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Looking for a Lion, Receiving a Lamb
Scripture: John 1: 29-34
Track 4 of 6 in the Advent--The Great Misunderstanding / Paradox series
Running time: 32 minutes, 27 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

"Looking For a Lion; Receiving a Lamb" December 16, 2007

Somebody asked me yesterday what the deal was with all of these weekends. Have you noticed that the weather seems to pick Saturday to start? I'm just beginning to expect that that's going to be the case. We are just going to wake up on Saturday and it's either going to be icy or snowy, and come Sunday you're going to have to make a choice as to just how brave you are. Are you going to get out in it or not? I spent part of my day shoveling snow. I don't know what you did yesterday. There is an aftereffect to that. That didn't used to happen. I didn't used to get sore. I suppose that's another expectation I'm just going to have to get used to.

In fact, it started to dawn on me as I was thinking about some of the changes that are going on that my house is becoming a great deal more like my grandparents' house than I ever thought it would be. I used to love to go to my grandparents' place because there would always be gingerbread cookies in the cookie jar, and if you came to my house today, today only, there will be gingerbread cookies in the cookie jar. They won't last much longer, but there are gingerbread cookies in there.

This is a season, isn't it, of expectation. I mean, everywhere you look people are thinking about something that they want for Christmas. That's the most common question I get. What do you want for Christmas? Not my two front teeth, that's for sure. It is a season when we begin to have expectations, and it's not unrelated to the text that we are looking at in John Chapter 1, because they were filled with expectations as well, and rightly so.

If you remember, where we are in Israel at this particular moment in history at the birth of Christ we're living in a time when Israel is oppressed. They have been oppressed now for the last 60 years. In fact, part of their history reaches back about years before the coming of Christ. They are that country sandwiched in between Egypt and Assyria and everybody else in the world, and they were the common fighting ground. In fact, years before this Anticus, one of the multiple Anticuses, Antici, however you make that word plural, there were lots of them, they were rulers in the Salucid kingdom, and they had taken over in . They had eliminated the competition. They had gone so far as to set up an altar to Zeus in Israel's temple in Jerusalem, and they had slaughtered pigs as a sacrifice on the Jewish altar.

Now, that gets about as distant from Israel's belief as you can get, and it angered them. In fact, in particular there was a priest by the name of Mathias who rebelled. He was a member of the Maccabees family, the Hasmones. And he refused. In fact, when they tried to offer a pig on the altar, he killed the person trying to do it and started what we have come to know as the Maccabeean revolt. And that lasted for quite awhile. In fact, for two decades there was a war going on in Israel being fought by these zealots, the Maccabees, until they finally won their independence, and in that independence starting somewhere around 140 BC there was a sense of peace in Israel when they took back the land, and it was nearly what it was in the days of Solomon. There was a peacefulness.

They were led by one of the Maccabees whose name was Judah. There is some evidence that he was known as the lion. The name Maccabees is a word for "the hammer." They were gorilla warfare people, and for 80 years they managed to keep peace in the kingdom and to keep other rulers out until . In 63 BC Pompeii came over and took over and began to rule for Rome. In fact, in 6 BC Augustus Caesar made Israel a province of Rome.

It's in that context of Israel's suppression and oppression that we begin to sense in Israel this driving expectation, this desire for someone to come and to free them, and the language that they always use, the one that they looked for was the lion of the tribe of Judah. It's a great image, the image of a lion, king of the jungle, if you will, symbol of power and might. The problem was they lived in the expectation that they were going to get a lion, but if you know the story that we're celebrating this season of the year, the birth of a child in a manger doesn't exactly come across with a great roar. He came in with a bit of a whimper. In fact, in the midst of the expectations he was never called a lion at all.

