The Lion and the Lamb
I've always been struck by the contrast between the Jesus who appears in the stories of the final week of his life and the Jesus who appears throughout the rest of the gospel. Before his final days he is like a lion. Performing miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, he literally walks on water. There seems to be no limit to his power. And he always comes out on top. The demons always flee, the bad guys constantly try to trap him and trip him up and he always has just the right thing to say to confound them and frustrate them. For the first 3 1/2 years of his ministry the good guys always win, the bad guys are always sent packing. He's exactly what I expect a hero to be.
Then, as the end approaches, Jesus says to his disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." (John 12:23)
The stage is set, he's paid his dues, it's time for the final showdown, the big reveal.
But the Jesus we see in the few hours before his death is so different from the lion like character that has been drawing such a crowd. First, he comes riding in to town on an under aged donkey. I don't care who you are, you're not going to look like a hero astride a shaggy, wobbly legged donkey. And once he gets to town, the bad guys get away with murder and Jesus has nothing disarming to say. He's bound and beaten, mocked and spit upon by the same clowns he's showed up in every confrontation for 3 1/2 years. Where's the hero? Where are the words of wisdom? It's frustrating to read the story. Why doesn't he show himself for what he really is? He seems the opposite of a hero. He seems like a victim. Is he really a lion? Or is he just a lamb?
The reason this part of Jesus' life is so frustrating to us is the same reason that it was so confusing and sad for his closest disciples, his friends. They thought (and we usually think) that a person's finest hour is when they rise up in all their strength and ability, put their greatness on display and triumph completely over the enemy for all to see. But when Jesus said that the hour had come for him to be glorified, he meant that he was going to demonstrate what glory really is. And it turns out glory is not what we think it is at all.
If we are honest, we have to admit that the biblical account of the original sin that Adam and Eve committed—not just the sin of eating forbidden fruit, but their prideful arrogance to want to be "as gods..." to do what they wanted when they wanted—is very believable. Adam denied God's will to do what he wanted to do. And from that day on mankind continued to do just that. We all want to be our own boss, to be as strong and fearsome as the Lion in defending ourselves and making a life for ourselves.
But then Jesus came along. In Jesus the human race finally had a man that could resist the temptation to have it his way and instead say, "Not my will but thine be done." And that is precisely what it means to be worthy of glory: to know God's will and deny oneself and do it.
When his hour had come, he showed us what kind of a hero he really was. He said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12:24, 25)
He delivered himself to his tormentors, riding right into their stronghold on the lowliest beast of burden. They bound him, beat him, insulted him and he said nothing because everything that needed to be said had already been said between him and the Father. To be a lamb like this requires the power and courage of a lion.
This truly was his finest hour on the earth and they never stop talking about it in heaven because it was and is the most amazing, selfless and courageous thing any man has ever done. And in the songs they sing to him, about him, the name He is known by is the one he proved he deserved in his finest hour: The Lamb of God.