Tag Archives: evil

Worst of Sinners -?

We don’t like the word “sinner”, and we certainly tend to think that if we have a few stains on our conscience, there are plenty others much worse. But Paul has a surprise for us

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinnersof whom I am the foremost. ( v15 in the reading 1 Timothy 1:12-17 )

WHAT? Of course, Saul had led the persecution of Christians, rooting them out and putting them in prison. But he doesn’t say “I was”, he says “I am”. Perhaps we have to think again about our status, and doubt that great sinners are so different from us!

Who has never ever said “I hate you!”; never driven too fast; never lied, been glad at someone else’s failure, caused trouble between friends, … we don’t like recognising evil in us; but that doesn’t take it away

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinnersof whom I am the foremost.

But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.”

Don’t imagine that you escape the label of “sinner”,
but don’t despair either. God is concerned about sinners, given the chance, he goes looking for them, brings them home, sorts them out –
and does it all very gently and patiently.

That’s why he has given us examples of those who found his love;
that’s why we are told about how concerned he is
not with the good, but with the outsider

You may know people in pain or difficulty, perhaps pray for them. Don’t forget those who may have caused the pain or difficulty. God cares – for all his children. Even the worst! There’s hope for everybody, if they want to take it.

And that’s why Paul pauses for a short hooray. Well, to be exact

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

God is good, with a goodness not overcome by terrorism, or any other form of sin, including yours and mine.
we celebrate that goodness (not our own)
and have the responsibility to take advantage, and to announce:
“ The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

Repent!

The realism of the gospel story sometimes gives us a glimpse of real evil, as it does with Herod in Mark 6:14-29.  Hearing of the mission of Jesus’ twelve disciples, travelling two by two, he fears Jesus is John the Baptist reborn – and Mark doubles back to tell the story of John’s earlier death.

John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod because of his criticism of his liason with Herodias.  This was against Old Testament law, both because Herodias had been married to Herod’s brother, and also because of their close relationship (in a family tree that is very complicated!).  Adultery and incest may be good for selling books and films, but Christians stand against both because of the need for families to be places of security for people to grow into adulthood and be safe from exploitation.  Few families are perfect, but “anything goes” means the vulnerable and weak pay the price, often a heavy price!

Herod is torn.  His wife wants revenge, but he knew that John was a “good and holy man” and “liked to listen to him, even though he became greatly disturbed every time he heard him”. Why? Because he is guilty, and knows he is wrong. But he won’t do anything about it. John stays in prison. – perhaps he was frightened of the political consequences of letting him go. (Josephus says that is why he had him killed).

Then a Princess dances at his party, and he makes a foolish promise.  Herod should have seen the danger, and even after the request should have said no, given the girl something else, and sobered up.  But instead, John is murdered.  Later, Herod’s guilt appears as he hears of Jesus.  He knows he is wrong; perhaps he is even frightened. Is that enough? No, because he won’t change sides; he won’t repent – that would mean going beyond knowing he is wrong, even saying it, to turning away from it.

So what is Mark telling us? Yes, that guilt is a terrible thing to live with, but to get rid of it, you need not only to know you are wrong, and say that, but to repent. To turn away to what is good, and do that.

But Mark is also setting the scene. It’s not just about Herod and John. John was a prophet, preparing the way for Jesus. His truth telling takes him to prison and death. What will happen to Jesus? Will he also end up being buried by a few friends?

You know the answer – or do you? Yes, Jesus will confront the evil; evil that will not be won over by good, that cares only for itself. But who will win? Appearances can be deceiving; Jesus will die – and rise. Herod, Pilate, the plotters: they are the ones who will disappear and lose.

Herod was not a nice man. He was given every chance, but failed to take each opportunity. He thought, rather guiltily, that he had removed a threat. In fact, he had been swallowed alive by evil. Don’t be sorry for him, keep a safe distance.

On the wrong side ?

Jesus is wonderful! He is healing, he is setting people free of evil, he is popular for good reason. What can possibly go wrong? Mark 3:20-35 explains how two sorts of opposition arise – and both still appear.

First come some teachers of the Law from Jerusalem. “This is an evil man. He’s in league with the devil, that’s how he does his miracles!”  Perhaps they are jealous – certainly they are offended. It’s not that Jesus broke the Old Testament Law, but he didn’t keep to the traditional interpretation – like about what was OK for a Sabbath, for example. AND – they don’t like the way he speaks with authority, as if he knew God, rather than working back through the scholars of past times, who might have known Him.

In league with the devil! ?  It is a serious charge, but Jesus has an answer. If the devil is healing people and setting them free, he is fighting against his own side, and he’s finished! If Jesus’ miracles are good – that’s rubbish. No. What you are seeing is someone stronger than even the Devil, who is starting to take over his Kingdom – and he hasn’t the strength to prevent it, just like someone tied up in a corner. They don’t believe him, – there’s too much at stake. Conflict will continue through the gospel. But do you see the sides clearly?

