Who rules the universe? - Revelation 4:1-11

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the Riverside Church service on 11th October 2015.

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I am a nervous flier. I don’t get to fly very often but when I do I am certainly not as relaxed as I normally am. I’m not a panicker. But I do find my palms sweat on take off and during the flight I’m constantly listening out to see if the engines are still making a noise. We all know that flying is the safest way to travel but that doesn’t stop people like me fearing that something really serious could go wrong.


Now you may consider yourself a fearless flier, someone who never looks up from your book during the safety announcements and someone who never raises an eyebrow during heavy turbulence, but let me tell you something that would set your heart racing. Just imagine how you would feel if you looked down the aisle and saw that the cockpit door was open and no one was inside. That is an alarming situation. Fear emerges when no one is in control of the plane.


The same happens in our general lives. We get anxious and nervous and fearful when the events at a distance and the events on our doorstep shake our confidence that someone is in charge of the universe.


There are lots of things that can do it. The health that seemed so certain is suddenly taken away from us. Or the job that seemed completely secure, well that gets announced on the next list of redundancies. Or the house move which is delayed again and again. Or whatever it may be for you.



How do we cope in world where circumstances shake our confidence in the Sovereignty of God? We need reassurances from the Bible that God is real, that God is powerful, that God is love and that God is in complete control. And that’s what we are presented with in this breathtaking chapter of Revelation.


At first sight you may have been left bewildered and confused by Revelation chapter 4. That’s not the point. The desire of God for these words is to give us a bold confidence that he is in charge of the universe.


Let me show you this for yourself.


Look at verse 1. Read verses 1-2.


Before we are given any information about what future patterns we will see in this broken world, what are we presented with? A throne with someone sitting on it.


This is so encouraging. We are being reassured that at the very centre of the universe is not a power but a personality, not a something but a someone.


And what is he doing? God the Father is not running around in a panic clothing his eternal beard. No, he is sitting on a throne. That is, he is a King who is completely in charge of his creation.


The rest of this chapter tells us more about what kind of King this is. I want to show you seven descriptions that we find in these verses. What kind of King is God the Father?

First, he is a beautiful King (Verse 3a)


Listen to the first part of verse 3. Read verse 3a


No one is quite sure of the exact colours of these precious stones. But what is clear is that John is trying his best to describe something of the beauty of God.


As he looked at the throne he was captivated by the dazzling beauty that emanated from the person who sat there.


This was not like staring into the sun. You are blinded and you want to cover your eyes. This was not a light which caused him to turn away but to stare in wonder and be captivated, drawn in by the beauty that emanated from the throne in front of him.


What causes God to be beautiful? In our style obsessed culture it is very often the outward appearance of things and people which concern us. But with God the idea is very different. For God, his outward beauty emanates from the beauty of his inner qualities. God’s perfect character has a visible effect on the eyes.


Next time you see a beautiful sunset or go all gooey inside when you see the stars, multiple that feeling by a million fold and this will be something of the reaction we will have when we see God’s character in all its goodness.


This King is beautiful.


What kind of King is God the Father?

Second, he is a gracious King (Verse 3b)


Look at the end of verse 3. Read verse 3b.


The rainbow was not just there for colour intensification. It is supposed to remind us of the graciousness of God. Supposed to remind us of that covenant with Noah that God made after the flood recorded in the book of Genesis.


Read about this in Genesis 8 and 9. The promise we’re most familiar with is God’s assurance that he would not send a global flood every again - even though we deserve to be wiped out because of sin.


The rainbow reminds us that God withholds what we deserve and gives us what we don’t deserve.


What kind of King is God the Father?


Third, he is a sharing King (Verse 4)


We see this from verse 4. Listen to what we’re told. Read verse 4.


There is disagreement about who these elders are but what makes most sense to me is that they are angels in heaven who are representing the whole of God’s people.


Why? Numbers are important. 12. How many tribes in the OT? 12. How many apostles in the NT? 12. 12 and 12 gives 24 and so a symbolic number representing the whole people of God.

Why are they on thrones? Because God wants us to share his rule. This was the plan in the Garden of Eden. This is part of what it means to be a Christian now. Not only do we submit to God’s rule but we share it as we spread the gospel. And in the New Creation we will be given responsibilities to rule in this perfect universe.


What kind of King is God the Father?


