April 10, 2016 “Lion and Lamb” – Revelation 5

Revelation 5
“Lion and Lamb”
April 10, 2016 – Third Sunday of Easter

I love Aslan. I came to that love a little later than some do. In college I first read C. S. Lewis’s beloved children’s stories, the Chronicles of Narnia. My problem was I discovered Lewis in junior high. I read The Screwtape Letters, then Mere Christianity, then the space trilogy and even The Abolition of Man in ninth grade. But junior high students, middle schoolers, are way too cool to read little kid books. At least I thought I was. So as I browsed the C. S. Lewis shelf at our Christian bookstore, I deliberately skipped over the Narnia books, put off by cover art aimed at younger children.

A college philosophy professor assigned us The Silver Chair and I took the plunge. But once I dove in, I was hooked. I borrowed my roommate’s boxed set of the whole series and devoured them within a couple weeks. And Lewis’s fictional redeemer lion became one of the ways my understanding of Jesus grew and developed. As Kathryn Lindskoog put it, the Lion of Judah came to Never-Never Land and my attitude toward children’s stories was never the same.

Here in Revelation 5 verse 5 Jesus is symbolized as a lion, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” That’s a reference to Genesis 49:9, where when blessing his twelve sons Israel says, “Judah is a lion’s whelp… He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion.” David, and then Jesus, came from Judah’s tribe. So Jesus is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David.”

Lions get a mixed report in the Bible. On the positive side, God is called a lion a few times in the Old Testament and Solomon’s throne is surrounded by twelve lion statues. On the other side, literal lions are the enemy for David and Samson and Daniel. Wicked rulers are depicted as roaring lions devouring their people. I Peter 5:8 warns, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” There is obviously great respect for the strength of a lion in Scripture, but good, kindly Aslan doesn’t quite stroll out of the pages of the Bible.

In the last chapter of the Narnia book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, three children come to “the very end of the world.” There on a green grassy field they meet a Lamb who invites them to breakfast, the very same breakfast we heard about this morning from John 21, fish roasting on an open fire. They began to ask the Lamb about the way to Aslan’s country, and as the Lamb answered them, “his snowy white flushed to tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane.” The Lamb became a Lion.

Narnia reversed the dramatic surprise that happens here in our text between verses 5 and 6. The fifth chapter of Revelation opens with John’s vision of a scroll held in God’s hand, a book sealed up tightly with seven seals. An angel calls out in verse 2 for one “worthy to open the scroll and break its seals.” But no one could be found and John is moved to tears that no one will be able to see into that book.

It’s then in verse 5 that the Lion of the tribe of Judah appears. He has conquered and can open the scroll and its seals. But then in verse 6, when John looks to see the Lion, what he sees is “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.” The Lion became a Lamb.

That’s the whole message of the Gospel and the heart of the Christian faith in movement between those two verses. The Lion and the Lamb are both, of course, pictures of Jesus Christ, just as Aslan and that briefly seen Lamb at the end of the world are pictures of Jesus in Lewis’s fantasy world. And the two different animals represent the movement of Jesus’ own work of salvation. The roaring, powerful divine Lion became a humble, suffering and dying Lamb.

Most English translations put verse 6 like I read it, that the Lamb was “standing as if it had been slaughtered,” or “as if slain,” or something like that. The problem is the “if.” It doesn’t belong there. There’s no doubt, no question. The Lamb has been slaughtered. He is standing there “as slain.” Look down to verse 12 and hear how the song of the angels begins, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered,” “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” It’s not just an appearance. This Lamb really was killed and yet lives.

That’s the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God the Son set aside His divine power, His lion-like majesty, His strength and control as King, and let Himself, like Isaiah 53:7 says, be “led like a lamb to the slaughter.” God came to us as one of us, as a human being, and died for us so that when He rose from the dead we could all be raised. That’s the great story which Lewis told in his Narnia books and it’s the story at the root of who we are all we do here. It’s why we came today to join in the worship of the universe around that throne where the Lamb stands as you see on your bulletin this morning.

Like I said, I love Aslan. Lewis built into his fantasy character many of the best qualities of Jesus, His gentleness combined with strength, His wisdom and His winsomeness, His justice for all those who are weak or oppressed. Even some of the humor of Jesus is there in that huge hairy face. And in the first Narnia book Aslan does just what Jesus did, gave His life and rose again for His friends. Passage after passage in those wonderful stories about Aslan moves me to tears every time.

