Rev. Paul J Cain
Worthy is Christ!
Third Sunday of Easter, 14 April 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Amen.
At times, we take things for granted. We may do them so often, we forget the meaning behind them. For that reason, the Church Year is a good discipline. It helps protect us from taking parts of the liturgy for granted. All throughout Lent, we refrained from singing “Alleluia.” We now have it back. And we sing with gusto!
One of the most popular canticles, or songs from the Bible, in Lutheran Service Book is “This is the Feast” and is found in Divine Service Settings 1 and 2. Its popularity has spread even to Christian traditions that don’t use the liturgy. Today we study the Scripture behind “This is the Feast,” our Epistle lesson, Revelation 5:11-14.
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they sang: 12b “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive [all the] power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” 13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: 13b “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be [all the] praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” 14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
We may sing along with the radio, a favorite CD, in the shower, or in an organized choir, but it isn’t every day that we get to sing with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, lauding and magnifying God’s glorious name, but we do in the Divine Service! Angels first sang, Glory to God in the Highest, announcing the Savior’s birth. Angels in the vision of Isaiah sang, Holy, Holy, Holy. Angels and the rest of the company of heaven sing along with us in “This is the Feast,” also known as “Worthy is Christ.”
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
John’s Revelation continues. The elders, we learn from the previous chapter, number a total of 24. The clearest explanation of this is twelve for the twelve tribes of Israel, symbolizing the whole Old Testament Church, added to twelve, the number of Jesus’ disciples, symbolizing the whole New Testament Church (including us). In this one number then, 24, the entire number of all believers of all ages is represented. What a comfort this presents to us! All believers in Jesus will be a part of this heavenly chorus.
The large numbers and multiplied large numbers show us the unbelievable number of angels around God’s throne, surrounding Him with praise. There are also four other special angels, called living creatures, leading the worship:
4:6b In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”
The angels, the creatures reminiscent of those in Daniel, continue to sing the Sanctus, “Holy , Holy, Holy,” that Isaiah heard them sing in Isaiah 6.
4:9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
The worthiness of God is first because He is the creator of all things. In Revelation, the restoration of creation is about to take place. We will read about the New Heaven and New Earth in coming weeks. Since Christ is and was God from eternity, He has always possessed these qualities, but only after His ascension and especially after His return in glory will He publicly exercise them for all to see. Our text talks about the special worthiness of God the Son, Jesus, the Lamb who was slain.
5:12 In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive [all the] power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God. Power, riches, wisdom and strength, and honor, blessing, and glory are His.
Each of these attributes that the Lamb, Christ, was to receive has a “the” in front of it in the original Greek. That means He is worthy to receive the supreme power, the supreme wealth, the supreme wisdom, the supreme strength, the supreme honor, the supreme glory, and the supreme praise. He has earned it—for you. He was slain—for you.
In this vision, a scroll with seven seals awaits opening by one worthy enough. Worthy is Christ! The seven seals bring about God’s final judgment upon the unbelievers on earth: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse bring judgment, Martyrs for the faith call out in a loud voice to God for justice and vengeance, and the earth and heavenly bodies quake. The end is at hand. No wonder the saints and angels sing and rejoice! They sing of the work Christ has accomplished for humanity—for you.
The enthronement of Christ is seen from heavenly perspective. This is what happened after Jesus ascended into heaven.
The angels attribute to Jesus what sinful humanity was unwilling to admit. We do well to sing along with them, confessing this truth of the faith. Christ, by being slain, is to be honored and praised for His gift of salvation to us. It all focuses on Christ!
Christian worship focuses on God revealed in Christ Jesus. Christian worship is not based upon what is trendy, popular, cool, or what brings the most people in the door. It is based on the Word of God.
The Invocation is from Matthew. The verses before confession in Divine Service Setting Four come from Psalms 124 and 130 and Luke 18. The Kyrie comes from many different passages like Mark 10:47 where Jesus heals. The Gloria is the angelic hymn of Luke 2. The Agnus Dei records the words of John the Baptist in John 1. An offertory comes from Psalm 51. The Sanctus is recorded in Isaiah 6. Simeon’s song in Luke 2 is a common post-communion canticle.
Worship is not primarily entertainment. In fact, what we do here in the Divine Service isn’t the most important part, either. We call the service of Word and Sacrament the Divine Service because here the Divine, God, serves us. He gives us His Word and His Gifts. Our worship of Him is a tiny response to His great Gifts.
Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.
Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where his name is, there is he. Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words he has used to make himself known to us.
The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build on another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition.
How best to do this we may learn from his Word and from the way his Word has prompted his worship throughout the centuries. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each tradition receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day--the living heritage and something new. (LW, p. 6 Nagel)
The canticle “This is the Feast” is something ancient and something new. It was first included in a Divine Service in 1970. It has been part of our worship in the LCMS since the debut of the 1982 hymnal, Lutheran Worship.
5:13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be [all the] praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
Sing with all the people of God, and join in the hymn of all creation: Blessing, honor, glory, and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen.
Angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven sing. We will be there. All Christians will be there. All who trust in Jesus death and Resurrection alone for their salvation will join in a great heavenly choral anthem!
The saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.” Well, maybe not “perfect,” but if we do something over and over again, we feel natural doing it. It has become second nature. That is why we join together for worship. The Lord gathers us around His Word and Sacrament so that we will be more accustomed to heavenly worship.
We don’t come here to show how holy we are—far from it. We’re just as sinful as those who never enter these doors. But we’re forgiven. That’s why we come—to be forgiven. We come to confess our sins, receive His forgiveness and rejoice in His Gifts. We come because He has good Gifts for us today!
The Lord’s Supper, which we have been blessed to celebrate and partake of four times this April, is a foretaste of the feast to come—the marriage feast of the Lamb, that is. Worship, the Divine Service, is heaven on earth.
About the Cover: The Lamb is an image that runs from start to finish in Scripture. All the Bible is a testimony to the Lamb—our Jesus. He alone is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, to unlock the secret of history, because He was slain. By His blood, He ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and nation. He has made us kings and priests to reign with Him.
The marriage feast of the Lamb is described in Revelation 19, the textual source of the phrase, This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
19: 4 The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!”
5 Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!”
6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
9 Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
For the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign, Alleluia.
This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
We have communion with God in His Word and Sacrament. He blesses us now as He will when we gather around His throne. He has good gifts for you here—forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, meaning for this life, direction from His Holy Will, nourishment from His Holy Word, assurance that You will be part of all the company of heaven.
Let us not neglect meeting together for worship as some are in the habit of doing. Let us rejoice when someone says, Let us go to the house of the Lord and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
5:14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.