Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Date: 26 August 2012
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Revelation 14 – The Lamb that Was Slain
In heaven – (in the vision that he was experiencing) – John was weeping over humanity’s separation from God (because of sin). He “wept and wept” (Revelation 5:4) but one of the twenty-four elders (around the throne of God) told John – (in the vision that he was experiencing): “ ... [Jesus,] the Lion of the tribe of Judah ... has triumphed ... ” (Revelation 5:5) but when John looked and (actually) saw Jesus, he did not see a Lion but “a Lamb looking as if it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). Strange! Why would the defining image of Jesus as the Lion of Judah be a Lamb that was slain? Why would Jesus be known – even today – as the Lion that triumphed as a Lamb? [Consider also Revelation 13:18: “ ... the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”] A new song (sung by those around the throne of God) explained the meaning of this mystery:
Revelation 5:9-10: ... You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation ...
Revelation 5:12: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!
It was the suffering – it was the blood – it was the sacrifice – it was the absolute surrender of everything – the total humiliation of the Son of God by sinful people, (you and I) – that proved to be a love worthy enough for our salvation. The Lamb that was slain was the most powerful expression of God and his feelings towards us:
Revelation 1:5: ... Jesus Christ ... who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood ...
Revelation 12:11: They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony...
This morning, I would like us to go slow and linger on the Lamb that was slain. Do you know Jesus as the Saviour that suffered for you and died for you? Do you know what your future – your peace with God – your everlasting joy – cost him? Do you know how humbling it must have been for the Lion of Judah to hang naked on a cross? Chances are that you already know the story of Jesus’ suffering – you have read the Bible and heard the preaching – but – at the same time – (I am certain that) none of us know the depth and extent of Jesus’ sacrifice. It is beyond our comprehension – the Bible talks about the “immeasurable riches of his grace” (Ephesians 2:7) – and then the little that we do know, often remains head knowledge rather than becoming something that we treasure in our hearts – (which then translates into actions – worship, obedience, sacrifices in return). [For instance, many husbands may know about the pain of childbirth but their wives would probably argue that they do not really know how much it hurts.]
This morning, I want to introduce you to Mother Julian of Norwich and what she learned about the Lamb that was slain. Mother Julian lived in 14th century England, maybe a Benedictine nun, a reclusive but available to people for spiritual counsel and support. I give you a quote: “Today she is the most widely read and influential mystic of the English spiritual tradition, the encourager and consoler of thousands of people throughout the world” (Mother Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love, edited by Halycon Backhouse & Rhone Pipe, London: Hodder & Stoughton 1987, pXXIV). She holds the distinction of being the first woman to write a book in the English language.
When Julian was 31 years old, between 4am and 9am in the morning on May 8th 1373 (or May 13th according to the Paris manuscript), she received fifteen visions with a sixteenth the next evening. [These sixteen visions are the shorter version of Revelations of Divine Love. They were written with the details fresh in Julian’s mind. Over the next twenty years these sixteen Revelations were transformed into the eighty-six Revelations of the longer version.]
Mother Julian had asked for three things from God: a) to understand the Passion of Jesus – his suffering and sacrifice; b) to suffer physically as a young woman of 30; and c) to have three wounds as a gift from God – the wounds of true sorrow for sin, natural compassion and unshakeable longing for God.
Have a look at the list. How does Mother Julian’s list compare with your own? I find this fascinating. When you study history, you come across people who are so different from yourself – the current culture – the 21st century with fast food delivery and internet shopping. In my case, understanding the suffering of Jesus was never among the top three prayer requests. I think that I am more interested in understanding his love, the power of the resurrection, the reign of his kingdom and his glory. Then, who among us would want to experience physical illness at a young age? Why? [Old age comes soon enough.] Further, who would want the wounds that never heal up in this life: true sorrow for sin, natural compassion and unshakeable longing for God? They are noble wounds – what Mother Julian wanted the most – but – as much as we can see the benefit of greater spiritual passion – we do not desire them. How strange it seems for someone to pursue pain!
