“Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not 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.”
In the United States, we have very little experience with lions. We only see them in the zoo, in a very controlled and safe environment (and no, seeing “The Lion King” on Broadway doesn’t count). Consequently, we have a diminished appreciation for the awesome power and strength of these magnificent animals. Yes, we call them the king of beasts, but unless we have seen them in their natural habitat, we likely can’t understand the terror they invoke in the other animals.
So when we read that Jacob compared his son Judah to a lion’s cub, to a lion returning from his prey, crouching down in preparation to spring up, to a lioness that no one would dare arouse, to this lion who will be king among his brothers, do we fully grasp how Jacob is describing his son, and Judah’s greater son and descendant, Jesus? And when we see the risen Jesus described as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”, do we appreciate his power and dominion?
Dorothy Sayers didn’t think so: “We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.” Ouch! Think of how often our Christmas carols and hymns and songs refer to “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, and how rarely they reference the lion of Judah. Yet Jesus faced down demons; went toe-to-toe with religious leaders; overturned tables and benches and drove people out of the temple; called the religious leaders blind guides, hypocrites, and snakes; and cowed an entire detachment of soldiers simply by identifying himself (John 18:5). That, my friends, is no housecat; that is a lion.
C.S. Lewis introduced Aslan, the great Lion, “the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea”, in the first book of his chronicles of Narnia. When Mr. and Mrs. Beaver tells them about Aslan, Susan and Lucy are rather concerned and nervous about meeting him, and Lucy asks if he’s safe. “’Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver. ‘Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’”
No, the Lion of the tribe of Judah isn’t safe. He demands that you worship and serve him and him alone; he demands everything from you. He demands that you give up your sin and your self-righteousness and your idols. But dear friends, he’s good. He gives you so much more in return. He can do that because he’s the King.
Are you beginning to see who it is in that manger? We’re going to need a bigger manger!
Cold on His cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies His head with the beasts of the stall.
Angels adore Him in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Lord over all.