Mark 8:22-38 – Are you for Jesus or Satan?

In this passage, we continue to see how we can still be ignorant of Jesus’ plans in our lives. We see the motif of blindness and it seems to echo what is happening in Peter.

Jesus heals a blind man, but the revelation of sight is a gradual process. The man can see the figures before him, but can’t truly recognise them for what they really are. Later, we see Peter confess that Jesus is the messiah. He can see the figure before him. He knows who Jesus is. But he cannot really recognise who the Messiah is. Peter’s understanding of who is before him is very limited.

Peter has grown up with this preconceived idea of what a Messiah would do. You couldn’t really blame him; it is based on Scripture. However, as we saw in yesterday’s passage, the disciples (and much of society around them) have an extremely worldly perspective. Their concerns before were bread and hunger. The concerns that shaped the interpretation of Scripture that Peter obviously believes are very human too. They deal with human kingdoms and politics and power. Jesus cam to deal with the cosmic and spiritual realms. Compared to what Jesus was here to do, Peter’s vision is tiny.

Yet, Peter is completely set on this idea. He is so set in fact, that when Jesus suggests that the plan is different, Peter tells Jesus off. Imagine that conversation: in one breath Peter says that Jesus was sent by God and in the next tells Jesus he can’t do what he wants to do. If Peter was right in the first instance, he is definitely overstepping the mark. As a result, Jesus actually says Peter is Satan.

Here, Peter is being used by Satan to get in Jesus’ way. Peter’s perspective actually doesn’t forward God’s plan, but instead promotes Satan’s agenda. The question is, when do we behave like Peter? When do we get in Jesus’s way and when do we act, by accident, on behalf of Satan? Peter loved and followed Jesus, even believed he was the Messiah. And yet, he could still get it so wrong that Jesus would tell him he was doing Satan’s work. We can love and follow Jesus and still do Satan’s work.

The next passage tells us how to avoid this pit fall. We need to be completely submissive to Jesus’s plan in our lives. We need to crucify ourselves and deny ourselves. Now often we turn that into something frankly pathetic. We turn this submission into giving a small sum to charity while we still live in the highest comfort compared to most the world’s population. We turn it into petty sacrifices, like opening our home to a Bible group once a week. We think we deny ourselves when we stand in the rain for street ministry. But the we go back to our flat screen TVs, plush couches, play on our state-of-the-art phones, and live our lives in abundance and comfort. We pursue our dreams and our desires. We plan our lives out according to our or our society’s values.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am no better. Often people will paint my life as one of difficulty and hardship. It is not. It is quite different to the one I was previously used to and the life of those back home. But it is no less comfortable and filled with the trapping of materialism. It is no less determined by my own desires and plans and dreams. I have simply replaced one set of distractions and dreams for another.

Norman Grubb, a famous missionary, would pray each morning, “Good morning, God. What are you up to today? I want to be part of it. May I? Thank you.” He would want to put his own desires and dreams for the day aside each day, and do his will.

“Good morning, God. What are you up to today? I want to be a part of it. May I? Thank you”

Norman Grubb

So let’s live each day by submitting our desires and will to our heavenly Father so that Jesus may work in us and through us. Let’s do Jesus’s work today. Amen.

Mark 6:14-29: the Evil of Political Powers

This is perhaps one of the most shocking stories of the gospel. Of course, the crucifixion should be equally shocking, but it’s so familiar to us that sometimes we are numb to it. I think it is also important for setting out a few things.

The time that Jesus lived in was dangerous. First, it was dangerous just in terms of crime. The Good Samaritan story came out of a rather well-known phenomenon of the time; people would get attacked on the roads. A lot of Jesus’s parables in fact made use of some of the violent aspects of his society. Second, it was dangerous in terms of disease and mortality. But in the story of where John the Baptist gets beheaded, we see a third type of danger. Those in power were dangerous. They were capricious, jealous and cruel.

If the partner of a world leader today, let’s say Boris Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds, ask for someone’s head for her birthday, she would be denounced as evil. To actually then receive at a birthday party in front of guests, it would result in a ridiculous amount of scandal, arrests, resignations and global outrage. Moreover, Herod did this because his dancing step-daughter pleased him. That also seems somewhat horrific by today’s standards.