I read to you her words:
... I deliberately wanted to be ill to the point of death ... I wished for no earthly comfort but to undergo every kind of pain, every spiritual and physical suffering that I would have if I were dying. Furthermore, I even wanted to experience the dreadful fears and tumults that devils bring – everything, in fact, except death itself and the departure of the spirit! I wanted this, because I wanted to be fully cleansed by God’s mercy, and afterwards, as a direct result of being so ill, I wanted to live in a way that would bring more praise to him (p6) ...
[I asked] to experience Christ’s passion [suffering] fully in my own body and mind. I wanted his pain to be my pain. I wanted to feel him so deeply that I would long for God. I was not seeking a physical vision or revelation of God, but the natural compassion of a soul for our Lord Jesus, who out of love was willing to become a human being. So I longed to suffer with him (p8).
[No wonder that they call these people “mystics”.] Do we understand this woman? As much as possible – experiencing the deathbed before her time – Mother Julian wanted the cleansing from any selfish notion of life. In the agony of dying, she desired to surrender everything to God so that she would be one with him and live for him alone. At the same time, her intense suffering was also to connect her with Jesus who did the same for her. Being one in suffering with Jesus, Mother Julian wanted to understand Jesus’ heart – the love that made him go through with the cross.
I do not know anyone like her but this is what the apostle Paul wrote in the Bible:
Philippians 3:10-11: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Maybe Mother Julian can help us to catch something that we are no longer seeing in the Bible. At the age of 31.5 years – within five days – she became so ill that she was not expected to live. (Retell her testimony in your own words:)
My parish priest was called in to be with me when I died and by the time he arrived my eyes were fixed and I could not speak. He placed the cross in front of my face and said, “I have brought you the image of your Creator and Saviour. Look at it and let it comfort you.”
I thought that I was all right as I was, because my eyes were fixed towards heaven where, by God’s mercy, I believed I was going. However, I agreed to try and fix my eyes on the crucifix and I managed it. I thought to myself that I might manage to look straight ahead longer than I could look upwards.
Then my sight weakened. The room became dark, as if it were night. Only the image of the cross remained lit, though how was beyond my comprehension. Apart from the cross everything seemed ugly and terrifying as if occupied by a great crowd of devils.
Then the upper part of my body began to die. I could hardly feel a thing and breathing became difficult. I was convinced that my life had ended.
But suddenly, at that moment, all my pain was taken away. I was as whole and well as I had ever been ... (p7-8)
At the precise point when Mother Julian was about to depart from her earthly body – (she had already lost the feeling of pain) – God granted her the desires of her heart. (Retell her testimony in your own words:)
And immediately I saw the red blood trickle down from under the garland of thorns, a stream of hot, fresh blood, just as it was in the time of his Passion when the crown was pressed on the blessed head of the God-Man who suffered in this way for me ...
In the same vision, the Trinity suddenly filled my heart with the deepest joy, and I knew that all those who go to heaven will experience this joy for ever ... “Benedicite, Domine!” [“Welcome, O Lord!”] I cried, and I meant it in all reverence and shouted it at the top of my voice! I was overwhelmed with wonder that he, so holy and awesome, should be so at home with the likes of me ... (p11)
It was at that time that the Lord gave me a spiritual understanding of the warm friendliness of his love (p12) ... During the whole time that our Lord showed my spirit the vision which I have just described, with my physical eyes I saw heavy bleeding from the head. Great drops of blood, which looked as if they came from the veins, fell from his crown like pellets. When they appeared they were a brownish-red colour for the blood was very thick, and as they spread they were bright red. Then when they reached the eyebrows, they vanished. Yet the bleeding continued until I had seen and understood many things (p17) ...
During the whole time that I saw the vision of the head bleeding so heavily, I could not stop saying Benedicite Domine! ... Then my physical vision ended, but the spiritual vision lived on in my understanding. I remained in a state of reverent fear, full of joy because of what I had seen (p19) ...
All of this was revealed in three ways: as a physical vision; in words that formed themselves in my mind; and in a spiritual vision (p21) ...
