Last Sunday of End Times: Christ the King - c

Preached: November 24, 2013

The Lion of Judah Reigns
Genesis 49:8-12

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in our King is Genesis 49

As for you Judah, your brothers will praise you. Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies. Your father's sons will bow down to you.

You are a young lion, Judah. You, my son, return from the kill. Like a lion, he crouches; he lies down. Like a lioness — who dares to rouse him?

The scepter will not depart from Judah nor the staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs. He will have the obedience of the nations.

He ties his donkey to the vine, his donkey's colt to the choicest vine. He washes his clothes in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.

(Genesis 49:8-12).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“Remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” Those words weren't spoken to a prince living in a palace next in line for the throne. They weren't spoken to a brilliant general leading his loyal armies to victory. They weren't spoken to a charismatic politician rapidly rising in popularity, power, and influence. Those words would have made sense in any of those circumstances.

How foolish, though, to say them to a dying man! “Remember me.” Even if the dead can remember us, it does us no good. “When you come into your kingdom.” Death is the great equalizer. No matter how much a person has, we each leave this world as naked as we came into it, whether king or slave. How foolish to speak of a dying man's kingdom, especially when that man has been condemned by the courts, when even his clothes have been divided up by his executioners!

But how remarkable the wisdom of those words, what a miracle of the Holy Spirit, when the criminal on the cross spoke them to Jesus!

Do we look to him with those same eyes of faith? Do we carry on our lives with the confidence that Jesus reigns? Do we live by God's word of promise rather than by sight?

What a challenge for these earlier believers at the end of Genesis to live by God's word of promise! Guided by the Holy Spirit, Jacob spoke a wonderful promise as he blessed his son Judah. But how contrary to sight this promises looked! How contrary to reality and the way the world works!

These words promise victory and peace. A King, like a lion, would come from Judah's family line. The obedience of the nations would belong to him. This was the same promise the Lord had made to Judah's father, Jacob, his grandfather, Isaac, and his great grandfather, Abraham. Over two hundred years earlier the Lord had promised to make Abraham a great nation, to bless him and protect him, and that all nations of the earth would be blessed through him, for the Savior would come from his family. That Savior is the Lion of Judah.

The Lion from Judah reigns. That's the theme today. Let's take a closer look at this prophecy so that we too live by God's word of promise.

“Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons will bow down to you. You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?” (Genesis 49:8, 9 NIV84).

What a vivid picture of victory! A lion tearing apart his prey, then lying down content and in total control. No one will mess with him. Who's going to rouse a resting lion?

But how they had to live by faith! For daily life contradicted these words of promise again and again. Jacob's extended family numbered only about seventy. They were guests in a foreign land, Egypt. Nothing looked to lion-like about it. Judah's brother, Joseph, did have ruling power. He was second only to Pharaoh. But this promise of kingship wasn't to Joseph's family but to Judah's.

And as the years went by, it didn't seem like the promise was getting closer. Yes, they grew into a numerous people in Egypt, but they were treated more like a mule than a lion. After Joseph had died and the Egyptians forgot about him, they enslaved the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites. Where was the victory? Where was the Lion devouring his prey?

The Lord did raise up a deliverer for the people, but he didn't come from Judah. Moses came from the tribe of Levi, and Joshua, who succeeded him, was from the tribe of Ephraim. What about the Lion from Judah? When would he come?

Even centuries later when David came to the throne, this was not the fulfillment of these words. Yes, David was from Judah. He won victories over the nation's enemies, and there was peace and prosperity especially during the reign of his son Solomon. But David was just a shadow picturing the true King who was yet to come. Notice what the prophesy says, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his” (Genesis 49:10 NIV84). The Lion of Judah would not reign over just one nation as David did. He would reign over all peoples. Likewise, David's reign came to end, so did Solomon's reign. After that the kingdom was divided and eventually exiled so that there was no king on the throne. What had happened to the promise? Where was the Lion from Judah?