But there’s another source of trouble!  Jesus family reckon he’s going mad verse 21, and they arrive to “take him away”. For his own good, you understand. You can’t go against the system. If he keeps quiet for a while they will lose interest, and he’ll be able to preach a bit in Galilee without attracting too much attention. Don’t rock the boat; listen to people who know about these things . .

Jesus valued family, but his ministry is (thankfully) much more important. He stays with those who will listen and support, and goes on – for a time without his mother, brothers and sisters.

It’s an interesting bit of the gospel, and Mark makes clear that it is part of the story from very near the beginning. And it remains part of the gospel story in every time and place. Why would people be against something good? There are many reasons, but among them these two continue.

Vested interest – even in religion. How easily people become jealous of success, even of God’s blessing someone else. How easily offended some people are – even religious people. Be careful to recognise something good – even if you aren’t in control of it, even if you wish it had happened to you, or in your church . .  verses 28,29, about the sin against the Holy Spirit, are devastating. Don’t worry – you can’t commit the unforgivable sin by mistake! If you are concerned, you haven’t done it! This is about people who call evil, “good”; and good, “evil”. It is about saying “We’re right, and Jesus is with the Devil” Unforgivable, because it is turning into darkness, trying to turn the world upside down.

The second reason to be against good? The well meaning but wrong attitude: “I agree with you in principle, but it’s not practical”, “You’ve got to think about other people” – in other words, all the plausible excuses for not doing the right thing. God’s way is not easy. It will attract opposition. And Jesus sets out on it, inviting those who will to follow and join him. Are you coming?

Why read the Passion?

In many Churches this week we will read a longer passage, to follow through Jesus’ Passion story (Mark 14:1-15:47). To listen to this Passion story is to face 2 sides of reality.

One is the consistent failure of the people around Jesus.

  • Judas betrays him
  • the disciples don’t understand, fall asleep, desert
  • Peter denies him
  • the crowd want him crucified
  • Pilate doesn’t care to give him justice
  • soldiers and condemned prisoners mock him

Whatever is being achieved is not the result of human effort, offers no encouragement to depend on human goodness . .

The other side is sometimes forgotten. Jesus fights the battle against evil and death which he will win, but it is a most unusual war.

  • total casualties 1 dead
  • non fatal injuries 1 cut ear – healed immediately
  • psychiatric trauma all participants come to deal with reality better as a result of observation / participation
  • economic damage none, (unless the failure to avert the Jewish War a generation later is included, despite attempts by Jesus to avoid it). Some fishermen change trade.
  • political aftermath the Kingdom of God is established, but does not overturn other structures of government. Some officials with varying degrees of corruption are embarrassed.
  • lasting effects incalculable. The only war whose results are not buried by history.

Perhaps we begin to see why it had to be like that.  It is difficult to read, not because it is complicated, but – well, painful.  Yet this is the good news of Jesus.

Target?

We begin Lent with the story of Jesus temptation.  He has just been baptised by John (Matthew 3:13-17), recognised not only by the Baptist, but by the heavenly voice affirming him as Son.  Then the Holy Spirit leads him away from the crowds to the wilderness, and we read Matthew 4:1-11.  It is as if the heavenly father adds, “But before anything else, there are a few things you need to sort out, Son.”  His forty days of fasting and struggle, the origin of our Lent, remind us both of the cost of Jesus’ ministry and also the strength he brought to this work.

Sometimes we focus on the three particular temptations – things which have so often made leaders corrupt and compromised:

  • there is the temptation to make life comfortable, a compensation for the stress of leadership.
  • there is the temptation to be a celebrity – to use power to make people take notice and obey.
  • there is the temptation to be the person who makes God do miracles.

Some of these affect us, too, and we can usefully be warned off.  But there is another thing here we can miss.  Jesus is struggling.  There is a real fight – but against who?  Many expected a Messiah to fight the Romans, but we don’t hear Jesus attacking Pilate, the Roman governor.  Herod was criticised by John the Baptist, but Jesus will not be his enemy.  He will warn people against the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, religious teachers, but they are not to be fought.  Even Judas receives kindness.

We have to understand that the fight against temptation is a fight against evil, but not a fight against other people.  (Paul says this in another way in Ephesians 6:12). No matter how stupid, how difficult to deal with patiently and in love, the enemy is not another human (for whom Jesus lived, died and rose again!), but the evil at loose in the world.  Evil will appear as pride, anger, self-pity, or in many other disguises eg as if concerned about the rights of others.  The grace is to recognise evil and temptation as cheats, with half truths and false promises.  Then with God’s help, we can go the way of real life, and freedom.