Look at John Chapter 12. Let's just back up a little bit before our text and just listen to the language of expectation. Chapter 1 in John's gospel, Verse 19. "This was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He didn't fail to confess, but confessed freely, 'I'm not the Christ.' They asked him, 'Then who are you? Are you Elijah?' 'No, I'm not.' 'Are you one of the prophets?' 'No.' 'Well, who are you? Give us an answer.'" Do you hear the expectation? They were looking for Elijah. They were looking for the coming of the one who would anticipate the coming of the Messiah, and here John the Baptist shows up, starts doing these weird things, and strikes people as a prophet. Well, is he the prophet, is he the one who's going to come just before the Messiah, and there are all of these expectations that have been created.

Now, drop down to our text in Verse 29. "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Behold'" -- now, if you are looking for a lion, this is not the lion you want -- "'the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.'" That's not what they are looking for. They are not looking for a lamb. They are looking for a lion. They are not looking for a sacrifice. They are looking for a conquerer, and you can't use the lamb of God language without bringing up the wrong image.

Listen to what John says. Verse 30, "This is the one I meant when I said 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me. I myself didn't know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.' And then John gave this testimony. 'I saw the spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I wouldn't have known him except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, the man on whom you see the spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. I have seen, and I have testified this is the son of God.'"

"And the next day there was again two of his disciples. And when they saw Jesus passing by he said, 'Look, the lamb of God.'" Well, if you are a good Jew, and these people would have been, you would have immediately made a mental transport back to Genesis Chapter 22 and the story of Abraham and Isaac and God's provision of a sacrifice caught in the thicket. You would not have thought very long before you would have had pass through your mind the whole image of passover from Exodus and how a lamb was slain in order to protect Israel from the death angel. You wouldn't have gotten far if you were a good Jewish thinker without thinking about the prophet Isaiah, Chapter 53 in particular, where the Messiah is said to be slaughtered like a lamb. Behold, the lamb of God. The problem with this image is that it's the image of sacrifice, not the image of conquering. This is a lamb surrendered and sacrificed, self-giving.

I don't know what your Christmas memories are. Mine are mixed at best. Those of us who grew up outside the church did not always appreciate the season in which we live, but I do have one really vivid image of one particular Christmas. I don't remember how old I was. What I remember was that for several weeks before, maybe even six months before Christmas came, I remember in the night listening to my father cry. I'd never heard my dad cry. That just didn't happen. My dad was a man's man, if you will. But I'd hear him at night. He would wake up in the middle of the night. I didn't know anything about it. Some of you might know what this means. He had varicose veins in his legs, and they would just ache to the place that he couldn't stand it.

On Christmas day my dad opened up a present. It was a little tiny plastic box. I mean, we are talking not even three by five. And in the little plastic box was a plastic shoe, and underneath the plastic shoe was a gift certificate to have some boots made by the White Boot Company that would take care of those varicose veins. I have no idea where my mother got the money for those boots. $55. That was big money. I don't know where she got it. I don't know how she scraped it together, but I do know this. I learned about self-giving. My mother gave everything she could piece together for my father that Christmas.

There is something about this season that while we might have expectations of what we're going to get, most of us, at least at some point in our life, come to the place that we recognize that it is much more fun to give than it is to receive. Now, it's not that I don't want to receive. It's just not nearly as much fun as it is to watch somebody receive something that they long for. I would like to use this image, this image of self-sacrifice, this image of surrender, this image of not getting what you want, but getting what you need as a kind of jumping off place to talk to you about some stuff that I think is really important right now in the history of Madison Park. Because it's all about self-surrender. It's all about self-giving. It's all about self-sacrifice.

This season of the year reminds us that there was not a greater act of God in all the history of the world than to allow his son to give himself, for God to give his son on behalf of people who frankly could have cared less. But God was in the business of giving people what they needed, not what they wanted. I think that that does and should characterize the life of the church and the life of christian people. We are here because of someone else's self-sacrifice, and there will be in the future people here because of your self-sacrifice, your desire to give more than to receive. And it shows up in such a variety of ways.

I think Sunday morning is one of the classic examples of what it means to live in a setting, in a place where people have made a decision that they want to be what God wants them to be. They want what they need, not necessarily just what they want, that they are willing to give in order for others to receive. You're here because you live in a place where people care about another generation of christians coming along.

