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Author:Rev. A Veldman
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Southern River
 West Kelmscott
Title:The glorified Christ comforts His church when the seals of the scroll are opened - the opening of the third and forth seal.
Text:Revelation 6:5-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Spiritual Warfare

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading : Ez. 14, 12-23
Text : Rev. 6, 5-8
Ps. 106 : 1,2
Ps. 130 : 2
Ps. 97 : 6
Ps. 97 : 1,2,3,5
Ps. 25 : 4,6
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

The text for this morning's sermon is once again taken from Revelation 6. This chapter informs us about the events related to the opening of six of the seven seals with which the scroll mentioned in Revelation 5 had been sealed. Each seal, as revealed when it is broken, covers one part of the scroll, i.e. one part of the things, which soon must take place. In the sermon of last week Sunday morning we focused on the opening of the first and the second seal. This morning we will deal with the opening of the third and the fourth seal.

Last week I already mentioned that these first four seals belong together forming a group of seals distinct from the rest, first of all by the fact that they all offer an image of a horse with a rider. Secondly they are distinct from the other seals, since only in connection with these first four seals a command is issued by one of the four living creatures surrounding the throne of the Almighty saying "Come!" after which the horse and its rider go out to do their work. As I mentioned it last week, from this we may learn that the powers revealed by these horses, i.e. the things we see happening in this world when the seals are opened > these powers are controlled powers and not wild and undirected forces. The horses of Rev. 6 do not run at random. It is the Lamb of Rev. 5 who opening the scroll breaks the seals and sends out these horses. He is in control, the Lamb, i.e. Christ, whom we may know as our Saviour. He directs these four horses with their horsemen.

Beloved, what a comfort this gives to the church when we see the seals being broken and God's judgments being poured out upon this earth. Comfort that was the theme of last week's sermon and I have chosen that same theme also for this morning's sermon, preaching you the gospel under the following heading,

This morning we will focus on the opening of
1) the third seal
2) the fourth seal

I Continuing our reading in Rev. 6 we come to verse 5, where it says, "When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, 'Come and see!' So I looked, and behold, I saw, a black horse." As regards this third seal the color black is symbolic of hunger. This is enforced by the pair of scales, which the rider on this horse has in his hands. Small amounts of food are measured out: a quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius. In those days a quart of wheat was the amount, which an adult needed for his daily food ratio. A denarius was the normal wages of a laborer for a long day of work. So we get here a picture of poverty and hunger: a man earns hardly enough for his personal daily food, leave alone for his family. Of course, he could buy barley instead of wheat. But in those day barley was considered to be food for animals, cattle feed! For a day's work one could buy three quarts of barley, about enough for the laborer himself, for his wife, and, let us say, for two small children. But what if someone had a larger family. Moreover food is not the only thing a family needs. What about all the other necessities: shelter, clothing, education, and you name it. When prices are this high it becomes very difficult to make ends meet. A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius - when prices are so high, how can a man who is earning very little provide for his family?
Next we read, "but do not harm the oil and the wine." In this context we must not give thought to oil for fuel, but to oil used for anointing, to say it in today's terminology for perfume. So the reference is here to luxury. The rider on the red horse was not allowed to touch these luxury articles. They were still in plentiful supply. But what help are they for a poor laborer, they are beyond his reach.

Summing it all up, with the opening of the third seal we receive the following picture: the rich enjoying their food in abundance with all the comforts of life added to it, whilst the poor have hardly enough to stay alive. This third horse and its rider thus confront us with the social injustice in this world, the sharp contrast between rich and poor. It pictures the economic hardship whereby recession always seems to hit in particular the lower classes of society. The rich still get richer, whilst the poor only get poorer.

