Category Archives: Christology

Hear the Lion. See the Lamb.

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 5:1-7

Part 11 (4:6b-11)  ΑΩ  Part 13 (5:8-14) →

I love

Love. Love, love, love. I order a lot of books, and I love the experience of seeing a package addressed to me sitting on the front porch. (And who doesn’t?) Once in a while I order so many books that I forget which books I’ve ordered and I literally have no idea what’s in the box on the porch. Which is the best. It’s like a little Christmas.

That I made.

For myself.

I’m sure you can relate. Or not. At any rate, when the boxes arrive they’re always addressed to me, so I know they’re mine. But imagine that one day a box arrived on my front porch, and instead of saying “Bryan McWhite” in the address line it said, “To the one who is worthy to open this.”

Bummer. Self-made Christmas is over. I’m gonna be pretty sure that’s not addressed to me. I’m not the one who’s supposed to open it. And is there anyone around who is? Will we ever know what’s in the beautiful, brown Amazon-stamped cardboard box? I could weep…

A (somewhat) similar scene unfolds in Revelation 5:

“Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.” (vv. 1-3)

Think of God, in this scene, as an Architect/General. In chapters 1-3 he has given the church some initial details of his cosmic plan. He is going to war against the forces that have marred and corrupted humankind and his creation. He will defeat and destroy these forces once and for all, and will rebuild his broken and tattered world—a greater and better Eden. The scroll he’s holding, then, is his battle plan and blueprint for rebuilding. It’s perfectly sealed (“seven seals”) with a sealing wax that can only be cracked by one who is truly worthy.

And no one fits the bill.

God decided, from the beginning, that his great battle plan would be initiated by humankind. For God to press ahead without a worthy human being to lead the charge and the rebuilding effort would be an admission that he was mistaken; That his plan had failed; That he had hoped in humanity and that his hope had been not only mistaken but foolish. And yet it appears that that’s exactly what’s happened. Humankind has gone completely astray. They’ve all rebelled. They’ve all fallen. Even the best of them have become corrupted by sin and self-interest.

So, John weeps (v. 4), because for a moment it appears as though God’s plan will not unfold. Evil has won after all, and will be allowed to engulf the earth completely. God’s new world is a dream that will never be realized. Hope is lost, because humankind has failed. We ran God’s beautiful plan straight into the ground.

This is where we find ourselves. Looking at the ground, sobbing over the shattered remains of our world, like a kid standing over the broken pieces of his favorite toy, knowing his recklessness alone led to this. We should all feel this. We’ve all contributed to the wreckage. And none of us have lived lives virtuous and worthy enough to undo the wreckage.

But then one of the twenty-four elders speaks:

“‘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.‘” (Rev. 5:5)

So there is someone who can crack the seal? There is someone who is worthy to initiate God’s rescue and renovation plan? There is a human being who is untouched by sin, corruption and darkness? Who is he?

“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. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[a] of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.” (Rev. 5:6-7)

Did you catch that? “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. …Then I saw a Lamb…”

This is one of the most stunning portraits of Christ in the entire Bible. John hears “Lion” and sees “Lamb.”

The one and only human being worthy to break the seals and unfold God’s cosmic plan to defeat evil and restore his broken world is Jesus, the Lion who wages war on evil with terrible ferocity, but who wins the war by self-sacrifice—by being slain himself. But don’t think for a moment that the fact that the Lamb was killed means he’s weak. The Lamb has seven horns (a symbol of perfect power) and he has seven eyes (a symbol of perfect knowledge). This Lion/Lamb is invincible. He cannot be killed by any means but self-sacrifice. And in his self-sacrifice he wields the most dominating and unstoppable power the universe has ever seen.

Suddenly we understand more clearly why the elders have fallen down before him; Why they cast off their crowns before him and worshiped (4:10). He is staggering. He is worthy of our praise and songs. Celebrate him. Celebrate the Lion and Lamb who is our once-and-forever rescuer and redeemer. But we cannot just celebrate him from afar, like fans of a favorite artist or athlete.

We must follow after him in his likeness.

N.T. Wright sums it up well:

“There have been, down the years, plenty of lion-Christians. Yes, they think, Jesus died for us; but now God’s will is to be done in the lion-like fashion, through brute force and violence to make the world come into line, to enforce God’s will. No, replies John; think of the lion, yes, but gaze at the lamb. And there have been plenty of lamb-Christians. Yes, they think, Jesus may have been ‘the lion of Judah,’ but that’s a political idea which we should reject because salvation consists in having our sins wiped away so that we can get out of this compromised world and go off to heaven instead. No, replies John; gaze at the lamb, but remember that it is the lion’s victory that he has won.” (Revelation for Everyone, 54)

So, church, may we lay down our lives like lambs, in sacrifice and love, commending salvation through Christ to friends, family, and co-workers. And may we fight for justice, truth and goodness like lions, declaring the end of the reign of evil. May we follow closely behind our great Architect/General—the Lion-like Lamb and Lamb-like Lion.


Why Turn Water Into Wine?

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:7-11)

Jesus’s first public miracle was when he turned about 150 gallons of water into 150 gallons of fine wine at a wedding in the town of Cana. That’s about 757 bottles.

Sheesh. That’s a lot of wine.

This is the story of choice for anyone who enjoys having a glass of Guinness at their Bible study and doesn’t want anyone to tell them that’s not okay. But let’s leave that whole issue aside for a minute. Believe it or not, there are actually more important things happening in this story.

I’ve always been struck by what a strange first miracle this is for Jesus to perform. I mean, think about it. If you were the son of God and had to decide what your first miracle was going to be, wouldn’t you choose… I don’t know… maybe raising someone from the dead? Or healing a blind person? Or maybe walking on water or something?

