You worship a sheep?!
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.
In the events that follow, and in a snapshot of eternity, this Lamb is then explicitly worshipped. First by the four living creatures & twenty-four elders, as they fall down before him, declaring his worthiness (5:8-10); secondly by the voices of heaps and heaps of angels, again as they proclaim this Lamb is worthy to receive ‘power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing’ (5:11-12); and thirdly he is worshipped by ‘every creature in heaven and on earth…’, as they praise him alongside God (‘to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’, 5:13). You could come up with some creative graffiti out of that.
The reality is that this ‘Lamb who was slain’ is no less than King Jesus, God’s Son, who died for us. He gave his body and blood as the true Passover lamb, his death thus shielding his people from God’s judgment. He went to the cross willingly, ‘like a lamb that is led to the slaughter’ (Isaiah 53:7) to be crushed for our iniquities; ‘upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace’ (Isaiah 53:5). And so John the Baptist declared ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ when he saw Jesus coming toward him (John 1:29).
Maybe we’re used to hearing of Jesus described as a lamb. Or maybe we’re surprised that in John’s snapshot of God’s glorious heavenly throneroom there is a sheep being worshipped. Either way, as we see the Lamb who was slain now adored and duly praised alongside God the Father, we’re called to recognise afresh just what our Lord Jesus, as the slain ‘sheep’ has done for us, and so join the soundtrack of eternity, making much of Him.