Globally on daily basis we are confronted with the impact of the power of this black horse with its rider. Poverty and hunger for millions of people in third world countries, whilst in the western world there is supply in abundance. What a contrast indeed: we read the paper or watch the news and see those pictures of people who die from starvation, yet a minute later we read or watch an advertisement for the latest perfume or another new and better car. Poverty and riches in one breath! How to go about this? Watching those pictures of poverty and hunger elsewhere in this world so to speak the poor Lazarus is placed on our doorstep every day, but what impact does it have on us? Most of us live in well-furnished houses with food in abundance, lacking nothing, whilst elsewhere in this world millions of people die from starvation. Sometimes we already think that we suffer when economically things don't go so well. How will we survive now Australia has gone into recession? But, beloved, this is only a shadow of what people elsewhere in this world suffer. Places where there is no food at all and where people indeed by thousands die of starvation on a daily basis. When we see the pictures of those starving people: big hollow eyes, deep black shadows, dried-out bodies, at times the question may arise: How can God allow all these things being written in His scroll? How can this be the policy of the Lamb?

Answering this question I would like to mention the following. First of all, the fact that there are shortages and famine is not God's fault. It is not that the earth cannot produce enough to feed all of mankind. On the contrary, what we read in Psalm 136 is true, "Food to all He does supply." God's storehouses never run empty. The lack of food, the effect of the black horse and its rider, is indeed God's judgment poured out on this earth, but at the same time it is also a result of the wicked schemes of people: dictators living in wealth being not at all concerned about the welfare of their citizens.
Another remark I would like to make is this: although it is Christ, who sends out also this black horse with its rider pouring out God's judgment upon this earth, this does not mean we can simply sit back letting the poor starve since it is God's judgment. On the contrary it is our duty and responsibility wherever possible to contribute towards the relief of people, be it close to home or elsewhere in this world. As God's children we also have a social task, which will always be there till the day Christ returns, till the day when the black horseman will finally disappear from the earth and people will hunger no more.

Last but not least we must not forget that in the vision of Revelation 6 also this black horse is preceded by the white horse. Last week Sunday we saw that this white horse symbolizes the triumphant progress of Christ's kingdom in this world. It's symbolic of the victory of the cross. This white horse and its rider go out conquering and to conquer, shooting sharp arrows in the hearts of people making them subject to Christ. The opening of the first seal thus points us to the victory of the gospel, starting from Jerusalem, through Judea, Samaria on to Europe and from there on to the ends of the earth. When the seals are opened the rider on the white horse goes in front. The other horses are sent out to serve the victory of the white horse. That's something we should not forget when reading this vision. I pointed this out last week with respect to the red horse, highlighting that this horse was sent out to take the anti-christian peace away from this earth, so that the church may receive freedom to serve its Saviour. Last week I made this clear via a number of examples. Amongst others I referred to the allied powers who brought down the Nazi reign of Hitler, and in the east the powers of Japan and Korea. Cities were devastated; countries laid waste, millions were killed. But through it God's people received freedom again. Thus the driving power of the red horse was serving the victory of the white horse. Well, the same can be said about the driving power of the black and the pale horse. Let me try to make this clear.

Scripture teaches us that in Christ God wants to reconcile the world to Himself. In and through Christ God grants forgiveness of sins, but also through the power of the life-giving Spirit, whom Christ obtained for us, God wants to make all things new. We are heading for a new heaven and a new earth. No one deserves this. No one deserves that the scroll is opened; the scroll which contains God's plan of salvation. Only our Saviour was worthy to open this scroll. Whole of creation thus benefits from the shedding of His blood. The good news of this salvation in Christ, the white horse and its rider, goes out over the earth. At the same time, however, God wants to bring to defeat all human ideologies, thus showing that restoration of life is granted only in Christ.

See, beloved, that's the reason why this black horse is sent out. Via the driving power of this black horse God takes welfare away from certain countries, thus showing how fragile all-human welfare is. Man by himself will never be able to restore paradise on earth.

In the previous century we have seen the rise of socialism and communism. Two ideologies that tried to bridge the gap between rich and poor. But it didn't work. The power of the black horse brought to defeat both these ideologies. In doing so God Almighty made sure that also socially the kingdom of the antichrist did not triumph. The breakdown of these two ideologies brought respite for people to turn to Christ. I think of so many who live in what formerly was called Eastern Europe. Throughout history we thus have seen that indeed human efforts will never be able to restore paradise on earth.

