Jeroboam, king of the northern kingdom of Israel (also called “Samaria”), didn’t want his people journeying to the southern kingdom of Judah to worship according to the Word of the Lord. So, King Jeroboam made two golden calves and said to his people, “Behold your gods.”
He messed with the Word of the Lord, in order to create a religion more conducive to his political ambitions. That makes some sense. But, if you are going to make idols, why would you make calves rather than something cool, like a lion? I suppose calves are useful to Bronze Age farmers… and calves are safe; lions are unsafe.
Respectable civic religion is by far the most dangerous type of idol—which is thoroughly ironic, for it seems so safe. Yet we know it wasn’t sex-crazed pagans who crucified Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah; it was the respectable religious leaders of Judah—the Jews.
“We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah… and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies,” wrote Dorothy Sayers.
As a pastor I know that there are portions of the Word of God, recorded in Scripture, yet best not mentioned in church if I want the institution to flourish—Scripture verses on divorce, the dangers of wealth, or duty to immigrants, but most of all, Grace. Grace is the lion’s claw that cuts most deeply into human flesh, for it reveals that I am no better than my neighbor.
Jeroboam messed with the Word of God, and the Word of God messed with Jeroboam. Mess with the Word of the Lord, and the Word of the Lord will mess with you.
A “man of God” from Judah prophesied the destruction of Jeroboam’s altar, and when Jeroboam resisted the Word, the Word withered his arm. And when he relented, the Word of God, from the man of God, healed his arm.
The Word is Jesus. And Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. In the Chronicles of Narnia, he is depicted as Aslan the Lion. “Who said anything about safe?” declared Mr. Beaver to the astonished children.“Of course he isn’t safe. But he is good.”
In 1 Kings 13, the man of God refuses to eat with King Jeroboam, for the Word had forbidden him to eat with anyone in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Yet on the way back to Judah, an “old prophet” —a lying prophet, part of the religious establishment—finds the man of God and tells him that an angel had appeared to him and revealed that the man of God should eat with him in his house. “But he lied.”
The man of God relents; he surrenders the Word in his heart to the words of the old lying prophet. In order to belong, he surrenders to religion—the religion of men.
At table, the Word of the Lord suddenly comes through the mouth of the old prophet, announcing that the man of God will die. And once again, on the way, a lion in the way kills the man of God and drops his body in the way. The lion is the Way. Jesus is the Way.
The lion kills the man of God who surrenders the Word of God, in the temple of his own soul, to religion.
This not only happens in the Old Testament; it happens in the New.
The Lord protects his infant church from those who would sacrifice Truth in the sanctuary of their own soul in order to belong to a religion; he protects his church from Ananias and Saphira, and he delivers Ananias and Saphira from themselves.
He does that with each of us; we must lose “our lives” to find them.
1 Kings 13:28, the Lion kills the man of God but doesn’t eat him. The Lion guards him in the way; the Lion is the Way. This must be the Lion of Judah.
The old prophet then finds the man of God lying in the way; he declares that the man of God had truly spoken the Word of God, places the man’s body in his own tomb, and instructs his sons to place his own bones next to the bones of the man of God from Judah when he dies.
300 years later, his bones are preserved by King Josiah of Judah.
100 years later, Ezekiel prophesies that the dry bones of the “whole house of Israel (Judah and Samaria, including Ananias and Saphira),” would rise and enter the Promised Land.
600 years later, Joseph of Arimathea placed the bones of the Lion of the tribe of Judah in his own tomb, and according to Matthew 27, “tombs were opened. And many bodies of the saints… were raised… and went into the city.”
And that’s all just a glimpse of the truth that “as in Adam (the first ‘man of God’) all die, so in Christ (the last ‘man of God,’ the Lion of Judah) will all be made alive.”
We write ourselves out of the story that God is telling with his Word, and all the while, the Word of God is writing us back in—He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
He isn’t safe, but he’s good.
The Word exposes our faithlessness, and the Word of God gives us his faithfulness.
On the night he was betrayed, he took bread and broke it, saying, “This is my body given to you.” And in the same way, he took the cup saying, “This is the covenant in my blood. Drink of it all of you.”
He may kill you, but not to eat you. This is the surprising twist: He wants you to eat him.
He wants you to eat him, that you might even become Him—the Word of God in human flesh.
It turns out that we’ve already messed with the Word of God—it’s called sin.
And now the Word of God is messing with us—it’s called Grace, and it creates Faith.
It can be terrifying. And it is why this world is often so very painful.
But have hope. He isn’t safe, but he is good.
He is the Good… And now you know, and knowing him is Life.