It was Girolamo Fracastoro, in 1546, who insisted that there was an unseen force in our world that had a profound effect on our physical health. At first, people thought his views were preposterous – but by the late 1800’s, thanks to Louis Pasteur, it had become clear that micro-organisms, or germs, were behind diseases that were plaguing Europe. It’s common knowledge now. We wash our hands regularly and practice good hygiene because we believe there is an unseen world of germs around us at all times, effecting and infecting us if we’re not alert.
The Bible challenges us to take that a step further – to embrace the idea of an enchanted, spiritual dimension where unseen forces are at work. The Bible sees God’s realm, we could say “heaven”, as a world that overlaps and affects our own world, but is hidden from view.
This Sunday as we continue on in our study of the book of Revelation, we’ll be reading all of chapters 4 and 5. They’re short chapters, and I really hate to split them up because they are meant to be read together. In these chapters, John is given a revelation (hence the book’s name) of the unseen realm of God. He enters into the throne room, or command center and sees who is really in control of history.
It would be easy for John and the churches of his day to think that evil had the upper hand and that God’s plans were no longer in his charge. The vision he receives is meant, through rich symbolism, to reveal to him that all is not as it seems on the surface.
As you read over the descriptions he gives – let your imagination run wild. I’ve done some drawings that I’ll put on the screen this Sunday – but those are just to provide spacial reference – don’t let my drawings limit your imagination. See the colors in your mind – listen to the thunder and blink reflexively at the flashes of lightening. Feel the wind brush your skin as the mighty mass of wings on the four living beings fan the air. Smell the burning oil from the seven lamps, be dazzled by the crystal sea. We’ll go over what all these symbols may mean, but the summation is that they are declaring God’s sovereign rule over all things visible and invisible. No matter how things may look to the naked eye, God is firmly in control. How would John’s first readers have found comfort in this idea? In light of our turbulent world, what comfort can we derive from these images?
Chapter five introduces us to a scroll with writing all over it, sealed up with seven wax seals. This is God’s plan and purpose to redeem all things (Daniel 12:8-10). The question goes out, asking who is worthy to open this scroll – that is, who is able to enact this plan? It is here that the core of Christian reality is displayed. John is crying because no one is capable of doing this – but he’s instructed to cheer up and look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah is able to pull it off. When John looks, what does he see? It’s not a lion at all…just the opposite.
There is a message here for all who suffer and who are concerned that evil has the upper hand in this world. God is ruling from his throne, and his plan to redeem all things is still firmly in his grasp. But how he’s at work doing that is the surprising thing. Not by might, not by power as we understand power. What does a slaughtered lamb communicate to us? What does the cross demonstrate for us? What is the power that God has determined to use to overcome the world?
It’s really important to grasp this. Our own sense of well-being and stability flows from our acceptance of this important truth. We do not lose when we pick up our own cross to follow Jesus – that path leads straight to the throne of God and the making of all things new.