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.

Colossians 3

Like in his other letters Paul lets us know what living as a follower of Christ should look like and what it doesn’t look like.

First, he tells us to focus both our hearts and minds on heavenly things. Our desires and our perspectives should be based on higher things than the earth.

Then he tells us what the markers of Christian life are:

  • Compassion
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Forgiving others
  • Love
  • Unity
  • Peace of Christ ruling our hearts
  • Thankfulness
  • The message of Christ dwelling among us
  • Wisdom
  • Psalms, verses, songs to God in our conversation and in our hearts
  • Wives submitting to their husbands
  • Husbands loving their wives
  • Children obeying parents
  • Servants obeying their masters
  • Working as if for God not man

Christian living does not involve these things:

  • Sexual impurity
  • Lust
  • Evil desires
  • Greed (which is idolatry)
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Malice
  • Slander
  • Filthy language
  • Lying
  • Fathers embittering their children

Again, these are quite a list.

But if we do it with our focus upon Jesus in his throne, then we will desire to love and serve him.

Colossians 2

This one will have to be short as my internet is being too slow to write a longer post.

Colossians 2 is much along the same vein of the previous chapter, which is discussing the character of Christ. This is what it tells us:

  • He is the mystery of God;
  • All of God’s treasures are hidden in Christ;
  • The fullness of Deity lives in bodily form in him;
  • He is head over every power and authority;
  • God makes us alive through Christ;
  • All reality is found in Christ.

It also tells us, once again, how we’ve been saved through Christ. Because of Christ’s death, the debt of sin was paid and the powers and authorities over us were disarmed. We died in baptism with Christ.

So, what should we do in response to this amazing news of Christ? Well, Colossians 2 tells us this as well.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭2:6-7‬

Also, because of Christ we can be free from human religious tradition. We should test what appears to have spiritual wisdom, to see whether or not it is truly of God. If it serves to build our lives in Christ, then it is helpful. If however, like circumcision, it detracts or puts undue power in works of the flesh, then it is not helpful.

Ephesians 4

This chapter is quite challenging. Paul asks us to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” And the bar is set really high. To do that we need to be

  • completely humble (v. 2);
  • gentle (v. 2);
  • patient (v. 2);
  • bearing with one another in love (v. 2);
  • united in the Spirit (v. 3);
  • putting off our old self (v. 22);
  • made with a new attitude (v. 23);
  • created like God in true righteousness (v. 24);
  • holy (v. 24);
  • putting off any falsehood (v. 25);
  • speaking truthfully (v. 25)
  • building one another up with our words (v. 29);
  • rid of all bitterness, range, anger, slander, brawling, malice (v. 31)
  • kind (v. 32);
  • compassionate (v. 32);
  • forgiving (v. 32).

Paul also tells us we must not

  • live as the Gentiles do (v. 17);
  • give ourselves over to sensuality (v. 19);
  • indulge in impurity (v. 19);
  • be full of greed (v. 19);
  • be corrupted by deceitful desires (v. 22);
  • sin in our anger (v. 26);
  • let the sun go down while we are still angry (v. 26);
  • give the devil a foothold (v. 27);
  • steal (v. 28);
  • let any unwholesome talk escape our mouths (v. 29);
  • grieve the Holy Spirit (v. 30).

That’s quite a list!

However, it’s in the context of the previous chapter promising us that Christ is working in us and the rest of the chapter about the body of Christ. We’ve been given prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers and pastors to teach and encourage us. They help us to grow into mature believers that are equipped for every service.

So with Christ working in us through the Spirit and through unity in the body of Christ, we can live a life worthy of our calling.

Bible in One Year: Day 10

I managed the first day of a 5 am alarm clock (I did hit snooze twice). Let’s see how long I can keep it going!

