Easter 2014: The Lion is the Lamb

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for Godfrom every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.” — Rev. 5:1-10

In Revelation 4, John is given a glimpse into heaven and what he sees is astounding: God, seated on His throne, receiving the worship of the heavenly host. The scene shifts in the next chapter; God holds a scroll, representing His will for creation, and the question rings out: Who is worthy to break the seals of this scroll?

And John weeps, for no one is found worthy. Scholars say the word for weep here is reserved for the most dramatic form of mourning. John wails, for the universe is without a hero.

But one of the elders says to him, “Don’t weep! Behold, the Lion of Judah!” In ancient literature, the lion functioned as an image of great strength and courage. As the rulers of the animal kingdom, many ancient kings were fond of comparing themselves to lions.

The same expression can be found in the OT. In Gen. 49, Jacob confers a blessing upon his sons and he refers to Judah as a lion, wielding a scepter and vanquishing his enemies. A Messianic expectation developed in reference to this passage: the Lion of Judah would someday emerge, a mighty warrior prince who would reign victorious over a restored Israel.

In his vision, John turns to see this one who has been called the Lion of Judah. If this were a movie, this is the point where you’d expect the music to rise and the hero to appear. Think John Wayne riding up on his horse or Jack Bauer kicking down the door or Tony Stark donning the Iron Man suit.

This is where we expect some action.

This is when the bad guys are finally gonna get what’s coming to them.

But John turns to see the Lion of Judah…and instead, he sees a Lamb. If the Lion of Judah is an image of victory, then the Lamb is an image of helplessness. Lambs are some of the most vulnerable little animals. The lamb has always been the symbol of innocence, meekness, lowliness, and gentleness.

But this isn’t just any lamb; John says he sees “a Lamb looking as if it had been slain.” The lamb was the animal of sacrifice in Judaism.Many of the Jewish sacrifices required the lamb as an offering. John sees a Lamb that bears the marks of slaughter, a Lamb that has been sacrificed.

And we think to ourselves, This is the victorious image that John sees in Revelation?

We might be tempted to tell John that he mixed up his stories. John, this isn’t a victory story. This sounds like a story of failure! A slaughtered Lamb? Where’s the Lion of Judah? Where’s the real hero? We want our John Wayne. We want Jack Bauer. We want Iron Man. We’re ready for the hero to come in guns blazing to kick evil in the teeth! No, John, you must’ve gotten this one wrong!

But this is the central paradox of Revelation and the Christian faith in general: Jesus conquered not by force but by death; not by violence, but by martyrdom.

Jesus overcomes by dying, which challenges our concept of victory.

Sure, the Lamb bears the mark of slaughter on His body, but there is one inescapable feature here that makes all the difference: the Lamb is still alive.

cross_lionlambThe victorious Lion is actually the risen Lamb!

Resurrection Sunday marks the conclusion to the greatest battle in human history. It marks the conclusion of God’s age-old battle with sin and death. It’s a battle that began in the Garden when Adam and Eve said, “Not your will but mine be done.” It’s a battle that came to a conclusion when Jesus, in another garden thousands of years later, said, “Not my will but yours be done.

He became the Lion of Judah by being the Lamb of God.

And in so doing, He became the rightful king of the world.

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The Lamb of God

The Lamb of God is drawing near, ready to give of himself for our sake.

Alive

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The Lion of Judah

The Lion of Judah is on his way, coming in victory and power and glory.

lion-roar

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A Trip to Grandmother’s

Today was an awesome day. We woke up early and drove to my hometown, Lebanon, TN. We were able to worship at the College Hills Church of Christ, which is where I grew up. It was great to see some familiar faces (and some new ones!) while also spending time with my sister and her family. After an inspiring hour of worship, we had a fantastic lunch at El Comino in Lebanon. Sunny snapped this picture of our crew after we were stuffed full of tacos and chimichangas!

The Bybee / Beard clan, April 2014

The Bybee / Beard clan, April 2014 (minus Sunny! Somebody had to take the pic!)

