Sunday, December 25, 2011

THE LAMB IS THE LION



SELECTED SCRIPTURE READINGS 

I have one simple desire   on this Christmas  Day. I  want to present Christ to you !    I  shall not do that  by way   of my  customary  systematic exposition of a text, but by tracing  some of the names  of Christ  used  in  the Scripture : Christ , the Lamb and the Lion . In Revelation Chapter 5  we find  the  only place where these two names are used  in the same context .
The result of  our Christmas meditation  should be  a renewed  sense of worship  and glory  to God .  

Christ  was born to stir up worship in us  . The news of Christ’s birth  caused  the angels to say :  Glory  to God in the highest! “  (Lk 2:14)  . The understanding  of who Christ is  restores  meaning  and purpose  in life . We were made to worship .  North Koreans  were made to worship  , but unfortunately many of them they worship only  a dead human leader . We were  made to worship the One  , true , eternal God , who is not like a man , but who has manifested Himself for our sakes  in  the man Christ Jesus .  Jesus  is the exact imprint  of God ( Hebr. 1:3)  . He said : “ If you have seen me you have seen the Father” ( Jn 14:9) .  Beholding Christ invokes  worship .
That is what Mary  did  in response to what  the angel  told her  when he said that  she was going to be  the bearer of  God’s  Son  , and  when she spontaneously composed  the Magnificat  ( Lk 1: 46-55) “ My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…” . That is worship !
I want  you  to  feel  what the shepherds felt   after they had seen  that baby in the manger at Bethlehem ,  the sight of which  left  them  glorifying and praising God (Lk 2:20) .  That is worship !
I want you to understand what   that righteous and devout worshipper of God,   Simeon  understood   when he  saw that baby presented  in the temple :
[29] “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;[30] for my eyes have seen your salvation [31] that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, [32] a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”  (Luke 2:29-32 ESV) . That is worship !

May  God deliver  us from  the boredom  or the artificial hype   that  now generally surrounds  Christmas . This  boredom is seen in  articles such as I have  read   on the BBC  internet news  on Friday (23/12/2011 ) ,  entitled :    War on Christmas : Is this festival under attack ? “ [1] .  A  picture  in the article had  Santa Claus in the crosshairs , which told me that they  were aiming at the wrong guy !  His Name is Santa , and not Christ!   He is fiction , Christ  is   real!
What interested me in particular  were  the  responses  of  many  hundreds of  readers to this article. Some were just cynical , some were atheists , and others were  Christians. Some  said that  Christians had hijacked  an ancient pagan winter festival  and had made it their own.  There is of course some truth in that.  I have never yet figured out what  decorated  trees and Santa Claus have to do  with the Christmas story  .  Others   criticized the unrestrained commercialism of Christmas ,  – there is also truth in that !   Some   criticized Christianity itself   with  a heavy sarcasm and disdain. And, of course , there was not a little wrangling  with each other as  the   many criticized  each others comments about the  meaning of Christmas .   
I searched  hard among the   comments  of these hundreds of readers   to find  some  glory. There were some traces , but  I must admit that I came away with a sense  of   what   always feel  when  I come to this  time of the year . There is  so little  real glory  and worship   that shines from this  momentous event !  What has happened  in Bethlehem   2000 years ago has been trivialized so much , that it now lies buried  beneath  a heap  of cheap ‘Christmas magic ‘ .
The fact is that that this baby of Bethlehem   is the Lamb of  God , the Lion of Judah. I have chosen to look at these two names  because   they help  us  to understand  Him  whom we too have come to worship .

The story of Christmas is the story of Jesus  and  this  story begins  in eternity. He  came  from that eternal  glory  which He  had  with His Father  before the world existed (see  John 17:5) .  From  that place of utter perfection and glory   He  came (He was incarnated / born)   into a world of finite realities  and fallen beings.
After His baptism , at about the age of 30  He  began   to   proclaim that   the  kingdom  of God  was near . By that He  told us that  mankind  had  been alienated from that kingdom , and that He had come to open the door  back into that kingdom .  
In this process  Jesus  points to Himself as “ the Way , the Truth , and the Life  ( Jn  14:6)  , the door for the sheep   ( Jn  10:7) by which  people  could  re enter into that paradise that was lost in Genesis 3 .  The Bible records  that  people  to whom  He says these things  find  it difficult to believe Him ( Jn  1:11).  This is because  mankind  by its fallen nature  is so  spiritually dead  that they  will not believe. (Eph 2:1) .  Fallen people need  something more  than human ability to believe .  
Any self effort to understand  God   and  the nature  of our relationship  with  Him  will only  result in creating  another  false religion/ cult .  That is precisely what has happened  in the world . Fallen mankind in response to  that spiritual  vacuum  has gone of in search  of God , but  our sinful hearts  will always create idol gods   that suit us  . The world is in a spiritual mess!   We need  help ! 
We need  revelation  !  That is  what the Bible  provides . That is why  the Bible is  important . The Bible claims to be a God inspired book  ( 2Tim 3:16)
We need  to be helped to believe . We need Grace from  God   to have faith in God. Like helpless babies  we must be  helped. Babies can do nothing for themselves.  That is why  the beginning of the Christian life is likened to a birth – the new birth !                     “ Born to raise the  sons of earth , born to give them second birth” [2]
We must understand who  Christ  is  and  where He has  come from .  If Christ  is who he says He is  , then  we had better listen  to Him !
We must understand what Christ  came to do.   Christ  was born to die ! The cross  becomes the  all  important  focus.  Why did Jesus die ?  He died  to take away  sin –the obstacle   between God (the Creator)  and men (the created) . Without  the removal of this obstacle it is impossible  for us  to  have  a relationship with God .
But how did Christ  manifest Himself  to  this world ?
Two  names are used to describe the nature  of Christ  :   He is both a lamb and a lion!  What do we mean by that ?

