A Roaring Lion in Context
When you imagine a lion, what comes to your mind? For me, I envision a lion’s strong, giant, catlike torso that is covered with a tan coat and moving with a cocky strut. I see his unflinching facial expression, made by a stoic stare and down-turned mouth, all surrounded by a wispy, reddish-brown mane. I wince at the thought of his jaw-stretching yawn that exposes all four of his three-inch canine teeth. I can almost hear his ground-shaking roar.
Thoughts of encountering such a beast in the wild are enough to induce paralyzing fear into most of us. But those familiar with the lion’s ways, like his peers in the animal kingdom, know that behind that ferocious exterior is good reason not to be afraid. A lion has a relatively small heart and lungs in relation to the rest of its body. What this means is that it is an incredibly inefficient runner. In fact, the lion is considered one of the slowest runners in the animal kingdom. While it can reach up to fifty miles per hour, it can only do so in short bursts. A lion simply does not have much stamina.
Being a sprinter rather than a marathon runner affects how the lion hunts. When it happens upon one of its favorite meals, such as a wildebeest, zebra or antelope, it cannot launch after it in the moment. Any of those animals would likely outrun it in the long run. So it stalks.
Writing to battle-weary Christians, the apostle Peter warned, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). As with all illustrations in the Bible, Peter’s likening of the devil to a lion is not coincidental…Peter penned this at a time when wild lions still roamed parts of the Middle East.
I believe this is why Peter compares the enemy to a roaring lion. Wildlife experts contend that most of a lion’s roars are mock roars that are meant only to intimidate his victim or assert his power.
A Watchman at the Gate
Editor’s Note: The following was an imagination exercise used while preaching on Matthew 24:36-44, I began by inviting the congregation to close their eyes.
Imagine you are a watchmen (or woman) standing guard of an ancient city. You are currently under siege, because, as you may know, most ancient battles took the form of a siege, with a foreign army camped outside your city, you, inside the city are protected by your gates, your city walls, but they are waiting, hoping, praying, that you will give up because you have run out of water and food.
You’ve been on guard for 32 straight days and the work is getting to you, you hope that the invaders will give up, but you don’t really know if you have enough supplies before your sister city can bring reinforcements, but will they have the courage to face such a formidable foe?
And so really, more than anything this has become your new normal, it’s slightly boring, monotonous, just watching, hoping they don’t try to enter by your entrance to the city. And so, you just kind of doze off, you didn’t mean to, but you’ve been doing this for over a month now and it just kind of happened.
You wake up to the sound of grapples catching the top of the bulwarks and the sound of crashing lumber, as ladders clank against the wall. All of sudden, the monotony of the last 32 days has been transformed into the most desperate, intense moment of your life, as you realize you have fallen asleep and everything is about to change.
This is a glimpse of the picture Jesus is painting in this morning’s passage (Matthew 24:36-44).
The picture of the second coming is one where normal life that is interrupted in a moment, and then everything changes, and the question is: how will we respond.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
The Watchman in Scripture
The watchman was a very common theme in Old Testament days. In Biblical days, the Jews had vineyards with grapevines. On that farm with acres of grapes, the Jews built a tall tower called a watchtower. It was made out of rocks; some ten to fifteen feet tall. A watchman would be there all night long, watching for thieves who may come in and steal the crop. What was the greatest sin of a night watchman? To fall asleep. If the watchman fell asleep. If the watchman thought to himself, “It is a nice night tonight. There are no thieves out here. Nobody is going to come in here and steal our grapes tonight. This is not a threatening time tonight. Tonight is relaxed. It is time for me to take a nap, to get some rest.” That was the greatest sin of a watchman … was to let his guard down, to not be aware of the evil peril around him and was ready to attack his life.
The second place we find a watchman in the Bible was on the top of a watchtower on the city walls. The watchtowers were not found in small villages like Jackson, Minnesota, but on the city walls of grand and glorious capitals, like Jerusalem. High on the city wall was the watchtower and the watchman sat in that tower. He would watch for the enemy forces to come to raid the city; he would also watch for the friendly king and his armies to be welcomed to the city. And the greatest sin of the watchman to fall asleep to the evil lurking in the shadows, or to miss the grand powers of the king who would march into the city triumphantly.
The third place in the Old Testament where we find stories about watchman are the stories of the Old Testament prophets. The Old Testament prophets were called, watchman, especially in the book of Ezekiel. The Old Testament prophet was to be keenly aware of the evil powers around them; they were also to be aware of the grand promises of the Messiah who was to come. And the worst sin of the prophet was to fall asleep, becoming lethargic to the surrounding evil, or becoming lethargic to the future possibility of the Messiah to come. The complacent prophets were the false prophets.
We then approach the New Testament and Jesus clearly calls out to us “to watch, be alert, don’t fall asleep,” don’t drift into spiritual lethargy about the evil around you, the evil peril around us and in us. Also, we are not to fall asleep to the grand possibilities of God’s wonderful miracles to unfold before our eyes. Stay awake. Don’t fall asleep.
Edward F. Markquart