Scripture: Revelation 5:7–14
Alexander the Great, during one of his military campaigns, received word that one of his soldiers had displayed cowardice in battle. The mighty warrior had the soldier brought before him and asked, “What is your name?” The soldier said with fear and trembling, “my name is Alexander.” To this the great commander shouted, “Change your name or change your behavior.” We don’t know what happened to the soldier, but all these centuries later we still know the name Alexander the Great. These names are ones you will also recognize…Washington, Lincoln, Mother Theresa, and Madame Curie—the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. Other names just seem to fit what a person does. Steele Chambers is a linebacker for Ohio State. Doesn’t that sound like a football name? This name is unusual. Believe it or not, there is a college football player who is known as Kool-Aid McKinstry. He was given this nickname by his grandmother because as a baby his smile reminded her of the Kool-Aid Man.
Names are important. King Solomon wrote, “A good name is more desirable than great riches. To be esteemed is better than silver and gold. A good name is better than fine perfume.”
I saw this truth lived out as a young boy in the person of my grandfather Karnes. He was an insurance agent for Nationwide in a small town in Ohio. He was a leader in his church and respected as honest and trustworthy. He was also one of the best Nationwide agents, earning membership in the President’s club. Those agents were featured in a national ad campaign. The special section read in part, “Nationwide says I am one of its top agents so they ran my picture in Life Magazine. I don’t want you to think of me as only a good salesman. I want you to think of me as a person you can depend on to take care of any and all your insurance needs. As a person you can count on for good service.” Long before cell phones and pagers my grandfather had his office phone forwarded to his house so his clients could reach him after normal business hours. The people of his town knew his name and what it stood for. His name carries on in my family as my youngest daughter is named after him.
Contrast the good name my grandfather built with someone who did not listen to King Solomon’s wisdom. Before I tell you his name let me share with you some information about him.
This man was described as muscular and graceful. He was adept at fencing, boxing, sailing, shooting, and riding. In one subordinate’s opinion he was as brave a man as had ever lived. As fine a battle captain as America would produce in the 18th century. Do you know who I am referring to? He fought bravely at the beginning of the Revolutionary War only to become the most famous traitor in American history…Benedict Arnold. His name is forever associated with dishonor and shame.
The most recognizable and meaningful name in human history, however, is Jesus. These are just a few of the many names or titles for Jesus:
- The Word
- Son of God
- Son of Man
- the root of Jesse
- The Christ
- The Lion of Judah
- The Lily of the Valley
- The Mercy Seat
- The Great Physician
- The Good Shepherd
- The Lamb
- Wonderful Counselor
- The Prince of Peace
Who is Jesus to you? This is a question Jesus asked his disciples in our Gospel reading this morning. “Who do you say that I am? Peter boldly responded, “Thou art the Christ.”
In the book of Acts we find Peter going up to the temple and meeting a man who had been lame from birth. The man asked for money. Peter said to him “I do not possess silver and gold but what I do have I give to you: In the Name of Jesus Christ, walk.” Grabbing him by the right hand, Peter raised him up, and immediately the man’s feet and ankles were strengthened and with a leap he stood up and entered the temple walking, leaping, and praising God. Those in the temple were amazed for they had known this man to be the same person who had been begging for money for years. Listen to what Peter said to the crowd. “On the basis of faith in His name, it is in the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given this man perfect health in the presence of you all.” We too can call upon the name of Jesus when we face challenges in our lives.
In the time we have left this morning I want us to look together at Revelation 5. This is an amazing look inside the throne room of heaven as seen through a vision of the apostle John. “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.” This is the book we all want our names to be written in. Getting a look inside is not going to be easy. It is sealed with seven seals and furthermore, John sees a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and break its seals?”
John is excited to see the book opened but instead we learn that no one in heaven, nor on the Earth, nor under the Earth, was able to open the book or even look into it. What is John’s reaction? He begins to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to look inside the book. In the midst of John’s despair one of the elders says to him, “Stop crying, John. Behold the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book.”
So now John’s emotions change. He goes from being distraught to great excitement. He is expecting the Lion of Judah to come bounding into the room and with a sweep of his mighty paw break open the seven seals and get a look inside the book. But that’s not what happened. “And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain…and He came, and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” The Lion and the Lamb are the same…they are both Jesus. I think many of us would have been like John looking for a mighty lion to rush in and save the day….A Marvel superhero in today’s pop culture. The Jews were themselves looking for the Messiah to be a military leader who would deliver them from the Roman Empire. Instead, Jesus comes as a lamb, low key and inviting to all who come to Him.
What happens next in John’s vision is spectacular: “When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the elders fell down before the Lamb, each one having a harp and golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints, and they sang a new song.”
Have you ever wondered if God hears our prayers? Remember what the Apostle Paul said: “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Here we see visual evidence of those prayers in the golden bowls at the feet of the Lamb.
Now let’s go back to the start of verse 9: “And they sang a new song.” I want to pause here for just a moment. In his commentary on this chapter, Dr. RC Sproul “points out in Israel the primary function of songs is to celebrate a new and decisive moment in history where God’s victory had been brought to pass for his people. And what John is saying here is someday, at the moment of final victory, God will give his people a new song.” Here in Revelations 5 we get a sneak peak of that new song. Imagine if God put this new song out on Twitter like singers do today. It would blow up the Internet. Listen to what the elders sang:
“Worthy art Thou to take the book and to break its seals, for Thou was slain and did purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation…”
And then John looks and hears “the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders, and the number of them was thousands of thousands, all of them praising God and saying with a loud voice, ‘worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’ And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea…I heard saying, ‘to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.'” What John is seeing and hearing reminds me of a song by [Christian contemporary music group] Mercy Me called “I Can Only Imagine.” The chorus of that song says, “Surrounded by your glory what will my heart feel, will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still, will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall, will I sing hallelujah—will I be able to speak at all, I can only imagine.”
I can only imagine what it will be like to someday join this heavenly chorus, for truly Jesus is worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing for ever and ever. Amen.