Mother Julian saw one aspect of what had happened to Jesus on his way to the cross:
Matthew 27:27-31: Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
However, her reaction to the vision is absolutely surprising. A bleeding head – tormented by thorns – is not usually the occasion for outbursts of joy. Yet, Mother Julian kept crying – at the top of her voice – “Welcome, O Lord”. From this we learn that the suffering of Jesus was not morbid, depressing and hopeless. Jesus loved us; therefore did not mind his suffering. [He was looking for an alternative of extreme pain (see Matthew 26:36-46) but remained committed to the prize of our salvation.] He had joy saving us and we share in his joy. He is so good. He is the Lamb that was slain – for us.
Then, Mother Julian had her second, third and fourth visions of Jesus’ suffering – on the same morning as her other visions. (Retell her testimony in your own words:)
... [Second vision of Jesus’ suffering:] I saw with my physical eyes something of Christ’s Passion, in the face of the crucifix which hung before me, and on which I gazed continually. I saw insults, spittle and dirt, bruises and long drawn-out pain – there was more than I have the power to tell – and I saw his face often changing colour. Once I saw dry blood spread from his ear across half his face. Then while this disappeared the other side became caked with blood in the same way (p25) ...
... [Third vision of Jesus’ suffering:] After this as I looked, I saw the body bleeding heavily, apparently from the flogging. The smooth skin was gashed and all over his body I saw deep weals in the tender flesh caused by many sharp blows. The blood flowed so hot and thick that neither the wounds nor the skin could be seen: it was all covered in blood. The blood flowed all down his body, but at the point of falling to the ground, it disappeared (p39) ...
After this, before God spoke to me, he gave me time to think about him and all that I had seen and all that it meant, as far as my simple soul could take it in. Then, without voice or speech, he communicated these words to my soul: “With this the devil is overcome.” ...
The suffering of Jesus – and especially his blood – overcomes the devil – even now as we have heard and read in the Bible book of Revelation earlier: Revelation 5:9-10: “ ... You are worthy ... because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation ... ” / Revelation 1:5: “ ... Jesus Christ ... who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood ... ” / Revelation 12:11: “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony ... ”
In response to this vision, Mother Julian again experienced joy – great joy:
But as I see it, there is no anger in God ... With is power and justice he opposes the malice and malignity of the damned who busily scheme and machinate against him. I saw our Lord scorn the devil’s malice, and reduce his empty power to nothing; and he wants us to do the same. When I saw this I burst out laughing and that made everyone around me laugh too and their laughter gave me great pleasure (p44) ...
Here at Living Grace – this morning – who wants to laugh at the devil because the blood of Jesus brings him down? Who has that kind of confidence? Who knows the Lamb that was slain that well? (Retell her testimony in your own words:)
... [Fourth vision of Jesus’ suffering:] It was after this that Christ showed me something of his Passion near to the time of his death. I saw his sweet face all dry and bloodless with the pallor of death and then later, deadly pale, pining away. At last, when death came, it turned blue, and finally a brownish-blue, as rigor mortis set in. For I particularly saw his Passion through his blessed face and primarily in his lips. I saw these four colours in his dear face, which I had once seen so fresh, healthy and lovely. It was a pitiful change, this slow dying. The juices in his body clotted and dried before my eyes, and his dear body turned black and brown as it shrivelled up in death. Nothing remained of his own beautiful, lifelike colouring.
When our Lord and blessed Saviour was dying on a cross there was a harsh, dry wind, and it seemed bitterly cold. When all the precious blood had drained from that dear body, it was revealed to me that there still remained a certain amount of moisture in his sweet flesh. The loss of blood and the anguish inside his body and the searing wind and the cold outside, all met together in Christ’s dear body and as the hours passed these four things – two inside and two outside – dried up Christ’s flesh. Though the pain was agonising and intense, it lasted a very long time, and I watched as, excruciatingly, it dried up all the life fluids in Christ’s flesh. In this way, before my eyes, the sweet flesh withered, bit by bit, with terrible suffering ... And I thought that the severest and last pain of his Passion was when his flesh dried up.
