Sunday, 31 July 2011

Keep Your Eschatological Perspective

A common theme in both of Pete's letters is his 'eschatological perspective', i.e. his understanding of what is going on now in relation to the 'end times', when God brings everything to its proper conclusion. Phrases like 'ready to be revealed in the last time' (1 Peter 1:5) is just one of many examples of what I mean.

With such a perspective Peter calls on the members of the churches to be holy, to live godly lives, to endure sufferings, and to be prepared to talk about their hope. Peter is clear that we have a responsibility in the 'now', and that we should take that responsibility seriously because it prepares both us and the world for the eventual conclusion of all things.

2 Peter 3:3 onwards tells us that we need to keep a certain mindset, a frame of reference, in how we understand these things. Simply focussing on the 'now' together with recent history is not sufficient - it is a blinkered view. Rather we need to keep in mind the bigger picture of God's purposes - that we are working towards a proper conclusion intended by God.

Such a big picture mindset is both firmly grounded in the reality of today (not just pie in the sky thinking), but is also eagerly looking forward and awaiting the greater reality of God's purposes. Its a perspective we need to constantly keep in mind.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Mark the beginning

If you stick with the earliest manuscripts for Mark's gospel then the end is very abrupt - chapter 16 verse 8 leaves us with trembling and afraid women too scared to talk to anyone. Even with Mark's fast paced style, this hardly seems a fitting ending to the so-called 'greatest story every told'.

Incomplete though it may be, there is something appropriate about it. Mark started back in chapter one verse one with the phrase 'The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Messiah'. Now in chapter 16, Jesus has been born, has lived, died and risen again. The instructions in verse 7 are to gather the followers in Galilee, i.e. reconvene where we had left off, a place of mission and God's saving activity (just as in chapter one and onwards).

In other words 'the mission continues ...', and thus so will the good news that started in 1:1. To put in a nicely rounded ending to the book might actually miss this crucial point!

And what of the bewildered women? Well the death and resurrection massively shifted things up a gear in the scheme of God's purposes. Thats alot for anyone to take on board, and could rightly leave even the best of us speechless. The assumption is, however, that going forward we will not remain silent but instead play our part in the continuing mission, adding new chapters to the story that Mark began to document.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Where did all the blokes go?

Have you ever noticed how the men seem to disappear into the background through the crucifixion and resurrection in Mark's account? If you stick with the earliest manuscripts (and thus omit 16:9-20) the apostles are not on the scene at all. Joseph of Arimathea comes into the frame with a bold move, but apart from that it is now the women who make all the running.

They are there at the cross, seeing things through to the bitter end. They watch to see where the body is laid to rest. Furthermore they then return to ensure a fitting burial (with all the trimmings) after the pre-Sabbath rush-job. Even with practical details yet to be sorted (a stone to be rolled out the way), they set out anyway.

Where were all the men?

Even allowing the longer ending, the men exhibit unbelief on two occasions and have to be rebuked for it.

At such a crucial phase of the overall mission, it seems to be the women Christ-followers who stayed with the action. It seems to me that in fact they were the ones who were leading the way.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Satisfying the Crowd

Pilate released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to be crucified in order to 'satisfy the crowd' (Mark 15:15). The mob ruled, a great injustice was done, Pilate proved to be spineless.

The unfolding of the newspaper scandal over the past few days (weeks, years ...) has brought about a sense of public revulsion. Dodgy/illegal practices have been exposed, and as each new revelation comes to light the problem is understood to have run very deep.

Yet I would imagine that at the time many of the journalists and possibly executive staff who were involved believed that they were simply satisfying the crowd. The News of the World was clearly successful, outstripping its rivals by far, largely because of its history of scoops and exposures. The public had an appetite for this kind of stuff.

That does not excuse their practices though. They went beyond what was right and cultivated a murky world. Rather than showing moral leadership for the country, they became corrupt in themselves.

Being in any position of influence, leadership or authority requires good character, being beyond reproach. We see that in expectations of leaders in the Old Testament, as well as the stated requirements for leaders in the New. It requires people in those positions to 'do the right thing' and not simply to 'satisfy the crowd'.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Say it Like it Is

Sometimes you may wonder why you didn't keep your big mouth shut. And yet other times you are absolutely right to say it how it is.

Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53-65) seems to stay pretty quiet while a string of half-baked accusations are played out. The various statements and testimonies did not agree, so the trial was going nowhere. All Jesus had to do was remain quiet.

Yet in v62 he chooses to answer. Not just with an 'I am' (which in reality probably did not amount to that much since most likely various people had claimed to be the messiah over the years) but with an appropriation of the prophecy of Daniel 7 (see verse 13-14).

Man oh man. Why did he have to say that? Why didn't he just keep quiet a bit more? Associating with Daniel 7 equated him with God-like status that went beyond being another messiah-pretender. Torn robes and condemnation were the sure result. Jesus just certified himself as one worthy only of crucifixion.

And yet in v66f Peter in effect also keeps quiet. He doesn't say it how it is.

One man pursues his calling and purpose. Another is left in tears.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


For most of us, life presents us with plenty of choice and all kinds of possibilities. Choice, choice, choice. Just go to the supermarket to buy some loo roll - and see how much choice you have! Will you go for the soft option?

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane also had choice and saw alternative possibilities. In Mark 14:36 he says 'Father everything is possible for you ...'. Everything is possible, indeed with faith as small as a mustard seed things can be sooooo different.

Yet Jesus also understood that in God's purposes there is 'a way', in this case one particular way. To have faith in God was not to stand back at a vast array of inviting options and say 'I'll take that one please ...', but rather to deliberately go the one way, which in this case was nothing like the soft option.

Is that 'big' faith or a particular kind or quality of faith? A faith in God and His ways; His ways that choose a path through all the myriad possibilities that leads truly to a better future.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Clear out the dead wood

An aspect of Jesus' ministry that we seem reluctant to apply to our own setting is how Jesus seemed intent in identifying and clearing out the dead wood. Like many I am bemused by the fig tree business (e.g. Mark 11:12-14, 20-21), but I am increasingly convinced that it is symbolic of the unfruitfulness of the Jewish people in general.

The clearing of the temple courts, and the parable of the tenants in Mark 12 support this, pointing even to damning judgement on the whole system (Mark 13).

The problem is, of course, that it is easy to point the finger back 2000 years and say 'well they got it wrong' and yet assume that no such parallel might exist today. Can our own unfruitfulness be totally excused?

Paul seems to have understood this in some way. In 1 Corinthians 9:23 he sums up his work for the sake of the gospel so that 'I may share in its blessings'. In other words Paul appears to entertain the possibility that he might somehow miss out. It strikes me that if Paul of all people figured that he might miss out, then how much more the rest of us?