It’s common now to hear the call to keep religion private. Out of schools, out of work and out of public life altogether.
Evangelism is frowned upon and we’re encouraged to a kind of private piety, to keep God in a little box, only to be opened at home and in church.
In Mark 10:35-45, James and John want to turn Jesus final journey into a march to glory in which they see themselves seated on either side of him when he reigns as king.
The brothers clearly thought that Jesus talk about death and resurrection in the previous passage was like the parables, only a picture of what was to come. Perhaps meaning that things were going to be tough, but that it would all work out in the end.
But the Easter weekend wasn’t just a difficult episode for Jesus to deal with on the way to a happy ending, it is the end itself, God’s way of turning worldly power and authority on it’s head.
When Jesus quotes Isaiah’s Servant Song in verse 45 he’s making the point that the Kingdom of God turns the worlds ideas of power and glory upside down and inside out.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t just about God forgiving our sins because of Jesus death, although that’s the central message. At a higher level it’s God’s way of putting the world to rights by challenging and subverting all of the human systems which try (and inevitably fail) to do the same thing.
Richard Dawkins says in his 1989 book The Selfish Gene
“Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish”
This is man’s way and the fundamental misunderstanding behind so many misguided attempts to make the world right; that mankind can be reformed by giving them moral laws and instructions to obey.
Without God, with no moral absolute those values that Professor Dawkins wants to teach have no meaning anyway, why is generosity and altruism ‘right’ and selfishness wrong if selfishness makes me happy and content and gets me what I want? Who is Dawkins to say what is right and wrong?
He’s missed the central message of the Old Testament – that mankind cannot be reformed simply by giving them moral laws and instructions to obey. We learn that lesson over and over throughout the history of Israel.
The old covenant, under the law that God established with Israel and Mount Sinai epitomized the principle of loving our neighbour as we love ourselves, this is the entire thrust of the last six of the ten commandments (the first four exhort us to love God).
Israel was set up as the perfect and intentional test bed for the idea that you can make people good by teaching them to be good. It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.
The test failed intentionally, to serve as an example to both them and us. Time and time again God has to deal with his people because even the best of them who are held up for our inspection don’t, and can’t get it without God’s grace.
That’s why we are presented with a new covenant, predicted by Jeremiah and cited by the writer to the Hebrews: (Hebrews 8:8-12)
A person’s heart can never be changed by mere instruction, no mater how good and noble the teaching (If God couldn’t do it, what chance do we have?). It can only be changed by a new birth in which the Spirit of God himself takes up residence in the heart and mind of a person.
Writing his own moral law, just as he did on Sinai but this time not on perishable stone tablets but on our lives and giving us the desire to love and obey him through the forgiving of our sin by the atoning death and justifying resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The reason that James and John misunderstood Jesus is the same reason people are desperate to find a Jesus without Easter. Easter calls into question all human pride and glory. It is a profoundly public and political message, and a dangerous one at that.