Pentecost 4c -- God's Names

Preached: June 20, 2010

The Lion of Judah Reigns!
Revelation 5:1-6a

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. We join John as he describes the vision of heaven Jesus gave to him. Revelation 5.

And in the right hand of him who sits on the throne, I saw a scroll with writing on both sides sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel loudly proclaim, “Who is worthy to unroll the scroll and break its seals?” No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could unroll the scroll or look into it. I was weeping a lot because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or look into it. One of the elders says to me, “Stop weeping. Behold, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered [and is worthy] to open the scroll and its seven seals.

And I saw a Lamb as though slain, standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and in the midst of the elders . . .

(Revelation 5:1-6a)

This is the word of our Lord.

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

The years weighed heavy on him. He lost his beloved wife as she gave birth to his youngest son. How he nearly died with grief when the bloody clothes of another dearly loved son were brought to him! But what joy years later when that son was found alive and well! Could it really be true? Yes, it was. He had to go and see him. What a reunion!

But now seventeen more years have passed. Old and frail it took all his strength just to sit up in bed. He had one more task to accomplish before he passed away. He needed to speak words of prophecy and blessing over each of his sons. And when he comes to his fourth oldest, he says, “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? 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 49:9, 10 NIV).

After blessing his twelve sons, Jacob “drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:33 NIV). Joseph and his brothers took the body of their father, Jacob, out of Egypt and buried him in the cave of Machpelah in Canaan, alongside their forefathers, Abraham and Isaac.

But what of those words to Judah, “You are a lion's cub . . .”? They were but a small band living in the land of Goshen in Egypt. And when their numbers grew, Pharaoh enslaved them. Where was the lion? The great deliverer who led them out of Egypt to the promised land was not from the tribe of Judah. Moses came from Levi. And when the nation of Israel asked for a king, the first king was chosen from the tribe of Benjamin. Where was the lion of Judah?

Then came David. He was the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah. David, anointed by the prophet, champion over Goliath, victor against the Philistines -- this David became king. He held the royal scepter. Was he the one foretold by Jacob: “the scepter will not depart from Judah . . . until he comes to whom it belongs . . .” (Genesis 49:10 NIV). Was he the Lion of Judah? No, he wasn't. He was a shadow of the Lion who was yet to come.

Those were glory days as David reigned in Jerusalem and his son, Solomon, after him. But then the tree began to wither. After Solomon, the kingdom divided leaving David's family the smaller part. And although David's descendants continued to rule for several centuries, the dynasty fell in 586 B.C. Jerusalem was destroyed. David's remaining heirs were taken into exile. Even after the return from exile seventy years later, no descendant sat on the throne in Jerusalem as David and Solomon had done. David's family tree was a dead stump.

But look! From those roots buried and long dead, a Shoot springs up. It grows from a virgin who had been living in Nazareth. How weak it appears as he's laid in a manger in Bethlehem! “He grew up . . . like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:2, 3 NIV). But that Shoot, dear friends, that lowly Shoot from the root of David is the Lion of Judah.

A. He is the slaughtered Lamb

How can this be? It seems so contradictory. Another mystery answers that question. For you see, the Lion of Judah is the Lamb, the slaughtered and slain Lamb. How bizarre is that sight! How can one be both a lion, strong and victorious, and a slaughtered lamb, weak and defeated? But that is what John saw. “Then one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David . . .' Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne” (Revelation 5:5, 6 NIV). Ponder this mystery.

Consider Jesus' life. Did he seem lion-like as he tread the dusty roads of Palestine? There were moments of power. He commanded the winds and the waves, drove out demons, and healed the sick. His teaching had authority, and he exercised his authority when he drove the money-changers from the temple.

But who were his followers? Soldiers armed for battle, mighty warriors or the lowly and outcast of society? Not to lion-like. And then he stood before Caiaphas and Pilate --bloodied, beaten, mocked, and ridiculed. Even a lion shaved of its mane and tied down in humiliation looks nobler than he did. Yet he remained silent against all the injustice, no roar of lion, not even a whimper. He only opened his mouth to confess who he was.

And then the cross and his cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 NIV). His dead body hanging limp, the spear piercing his side. Where is the Lion of Judah? “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth . . . He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.” (Isaiah 53:7, 8 NIV).

Mark it well, dear friend. For your transgressions and mine, he is the sacrificial Lamb. He is the Substitute, who took our place. He is the Scapegoat, who carried away our blame. He, the blameless, spotless Lamb of God, was stricken for our transgressions. For each thought that crosses the line from pure into the impure, for every transgression the Lamb was slain. For each action that fails to meet God's grade of perfect love and kindness, for every transgression the Lamb was slain. He was slaughtered in your place, for your sins.

But John does not see a dead lamb, does he? Yes, he was dead, but now he is alive again. He not only lives but he stands on the throne reigning over all. For the slaughtered Lamb is the Lion of Judah. He is the Victor, the Conqueror, the Champion. Death's defeated. Satan crushed. Sin forgiven.

“Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57 NIV), the Lion of Judah! Because he lives, we also will live (John 14:19). He has risen from the dead, because you are justified in God's courtroom (Romans 4:25). For the sacrificial blood of the slaughtered Lamb washes you clean from all sin (1 John 1:7). For the Lamb, who was slain, that Lamb now reigns. He is the Lion of Judah.

B. He is the universal King

The Lion of Judah reigns. He is the universal King. Often when we think of Jesus as the universal King, we picture him ruling everywhere. And that is true. He is King of all. But he is not only King of all places but also of all time.

Think again of what John saw. At the beginning of Revelation 4, he saw a door standing open in heaven and heard a voice saying, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (Revelation 4:2 NIV). He saw the dazzling, rainbow-circled throne. Before the throne was the glassy sea as clear as crystal. Around the throne were the four living creatures calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Revelation 4:8 NIV). Then the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped him who sat on it.

Now in the hand of him who was sitting the throne was a scroll with writing on both sides. This is the record of what must take place. It is filled. Everything is recorded, for there is no room left on either. All of God's promises and their fulfillment until the end of this world are there.

But it is sealed with seven seals. And not even the holy angles are worthy to open it, much less sinful mortals. Does that mean God's promises will fail? How can the words of the scroll happen if its sealed with no one to open it? What grief and despair! No wonder John weeps, and so would we.

But take heart, dear friend. Just as the elder assured John, so also God's Word assures us. There is One who can: the Lion of Judah. He takes the scroll. He opens the seals. He holds the future in his hands. The Lion of Judah not only reigns over every place and everything and everyone, but also over all of time. He is the universal King. He has conquered. He has overcome. He has won the victory.

Ponder this picture, dear friends, and the comfort it brings to you: The Lion of Judah, as the slaughtered Lamb, holds the scroll. He reigns over the future, as the universal King. Ponder it so it becomes a part of the way you think and feel and act.

So often we fail to let this truth direct our hearts and minds. We don't know the future. We haven't read the scroll. So we worry. What's going to happen to me, to my family, to my friends? We work and work and work because we don't know what's coming next. We often cling to our money for security, or the opposite, we loosely spend it figuring we better enjoy it while we can. Live it up now. How many of our decisions and choice are driven by the uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring? Not a pleasant way to live, is it?

But the Lion of Judah holds the scroll in his hands. He opens the seals. He is the universal King reigning even over time itself. He has conquered all. Why worry when the future is in his hands. He is the Lamb who was slain for you. He's done that for you in the past. Won't he see you through into the future? Don't let your work be driven by worry. Rather whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. Do it in thanks that the Lamb has saved you. Do it in trust that the conquering Lion will take care of you. Don't cling to your money for security or happiness. For who but the Lion of Judah can truly bring you security for time and eternity? Only he has conquered all. Who but the Lion of Judah can truly bring you happiness that knows no end. He is the universal King. The Lion of Judah, as the slaughtered Lamb, holds the scroll. He reigns over the future. Only when we believe the truth pictured here can we make decisions and choices that truly place our God first. First in our lives. First in our home. First in our budgets. First in our families. First in our congregation. First in all we do and say.

You still will have heartaches in life, just as Jacob did. At times the years may seem so heavy that you wonder how you can go on, just as Jacob did. Times of doubt and times of strength come to as, just as they came to Jacob. But through it all, Jacob looked to the Savior coming through Judah's family line. So, dear friend, keep your heart focused on the Savior who has come: the Lion of Judah, who now reigns. Amen.

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

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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