The end of Psalm 7 ends in reinforcing the idea of God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness is linked to is wrath, which is a troubling idea for snowflake millennial like myself. The psalm tells us God shows his wrath everyday. The psalm goes on to praise God for his righteousness in response to this. However, we must remember that a just God abhors evil. This all seems a bit strange and difficult to swallow. But it should not be a surprise to us. We cannot expect God to be holy and good and to be the god of justice if he is indifferent to suffering and sin. The psalm recognises that sin and evil have consequences. Sometimes, from an earthly perspective, it’s easy to think that those that cause evil get away with it. However, God does not turn a blind eye.

Matthew again repeats the idea of Jesus’ authority. In yesterday’s reading we saw Jesus’ authority in his words and his authority to heal. Today we see Jesus’ authority over the physical world, his authority over the spiritual world and then finally his authority over sin. Jesus calms the storm, showing his power over the physical world. I have to admit, Jesus does seem a bit nonchalant and indifferent to the fears and worries of his disciples here. However, we learn that Jesus doesn’t want us to fear or worry. That’s not his plan for us. Jesus wants us to know his power and have comfort in that.

Jesus is also able to drive out evil spirits. Sometimes Christians seem to fall into two camps when it comes to the spiritual world: we either fail to believe or acknowledge its existence or we become fearfully obsessed with it. Either way, Jesus has authority over it and we should respond accordingly. (Note: not like the townspeople in the passage!)

It seems that this assurance of Jesus’ authority is leading to the pinnacle of his power: his ability to forgive sin. Although people marvelled at Jesus’ teaching, healings and miracles, no one called it out as blasphemy. Those things are, it turns out, not godlike. What is godlike is the power to forgive sin. It perhaps gives an indication of how powerful and serious sin actual is. I think today we often forget that.

Genesis 21-23 are somewhat disturbing once again. Sarah’s joy is quickly diminished and turns to jealousy. This results in Abraham abandoning his son and concubine Hagar. However, God is still in the situation and again picks up the pieces.

I’ve always had trouble with God’s request to Abraham that he sacrifice his son Isaac. Nicky Gumbel in the devotion that accompanies the reading states that God hates child sacrifice, so would never actually allow it. Abraham just needed to have his priorities put to the test. I wonder how God tests or would test my priorities. Am I willing to lay down all my dreams and what I believe God has planned for me like Abraham is?

Lord Jesus,

We praise you for your power and authority. You have power to heal and over spirits, but most of all, you have power over sin. You have power over my sin and you have forgiven it. Jesus, forgive me now, once again and make me clean. Keep me from evil; protect me from the evil powers of this world. Thank you that you were the perfect sacrificial lamb.

Amen

Bible in a Year: Day 9

This next week is quite intense: I start back at work and taking language lessons in the evening. Let’s see if I can keep it up!

  • Psalm 7:1-9
  • Matthew 7:24 – 8:22
  • Genesis 19 & 20

Once again, today’s readings have been somewhat troubling and difficult. There are many things at odds of what seems to be a modern view of God or of ethics, morality and judgment. However, there seems to be on-going undercurrent of God’s mercy, justice and righteousness.

The Psalms passage emphasises God’s judgment and righteousness. God punishes those who do wrong and protects those who do right. However, the image of God as judge seems to sit uncomfortably with me. I know that this is the more secular cultural baggage that I have grown up with. Words such as judge, vindicate all seem to jar with me. Perhaps I’m just a typical triggered millennial (to use that terrible turn of phrase).

However, God’s judgment is good. David calls on God to “Bring to an end the violence on the wicked and make the righteous secure”. Surely that’s something for us to pray too.

The Matthew reading emphasised Jesus’ authority and the faith that it bought about in people. Jesus’ word have power. The people in the crowds heard it, the leper knew it and the centurion believed in it. Furthermore, the parable of the houses being built either on a rock or on sand shows the authority and power in Jesus’ words. They bring blessing and security when followed and obeyed.

Lord God, help me live my life in obedience and with a firm foundation found in Your word. Amen.