And you already know that on Sundays we don't focus our worship just on what we like. Our worship is focused primarily in one direction -- Godward. This isn't about giving you something you enjoy. Now, by the way, I really enjoy our choir, and I'm really looking forward to something that's coming after this sermon, and I'm not going to tell you what it is because you are going to be anxious enough for me to be done anyway. No sense giving you more to think about. But we don't do it because you'll like it. We want you to like it, but we don't do it because we want you to like it. We do it because we want God to like it.

I meet with at least one or two or three elders every Sunday morning about 7:45 or so to pray, and inevitably that prayer is, God, we hope you enjoy what we give you this morning. It's a God focused thing that we are trying to do here, with always keeping in mind that we want it to be something that a lost person can relate to so they can be drawn in, introduced in some small way to what worship is about.

I think you see in the discipleship classes around here. You know as much as I do that we challenge you to be involved in some kind of discipleship process, whether it's a class on Sunday morning or a small group in the middle of the week. We are always pushing you to some way get yourself into scripture and scripture into you because we know that whether you want to do that or not you need to. It may not be what you want, but it's what you need because you need to become more like Christ and you can't become more like Christ if Christ is not getting in you so that he can be formed in you. And we are going to be doing things to push that along just as much as we ever have, and we are not going to back away from that at any point. We are going to keep bugging you about making sure that you are involved in some kind of discipleship, either in our building or in your home, all the time.

And we are going to introduce, we hope, at least our plan is, this is a little teaser, starting in January next year we are going to begin introducing an opportunity on a Sunday afternoon once a month for you to ask questions like, what in the world do I do next? I have been sitting here for a month. I have been sitting here for six months. Now what do I do? We want to give you that opportunity because we want you to never be satisfied with where you are, always pushing to the next level in discipleship.

I think it takes place on Wednesday night, and I think Wednesday night this year has been one of those places where we have made some of the best decisions we have ever made as a body of leaders in order to move us out of our comfort zone and help us understand that we are a self-sacrificing people, not somebody that we sit around waiting for people to give to us. And so Inside/Out has been what we have tried to accomplish all fall by moving us outside of our comfort zone into areas of our community, into the lives of people who basically have some needs, and it's been expensive. Some of you spent a lot of money this fall buying groceries and other kinds of things, and we make no apologies for that because we think you need to learn how to do that. I need to learn how to do that. We have asked you to give of your time and energy and to go places and to do things that maybe press you, and we are going to keep doing it.

In January we are going to go to I don't know how many places in this community and we are going to give away smoke detectors and CO2 detectors and check the batteries in others, and we are going to go and we are going to try to make a difference in the lives of people because we can, and they can't. And we just want two things to happen, for them to receive something of the love of Christ and for you to be shoved outside your comfort zone so that you become a more giving person by nature.

So this image of the lamb of God becomes one of those things that reminds us regularly that we are here because we believe that God wants to change us into a more sacrificial person. Now, that doesn't mean we aren't going to have a good time here while we're here. Next Sunday, as a matter of fact, that's the 23rd, that's next Sunday, we are going to have a party between services. Before, between, after. There is going to be food and stuff out in the foyer area, and we are just going to invite you to come a few minutes early and hang out and enjoy each other's company and eat. That always works. Christians, food. It's an automatic. You got to do it. But we just want you to hang out and enjoy each other's company between worship services, because we believe that that is important to us as well.

Well, Sunday mornings is one of the places where we have tried to push this self-sacrificing some kind of thing over into your court to ask you to think about growing. Wednesday nights is another place where we have tried to push you into that kind of life experience whereby we follow something of a cycle of learning and praying and serving and then hosting people in our homes or out to supper or somewhere, and it reminds us frankly that we live in a world where we are an incredibly blessed people.