Herod accidentally trapped himself, too. His power did not allow him to escape the political machinery. He did not actually want to kill John the Baptist (out of fear more than anything it seems). But it was fear and shame that made him kill John the Baptist too.

When world leaders are motivated by power, shame, reputation and greed, they are harmful, but especially harmful to those who try to stand for righteousness. Both John the Baptist and many prophets that came before him died this way. Furthermore, it is what ultimately insured that Jesus made it to the cross.

We need to take courage, however, in the fact that we do not actually belong to the kingdoms of this world. Although we may, whilst we are here, end up becoming trapped in its political machinery, we are in fact citizens of heaven. And when the politics of this world seems to be destroying all that is good and right, we need to remember that Jesus never cam for political power. Instead he came to see his kingdom of righteousness, justice and love to transcend and infiltrate through political borders and governments. That is what we pray for and hope for. For God’s kingdom to come, for his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

If you liked this…

Try reading my post Why democracy will always fail us.

1 Timothy 2

Well, it was bound to happen at some point. I’ve reached a controversial part of the Bible. This is probably a good time to address some things. First, I’d like to point out that this blog is really just for myself. I enjoy blogging and if you stumble across this blog then great. If you stumble across this blog, disagree, then you can walk away quietly. It wasn’t meant for you anyway. Why blog, then? I think I need a sense that there is an audience, whether fictive or not, to help me articulate my thoughts.

However, in this post, there’s not going to be much to disagree with, bringing me to my second point. I’m not going to engage too much with these sections, mainly because I don’t think I have the authority or the knowledge to do so. You could argue that it’s typical white male privilege or intellectual sloppiness, but it is one of the issues (one of the many topics of the Bible) that I’d like to research a bit more before giving my two cents on. What I have to say isn’t really worth much and it’s probably better to read and listen first.

So, this might be a bit of a post that talks more about how to address these types of issues rather than addressing the issues.

So, this chapter starts with encouraging prayers and petitions – for all people, which is interesting. Then it narrows its focus to those in authority. Luckily, I’m a day ahead on this one. Just as I process the Bible by writing (on this here blog), and have a book where I write out my prayers. I did pray for Donald Trump and for Boris Johnson. Whether you agree with them or voted (or would have voted) for them or not, you should still pray for them. I’m not sure Paul was a fan of the Roman rules (especially as they imprisoned and killed him), but he still said we should pray.

We should especially be praying, in the light of verse 4, for their faith and salvation. Trump says he’s a believer, although others argue his read the wrong book, and I don’t know about Johnson. Hun Sen (the leader of my adopted home) is Buddhist. But I should be praying for them and their salvation. For God is a kind God “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” What a wonderful saviour we have! A lot of politicians wouldn’t be on my priority list, but God still wants them.

I think it’s easy for us to think of them as different and somehow lofty and unreal. But they are humans, and God still sees them as people made in his image that have been corrupted by sin. God still sent his son to die for them, from dictators to incompetent leaders and everyone in between. God humbles rulers and exalts servants, so to him, we are all one and the same. And we should try to see our leaders with the same compassion and love as he does. I know I fail and get angry. But, it’s also worth praying that God softens our hearts too. Verse 8 tells us to pray, with raised arms, without anger or disputing. It’s a somewhat strange and alien concept in the age of twitter witch hunts and petty politic-fuelled squabbles. So, I think I should try to be better at this. So, I shall try (and probably fail quite often) to respond in prayer at the next frustrating twitter or facebook post than ranting and arguing.

Why democracy will always fail us

I am sat in Cambodia, seven hours ahead of the UK, watching the general election results roll in. I’m also hovering on social media watching responses to exit polls and election predictions. Having been in Cambodia for the run up to this election and having not been living in the UK for quite some time, I’ve been really surprised by the intensity of people’s social media posts. They speak of depression, despair, broken friendships, lives changed irreversibly for the worse. Now, I’m not saying these elections are not significant, but I’m really shocked at the emotional weight of yesterday. I perhaps understand it from my friends who are not Christians, but I’m probably seeing it more from my Christian friends. They’re writing about dashed hopes and painful fears of what these results will mean.

