Call to worship: Psalm 16.
Lessons: Revelation 6.1–8 and Matthew 28.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.
Alleluia, praise the Lord, Christ is risen. Give me the answer: He is risen indeed. Say it. Alleluia, Christ is risen. Tell me.
DEAR brethren in Christ, we are gathered today to continue to rejoice in the Resurrection of the Lord, to worship God’s Anointed king on his holy hill, and to see him by the Holy Spirit at his throne in heaven. For a week ago, after the Lord’s progress to Jerusalem, his knocking at the doors of our hearts, after the Lord’s Crucifixion outside the walls of Jerusalem, his death for you and me, he was then found on Easter Day, the third day from his death, to be alive. For this reason, since Jesus is risen from the dead, since Jesus has split the sea like Moses and made the faithful to walk through it, since Jesus has brought us over from death to life æternal, we count it Easter for 40 days, until the day of his glorious Ascension to the throne of God. This Easter, this feast of our Lord’s glorious Resurrection, is our Passover of gladness.
When John was taken up to heaven to see the throne of God, and the book was in God’s hand but no one could be found to open its seals, no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth, he wept. John wept because no one was able to break open those seven seals of the book, to unseal the revelation of God’s heart to us in the things which were to come. No one was worthy to do so. Now, by the power of his Resurrection in glory, Jesus the Christ, the Lamb of God, has taken the scroll from the open palm of God and is able to open its seven seals. In this man’s hand are all the corners of the earth, and the seals of destiny are in the hand of this man who was raised from the dead, and we can trust in him.
On the book are seven seals, and we have heard John tell us of four. Let us look at these with the eyes of our hearts, that the same Holy Spirit who showed these things to John may also show them to the eyes of our believing hearts. These visions in heaven are fantastical signs, wonderful and strange; but they were revealed to John, and thus to us, in order that we might understand God. Though we do not understand everything, yet we may understand what is given us to know. So let us now consider these seals, Revelation 6, that were opened by the man who conquered death.
And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. Here, one of the four winged beasts at the throne of God, having eyes all over him and having the face of a lion, summons John with a voice of thunder: come and see. Come, draw near by faith, and see what you have not yet known. And we see a white horse, and on that horse a conqueror. This conqueror is the first horsemen of four, and these four are often called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This is the first seal that Jesus has broken open: a horseman is sent out on a white horse, and he has a bow, and he is given a crown, and he is sent forth conquering and to conquer. Remember, at the beginning of this book of Revelation, John calls Jesus Christ the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. For when the Lord ascended into heaven and opened all things, he held all authority in heaven and on earth. This righteous man took this kingly authority when God raised him from the dead, and thus he is today the prince of the kings of the earth. When you see the kings of the earth, when you see their power, do not be deceived: they can have no power except by the will of Jesus, whom God the Father has made King of Kings. But when Jesus goes forth to conquer with the authority given to him, he sends the Twelve. At his Resurrection, he sent the eleven disciples – the twelfth, Judas, had killed himself – he sent them to conquer the earth, saying, ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’ This is the conquest of the white horseman, the conquest of Jesus the king, the conquest of the Church crowned with Christ. Our Lord sent the Holy Spirit, whose words the Church sent forth as arrows reaching to the human heart, that they might overcome unbelief. And the crown on the head is promised to the Church by the Holy Spirit. This is how our risen king conquers the earth. When the Lord conquers, we conquer. So he says to the church in Smyrna, Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. Come and see, says the winged calf. Do not be frightened when there is war and terrorism on the earth, when men kill one another and take peace from the earth. When fatherless sons who do not know hope burst into a school and shoot innocents, it is not a surprise. When the unbelieving Jews kill Palæstinians in Gaza, and drop poison gas on innocents, it is not a surprise. When the Saudis use American funding to rain bombs upon the people of Yemen, and destroy their hospitals where innocents are, it is not a surprise. Jesus has opened the first seal for the Church to conquer the earth with his word, and he has also opened this second seal for nations to kill one another. Our king, who is risen from the dead and rules all the nations, is willing that the nations should kill one another with the sword. For he said, in Matthew 10, Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. War and blood is nothing unusual, and we are not so great that it will leave us untouched. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ was hated by those who did not want the temple cleansed, and they killed him; those who reject the gospel are like wild beasts, and they kill both us and one another. But the Lord was raised. The glorious Resurrection of our Lord brings peace and rejoicing to the hearts of those who love him, but war and the sword and the spilling of blood to the hearts of those who oppose him. Yet when you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be frightened, says Jesus in Matthew 24; for he is king. So he says to the church in Thyatira, He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. Come and see, says the winged man. Just a quart of wheat for a whole day’s wages, and just three of barley for a whole day’s wages. The black horse is famine, for the Lord says in Matthew 24, ‘There shall be famines in various places’; but the word is particularly applied to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, 40 years after our Lord’s Resurrection, when there was a horrible famine in the land, and