And as I saw Jesus dying like this, into my mind came his words, “I thirst” (John 19:28). I saw his thirst in two senses: physical and spiritual (p55-56) ...
The dear body died alone for a long time, tortured by the nails and its own weight. I understood that the huge, hard, cruel nails piercing those tender hands and feet were making the wounds stretch wide, while the body, which had been hanging for so long, sagged under its weight. I saw the crown of thorns, caked with dried blood, piercing and pressing into the head, with the sweet hair and dry flesh stuck fast to the thorns, and the thorns shrivelling in the flesh.
At first when the flesh was still fresh and bleeding, the constant pressure of the thorns made the wounds open wide. And I could see that the sweet skin and tender flesh, the hair and the blood, were torn into shreds by the thorns and were hanging loose from the bone. While they still had their own natural moisture they were so heavy and loose that they looked like a piece of sagging material, about to drop off. This was a source of great sadness and fear to me: I thought I would rather die than have it fall. I did not see what caused all this, but I understood that it was the sharp thorns and the way the crown had been so violently and hurtfully pressed down upon his head, unrelentingly and pitilessly.
All this continued for a while, and then began to change before my eyes. I wondered what was causing the change, but then I saw that it was because the blood was beginning to dry and lose weight and to congeal around the crown of thorns. The blood went right round the head, a crown upon a crown. The crown of thorns was dyed with the blood and the other crown, the crown of blood, and the head and everything was all one colour – the colour of congealed blood. Where it could be seen, the skin on the face and body was shrivelled and brown, like an old dry plank of wood. And his face was browner than his body (p57) ...
And then there were his other pains – but I saw that words are totally inadequate to describe these: nothing can be said (p58).
[For a long time I saw our Lord Jesus slowly die. His union with the Godhead gave his humanity strength to suffer more for love than the whole of mankind could suffer ... The most important point about the Passion of Christ is knowing who he is who suffered so much (p62) ... ]
The vision of Christ’s pains filled me with anguish. For though I was fully aware that he suffered only once, it seemed that he wanted to show it to me and fill my mind with it, as indeed I had requested. And all the time I saw Christ’s sufferings, his was the only pain I felt. Then I thought, “Little did I realise what the pain was that I had been asking for,” and fool that I am I immediately regretted my request, thinking, “If I had known what it was, I would have thought twice about asking for it.” For it seemed to me that the pain I now felt passed beyond physical death. I thought, “Can there be any pain like this?” The answer came to my mind: “There is the pain of hell – that is another pain again, for there is despair in that.” But of all the pains that lead to salvation, the greatest pain is to see the one you love suffer. How could there be any greater pain than the pain of seeing him who is all my life, all my bliss, all my joy, suffer in such a way (p58) ...
Then, there is the fifth and last of Mother Julian’s visions of Jesus’ suffering and it brings us back to the joy of the first one. (Retell her testimony in your own words:)
Then our good Lord Jesus Christ asked, “Are you pleased because I suffered for you?” I said, “Yes, I am, Lord, thank you. Yes, dear Lord, I praise you.” And then our Lord Jesus, our kind Lord, said: “If you are glad, then so am I. It gives me great joy and happiness, it is a perpetual delight to have suffered for you. If I could suffer more I would.”
As I felt this, my thoughts were lifted up into heaven, where to my astonishment I saw three heavens! But though there were three – all contained within Christ’s humanity – none of them was greater or lesser, higher or lower, than the others. They were all equally happy.
For the first heaven, Christ revealed his Father, not in any physical form, but in his nature and work. That is, I saw in Christ that the Father is. And the Father’s work is this: he rewards his Son, Jesus Christ. This reward, this gift, brings Jesus so much joy that his Father could give him nothing he would rather have. That is one heaven – the Father’s pleasure. It is full of joy because God is delighted with all that Jesus has done for our salvation. So we belong to Jesus, not only because he paid the price for us but because we are his Father’s kind gift. We are his joy, his reward, his glory. We are his crown. (This was a unique wonder, a complete delight: that we are his crown!) What I am now describing brings such immense joy to Jesus that for it he discounts all his agony and bitter suffering, his cruel and shameful death (p68) ...