After lunch, we drove over to Castallian Springs to visit with my Grandmother Armstrong. Grandmother is 95 years old and still lives in the home she’s been in my entire life. It’s always great to spend time with her. We spent the afternoon looking through old family photo albums and telling stories. She had a few to tell the kids about my growing up years! And I learned a few things about Grandmother today, too — like, she was the salutatorian of her graduating class! Pretty cool!

Looking through the family photo albums with my Grandmother and Joshua

Looking through the family photo albums with my Grandmother and Joshua

Grandmother was even willing to coach up the kids on how to make a baby blanket!

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Spending the afternoon with my Grandmother helps me to feel connected to my past in such a meaningful way. Most of my family got together yesterday afternoon for our annual Easter lunch. Unfortunately, our family couldn’t be there, so we made it a priority to get up to Middle Tennessee today to see Grandmother. One of the things I love about my Grandmother is the way she talks about my mother. Most of the people in my life never knew my Mom, so it’s nice to hear the stories Grandmother can tell about her. We snapped this picture from an old family photo album. I see a lot of Joshua in those eyes.

Myrna Armstrong; Grandmother guessed she was about 8 years old in this picture

Myrna Armstrong; Grandmother guessed she was about 8 years old in this picture

All in all, we had a great day today. I’m very thankful for my family and the opportunity we had to share a special day together today.

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Man In the Mirror

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Top Five: March 2014

Time for my monthly rundown of what I’m into at the moment.

  1. "Augustines" by Augustines, the band formerly known as We Are Augstines

    “Augustines” by Augustines, the band formerly known as We Are Augstines

    Augustines by Augustines. In my constant pursuit of great music, I came across this album in late February via an eMusic recommendation. Little did I know how quickly I would fall in love with it. Artistically, Augustines is sort of a cross between Gaslight Anthem and Coldplay: a bit gritty, but arena-ready. With a 2012 debut album under their belt, the band tapped producer Peter Katis (of Boxer and Alligator fame) to helm a follow-up chock full of killer hooks and huge vocals. Highlights include “Weary Eyes”, “Now We Are Free”, “Cruel City”, “The Avenue”, and the song that is destined to go down as my favorite of 2014, “Walkabout”, a jarringly honest rumination on identity, prayer, and the hope of eternity. A must listen.

  2. DBX Crestwood...my bike

    DBX Crestwood…my bike

    Bicycling. Last month, I wrote about my desire to run more. I was doing pretty well until the first week of March, which was when Sunny and I decided to purchase bikes so we could go riding with the kids through the neighborhood. And with the spring weather we’ve had, we’ve really enjoyed it. In fact, I biked nearly 60 miles in March alone! I’ve been using the RunTastic app to keep track of my riding. I haven’t given up the desire to run more often, but it’s nice to mix a little bike-riding in as well.

  3. MLB Opening Day. I love this time of year. Little League baseball is in full swing. My fantasy baseball draft was just a few weeks ago. March Madness is always exciting. And I’ve even gotten into the Masters the last few years. But nothing can compare to the opening of the Major League Baseball season. After a long offseason, there’s nothing quite like it. Sunny and I have been planning a major baseball trip this summer; I’ll write more about that later.
  4. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. This has become a staple for us each night. Fallon is simply hilarious. I’m glad to say we were on the Jimmy bandwagon long before he landed the Tonight Show gig. But it’s great to be able to watch him an hour earlier now. Suddenly the Tonight Show is relevant again!
  5. The Cash "lost" album

    The Cash “lost” album

    Johnny Cash’s “lost” album. Back in the 80s, this album was put on the shelf when Cash’s record label inexplicably dropped him. Remastered with the help of some backing vocals and new studio players, “Out Among the Stars” was released last week. Of course, I’m a fan, so I’d listen to an album of Cash reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica. As it stands, the album retains it’s 80s country feel, giving it a certain time-capsule effect. Standout tracks include “I’m Movin’ On” (a duet with Waylon), “Don’t You Think It’s Come Our Time” (a duet with June Carter Cash), and the haunting “She Used to Love Me a Lot.” New Cash music…you know I’m good with that.