I love what the man with leprosy says to Jesus: “if you are willing, make me clean.” Then the simple and powerful response: “I am willing.”

Jesus, if you are willing, make me clean. Amen.

I love the story of the centurion too. First he understands Jesus’ power. Jesus’ comment about not finding such faith in all of Israel seems a little cutting, especially as there are those, such as Jesus’ disciples and the man seen previously, that seem to show a lot of faith. But it’s interesting as the centurion is an outsider to this religious world and he still seeks Jesus and he still trusts him. I wonder how much the modern Western church is like first century Israel: often the outsiders have more faith than those within.

Again, Jesus talks about the global plan for the church, which resonates for me. I love it because I’m on the mission field.

Genesis 19 is just disturbing on quite a few levels. There’s the threat of gang rape, a father offering his virginal daughters to be raped, incestuous rape, blindings, fire and brimstone and someone turning to salt. It makes you wonder what Lot’s family had been through. It also makes the world seem terribly perverse.

However, in this, there is still a story of God’s mercy. God showed judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah but showed mercy on Lot, his wife and his daughters. He bought them out of that sinful and wicked place and to safety. Lot’s wife didn’t make it, as instantly Lot’s daughters do something horribly repugnant. But still, God was merciful.

I think the call to “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back!” needs to be heeded by us today when being bought from the wickedness in our own lives. Jesus took us by the hand to drag us from our sin, even if at sometimes we are hesitant. But we still need to flee for our lives and we can’t look back on our old life and our old sin.

Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me a new life. Thank you that you saved me from judgment and from the wickedness I was in. Help me to pursue righteousness and to flee from sin. Amen.

Genesis 20 also shows God’s mercy. This time, God is picking up the pieces after Abraham lies about Sarah being his sister again. God picks up the pieces and the consequences of our sins. I expect we often don’t realise it, but I know there are times when the consequences of my actions should have been much worse. However, God protected me in that.

Lord God, thank You for picking up the pieces again and again. You remove my sin from me and protect me from the consequences of my behaviour. As You protected Abimelek from sinning against Sarah, I pray that You protect me from sinning against others. Also, protect those that are caught up in the consequences of my sin. Lord, I repent of the times that my behaviour has affected others. Amen.

Bible in a Year: Day 8

(I’m writing these a bit out of order. I’ve been on holiday in Mondulkiri, so I’ve missed a few days on writing them up. However, I’m still ahead of myself by two days now. I’m glad I gave myself a bit of a lead. I want to try and gain it a bit further to give myself some grace. I’m shockingly bad at persevering at these things, so I’m trying to make it as easy as possible on myself.)

I love the idea in proverbs of parents handing down instruction to their children. There is something beautiful about having a Biblical and Godly heritage. I’m glad for mine.

I found the Matthew passage a bit depressing whilst reading it. It tells you not to worry, to seek the Kingdom of God first, and that the road ahead is narrow and only a few find it. I’m now worrying about not worrying and whether I’ve found the right path or not. Often people who get desperately lost do so because they think they’ve been going the right way for a good while, only to realise that they were on the wrong path all along.

Have a borne good fruit? Am I one of the people Jesus will recognise on the day or judgement or not?

I am full aware that I’m not a perfect Christian. I’ve already failed at reading the Bible everyday this year and we’re not even a week in. How am I capable of walking the right path?

However, I’m reminded of the following verses:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.

Philippians 2:12-13

Therefore, I think there is a healthy measure of despair when it comes to this. It helps you learn to lean on God. For it is Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith, not us. Sometimes, I give myself a tick-list of how to “get my act together” as a Christian, but I need to realise that I have to give that responsibility to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I just need to take each day as it comes and rely on the God who works in me to will and to act.

Dear God,

Help me to rely on you. Work in me to will and to act in order to fulfil Your good purpose.

In Jesus’ holy name,

Amen