Revelation 5:8

Sermon preached on August 19, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Did you ever feel that your prayers were in vain? Did you ever pray really hard about something but it didn't appear to change anything?

I remember how I prayed when my brother was sick with cancer. I wanted him to get better. Yet he didn't get better. He got worse and eventually died.

Some of you will remember how our congregation in Lisbon prayed for Debbie Russell as she battled Lou Gehrig's Disease. We all wanted her to be healed. But she got progressively worse and died.

It was the same with little Keturah Putney in Lisbon. I think Keturah was 6 or 7 when she got cancer. I believe she was 8 when she died. A lot of Christians prayed so hard for her. I remember her grandmother Fran, after Keturah died saying,

"Why wasn't it me? Why didn't God take me instead of her?"

At times like that people wonder—

Do our prayers matter? Do they do any good? Do they change anything?

Oftentimes it seems that they don't. We pray and pray and yet it seems that nothing changes. For example, in Psalm 6:3 David said to God,

"My soul is in anguish.
How long, O Lord, how long?"

He had been praying and praying and it seemed that God didn't answer. In verse 6 he said,

"I am worn out from groaning;
all night long I flood my bed
with weeping and drench
my couch with tears."

In Psalm 10:1 the psalmist said,

"Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"

He was in trouble and it seemed like God was nowhere to be found.

In Psalm 13:1–2 we read about another of David's experiences. He said,

"How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle
with my thoughts and every day
have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?"

We also see him express the same thing in Psalm 22:1-2. He wrote,

"Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry out by day,
but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent."

And in Psalm 44:23–24 the psalmist wrote,

"Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?"

Job also knew this feeling. In Job 23:2–9 we read,

"Even today my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.
If only I knew where to find him;
if only I could go to his dwelling!
I would state my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would find out what he would answer me,
and consider what he would say.
Would he oppose me with great power?
No, he would not press charges against me.
There an upright man could
present his case before him,
and I would be delivered forever from my judge.
But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south,
I catch no glimpse of him."

Job prayed and yet it seemed that God was a million miles away.

Hannah also knew all about unanswered prayer. She was one of Elkanah's wives. He loved her best but she was childless. Her rival, Peninnah had children and was merciless with Hannah. She kept provoking her in order to irritate her. Peninnah would keep it up until she had Hannah in tears and unable to eat. This went on year after year. In 1 Samuel 1:10 we read,

"In bitterness of soul Hannah
wept much and prayed to the Lord."

But for a long time she didn't get a positive answer. Indeed, as she prayed, her lips moved but no words came out of her mouth. Eli thought she was drunk and he rebuked her. But she replied, (verse 15)

"Not so, my lord.
I am a woman who is deeply troubled.
I have not been drinking wine or beer;
I was pouring out my soul to the Lord."

Year after year Hannah prayed and it seemed like it didn't make any difference.

The apostle Paul knew about this. He had a thorn in the flesh and he prayed three times that it would be removed. He thought he could serve the Lord better if it were taken away. But even after asking the third time, the thorn was still there.

We also read about this in Revelation 6. There we read about the fifth seal being opened. Then John saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God. They call out in a loud voice, (verses 10-11)

"How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true,
until you judge the inhabitants
of the earth and avenge our blood?"

They were told to wait a little longer but right after that we see that great judgments were sent upon the earth.

Do our prayers matter? Do they make any difference? This is a question that our text answers in the affirmative with an explanation point. We read that when Jesus came and took the scroll the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before Him. We read, (verse 8)

"Each one had a harp and they were holding
golden bowls full of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints."

What this tells us is that

our prayers are vitally important.

John gets a glimpse of our prayers at the throne of God. They are in golden bowls and they are referred to as incense. They are brought to the very throne of God.

Notice first that

our prayers are brought to the throne of God in golden bowls and they are referred to as 'incense'.

Golden bowls. This shows that they're highly regarded. They are important, significant. Note as well that they're referred to as 'incense'. In the Old Testament (Exodus 30) the people of Israel were to offer incense at the altar. The incense was to be made from frankincense and other fragrant spices. The incense was burned and had a sweet aroma. Vern Poythress writes, (The Returning King, p. 111)

"As burning incense rises up to heaven with a sweet smell, so the prayers of God's people ascend to heaven and are a 'sweet smell' to him…"

Your prayers are sweet to God. There are a number of places in the Old Testament where God says that His people are a delight to Him, or that God will delight in His people (Isaiah 5:7, 65:18-19, Jeremiah 31:20, Zephaniah 3:17). Psalm 149:4 says,

"For the Lord takes delight in his people…"

So He takes delight in our prayers. The prayers of the faithful are a pleasing aroma to God.

I love nice smells. I really appreciate them. That's because for 35 years I lost my sense of smell. When my sense of smell came back about 5 years ago, it was amazing. I had almost forgotten that things smelled. I'd come in the house and I'd be surprised that I could smell something cooking in the oven. I love it. It's great.

Your prayers are like that to God. They are brought to Him in golden bowls and are a pleasing aroma to Him.

The second thing in our text that shows us how important your prayers are is the fact that

they are tied to one of the most significant events ever—that of Jesus taking the scroll of destiny.

Jesus taking the scroll from the right hand of the Father is one of the most significant events in history. It's about a transfer of authority from the Father to the Lamb. On the basis of His work, Jesus is given The Lamb rules—He will fulfill God's plan bringing the new heaven and the new earth to pass. Opening the scroll means that God's people will be saved and the ungodly punished.

