Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Date: 19 August 2012
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Revelation 13 – Worthy to Wield Power
John was given a vision of heaven and – after seeing God on the throne – this is what he saw next – and remember that he was imprisoned on an island waiting for revival and remember that the very reason for his vision was so that he would see “what must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1):
Revelation 5:1-2: Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
There is a scroll in God’s right hand and it contains the future history of the world – his plans for salvation – but the scroll is sealed (with seven seals!) – it is sealed in God’s right hand – and – judging by the cry of the mighty angel – unless the seals are broken by somebody, even God is denied access to what he wants to do. Think about this for a moment. Who or what could possibly deny God the future which he wants? Is God not all powerful and mighty?
The answer is: A little man and a woman – the first humans that God had made – they managed to defy God. They disobeyed him and thereby created an immense problem. Any disobedience – any sin – any descent into darkness, that is: any forsaking of God’s standard of holiness and love – must be dealt with – must be punished. By all accounts – this is the spiritual law which even God must obey because he is just and justice – (his very own nature) – demands retribution and the demands of justice – throughout the entire Bible – are always high – always leading to death – always requiring blood.
Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death ...
Romans 5:12: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned ...
Hebrews 9:22: In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
What does this mean for you this morning? Put yourself in John’s shoes and imagine that you are in this vision of heaven. You see the scroll – sealed in God’s right hand – and in that scroll is the future which you want – salvation, revival, breakthroughs, peace and joy – but – maybe for the first time in your life – you realize that sin is a bigger problem than you have ever anticipated. It cuts you off from God and even heaven cannot help you – or so it seems. Do you know that? In church, everyone always smiles at you (hopefully) but don’t be fooled. God is not always smiling. When you sin – like we all sin – (when you shut your ears to God and choose laziness or lust over obedience) – you are in trouble because your sin seals up whatever good God has planned for you. It’s gone. It cannot be accessed – even though God wants to bless you.
In the vision, John heard a large angel shout: “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” And maybe he became hopeful in that instant because heaven is populated with worthy people and angels – the seraphim and cherubim – all powerful servants of God who have never sinned. Surely – in heaven – there would be someone fitting the bill. Yet, the search yielded no results which led to despair – the only logical conclusion for a man like John (and us).
Revelation 5:3-4: But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.
I don’t want to hurry this. It would be so easy to rush past these negative – unpopular – emotions but John did not just well up with tears, he wept and wept and wept. He cried until he was all cried out. All his hopes – for himself and the churches in his care – were falling to the ground. Heaven – God on his throne – the twenty-four elders around the throne – all of creation – they seemed to face an insurmountable problem: your salvation and mine. The scroll was sealed shut by our sin.
Then, John heard the good news which is the good news that makes us come to church (this morning) and worship our God:
Revelation 5:5: Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Stop your tears. Wipe them from your face. The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. And no prize for guessing who this is. The Lion is Jesus – a king – the supreme King. In fact, he is the promised descendant of King David – (but also “the Root of David”) – and succeeds him as the Lion of Judah.
Jesus was unique because he was one with God. He was the Son of God. In our Bible chapter, he is “standing in the centre of the throne” (Revelation 5:6) which is God the Father’s throne (Revelation 4:2). If you needed someone worthy, Jesus was perfect because – as the Son of God – he outranked everyone else.
Yet – the Bible chapter makes this very clear – Jesus was not able to open the scroll because of who he was. His position and nature were of the utmost value – it mattered who Jesus was – but his identity alone was not enough to save us. Jesus became worthy by what he did – for us. [His perfect identity – of the highest order – combined with the most radical sacrifice – of the lowest humiliation – to save us.]
Revelation 5:7-12: He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:
“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. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!”
Jesus was worthy because he was slain. Jesus was worthy because he was bleeding from horrendous wounds and died in the midst of torture. Jesus was worthy – Jesus is worthy – because he faced suffering and – for this purpose – had come from heaven to earth: to die on a cross (outside Jerusalem) – for us.
One of the elders told John that the Lion of Judah had conquered but – when the Lion finally appeared – this is what John saw:
Revelation 5:5-6: Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth.
