The Lion In Winter

By: Stan Mast

January 13th, 2008

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 5:8, 1 John 3:8, Revelation 5:5-6

Do you know what black ice is?  Those of you who live in warmer climates may not be familiar with it.  Having been raised in Denver, Colorado, I had heard about it but I don’t remember any experience with it until I was in college.  It was a trip back to Denver in the middle of a December blizzard.  We were determined to get home, so we kept driving even though the whiteout conditions forced us to turn off the headlights and look out the side windows.  We kept our eyes focused on that thin strip of black pavement ahead of us.  As long as we kept on that strip of black, we’d be safe, I thought. Finally, my exhausted and terrified passengers convinced me to stop in Omaha, Nebraska to get a hotel room and ride out the blizzard.  I stepped out of the car onto the black pavement and fell flat on my back.  My safe road was really a thin, clear sheet of ice covering the black pavement. The deceptive quality of this ice made it appear that the road was clear pavement, and that made it more dangerous than any ice I’d ever walked on.  It was black ice, and I nearly broke my back on it. 

Today I want to share another promise for the bleak mid—winter of our lives, for those times when we are snowed under with problems, when our spiritual life is nearly dead, when our faith is frozen and inactive, when the warmth of God’s love seems far from us.  In such times, we are especially susceptible to temptation.  The Devil uses such wintry times in life to create black ice under our spiritual feet with his slippery lies.  We think we’re on solid ground, but we’re in great danger of falling and hurting ourselves seriously.  In this message, I want to show you how you can stay on your spiritual feet in those wintry times by reminding you of a central biblical promise.

I say that I want to "show" you this promise, because this message is full of pictures, or more accurately, metaphors that compare spiritual realities to animals.  You will see in your mind’s eye a whole menagerie of metaphors that will help you experience the comfort of this powerful promise for those times when you find yourself on the black ice of temptation.    

An obscure story in the Old Testament gives us the first picture and suggests where we can find stability and strength when we find ourselves on the Devil’s slippery road.  The story is found in 2 Samuel 23, and introduces us to a man named Benaiah.  He was one of the mighty men who surrounded King David in his military campaigns.  The story recounts his incredible exploits.  Benaiah once fought an Egyptian who was over 7 feet tall.  He had only a stick, while the Egyptian had an immense spear.  Benaiah grabbed the spear out of the giant’s hand and killed him with it.  Another time he defeated two of the greatest warriors of Moab, whom the Moabites called Ariels, which means lions of God.  But his greatest feat was climbing down into a pit on a snowy day and killing a lion.  A lion is much stronger and faster and more ferocious than any man. Benaiah actually climbed down into a pit where he was, in effect, trapped with this lion.  In spite of the slippery conditions caused by the snow, he killed the lion all by himself. 

When I ran across his story as I searched the Scripture for references to winter, I was taken by it, because it is a picture of what Jesus did.  Benaiah encountered a lion and the Bible says in 1 Peter 5:8 that "the Devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour."  Benaiah jumped down into a physical pit to battle the lion and Jesus climbed down into the great pit of hell where he did battle with the Devil and defeated him.  1 John 3:8 says, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the Devil’s work."   

Revelation 12 pictures that battle with a different metaphor.  There the Devil goes about not like a roaring lion, but like a great red dragon.  He attempts to devour Jesus at his birth, but he fails. Jesus is born anyway and that touches off a battle that shakes heaven and earth.  The battle is described this way.  "And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels, and the dragon and his angels fought back.  But the dragon was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.  The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the Devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.  He was hurled down to the earth, and his angels with him."  Colossians 2:15 summarizes Jesus’ victory over the Devil with these militant words, "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."

I know that’s a lot of Scripture all at once.  Perhaps you feel like you’re in a Bible blizzard.  But I can simplify it by pointing to those last three words of Colossians 2:15, "by the cross."  That’s how Jesus defeated the Devil.  That’s the mystery of God’s plan of salvation.  The Son of God destroyed the works of the Devil by climbing down into the pit where he mounted the cross.  By dying on that cross, he dealt the death blow to the Evil One who goes about seeking someone to devour.  How does receiving a death blow deal the Devil a death blow?  That is such a deep mystery that pictures may be more helpful than words in helping us to grasp it.

