One of the most infamous moments in our political history came on March 30, 1981. On that day, would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr. shot Press Secretary James Brady and President Ronald Ronald Reagan, missing his heart by less than an inch, shortly after Reagan had left a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Almost unbelievably, the shock and horror of that moment melted into laughter after Reagan's Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, made the following faux pa: "Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of State in that order, and should the President decide he wants to transfer the helm to the Vice President, he will do so. He has not done that. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House."
Haig's words were meant to try to ally the nation's fears during a deep crisis, letting people know that things in Washington had not degenerated into some sort of anarchist free-for-all. They were received, however, as a laughable and even pathetic attempt on his part to exceed the limits of his authority. For he was not really in control there - in the White House. He just thought he was.
When John wrote Revelation, a man named Domitian, who is pictured above, was emporer of Rome. It was during Domitian's reign that worship of the emporer as a divine god reached its height. It was Domitian who instituted the Capitoline Games, a celebration of who else, but Domitian. According to the German theologian and numismatist Ethelbert Stauffer:
When Domitian appeared in the circus, and took his seat beaneath the sacred canopy, in order to conduct the Capitoline Games... Domitian was enthroned, a golden wreath on his head... The spectators had to appear clad in white... Domtian loved to hear... the cry of "Hail to the Lord!"... Other forms of acclamation... were the following: Hail, Victory, Lord of the earth, Invincible, Power, Glory, Honour, Peace, Security, Holy, Blessed, Great, Unequalled, Thou Alone, Worthy art Thou, Worthy is he to inhert the Kingdom, Come, come, done not delay, Come again. (Christ and the Caesars, 155)
Do you think this guy had an ego problem? The first century Roman historian Suetonius relays that Domitian would begin his letters, "'Our lord and our god commands so and so;' whence it became a rule that no one should style him otherwise in writing or speaking" (The Life of Domitian XIII).
In our reading for today from Revelation 4, we are whisked away into what appears to be another kind of Capitoline games. There are spectators dressed in white (verse 4) who parody the cries of Domitian's games and letters: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being" (verse 11). There is a throne, from which "came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder" (verse 5). But we don't know who's on the throne yet. Could it be that Domitian is not only the "lord and god" of the Roman Empire, but even the "lord and god" of heaven? Hardly. For in the next chapter, the one of the throne is identified: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever" (Revelation 5:13)! It is not Domitian who is on the throne, but the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is on the throne. Domitian is not in charge here - in the heavens. He just thinks he is.
The Lamb is on the throne. This is the message of Revelation 4. And in a world where there is so much uncertainty, chaos, and fear about the future, this is a great hope. The Lamb is on the throne. This means two things. First, it means that no matter what madness a tyrranical ruler may try to carry out, we need not fear, for they are not finally in charge. They just think they are. For the Lamb is on the throne. Second, it means that we too are not in charge of our lives and our destinies. Even if we think we are. For the Lamb is on the throne.
Today, is there something which you are seeking to control which you need to release to the Lamb who sits on the throne? If there is, I hope that you will trust this promise: You are not in control. Even if you think you are. For the Lamb is on the throne. And the Lamb will do a better job handling your harrying situation than you will anyway.