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Noah: A Review

So I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but there’s a new movie about Noah. Social media has been abuzz with various reviews; some praising the film as a thoughtful meditation on an age old story, others skewering it as heathen vermin of the lowest kind. I’ve obviously not read all of the reviews; in fact, I haven’t read many at all. But I have seen the movie and several of my friends have asked my opinion so, at the risk of being simply one more voice lost in the fray, here goes.

First, a few disclaimers that are necessary for those of you who don’t know me. I’m a Christian. I have a high view of Scripture and I consider myself to be fairly fundamentalist in my interpretation of these texts. In addition, I serve as one of the preaching and teaching ministers at our congregation. The biblical text and the truth contained therein means everything to me, both personally and professionally.

Because of that, it’s hard not to be disappointed in the Noah movie. As you’ve probably already heard, the film strays quite far from the biblical “script” found in Genesis. In an interview I read a week or so ago, the producer referred to the film as a “midrash” on the Noah story, which is probably a better way to understand it. In Judaism, the rabbinic sages attempted to explain the biblical events through commentary and “fill in the gap” storytelling. If you’ve seen the movie, you can probably see how this definition fits with the film’s plot.

While fundamentalists (like myself) might entertain a certain degree of speculation when it comes to how these stories are interpreted on the big screen, the disappointment comes in places where the biblical text is outright ignored or changed. The filmmakers have publicly stated that they intentionally aimed to make a “provocative” film. To be fair, the film never claims to be a “by the book” interpretation of the Noah story found in Genesis. The movie begins with a statement noting that the film is a dramatic interpretation of the Noah story. All of which is completely within the purview of the producers. However, if that’s your vision for the story, you can’t be shocked when people object when such an “interpretation” glosses over important details in the biblical account.

In the event that you decide to see the movie, I won’t recount all of the places this happens in the film and there are a couple of reasons for this. One, I’m sure there are other reviews that are already pointing out those sorts of things. And, just as importantly, I simply can’t remember them all. But I will say this: my biggest beef with the movie is the lack of emphasis on God’s covenant with creation. In my reading of the Noah story, that’s the big takeaway. So, yeah, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed with that part of the film.

But I don’t want to imply that the biblical text means less to the filmmakers than it does to me. I absolutely can’t say that. It seems that we simply have different ways of thinking about and understanding the Noah story. And I think it’s important for Christians (and more precisely, Christian fundamentalists) to be clear about that. All too often, we shout our objections from the heavens without seizing the opportunity to also model humility and love.

That being said, there are definitely things I appreciated about the film. The production value is top notch: the visual effects are absolutely amazing and the score hits the mark. The filmmakers captured some of the mystery of the biblical account of both the Flood and the Creation accounts. In addition, the casting was stellar, particularly Logan Lerman as Ham and Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain. (Let’s be honest: when is the last time either of those guys came up in your Bible study group?)

I also appreciated the film’s emphasis on creation care. In American culture, “environmentalism” has been loaded down with so much political baggage that it’s nearly a useless term. To talk about being “pro-environmental” often implies an improper elevation of the preservation of the earth and its resources as an ultimate priority. Most of my Christian friends understandably consider such talk nonsense. Over the last decade, however, I have become quite convicted that the biblical account, particularly the first few chapters of Genesis, have much to say about our role as stewards of God’s good creation. I consider creation care to be a serious theological issue, which has redeemed the whole idea back to me from the realm of left-wing absurdity. As such, I can appreciate the care with which the Noah film approaches this subject. In my opinion, this is one of the places where the producers got it absolutely right.

Another takeaway for me, after viewing the film: I have a much greater appreciation for the courage of Noah. The film emphasizes the opposition Noah faces at the hands of Tubal-Cain and his minions and whether or not it went down exactly like the film depiction isn’t the point. The point is this: Noah was willing to act in faith, even at the risk of extreme ridicule and derision. Even in the latter third of the film, which felt a bit more like Genesis 22 than Genesis 8, Noah is steadfast in his faith. Though the film reaches its uncomfortable apex here, it also forces us to consider the true meaning of faith and whether or not it resides in you and me. For all its misfires, I can certainly appreciate a film that asks such hard, relevant questions.

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