men killed each other for a hint of food, and a mother in the city killed her own baby to eat him. These dreadful events that befell Jerusalem at the destruction of the city and its temple are recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus, as the Lord Jesus foretold in Matthew. And today we also see starvation. The civil war in South Sudan, even with billions in American aid, has killed many with famine; an eight-year war in northeastern Nigeria waged by Boko Haram jihadi terrorists has killed many with famine; the war of the Saudis against their neighbour Yemen has killed many with famine, in the largest humanitarian crisis in the world today. The balance in the hand of the black horseman weighs grain for food, but it also weighs the faithfulness of the Christian believer. In the midst of famine, the Lord keeps for those who love him the oil of the Holy Spirit and the wine of his own blood poured out for us. The Lord keeps for us the joy of his kingdom, and he assures us that the joy of the Church is not hurt even in time of starvation. The Lord provides for his people. He gave his judgement against Jerusalem in Matthew 24, and the Church heard and recorded what he said. A few years before Jerusalem was destroyed, all the disciples obeyed the Lord’s word in Matthew and fled to another city across the River Jordan. Because they had fled in obedience to the Bible, they were not destroyed. Against the enemies of the Lord, however, the Roman army brought against Jerusalem a holocaust that killed one fourth of all Jews on the earth. By the Lord’s care, the Church was not destroyed. So he says to the church in Ephesus, To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. Come and see, says the winged eagle. Here is the horseman of pestilence and death, pale as sickness. This too, even as the other three, is a seal opened by the risen Christ for us to look into the book of God’s heart and God’s judgement: the sword, hunger, pestilence. As the Lord in the Old Testament once showed his mastery over the gods of Ægypt by the ten plagues he brought upon the land when Pharaoh would not let his people go, and as the Angel of the Lord struck down the firstborn of all Ægypt, so the resurrected God-man Jesus is master of even death and Hades. Those who hate him, especially, them he destroys with plagues that man is powerless to stop. Those who see the frightful scenes of the Black Death in the Middle Ages may feel relieved that modern medicine keeps this death away. Those who saw the HIV plague kill hundreds of thousands in the 1980s and 1990s think medicine saves them now. HIV is less and less caught through drug needles and natural sex, but has only increased among men who have sex with men, who believe their medicine will save them. But I am told that our medicines for preventing death by HIV already show signs of failure, and those infected with it need harsher and harsher drugs to live. We may be on the cusp of another outbreak. What God wills, no man can stop. But the Lord loves us. Those who love God, who trust Jesus the risen Christ, who has power over all sickness and death, will be masters of death. Jesus has been raised incorruptible, unable anymore to die, and we too share in his glorious body when we eat his flesh and drink his blood in his holy Supper. So he says to the church in Pergamon, To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
The preaching of the gospel of God’s kingdom comes together with war, famine, and plague; the peace of the heavenly Israel comes together with the bloody destruction of the wicked Jerusalem on earth. For God’s people, who trust in him, the gospel is good news of peace. As surely as Jesus has been raised from the dead, so will we be raised from the dead immortal and incorruptible, masters of sickness and death. The Lamb that was slain has opened the seven seals of the book of God, and he has given us the oil of the Holy Spirit and the wine of his own blood, which will not be hurt by starvation. For the wicked, however, who reject the peace of God, the gospel of peace is a rumour of war, a hunger pang of famine, a smell of death.
In the words of John Wesley, ‘The Son of David rode forth, conquering and to conquer, and will reign ’till he has brought down all opposing rule, principality and power.’ If Jesus Christ is not the treasure of your heart, the one in whom you trust, every kind of death will catch up with you, because Christ is king, and you are with Death. The choice is before you today: Do I serve this Jesus of Nazareth, or do run away in horror? Shall I kiss him today, or shall I wait for war and sickness and death to catch up to me when God wills it? Without Christ, you will be mastered by death; but with Christ, you will master death, because Christ has already conquered, and holds the keys of hell and death.
This is the choice before you because Christ has been raised from the dead. Come and see, says the angel with the face of a lion. Come and see, says the angel with the face of a man. Come and see, says the angel with the face of a calf. Come and see, says the angel with the face of an eagle. Come and see the power and majesty and love of the one who is worthy to open the seals of the book of God. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. Let others fear war and famine and sickness: for our own part, let us fear nothing but the King of Kings. This man is with us, and this man now reigns over war and famine and sickness. The war comes at the leave of the Son of Man. The famine comes at the leave of the Son of Man. The sickness comes at the leave of the Son of Man. Choose to live and reign with Christ, because he is the faithful one who overcame. Because Christ has conquered, we will conquer. Come, war! we will conquer. Come, famine! we will conquer. Come, sickness! we will conquer. Come, Lord Jesus! in thee, we will conquer, and we claim the crown through thee. Let us say with the Greeks today, Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.
Hell took a body and came upon God!
Hell took earth and encountered Ηeaven!
Hell took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the firstfruits of them that have slept. To him be glory and might, world without end. Amen.
Let us pray.
ALMIGHTY God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; We humbly beseech thee that, as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
Psalm of response: Psalm 2.