Behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the World
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The moment the Lamb takes the scroll to enact God’s will there is spontaneous and unsolicited worship, 5:8ff: ‘…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.’
The four living creatures and the elders, who have previously been prostrate before the one seated on the throne, now offer exactly the same worship to the Lamb as they did to God! The two figures of the one seated on the throne and the Lamb standing in the midst of the throne characterise God as creator and redeemer. The two are never merged because if they were it would mean there is one being but in two guises, sometimes God appearing as Father, sometimes as Son which is the heresy of modalism or Sabellianism. There is only one God as there is only one throne, but occupied by two persons who share the same divine nature. These, together with the seven fold Spirit who proceeds from Christ, constitute the Trinity.
It was customary in the first century to stand for prayer, both in Graeco-Roman practice as well as for Jews and Christians. This prostration therefore demonstrates extreme reverence or urgent supplication. The four living creatures representing the perfections of God reflected in what he has made, and the 24 elders, the angelic creatures representing the whole people of God, sing a new song. This is a new kind of song in the sense that all of God’s creative and saving purposes now find their climax and consummation in Jesus Christ, “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.”
Why is Christ and Christ alone worthy of our trust and worship? 5:9 tells us. It’s all about atonement, the bringing together of God and man by sacrifice. In many ways it may strike us as surprising that the resurrection is not mentioned in this passage, although it is certainly implied since John saw a lamb as if it ‘had been slain’ ‘standing’ at the centre of the throne. But the emphasis is wholly on the sufferings of Jesus. This may well be because John wants to underline the ironic nature of Christ’s victorious death. He conquered through suffering, as even now he is conquering through the suffering of his oppressed people.
There are three things especially to note about Christ’s atonement.
First, it was a bloody atonement. Blood had to be split for our wounds to be healed.
Secondly, it is a broad atonement. People are saved ‘from every tribe, language, people and nation.’
Thirdly, this is bountiful atonement. We are not only freed from our sin but freed for service, v10. The song repeats the affirmation of 1:6 that Jesus, the Lamb, has made the people to be a ‘kingdom and priests’, but adds the future promise that they will reign on the earth. Here the first commission (Genesis 1:28) and the second Commission (Matthew 28) find their fulfilment. As Kelly Kapic puts it is ‘God’s design for his earthly dominion has always been to fill all things with his glory through his royal representatives.’
My Father, enlarge my heart, warm my affections and open my lips, supply the words which proclaim, ‘Love shines at Calvary.’ There grace removes my burdens and heaps them on your Son, made a curse for me. There infinite punishment was due and infinite punishment endured. Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy, cast off that I might be brought in, trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend. May I always come to you through the entrance gate of Calvary to love and praise you for evermore. Amen.
Pray with us today's prayer request:
Three thousand internally displaced persons (IDPs) have taken refuge in the Cathedral compound of Yei Cathedral, South Sudan. The IDPs are mainly women and children fleeing violence. Pray for humanitarian assistance to sustain them. Pray for the Cathedral staff to know how to respond. Anglican International Development (UK) are arranging emergency help.
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