As we approach Holy Week, Lent has steadily moved us to the edges of ourselves. Yet, we can miss one of the most important elements of the Christian life if we overlook an element of Jesus’ identity that comes into particular focus as we enter Holy Week.
We focus a great deal on the sacrifice of Jesus, His offering of Himself, His identity as the Lamb of God, the unblemished sacrificial offering. While this is all true, of the same import is His identity as the Lion of Judah. These two identities of Jesus do not change places. Jesus isn’t the ‘lamb’ today, but the ‘lion’ tomorrow. Instead, these two identities operate in complete harmony within Him at every moment.
Perhaps, in a comfortable, materialistic, self-serving, post-modern culture, the Lion of Judah has a few special things to teach us this Lenten season. While we seem all too eager to embrace the “lamb”, it might do us some good to “grab the lion’s tail.”
The Lion on the Prowl
As we follow Jesus as He builds towards the crescendo of His ministry and mission, we see His fulfillment as the Lion of Judah. We’ve watched Him spar with the Pharisees and Sadducees, making the religious establishment more and more uncomfortable. But now, it is all coming to a head. In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus told the disciples, upon hearing of Lazarus’ death, that He intended to head to Judea. In a collective “are you crazy” kind of response, the disciples quickly reminded Jesus that Judea was the seat of power for those who wanted Him dead. Undeterred, He proceeded to Bethany and raised a dead man back to life, a miracle of true biblical proportion.
The Gospel from the Thursday before Holy Week has Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem, telling the Pharisees in clear terms that He is God. Jesus goes so far as to tell them, “Before Abraham, I AM” (John 8:58). In other words, “I [Jesus] am Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, and I existed before Abraham, and am the God of Abraham.” This is a brazen and bold move.
The Lion Precedes the Lamb
Jesus, in a very real sense, is stalking His prey. He is the one taking the battle to His enemy. The Pharisees and Sadducees are a representation and expression of His true enemy- evil. Jesus is seeking out the evil. By stalking this prey, He is forcing evil out of the crevices and dark hiding places. He is the one forcing the engagement, exposing evil, a great cosmic battle playing out in a remote corner of an ancient empire.
On one hand Jesus is the ultimate and perfect victim (lamb). He has made a perfect sacrifice of Himself for us in order to redeem our imperfection. Yet, at the same time, in a certain counter-intuitiveness, He is no victim at all. As Jesus pursues this enemy, pushing them with a relentless determination, He knows how it will end. He already knows that He will give Himself over to them. He already knows He will be scourged and crucified. It is precisely the “lion” within Him that propels Him forward.
It is also the lion that makes a path for the lamb. By inflaming the enemy’s dark passions, Jesus sets in motion the true and final act of redemption. His sacrifice is the pivotal moment in all of Salvation History. And yet, that sacrifice can only come to fruition through His bold, courageous, and outrageous actions. It is precisely the Lion in Jesus that makes it possible for the Lamb to offer Himself as a sacrifice.
Holy Week- Lions, Lambs, and Victory
Holy Week is the amazing climax of this Lenten season, filled with scriptural and historical drama. The lion has made a path for the lamb. In a certain sense, the Lion of Judah transforms right before our eyes, from “miracle worker” and “raiser of the dead” to “crucified” Himself. Jesus, exalted as a king as He enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, hangs dead on a cross by Friday afternoon.
Jesus, as a lion, propelled Himself into the role of lamb. The lion made the way, but the lamb was the salvation. Everything that appeared to be lost, was in fact, a prelude to victory. Death, Jesus teaches us, is the very path to victory, to resurrection.
Grab the Lion’s Tail
As this Lenten season comes to a close, let’s commit ourselves to “grabbing the lion’s tail”. Let’s commit to the unrelenting pursuit of evil in our own lives. Let’s hunt it down and shove it into the light. Let’s have the courage of the Lion of Judah. Let us be without fear in the face of our personal demons and enemies.
As we do that, let us walk with Jesus. Let us make the dark and hopeless areas of our lives, now exposed, an offering to Jesus. Let us kill the sin that is within us, and offer our lives to the goodness and providence of God. We, through grace, are capable of surrendering everything that is broken within us to the mercy of God. We are called to crucify these things, to let them die.
Easter Sunday heralds a new beginning- life, restoration, redemption! It was for the sake of the Resurrection that Jesus endured the cross. And it is for the promise of resurrection, in this life and the next, that we close this Lenten season in courage and strength, that we grab the lion’s tail.