The Lion came as a Lamb. Jesus was not only worthy because he was slain. He also conquered by being the Lamb that was slain. As his throat was slit – (according to the image of a lamb that was slain) – as blood was pouring from the wound and his life was ebbing away – slowly – Jesus conquered because he satisfied the spiritual law which says: Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. He shed his own – the pure and holy blood of the Son of God – so that we would not have to shed ours for the sins in our life. On account of his sacrifice, we would receive forgiveness and the scroll of our future with God could be opened. In heaven, this was cause for a new song. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders sang: “You are worthy ... with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation ... ”
Jesus’ blood conquered sin – conquered our separation from God – for everybody (every tribe and nation). We have been purchased – redeemed – saved – forgiven. In the vision, John stopped crying – (and so do we) – but – let us not stop here – Jesus’ conquest extends beyond mere forgiveness and redemption. As we have become his – purchased with the costly substance of his blood – we have become his servants who are authorized to establish his rule on the earth. Listen again to the new song that the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders sang: “You are worthy ... with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe ... and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Sin not only separated us from God but subjected us to powers – evil authorities – that oppose the reign of God. By the blood of Jesus – we belong to Jesus now. He has conquered but there is still a battle. I give you only one reference from the book of Revelation:
Revelation 12:7-12: Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”
Can we see that the picture of the conquering Lamb is bigger than mere forgiveness? The devil, or Satan, leads the whole world astray – leads people into sin – and then accuses them before God – appealing to the justice of God and insisting on punishment – damnation. Yet, his power is broken. By the blood of Jesus, he has been hurled down from heaven and, by the blood of Jesus (by the forgiveness and grace through his blood), the people of God overcome him. They may die in the service of God but nothing will separate them from God.
I want to come back to the image of the Lamb that was slain. There is a school of thought in the church that glorifies suffering. There are Christians who are comfortable with the suffering of Jesus – (this is what they focus on) – but are reluctant to embrace the power that comes out of the suffering.
Carl Trueman: Luther’s Theology of the Cross, http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH05/10b.html: ... Divine power is revealed in the weakness of the cross, for it is in his apparent defeat at the hands of evil powers and corrupt earthly authorities that Jesus shows his divine power in the conquest of death and of all the powers of evil. So when a Christian talks about divine power, or even about church or Christian power, it is to be conceived of in terms of the cross—power hidden in the form of weakness.
F. Dale Bruner: The Shy Member of the Trinity: ... “I have become convinced that those persons are most filled with the Holy Spirit [and his power] who are least conscious of it” ... This is good news, since our normal sense of self as Christians – I think I can speak for most of us – is a sense of great inadequacy ... It is not necessary for us to ... be radiant with victory ...
http://edslutherpaper08.blogspot.com.au/: ... God is known and understood not in strength but in weakness, not in awesome display of majesty and power but in the exhibition of a love willing to suffer in order to win man back to itself…God is ever and only known to man at the cross…
From the foreword to A Theology of the Cross by Charles Cousar: ... The message of the crucifixion is that God’s power is manifested in weakness, not in strength.
Many of these statements sound find and have good intentions but I think that they are misreading the Lamb that was slain. Jesus’ death – his sacrifice on a cross – his suffering for us – is at the heart of everything that we believe (see 1 Corinthians 2:2) but suffering is not power. Bleeding to death is not power. Dying on a cross is not power. And it is not true that – with God – power is always hidden in the form of weakness. It is not true that – with God – power always remains hidden so that the Christian wields power – through the Holy Spirit – without ever becoming conscious of this power. It is not true that the power of God always manifests as weakness.
Look again at what our Bible text is saying. What did John experience in heaven:
5:5-10: “ ... the Lion of the tribe of Judah ... has triumphed. He is able to
open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it
had been slain, ... The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the
seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll ... And
when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell
down before the Lamb ... And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to
take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain ... ”
The suffering of Jesus – his suffering as a Lamb that was slain – made him worthy. It was not an expression of power but set him up for power. In John’s vision, Jesus’ suffering was not the cause of celebration. The new song of the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders and then all of creation was not sung at Jesus’ death but when he took the scroll and broke its seals. Jesus became worthy at the cross – his authority flows from his sacrifice – but – when John saw him in heaven – Jesus was no longer meek (hanging on a cross at the mercy of hate and rebellion). He was a Lamb that had seven horns – signifying power – (and these horns and seven eyes signify the Spirit whom he sent into all the earth and who is working now through us) – and he exercised power by breaking the seals of the scroll and this kind of power would shake the whole world – not in weakness but earthquakes, signs and wonders.
Revelation 6:1-17: I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals ... I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest ... When the Lamb opened the second seal, ... another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword ...
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, ... there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth ...