Thus God's judgments are poured out upon this earth. Again, this does not allow us to sit back doing nothing for the poor who are dying from starvation. But at the same time we should also realize that famine and hunger are not just independent powers raging at random. God is in control also of these powers. Poverty and riches, rain and draught, recession and unemployment, it all comes from his fatherly hand.

True - as I said it before - then in the recession we are facing at present here in Australia we experience no more than just a shadow of the driving power of this black horse. Nevertheless it shows how easily also the western economy can collapse. The days can come also for us that food becomes scarce with wine and oil no longer in reach of the normal laborer. In fact, how many also in our society do live but on a bare minimum. People also in the city of Perth who sleep under bridges or in parks and in the morning get their food from a Salvation Army car. They have not even a denarius to buy a quart of wheat, let alone that they can think of oil and wine.

All this teaches us, beloved, not to build our life on material things, for they might all of sudden fall away. Earthly riches are indeed but very perishable. Therefore, blessed is he, blessed is she, who does not build his or her life on the perishable riches of today's society. After all, they will always fail to secure life. A well-secured life is found only in Christ. Yes, whoever seeks his life in Him, the Saviour of life, shall live, live even when he dies from hunger.

Thus also when the third seal is opened with the black horse and its rider going out over the earth, God's faithful children are comforted. True, than they too might be hit by the power of this horse, but at the same time they know that also the raging power of this black horse is working together for God's plan with history; God's plan which is aiming at a new earth, where there will never be any shortage but where God's children may drink from the fountain of water of life without payment and where the tree of life will yield its fruit twelve times a year.

II After the opening of the third seal Revelation 6 continues with the opening of the fourth seal. A pale horse is sent out. Pale - a very sickly gruesome color, symbolic of disease and death. Again the rider sitting on this horse enforces this idea. His name is Death, and Hades is following in his path. Next we read the mandate given to this fourth horseman is: to kill a fourth of the earth with sword, hunger, death and wild beasts. These are the same four woes as we read about it in Ezekiel 14. I think here in particular of verse 21 of this chapter, "." In the OT these four woes were signs of God's covenantal wrath, yet now a fourth of the whole earth is punished by it.

Four woes! First we read about the sword, which in connection with the opening of the fourth seal does not refer to war. This aspect was dealt with in connection with the red horse and its rider, which received command to take away peace from the earth. If not war, what then must we think of here? The reference is here to the sword in time of peace. For, beloved, even when there is peace in a certain country often many citizens still die a violent death. Well, that's what this sword refers to: murder by gunshot or otherwise. In the society we live in I could refer to actions of terrorists, hijacking, bombing, hold-ups, and you name it. How many people do not die violent deaths even in times of peace? I think here of the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania some years ago, or that shooting two years ago in the Columbine High School in Denver, Colorado in which 12 students and one teacher died. But even in our own city: the sword swallows many victims as it steals through the streets. I think here of crime and homicides or other violent attacks of which the daily papers are full: death by the sword in time of peace.

Next famine is mentioned. It should be noted that also the opening of the third seal caused hunger on earth. Yet in the first point of the sermon I mentioned that this was caused by social injustice whereby the rich only got richer and the poor only poorer. Unlike the opening of the fourth seal the driving force of the black horse did not bring outright famine on the earth. There was still food: a quart of wheat for a denarius, three quarts of barley for a denarius. Yet when the pale horse goes out, there is no food at all. People die of starvation. I may refer here to countries like Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Cambodia and other countries elsewhere in this world: no food at all, outright famine!

The third woe mentioned is pestilence, which oftentimes is closely connected with famine: pestilence, epidemics. As regard this third woe reference could also be made to diseases for which as yet no cure has been found in today's society: aids, cancer, and others.

As fourth woe is mentioned: the beasts of the earth > wild beasts. Today we find them in the zoo. Occasionally we may hear about a shark attack, or that dingo that killed a boy on Fraser Island in Queens Land last week. Yet generally speaking nowadays not many people are killed by wild beasts. However in the olden days these wild beasts were a real danger. They trapped many a traveler when journeying from one place to the other: accidents on the way. Well, we know about that as well. Not by wild beasts, but by cars, motorbikes, ferries and planes.

