make these words mean something: the lion is the lamb

For 27 weeks in 2016 I taught through the book of Revelation: The next few post are the main points of the book…So make all my work…make all of these words…make all of the hours I put into it worth something…enjoy. 

When John, the author of Revelation, had a vision of heaven he saw God almighty on the throne, holding a scroll, sealed up with seven seals. For the original reader they might have thought of the powerful Emperor of Rome, Domitian sitting on his throne giving out edicts.

An Emperor or a king with a scroll that is sealed up signifies the king’s wishes and only one who had the authority of the king could open that scroll. This is the image that John is setting up for his reader. So the question became, “who is worthy to preside over the opening of these scrolls?”

The scrolls symbolized all of human history; it symbolized the new heaven and new earth that was found in Revelation 21. The question of, “who is worthy” means, who has the authority of the king to open the scroll? Who is able to watch over all of human life? Who is able to preside over the new heaven and the new earth? John wept because no one was found worthy.

But all of the sudden we see these verses:

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…” 1024px-Josefa_de_Ayala_-_The_Sacrificial_Lamb_-_Walters_371193

There is one worthy! He is announced as a lion, but when John turns he sees a lamb, “looking as if it had been slain.” The author of Revelation is always pulling this little trick on us. We hear one thing and see another.

The Lion is the Lamb!

What the author John is trying to remind us of is that the only thing that truly wins in the end is the sacrificial love of the lamb. Only the one who displays true sacrificial love is able to preside over all of human history.

This is in stark contrast to our world, which has a lust for power and authority. Just this year a practical joker got Donald Trump to re-tweet this quote from The fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

“It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”

This isn’t just Trump, In the political world, you would never survive on sacrificial self-giving love.   Lambs just survive in a Machiavellian political world.

It is no secret that people envision themselves as the lion in all situations.

Want to tell off your boss? Be a lion!

Want to rise through the political ranks? Be a lion!

Want your employees to fear you? Be a lion!

Want to be the hero? Be a lion!

We love movies that are exactly the opposite of this verse. We love movies that the lamb becomes the lion. We want to see the ordinary guy become a super hero. We want to see Rocky bulk up and beat people down. Our world celebrates lambs that become lions.

However, the church is called to the very opposite. We are called to lay down our lion like tendencies and to be formed by the self-giving love of the lamb.  We are called to be self-sacrificial in our love for others.  We are called to be formed by the lamb.

The lamb wins in the end.

In fact in Matthew 27, Pilate asks the crowd to choose between saving two people.  “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

Jesus Barabbas was a rebel, fighting the Romans, taking their blood.  By all accounts he lead a bloody revolution.

Jesus the Messiah, lead a gentle revolution, teaching people to be kind to their enemies and forgive them.

Jesus Barabbas lived as a lion.

Jesus the Messiah lived as the Lamb of God.

Pilate asks then which is the question for the whole world today.  What Jesus do you want?  The lion or the lamb?

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good church: sardis

A few years ago when I had responded to the call into ministry I was still in my last year of receiving a political science degree.  I decided that rather than throwing away 3 years of work I would finish out my degree and then go to a seminary and study theology.  I was telling one of my most respected international relations professors that I was going to enroll in a theology program and shoot for my master’s degree.   This professor tracked me down on campus a few days later and gave me a copy of the periodical, “Faith & Foreign Policy.”  I was very excited to see my two major interests collide.  However, when I read the papers that were presented in this periodical I was strangely troubled.  The papers were all on the theme of ending religious persecution. The reason I would say that I was strangely troubled is because while I know persecution is horrific and de-humanizing, I also know that the only church (so far) that Jesus praises is one that stands firm in the midst of strong persecution.  I don’t want to see anyone jailed or killed for their faith, yet that is where the kingdom forcefully advances.  I found myself living in a strange paradox, I am a humanitarian and yet I don’t want to work to end religious persecution.

The city of Sardis was built on top of cliffs.  It had only been attacked successfully two times in its lifespan.  A small team free-climbed the cliffs in the middle of the night and opened the gates while the city was sleeping.  An attack on Sardis was rare.  The church in that city was a reflection of the safety that the town enjoyed.  During the time that John wrote Revelation there is no indication that imperial worship was required, neither was there persecution for being a Christian.  The church in Sardis enjoyed an unusual safety within the walls of the Roman Empire.

What Jesus had to say should ring loudly in the ears of the American church. “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.” It is great to be a Christian in America.  You can give to your church and get a tax write off at the end of the year.  There is no danger of going to jail because of what you believe.  No one is going to hold a gun to your head and make you choose Jesus or not.  Life is good…we are safe.

But I am reminded of Jeremiah at the temple.  His message was, don’t think you’re safe just because you are at the temple, remember Shiloh?  But wait what happened at Shiloh?   At Shiloh the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant in a battle.  The thought was, “we will be safe if we just take this into battle.”  They were conquered because safety can sometimes breed apathy.

When I played baseball a lot of times we would lose the game in the ninth inning when we were up by a number of runs.  We would just take the field and we thought that we already won it and taking the field was just a formality, our goal was to maintain our position.  Is that what church has become in America?  Taking the field in the ninth?  Have we become a church primarily concerned with keeping the structure in tact?  As I even write this there is a still small voice asking me when will you be ready to step out of your safe life?  When will you be willing to go to uncharted territory?

So what does a good church look like?  Maybe one who’s goal is not to maintain the structure of, “this is what we’ve always done,” Maybe one who is willing to innovate.  Maybe a good church rejects the safety that surrounds it and goes out on a limb each and every day.  Maybe a good church risks and prays.  A good church is humble, always knowing that God is in control and can remove them at the blink of an eye.

 

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good church: ephesus

In all the time that Jesus walked this earth he never started a formal church. I guess that would have been a little narcissistic of Jesus to start a community that worshiped him and told all their friends about him while he was still alive.  Although Jesus never started a church, he did critique seven of them.  It seems to me that Jesus’ critique of these churches is something that we would want to pay attention to.

The first church that Jesus critiqued was in Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7).  It was a community with great theology.  They were people who kept doctrine and they kept it strictly.  There is this inherit problem with keeping doctrine though, it’s easy to get stricter and stricter with keeping it.   In some churches this manifests into rules such as no makeup, no cards, no dancing, essentially add the word “no” before anything and that is what the church believes.  The problem with keeping doctrine so stringently is that it becomes what you fall in love with.

Jesus praised the church in Ephesus but he also rebuked them because doctrine became their god.   They had forsaken their first love.  A church that forgets the most basic thing like loving God will usually forget to love its neighbors.  So the question that I will be looking at in these seven posts is, what makes a good church? The first response to that question is a church that passionately loves God.

So if you’re a church leader or if you go to a church, ask yourself what makes a good church?  How would Jesus view my church?  Are we an Ephesus?  Have we lost our first love?  Does your church love Jesus, or are they really good at keeping doctrine alive?

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