Tag Archives: Gospel

Whose Church is it anyway?

In Mark 9 John and the other disciples encounter a man who was going around doing good and working in Jesus name, he was working on the same side as the disciples.

His works spoke for themselves; we’re not told that he ever met Jesus or any of his disciples previously but his faith in his unseen saviour resulted in the power of the Holy Spirit being channelled through him to relieve suffering and yet they turned against him and prevented him from working.

Do we see God’s Church as only those churches who agree to our particular statement of faith? Are Evangelicals the only true Christians? Does the Church belong to Reformed churches or Eastern Orthodoxy? Anglican or Roman Catholic? Methodists or Baptists? Or to put it another way…Whose Church is it anyway?

The Church doesn’t belong to any particular group or denomination, the true Church belongs to Christ. But history shows that we often become jealous not for Jesus but for our branch of his church. Too often we’ve made an idol of our own peculiar way of doing or seeing things. Christians persecuting Christians for no other reason than that given by John in Mark 9:38; because he was not one of us.

Moses faced a similar problem when two elders; Eldad and Medad started prophesying in the camp in Numbers 11. Joshua, the man who was next in line to lead the nation, came to Moses and asked him to stop them; Moses replied:

Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them! (Num 11:28)

Who was Joshua jealous for? Was it for the sake of Moses, was it himself? It certainly wasn’t God. Christ’s in Mark 9:39 response is similar:

“…no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me for whoever is not against us is for us”

If he’s working in Jesus name then he’s not likely to be found speaking badly of Jesus and his movement, Paul completes the sentiment in Philippians 1:18 and takes it even further because he’s speaking about people working from false motives:

The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

There’s a war on, and if Jesus Christ himself says, as he does in verse 40, that the man is working on the Lord’s side who is anyone to argue? We can go further if we compare Mark 9:40 (whoever is not against us is for us) with Matthew 12:30 where Jesus says

He that is not with me is against me

All these statements taken together declare that there is no neutral position when it comes to our relationship with Jesus Christ and our chosen side in this war.

Sometimes we might see many evils resulting from religious dissensions and divisions but we mustn’t let that prevent us from rejoicing if Jesus is glorified, and if the works of the devil are defeated and souls are saved. It’s too easy to think small when we think of the church but it’s bigger than we can imagine, God is bigger than we can imagine and this war is bigger than we can imagine too.

It appears that the disciples didn’t comprehend what Jesus had called them into. The war is real and the actions that we take here and now in this temporary home of ours can and do have eternal consequences. They, like us, need to realise what is really going on and start thinking strategically like Moses, Jesus and Paul.

This remark on this passage makes interesting reading, particularly considering it’s author was a dissenting 17th century French Roman Catholic theologian:

Christ suffers many things in his Church which are done without his mission; but he makes them contribute to the establishment of his Kingdom” (Pasquier Quesnel)

This isn’t that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ but that the work of the church is down to Christ and not man, and he will use diverse means and people to perform the will of God.

It’s not fair.

Sometimes life is tough. Sometimes circumstances and occurrences are put in our path that cause the normal, everyday things of life to fade into the background or stop all together. We become crushed under the weight of emotion; anger, fear, worry, rage, stress and depression clog up the normal workings of body and mind to the point that it become hard just to keep standing.
Life isn’t fair.
It’s not fair that some live while others die. It’s not fair that a few are rich while many more languish in poverty, its not fair that some are punished unjustly while others get away with murder. It’s not fair!
Job knew more about suffering than most. Step by step he lost his wealth, family and health until he was left with nothing but his life. After some less than helpful advice from his friends he brings his complaints to the God he had so faithfully served. Rather than being met with sympathy God firmly puts Job in his place in a ‘smack down’ quite literally of biblical proportion. Over 4 chapters God challenges Job to understand his position in the world.

God revealed himself and forced Job to come to terms with his own weak and sinful state and his true standing before his awesomely holy and powerful God.

Then Job answered the LORD:

“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.”

Job 40:3-5

Job finally realises his true position under God and his wisdom and love and that whatever Job has lost it cannot be measured against the storehouses of the God he served. Ultimately Job repents of his failings

My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job 42:5-6

But just a moment, the book says right at the start that Job was ‘upright and blameless’ and that even in the depths of his sufferings he ‘did not sin in what he said’ (Job 2:10). So what has he done that is worthy of repentance?

Simply this; that he was, like you and I are, just another sinner. Just another human being living under the curse of sin and in need of a saviour. That a holy and righteous God would even have anything to do with mankind is one of the greatest mysteries of all time. Despite our cataclysmic moral collapse as a people following our perfect representatives (Adam and Eve) rebellion in the garden this same God still wants to know you and me, more than that, he loved us so much that he sent his only son to die and take the punishment that was due to us as a race. Talk about not fair…

I’m pretty sure that all this didn’t make Job feel much better about his losses. In fact I’m sure that his experience shaped his personality for many years following the events of his life recorded for us in the Bible. But perhaps that’s the whole point. God doesn’t send us troubles to destroy us but to build us up and to encourage us to rely on him for everything, sometimes though to build up properly you need to demolish a few things first.

If you think it’s not fair then you’re absolutely right, it’s not. There’s no way that we should have stand a chance, we, our whole race, should be dead, condemned by the curse of sin and yet God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…

Approaching Easter

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.

Edgar Andrews: Who Made God?
Tom Wright: Mark for Everyone