Why turn water into wine? You know?

Why that?

C.S. Lewis (author of The Chronicles of Narnia) had an idea about “why that.” He wrote, “When Christ at Cana makes water into wine…the miracle only has half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God. It will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here is at work He who sat at the wedding party in Cana.”[1]

In other words, God is doing miraculous things all around us all the time. But we take them for granted. Every year, God makes grapes grow, pulls water through them, and turns it into wine. Every year, God grows a whole harvest of food from a few seeds. Every day, God makes sick people well. When Jesus turned water into wine, or multiplied the loaves, or healed the sick, he was simply doing in an an instant what God does all the time—usually a bit more slowly.

So we only experience half the wonder if we see Jesus’s miracles and say, “He must be God!” Look at what John says. He says that it was through this miracle that Jesus first revealed his glory (v. 11). So our response should move beyond mere conclusions about who Jesus is. Our response should be to worship. We should say, “Jesus must be God! And God is amazing! He’s glorious! Look at what he does! He turns water into wine! He turns seeds into food! He makes sick people healthy! Worship him with me!

And of course all of these wonders are meant to point us toward his greatest miracle. We were dead. And he made us alive (Eph. 2:1-5). Every day, all around the world, God makes dead people live again. He causes walking corpses to breathe in grace, come alive, and breathe out praise. May we refuse to take that amazing work of God for granted. May it never become ordinary to us. May we worship him for it every day.

[1] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, 29.

What’s This “Lamb” Business About?

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! …And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29, 34)

Everyone knows what a king is. There’s not a whole lot of them around anymore. But we’ve heard about them and seen them on TV. And we all know what it means when someone is called a “Chosen One.” It means they are an extremely important person who has something extremely important to do. And most people who have hung around a church for a while know what a messiah is. “Messiah” is what we call the person God promised to send to rescue his people.

So when we hear Jesus called “the king of Israel,” the “Messiah,” and “God’s Chosen One” in John 1, we can connect the dots and pretty much understand what John is talking about. Jesus is the one God has chosen to rescue his people and reign over them with love and justice and peace forever.

But… What’s this “lamb” business? Twice in chapter 1, John calls Jesus “the Lamb of God.” What’s that all about? Anyone who’s been a church-goer for a while has heard that term, but hardly anyone stops to think much about what that means. Right?

The apostle John seemed to know something about Jesus that no one else did at that stage of the game. Like many others, he recognized Jesus as the coming King. He knew Jesus was the promised rescuer—the messiah. He believed Jesus was the special “chosen” servant of God. But he knew something else too that no one else had put together yet. And what he knew reminded him of a very old promise:

He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. …For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. (Isa. 52:7, 8)

John knew that unlike any other king the world had ever known, Jesus had come not only to reign, but to reign by dying. John knew that what most people thought about what the messiah was going to be and do—that he would arrive with violence and devastation and judgment—wasn’t quite right (at least not yet). He knew that the messiah came to lay down his life for his beloved. And he knew that while Jesus was the Chosen One, what he was chosen for was sacrifice.

Jesus is the “Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). It was always God’s plan to offer up his Son for the rescue of his people. And because the Lamb died and rose he saves, he rescues, and he will reign forever and ever. Amen.

The Daily Borne Cross

A friend of mine who is a new believer and I meet at (of course) Caribou on Saturday mornings to discuss the Christian faith and to work through D.A. Carson’s little book, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians. It isn’t an easy book, particularly for a new believer who hasn’t done much prior theological and exegetical reading, but there are times when Carson is stunning in his clarity and incisiveness. My friend and I are meeting in about an hour, and I just finished reading chapter 3, which is entitled, “Adopt Jesus’ Death as a Test of Your Outlook.” These paragraphs were powerful for me:

“Recall what Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 8, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). This language…is shocking. To first-century ears, it does not mean that we must all learn to put with a wart or a disappointment or an obstreperous [=noisy and difficult] mother-in-law or an impending mathematics exam: ‘We all have our crosses to bear!’ No, to first-century ears this means you must take the cross on your beaten shoulders and stagger to the place of crucifixion and there be executed in blistering agony and shame. To take up your cross means you have passed all point of possible reprieve, all point of hope that you will once again be able to pursue your own interests; you are on your way to death, a dishonorable death at that. So for Jesus’ disciples to take up their cross, even to take up their cross daily (Luke 9:23), is to say, in spectacularly metaphorical terms, that they are to come to the end of themselves – no matter how costly that death – in order to follow Jesus.

This lies at the heart of all Christian discipleship. Every time and every place that we refuse to acknowledge that this is so, we sin against Christ and need to confess the sin and return to basics. We are to take up our cross daily.

…And it is not at all impossible, if present trends continue in the West, that opposition here to the gospel will extend beyond family disapproval, trouble at work, condescension from intellectual colleagues, and the like to concrete persecution. But learning to take up our cross daily, learning to suffer cheerfully for Jesus’ sake, certainly extends beyond physical persecution. One does not have to be a Christian very long before one discovers that there are countless occasions when we are called to put aside self-interest for the sake of Christ. And in large measure it is the example of Christ and his sufferings that will empower us to treat this path” (56-7).

Teaching the Atonement

I am preparing to teach a multiple-month series on the atonement in our Men’s Keystone Seminars at New Hope Church this fall. The following books represent the secondary literature (outside of the biblical texts) I am planning on reading or re-reading in preparation. It’s going to be an incredibly worshipful prep time, as you can see. Is there anything essential that I am missing?

The Cross of Christ, John R.W. Stott

Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray

The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, Leon Morris

The Cross He Bore, Frederick S. Leahy

Pierced for Our Transgressions, Steve Jeffrey, et al.

The Truth of the Cross, R.C. Sproul