When the Kingdom Is Hard to See

The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew (from the Maestà), c. 1308-1311, Duccio di Buoninsegna. The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.
The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew (from the Maestà), c. 1308-1311, Duccio di Buoninsegna. The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.  Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

~ Mark 1:14—20

Jesus’ response

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.”  Strange that these two things are together: John being put into prison and Jesus preaching the good news.  John, Jesus’ cousin, came out of the desert wearing clothing made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist.  He ate locusts and wild honey, and claimed he had a message from God for his countrymen.  “Repent and be baptized so that your sins can be forgiven.”  He must have looked like a wild man, yet he caught the imagination of the whole Judean countryside, and they came out to be baptized by him.

Later in the gospel, Mark records the reason that John had been put into prison: he had angered Herod’s wife.  John recognized that the influence of Herod’s family was poisoning Israel.  Herod, his family, and his court all claimed to be Jews and yet they lived like pagans.  So John confronted their hypocrisy and criticized them publicly.  One of the most blatant examples of their immorality was the marriage of Herod to Herodias, his brother’s wife.  She had divorced her husband in order to marry Herod.  John called attention to this lapse in decency and called their marriage unlawful.  Herodias was furious and convinced her husband to put John in prison.

And in response to John being put in prison Jesus began proclaiming the good news saying, “The time has come.  The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!”  Actually, looking at things from the outside, it doesn’t look like God’s kingdom is advancing.  With the arrest of John, it looks like Herod’s kingdom is firmly established.  Immediately after this Jesus went walking, recruiting disciples to follow him and join the kingdom.  From outward appearances it does not look like the kingdom is on the advance.  Yet, Jesus is announcing it and working for it.

Our Response

I would love to live this way.  There is something really attractive about living above the circumstances and living victoriously in the face of difficulties.  Maybe that was the reason James and John, and Simon and Andrew were willing to drop everything and follow Jesus.  He called them to something above and beyond their everyday existence.  He called them to something that was not affected by the trials of life.  There were many things that went into my own decision to follow Christ, but certainly this was one of them.

I want to be able to see beyond the immediate circumstances—Jesus seems to have been able to do that.  I want to see the kingdom as clearly as Jesus saw it.  I don’t want to be stuck in this half-sight where men “look like trees walking around.”

There are some people who seem to be able to live that way: to always be praising God—always up, always saying things are great.  And yet, many times it feels like those Christians who claim to see beyond the circumstances are only play acting—engaging in wishful thinking.  Maybe people accused Jesus of the same thing.  He didn’t take John’s imprisonment seriously—he just went off and blithely proclaimed the kingdom.  Is that what should be called faith?  Mark will show us how intimately Jesus trusted the Father.  And we must trust, too.  But is trusting God simply going forward without really being able to see but acting as if you can?

It seems to me that Christians who take this approach make several mistakes.  The first is that they assume that by just pretending and ignoring the “facts” they are being spiritual.  Churches would never do this on purpose, but we often teach people to put on a false front because we emphasize what to do and how to act.  Acting right and saying the right things become more important than being honest about how we are really feeling.  In fact, honestly expressing concern, fear, or worry is often seen as a lack of faith.  The result is that we teach people how to “look like” they trust God instead of teaching them the deeper truths that will result in real trust.

The second mistake is that Christians refuse to see the true horror of a situation.  There is no way that we can honestly look at the passion of Christ and say that what happened was a good thing.  It is filled with the horror of human evil even though in the midst of that evil, God worked.

Finally, by not taking seriously the true horror of a situation in a fellow Christian’s life we can harm them greatly.  Well meaning friends often hurt those in agonizing situations when they say, “Just rejoice, God is in control—all things work for good!”  I have often had someone I’m counseling break down into tears because a friend has used that tactic on them.  The one in pain feels dismissed.  It feels like they are alone and no one cares or understands.  They certainly don’t buy the sentiment expressed.  One woman told me, ”it’s just something people say when they don’t want to listen anymore.”

One of the reasons that people don’t want to acknowledge the horror of a situation is that they want quick easy answers so they don’t have to actually enter into the pain of the other person.  But that is not what Jesus was doing.  He was not ignoring the pain.  He was not escaping the pain of John being in prison.

Jesus saw it.  He recognized it.  But he also recognized something else.  He recognized that what he was proclaiming was just as real and just as solid and just as immediate as John being put into prison.  In fact probably more real, more solid, more immediate.   And that’s why he proclaimed it and worked for it.

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