That’s what we find in Revelation 5:5, 6, which uses a double metaphor to express the mystery of Jesus’ victorious death.  Those verses describe Jesus as both a great lion who is able to open the scroll of human history and a lamb looking as though it had been slain.  We’re accustomed to thinking of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He did that, as we’ve just seen, by dying on the cross, an act of weakness and defeat.  But Revelation 5 assures us that the death of that lamb was an act of great power.  We know that because the passage portrays the slain lamb with 7 mighty horns, a symbol of perfect power.  And then God’s Word surprises us by saying that the lamb was, in fact, a lion in disguise.  "See," says one of the Elders, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed."  He was the fulfillment of all those Old Testament prophecies that one day a great king would rise out of Israel from the tribe of Judah, from the line of David, a king who would defeat the enemies of God’s people. 

Now, he is here, the Lion King, who has the power to open the scroll of history and rule all things. At last the great promise of a Savior in Genesis 3:15 has come true.  Outlining the whole course of history after the Fall of man, God said that there would be a great battle between the followers of the serpent and the followers of the seed of the woman.  It will end, says God, when "he, the serpent, shall bruise your heel, and you shall crush his head."   You can hear how those strange pictures in Revelation fulfill that ancient promise.

The wording of Genesis 3:15  reminds me of a strange book entitled The Life of Pi, which adds yet another set of animal images to this menagerie of lions and lambs and serpents and dragons.  Pi is a boy from India who is sailing to America with his father and a collection of wild animals from his father’s zoo.  When their ship sinks, Pi’s life is saved when he clambers into a large life boat.  But no sooner does he settle into the front of the boat than he sees a large hyena in the back of the lifeboat.  Days go by.  This slavering, yellow eyed beast glares and growls at him, but never approaches.  Pi can’t understand why, until he hears a deep growl from the canvass cover that stretches over the middle of the lifeboat between himself and the hyena.  Suddenly the boat explodes in a nightmare of orange and black stripes, as a 10 foot Bengal tiger attacks the hyena.  As fierce as the hyena is, it is no match for the tiger.  It takes the hyena’s head in its mighty jaws and simply crushes it with a sickening crunch.  "Imagine," says Pi, "I was saved from the hyena by the presence of a tiger."  Christ the tiger, Christ the lion of the tribe of Judah has crushed the serpent’s head, and it’s just a matter of time until the serpent is dead and gone.

If that’s true, how can it be that the Devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour?  Well, says Revelation 12, his time is short.  His head is crushed. This roaring lion is mortally wounded, and will soon be out of the picture entirely.  In the meantime, wounded animals are very dangerous, especially lions.  Some of you will recall Ernest Hemingway’s classic short story, "The Short Happy Life of Francis McComber," in which a wounded lion hides in the brush and springs on his pursuing hunters.  He is eventually killed, but the terror caused by the wounded lion is palpable. That’s the Devil, says the Bible, mortally wounded, but still dangerous.

This is where we need to read the Bible very carefully if we are going to understand and experience the comfort of our promise for the bleak midwinter.  I Peter 5:8 says that the Devil goes about like a lion.  Like a lion, but he’s not a lion.  The real lion is Jesus, the lion disguised as a lamb for our salvation.  The Devil is a liar, a deceiver, a master of deceit, who can only mimic God in order to make us slip and hurt ourselves.  You see, he’s like a lion, but he’s really just a snake, a slippery old snake who specializes in covering our paths with the ice of temptation. 

He has no real power over us.  He cannot force us to do anything by his power.  All the horror movies and books portray the Devil as having great power.  Think of "The Exorcist," in which the Devil defeats the power of God represented by the priest who fails to exorcise the demon from the little girl.  I actually met a young woman in my second church who said that the Devil had more power to affect her life than God does.  But compared to the Lion of the tribe of Judah, he has none.  Jesus has all the power of Almighty God.  He and he alone has the power to open the scroll, the script of all human history and of our lives.  Jesus is the King of this Jungle world.

