Tag Archives: victory

Journey’s End – and God’s victory

The picture in the second part of Revelation 7 (Revelation 7:9-17) is pretty crowded, but it gives a welcome sight of the Victory of God, and of our journey’s end.

Christians can be rather inclined to self-pity, which for those of us in western countries today is rather odd – life in the first century was much harder for the faithful! Remember that Revelation is the vision given to a man living in exile. Earlier in this chapter (Revelation 7:2-4) we are told of destructive powers held back for “sealing” of 144,000. These are not the total number of Christians, but represent the martyrs. The seal does not prevent their death, but protects against “accidental” death, so that their witness (martyrdom) may be accomplished.

If that is rather sombre, we quickly move on to the multitude who are celebrating victory, their triumphant passage through persecution. They wear white robes

  • which , reinforced by their holding palm branches, are symbols of victory
  • and also symbols of purity (they are “washed . . in the blood of the Lamb”. All Saints are sinners, pure because of forgiveness and grace, gained from the sacrifice Jesus made of himself)

And who are this joyful crowd? They are the ones who have come through the “great tribulation” (“terrible persecution” in GNB) – not just hardship and death, but conflicts of loyalties: faith and family / social position / demands of the state / self interest. They have come through, and kept the faith, and their reward is appropriate, magnificent and eternal (verses 15-17). They are not only the famous figures of Christian history, but all the faithful, and as in this vision we see them in heaven, so we have the encouragement of seeing where we are going, and what will get us there.

The Climax

(There is also a Dialogue Sketch on this gospel passage, which you can read here.)

If you watch films classified as “Thriller”, or read paperbacks, you expect a Climax: chase, showdown. But you don’t know how it will start, or what form it will take.  This week, Passion Sunday, we find out how the gospel will climax.  Jesus will die.

The arrival of “Greeks” (John 12:20-33) – probably not Jews – seems to make Jesus aware of what is coming, and he talks of the death of a grain of wheat, and recoils in horror, (verse 27), before seeing the glory of God in this.

This is the climax of the gospel. This death, unjust, inhumanly cruel, marking the apparent victory of all that is against Jesus and the Kingdom he announces – this is the glory of the Son of God. That is exactly what they mean. Jesus is not going to march into Jerusalem as King and replace Herod, or Pilate, or even the High Priest. He will allow himself to be captured, condemned, flogged, and crucified. Then he will rise. No wonder he hesitates.

We still find this odd, and also recoil. How can this be? What sort of success is this? The answer is history – history we prefer to forget! Jesus’ Kingdom does last, and offer better hope to all, than any other.

And then there is this odd verse about judgement. John 12:31 “Now is the time for this world to be judged; now the ruler of this world will be overthrown.”  How can the cross bring judgement? Remember John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its saviour”. What does this mean? John seems to be saying that the cross brings, not a judgement of demons carrying you away to the furnace, but – well compare

  • John 12:47 “If people hear my message and do not obey it, I will not judge them. I came, not to judge the world, but to save it.”
  • John 12:48 Those who reject me and do not accept my message have one who will judge them. The words I have spoken will be their judge on the last day!
  • And John 9:39 Jesus said, “I came to this world to judge, so that the blind should see and those who see should become blind.”

There is judgement for those who fail to see in the crucified Lord the Saviour – Messiah, Suffering Servant, Son of God. That the judgement is a missed opportunity, a continuing in darkness, makes it no less terrible. It does not make Jesus a punitive figure, the main actor in a “Sting” operation to catch the unwary. He remains the sign of God’s love, the costly opening of the door to life. But to refuse the life he offers is to take a dark and terrible way, and represents a most terrible judgement, equal, and greater, to the terrors he endured for us.

The Gospel is a thriller. Its climax comes at the Cross. At one and the same time, the Cross brings freedom, and judgement to those who will not take it.

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.

Peace -? (Proper 15, Pentecost 13)

Peace seems a long way off. Terrorist violence, superpower shuffling, unstable governments. We want peace, but not at any price.

Then we read Luke 12:49-56 and wonder what hope there is.

Jesus has come to a crisis point in his ministry.  Jesus who never welcomed conflict, nor compromised with evil, is aware of growing conflict. He is the “Prince of Peace” of whom Isaiah spoke (9:6f), yet knows his ministry is causing division, and will cause violence – which he will take on himself, rather than inflict it on others. That certainly is peacemaking! But it is a long way from the “gung ho” ideas of popular Jewish Messianic expectation: a military hero, to throw out the Romans and bring an age of peace and plenty for all Jews.

So let’s ask: What peace can we expect now, and what not? We already have:

  • reconciliation – forgiveness, sorting out relationships
    with God, and with ourselves (if God can forgive, I must try also)
    and with other people (even if some will not accept it)
  • a sense of purpose, knowing our place as God’s children, with his service to keep us busy, and his people as family to whom we belong
  • an answer to war and violence in common service. We don’t seek the surrender of A to B, or B to A, nor the survival of strongest, but the need for all to submit and answer to God, and work as servants of one master.

We do already have a great deal of peace to be thankful for. BUT this isn’t heaven, and we have not yet “arrived”. There are some aspects of peace for which we are still waiting:

  • an end to temptation. (If temptation doesn’t disturb your peace, check to make sure you haven’t given in totally!) There is a fight on here, with no thought of a truce!
  • we know that Jesus has won the victory, but we await the disarming of those who will not choose to serve him. Our peace will be disturbed by those who are deliberately evil, and those who are careless and unaware of their need to repent and serve the King

For the moment, we have reason to look forward to a time when justice happens for everybody, when there is love – and peace. We have a good deal already, and there is some “not yet” to wait and pray for.