Fourth, he is a powerful King (Verse 5)


Look at what we’re told in verse 5. Read verse 5.


Lightning is powerful. The energy contained in one bolt is enough to kill us. Imagine the power necessary to create lighting. The God who sits on the throne has immense power.


This should make us pause a little and perhaps even quake in our boots. If you know your Bible history you’ll remember that when God appeared to his people at Mt Sinai after the Exodus there was a massive thunder and lighting storm over the mountain. How did they respond? Exodus 19:16, “Everyone in the camp trembled.”


When was the last time we trembled at the power of God? It’s very easy to domesticate God but rightly understood we are dealing with a being so powerful that he only has to speak and a universe is created.




CS Lewis puts it well in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The great Lion Aslan is the Christ figure and in the book there is one significant point where the youngest of the children who have set out on their adventure into Narnia, Susan, meets Mr and Mrs Beaver. And this is what we read: ‘As Susan heard the strange name, Aslan, she began to tremble, "Oh", said Susan, "is he quite safe?" "Safe?" said Mr Beaver. "Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”


Not safe but he’s good. The one who sits on the throne is powerful.


What else are we told about God the Father?


Fifth, he is a calm King (Verse 6a)


Look at the beginning of verse 6. Read verse 6a.


This is an amazing description of just how unflustered God is by the apparent chaos we see day by day. Before him was a sea of glass – no ripple in it at all!


At the very heart of the control centre God is not tearing his hair out, frantically panicking as information comes his way. No, there is calmness in heaven.


We must not confuse calmness with apathy. This is not a picture of an uncaring God but a portrait of a God who is in complete control.




That’s what people who are in complete control do. They stay calm. Watch a paramedic driving to an emergency. Everyone else panics around them but they are the picture of clam. Why? Not because they don’t care but because they are in caplet control.


The one who sits on the throne is calm.


What else are we told about God the Father?


Sixth, he is a holy King (Verses 6b-8)


We’re introduced to a number of other-worldly creatures in verses 6-8. And these are probably the cherubim, a type of angel, that we meet elsewhere in the Bible.  Now it’s certainly interesting to think more about their physical description but for now I want to concentrate not on what they look like but on what they say. Look at the end of verse 8.


Read verse 8b.


They are shouting out, “The one who sits on the throne is different from everyone else. He is perfect and free from sin. He is distinct. He is not part of the creation. He is eternal. The Lord God Almighty is holy.”


It’s vital for us to remember this when we contemplate the state of our world and are tempted to panic about who can sort out the mess. God is outside the mess. He is holy and distinct. He is not tainted in any way by the mess. God’s holiness assures us that he is both all-good and all-powerful!

It assures us that he can navigate his people through whatever situations they face and ultimately he can bring to an end all the miserable things that mess up our existence.


One more thing we are told about God the Father.


He is a worshipped King (Verses 9-11)


In verses 9 to 11 the camera shifts back to the 24 elders, those angels who are representing the people of God, we are told how they related to the one who sat on the throne.


Look at verse 10. Read verses 10 and 11.


What a beautiful description of what those Christians in heaven already do perfectly and what those of us here on earth strive to do. They worship God. They knee down before God and submit to his everlasting and life enriching perfect rule.


There is certainly disagreement in our country about whether someone should kneel before a human monarch.


But there should be no disagreement in this country about whether someone should kneel before God the Father and worship him.


There is so often. Let me tell you why. Many people do not understand who God is in relation to them. That is is both their creator and sustainer.


Indeed, Revelation 4 provides these two reasons why we should worship God.


This is why self rule is so serious. It is rebellion against the rightful rule of another.This is why we need a Saviour.


What does he save us for? One aspect of our salvation is to live again under the loving rule of God the Father.


This is for our joy and for our security.


There are many circumstances that have the potential to cause us anxiety and fear.


What do we need? To be reassured that this is the God who is on the throne. We need to be freshly convinced that there has been no coup in heaven. There has been no takeover. There has been no revolution. The powerful creator and gracious sustainer of the world remains calm in his control centre.


More than this, we know that this God is our Father. The Son of God gives us the privilege and pleasure of relating to his Father as Our Father. This gives us assurance that he is working out his purposes for our good


In conclusion


So no matter what you will see or hear this week, take Revelation chapter 4 to heart my friends and don’t panic!




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