Sorry God, That’s Asking a Little Too Much

Posted: November 15, 2009 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
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By Matt Horanflying-car

Do you remember when the year 2000 was a really big deal?  Remember all of the stuff that we were supposed to have in the year 2000?  Flying cars.  Cars that drive by themselves.  Phones where you can see the person you’re talking to.  I remember the movie, “2001, A Space Odyssey.”  It’s about a manned mission to Jupiter.  I don’t think we’re too close to that.

Now, maybe those inventions just didn’t pan out.  Too tough to invent, to expensive, etc.  Or, maybe we decided that we just didn’t want that innovation.  I mean, flying cars are a good idea until the kid next door turns 15, gets his learners permit, and starts flying over your house on the way home every day.  (However, one was spotted on Google Earth not long ago.) Or the video phone.  I’m sure that we’re capable of that, but think of the ramifications.  When someone is coming over to the house, we clean the house as if we’re trying to destroy the evidence of a crime or something.  We scrub and mop and vacuum at a totally different level when people are coming over.  Can you imagine the implications of a video phone?  Girls, take your shoes up to your room.  You never know when someone might call.  Hey, get dressed, the phone could ring any minute.  Hey, I’m going to take a shower—nobody answer the phone!

Just as we have selective innovation, we also have selective understanding.  In the 8th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, is seems that there were some realizations that Jesus followers—and Mark’s readers—just didn’t want to have.  Jesus time and again explained things, but those who heard him seemed to consistently respond, “No, that can’t be right.”

Mark chooses his words carefully in chapter 8.  It’s easy to get lost in the narrative, to simply follow the chain of events, but let’s look closely.  Mark is writing around 70 AD, or soon thereafter, to a church, probably around the area of Caesarea Philippi.  A lot is going on at this time.  In 64 AD, the Roman Emperor, Nero, had begun to blame the Christians for many of the Empire’s problems, and began a fierce persecution.  It was during this persecution that both Peter and Paul were martyred.

At the same time, there was a revolt going on where the Jews were trying to overthrow the Romans and force them out of Jerusalem.  During this revolt, Caesara Philippi was used by the Romans as a prisoner of war camp, and many of the revolutionaries were tortured and executed there.  In fact, the Jewish Temple had just been destroyed—it was truly a low point for Israel.

So think of the position of the Christians.  In the first century there was not an entirely clear distinction between Jews and Christians—Christianity was seen by most as a sect of Judaism.  But by 70 AD, in the midst of the persecution and the revolution, neither the Romans or the Jews had much more patience for the growing Christian movement.  They were no longer welcome in the synagogues, no longer able to visit the Temple, and no longer under the protection of the unspoken agreements by which the Romans allowed the Jews to worship in their own ways.  It had thus far not really been easy to be a Christian, but now it seemed that there were more and more reasons every day to not be one.  It was to these people, despised and rejected, that he wrote.       Consider the story of a blind man whose sight is restored.  People bring him to Jesus, and they beg him to “touch him.”  Jesus does a curious thing.  He spits in the man’s eyes, and then touches him.  This spitting was a common practice for traveling magicians of the day.  The man looks up, but he says, that the people look like “trees walking around.”  This man sees, but he does not understand.  The seeing isn’t quite enough—he doesn’t understand what he is seeing.

So Jesus puts his hands on the man again, but no spitting.  No common tricks this time.  Now, Jesus really opens the man’s eyes, and he is able to finally understand.  The verse says that he was able to see “everything clearly.”  In Greek, this word translated “clearly,” is “telaugus.”  This is the only place in the entire Bible that this word appears.  It’s a combination of two words.  First, the word “telos,” meaning “ending” or “purpose,” like when we ask, “to what end?”  Second, the word “aug,” means “light.”  A more exact translation would say that the goal of this healing was for Jesus to give an understanding of where things were headed.

Now continue reading from the standpoint of a Christian living in hostile territory near a POW camp.  Jesus and the apostles go to Caesara Philippi, and Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?”  A dangerous question when Jesus asked it—an even more dangerous question in the day of Mark’s readers.  Peter announces his view that Jesus is the Christ.  Then however, we see this:

New International Version:  “Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.”

New American Standard Bible: “And He warned them to tell no one about Him.”

King James Version: “And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.”

New Revised Standard Version: “And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.”

Jesus seems to clearly say to his disciples in Caesara Philippi, read 50 years later by his disciples in Caesara Philippi, to keep Jesus’ identity a secret.  Can you imagine the relief that the readers in Caesara Philippi would have felt?  “Oh what a relief!  We can keep Jesus’ identity a secret and save our necks!”

The Greek word translated “anyone” or “no one” above is a form of “mede.”  This word sometimes has a sense of duration with it, as if to say, “be in a period of not telling anyone.”  Since durations all come to an end, keep in mind, as you move into the last passages of chapter 8, perhaps it might be appropriate to add, to Jesus’ admonition of silence, “yet.” Mark’s readers’ relief might be short lived…

Then, Jesus begins teaching them that he must suffer and die, and then, in verse 32, it says that Jesus spoke of these things “quite plainly.”  No more secrecy.  He wasn’t here to announce who he was, but he was not hesitant to announce his impending suffering.  Peter argues with him about this, and Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!”  It means, “line up behind me,” Peter.  Arguing against this destiny is evil.  He instructs them to “take up their cross and follow me,” when, in fact, people around the time of this writing were doing that very thing.  Peter and Paul had done it by now.  Mark’s letter went to scared people who needed to hear that sacrifice was a part of discipleship.  They all expected to have Jesus return in their lifetime, but they were watching as the giants of their faith—James, Paul, Peter, Stephen, and others—were dying without ever having the chance to see Jesus’ return.  What did this mean?  What were they to do?

Mark’s writing here shows the listener—seeing is one thing.  The apostles saw Jesus do a lot of things.  But they needed him to give them understanding in order to press on and follow.  Once they understood that discipleship was a lifetime of commitment and persistence and challenge—an understanding unlocked by the Holy Spirit—they were able to follow Jesus anywhere, even to persecution and torture and death if need be.  Following Christ is not a club membership.  It’s a fundamental reorientation of your life that no longer leaves it oriented around yourself.

So now, hear the challenge in 8:34-38 through the ears of a first century believer in the midst of persecution and rejection and war.  Hear it as a person who wasn’t so sure that it was a good move to claim to be a part of this tiny sect:  “And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?  For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Perhaps this secrecy is a starting place for faith—but it is not where we are to end up.  To really follow Christ is to let it cost us something.  Then, once it costs us something, we will begin to find the life that we’ve been trying in vain to find on our own.

What are you doing to save your life?  What are you doing in the interest of self preservation?  Is your life in need of a fundamental reorientation?  Have you drawn a line in the sand over which God should not cross?  “Sorry God, that’s asking a little too much.”  Or are you willing to finally let being a Christian cost you something, so that, at last, you can have the life of significance that you have craved, and that God has dreamed for you?

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