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“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I’m sure you’ve heard that old phrase about March weather that goes, “In like a lion and out like a lamb.” Well, according to the late stargazer Jack Horkheimer, it appears that the phrase got its imagery from the two constellations, Aries—the Ram or Lamb, and Leo—the Lion. A long time ago, someone noticed that their movement in the March skies coincided with the fiercer weather at the beginning of the month and the milder weather at the end of the month.
“In like a Lion, and out like a Lamb.” That could describe Jesus’ movement as He comes into Jerusalem for Holy Week. Jesus comes into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday like a lion—with all the pomp and circumstance of a mighty King. By the end of the week, Good Friday, He goes out as the meek and mild sacrificial Lamb.
To better seen this tie-between the Lion and the Lamb, we must go back to ancient Egypt. Nearly two thousand years before Christ, twelve brothers gather around their dying father’s bedside. And one by one, he speaks a blessing or woe upon them. The father is Jacob, and these are the brothers of Joseph, whom they sold into slavery. Judah waits his turn, and he ought to be worried. Jacob has spoken to three of his sons so far, and each one has received an ominous curse.
Clearly, Judah is not saint. Along with the betrayal of Joseph, there’s some public immorality that brought shame upon the family. He got drunk and fathered a child by his eldest son’s widow, whom he had mistaken for a cult prostitute. But even worse, his transgressions put the birth of the promised Seed in jeopardy. Yes, Judah’s sins are well known, and he certainly does not deserve a blessing.
Having finished with Reuben, Simeon and Levi, his father turns to Judah, who must brace himself for the worst. If a curse comes, he’s got it coming. But incredibly, Jacob speaks not a woe, but rather a blessing. He says, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you” (Genesis 49:8).
Jacob’s words involve a pun, a play on words, since the Hebrew name Judah means “praise.” This son will be praised by his brothers since God will accomplish wonderful things through him and his descendants. The covenant blessing, which God had given to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, will now be carried forward through Judah. Judah will assume the position of leadership that his three older brothers have forfeited for their selfish weakness and violent natures. From Judah’s line through David will come Israel’s kings and the Messiah.
Jacob continues this blessing, prophesying about the future age of the kingdom of God. Judah and his offspring are described with contrasting images of war and peace: “Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until [Shiloh] comes; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk” (Genesis 49:8-12).
From Judah’s descendants, prophesies Jacob, a Lion will arise. This Son of David will be King, a son of the royal line that bears the scepter in Judah throughout the ages. He will come to His people; and when He comes, He will be called Shiloh—that is, He will be called “peace,” because this coming King is the Prince of Peace who removes the strife of sin. He will be Shiloh—the Rest-bringer—who brings eternal rest for weary souls.
This King shall be the obedience of the people. Where they—like Jacob and Judah and David and you and me—have failed to keep God’s commands, the One who comes as a Lion will obey God for His people. While many of Judah’s descendants who sat on the throne in Jerusalem were not interested in Israel’s messianic hope, and did not deserve to be kings, this is the One in whose hand the royal scepter belongs. His will be a magnificent and universal reign, “and He will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). When sinners are brought to see this, and believe it, they will bow before this righteous King in glad obedience.
This descendant of Judah will come with donkey and colt; and He will bind them to a vine. And having come, He will wash His garments in wine, in the blood of grapes. For Judah and all of his sons and daughters, Jacob announces hope: The Lion will come and bring peace, riding in like a ruler mounted on a donkey. He stops, ties up His mount, and walks the vineyard, tasting the wine and smiling joyfully. His garments are dyed scarlet purple—the color of wealth and rulership.
As I hear Judah’s blessing, I can’t help but think of Palm Sunday and the days of the Holy Week that follow. Jesus Christ, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), rides into Jerusalem of Judea on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He is the righteous Son of God, obedient to His Father in all things for your sake. He is the Son of David who comes in the name of the Lord. He comes to bring peace with God by defeating sin. Thus, when the crowds cry out “Hosanna!” or “Save now!” they are crying for the peace that He brings with them.
During the week, Jesus pounces on the moneychangers and drives them away, and no one can lift a finger against Him. He eats supper with His disciples; and during that Supper, He binds them to wine and Blood, along with bread and Body, for the forgiveness of sins. He does all this, and no one can do a thing to stop Him. His power and authority are evident. Truly, this entry into Jerusalem is a triumphal entry. Jesus comes as King. He comes as Savior. He comes in like a lion.
Five days later, Jesus goes out like a lamb. He goes out like the Lamb of Isaiah 53: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”
In Old Testament times, the Passover Lamb was bound for four days before its slaughter. Christ, the Lamb of God, is bound to four trials (one each before Caiaphas and Herod, two before Pilate) leading up to His death. After four trials, He is found guilty of no sin; in fact, His innocence is only reinforced. Like that Passover Lamb, Christ remains blameless and without spot. He has done nothing to deserve this fate. Although He is accused of many sins, He remains silent and opens not His mouth. He is not there to defend Himself, but to redeem you and me.
In Egypt, the Passover lamb was sacrificed to save the firstborn sons of Israel. It suffered plague and death instead of them. This is why Christ leaves the city that Good Friday. It is not that the stray sheep are driving the Lamb out of the fold, but that the Lord has laid the iniquity of us all on Him, and He is going to destroy it on the cross. Rather than have us suffer plague and death for our sin, Christ shoulders the sin, takes the judgment, suffers God’s holy wrath and the torments of hell, and dies in our place for them. Like the Passover Lamb, He is the substitute—the Sacrifice for our sin, so that we might have forgiveness and life.
Now, to be certain, lambs don’t have the fearsome reputation of lions. In fact, they’re helpless, meek, easily defeated. But do not be dismayed or deceived by the weakness you see in the Passion of our Lord. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, saves you there. He bears your sin and weakness to the cross, suffering for it there. Risen again, He declares that you are forgiven, that He has forgiveness for your sin and strength for your weakness.
So on this Palm Sunday, ponder again Christ, the Lion and the Lamb, the Victorious Victim and Conquered King, who knows your weaknesses and carried your sins. He is your refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Take heart; you need not fear. The Lord of hosts has defeated all your enemies, including sin, death, and the devil. And if those greatest of enemies are under His feet, you can be sure that those afflictions of the world and your own sinful flesh that you experience now have also been overcome by the Lion and the Lamb.
Affliction would seek to render you so weak to believe that not even God could help you. At such times, remember Palm Sunday, how Christ comes in like a lion to defeat His enemies, and yours. Remember that Shiloh comes with peace, to save now, and do not be dismayed. He comes to bring peace to you, to give you His righteousness and salvation.
Guilt would seek to have you say, “God is indeed powerful, but I am far too sinful for Him to care about me.” Remember Judah, who though sinful and undeserving, received his father’s blessing and the promise of the Lion of Judah, the Savior who would come from his own line and open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. When your conscience is heavy, remember the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. For if He has taken away the sins of the world, then He has taken away your sin, too.
Rejoice in His cross. Hear His Word of peace and forgiveness. Cling to Christ the vine, who gives you wine and Blood, bread and Body for your salvation. The palms and Passion, the life and the death, the Lion and the Lamb, the cross and the empty tomb, are all part of the Lord’s work for you. All that you may be sure of your salvation. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.