Now, I know some of you don't always feel blessed. I know that. In fact, I'm going to just -- this is going to tip my hand on a political issue, and it's just going to have to be okay because I don't know how else to do this. But I read with amusement the paper this morning, some of it, and all of it caterwauling about what's going on about not being able to smoke in public places. Now, I don't like smoke, so this is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. But that's not my point. I've spent enough time in eastern Europe to know that you're a blessed person if you can write that in the newspaper. The privilege of complaining is an incredible freedom. To even be able to talk about it out loud, to contest a government decision is incredible.

Do you know how blessed we are to be able to sit in this place this morning? Nobody checked an ID before you walked in the door. You didn't have to try to skirt through the back streets to find a hole in the wall someplace where some christians were meeting. You could have gone to any of 80 different buildings in this community and done so freely this morning with nobody contesting that, because we are a blessed people with incredible freedom, and we forget.

I think I mentioned to you a story that Tony Twist told me after he left here from preaching this last fall about some folks who made it in, it was either Iran or Iraq, and they witnessed and actually took a picture -- with their phone they took a picture of a baptism of a Muslim. And because they were so excited about it, they e-mailed the picture back to this particular person thinking he would want a record of the baptism. Within 24 hours the guy was dead because they intercepted the e-mail and they immediately killed him. And we are worried about whether the roads are clear.

We are a blessed people, and part of the challenge for us as christian people is to turn that around and be reminded that we have so that other people can have. One of the other things that it's my privilege to talk about every year, it's finding the right date to talk about it is always hard, but that's the ministry plan. But know in the fall that one of the things we do is get ready for next year. And if you're wondering what in the world the ministry plan is, let me say it to you this way. It's not a budget. But for those of you who understand that language, we are talking about a budget, but it's not a budget. Budgets have to do with buildings. Budgets have to do with paying rent and lights and heat, and, of course, we have to do that, but the ministry plan is how we carry out ministry in this place to make sure that the gospel of Christ invades not only communities like Quincy but Taiwan and China and North Korea and Haiti and other places in the world where our money goes to support people doing ministry. That's the whole point.

And so the ministry plan comes together with a spirit of saying, how can we accomplish the task to which God has called us in this place? And it's always, always a constant prayerful evaluation of what is it that we are doing and how can we do it better and can we do it more effectively and what will it take to accomplish that? So decisions are made all the time. And for some of us who get to sit in the meetings where those -- did you hear me say that, Larry? We get to sit in the meetings where these decisions are made. We know what's going on in the background, and sometimes you don't, and all you do is you hear an announcement and you find yourself saying, well, why did they do that? Well, there is usually a list of reasons this long behind that decision. It's just that we can't spend all of our time talking about them, and so one of the things we appreciate is your confidence and your trust.

And so this afternoon at 2:00 o'clock if you want to come and ask questions about the ministry plan, there is a time for you to do that. And if you think the ministry plan is just completely bizarre and totally off the mark, you have got two weeks to voice your complaint, sign it, and send it to the office, and we'll come and talk to you and take that up so we can discuss it, because maybe you've got a better idea than we do.

But there are some significant changes happening around here that you will begin to see unfold over the next several months. I don't know if I can even describe them all adequately to you because they are on the front end. So many of them are just now starting to unfold for us, but we have a distinct sense after two years of really serious conversations and two years of spending time at every elders retreat and staff meetings praying and talking we have resolved that we are in a really good location right here, busiest intersection in town, or at least one of them, nice facility that you have made possible.

God has blessed us with a great space, and it doesn't look to us like the future of the church is building a bigger building, and, therefore, we're not sure why we should have property down here at th and Columbus Road. So in January you're probably going to begin to hear plans that we are going to turn that asset into a ministry asset that we can use to further ministry in the Quincy area in some other way besides a big building. Now, we still need to keep paying for the annex that we worked on here. So the capital campaign remains in place. So don't just automatically quit. Those are two separate but not unrelated issues. But you're going to hear about that.

We are having an interesting shift in philosophy, and part of the shift in philosophy is to really aim at another generation. Every church has to decide whether or not they want to become older and smaller or younger and larger, and we have resolved that we don't want to become older and smaller. Now, some of us are just getting older, there is nothing we can do about that, and we are certainly not getting smaller. But that means that you've got to invest money and time and energy and personnel in a younger group of people. I see at least a couple of younger faces around here. It's not that everybody on staff is old. I'm the old guy on staff, and so that kind of puts everything else into perspective.