The driving force of this pale horse thus symbolizes death in many forms. It kills millions of people by catastrophes, diseases, violent deaths and accidents. Since the Lamb of Rev. 5 sends out also this horse, again the question could be asked does this make God the author of all this: the author of that massacre in Port Arthur and that school shooting at Columbine High School in Denver, Colorado. If not, why then does God allow all this to happen?

Answering this question, first of all I would like to refer here to what we confess in Art. 13 BC regarding the providence of God. It reads there after it has been stated that God is always in control, "Yet God is not the Author of the sins which are committed nor can he be charged with them. For His power and goodness are so great and beyond understanding that he ordains and executes His work in the most excellent and just manner, even when devils and wicked man act unjustly."

The sword - instrument of God's judgment, but this does not excuse all who draw the sword or pull the trigger of the gun. And yet God is in control. That's the comfort we as God's children have.

Next, we should not overlook either that these judgments of God call for repentance. When the seals of Rev. 6 are opened only one fourth of the earth is struck by it. This changes when the seven trumpets are blown, Rev. 8 + 9, God wrath intensifies: one third of the earth is struck by it, whilst the bowls in Rev. 16 are poured out worldwide. So as regards the opening of the seals three/fourth of this world still receives time to repent. Oh, that people would only open their eyes and see the manifestation of God's judgment.

This brings me to my final point, namely where do we find security when these judgments are poured out upon this earth. One thing is sure: security is not found in any human ideology or system thought out by man. When the Lamb breaks the seals and sends out over this earth the four horses with their riders, He disturbs all human dreams about the restoration of a paradise on earth. The driving forces of these horses unsettle the lives of so many that think they can do without God. They confront man with his own helplessness. It makes people feel insecure.
But, beloved, as I said it before that's exactly the aim of these horses being sent out, in order that people may seek their life outside of themselves in Jesus Christ, may recognize His hands in all that happens in this world.
Terrible things, indeed, but the Lamb is in control. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. He received this authority as fruit of his bloodshed on Calvary. It was because of the blood Christ shed that He was worthy to open the scroll. The Lamb that was slain but now stands. The victory is His. Blessed are those who may share that victory. These are the ones who were bought by that same blood: you and me, beloved! Thus though living in humanly speaking an insecure world we still have security. For we are Christ's, and because we are His not a hair will fall from my head without the will of my heavenly Father.

What a great comfort this is, beloved. Yet there is still one question that needs addressing. This question: when the driving powers of these four horsemen go out over this earth, does God not make any distinction, distinction between his enemies and his children? Are they equally struck by these judgments? I don't know whether it is equally, but sure is that these horsemen afflict not only God's enemies, but also faithful children of God are struck by them. They too share in the hardships of war, famine, disease and accidents. In that Columbine High School shooting there was a girl that stood up for her faith, Rachel Scott, yet she too was killed! This indeed makes one wonder: is there then no distinction at all? Yes there is! This becomes clear when we read further in Rev. 6.

When the fifth seal is opened the apostle John sees in heaven the souls of those who in this world have taken the side of the Lamb. Since here on earth they fought the good fight, be it with many shortcomings, they received white garments, sign of sharing the victory of the white horse. When life becomes a battlefield, people are killed on both sides of the frontline. But it makes a great difference on which side of the frontline one has fought and dies. In the hour of death God's enemies have nothing left. In that hour every security on which they had built their life falls away. Yet God's faithful children, even when they die they still have security left. For they are Christ's both in life and in death.

Thus God's children are comforted when the glorified Christ opens the seals of the scroll and when God's judgments are poured out upon this earth. Since we know from Scripture that all these things must come to pass. In times of war and trouble, famine and pestilence, when the red horse drives over the earth and the black horse appears in our streets or the pale horse enters our homes, our hearts may rest in the power of the Lamb who holds the scroll with the seven seals and controls all things in heaven and on earth. Through all what happens in this world and also through all what happens in my personal life, He works for the completion of His glorious kingdom. Thus we have comfort. Beloved, let us then live from this comfort, always!


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2001, Rev. A Veldman

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