Yet, here’s the thing for you and me. That Lamb who became a Lion in Lewis’ story went on to tell the children that they would have to go back to their own world and learn to know Him there. Lewis was stepping into his story to invite his readers to do what he had done, to get to know the reality behind the picture, to know Jesus Himself. And when you and I turn to this Book, the Bible which tells us the true story of Jesus who is Lion and Lamb, it is the Lamb who consistently represents Jesus Christ our Lord.

Verse 5 here is the one place in the whole Bible where Jesus Himself is pictured as a lion. But over and over in Revelation and back in Isaiah and in the Gospel of John Jesus is the Lamb. Paul in I Corinthians 5:7 says, “For our paschal [Passover] lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.” I Peter 1:19 says that we were bought “with the blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish.” Jesus is the Lion once. He is the Lamb over and over, all through the Bible.

That last reference I gave from I Peter 1 leads on to verse 20 which adds to our grasp that Jesus is much more the Lamb than the Lion. Peter says, “He was destined before the foundation of the world.” Turn over to Revelation 13:8 and you find the Lamb with another book, the book of life, and it says that the Lamb was “slain before the foundation of the world.” The Lamb is who Jesus is. It’s who He has always been. It was God’s plan since before creation that Jesus would die and rise again to save us, that the Lamb would be slain and rise to make us His people.

Yes, I love Aslan and those books get a lot of things right. Lewis’s stories have helped countless people love the real Jesus. But the real Jesus we love and worship is the suffering and dying Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And if we truly love Him and want to follow Him, then you and I need to be more like lambs than like lions.

That’s what Jesus calls us, you know, in the Gospel from John this morning. There after that fish breakfast in chapter 21, Jesus had that painful conversation with Peter, asking Him to confess his love for Jesus three times just like Peter denied Him three times. But each time Jesus’ charge to Peter is what? “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.” He didn’t say, “train my lions,” or “exercise my horses,” or “fly my eagles.” No, the Lamb of God, the Lamb who was slain, identified His people as lambs like Him.

Our job as Christians is to be followers of the Lamb who was slain. That means taking our own beatings and lumps in the world. Our faith gets off the track, has gotten off the track, whenever we get that wrong, whenever we get the Lion and the Lamb backwards. The Lion became the Lamb for us, to give Himself for us. That’s what you and I are called to do as well. That’s God’s plan from the foundation of the world. It’s how His plan still works out for our future.

We have to get this right, Lion becomes Lamb, in order to understand the book we are dipping into this month. The chapters that come after this in Revelation can look a lot like it’s Lion who is in action, like Christ is roaring and ripping His enemies to shreds. But if we’ve got this first picture right, then we will understand that it is by His suffering and death that the Lamb conquers our enemies, conquers sin and death and the devil. All the images of armies defeated and sinners burned up are only pictures to make us confident that the Lamb will triumph in the end, by being the Lamb.

If we get this right at the beginning in Revelation, then we will also start to notice that none of the judgment, none of the victories happen because followers of the Lamb go out roaring like lions to fight for Him. Instead, they are victorious when they are just like Jesus, sufferering martyrs who lay down their lives for God and for others. Revelation 12 talks about Satan being cast down and defeated, but verse 11 tells us that’s because, “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.”

Look around and you will see all sorts of good causes worth your time and effort. Basic housing for people who have none is worth it. Ridding ourselves and our nation of racism is worth it. Standing up for the rights of babies before birth is worth it. Keeping an evil person from gaining political office is worth it. Stopping disastrous climate change is worth it. Keeping our community safe from crime is worth it. Making sure school children have basic food and clothing and school supplies is worth it.

But people of Jesus Christ never accomplish any of these things or any other good thing by roaring like lions. We can only fight these battles and all the others we face by being like Him and suffering like lambs. It’s whenever and however we give up our lives for the sake of others that we are truly entering the fray on the side of the Lamb who was slain.

At the end of Fred’s funeral last week we read from Romans 8 starting in verse 35. It asks the question whether anything will be able to separate us from the love of Christ. Verse 36 says, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” And then, and only then, it gives that resounding answer we all said together in the face of death: “No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

That’s what Jesus said to Peter. We are His lambs. That’s who Paul said. We are “all day long,” sheep to be slaughtered. We are not lions. We are not roaring, conquering superheroes who are going to win the world for truth, justice and the American way. We are lambs who follow the Lamb. And it’s in and through Him and the love by which He gave up His blood and life for us that we find our victory.