Oh, the Devil can imitate Christ.  He can roar so that he sounds powerful, but he can’t hurt you with power.  But he can hurt us a great deal with those lies he hisses into our minds and hearts.  "You will be like God," hissed that old serpent in the Garden of Eden as he tempted Adam and Eve to eat that forbidden fruit.  "You can run your own life as well as God can.  You can decide for yourself how you should live.  You should go for the pleasure.  You should do what you want."  He had no power, except the power of the lie, the power to make our way slippery with his lies.  That’s the real danger, that black ice of deception.  The serpent can give you a snow job, and if you fall for his tempting lies, you will fall as Adam and Eve did and hurt yourself and others very badly. 

1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that with every temptation there is a way out.  We often think of some technique, something we can do to resist temptation.  Stay away from tempting places or learn Bible passages by heart or get an accountability partner to help you resist.  All of that may help a bit, but the real key to defeating the lies of the Devil and staying on our spiritual feet in the bleak midwinter of our lives is Jesus, the Lion who has already defeated our great foe.  As we walk the road of life made slippery by the serpent’s snow job, the Lion in winter walks along with us. Best of all, he jumps down into the pit of temptation with us.

I think of those wonderful scenes from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles where the children walk along with the great lion, Aslan, their hands resting on him, or even riding on his back.  What a great picture of a child—like trust in Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  If you stay close to the Lion in winter, he can give you his power to resist temptation, so that you can stand firm on even the slickest road.  1 John 2:13—14 praises Christians who have "overcome the evil one." We can overcome the Evil One because, says 1 John 4:4, "Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world."  Jesus can give you the power to resist temptation, but you have to lean on him and listen to his voice, instead of listening to the Devil’s slippery lies.  That is the great decision we face everyday as we walk along the narrow way that leads to life.  Will we listen to the roaring of the Lion, God’s clear Word, or to the hissing of the serpent, the lies of the Devil? 

The last line of the story of Benaiah gives us yet another picture to help us grasp the great promise for the bleak midwinter I’ve been trying to show you.  It says that the mighty lion slayer became the leader of the bodyguard of David.  That’s what Jesus is—the Lion in winter is our bodyguard.  He stays with us to keep us safe, even on the black ice, indeed, even when we slip and fall in the bleak mid winter of temptation. 

One of the loveliest verses in the Bible is found in the gospel of Luke.  It was a cold winter night, so they were all huddled around the fire, the men who had arrested Jesus, the servants who worked in the house of the high priest, and Peter.  It was cold, and it was slippery.  So when they asked Peter if he was a follower of Jesus, he slipped and fell and hurt himself so badly he thought he would never recover.  "I don’t know the man," he lied, swearing in God’s name that he was telling the truth.  Then over the crackling of the fire and the hissing of the serpent, he heard the rooster crow. 

That’s when Peter saw something that changed his life, something that will change ours, even if we have slipped on the black ice of temptation.  As he lay there deeply wounded by his own sin, Peter saw the great Lion standing in the bleak mid—winter of his own trial.  And says Luke 22:61, "Jesus turned and looked straight at him."  Then Peter remembered Jesus’ prediction about his denial. 

When the Lion in winter looked at him, Peter went outside——away from the fire, away from the enemies of Jesus, away from his shameful fall, away from the hissing of the serpent, and wept bitterly.  He wept because even in the moment of his disastrous fall, Jesus still stood there, looking at him, not with condemnation or threat, but with grace and love.  Of course!  This Lion is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  There’s an old hymn that summarizes the loveliest part of today’s promise for the bleak midwinter.  It goes like this.  "In the hour of trial, Jesus, plead for me; lest by base denial I depart from thee; when thou see’st me waver, with a look recall, nor for fear or favor suffer me to fall."   The powerful presence of Jesus will keep you from slipping and will lift you even when you’ve fallen on the black ice of temptation.  Thank God for the Lion in winter!   

About the Author

Stan Mast

Stan Mast served as the Minister of Preaching at the LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church in downtown Grand Rapids, MI. from 1990 until 2012, when he retired.  He graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1971 and has served four churches in the West and Midwest regions of the United States.  He also served a 3 year stint as Coordinator of Field Education at Calvin Seminary.  He has earned a BA degree from Calvin College and a Bachelor of Divinity and a Master of Theology from Calvin and a Doctor of Ministry from Denver Seminary.

He is happily married to Sharon, a special education teacher, and they have two sons and four grandchildren.  Stan is a voracious reader and works out regularly.  He also calls himself a car nut and an "avid, but average" golfer.

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