On March 15, 2012

The Victory of the Lamb

One of the surprising things about the book of Revelation is what doesn’t surprise us. Maybe it’s because we have been too busy paying attention the cryptic numbers, or the dragons and the locusts, but one of the things that is central to the book of Revelation is the thing that should actually shock us the most. And we just read over it like it doesn’t matter.

This is what I’m talking about.

All through Revelation, John talks about victory. Now the word victory for the little churches that he’s writing would have been a loaded term. It was after all more than just a result or an idea. It was a god. Literally, they god’s name was the Roman god Nike. The Romans worshipped victory. She was portrayed as a winged goddess, and her image was on the shield of Roman soldiers. There were statues of Nike with her foot on the globe (a symbol of total world domination). Her image was often on coins reminding people in the marketplace that Rome was victorious.

On the arch of Titus, from 81 A.D., gives us a look into how they used Nike to tell their story. It was right after the Romans had crushed the Jewish people and for their propaganda they set up an Arch (which makes us rethink St. Louis). On one side, it showed the battle that they won, and on the other side of the arch, it showed the goddess Nike putting a triumphal wreath around Titus’ head. They had a theology of military victory (that everyone would have known about), that was reinforced with every victory parade, every time you bought or sold with Roman money, or whenever you went into town. You would see Nike.

Nike was a winged symbol that showed everyone who saw her that Romans always win.

Take that Michael Jordan. 

But John, has the audacity, writing from exile to these little band of persecuted churches that Romans, in fact, do not always win. And in fact, the people who think they are winning are actually losing. Because, John tells us, that Christians have in their corner: The Lamb.

And not just any lamb, the word that John uses to describe the Lamb is the smallest word possible. He’s uses the word for lambkin, or Lamby. It’s like John is writing the first version of the Precious Moments Bible here. He’s talking about a little bitty lamb, and just when you think this lamb is cute, he starts to tell that the Lamb is ruling the universe.

He introduces the Lamb by telling us to look at the Lion who will conquer (Nike), but when we look we don’t see a Lion, we see a lamb. And once John introduces the Lamb, he’s dominates the rest of the b0ok. Over and over again, we read about how the Lamb has triumphed. John uses the word conquering or triumph 16 times in Revelation, that’s half the times of the entire New Testament. And he keeps using it in connection with the Lamb. But everyone in that day would have known that those words don’t go together.

Rome has triumphed, a lamb doesn’t even belong in that fight.

But it is, and according to John, it’s the only one that can win.

In High School when I read Revelation, I remember being struck by how violent it all was. But Revelation is doing war against violence itself. It is subverting the very thing that our human condition is built upon. Might makes right, Power is Victory. Revelation tells us the Gospel doesn’t agree, and it’s subverts violence itself.

Chris Hedges is a war reporter who has covered wars from Bosnia to Iraq. He got into the job originally to help communicate to Americans what was going on across the world on their behalf. But after a while he said he noticed something was happening inside of him. He began to become addicted to war. He calls it “the most powerful narcotic invented by humans…If you spend long enough in war, it’s finally the only place you can feel at home. And that’s of course a sickness. But I had it.”

Don’t we all?

You know the only other time that the New Testament uses the word Lamb like this? I’m talking about the diminutive word, like lamby-poo, or lambkin. The only other time that the New Testament talks like this is when Jesus says it. It’s in Luke 10. Jesus is sending out his 72 disciples. They are going to go walking on dirt roads, praying for people, preaching the gospel of the Lamb, and trying to heal the world. And Jesus says he is sending the disciples our like “lambs among the wolves.”

When they come back they are astonished at the things God had used them to do. The sick were healed, the lame could walk, and even demons obeyed these little lambs.

But Jesus isn’t shocked at all. In fact, he lets them know that what they had done was more than what they had seen. They had just been doing these earthy, tangible things, but Jesus saw more. He said when these little Lambs were out there serving and loving in his name, Jesus saw “Satan fall like Lightening.”

Because God’s war doesn’t work like ours, but it’s the only one that really works.

He’s sending us out like Lambs. And when we go, Satan falls like lightening.

Just do it.

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  • Carla McDonald

    Well Jonathan, you know I have a thing for what I refer to as “sheepies”.  They are very special to me.  My own personal victory is that of a poor stupid dirty sheepie who, in spite of my weakness, knows that my only means of survival is because of the care of my beloved shepherd.
    Thank you for the reminder that not only is our individual victory because of the lamb who was slain, our ultimate eternal victory is because the Lamb who is worthy overcomes all evil and violence and establishes the Kingdom as it was intended to be.

  • David Lang

    At the little church I went to in high school, my buddy and I “volunteered” to teach the Wednesday night 4 & 5 year-old class.  (Big. Trouble.)  We had a lesson on the lost sheep, and then for handwork we helped the kids glue puffy white cotton balls on a paper cut-out of a lamb.  4 year-old Jimmy Golden, whose picture appeared in the dictionary next to the word “precocious,” held up his finished project and asked, with utter disdain:  “Is this all we get?  One lousy sheep-o?”
    Apparently, it’s all we need.

  • http://twitter.com/pcunningham3 Philip Cunningham

    I just listened to your message from a month ago that connects with this blog.  It’s a good one.  I was waiting for the FOX News reference, but apparently your iTunes feed chose the other message from the other service instead. (G)

    I returned to that message because I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on this op-ed from David Brooks:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/opinion/brooks-sam-spade-at-starbucks.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

    Seems like there may be some tension between your Church family’s vision & what Brooks is projecting here.  Especially w/ regard to political structures in general.  If you have the time & inclination, I’d love to hear you interact with him.