a.       Christ the Lamb  :
This metaphor ( lamb)   was well understood in Israel . We first come across it in  Genesis  22. Abraham  has a very difficult task at hand . He is commanded by God to offer up  his only son , Isaac,  on an altar.   Abraham obeyed  and trusted that  God  would provide “a lamb for a burnt offering  in the place of Isaac (Gen 22:8). This happened in fact  (Gen 22:13)  , and it is illustrative of  the doctrine of “substitutionary atonement “ : one dies for another !   This is what Jesus  did . He was born to  die  for you !
Another prominent   reference  to a  lamb  is found in  Exodus 12 – the Passover Lamb .  This story also  illustrates  what Jesus  came  to do . His blood  shed for us  causes the righteous wrath of God  to “ pass over” us .   In the  OT the institution of the Passover became a  ordinance throughout  their generations ( Ex  12:14) . In the NT  , Easter which corresponds to the Jewish Passover  has culminated in the institution of the Lord’s supper / Communion  - an ordinance of the Christian church  until Christ returns  - a constant reminder that Christ died for our sins .

The fact that Christ  is referred  to as a lamb  points  to  other  important realities .       Please note that  Jesus  did  not come into this world in  a spaceship from outer space  and  as a grown person    !  He came  to us as a humble  baby  - a lamb ! He  was born to a human mother , Mary .   And  is  it incidental    that shepherds  who care for ordinary sheep and lambs  should be among the first  to see  the new born King ?  Is  not  all this a  part of the divine logic  and a part of  the  divine symphony  that conducts  the events  of the world and  of  the universe   with such astounding   wisdom and harmony ?

However  it is really John the Baptist  who first makes the  OT-  NT connection   when he   first sees  Jesus.  ( See   John 1 : 29-36) . When he    saw Jesus  for the first time  he immediately declared : “ LOOK,   the Lamb of  God  who takes away the sin of the world !”   That was  a prophetic utterance  , and by this John   helped us to see that  the  Passover  lamb  of  the OT   found its ultimate fulfillment in  Jesus  Christ  !

But it  is in the final book of the Bible  ( Revelation)   that the term  “ the Lamb”  with respect to Christ    is used in an unprecedented fashion  ( over 30 times!!!) .    “The  Lamb!” .  This is John’s favourite title  for  Jesus  who by now no longer  dwells   on earth , but who at this time is the ascended  Christ!   In heaven , He still is the  Lamb of God ! 

b.     Christ The  Lion
We  have seen that  the  text in Revelation 5  brings the  metaphors  of  “ lamb” and  “lion”  together .
Two natures meet in Christ , and here I am not referring to the classical  formulation   of the ancient creeds of the church that in Christ both the  “divine and human“ natures  meet . That is so. But there are two  other aspects that meet in Christ  : the tender and the tough  - the  Lamb and the  Lion  - the  Saviour / Redeemer and the Judge!
The tribe of Judah is  traditionally symbolized by a lion. In  Genesis  49:9   Jacob,    when blessing his sons  refers to  Judah as a young lion  .    Jesus  was born in the line of king David  in the tribe of Judah . ( see Matthew’s genealogy in  chapter 1)

We need a balanced view  of the person and nature of Christ , and here  is the other side to His being.  He is  a  Lion!  A lion is  feared. When the Lion roars  all the other  beasts of the earth  must remain silent. In the prophecy of Amos,   the Lord   God is frequently compared   to  a lion .  Amos 3:8 says : “ The lion  has roared , who will not fear ? The Lord God has spoken ; who can but prophesy ?   Here  is an aspect of Christ’s person and work  that we must not miss .  Yes , it is true that He has come as our gentle Saviour into this world  .  As the lamb He has not come a Judge , but as Saviour . He came to die for our sin .
That is the Good News , the gospel , the message of Christmas  that brings peace and joy to the world .  However , this is not a message that   you can listen to  in a  detached  manner . It is a message  that you must embrace  with all your heart . Like a child you must  say :  Oh come to my heart , Lord Jesus , there  is room in my heart for Thee!
The truth  is this : If this message is not embraced , then remember that the Lamb  will be the Lion  to you . The Lion has roared . He  has spoken . He has finished His work .  What God needed to say  to  fallen humanity He  now has  said .  He has sent you a  Lamb  . Embrace the Lamb  , because if you don’t  God remains your enemy, and at the end of days  you will  face a lion  ! For a true Christian , He will of course  for ever be the Lamb upon the throne.    

If you have not embraced  Christ  yet , then I want to ask  : Are you listening ?  You must listen ! Right  now , at this time  there are  so many people  who will not hear this message , and it will do  them  no good to  ignore it  .  Embrace the Lamb ! Now !
             


[2] Charles Wesley : Hark the Herald Angels sing

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