* Adapted from a sermon preached March 22, 2020 in First PRC, Grand Rapids
It is very tempting to just say “coronavirus,” and leave it at that. But it is not just “coronavirus.” Just as it is not simply “graduation,” or “a flat tire,” or “a promotion.” It is graduation, and the King; a flat tire, and the King; a promotion, and the King. And we have to remember that it’s also coronavirus, and the King. Without and the King, it’s chaos, confusion, hopelessness. With and the King there are still questions to be sure, but there is a deep calm and peace. And the King changes your whole perspective.
We may compare it to traveling through a busy airport. How you view what is going on in that airport depends on your perspective. A while ago I traveled through Atlanta International Airport, the busiest airport in the world. It felt like total chaos. People were everywhere walking or running every which way. Planes were everywhere, trucks were everywhere, workers were everywhere, bags were everywhere. But if I would have gone up into the control tower, I would have been able to see that what felt like total chaos down below was in fact a well-ordered system (generally speaking). It depends on your perspective.
During the current tumultuous time we are going through, we need to go up into the control tower over this world to gain the perspective of faith. A few weeks ago everything was “normal.” Then a tiny microbe (that is not even alive) changed everything. Perceived chaos always prompts fears and questions. Now is no different. Are we going to get sick? If we do, are we going to die from this virus, or will it affect us little if at all? Are our elderly loved ones going to die during this time period? Should we be preparing to say goodbye now? Is this all over-blown or is it not blown up enough? Do the authorities know what they are doing with all the pronouncements they make? Are we going to have work? Are we going to have enough in the congregation to care for each other? And because nobody can give us definitive answers to these questions, the world can start to feel chaotic, completely out of control.
In Revelation 4-5 (the chapters constitute one vision), God takes John up into the control tower of heaven to see that from there all is ordered under the rule of God in Christ. “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven…and the…voice…said, Come up hither” (4:1). And because John was told to write what he saw (1:11) we can, by faith, go up with him, see what he sees, and come back down able to view our world in a whole new light.
However, even up here in heaven, at first sight it appears to be just “coronavirus,” and not “coronavirus and the King.” The strong angel calls to the heavens and the earth with a challenge, “Who is worthy to open the book and to loose the seals thereof?” No one answers. This is why John weeps. These are tears of fear and despair. They would be our tears if the chapter stopped at verse 4. John sees a book in the right hand of God (v. 1). The book contains the thoughts of God (it is in God’s hand); it relates to His power (it is in God’s right hand); and they are secret (the scroll is sealed). This can only be the description of how history is to go according to God’s mysterious decretive will. And since the Lamb, who is Christ, takes the book and opens it only after He ascends into heaven, it must further be the particular portion of the plan of God concerning everything from the time of the ascension of Christ to the end. The rest of the book of Revelation confirms this as the seals are opened and everything from Christ’s ascension to His second coming is revealed (in broad lines).
Coronavirus is in that book.
But coronavirus is in that book as a means to an end. The heart of this book is the gathering of the church in the New Testament time from every nation, tribe, and tongue unto life with a victorious Christ in the new heavens and new earth. The heart of the book is the fullness of God’s covenant. John knows that if no one opens this book, the cause of God is defeated and the goal of all things is frustrated. In fact, as the rest of Revelation makes clear, to open this book and loose its seals is not merely to reveal what is in the book, but also it is to rule this universe to the accomplishment of the plan the book contains. Thus, if the book is not opened, there is no hope for the gathering and deliverance of God’s church, no judgment upon the world, no new heavens and new earth. Coronavirus would be without its King.
One of the elders heralds the message of victory to John. “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and to loose the seven seals thereof” (v. 5). The Christ, He is worthy! To be worthy to open this book one has to have complete power. How else could one execute history according to the plan of the book? The Lion of the tribe of Judah has the power. He is the Lion of Judah’s tribe, the long-promised King, the Messiah, come from Judah’s loins. He is the Lion of Judah’s tribe. As God made flesh, He is full of lion-like might and kingly power. At the same time, we are told He is the root of David. Thus, He is not merely the one who comes from Judah (and therefore David’s) line. Rather, He is also the source of it, as a root is the source of the tree. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending of David’s line.1 All this speaks of power, and thus the ability to carry out God’s plan and purpose in history, through trillions of events, to gather His bride, defeat His enemies, and make all things new.