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
The Lamb became worthy on the cross but his power manifests in breaking the seals of the scroll. Sin, death and the devil no longer rule the world but the time for justice has come. Another hymn about Jesus expresses the same transition from the value of the cross to power:
Philippians 2:8-11: ... he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
[See also the following Bible passages:
Acts 2:36: ... God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.
Hebrews 9:11-12: But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Hebrews 9:26: ... has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Hebrews 10:11-14: Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.]
Finally, what clarifies our thinking the most is that the Lamb (that John saw) should not have been alive. It looked like it had been slain and whatever is slain is dead. Yet, Jesus was killed but God raised him from the dead. Jesus became worthy on the cross – his blood became the costly currency of redemption – his death set up salvation – but power was exercised at his resurrection and then the history of salvation. The seals of the scroll would be broken.
Ephesians 1:19-23: ... his incomparably great power ... he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet ...
Therefore – as much as Jesus is always that Lamb that was slain – worthy in love and sacrifice – (Revelation 13:8: “... the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world”) – we do not think of God’s power as something that remains hidden in weakness. On account of what he conquered on the cross, the Lamb Jesus has now seven horns of power and he took the scroll of this world’s future which he is going to shape.
In the same way, understand your own suffering as something that makes you worthy to wield power after the suffering. I read you again two verses about Jesus:
Hebrews 5:8-9: Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
In suffering – like Jesus – we learn obedience. Suffering purifies us – we learn forgiveness in rejection – we are humbled by insignificance – we learn to persevere and hope without taking offense at God. There are tough lessons in suffering but – by suffering – God makes us perfect and then the power comes. After his suffering, Jesus became the source of eternal salvation and we wield power in his name.
For instance, this is what the apostle Paul wrote about himself – words which have often been misunderstood:
2 Corinthians 12:7-10: To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
What is Paul saying? Does he say that the “thorn in his flesh” is power? Is there some kind of power that is hidden in weakness? No, the thorn is causing a weakness which is not power but produces power. In his own words, Paul was enjoying many surpassingly great revelations – he just finished writing about having been taken up to heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-6) – and in the same chapter would point to the signs, wonder and miracles which he had performed among the church with great perseverance (2 Corinthians 12:12). Paul was operating in power that he experienced and those around him but it was the thorn in his flesh that would keep him safe – that would keep him from becoming conceited and proud. His many sufferings would impress on him his dependence on God and keep him in a place of submission where the power of God could continue to flow through him.
This is how it works for all of us. Embrace your cross. It will not be of the same magnitude as Jesus’ but it will be painful. Let God make you worthy to wield power.
Another thought. Why is Jesus’ blood and blood in general so powerful in the sight of God? Right at the beginning of the book of Revelation, we hear about the blood: “To him who loves us and has freed us – [has washed us] – from our sins by his blood, ... [be glory and power for ever and ever]” (Revelation 1:5). There is cleansing power in Jesus’ blood. It is the blood of the perfect sacrifice.
However, there is another angle that also applies to us. According to an old saying “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Tertullian). Why is that? If we go back to the vision of John in heaven, we can discern that the blood of Jesus purchased people from all nations and tribes – opened the scroll – (he did this once and for all) – but there was another means of influence around the throne:
Revelation 6:8: And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.
The blood of Jesus opened the scroll but then there were elders who carried the prayers of God’s people in golden bowls. These prayers also carried influence and there is probably no more powerful prayer than backing up your words with the sacrifice of your life. In the very next chapter, John saw that the prayers of shed blood – the prayers of martyrs – were not in the bowls of the elders but had immediate access to God:
Revelation 6:9-11: When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
The martyrs were under the altar before God. According to the Bible, life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11-14) and as the martyrs put themselves on the altar, their blood gathered under the altar where it would get a direct hearing from God (see also Genesis 4:10). In a most powerful way – they could plead for justice – for the establishment of God’s reign on earth. Then, God explained that when the full number of martyrs was achieved, the breakthrough would come.
Therefore, embrace suffering – welcome the pain – because it makes you worthy – humbles you – to wield great power. And should God require your life from you, be assured that your blood keeps praying in a loud voice from under the altar in his presence. It will not have been in vain.
I summarize some of the sermon points: 1) The scroll of future salvation was sealed by our sin. 2) Even God could not break the seals because justice demands a sacrifice. 3) Jesus was worthy to open the scroll because he was slain. 4) His blood purchased people for God from every tribe and nation. 5) Sin not only separated us from God but subjected us to powers that oppose his reign. 6) By the blood of Jesus, we overcome the devil even in death. 7) The Lamb became worthy on the cross but his power manifests in breaking the seals of the scroll. 8) Your own suffering makes you worthy to wield power. 9) The blood of the martyrs keeps praying in heaven until God responds with power.