We conquer by the blood of the Lamb when we are faithful to our testimony about Jesus and when we do not cling to live even in the face of death. That means we conquer in every act, small and large, of self-sacrifice, service, and suffering in Jesus’ name. You conquer when you give up a night’s sleep or an evening’s entertainment to staff one of our shelters. You conquer when you let yourself be inconvenienced to help a neighbor find a lost dog or to pick up someone who needs a ride to church. You conquer when you take a lower-paying job because it doesn’t require you to work on Sundays or because it gives you time to volunteer at the Mission. You conquer when you give up your own worship time in the nursery so a young parent can worship. You conquer when you go without a new car so you can give a tithe of your income to God. You conquer when you smile and welcome that noisy child in a worship service. You conquer when you come to the end of life and don’t ask for heroic measures to keep you alive.

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In all these ways we are lambs who follow the Lamb of God, the Lamb who was slain… for us. I’ve named a lot of simple and ordinary ways we can give up ourselves for the One who gave Himself up for us. Some of us may be called to deeper sacrifices. John wrote the book of Revelation to people who personally knew members of their church who had given their lives, who had died as martyrs for their faith.

You all heard Alison personally a couple weeks ago tell us how she was headed for Haiti, to give up at least six months of her life, living in a way that most of us would find pretty uncomfortable, to help Haitians find hope and work and faith in Christ. Some of you too have made sacrifices like that or even deeper, whether it was income or comfort or health you gave up to follow the Lamb.

We follow the Lamb rather than the Lion because the Lion became the Lamb. The great Lion of the tribe of Judah, the promised Messiah came to save His people and the world, by letting go of His strength, His wealth, His status. He became the Lamb whose blood truly saves the world. That’s the One we follow. That’s the One who is worthy. Verse 9 in our text begins the first song of the chapter, “You are worthy to take the scroll and open the seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

That’s what makes Jesus worth following, not for His power to help us get what we think we want or for any kind of prestige or privilege that comes from being Christian. The worth of Jesus is what He gave up for us. And our worth as His people is not what we have, but what we give up for Him.

The Lion is great. I still love Aslan. But the Lamb, the Lamb is the One who has my heart. May He have yours too.

Amen.

Valley Covenant Church
Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
Copyright © 2016 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

April 10, 2016Third Sunday of Easter

I love Aslan. I came to that love a little later than some do. In college I first read C. S. Lewis’s beloved children’s stories, the Chronicles of Narnia. My problem was I discovered Lewis in junior high. I read The Screwtape Letters, then Mere Christianity, then the space trilogy and even The Abolition of Man in ninth grade. But junior high students, middle schoolers, are way too cool to read little kid books. At least I thought I was. So as I browsed the C. S. Lewis shelf at our Christian bookstore, I deliberately skipped over the Narnia books, put off by cover art aimed at younger children.

A college philosophy professor assigned us The Silver Chair and I took the plunge. But once I dove in, I was hooked. I borrowed my roommate’s boxed set of the whole series and devoured them within a couple weeks. And Lewis’s fictional redeemer lion became one of the ways my understanding of Jesus grew and developed. As Kathryn Lindskoog put it, the Lion of Judah came to Never-Never Land and my attitude toward children’s stories was never the same.

Here in Revelation 5 verse 5 Jesus is symbolized as a lion, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” That’s a reference to Genesis 49:9, where when blessing his twelve sons Israel says, “Judah is a lion’s whelp… He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion.” David, and then Jesus, came from Judah’s tribe. So Jesus is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David.”

Lions get a mixed report in the Bible. On the positive side, God is called a lion a few times in the Old Testament and Solomon’s throne is surrounded by twelve lion statues. On the other side, literal lions are the enemy for David and Samson and Daniel. Wicked rulers are depicted as roaring lions devouring their people. I Peter 5:8 warns, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” There is obviously great respect for the strength of a lion in Scripture, but good, kindly Aslan doesn’t quite stroll out of the pages of the Bible.

In the last chapter of the Narnia book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, three children come to “the very end of the world.” There on a green grassy field they meet a Lamb who invites them to breakfast, the very same breakfast we heard about this morning from John 21, fish roasting on an open fire. They began to ask the Lamb about the way to Aslan’s country, and as the Lamb answered them, “his snowy white flushed to tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane.” The Lamb became a Lion.