For our Lord in his kindness showed me his Passion in five different ways: first, the bleeding head; second, the discoloured face; third, the heavy bleeding from the scourging; fourth, the depth of his dying – all these I have already described, they are the pains he suffered; then, fifth, the joy and happiness of the Passion.
It is God’s will that we have heartfelt joy with him in our salvation. He wants us to find great comfort and strength in it, and to be completely and happily taken up with it, by his grace. For we are his happiness, and he finds endless enjoyment in us, and we shall in him, by his grace (p69) ...
Who would have expected so much joy in going slow and lingering on the Lamb that was slain – Jesus’ pain which he endured for us? An agonizing death – a dying body on a cross – is not attractive but we are the reason for the sacrifice. Who would have thought that we are his happiness – the happiness and perpetual delight of God? What kind of God do we have? He loves us. We are so blessed! [Come to him.]
We read in the Bible:
John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Hebrews 12:2: ... fixing our eyes on Jesus ... For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame ...
I want to make two more points which are going to be helpful and practical in relating to these visions and the Lamb that was slain. In one of her other visions, Mother Julian of Norwich was learning about prayer. This is what she wrote as an introduction to the vision:
... [Praying,] we are not sure God hears us. This is because we think we are not good enough, and because we feel nothing at all – for often we are as barren and dry after praying as we were before. Such foolish thinking brings about our weakness in prayer. I know this feeling myself (p111).
I find it comforting that even Mother Julian – a most dedicated and disciplined Christian – struggled with prayer. Isn’t it true? None of us finds prayer easy. Either we think that we are not good enough; therefore are not welcome to talk to God or we think that our feelings are not fervent enough for effective prayer. However, both these trains of thought are wrong. The prayer of God’s children neither depends on their goodness nor on their feelings. This morning – we have given ourselves more time to understand and comprehend what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Do you know that the magnitude of his sacrifice also affects the way we pray?
This is what Mother Julian experienced next:
Our Lord suddenly brought all this to my mind and revealed these words to me: “I am the ground of your praying. First, it is my will that you have something, and then I make you want it too; then I make you beseech me for it – and you do beseech me. So how could you not have what you ask for?” (p111) ...
Jesus is the ground of our praying – not our own worthiness or religious feelings. Jesus is the ground of our praying and he is the Lamb that was slain. His blood is powerful.
Finally, Mother Julian came out of her prophetic visions and then learned another most important lesson:
... I said at the beginning, “Suddenly all my pain was taken away”, and I had no further pain or discomfort while the fifteen showings [visions] lasted. At the end everything was covered over and I saw nothing more. At first I felt that I would linger on, but then my illness returned. It began in my head with a roaring noise and then suddenly my whole body was consumed with illness, just as before. I felt as empty and parched as if I had received virtually no comfort at all. Like a wretch I moaned and cried out because of the pain I was in, and because I was bereft of spiritual and physical comfort.
Then someone from the church came to me and asked me how I was. I said that during that day I had been raving. He laughed loudly and heartily. And I said, “The cross that was in front of my face – I thought it was bleeding heavily.”
When I said this the person I was speaking to grew very serious and full of wonder. At once I felt ashamed and was astounded at my carelessness. I thought, “This man is taking every last word I say seriously.” So I said no more about it.
When I realised he was taking my words so seriously and treating them with such respect, I cried, feeling really ashamed. I would have made my confession, but at that time I could not talk about it to any priest. I thought, “Why should a priest believe me? I myself don’t believe your Lord God.”
Yet I had really believed this Revelation all the time I had seen him. And I had fully intended always to believe it, but like a fool I let it pass from my mind. How wretched can you get? It was a huge sin, and a great wrong. In my stupidity because of a little pain, I went and lost for the time being all the encouragement that God had given me through this blessed Revelation. You can see the kind of person I am!
