Prayer is worth it.

Your prayers are worth it. Every prayer is good enough. They are not forgotten. Nor are they lost and importantly they are not ignored. All that you have said to God, the cries and the longing, the thanksgiving and the praise, He has heard and these prayers are still alive as if you had just spoken them. “Your kingdom come, your will be done in my life and on this earth” spoken with words that you struggled to find and in ways that you would never utter in public are powerful and effective.

Jesus has been found worthy to take the scroll and …

“He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” (Revelation 5 v 7-8)

Your prayers are sweet-smelling fragrance in the heavenly temple of John’s vision.

Prayers of perhaps decades ago that you have stopped praying now, they are there as incense.

Cries of ‘God help!’

‘Here I am’ surrendered prayers.

They are there. Not one wasted. He heard everything you said to Him.

It is worth it. So today talk to Him.

“May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” Psalm 141:2

Sunday small thought: Lion and the Lamb

One of my favourite Bible College lectures taught by Peter Davies many years ago was these next 2 verses:

“Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5 v 5-6)

John is told to stop crying for they have found someone to open the scroll. He is the Lion. (See Genesis 49:9-10 and Isaiah 11:1-10)

In what has to be the most shocking, powerful and decisive moments in the whole of the Bible on hearing of the Lion, John now looks … and he sees the Lamb! The victory and power of the Lion is won through the helpless sacrifice of the Lamb. But this is not a vision of weakness. Not at all. The Lamb has complete power (seven horns) and complete knowledge (seven eyes) and He alone is worthy to open the scroll.

This is where Christ is seen the most: Power in weakness. That’s the small thought for today but oh how powerful it is!

John wept

I know people today who on the inside are weeping today because their questions outweigh the answers. They have created the mask so that they can do life but underneath they are broken. The years go by and they have learned to carry the pain of not understanding why that happened to them.

John wept and wept. Why?

“Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” (Revelation 5 v 1-4)

He saw the scroll, he couldn’t see what the writing was but it looked very secure with seven seals.

God on the throne is the absolute and ultimate answer for all things. John didn’t know what was written but he knew it was important. Whether it was about the future, the present or the past it was pure wisdom and understanding of the things which only the throne could speak into.

All that you don’t understand is in that scroll.

Why did they die? It’s in that scroll.

Look at the atrocities of history. Why? Look again at the present world, be it John’s first century with its horrendous persecutions or our crazy 2022 world. Why? When will all this end? How will this be brought into a culmination which makes any sense?

Why did that happen to you? It’s in the scroll.

The scroll is in His hand. God is in control of everything especially the things that we cannot understand.

So let’s get that scroll opened!

But no one was found and John wept for not even Jesus’ closest friend was worthy to open the seals. John realised that he too had contributed to the sin of the world, to the unworthiness, to the confusion and hurt of God’s beautiful world and he had no answer to that.

That’s why he wept and he did so continuously. He couldn’t stop. He was broken.

What I can’t understand is why John didn’t think of Jesus? He had written the gospel; he had been a follower the majority of his life and he had met Jesus in this apocalypse already. Of course we cannot criticise someone’s thoughts and decisions that are made in a vision or a dream! Yet it is true sometimes in our lives. We fall into the despair of things spiralling out of control, hopelessness dictates and tells us there’s no way out of this situation. So we weep, the tears do not stop and we have forgotten that there is One and He is very near. Hold on! It’s not over ….

Song number 2: Only God is worthy!

The Roman Praetorian Guard were the bodyguards of the Emperors. Their job was to protect the Emperor but there are examples of them actually killing them! By the time of Paranoid Domitian he had reduced their number and their power.

John sees around the throne what may appear to be a Heavenly Guard. But nothing is further from the truth. For this group of 24 elders (some say representing the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles, but who knows really?) don’t appear to be much good as bodyguards as they fall down in worship before the throne.

The Christians of Asia Minor, Western Turkey, John’s people, knew more than anyone else the price for not bowing down and deifying the Emperor, Caesar Domitian.

Domitian (81-96 AD) was one of the most evil of Emperors and he demanded to be known as ‘lord and god’. In fact he ordered that anyone who did not worship the ancient gods and the modern ones (namely, him) would be murdered straight away, no questions asked. The Christians were actually called ‘atheists’ if they refused to worship these gods. Can you imagine what it was like for these followers of Jesus who faced the dilemma of getting a job but having to bow down before one of the Emperors thrones? They had to feed their family. But they could only buy from the market if they also declared the Emperor ‘Worthy’.

John is looking into the throne room and …

“Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 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: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4 v 9-11)

There is only One who is worthy and it is not the Emperor.