Narnia reversed the dramatic surprise that happens here in our text between verses 5 and 6. The fifth chapter of Revelation opens with John’s vision of a scroll held in God’s hand, a book sealed up tightly with seven seals. An angel calls out in verse 2 for one “worthy to open the scroll and break its seals.” But no one could be found and John is moved to tears that no one will be able to see into that book.

It’s then in verse 5 that the Lion of the tribe of Judah appears. He has conquered and can open the scroll and its seals. But then in verse 6, when John looks to see the Lion, what he sees is “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.” The Lion became a Lamb.

That’s the whole message of the Gospel and the heart of the Christian faith in movement between those two verses. The Lion and the Lamb are both, of course, pictures of Jesus Christ, just as Aslan and that briefly seen Lamb at the end of the world are pictures of Jesus in Lewis’s fantasy world. And the two different animals represent the movement of Jesus’ own work of salvation. The roaring, powerful divine Lion became a humble, suffering and dying Lamb.

Most English translations put verse 6 like I read it, that the Lamb was “standing as if it had been slaughtered,” or “as if slain,” or something like that. The problem is the “if.” It doesn’t belong there. There’s no doubt, no question. The Lamb has been slaughtered. He is standing there “as slain.” Look down to verse 12 and hear how the song of the angels begins, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered,” “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” It’s not just an appearance. This Lamb really was killed and yet lives.

That’s the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God the Son set aside His divine power, His lion-like majesty, His strength and control as King, and let Himself, like Isaiah 53:7 says, be “led like a lamb to the slaughter.” God came to us as one of us, as a human being, and died for us so that when He rose from the dead we could all be raised. That’s the great story which Lewis told in his Narnia books and it’s the story at the root of who we are all we do here. It’s why we came today to join in the worship of the universe around that throne where the Lamb stands as you see on your bulletin this morning.

Like I said, I love Aslan. Lewis built into his fantasy character many of the best qualities of Jesus, His gentleness combined with strength, His wisdom and His winsomeness, His justice for all those who are weak or oppressed. Even some of the humor of Jesus is there in that huge hairy face. And in the first Narnia book Aslan does just what Jesus did, gave His life and rose again for His friends. Passage after passage in those wonderful stories about Aslan moves me to tears every time.

Yet, here’s the thing for you and me. That Lamb who became a Lion in Lewis’ story went on to tell the children that they would have to go back to their own world and learn to know Him there. Lewis was stepping into his story to invite his readers to do what he had done, to get to know the reality behind the picture, to know Jesus Himself. And when you and I turn to this Book, the Bible which tells us the true story of Jesus who is Lion and Lamb, it is the Lamb who consistently represents Jesus Christ our Lord.

Verse 5 here is the one place in the whole Bible where Jesus Himself is pictured as a lion. But over and over in Revelation and back in Isaiah and in the Gospel of John Jesus is the Lamb. Paul in I Corinthians 5:7 says, “For our paschal [Passover] lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.” I Peter 1:19 says that we were bought “with the blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish.” Jesus is the Lion once. He is the Lamb over and over, all through the Bible.

That last reference I gave from I Peter 1 leads on to verse 20 which adds to our grasp that Jesus is much more the Lamb than the Lion. Peter says, “He was destined before the foundation of the world.” Turn over to Revelation 13:8 and you find the Lamb with another book, the book of life, and it says that the Lamb was “slain before the foundation of the world.” The Lamb is who Jesus is. It’s who He has always been. It was God’s plan since before creation that Jesus would die and rise again to save us, that the Lamb would be slain and rise to make us His people.

Yes, I love Aslan and those books get a lot of things right. Lewis’s stories have helped countless people love the real Jesus. But the real Jesus we love and worship is the suffering and dying Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And if we truly love Him and want to follow Him, then you and I need to be more like lambs than like lions.

That’s what Jesus calls us, you know, in the Gospel from John this morning. There after that fish breakfast in chapter 21, Jesus had that painful conversation with Peter, asking Him to confess his love for Jesus three times just like Peter denied Him three times. But each time Jesus’ charge to Peter is what? “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.” He didn’t say, “train my lions,” or “exercise my horses,” or “fly my eagles.” No, the Lamb of God, the Lamb who was slain, identified His people as lambs like Him.

Our job as Christians is to be followers of the Lamb who was slain. That means taking our own beatings and lumps in the world. Our faith gets off the track, has gotten off the track, whenever we get that wrong, whenever we get the Lion and the Lamb backwards. The Lion became the Lamb for us, to give Himself for us. That’s what you and I are called to do as well. That’s God’s plan from the foundation of the world. It’s how His plan still works out for our future.