What our text tells us is that our prayers are brought into consideration in the fulfillment of God's plan. These prayers are connected with Jesus taking the scroll of destiny from the right hand of the Father. Our prayers are connected with the scroll.

To see an example of this we only need to look at chapters 8 and 9 of Revelation. In Revelation 8 we read about the opening of the seventh seal. When he did, John saw an angel with a golden censer, standing before the alter. We read, (verses 3-5)

"He was given much incense to offer,
with the prayers of all the saints,
on the golden altar before the throne.
The smoke of the incense,
together with the prayers of the saints,
went up before God from the angel's hand.
Then the angel took the censer,
filled it with fire from the altar,
and hurled it on the earth;
and there came peals of thunder,
rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake."

Then we read about the sounding of the seven trumpets. Those trumpets are about horrible judgments coming upon the earth.

So the connection between our prayers and the unleashing of God's punishment of the earth is exceedingly close. What we see is that the prayers of the saints are related there to God's judgment on the earth, on those who do not believe in Jesus Christ. Grant Osborne writes,

"This is startling: the judgments of the seals, trumpets, and bowls are in part God's answer to the prayers of the saints!"

Remember Abraham's intercession before God when God told him that he was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Would God sweep away the righteous with the wicked? (Genesis 18:23) Would He destroy the city if there were 50 righteous people in it? Would He destroy it if there were 10 in it?

Now of course that was a different situation. But shows a relationship between prayer and the execution of God's judgments.

Never underestimate your prayers. They are in golden bowls before the throne as God executes judgment on the earth to bring His kingdom to pass.

All of this means three things.

First of all,

this means that you should be praying much.

You are the people of Jesus Christ, the Ruler and Disposer of all things. Ephesians 1:22 tells us that Jesus has been appointed Head of all things,

"for the church…"

You are the church. You are to be praying, placing your requests before the Lord of the church.

Prayer matters. Prayer changes things. The Holy Spirit tells us to pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17) That implies that prayer changes things. Jesus told His disciples the Parable of the Persistent Widow in order to encourage them to pray and not give up. James told us that, (James 5:16–18)

"The prayer of a righteous man
is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a man just like us.
He prayed earnestly that it would not rain,
and it did not rain on the land
for three and a half years.
Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain,
and the earth produced its crops."

He also said to Christians, (James 4:2–3)

"You do not have, because you do not ask God."

In 1 Peter 3:12 the apostle Peter said,

"For the eyes of the Lord
are on the righteous and his ears
are attentive to their prayer,"

Prayer works. Prayer changes things. Prayer moves God to act. What this means is that your prayers will play a critical role in the unfolding of God's kingdom. Jesus takes your prayers into account as He brings the new heaven and new earth into existence.

But someone might say,

"Is that really the case? If God has pre-ordained all things, then what difference can our prayers make? It doesn't make any difference if we pray or not!"

These people have trouble with the New Testament teaching of predestination and election. They mistakenly think, if God has predestined everything, well then, my prayers aren't meaningful. Nothing could be further from the truth. The great truth is that God has not just ordained the end of things, but also the means by which they are accomplished. One of those means is prayer. But it does make a difference. God ordains prayer as a means to change things. The verses I've quoted show that there are things that happen because someone prays for it, and things that do not happen because people do not pray for it.

So you should pray much.

Secondly, this means that

you should exercise patience with regard to your prayers.

You should not be overly disappointed, overly discouraged when your prayers are not answered in a positive way. God has grand plans.

We pray for things that are important to us. We pray for the conversion of certain people. We pray for our families. We pray for about health difficulties. We pray about financial problems. We pray about difficulties at work.

But your world is just a small part of a much bigger picture. Your prayers contribute not only to your world, but to the much bigger picture.

Consider the story of Paul and Silas in Acts 16. Paul and Silas were kept from preaching the word in the province of Asia by the Holy Spirit. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit would not allow them to. So they went to Troas and Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia begging him to come over to Macedonia. So they went to Macedonia. They arrived in Philippi and stayed there several days. On the Sabbath they wanted to find a good place to pray so they went outside the city to the river. But when they got to the river some women were there. They spoke to them about Jesus and Lydia believed.

Another time they were going to a place of prayer a slave girl, who had a spirit by which she predicted the future, followed them. She kept shouting and telling everyone that Paul and Silas were servants of the Most High God. She followed them for many days and finally Paul became very troubled by this and commanded the spirit to come out of her. When her owners saw that their way of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the marketplace. They were flogged illegally, the magistrates didn't even check to see if they were Roman citizens. Then they were placed in jail. At midnight they were praying and singing hymns when there was a great earthquake and the prison doors all opened. The jailer was going to kill himself but Paul told him not to because they were all there. That man and his whole family came to know the Lord.

God's ways are complicated and mysterious. First, Paul wanted to go to Asia and the Spirit wouldn't let him. The same was true of Bithynia. Then they just wanted a place to pray, and they got to speak to Lydia. Then the slave girl's deliverance led to them being put in jail—and the jailer, and probably some prisoners came to know the Lord. God's ways are mysterious.

So if your specific requests to God don't get answered right away, realize that God has great plans. There is more going on than just your specific request to God. Be patient. And pray for great things for God's kingdom.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,

this means that you should accept Jesus.

People around you are praying for you. Their prayers are presented to God in golden bowls. Their prayers have to do with the saving of many sinners.

Salvation is a multifaceted endeavor. God saves. He has people that pray for those who are saved. The people that are saved are given faith by God. They have to believe. Go to Christ. Believe today.