The problem for the followers of Jesus was not that they couldn’t call their God worthy but they had to equally call Domitian worthy also.

The problem still exists today. It is not the denial of Jesus that is the challenge but the deifying of other things to stand equal to the time and energy that we give them. It is perfectly possible to claim to be a follower of Jesus, attend church and declare ‘He is worthy’ and yet at the same time carry other gods also that are worshipped in various ways.

Only God is worthy!

Song number 1: God is Bigger!

This Revelation is not for our future it is for our now. For those persecuted and in prison today because of their faith or to those who go to work for a manager who is a narcissist this apocalypse of John is for you. For those who are wondering if evil really does triumph over good and to those who think God has forgotten them these words of Jesus to John are of huge reassurance.

John and the churches of his generation were in a context of ruthless Roman control and oppression. If you have ever been to Rome you will have seen the lavishness of this culture. But you can simply search online for the Domus Aurea (the Golden House) of Nero, 54-68 AD and you will see the frescos of animals and all kinds of creatures adorning their rooms. Visit the Palatine Hill and you will be in what was the Flavian Palace which was Domitian’s 81-96, the Emperor at the time of John. Domitian saw himself as both Lord and God and demanded others to view him as this also. In every public area there was a throne for him to sit on even before you got near the actual Throne Room. The public area was decorated not only with frescos of all kinds of mythological creatures but the surfaces were reflective so that the paranoid Emperor could keep his eyes on everyone.

Out of that context John is having a vision of the Throne Room of Heaven and he hears a song:

“In the centre, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 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. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”(Revelation 4 v 6-8)

He sees 4 creatures and their eyes are everywhere, they see everything, nothing is hidden. This isn’t paranoia this is power. Day and night they never stop worshipping with this song.

Some speculate on who they represent; the nature of God; the 4 gospels; the 12 tribes of Israel; 4 corners of the world or the whole animal kingdom. No one knows. They are in John’s vision and he is again struggling to describe what he saw, ‘was like a …’ is hard to fully grasp. John not only has an earthly context but he has a Scriptural one too. They have similar descriptions of the Seraphim of Isaiah’s vision (chapter 6) and the 4 creatures of Ezekiel’s vision (chapter 1). What we can say is around the throne are created beings, both animal and human in description. Perhaps it is the song that is of most importance.

God is Holy. God is Powerful. God is Eternal. ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come’.

He is bigger than any context that earth brings. Man may flex his muscles. Pride and arrogance are all around. World leaders threaten one another. There are powers and paranoia in every corner. But don’t be afraid. There has been a song sung since time began. A song for your Lord and God, the only Lord and God.

Thrones, thunder, lamps and the sea.

If all you can see is all that there is, then today, before anything else happens, it is already a gloomy day. This is the point of the Revelation. There is more than what you can see. Afraid of being too heavenly minded for no earthly good we have lost sight of what is behind our very existence. That heaven which is only a heart-beat away carries the very essence of our life here on earth. Let’s continue to see what John sees:

“Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.” (Revelation 4 v 4-6)

John enters the throne room and he immediately sees the throne. Many scholars have given amazing interpretations of what is in the throne room and no one knows exactly of course.

But we do know that this was not the throne of Caesar with all of his fearful power, might and worshipped deity. This throne room made Caesar’s pale into insignificance. What John saw and then wrote to the churches was a reminder that behind their very existence was something of unspeakable and indescribable power. Despite their challenges; resisting surrendering to false rulers and powers; refusing to be led by false teachers and prophets; persecution; temptations to compromise at every level; they are being called to recognise a greater power and someone who is to be feared more than all their Caesar’s put together.

What are you facing today and what are you fearing?

Trying to resist speculating what exactly John saw, I now speculate!

I don’t know who the 24 elders were. (Don’t write in as I do know the theories!) But I do know around God’s throne John saw living beings, life and thrones of what appeared as victory. I do know that though this life at times gives us feelings of defeat and failure it is neither our end nor is it our present reality in God. For we belong to a throne room of achievement, fulfilment and victory!

