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Sermon illustrations

Lions

The Embodiment of their Hopes

I have been reading Julian Jackson’s biography of Charles de Gaulle — it’s exceptional, so far — and I find myself meditating on a story Jackson tells near the beginning of the book. In June of 1940, which Marshal Petain announced that France had fallen, de Gaulle started making broadcasts from London insisting that France had not been defeated and there was still hope. Quickly he became the focus of hope for the French resistance…but nobody knew who he was. They weren’t sure what his name was or how he spelled it. One resister, an art historian named Agnès Humbert, wrote:

How bizarre it all is! Here we are, most of us on the wrong side of forty, careering along like students all fired up with passion and fervour, in the wake of a leader of whom we know absolutely nothing, of whom none of us has even seen a photograph. In the whole course of human history, has there ever been anything quite like it?

These resisters of the Nazi conquest didn’t know the first thing about de Gaulle, but he became the focus of their determination, the embodiment of their hopes. In light of this I’m inclined to reassess a famous statement of Churchill’s, which I had always thought false modesty: “It was a nation and race dwelling all around the globe that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.” Which of course probably was false modesty; but it also may well have been a true statement.

Alan Jacobs, Snakes & Ladders (Newsletter), October 18, 2021

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.

Kyle Winkler , Shut Up, Devil: Silencing the 10 Lies behind Every Battle You Face, Chosen Books, 2022.

Running Towards the Lion

Lions have an especially pernicious way of hunting their prey. It seems that they terrorize their victims into making the worst possible choice about how to protect themselves from being eaten. The hunt begins when a pack of lions spies a stray animal such as a zebra that has wandered away from its herd, or is sick, or is at the back of the pack. In a remarkable division of labor, male lions line up on one side of the lone animal while lionesses deploy on the opposite side. 

Once battle lines are in place, the roaring begins. Male lions possess a singular capacity to discharge a thunderous, spine-chilling roar. In an inevitable fit of terror, the zebra bolts away from the horrific sound—and into the claws of expert killers, the lionesses. Death for the confused victim is certain. If the doomed creature had only understood the real situation, it would have overcome its impulse to flee the noise and instead run toward the male lions, who sound like death itself but lack the drive and energy to be the actual killers of the pride’s next meal.

Tom Doyle, Standing in the Fire: Courageous Christians Living in Frightening Times, Thomas Nelson, 2017.

 

See also Illustrations on Courage, The Devil, Jesus