And what about the peace and prosperity pictured here? “He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch” (Genesis 49:11 NIV84). A flimsy vine can't hold a donkey tugging against it. Why damage the choicest branch that gives the best fruit by tying a colt to it? Because there is nothing to startle or disturb them. So tethering them to a vine works out just fine. Notice how abundance is pictured. There is so much wine to go around that you could wash your clothes in it, using it like water. What a surplus of all that's good and beneficial! “He will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk” (Genesis 49:11, 12 NIV84). What peace and prosperity! But where was it?

Can you imagine how an Old Testament believer might look at this wonderful prophesy and words of promise and then look at their own life and wonder why aren't things better? Do you ask yourself that question? Why aren't things better for me? I've tried to do what God wants. Why am I stuck where I am? I fight temptations, but it doesn't get any easier. If anything, it gets harder. Others do as they please, and all seems to go fine for them. I struggle along and just sink in deeper.

Some may try to cheer you on by saying: “Just keep trying. Do your best. Eventually things will turn out OK.” But let's face it. Sometimes this life does not get better. In fact, as many of you could personally testify, the older you get, the greater struggle this life becomes. Think of those descendants of Judah who went from welcome guests in Egypt to slave laborers. Where was the Lion of Judah?

Others might say, “Yes, you were trying hard, but you must've messed up some where. Tell God you're sorry. Repent and then things will get better.” How that thinking confuses law and gospel, mixing truth and error! We could spend a whole sermon or more talking about it. Yes, the believing heart daily goes to our Lord in repentance to rejoice in his forgiveness. But that doesn't mean life will get better. Look at David, that descendant of Judah who actually did become a king. He repented and received full and free forgiveness from the Lord. But some of the most difficult and heart-wrenching events of his life happened afterwards. Where was the victory, peace, and prosperity from the Lion of Judah?

Still others, after hearing all this, might say, “Why bother even trying to do right. It's not going to make life better.” But that thinking turns its back on the Lord's prophecy. It rejects the Lion of Judah and follows a king of its own making. Many in Israel tried that kind of living, and it too only ended in death and hell.

For you see, all this advice has been based on what earthly eyes see. Earthly eyes end up mocking Jesus. Even if they speak well of him, they do not see that he and he alone is the Lion of Judah. So even their apparent compliments fail to rightly honor him.

Rather, dear friend, look with the eyes of faith, and see what that criminal crucified next to Jesus saw. That innocent Lamb, slain on the cross with his blood poured out, he is the Lion of Judah. In Revelation 5 the Apostle John writes, “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 ...’ Then I saw a Lamb looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne ...” (Revelation 5:5, 6 NIV84).

What a paradox that our earthly eyes cannot comprehend! Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb. He is the priestly King and the bloody Sacrifice. He conquered death by surrendering his life.

And so what a paradox our lives are when we follow him! We are children of the King reigning with him, but the world counts us as weak, foolish, needing the crutch of religion.

What a paradox! The victory's won. Jesus, our King, like a lion has taken that conniving wolf, Satan, by the neck and crushed his power. But the devil still tempts us with his lies. Faith is a daily struggle to hold on to God's promises no matter how far off they seem.

What a paradox! Jesus has secured perfect peace for us taking away all our sins and has blessed us with spiritual prosperity beyond anything we could imagine. Yet our warfare against sin continues and temptations grow stronger. Doubts attack when we see the success of those who don't follow him. We still face sorrow, pains, loss, and death. The more closely we follow Jesus, the heavier the cross. What a paradox the life of the Christian is!

But here is the difference, dear Christian friends. When we give up on our own hopes, dreams, strengths, and ideas and instead look only to that dying man on the center cross, then his power, wisdom, and love fill us. How that energizes each of us every day no matter what we face! For the Lion of Judah reigns.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

  1. How does this prophecy picture victory?
  2. How does it picture peace and prosperity?
  3. Why might we wonder why things aren’t better for us?
  4. Describe the paradox in the life of a Christian.
  5. What makes the difference?

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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