Before I go further, I want to deflect the potential barrage of complaints and questions and accusations. I do believe Christians should be involved politically. I do think we should exercise our right to vote. (I had to organise a proxy vote to get my ballot in the box.) I do think that Christians should speak God’s truth in the public sphere. I do think we should fight against injustice and fight for mercy. And here’s the massive “but”…

Christians should not misplace their hope in political systems.

There will always be blurred lines between political ideologies and faith. But we should not get the two confused. Faith is for our belief in Jesus. Do not put faith in the people and the powers of this world. There are a few interesting reasons for this.

The knowledge of good and evil

In the Garden of Eden, there were two fruit trees. One was the tree of life. The other was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The former, humans could eat from; the latter would result in certain death. It’s interesting to think that before Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, they were innocent of the distinction between the two. God had that knowledge. (He had called his creation “good” after all.) Man did not.

A lot of our political intentions or ideas are born out of our view of what is good and what is evil. Yes, we can believe we have a biblical perspective on our politics, but our wisdom is limited. It was the arrogance that man can be like God and that they could possibly know what is truly right that led Eve to reach for the fruit. It is the same arrogance today that is dividing friends and communities. Despite having tasted the fruit, we will never know good and evil as God does and we should humble ourselves and remember this. Furthermore, partaking in the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil only heaped calamity and despair upon humanity. Why, then, are we so surprised that our political attempts to discern good and evil result in much the same?

Human sin

After the fall, sin entered humanity. Every heart is full of it. We are all destitute and depraved. As a result, every human system, institution, ideology is flawed. Sin runs through it like a seam through marble. Sin, therefore, invades our politics and parliaments, our chambers and churches, our banks and our ballot boxes. No where and nothing is free from the blood-red stain of sin.

We can see how sin is infiltrating our politics each day. Deceitful campaigns, Russian hackers, sleazy candidates all point to a fallen humanity. This is by no means a new thing in politics.

Just take a look at the Old Testament leaders: Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon. Each of these people were sinful and flawed. They lied, murdered, jealously clung onto power, and had multiple sexual scandals. If the Twitter witch-hunt existed back then, they would have descended on them like a pack of ravenous vultures. Even though many of these people were seen as good, God-honouring leaders, they still had massive moral failures. If the Israelites could not place their certain hopes on these political leaders, how can we be expected to do the same to the leaders of today?

Saul, perhaps, is the most obvious example where political hopes fell gravely short. The Israelites were desperate for a change in their political system. They wanted a monarchy, just like all the other countries around them. God gave them what they wanted; he gave them Saul. Saul was a cowardly, insecure, jealous, bumbling fool of a man. The hopes of the Israelites were gravely misplaced.

The Christmas Story

So, what then do we do with this? Where do we place our hopes? Well, as the UK prepares for Christmas, they need to look no further than the story it celebrates.

Jesus, the King of kings, was not born into a palace (like the Magi assumed he would). He was born into a dirty stable in some provincial backwater. Jesus, vulnerable and lowly, was twice victim of the political world around him. First, he had to flee to Egypt in his infancy; second, one of the world’s greatest political machines churned him up and spat him out in a humiliating and horrific death. Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem on a warhorse, victorious and glorious. Instead he trotted in on a juvenile donkey. Jesus did not challenge Caesar or bring an end to the oppressive rule of the Romans. Instead, he ushered in a mustard-seed kingdom, no bigger than a widow’s coin.

Jesus’ kingdom is political but never in the way that we imagine it to be. It is subversive and upside-down and defies systems and party lines.

So, rather than putting your hopes in an election, or dwelling on fears caused by the future government, remember the Christmas story.

Remember the lines from O Little Town of Bethlehem:

The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.

Remember what that little baby came to do. For it is not the cross on a voting slip that can save the world. It is the cross on which Jesus died that has already accomplished this.

Let us pray:

Our Father who is in Heaven,

Your name is holy; you alone are good.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We do not rely on earthly kingdoms or pledge allegiance to human flags. Instead, we humbly kneel by a lowly manger and declare we will follow you and your ways.
We come now to adore you. We place our hopes in you. We give our fears into your hands.
Forgive us, Lord, for the times we have been arrogant. Forgive for when we desired to taste of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Forgive us when we have been unkind in our words and deeds. Teach us your ways. Help us discern your plans in all this.

In Jesus’ name,
Amen.