice that’s not quite the end of the picture. There’s more to come. Because there’s one more… who’s worthy of worship.
Another Who is Worthy of Worship (5:1-14)
As all eyes are on God, we notice that he’s holding A SCROLL. A blueprint for his ACTION in HISTORY. A COMPLETE plan for THE WHOLE of time – full of writing on both sides.
And it’s got God’s AUTHORITY behind it. It’s sealed with seven seals. So before God’s plans can be put into effect, the seals have to be broken. By someone with the AUTHORITY OF GOD HIMSELF. Someone who’s got the power to see God’s plan through to completion. The active agent.
And so, in v2, the cry goes out, “Who’s worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” The job vacancy’s advertised.
But there’s no response. AN uncomfortable silence. No-one who measures up. No-one with the qualifications.
What a tragedy that God’s plans will never be completed. Plans of rescue and justice and judgment. Of goodness and purity and salvation and peace and purpose. None of them will ever see the light of day.
And so John weeps and weeps. The utter despair. The tragic waste. The Injustice of it all.
Except he’s thrown the towel in a bit too early. One of the 24 elders hands him a tissue and says, don’t cry. Look. You’ve given up too soon. He says, look! The Lion of Judah, the root of David… the great King of Israel like no other … he’s triumphed. He can do it. He can open the scroll and its seven seals.
In all of heaven and earth… there’s nobody like the great Lion of Judah. The elder says, look around. Meet him.
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been kind of disappointed by the lion display at the zoo. I’m always a bit disappointed whenever I go to Taronga Zoo. You read the sign about the king of the jungle. And you look around, and you’re hoping for a glimpse of something scary.
But all the lions are just asleep. There’s always some kid there trying to stir one up to get a bit of action. Tapping the glass.
And he just lies there. Snoring. Which is kind of disappointing, and not quite what you’d expect from the main attraction at the zoo.
Now the disappointment… or the surprise… that John’s about to get is slightly different. But just as jarring. Because when he turns to see the lion… he doesn’t see a lion at all.
Take a look. Because I want you to appreciate what I reckon is one of the most brilliant moments in the whole New Testament. 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.” : Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.
He looks for a triumphant lion. And sees a spattered lamb instead. And this slain lamb… is standing in the CENTRE of the throne… that’s standing in the CENTRE of the powerful living creatures… who are standing in the CENTRE of the thrones of the 24 elders.
Which means at the centre of the centre of the universe… there’s the image of the most humble, most sacrificial suffering.
I mean, there’s no surprise, is there, the lamb is a picture of Jesus. And if you get together the courage to see Mel Gibson’s movie and you can watch while they simulate the whipping and the and the nails and the cross, it’s that -spattered sacrifice… that John sees as being right at the centre of the throne that’s right at the centre of God’s glory. At the centre of the Universe.
The greatest victory. The declaration of greatest strength and might. A triumph any LION would be proud of. Is achieved by the greatest act of weakness and submission and ridicule. It’s the moment around which the whole of history swings.
And so this Lamb is perfectly qualified to put God’s plans into action. The lamb steps forward and takes the scroll. Which we’re going to see unrolled next time.
And when he takes the scroll in verse 8, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before the Lamb. And with their harps and their bowls full of prayers, they sing a song. “YOU are worthy. Because you were slain. And with your ,” verse 9, “you bought and paid for us; with your , you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you’ve made them into a kingdom; and you’ve made them like priests. To serve God. And reign over the earth.”
At which point thousands of angels join in the song. Another circle around the throne and the elders and the creatures. And will you notice what they do. They worship THE LAMB. In very much the same way and the same words as the elders and creatures worshipped THE CREATOR in chapter 4.
And in a loud voice they’re singing the words of verse 12.
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!
And if you thought the praise for GOD was glorious in Ch 4. That’s nothing. Because more than just the 4 creatures. More than just the 24 elders. More than thousands of angels.
Look at v13. EVERY CREATURE in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, every creature you can imagine, joins in and sings “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 worshiped.
Worshipped God the father who made them. And God the son; the spattered lamb – who bought them with his at the cross.
Lay Down your crowns
I wonder if you get any of the impact of that? Or the implications?
It’s a picture, in the end, of who’s worthy of worship. And who isn’t.
It’s a picture to keep in mind if you’re one of the Christians John’s writing to. Or John himself. And you’re asked to confirm or deny the rumours you’re a Christian. And threatened with if you don’t.
So who are you going to worship? Because there’s no way the claims of Caesar can match the claims of the father who created and sustains us. And His Son… who paid for us in .
It’s a picture as well that raises some interesting QUESTIONS as well. In a Christian culture today that talks a lot about worship. And asks the question what does real worship look like? You’ll find Christians shopping around for a church where they like the style of worship.
Which is incredibly odd when you think about it. As if worship is something to have a personal preference about – like whether you prefer country and western music or rock and roll.
It’s confusing, because in the midst of all the music going on in this vision of the throne room, the real worship is something else.
It’s a question of who you bow to. And it’s not really about your preferences at all.
I want to suggest to you that the picture of the essence of worship is back in chapter 4 verse 10. And it’s worth looking back to. “The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever…” and how do they do that? They lay their crowns before the throne. And say you are worthy to receive glory and honour and power. Not us.
See, that’s how it actually worked with Caesar as well. To worship Caesar back then was to say there’s no higher authority. And to submit yourself under his rule.
And so these elders in the vision, with their own thrones, with their golden crowns; worshipping God means laying their own crowns at his feet. Saying we’ll do it your way. Not our way.
Which is really all a Christian is. Someone who hands their corwn over to God, and lets HIM rule instead.
And it’s an attitude that’s meant to carry through all of life. Every day. And not just an hour or so singing songs in church.
Back in Romans 12, Paul says the same. He says, present your whole lives as a living sacrifice. That’s your true spiritual worship. And yet we somehow can’t get rid of the idea that worshipping God means singing a few songs.
Lay down your crown. Let god be god, and not you.
And as you do that, and you realise again who else is at the centre of the throne, there’s a challenge, isn’t there? As we’re reminded again what REAL GLORY looks like.
Because in spite of Caesar’s invincible armies, in spite of the glory and power that was the Roman Empire, in spite of the sort of ego that makes the Emperor of Rome demand his subjects bow down and worship… the real glory at the centre of the throne looks like self sacrifice. Looks like the descendant of David who went to the cross. To carry the punishment he didn’t deserve.
And so instead of pursuing glory in your career, instead of pursuing wealth and influence and social status; instead of manipulating and pulling strings to make yourself the centre of attention… when you catch a glimpse of John’s vision, you’ll be moved toward the sort of real worship… that’s about sacrificing yourself daily… in honour of the one whose symbol isn’t the power of the eagle or the roar of the lion… but a looking lamb. Sacrificed for us. And calling us to live sacrificially as well. Determined to worship no-one else… or nothing else … than the Father who made us. And the Son who bought us with .
Who’s at the centre of your universe?