5 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Revelation 5:1-14 (ESV)
What an incredible scene! Why was the apostle weeping? I think we need to capture the weight of this moment. Whatever is in this scroll is very important to the unfolding of eternity, and only a being of proven worthiness would be capable of opening it. Only the most worthy beings in the created universe were allowed as witnesses to this event in the first place. All of them have focused their entire attention and desire upon this scroll and its need to be opened.
No one is found worthy anywhere to open it. No one in heaven is worthy! Not the four living creatures, not the angels or archangels, not the 24 elders, not the cherubim, not the seraphim, not the saints — no one. Surely the four living creatures who surround the throne of God who never cease to say “holy holy holy!” are worthy! Alas, they are not. Surely the twenty-four elders who fall down before the throne of God and worship Him forever and ever are worthy! Not one of them. No one on earth, of all the billions of people, is found worthy. Not one. Jim Elliot, Amy Carmichael, George Muller, Hudson Taylor, Mother Theresa, Peter the Apostle, Paul the Apostle, John the Apostle — all were found wanting. In all of history, none are worthy. No one is righteous enough, or clever enough, or smart enough, or shrewd enough, or rich enough, or strong enough, or famous enough. No one is fit enough or good-looking enough or has good enough singing skills to open the scrolls. No one has invented any technology which is capable of this task. No one has strong enough intercessory power or spiritual gifting or wisdom. All of these kinds of power and ability ridiculously fail to equip anyone to open the scrolls, because the question is not ability. The question is worthiness. What does it mean to be worthy?
I want to pause for a second here and ask a simple question. How hard could it be to open a scroll? It is a scroll. The question isn’t about insufficient force, it is about insufficient morals. If you think about it, a lamb standing as if slain is not exactly a symbol of superior force or even intelligence. Why didn’t anyone think to ask, “Why are we so hung up on worthiness? If this is so important, just OPEN IT. Who cares who opens it?” You know what is strange? Not one being said this. Not even the devil, or the most vile hedonistic sinful human, piped up and said “Worthiness be damned! Let me open it for you!” The entire universe was in unanimous agreement here: the showstopper question was worthiness. It was the judgment of the perfection of the law that held that scroll closed, because the question in every mind was worthiness. Not one being ever created in the history of the universe was willing or able to step up and say that the judgment of the law wasn’t binding. The law had stopped heaven altogether, and judgment had won. No one else had fulfilled the law. The sealed scroll judged all of us as unworthy.
I want to notice that He was not deemed worthy because He was resurrected. He was resurrected because He was worthy. He was worthy because He was slain. He shed His blood in resisting sin. He shed His blood to remain true. He shed His blood to maintain His integrity. He shed His blood to forgive. He died to prove His love and His obedience. He fulfilled the law, all the way to the death. No one else died the way Jesus died — that is what this is saying. If they had, then perhaps they would be found worthy to open this scroll. Jesus alone is worthy, because He died in order to ransom. He alone obeyed the Father’s will all the way to the death. He alone died for pure love.
The cross of Christ declares that He is worthy. He stands forever a lamb as if slain, and He is worthy to receive blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever. The rest of us worship Him, for He is worthy. He has proven it. There is quite literally nothing He wouldn’t do for the love of us. He is love.
In the same way, I am not worthy to open the scroll of my brother’s heart, or of my wife’s heart. I did not die for them. I did not love them the way He loves them. I die to fixing myself, and I die to fixing others by holding a standard of worthiness over their heads. He is worthy because He was slain to ransom them. If we confess, He will forgive us; we are all equally unworthy. It cannot be my agenda to demand worthiness from myself or from anyone else. We can only stand weeping and hoping that One worthy to fix us opens the door to eternity for us. I can only share the bread broken for me with them, and drink the cup with them, and proclaim His death together with them. Apart from His death, we remain unopened, isolated, and judged, condemned by our communal standards of worthiness. No one else meets our standards, which God has forged in us. Every other creature stands judged, but there is only One who bears up under judgement. Together we can worship Him, for He and He alone is worthy.