John wept and wept when no one was found in all of creation that was worthy to open the scroll and its seals. Our future hung in the balance but then Jesus came – the Lion of Judah as a Lamb that was slain. On occasion of him, a new song was sung in heaven: “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. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Make this your own song. Praise Jesus who is worthy of all honour and praise.
This morning – understand the good news. Your future may look dark to you. You are far away from God and – without hope – you may also weep but hear the song of God in this church. There is Jesus. He is worthy. He died for you. His blood purchased people and you can be one of them. Give yourself to him and be saved. Serve him. Be on the right side of power because whenever the seals open, justice comes to earth. Amen.
 See http://www.answersintheendtimes.com/Sunday-School-Lessons/Pt-26-The-Sealed-Scroll (accessed in July 12): ... we need to understand what is taking place with the “scroll” that the Father is holding in his hand. This is essential to our understanding of the Revelation, and even the entire Bible.
In the illustration to the left you can see how this scroll is typically portrayed in commentaries, as though it were a Greek-style scroll with wax signet ring seals. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. To begin with, if it were a Greek scroll there would be no way to determine if it had writing on both sides, since one side would be concealed. Instead, John was seeing something quite different, and something he was already familiar with. John was seeing a Hebrew scroll, as shown in the illustration to the right.
If you’ve ever seen a photo of a Torah scroll inside a Synagogue, then you have a better picture of what God was holding in his hand. These scrolls are typically a literal scroll fastened on two cylinders. In the illustration above you can see how some of these scrolls appear even today, and it is THIS type of Hebrew scroll that John was shown. Only this type of scroll allows the viewer to see writing on both sides.
At this point you’re probably wondering how that could be the case if the document were ‘sealed’, right? Well, several of the things pertaining to this document may come as a bit of a surprise to the reader if they are not familiar with Jewish traditions. So let’s review all the scriptures that we can find that may help us identify this double-sided scroll, and then we'll address the 'seven seals' near the end of the post, once this is all in proper context.
Ezekiel Saw This Scroll
It may come as a surprise to learn that John was not the only prophet to see this particular scroll. Hundreds of years earlier it had been shown to the prophet Ezekiel; Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. (Ezekiel 2:9)
Both John and Ezekiel saw a double-sided scroll, but that’s not where their shared experience ended. If we continued to read about Ezekiel’s experience in chapter 2 we would find that he was told to eat the scroll, and that it tasted sweet in his mouth despite the words of “lament and mourning and woe”.
With regard to the Apostle John, if we skipped ahead in the Revelation we would find that John was ALSO told to eat the scroll, and that it ALSO tasted sweet in his mouth. In John‘s case we‘re not told that the scroll had words of lament and woe on them, but the fact that the scroll turned “bitter“ in John‘s belly should tell us that it did. So in essence they each had precisely the same experience for good reasons that we‘ll get to in a moment. But for now, let’s continue on to see who else saw double-sided scroll.
Zechariah Saw This Scroll
I looked again—and there before me was a flying scroll! He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide.’” And he said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished.” (Zechariah 5:1-3)
In this instance Zechariah was ALSO shown a scroll with writing on both sides, just as John and Ezekiel had been shown. And while Ezekiel had been told that this scroll contained words of lament, mourning and woe, Zechariah expanded on that by saying these words would banish every thief and liar. And that of course is the point of the judgments in the book of Revelation. But we'll cover that topic in greater detail in upcoming posts.
It's critical to note that Zechariah was shown one more detail about this scroll than the other two prophets had seen, because this detail becomes very important to this discussion. He was told that the scroll was 30 feet by 15 feet (20 cubits by 10 cubits actually) in size. And since there are no idle words in scripture, this precise set of measurements was clearly intended to provide understanding about the scroll itself. So what does it mean?
Often times in scripture we find passages that contain measurements or references to the Tabernacle or Temple, and these passages do this in order to convey a symbolic truth. This is one such example, and only one Temple edifice corresponds to these measurements. It is the Temple Portico, or the porch of the Temple where proclamations and judgments were declared to Israel. Of course, this symbolism shouldn’t be surprising since the flying scroll contained judgments on both sides. And since John and Ezekiel both ate from this scroll, perhaps now we can see that it was the judgments on the scroll that made their stomachs sour.