Tag Archives: satan

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?

Authority – and conflict

Speaking about God can be a dangerous thing to do, and when Jesus goes to Capernaum synagogue, it causes quite a stir. (Mark 1:21-28)
First, there’s his style. He doesn’t talk like the rabbis of the time, quoting other scholars’ comments in a learned way, claiming the authority of their study and their official position. He talks about God as if he knows directly, and tells stories of ordinary life to explain God’s love – as a shepherd searching for lost sheep, or a father finding a lost son.

The official reaction might have been to dismiss an ignorant con-man, if it had not been for the second thing. Jesus demonstrates his authority, even over unclean spirits. You can’t ignore someone who successfully heals someone who was probably known in the community. You can see the beginnings of a conflict – Jesus threatens the status quo.

[Incidentally, we sometimes wonder about “evil spirits” and mental illness. The advance of psychiatry is a great blessing, and many of those obsessed with spirits and possession need a good doctor. There is a difference in this story, in that the spirit recognises Jesus, and has knowledge beyond that of the man possessed. Despite the “Hollywood effect”, (sensationalising and sometimes trivialising,) there is a difference, but spotting it needs care and experience, and discernment by someone who is not the patient.]

The healing of the possessed man also points to a more serious conflict – Jesus is taking on, not just the vested interests of the human religious establishment, but also the evil powers enslaving humanity.

Back to talking about God. Moses had spoken to the people about God (Deuteronomy 18:15-20), and they found him less frightening than the fire on the holy mountain. Deuteronomy speaks of another prophet, to speak for God. It is a dangerous position. The words of the prophet must be listened to; but to speak as if God had given the message when he had not is to be liable to death.
Speaking about God can be a dangerous thing to do. !

But of course, there is a good deal about danger in these readings. As we come to the end of Epiphany season, we realise not only that Jesus was shown to the world, and became known, in a number of ways:

  • Baptism,
  • calling disciples,
  • miracles,
  • teaching,
  • authority . .

but also that these things brought him into conflict. Part of the conflict was with people who wanted things to stay as they were – because they did well out of the status quo, or were afraid of what might happen, or couldn’t be bothered. Another, and perhaps better way of understanding that conflict was to see Jesus challenging evil – the darkness of fallen minds and bad customs, the evil of oppressive relationships, cruel poverty – in short, challenging the devil for supremacy on earth.

The violent metaphors for Christian life – battle, struggle, temptation, victory or defeat – are not the most popular now. As we look forward to Lent, we will find that Christian life cannot do without them, though they are not the whole story.

Speaking about God can be a dangerous thing to do. Even apart from the need to get it right, it brings us into the most fundamental conflict of all!

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.