But now the twist. And here is this Lion, John, look! “And I beheld, and lo…a Lamb as it had been slain.” John is expecting to see a Lion. He has been described as a Lion. Instead he sees a Lamb. A Lamb that you could tell had been killed at one time. Maybe the Lamb bore a slice across the throat that John could see had been shut up. In chapter one John expected to see a Lamb, but He saw a Lion (vv. 13-16). Here he expects to see a Lion, and he sees a Lamb.
The vision of the Lamb may initially leave us with the question, where is the power necessary to unfold God’s plan? He is a Lamb, and not only that, He had been killed. Where is the lion-like power that would allow Him to open the seals? Along with John, we behold the beautiful mystery of the gospel here. The Christ is a Lion precisely because He is a Lamb. The fact that He is a Lamb that had been slain, but is not slain anymore, means He is a Lamb with Lion power. He has resurrection power over sin, death, grave, and hell. He has “prevailed” over these by dying a powerful death upon the cross, and by rising into new exalted life. He is a Lamb with seven horns (v. 6). He has complete power to bring about the covenantal purposes of God.
But more than that, the Lamb has the right to do so. To take this book and carry out its purposes one must not only have the power, but also the right. This too is what is means to be “worthy.” This Lamb has prevailed over sin, death, grave, and hell, on behalf of all those who are to be redeemed in this New Testament age and who are to be taken into the fullness of that covenant in the new heavens and new earth. This gives Him the right to carry out God’s plan and purpose. There is a ground for the plan’s accomplishment! “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (v. 9).
In verse 7 the Lion/Lamb takes the book. That moment is the crowning of the King. It is when the ascended Lord appeared in heaven, was enthroned with God, and was given the power to rule over all things unto the carrying out of the purposes of God.
Your Christ, who has taken the nails for you and your hell along with them, is right now unfolding what is in that book. Right now, in March of 2020 He is doing this. In great things, little things, hairs that fall from heads, heads of state that fall from thrones. In microscopic viruses and their movements across the world.
Your Christ, who has taken the nails for you and your hell along with them, is right now unfolding what is in that book. Right now, in March of 2020 He is doing this. In great things, little things, hairs that fall from heads, heads of state that fall from thrones. In microscopic viruses and their movements across the world. Did you know that in that scroll was written, “Winter/spring of 2020, spread of coronavirus,” and every last detail about how it would accomplish the building up the kingdom of Jesus Christ?
Did you know that the King is using it that way right now? Did you know that you are likely to meet someone in heaven (if not many people) who will say to you… “It was the Word of God in the hands of the Spirit at this juncture of my life, that God used to break my rebellion. I thought I was in control and I was living that way. But this coronavirus came along and it shattered my perception of myself in this world. I wasn’t in control. I was tiny. It showed me that I was fragile. And grace brought me to my knees and led me to look up.” And do you know how you are going to respond? You are going to say, “You know, even though I was as a child of God for many years, it had that effect upon me too. Under the influence of Word and Spirit it was being used to make me grow and to preserve me. It made me also see that this world is not my home. I was getting too comfortable. I was living as though I were in control. It made me think about how dependent I am. God used it to humble me and to give me a sense of dependence and trust in Him, and the realization fresh again that my only hope really is in Christ.”
This is why the elder can say to John, “weep not!” (v. 5). And it is why I can write to you and to myself, calm your fears child of God, and dry your eyes. It is not just “coronavirus,” it is coronavirus and the King. And if it feels even more out of control next week than it did this week, take the perspective you gained from the control tower into what feels like the chaos of your world. And remember, even if you cannot see from down here in the midst of it all, it is all ordered for the good of His church and the glory of His name.
You and I must go through a time of coronavirus
antithetical to the way the world does. With caution, yes. With care, to be sure. That is our calling. But not with dread terror, as though the Lion/Lamb did not take the book and is not opening the seals thereof. Instead, with a certain calm in the face of chaos, knowing coronavirus has a King.
Furthermore, we ought to go through this time with worship in our hearts and on our lips. “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb.. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy.” (vv. 8-9). Coronavirus has been made to serve us. One day, when it and all other pains and sorrows are not needed as servants anymore, it will be taken away like so much scaffolding from the building. And with a freedom and fullness unknown to us even now, all creation, angels, and just men made perfect, will join with one voice crying, “Worthy is the Lamb, our King!”
1 Thanks to Deakin Pipe, second grader from First PRC for this connection. Keep on diving deep Deakin!