  • So what are you intimidated by?
    • For the churches it was everything from the falseness of man to the power of Caesar Domitian. But look! From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In the history of their faith they would remember all too well these descriptions of Mount Sinai in the Exodus story. So why are you intimidated when behind you is someone who intimidates the whole universe?!
  • So why give up now because you feel a failure?
    • For the churches they have been challenged to repent, wake up, hold on, return to their first love; we know how tough it is to be a disciple of Jesus in our world. But look! In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. We have already seen that John is seeing the completeness and the perfection of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit and His complete work are in front of the throne. Don’t give up because the Spirit will complete His work in us!
  • So how can you live with the chaos and the confusion?
    • For the churches their lives were not easy. They had suffered many losses during the persecution. Evil seemed to prosper. There are many theories about the sea. Later in the Revelation we will see beasts emerging from the sea and whatever that means it doesn’t sound good! I love the sea and you probably do too. But we know it can be beautiful and terrifying. These ancient people viewed the sea as a confusing, chaotic and evil to be feared. When Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee it spoke powerfully to their chaotic lives as it still does to us. But look! In front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. You might be struggling today with a chaotic sea tossing you around but it will not win. It will be tamed.

The throne and the rainbow

Did John just want to get off the island of Patmos? Of course!

Did he want the end to this terrible oppression from Rome? Yes! Both Nero and now Domitian were evil Emperors.

Your ‘world’ today may not be what you want it to be. You may face uncertainty and you may wish you were somewhere completely different.

John looks and in a vision sees a door which is not thousands of miles away but is very near him and it is open. Heaven is only a heart-beat away, it is another world which is far closer than perhaps we would imagine. The Bible shows us that the journey is way shorter than perhaps we imagine. For John, it was simply the opening of his eyes to see.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.” (Revelation 4 v 1-3)

Again he hears the trumpet-like voice of Jesus. He knows it is the call to rise up, it’s a new day, a call for obedience. He is once again filled with the Spirit and is standing in heaven.

He sees the throne and he sees a rainbow.

The day after our Queen’s funeral these 2 objects are fresh in our minds.

The throne that John saw is occupied. It is not empty waiting for someone. There will not have to be another coronation. There’s no opinion on whether the next monarch to take the throne will be as good as the last. The throne seat of heaven is taken! No matter what is happening in John’s world, this throne is unmovable, unshakeable. ‘John, everything is secure!’

Since the announcement of our Queen’s death we have been amazed by the rainbows that have been spotted. Shortly before the death was announced a double rainbow was seen over Buckingham Palace, another one was seen over Windsor Castle and on the evening of the funeral a rainbow was seen over the Palace of Westminster, over the Elizabeth Tower!

We know what the rainbow symbolises. John moves for a moment from his ‘world’ into the other ‘world’ and realises that again that God holds the future and that He is merciful so that even a sinner is safe to approach Him.

So here is our encouragement for September 20th 2022 taken from an old disciple of Jesus at the end of the first century:

He is on the throne and He holds your future.

The Queen’s experience

Today is our Queen’s funeral and we get a glimpse of what she is experiencing right now in this chapter 4 of when John ‘looked’. Let’s read the whole thing:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spiritsof God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the centre, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 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. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 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:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

This is happening right now. This is what those who died in Christ now experience. This is where our Queen is and in all the glorious and moving pomp and ceremony of today let us remember it pales into insignificance to what she is already experiencing!

Sunday small thought: Look!

Having had his head down and transcribing what Jesus is seeing in the seven churches John puts his pen down. “After this I looked …” (4 v 1)

After this? After the death of your loved one? After the Queen’s death? After the war? After that relationship ended? After that job finished? After that diagnosis? After this.

Whatever has happened to you or to your friends and family, to your church, it is what you do next that counts. “I looked.”

‘After this’ is not a time to wallow in self-pity, anger or disappointment. It is the time for a new chapter for you. You can have a new day if you want. If you do then it starts with this, ‘I looked’. You are looking away from what you have been involved with in order to look on something new.

Perhaps this is what you need to do this Sunday morning.

Victorious: The revelation of and from Jesus Christ

Though I am keen to move on into this revelation I am pausing this morning to meditate on this word ‘victorious’.

“… send her victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us, God save the Queen!” And He did just that!

But it is a Bible promise. It is there in the letter to each church.

The Church in Ephesus: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (2:7)

The Church in Smyrna: “The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” (2:11)

The Church in Pergamum: “To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (2:17)

The Church in Thyatira: “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations” (2:28)

The Church in Sardis: “The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” (3:5)

The Church in Philadelphia: “The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.” (3:12)

The Church in Laodicea: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

You win because He has won!

“To the one who is victorious …” is an invitation to live within His promise of victory.

Jesus Christ has defeated any defeat in your life.

We need to live in that victory. Every illness, every struggle and every difficult circumstance He will control and bring under your feet. Like a conqueror with his feet on the neck of his enemy so will Christ do for you. We have nothing to fear. Victory is on our side.

Accept the invitation to step into His victorious living and then be sent out victorious.