The silence of the lambs

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Over Easter, America and North Korea postured for power. Some question whether the teaching of Jesus could work in today’s political environment but the Easter event defines true “power” as gentle restraint not aggression. It’s the silence of the Lamb of God that can (at times) be pure wisdom for us all; and here’s why…

A Christian minister said to me the best response to Islam is to ‘nuke all Muslims’; the grace and truth response rejects this, pointing out that – yes – the all-powerful God can act violently; for example in the ten plagues of Egypt; the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea or the apocalyptic events of the Revelation; but the Bible is also clear that at the heart of the divine universal order is not a despotic potentate but a silent Lamb: ‘looking as though it had been slain’. (Rev.5:6)

Note how in the Revelation the “Lamb slain” is juxtaposed with the “Lion prevailed”. This is what C S Lewis was depicting in the Chronicles of Narnia where Aslan embodies gentle-power that is carefully controlled, righteous and restrained. So at the heart of universal power and authority is not just force but also weakness.

The Revelation asserts the divine economy where vulnerability that is ‘patient’ and ‘endures’ is somehow more potent than anything an oppressor can throw at us (Rev.2:10, 26). But how does this work?

Jesus modelled it by entering Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday riding a donkey (i.e. symbol of humble service) rather than a white military stallion (i.e. symbol of proud domination). After his arrest in Gethsemane I’m given to understand that all the verbs used to describe his passion are in the ‘passive’ voice.

Yet Jesus was never a door-mat. He was never slow to speak – whether clearing the Temple of self-serving profiteers; or when delivering unparalleled and sublime teaching; or when challenging the establishment; or when speaking blessing on others. As the ‘Word of God’ in flesh, Jesus never stopped talking; in fact John’s Gospel is essentially a collection of conversations with carefully selected individuals. People said about Jesus’ words: ‘No one ever spoke like this man does’ (Jn.7:46).

Yet all this came to an abrupt end at Jesus’ trial when: ‘[He] made no reply, not even to a single charge’ (Mat.27:14). When it mattered most no one was ever so silent as Jesus chose to be. The one who carried away the guilt of the world for all time, stood speechless before Pontius Pilate, a mere earthly judge; but why did he do that?

- Was the communication black-out a way of ensuring that nothing would get in the way of the sacrificial slaughter of his sacred person?

- Was the silence his way of literally becoming sheep-like as the perfect sacrifice for us all?

What we do know is that the silence of the Lamb of God was fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy: ‘He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before its shearer is silent, so he didn’t open his mouth.’ (Is.53:7)

Far from being politically impractical, the calm silence of Jesus, can answer some questions with greater impact than the loftiest eloquence. Perhaps this is why some of the best Christian apologists through church history have been those who gave their lives as martyrs – their voices still speaking to this day.

Wasn’t it the author Oz Guinness who referred to ‘poor old talkative Evangelical Christianity’? He didn’t mean we should abandon the commission of Christ to go into the world and ‘gossip’ (i.e. preach) the good news about him. What it does mean is that we can learn when it is wiser to maintain the patient silence Jesus modelled. While the gospel in word is non-negotiable, words are punctuated by silence to be intelligible. At times silence is the best reply in a contradictory world.

At the end of the day (i.e. Easter day) Jesus sends us into his world ‘as sheep among wolves’ and to be ‘as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves’ (Mat.10:16); not least among people of a Muslim background who need an authentic witness to Christ that is incarnated in grace and truth.

 

Source: C H Spurgeon, Morning & Evening – a devotional classic, April 2, pg186

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