The truth is always important. It was the Greek dramatist Aeschylus writing 500 BC, who first brought us the statement that: ‘in war, truth is the first casualty’ and here, Jesus is declaring that there is a war taking place. It is a war that is raging around us every moment of every day and is one that seeks to neutralise the truth of the identity of the name of Jesus, his power and his authority. This is one of the first moments in Mark’s account of the life of Jesus where the Lion roars. Jesus speaks very directly about the dangers of seeing and speaking of God’s goodness as evil. Even his own family think he’s mad and needs ‘reigning in’. Why might that be? How about some of these for starters:
He’s left a successful family business, he has the wrong friends, he regularly infuriates and places himself in danger with the authorities by what he says and does and he has thrown away security, society and safety. So intent where the authorities in diminishing, binding and smothering his ministry even at this early stage, that they have travelled over 70 miles to testify that the only reason Jesus can be doing what he is doing, is through the power of evil. And so, the Lion roars. It’s a call for us all to wake up! Wake up and take notice.
Jesus does not enter into a debate over where evil might originate, he just gets on with how to deal with it and calls us to do the same. The reality is that any kingdom, house or church that is divided against itself is lost. It was true then and it is true now. Division spells disaster. We see the truth of this it at work in the political sphere almost every waking day. Society at that time was used to men of authority engaging in exorcism and driving out evil spirits and it was based upon one single premise. The force driving out the evil was stronger than the evil that was already present. If Satan was driving out himself then his end had already come. Jesus makes a clear statement that His power and authority comes from the goodness of God. His power is stronger than anything else that exists, and woe betide anyone who would call the goodness of God, evil. Do not confuse truth with a lie, for once we enter into a conspiracy theory, there is no way back, as all evidence then becomes tainted and supports the undermining and distortion of the truth.
The Holy Spirit enables us to recognise the wonder and the truth of God. We need to understand that and use it. When I broke my Pelvis, I was unable to move at all for about 6 days. I lost the power to walk and had to decide that I wanted to learn how to again; that the freedom of walking was more powerful than the pain I feared would come as I tried to do so. If we live in the dark too long, we lose our sight and if we constantly refuse God’s guidance then we will lose the ability to recognise the truth. In cases of fraud, the victims and bystanders always ask the question: how did this deception take place? The answer is invariably because they didn’t see that it was. I spoke on Trinity Sunday about the danger of deliberately choosing to misunderstand. Jesus is confronting the leaders and the crowd with the fundamental question of his identity. It’s simple enough. He is who he says he is or he is an absolute imposter. There is no middle way. There wasn’t then and there isn’t today. The world would seek to neutralise Jesus and the power of his name and identity; to make him and keep him as a good man, a good teacher, an interesting historical figure. CS Lewis wrote that this is ‘patronising nonsense. He has not left that option open to us and He did not intend to.’
With the Lord’s blessing
I have always marvelled at how God’s word remains so far ahead of our ‘modern’ thinking. It shouldn’t really surprise us. Palm 139 reminds us that God has created us, so surely it follows that He would know what is best for us and why. In the account from Mark’s gospel Jesus tackles the subject of rest, relaxation and recuperation as He focuses on worship, healing and sustenance.
Modern science and wholistic practices reiterate the importance of rest and good sleep. When the body is deprived of sleep, it is unable to rebuild and recharge itself adequately. Our bodies require rest. I know that; you know that, but how good are we at responding to that? My family are now listening intently to what I will say next, for they know that this is an issue in my life and particularly so in recent years. The truth is that God has designated rest time into our lives. He designed a sabbath day to bless us with opportunity, to allow our souls to ‘return’ home to him and to remind us that life does not revolve around us and our level of productivity. But as usual, the Pharisees had taken hold of what God had decreed and sucked all the joy out of it. For the Pharisees, rules took centre stage. They controlled everything and if we are not careful we can easily follow their lead by creating our own. Once again, Jesus draws attention to a radical new way of living life. That relationship supersedes rules and religion every time and a healthy relationship with Father God must be a priority. He and his disciples had not broken the law, only the Pharisees interpretation of it and Jesus reminds them most strongly as to why it is there. We need to rest our bodies, recharge our batteries through relaxation – doing things we like to do and to recuperate our spirits by focussing on God.
Jesus affirmed his belief in a sabbath in a bold and direct way. He speaks boldly and directly to the religious leaders and His instruction to the man in the synagogue is bold and direct. ‘Come forward’- show yourself to be different. ‘Stretch out your hand’ – reach out to me.
The Sunday trading act of 1994 transformed the lives of every UK citizen overnight by fundamentally changing and creating a new work cycle. Sleepy, quiet, restful Sunday’s disappeared overnight. Did the sabbath day disappear with it? Only if we allow it. A sabbath day is meant to bless us, so for those of us who have to work on a Sunday, then we need to choose when we take it. For many, Sunday’s have had to become another day of the working week but whenever and wherever it is possible we still need to gather as church for this encourages us and those around us. This is not dependent upon whether I do a ‘good job’ or not, but upon us coming expectantly and at the disposal of the Holy Spirit to speak to us, strengthen and bless us. Giving him 80 minutes of your life once a week is a good start. God always makes a difference when we let Him, and He desires to make a difference for you and for me, that we might live our lives to the full and He knows exactly how to do that. A sabbath creates an opportunity for us to ‘hang out’ with God, unencumbered and pre-occupied with other ‘stuff’. Space to enjoy getting into the Bible; if you don’t think it’s possible to enjoy doing that then it’s probably a good sign that you need to.
A sabbath reminds us that life is not all about personal productivity and that God needs to be at the centre of our lives. It removes our autonomy and allows us to embrace our dependence upon our creator. It calls us to ‘Come forward’ and to ‘stretch out our hand’ to the one who made us that we might experience Him in all His fullness. Help me God to honour your gift and to receive all you have for me.
With the Lord’s blessing
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale