“Come, Christ Jesus, flesh and spirit—sure foundation, cornerstone,
Help us form the church eternal, may Your vision be our own.
Send a message to each follower, lead all people to Your way.
Urge us to strong faith and action as we build the church today.”
from the hymn, “Come, Great God of All the Ages,” by Mary Jackson Cathey
Today I’m continuing with Mark, focusing again on just two verses: Mark 14:1-2.
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.”
(Mark 14:1-2 ESV)
It is really interesting to me to be starting the Lenten texts just after Christmas. It is a brand new year, just two days old, and as I opened my Bible this morning to continue my journey through Mark, Christmas hymns about the infant king were still in my thoughts. And then I read these words: “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him.” Boy, is that jarring—to go from the warm sentimentalism of “Silent Night” to the gut wrenching reality that this little baby nestled at his mother’s breast would one day be so hated and despised that crowds of people would cry out for his violent death.
Why? I wonder. Why did they hate him so?
I believe their hatred of Jesus boils down to a struggle for power. Over the centuries leading up to Christ’s birth, a religious system had developed that was based not on the spirit of God’s law, but rather on using God’s law to hold power over God’s people. And along came Jesus, bearing the fullness of God’s spirit in flesh, using his power to heal illness and disease, deliver those who were oppressed, and set captives free. Instead of using his power to lord his position over others, Jesus offered himself to the people as healer, teacher, and friend. His goodness, truth, and beauty were a direct affront to the system of power and control that the chief priests and the scribes were so accustomed to, and they hated him for it.
People were amazed at his teaching (Mark 1:27). They were drawn to his healing (Mark 1:33). And, with massive crowds looking on, Jesus exposed the true nature of the religious leaders, namely that they were hypocrites (Mark 7:6), hard-hearted (Mark 10:5), robbers (Mark 11:17), and more. The chief priests “feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching” (Mark 11:18). And over and over again, when they challenged his authority and tried to trip him up, Jesus responded with wisdom and knowledge so keen that the religious leaders knew his power was unmatched. The people they had lorded their power over for hundreds of years were listening to—and following—Jesus. The system of control was being upended, as justice and mercy and love replaced oppression and judgment and manipulation.
And they hated him. As they saw their power being taken away, they hated Jesus with a murderous hatred, a hatred so dark that they became consumed with his demise.
There is a word of warning for us here. The kingdom of God—the kingdom that Jesus embodied and taught during his ministry on earth—is counter cultural, and it is counter intuitive for every sinner on earth. Each of us has a kingdom in our hearts, and we want to be in power. And like the Pharisees, when God’s ways challenge our ways, a power struggle ensues. How will we respond?
I have seen power struggles arise in marriage, in church leadership, at family gatherings, and in business. I have watched good people feel their authority challenged and react with the same spirit as the chief priests and the scribes—clinging to whatever power they could hold on to, and hating anyone who challenges it. I have watched marriages crumble, churches crumble, family relationships crumble, and businesses crumble over power struggles, and I have been neck-deep in the toxic atmosphere that follows. It is devastating. And it is not the way of the kingdom of God.
At church on Sunday, I read these words from Ephesians 4:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
(Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)
“Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Being eager for unity means resisting the power struggle. It means trusting God. It means loving our enemies. It means dying to self, crucifying any sense of entitlement or rights. This is totally counter-intuitive for our human nature, but as we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ day-by-day, we will find that it becomes a little bit easier to “let things go.” In fact, I have found that choosing to be part of maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace brings such a swell of joy to my heart that I don’t even want to “win” or keep my position.
I want to honor God. I want to make peace. I want to extend fellowship to my enemy, and watch as love melts icy cold hearts, replacing frozen ground with fertile soil.
When it happens, it’s a miracle.
And it is the direct opposite of a power struggle.
Power struggles result in murderous hatred. If our struggle is with another person, we will hate them, perhaps only a little bit at first, but over time, we will hate everything they do, everything they say, everything about them. We may not seek to kill their bodies, but we might seek to destroy their reputation or their effectiveness in life/business/ministry. If our struggle is with God, it’s even worse. We will resent him when his ways are not our ways. We will distrust him and withhold our worship, our prayers, our hearts. This, of course, only hurts us, just like the hatred of the chief priests and scribes ultimately hurt them. It led them to crucify Jesus, but he rose again, victorious over their hatred, overcoming evil with these words: “Father, forgive them…” We might wound those we hate, but ultimately, hating others hurts us most of all.
One of my goals in the year ahead is to let Paul’s words from Ephesians 4, 5, and 6 serve as a guide and mirror for my posture toward others—especially in situations when conflict arises (which is unavoidable). It’s a call to humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. It’s a call to confronting conflict head on, in love, rather than sweeping things under the rug and letting them fester (which is what the religious leaders did, and which we are prone to do as well). Festering unforgiveness results in toxic bitterness, infecting us body, mind, and soul. But we are called to put off the old self, which is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:22-24).
Can you imagine how different our world would be if more people chose this way?
Blessings to you in the new year!