But one of our staff members has made a tremendously gracious self-sacrifice, and I'm going to make this announcement with a little bit of remorse and yet great appreciation. Steve Hill is going to move into a part-time staff role. What you see around here as his primary responsibility, which is adult discipleship, the Sunday school classes on Sunday morning, our Wednesday evening program, that you will not see any changes in. It's other things that he does for us that we're going to miss his role in. But by doing that he is freeing up an opportunity for us to hire somebody to come in and do young adult ministry.

And so what you should expect over the next -- I hope within six months you ought to see two new staff members here, one who will handle tech stuff. You probably will never see them. You will only see the results of them. But we have tech responsibilities in at least five different locations in this building. It is overwhelmingly complex, and we need somebody who can organize our volunteers and help train us to do the thing that we can do to make us more effective in the 21st century. So we are looking for that person, and we are looking for somebody young. So if you see somebody young around here that looks like they belong here, that's probably because we are trying to court them and get them here to aim at young adults. Steve is making that possible, and I'm just really grateful, and I want you to pray for him in the transition. We are going to get everything out of him we can in the time we have with him. He only thinks he is going to get time off. That's his dream.

The ministry plan every year is a challenge. It's always a challenge, and we want it to be a challenge. I have said on numerous occasions if we didn't have a reason to spend more money we would create one, and the reason is because all of us need to learn how to give. And some of you have. Some of you have learned how to give, and you give generously and you give sacrificially. You have already learned that lesson. Some of us are still in the process of learning that. Now, I know that some of you have learned it because last year's ministry plan has been out-given by nearly a thousand dollars a week. We are way ahead of last year's plan, and for that we are deeply grateful. And the fall has been tremendously strong in our giving. Thank you.

Now, we need more. I don't know how else to put it. Starting in January our weekly offering will need approximately $20,000 a week. We need to average 20,300 some dollars every week next year to be able to do everything we need to do here. So that means if all of us -- there are approximately giving units that give regularly in this church. That means if all of us pony up about $5 a week we'll have it made. It will be taken care of. Some of you will not be able to do that, I know that. You already are stretching your giving as far as it will stretch, and to think about giving $5 more a week is to say, you have got to be kidding. Which means that some of us are going to have to come up with seven or eight or ten. But we can. We know we can. We just haven't disciplined ourselves yet to do it.

But ministry is going to happen in this place because we believe in one thing, that the world needs to hear the story of Jesus. We believe that this one who came as the lamb of God is, in fact, the answer to the world's problems. We might have been just like Israel the day that Jesus showed up, and we might have been going, we want a lion, and we might have stood back with John and heard him say, behold the lamb of God, and thought, God, why are you sending us a lamb? What we need is a lion.

Can I let you in on a little secret? This will not come as any surprise to any of you, but I'm going to tell you anyway. God knows better than we do. He knew we didn't need a lion. He knew we needed a lamb who would be the lion of the tribe of Judah, and when we come to the end of the story, this is what it's going to sound like. "One of the elders said to me, 'Don't 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.' And then I saw a lamb looking as if it had been slain standing in the center of the throne."

Do you hear it? The lion was the lamb, and though he was slain he now stands, and this great resurrection image leads to this new song. You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priest to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise, and the song goes on, because the lamb came.

May 16th this coming spring Book Two, Prince Caspian will hit the movie theaters. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Narnia, you know. Among the greatest books ever written. Right at the heart of which is the story of Aslan the lion. And I sat in the movie theater this week and I watched the preview and I just kept waiting and waiting, and I'm thinking, surely in the preview you are going to show us the lion. And they did. My favorite image in all of literature is Aslan the lion, and my favorite scene in all of those books is when they look at the stone altar where the shorn lion had been lain, but it's empty. He has come back.

Our message from this place to that world is simple. Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.