You may like to know I have started work on a new site called two Kingdoms at www.2kingdoms.org.uk. This is themed around the kingdom of God.
In Douglas Adams’ series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the final message as the dolphins leave planet earth is, ‘So long, and thanks for all the fish’. Apparently, these intelligent beings, who could never work out why mankind spent their time working for more when they could be enjoying what they had, had got wind of the fact that the Vogons were about to blast the earth to smithereens. So they built some spaceships and left, thanking man for all the fish they had fed them before they left.
I have always enjoyed the slightly bizarre humour of The Hitchhiker’s Guide. However, while I am not leaving planet earth, and the Vogons devastation of the planet has so far been postponed, this is a form of goodbye.
My year long experiment has come to an end. It has not reached those I hoped it would, and while doing my series on Mark I spent time thinking through what to do with this site. Could I make it more appealing? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Why was I doing this anyway? Part of the answer that came back was that I was looking to do something, and this was something.
However, I also had a nag that this was also a way of being busy and hiding my search for what God would really have me do. I have the sense that I should be looking for the need near me. To ‘find my own Calcutta’, to use Mother Teresa’s phrase, or to ‘love the one’ to quote Heidi Baker – or even love my neighbour, to quote a certain carpenter from Nazareth. However I looked at it, it was the person next to me, and not the person on the other side of an anonymous cloud, that seemed to be calling.
Of course, this begs the question ‘who is my neighbour’, or more specifically, who is the one I should be loving? If this were an easy question, perhaps I would not be here now, I would be doing it. However, without the need to post a blog I suspect I will find it harder to avoid that question. I suspect this journey will be slow, painful, and frustrating, but it is, I believe, the next step for me.
It has been great sharing my journey. It has been great to know that some people were listening. But it is time to call it a day. And so, I’d just like to say, so long, and thanks for all the fish.
Jesus was dead. There was no question. Dead and buried in a tomb with a heavy stone against the door. But the women disciples were not happy. It had all been done too quickly due to the sabbath approaching. So, when the sabbath was over, they bought spices to prepare his body properly. Better late than never.
So, early on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb. A little unprepared, as they had not worked out how they would be able to roll away the stone from the entrance. However, when they got there the stone had already been rolled back.
When they entered the tomb, they were alarmed to see a man, dressed in white. But he said, “Don’t be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Go, tell his disciples, not forgetting Peter, that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him – just as he told you.” By now their fear had completely overcome them and they ran away.
And this is where Mark ends his telling of the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God.
The film ‘The Italian Job’ ends on a cliffhanger: A coach, loaded with gold, hanging precariously over a precipice. It is one of the most memorable film endings I have seen – and also one of the most frustrating. You know this cannot be the end, but you are left hanging, like the coach.
Mark’s hearers know it is not the end as they themselves are the proof of that. But Mark ends abruptly, seemingly mid-story. It is a frustrating end, and there have been several attempts to remedy Mark by adding various endings. Yet Mark seems to deliberately leave on a cliff hanger, posing the question: How did such weak disciples end up turning the world upside down?
This story ends with weak, failing, disciples being called back to meet Jesus where he first appeared, and where the story can start again. Jesus had shown them what to do. Jesus had shown them what it cost. But Jesus also showed them that the world was now different. The kingdom of God was breaking in and they were now living between his resurrection and his return as acknowledged king. For the disciples this made a difference.
We are called to be those disciples.
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it grows up it becomes the greatest of all shrubs, so that even the birds can make nests in its shade. (Mark 4)
It was the quiet before a storm and Jesus was enjoying his meal, when a woman came into the room where he was, and poured a fragrant oil all over him. Some of the onlookers were indignant – it could have been sold to help the poor, but Jesus said, “You will always have the poor, but you will not always have me. She has anointed me for burial and this act will be remembered”. At this, Judas Iscariot had had enough. It was becoming a farce and needed to be stopped, so he left to seek out the city leaders.
It was around the time of Passover, a feast where the Jews remembered their deliverance from slavery. It took the death of every firstborn in Egypt, but they were spared through the sacrifice of a lamb, and they repeated this sacrifice each year in memory of God’s deliverance. Now, on the day the lambs were sacrificed, they were eating a meal, and Jesus took a loaf of bread, and broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body”. Then he took a cup, and gave it to them to drink from and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out.”
After that, Jesus went out to Gethsemane with some of his disciples and he was deeply distressed. He said to them, “Remain here, and keep awake”. He then went off to pray. “Abba, Father, remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want”. He returned and found the disciples sleeping, and said, “Could you not keep awake one hour?” Again he went away and prayed, and once more he found them sleeping on his return. A third time, this happened, when he said to them, “Are you still sleeping? The hour has come, let us meet my betrayer”. Just then Judas arrived with an armed crowd, and they arrested Jesus – at which point, all of Jesus’ disciples fled.
They took Jesus to the high priest who questioned him. When asked if he was the Messiah, Jesus said, “I am; and you will see me seated at the right hand of God, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” The high priest decided that they need hear no more. Jesus had condemned himself.
As soon as it was morning they handed Jesus over to Pilate. He was unsure of Jesus’ conviction, but the chief priests had stirred up the crowd, who shouted, “Crucify him!” So, Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, had him flogged and handed him over to be crucified.
The soldiers clothed him in a purple cloak and a crown of thorns, and mocked him. After they had had their fun, they brought him to a place called Golgotha where they crucified him. The charge against him just read: ‘The King of the Jews’. While he was dying, darkness descended upon the land. When Jesus died, several hours later, the temple curtain, separating God from humanity, was torn in two, and when the centurion guard saw the way Jesus died, he said, “Surely, he was a son of God!”
