I’ve been trying to improve my fitness recently and I was out for a familiar run during the Easter weekend along the Strathkelvin Railway Path between Lennoxtown and Strathblane. It’s a really beautiful area and, when I’m out there, it’s a great opportunity to clear my head away from the noise and distractions of the house and the office. It doesn’t take long until I feel like I’m running in the middle of nowhere alongside the Campsie Fells, surrounded by fields of sheep, highland cattle, woods and streams.
One of the landmarks along the path is a large volcanic feature known as Dunglass. When travelling towards Strathblane I think it looks a lot like a lion’s head (although not so much from any other angle) and it’s quite a sight as it abruptly breaks up the gentle slopes. Adding to the spectacle on this occasion was a large cross pitched on top of the rock to mark Easter weekend.
It was an impressive sight that slowly revealed itself as I ran closer and I guess it must have been at least five metres tall. As the fields surrounding the lion-shaped rock were filled with sheep and their young lambs, my thoughts turned to a song we’ve song a lot recently in church called The Lion and the Lamb. I thought it was worth writing a short blog to explain these two contrasting images that we sing and talk about in church.
The lion is used many times in the Bible to symbolise strength and power (a quick check revealed that they’re mentioned over 90 times). Culturally, the lion is often more specifically symbolic of royalty with its perceived status as “king of the jungle”. The lamb, on the other hand, couldn’t be much further from this imagery with its weakness and vulnerability. In the song I mentioned earlier, despite having such different characteristics, the lion and the lamb are both symbolically representative of Jesus.
Near the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation (chapter 5), Jesus is depicted as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”. It would take too long to delve deeply into the history but the scene is set in the first book of the Bible, Genesis (chapter 49). Jacob (grandson of Abraham) had 12 sons who would each go on to establish the original tribes of Israel. You’re probably most familiar with Joseph thanks to his robe of many colours but one of his older brothers was called Judah. Near the end of his life, Jacob brought his sons together to prophesy about their futures and he describes Judah as a lion and a ruler. This points towards the reign of his descendants King David and ultimately to the eternal reign of Jesus, Son of God.
The same chapter in Revelation describes Jesus as a lamb who had been slain. It would again take too long to properly explain the symbolism of this but I’ll attempt another quick summary. In the beginning, everything was perfect until mankind decided to rebel against God and do things their own way (we often call this sin). God provided a way for people to be forgiven through a system of animal sacrifices which they were instructed to follow (described in the third book of the Bible called Leviticus). There were different sacrifices for different times and purposes and one of them was a lamb without blemish to be sacrificed for God as a sin offering.
Fast forward to a time when God’s chosen people were being held captive in Egypt (you can read about that in the book of Exodus) and God was about to unleash the last of ten plagues threatened to the Pharaoh unless he set God’s people free. Pharaoh didn’t let them go so every first born child was going to die during the night but God gave instructions to his people to avoid this by sacrificing a lamb without blemish and putting its blood on the doorposts. This was known as the Passover as God would pass over those houses during this final plague.
Fast forward again to around 2000 years ago and we can see the death of Jesus in this context as the ultimate sacrifice. We are told that Jesus, God’s only son, lived a perfect life and so was “without blemish”. He died sacrificially on a Roman cross so that all of the sins of anyone who recognised him as their Lord could be forgiven. He was punished and died in our place so that we could be set free from sin (we’re still sinners but have been forgiven).
The end of the Easter story is that Jesus died on the cross but rose again after three days (there were hundreds of witnesses and many willing to die rather than deny it). By raising Jesus from the dead, we understand that God accepted the sacrifice and it proved his power over death, the supreme penalty of sin. It also provides an eternal hope of life after death for those who believe in him, the lion and the lamb of God.