We have to get this right, Lion becomes Lamb, in order to understand the book we are dipping into this month. The chapters that come after this in Revelation can look a lot like it’s Lion who is in action, like Christ is roaring and ripping His enemies to shreds. But if we’ve got this first picture right, then we will understand that it is by His suffering and death that the Lamb conquers our enemies, conquers sin and death and the devil. All the images of armies defeated and sinners burned up are only pictures to make us confident that the Lamb will triumph in the end, by being the Lamb.

If we get this right at the beginning in Revelation, then we will also start to notice that none of the judgment, none of the victories happen because followers of the Lamb go out roaring like lions to fight for Him. Instead, they are victorious when they are just like Jesus, sufferering martyrs who lay down their lives for God and for others. Revelation 12 talks about Satan being cast down and defeated, but verse 11 tells us that’s because, “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.”

Look around and you will see all sorts of good causes worth your time and effort. Basic housing for people who have none is worth it. Ridding ourselves and our nation of racism is worth it. Standing up for the rights of babies before birth is worth it. Keeping an evil person from gaining political office is worth it. Stopping disastrous climate change is worth it. Keeping our community safe from crime is worth it. Making sure school children have basic food and clothing and school supplies is worth it.

But people of Jesus Christ never accomplish any of these things or any other good thing by roaring like lions. We can only fight these battles and all the others we face by being like Him and suffering like lambs. It’s whenever and however we give up our lives for the sake of others that we are truly entering the fray on the side of the Lamb who was slain.

At the end of Fred’s funeral last week we read from Romans 8 starting in verse 35. It asks the question whether anything will be able to separate us from the love of Christ. Verse 36 says, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” And then, and only then, it gives that resounding answer we all said together in the face of death: “No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

That’s what Jesus said to Peter. We are His lambs. That’s who Paul said. We are “all day long,” sheep to be slaughtered. We are not lions. We are not roaring, conquering superheroes who are going to win the world for truth, justice and the American way. We are lambs who follow the Lamb. And it’s in and through Him and the love by which He gave up His blood and life for us that we find our victory.

We conquer by the blood of the Lamb when we are faithful to our testimony about Jesus and when we do not cling to live even in the face of death. That means we conquer in every act, small and large, of self-sacrifice, service, and suffering in Jesus’ name. You conquer when you give up a night’s sleep or an evening’s entertainment to staff one of our shelters. You conquer when you let yourself be inconvenienced to help a neighbor find a lost dog or to pick up someone who needs a ride to church. You conquer when you take a lower-paying job because it doesn’t require you to work on Sundays or because it gives you time to volunteer at the Mission. You conquer when you give up your own worship time in the nursery so a young parent can worship. You conquer when you go without a new car so you can give a tithe of your income to God. You conquer when you smile and welcome that noisy child in a worship service. You conquer when you come to the end of life and don’t ask for heroic measures to keep you alive.

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In all these ways we are lambs who follow the Lamb of God, the Lamb who was slain… for us. I’ve named a lot of simple and ordinary ways we can give up ourselves for the One who gave Himself up for us. Some of us may be called to deeper sacrifices. John wrote the book of Revelation to people who personally knew members of their church who had given their lives, who had died as martyrs for their faith.

You all heard Alison personally a couple weeks ago tell us how she was headed for Haiti, to give up at least six months of her life, living in a way that most of us would find pretty uncomfortable, to help Haitians find hope and work and faith in Christ. Some of you too have made sacrifices like that or even deeper, whether it was income or comfort or health you gave up to follow the Lamb.

We follow the Lamb rather than the Lion because the Lion became the Lamb. The great Lion of the tribe of Judah, the promised Messiah came to save His people and the world, by letting go of His strength, His wealth, His status. He became the Lamb whose blood truly saves the world. That’s the One we follow. That’s the One who is worthy. Verse 9 in our text begins the first song of the chapter, “You are worthy to take the scroll and open the seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

That’s what makes Jesus worth following, not for His power to help us get what we think we want or for any kind of prestige or privilege that comes from being Christian. The worth of Jesus is what He gave up for us. And our worth as His people is not what we have, but what we give up for Him.

The Lion is great. I still love Aslan. But the Lamb, the Lamb is the One who has my heart. May He have yours too.

Amen.

Valley Covenant Church
Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
Copyright © 2016 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj