At a church I used to pastor a while back, I led a weekly men’s Bible study. We met in different homes depending on the season. Through the summer we met (appropriately) at Paul Somer’s house. It was our favorite place to meet. One reason we liked it so much that we met out on this wonderful screened in porch that was big enough for all of us. The second reason was that his wife Debbie had the spiritual gift of hospitality and a love for cooking and entertaining, which resulted in a feast of summer-finger-foods and desserts: homemade blueberry pie with blueberries she had just picked in Maine the week before, crab dip, fruit salad, chips, nuts, coffee, pigs-in-a-blanket, a cooler filled with soda and bottled waters. So lush was the snackage she set out, that we skipped dinner so that we could fully enjoy the bounty that was placed before us every week.
One day, Debbie brought out a family favorite—cantaloupe chunks wrapped in prosciutto. When I first saw it I was really confused and frankly repelled. I like cantaloupe. I like prosciutto. But both together? I mean, chocolate and peanut butter is one thing but ham wrapped around fruit? That just seemed wrong on a number of levels. But at Debbie’s urging, I tried it…and it was phenomenal! I never in a million years would have thought about combining those two things. But they complimented each other so well, it was as if the prosciutto was enhanced by the cantaloupe and the cantaloupe was enhanced by the prosciutto. These two things that I had thought would be incompatible when brought together actually created an enjoyment I have not forgotten.
What I have been learning is that part of God’s beauty is that His character brings together things that you and I would not think could be brought together. Revelation 5:5-6, is an example of what I mean.
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.
Jesus is described in verse 5 as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Lions are strong, mighty, and powerful. They are feared hunters, symbols of power and royalty. But when John sees Him in verse 6, He appears as a Lamb. What is more opposite to a lion than a lamb? Lambs are meek, gentle, they are the prey of lions. And this is not just a lamb, but a lamb that was slain. It looked as if it had been mortally wounded, yet it was alive. This Lamb approaches the throne and takes the scroll from the Father to the cheers and praise of the 24 elders.
So is Jesus more properly seen as a lion or as a lamb? The Bible’s answer is “yes.” He is at once the mighty conquering King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and the victor over God’s enemies, and He is the willing sacrifice that purchased forgiveness and redemption for His people.
What I want us to think about today is this: that the beauty of Christ, is often seen in the presence of seemingly incompatible attributes in Him.
Before I get any further, let me be clear about what I am not saying. I am not saying that Christianity is irrational; I am not saying that to be a Christian means we have to check our brains at the door.
There is a prevailing assumption today that truth is relative (itself an ironic thought), that what is true for one person may be false to someone else. Truth, these people say, is better described as “both and” than “either or.” “Either or” sounds so judgmental, limiting, and narrow minded. Given how little we know and how much we know we don’t know, it seems much more modest and honest to say truth is “both and.” The problem is that while the sentiment is nice, it is not possible to live out.
Let me give an example. When I was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary I worked at a little cigar shop across from the university. We had a lot of students come into the shop. One day one of these students was debating a Christian friend of mine and was making this very point, that truth is relative, that there is no such thing as absolute truth—truth that is true in all times and all places to all people—truth is both and, not either or. Unable to contain myself, I said to this student, “You can’t possibly believe that; because in saying ‘there is no such thing as absolute truth,’ you are saying that there is at least one absolute truth—the truth that there is no absolute truth!” He thought about that for a minute and said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
If Christianity contradicted itself like that, we would know for certain that it isn’t true. If Jesus said He was the way the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6), and at another time said that all religions lead to the Father, that would be a contradiction; because Jesus cannot be the only way to the Father and not the only way to the Father at the same time. Contradictions cannot be true. If being a Christian means believing in contradictions, then as far as I am concerned we can all go home.
When I say that the Bible teaches that Jesus is seen as both a lion and a lamb, I am not stating a contradiction. What I am saying, is that things we would not think could be together at the same time, God puts together at the same time, and so shows His glory.
When God allowed his glory to pass in front of Moses He exclaimed as He passed by in Exodus 34:6-7 (NIV) “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
God declares that He is gracious, compassionate, loving, and forgiving; and yet at the same time He also declares that He does not leave the guilty unpunished because He is absolutely just. Is God’s glory seen in His justice or in His grace? His answer is ‘Yes.’ We would not think these two truths could be together in the same person: a commitment to justice that lets no sin go unpunished, and a commitment to mercy and grace that forgives people for their sin. Yet this is how God describes Himself. John says the same thing about Jesus in 1 John 1:9 (NIV) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Another passage that is loaded with this “both and” imagery about Jesus is Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV):
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In verse 6 Jesus is described as being in His very nature God. He is equal with the Father. He is sovereign. Yet in verses 7-8 we see that at same time He is also a man, not just a man, but the lowest of men, He is a servant.
Another thing we see in this passage is that Jesus is both equal with the Father, yet also lived in utter dependence on His Father and was totally obedient to Him, even to death on the cross. At the cross, He highlighted both His unbending justice and wrath against sin, and His unfailing love and grace towards His own people.
He is both humble and meek (verse 8) and is exalted to the highest place and been given the name that is above every name in heaven, earth, and under the earth (verses 9-10). The adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely” does not apply to Him.
Jesus is both God and Man, both Sovereign and dependent on God, both King and Servant, both humble and exalted, both just and forgiving. He is not a Lion or a Lamb. He is both, and therein is His beauty and glory.
Far from being an argument against the truth of Christianity, I believe seeing all these diverse qualities together in one person argues for the divinity of Jesus Christ and show His glory. They combine to make Him the perfect Savior,
We don’t need to worry that He is willing to save. You do not need to fear coming to Him for forgiveness. Though He is mighty, powerful, and awesome, He is like a Lamb to those who call to Him. “Come to me,” He says, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
We need not worry that He is able to save. Though He will love you and comfort you as a Lamb, He will defend you like a Lion. There is no sin that He cannot cover, no life He cannot save, no hurt He cannot redeem, and no enemy that He can’t overcome or that can overcome Him. Jesus says in John 10:27-30 (NIV),
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
In Jesus we have a friend who is meek, mild, and humble, who was willing to leave the joy of heaven to become part of His own creation. Whose compassion and mercy are so great that He was willing to suffer rejection, loss, deceit, betrayal, injustice, and even death that He might show us how low He was willing to condescend to be our Immanuel.
In Jesus we have a King who is all-powerful, ever-present, and all-knowing. He is the commander of the Armies of Heaven. He is faithful and true, righteous and just. His commitment to be your Savior drove Him to the cross, that by His death He might conquer death for His brothers and sisters. In that selfless act our King has fully protected all that His Father has given Him and provides all that they will ever need. At the cross our King doomed His enemies to be forever trampled under his feet in the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.
Why is Jesus worthy to be loved above all else? Why is He worthy to be loved with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Because He is both the Lion and the Lamb. He is excellent in every way. He lacks no good thing. He is the Friend we long for, the King we can follow, a Savior we can hope in, a Defender we can trust, and the High Priest who can forgive all our sins.