The concept of a God being worshipped for dying on a cross has always been mocked. In our Growth Groups this year we’ve been journeying through 1 Corinthians, and there Paul begins by acknowledging that the world will always see the ‘word of the cross’ as foolishness and weakness, whether it be looking for religious signs or philosophical wisdom. This derision is infamously played out in a piece of graffiti discovered from first-century Rome. The artist, seemingly intent on making a mockery of Christianity, has scratched out a man bowing down to a man with a horse’s head, hung on a cross, with the caption, ‘Alexamenos worships [his] God’. The implication couldn’t be clearer: these Christians are utter fools.
I was reminded of this when I read Revelation chapter 5 this morning. In the previous chapter John had been shown a vision of a magnificent heavenly throneroom, containing no less than God himself. Perhaps unsurprisingly around the throne are many who are praising ‘the Lord God Almighty’ (4:8) because, we are told, it is He who is alone the Creator of ‘all things’ (4:11).
But in chapter 5, we’re introduced to a new character, and it’s one of those passages where over-familiarity can mean we rush over the shock of the content. Suddenly John sees ‘a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain’ (5:6). Isn’t that a bit of a surprise when you stop and think? There in the middle of this glorious throne-room, with all its brilliance and splendour, is a dead sheep. What’s more it’s not bleating and running around like… a lamb. No, this Lamb steps up to do what no one else ‘in heaven or on earth or under the earth’ could do (5:3): open the scroll (5:7; Ez 2:9,10). In the context of Revelation, that’s one pretty special sheep.