Yet our Lord did not leave me. I lay still until night, trusting in his mercy, and then began to sleep.
Just after I fell asleep, I thought the Devil was at my throat, thrusting his face close to mine. It was the face of a young man, long and strangely thin. I had never seen anything like it ... He leered at me maliciously ... he held my by the throat with his paws and would have strangled me, but he could not ...
Throughout it I trusted God to protect and save me in his mercy, and our kind Lord gave me the grace to wake up, though I was more dead than alive. The people around me saw my state and started to bathe my temples, and I slowly regained strength. Then a wisp of smoke came in at the door with a great heat and an evil smell. I cried, “Benedicite Domine! The place is on fire.” I thought it was a real fire which would burn us all to death, but when I asked those with me if they were aware of the stench, they said that they were not. I said, “Praise God!” I really knew that the devil had come to tempt me (p179-180) ...
After the most amazing visions – requested from her in many years of praying – Mother Julian – (coming out of the experience) – immediately – lost their comfort and reality. Why? Her pain returned and the devil fought back. Many a time – pain and the devil are doing the same for us. We experience much in God – healings, gold dust, joy, peace, the gift of tongues, an inner sense of being loved and accepted, the clean feeling of being forgiven – but – maybe like Mother Julian – immediately – (coming out of the experience) – we are back to moaning and crying out: “God, where are you?” This will not do. We need to remember what God has been doing in our lives and then choose to live by faith – irrespective of any pain returning or the devil’s ravings.
In her seventh vision (in the sequence of her sixteen visions), God impressed on Mother Julian the fleeting nature of our feelings:
After this God revealed to my soul a superlative spiritual joy. I was filled with the awareness of eternal security, and God powerfully sustained this feeling for me, without any painful fear. It was so glad and so spiritual that I was totally at peace, nothing on earth could have caused me pain.
It lasted for only a short while, and then I was turned away and left all alone, deeply depressed and tired of my life, so fed up with myself that I could hardly bear to go on living. There was no comfort or calm for me now, only faith, hope and love, and I did not feel these, I only believed they were true.
Then soon after this God once again gave me his comfort and rest; so satisfying and certain, so blissfully happy and powerful that no fear, sorrow, or physical pain or any kind could upset me. Then again I felt the pain, and then again the joy and pleasure, now one, now the other, repeatedly, I suppose about twenty times. And in the times of joy I could have said with St Paul: “Nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ”; and in the pain I could have said with Peter: “Lord, save me, I am perishing!”
I understood that this vision was shown to teach me that it is good for some souls to feel like this: up in the air, then down in the dumps, sometimes strengthened, sometimes desolate and abandoned. God wants us to know that he keeps us safe in bad and good times alike. Sometimes we are left to ourselves for the good of our souls. Sin is not always the cause, for at that time I certainly had not sinned before being left alone – it all happened too quickly. On the other hand, neither did I deserve these feelings of joy. But our Lord gives freely whenever he wills, and sometimes he allows us to be in sorrow. Both states exist in one love. But God wants us to concentrate with all our might on his comfort: for happiness lasts for ever while pain will pass and will be reduced to nothing for those who are going to be saved. So it is not God’s will that we dwell on the painful feelings, and grieve and mourn over them. He wants us to let go of them quickly, and hold on to his endless joy (p51-52).
Our feelings are not the measure of our relationship with God. When you are down, remember what Jesus has done for you – look at the Lamb that was slain for you – and move on to joy. He loves you still and the everlasting joy is coming. This morning – with Mother Julian – taste the joy of Jesus’ sacrifice. With her – cry out at the top of your voice: “Benedicite, Domine!” [“Welcome, O Lord!”] If you do not yet belong to him, let him save you. Put your trust in him and accept him as your Lord. This is a glorious day to come to the Lamb that was slain.
In heaven, they sang a new song about him: “You are worthy ... because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9-10). He is worthy. Why not let his blood also purchase you? Amen.