(Mark 14:1 − 15:41)
As Jesus approached Jerusalem, things appeared to be coming to a head. His disciples hoped that he would be made king, and that God’s kingdom would be established, and as they drew near the people were cheering and shouting. Things were looking promising. Or rather, they would have done apart from the absence of any of the city leaders. Even for an important Roman they would have come out to greet him, but for Jesus, nothing. Perhaps it was too much to expect, but Jesus had given the city its chance, and it had not taken it. Jesus was being rejected, and so on arriving, he had a quick look around, and then left.
The next day they returned to Jerusalem, and Jesus entered the temple and drove out those who were buying and selling. It was his dramatic protest at the temple becoming a market for the benefit of the elite instead of the house of prayer for all the nations that God intended.
Jesus told the following parable: “A man planted a vineyard and he leased it to tenants and went away to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to collect his share of the produce. But the tenants seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another slave, and that one they killed. And this was repeated with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. Finally he sent his beloved son, thinking they would at least respect his son. But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!’ So they seized the son and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
The leaders understood that Jesus was saying this against them – they had rejected him, and so God would reject them. They were incensed, and would have had him arrested, but they feared the crowd, who still held Jesus in high regard.
Later on, when Jesus was alone with his disciples they asked him to explain when he was to be made king, for they had hoped the city would welcome him, but it had not. Jesus replied, “Don’t be led astray. When you hear of wars don’t be alarmed, this is only just the beginning of the birth pangs of my kingdom. You will be handed over to the courts and be beaten because of me. Nonetheless, the good news of the kingdom must be proclaimed to all the nations.
“After that, the powers in the heavens will be shaken and everyone will see me arriving in the clouds with great power and glory. This time, there will be no mistaking my coming. God will gather his elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven to welcome me.
“Learn from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So, when you see these things happening, you will know that my coming is near. But only the Father knows the day or hour. So, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”
Jesus was not quite the messiah his disciples expected. They were expecting a king to lead Israel into a triumphant victory over the Romans, but this was not how Jesus saw it. In fact, he was turning everything upside down. He was teaching that he must suffer, be rejected, and die. Peter was not at all sure about this and tried to correct him, so Jesus had to reminded Peter that he was his follower, and not the other way around: Peter needed to focus on what God was doing and not what he thought God should be doing.
Jesus went on to say, “If anyone wants to become my follower, then let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me – even to death. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life, for my sake, will save it.”
Around this time, many people were bringing their children to him to bless them, but the disciples drove them away. When Jesus realised he said, “Let the children come to me; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Another example of Jesus’ upside down view of the kingdom occurred when, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him what he must do to enter the kingdom. Jesus replied, “You lack only one thing; go, sell what you have, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the man heard this, he was saddened, for he had many possessions with which he did not want to part, and so he went away grieving. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “It is hard for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God, but even then, for God all things are possible!”
The disciples had spent several years with Jesus, and still they did not understand him. They were travelling to Jerusalem and some of them thought that Jesus was to at last claim his kingdom, and so they argued amongst themselves as to who would have top position in the kingdom. So Jesus called them over and said, “You know that among the non-Jews, those whom they recognise as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones become tyrants, but it is not to be so among you. Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For I came not to be served but to serve, and to give my life a ransom for many.”
As the disciples walked with Jesus on their last long journey with him, they had much to think about…
(Mark 9:30 − 10:52)
Some things cannot be contained, and Jesus appeared to have no intention of trying. Like an overflowing river he honoured no Jewish boundary, but allowed his message to spill over into non-Jewish areas. Yet, if this was God’s ‘good news’ of the coming kingdom and the restoration of Israel, why did Jesus seem so unconcerned about who heard it? It was a puzzle, but by no means the biggest puzzle confronting his disciples.
One evening he decided that they should leave Galilee and go across to the other side of the lake. As they were crossing a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat against their boat, so that the boat was taking in water and they were in danger of sinking. Now, while this was going on Jesus was asleep, undisturbed, at the back of the boat. His disciples were afraid and so they woke him, but when he awoke he rebuked the wind, and told the sea to be still. Immediately, the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm, and the disciples were filled with awe – for nobody had ever heard of anyone commanding the wind and sea before.
So they arrived at the largely non-Jewish side of the lake, and while Jesus was getting out of the boat, a demonised man came from the tombs and met them. The demon cried out, “Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of God! Do not torment me!”. Jesus asked the demon its name and he said, “My name is Legion, for we are many”. He then begged Jesus not to send them out of the region, but to send them into the pigs instead. Jesus allowed this, and so the demons entered the pigs – which caused the herd to rush down the steep slope into the lake. About two thousand pigs were drowned that day.
Now when the herdsmen saw this they ran off and spread the news in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see for themselves. When they saw the demon-possessed man sitting there, clothed and in his right mind they were afraid of what this might mean, and so they asked Jesus to leave.
Jesus continued with his disciples up to the villages in the pagan region of Caesarea Philippi north of Galilee and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets”. He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, God’s anointed king”. Jesus told them not to repeat this to anyone.
A week later, Jesus took Peter and James and John with him up a high mountain. There he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, and Elijah and Moses appeared to them and talked with Jesus. The disciples were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”. Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, but remained puzzled as to what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean…
(Mark 4:35 − 9:13)