Why Praise the Lamb?

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Easter Sunday 3
May 1, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary : This text consists of two hymns of praise to the Lamb, Christ and God by the heavenly hosts, but no reason for these praises is given. If we put these hymns in the context of the whole of Revelation, we see that the Lamb will open the scroll that reveals God's "game plan" for the world, a plan that ends with the defeat of evil and the heavenly city coming down to earth.

We're in heaven today with our short reading from the book of Revelation. Billions of angelic beings are singing the praises of the Lamb who was slaughtered and yet stands before them, the crucified Christ who is risen beyond the power of death. Every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and in the sea echoes their songs.

And even though the answer may seem obvious, we ought to ask, "Why?" Why is the Lamb worthy to receive the full-voice accolades that angels offer?

We're now in the Easter season, a time in which the dominant theme of the church is celebration of Christ's resurrection, the victory of life over death, hope over despair and forgiveness over condemnation. It's natural for our hymns and our whole worship to express thanks and praise for that. But the book of Revelation wasn't written just for Easter worship. The lectionary includes readings from Revelation for the rest of the Sundays of this Easter season, and this is a good opportunity to get a picture of what's happening there.

The book of Revelation comes from the late first century of our era, when Christians in the Roman Empire were being persecuted, and it was written by a Christian named John in exile on an island off the coast of modern-day Turkey. In the first chapter, he describes an overpowering vision of the risen Christ who told him to write letters to seven churches in the area, commending the steadfastness of some, reproving others and encouraging all to greater faithfulness. The contents of these letters, included in chapters 2-3 of Revelation, help us to understand how early Christians were living in a dangerous time.

Then John is invited to come up to heaven to see "what must take place after this."1 Suddenly he is in heaven and sees One whose appearance is like glorious gems upon a throne, the seven spirits of God, and 24 elders around the throne. Four six-winged living creatures, "glorious beasts with many eyes Exult before the Crowned,"2 and with them the elders singing God's praises.

In the right hand of the One upon the throne is a scroll, written on the inside and back and sealed with seven seals. An angel cries out, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?"3 But no one was able to do that, and John begins to weep bitterly.

Why should that cause him to burst into tears? Well, remember that he had been invited into this heavenly vision to be shown "what must take place after this," and he expects to see the divine "game plan" for the future of creation. Somehow, he knows that that's what's in the scroll, but if God's plan is a closed book, he'll never learn "what must take place."

Now we come to the specific reason for the hymns of praise in our text. An elder tells John that there's no need to cry, because "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."4 Now John sees near the throne a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered. The Lamb takes the scroll, the elders and living creatures rejoice, and angelic hosts praise the Lamb and the one seated on the throne.

What John saw

So now we know the reason for those songs of praise. They aren't just because of the bare fact that Christ is risen from the dead, but because his death and resurrection are the key elements in God's plan to overcome the forces of sin and destruction that threaten creation. When the seals are opened in the next chapter, we'll be given a look at what the future will bring. We'll need to realize that "what must take place after this" won't be set out in straightforward prose but will use images whose symbolism aren't obvious to us in the 21st century. They weren't all that obvious in the first century either! No football coach or leader of a political campaign would lay out a plan in that way.

Now, in chapter 6, beyond today's reading, the seals are opened, one by one. With the breaking of each of the first four, one of the living creatures cries with a loud voice, "Come", and we see the famous "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" unleashed upon the world. A rider with a sword on the white horse points to conquering armies, a blood-red horse bears one intent on slaughter and a rider on a black horse suggests scarcity and famine. The fourth horse is pale green, hinting of pestilence, and its rider's name is Death and Hades.

The fifth seal is opened, and John's eyes are turned to a heavenly altar. Under it are the souls of those who have been killed because of their faithfulness to Christ. They cry out for their deaths to be avenged, for the truth of their testimony to be made clear to all the world. But they are told that they must wait a little longer, because they will be joined by other martyrs.

And when the sixth seal is opened, the whole earth is shaken by a tremendous quake, the sun is darkened and the moon turned to blood. The wealthy and powerful of the earth beg to be hidden from the one seated on the throne "and from the wrath of the Lamb" -- the Lamb who is the Lion of Judah and is not a tame lion.5 The stars have fallen and the sky has vanished.

There's a pause while God's servants on earth are sealed, which may be a reference to baptism.6 Then John sees in heaven a great crowd beyond counting, clothed in white and carrying palm branches. John is told that they have "come out of the great ordeal," that now the Lamb will be their shepherd and God will wipe away their tears.7

Rinse and repeat

Finally, the seventh seal is opened, and it's not unreasonable to think that this is the end. The world seems already to have been brought close to complete destruction, and surely this must finish it off. But after a brief pause, seven angels blow their trumpets one by one. The first six usher in new catastrophic events -- hail and fire, huge objects crashing to earth (think of asteroid impacts) and invasions of monstrous beasts and armies. Then the seventh angelic trumpet is blown, and we're back in heaven and hear the choirs singing "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah."8

This pattern is repeated four more times, with groups of seven pictures or events, most of them on earth and most of them catastrophic, alternating with scenes in heaven. It's as though a series of plays is put on to show "what is to come" for the earth, alternating with heavenly scenes to remind us of who is really in charge. We're not given a series of pictures of events in chronological order from A.D. 100 to the Last Day. Instead, these dramas show Christians of the first century -- and can show us today -- the kinds of situations that can threaten God's people on earth, while continuing to remind us that Christ has won the decisive victory over the powers of evil through his cross and resurrection.

Revelation's images of events on earth can be puzzling. But as we move through the book, knowing that Christians were being persecuted by the Roman imperium when it was written can help us to see the meaning of some of its imagery. The Roman Empire is now history, but there are other powers -- political, cultural and physical -- that still threaten God's people. Nevertheless, the victory of the Lamb who was slain continues to be celebrated in heaven.

We read of the final defeat of the powers of evil, of the holy city coming down from heaven to a renewed earth, and of people bringing into it the glory and honor of the nations.9 The church's life from the beginning to the end of the world follows the pattern of the individual believer's journey, as a verse of the familiar hymn "Amazing Grace" pictures it:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares

I have already come;

'tis grace has brought me safe thus far,

and grace will lead me home.

Yes, Revelation is not an easy book to understand, but we can take heart from its overall message: Christ has won the decisive victory over the powers of evil through his cross and resurrection. Thus, we can look forward with anticipation.


COVID-19 and Proclaim Sermons : We are very aware of the innovations pastors are making to bring their preaching directly into homes. We want to help in every way we can. Please feel free to use Proclaim Sermons in any way you need to in your efforts. This includes copying it into emails, using it in video broadcasts or on your website ... frankly, please use it however you think will best serve your congregation.