Summary: In a world filled with uncertainty we need this word that expresses confidence in God’s actions and attributes.
Sermon: “Amen!” Revelation 7:9-12 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
There are only 4 words common to all languages: Amen, Alleluia, OK, and Coca-Cola. The one I want to focus on, amen, is a word we all know and say regularly, regardless of what language we speak. It is the most universal of all words. Listen to someone pray in German, Korean, French, Portuguese or Spanish, and they’ll end their prayer with “Amen.” But what does it mean? Amen is a word that is mostly untranslated in our Bibles. One reason is that the Greek New Testament (Septuigent/LXX) didn’t translate the Hebrew. Instead of using the Greek equivalent word genoito, “let it be”, the NT writers used Greek letters to form the (transliterated) Hebrew word, amhn.
In the Army we have a similar word, “Hooah”, which we use to express enthusiastic agreement. I was riding to an Air Defense Artillery battalion in Germany in a Humvee with my Brigade Command Sergeant Major. Every time he said something to our driver, a Private, the answer was always the same: “Hooah, Sergeant Major!” Or at a formation, a Commander will address the troops with their unit motto: “Charlie Company is Fit to Fight!” -and the soldiers shout back, “Hooah!” It’s equivalent to “Amen.” In military weddings I have to tell the groom to say “I do”, not “Hooah”!
The use of this word began in the Old Testament; the Hebrew means, “to confirm or to make firm”. It carries the weight of approval, support, acknowledgment and affirmation. Amen conveys firmness and certainty. In II Kings “Amen” is used architecturally, to describe the supporting pillars of the Jewish Temple. “Amen” implies faithfulness. It is related to the Hebrew word "Emunah" which means faith or belief. When God’s Law was read aloud to Israel, the priests would conclude at the end of the reading: “All the people shall say: ‘Amen’.” (Deut 27). The Jewish Talmud promises, “Anyone who answers Amen with all his strength merits to have opened in front of him the gates of the Garden of Eden.” To say “Amen” is to give our endorsement to the decrees and acts of God. We could even translate “Amen” as “Yes”. By saying “Amen” we are stating that God’s decrees are established and sure. We concur with what God has said.
Jewish scholars believe the word “Amen” is also an acrostic, an arrangement of letters to spell out the Hebrew phrase, “El Melech Ne’eman”: “the Lord is a trustworthy King.” That’s certainly possible. By saying “Amen” we are declaring that we trust in all that God is doing in our lives and in the world.
Sometimes the word “Amen” is used at the beginning of a sentence, and in such cases it is translated “truly” or “verily”. Sometimes it is doubled, for emphasis, as when Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you…” The word He is using is “Amen.” Paul says the promises of God are “Amen”, meaning they are reliable. “Amen” is often the last word in Paul’s letters, his way of saying that everything he has declared is the truth.
In our text, Revelation 7, verses 9-12, the word “Amen” is at both the beginning and end of the praise of the angels. This sacred word is framing their worship. They are praying before God’s throne in the context of truth. People worry, “How can I be confident about anything in this world?” Yet the angels say “Amen,” with no hesitation, no uncertainty.
It was customary in Bible times to respond to good news with “Amen”. We still do that today. I might announce that I’m not going to preach a long sermon, and people would respond with a hearty “Amen!” …for a more Biblical example, when David chose Solomon to succeed him as King of Israel, nation cried out “Amen!” “Amen” is a glad word. You’ll hear some preachers ask their congregations, “Can I get an Amen?” They want to make sure their audience is with them, that they’re paying attention (I personally think ministers who ask for Amens are kind of insecure). They are basically asking, “I hope you agree with me...do you?”
How we use this word in church may depend on our worship-style tradition. Some people in the pews feel awkward and self-conscious saying “Amen” spontaneously in church. So long as they’re not being disruptive, I see no problem with saying “Amen”. It’s a good thing! If we’re not calling attention to ourselves, an “Amen” during times of prayer and preaching, or after the choir sings, is a most appropriate and natural response. I pastored 2 mostly African-American congregations, and got lots of feedback during my sermons, usually a bunch of “Amens” or “that’s right”; a black minister said to me what you don’t want to hear someone say during the sermon is: “Help him, Lord!”