The Lion Who Is a Lamb (Revelation 5)
This is the text for “The Lion Who is a Lamb,” a sermon the I regularly gave when preaching at churches while in the US over the Summer of ’17.
Elmarie and I bring warm and loving greetings from Christ’s Church in the Middle East. We are both PC(USA) Associates for Ecumenical Partnerships in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Elmarie’s work as Regional liaison for these countries involves nurturing bridges between the church HERE, and the Church in the Middle East, to support the vital ministry that these churches are doing.
Dale Bruner is one of the great contemporary Presbyterian biblical scholars, and I love the advice he gives for preaching, that the goal isn’t for people to say “Wow! What a great sermon, or what a great preacher.
The goal in a sermon is for us to be able to say “Wow! What a great Scripture passage!” And I would add that our goal is for us to say “Wow! What a great God!”
And so this morning, I do hope that you will feel compassion for the people suffering in the Middle East, and I hope you come to understand the work that Elmarie and I have given ourselves to, and I hope you can celebrate the great examples of faithful discipleship that the Church there is living out,
But honestly, I don’t want to give a sermon about the Middle East.
Sometimes Elmarie and I get to preach when we visit our partner churches in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. When I get a chance to preach, I keep gravitating to the book of Revelation.
The Church in the Middle East can easily relate to the experience of the early church that is being addressed in Revelation.
They had decades of persecution from the Romans under Nero—they have lost their homes, their jobs, and even their lives.
The Greek word used to describe their experience is “Thlipsis,” Crushing pressure.
And now there’s a new Emperor, Domitian, and he has built this temple to worship himself and he’s told the Christians that everything will work out just fine is they just go into the temple, put a pinch of incense on the altar, and say three little words: “CAESAR IS LORD.” The Christians wouldn’t do it, they couldn’t do it, so things became even worse.
Eventually the Apostle John, the one of the original twelve still alive, is exiled to hard labor on the island of Patmos. And it’s here in this time of desperation, that John receives a vision and a word of encouragement from the risen Jesus—and the record of this vision becomes the book of Revelation.
Many Christians in the Middle East today can relate to the early church.
This past Spring Elmarie and I got to spend Easter Sunday in Baghdad, and earlier in the week we were the southern Iraqi city of Basra, where Christians used to be 60% of the population, today there’s only a hundred, and the rest of the city is very conservative Shia Muslim.
I met with the Priest of the Syriac Catholic Church in Basra. As he takes me to see their sanctuary, I ask a pretty basic question:
“So, does your congregation have any special celebrations that you do this week?”
The priest responded with a shrug: “Sure, but few people ever attend.”
“We feel persecuted by the Muslims,” the priest says. Women are sometimes pressured to wear the hijab in public. Liquor store owners receive death threats. The public Holy Week processions in the street stopped decades ago. Keeping a low profile is encouraged.
The priest continued to share his pain: “The people here are suffering, persecuted, and the Church can’t protect them. We can’t tell them not to leave.” He shrugs again. Pain and loss. There is nothing I can do, except say “I’m sorry.”
the priest says. “The Muslims revere Mary like we do, but many of them will not go inside a Church.
“We built this so the Muslims can come to pray,”
And this brings us face to face with our text in Revelation 5:
This is what is happening
And while John is praying, God gives him a vision:
And in this vision,
John sees a SCROLL
This Scroll symbolizes God’s plan to RESTORE and HEAL this broken world.
The Scroll is SEALED—it is Locked by seven seals.
And a Mighty Angel appears and with a loud voice sends a message across the universe: “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
—He is asking, “Who is worthy and strong enough so solve the problems of this world and end this suffering?”
— “But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.”
Revelation 5:3— “But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.”
And John begins to weep.
And we weep also.
But in the midst of the weeping, an Elder stops John. And the Elder says,
(Rev. 5:5) “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.”
THERE IS A LION ON THE THRONE. A LION who is Fierce and Powerful enough to break the Seals and Open the Scroll and finally Restore and Heal this broken world.
So John turns his eyes toward the Throne to see this Mighty Lion.
But what he sees is a LAMB.
…a Lamb looking as if it was Slain.
This is Not the Fierce Warrior Lion that we were expecting.
The way of the world and politicians and armies is to win victories
through FORCE and VIOLENCE and OVERPOWERING people.
But that’s not the way of Jesus. That’s not the way of the LAMB.
The Victory won by Jesus was won by his DEATH on the Cross.
It was won by SACRIFICE, FORGIVENESS and LOVE.
Elmarie and I have seen the church in the Middle East live this out time and time again,
And I would love to keep you here for Days to tell you about what is being done by each of the churches we know,
But we will tell you about ONE.
(This portion is edited, as it contains information we do not share online)
This is a Presbyterian Church in Iraq, about and hour and a half drive from Mosul. In August of 2014 when ISIS took over the Nineveh plain, the entire city of “X” was on edge b/c they knew there were ISIS sleeper cells in the city, and in the middle of this crisis the pastor of the church, Baasam (not his actual name), and his wife, Rima (not her actual name) got a knock on the door in the middle of the night.
They converted their Sunday rooms into living space, the church parlor became a communal kitchen, they applied for a grant from Outreach foundation to add a septic system and bathroom/shower facilities for the 67 people that now call the “X” church their permanent home.
Baasam and Rima and their church serve Jesus in a precarious region
Each day when Baasam leaves the house, he and Rima say goodbye not knowing if he will return.
Baasam and Rima shared that they could easily move to the states (they have a visa and children here), but they are supposed to stay here. “We can’t leave our fellow Iraqis at this time, and someone must be here to bring a message of hope and life. “
This is the way of Jesus the Lamb. The world around us calls it WEAKNESS, but we know it is POWER.
And this brings us back to the Strong Angel in Revelation who cries out for someone who is worthy to unlock the scroll and health this broken world.
This year I have read and watched more news than I ever have before. I listen to the politicians and their plans. I hope there will be some change, but in my heart I believe that the politicians and armies will never be strong or wise enough to truly solve the problems of this broken world.
Real change, real solutions, real hope—will never come from human hands.
The only one who can heal the mess of our broken world and our broken lives is the Lion, who gave his life as a Lamb. And we see glimpses of his healing power in his People—who live in the way of the Lamb.
Who is bearing witness to this power? Muslims.
Hadara: A few times each year I visit Michel and Houda—a husband and wife who lead a small Presbyterian church in Syria, and it’s a part of Syria that’s fairly safe so huge numbers of displaced people are flocking there from Homs and Idlib and Aleppo. So Michel and Houda are trying to help ANYONE in need. Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim.
One of these Muslims, who’s being helped by this Presbyterian Church, approached Houda about a year ago and said
“I know many Christians are leaving because it’s getting so hard, but please—you Christians CAN’T leave. You are HADARA.
HADARA is an Arabic word that means “Civilization” or the “glue” that holds civilization. Education would be considered Hadara. And this Muslim is saying that the CHRISTIANS are Hadara—the glue that holds society together, and if they ever were to completely leave Syria, it would be devastating to the society.
“The Christians must stay because they are Hadara”
I had a Muslim man say the very same thing to me last month in a Starbucks. I know a Muslim woman in Basra who takes Christians into mosques so Muslims can meet a Christian for the very first time and experience their love and see there is nothing to fear. I go to worship in Kirkuk and Basra and see Muslim families in worship—which is a daring thing to do, but have discovered something in the Church that they can’t find anywhere else.
They have discovered Jesus the Lamb.
Wow—what a great God.