Of Passion and Power

 

In this Series

Building on a recent post where we looked at the development of a Kingdom Leadership Paradigm through the teaching of Jesus, in this post we’ll look at how the Gospel of Mark presents contrasts between the predicted passion (sufferings) of our Lord with His disciples desire for power and authority.  This overview will, hopefully, further elucidate the paradigm that was introduced earlier.

In Mark’s divinely inspired gospel account, we find our Lord prophesying of His imminent death on three separate occasions.  In each of these passages there is a general pattern followed: the prophecy, the reaction, a correction, and a new paradigm.  In each of the prophecies, the Lord describes His being handed over to men (elders, scribes and priests), suffering unto death, and subsequently His resurrection.  Typically, the reaction by the disciples provides evidence that they’ve misunderstood the nature of Christ’s predicted suffering and instead move to assert, posture towards, or request positions of power.  These misunderstandings are then followed up by a rebuke or correction by the Lord, who then subsequently establishes of a new way of looking at kingdom relationships, particularly as it relates to authority.

Prophecy #1

The first of the passion prophecies comes in Mark 8:31

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Subsequent to this announcement, the self-appointed spokesman of the disciples, Peter, takes Jesus aside and rebukes him.  We need to pause here and consider the weightiness of this situation.  Jesus has just announced to His disciples that His life will soon end in suffering and death, followed by the prophecy of His three-days resurrection.  Peter, obviously disliking or disagreeing with this prophecy, asserts himself as the authority over Jesus, essentially attempting to establish His own superiority prior to Jesus’ death, “And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

In turn, this garners its own rebuke from Jesus, “Get behind me Satan.”  This scene is especially striking when we consider that just prior to his rebuke, Peter had made his familiar statement that Jesus was the Christ (Mark 8:27-30).  Following upon His rebuke of Peter, Jesus, having laid down the pattern of suffering to come in His own life, then sets forth the expectation of suffering and self-denial for those who would follow after Him

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35

This statement on the necessity of self-denial for the followers of Christ is a further statement on the Kingdom Paradigm that inverts the normal societal structure.  In this case, whoever wants to live, must die.

Prophecy #2

Next, we arrive at the second prophecy of Jesus’ death in Mark 9:30-32

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Following in the the steps of their self-appointed leader after Jesus’ earlier prophecy, the disciples again do not understand what Jesus is saying regarding His death and again, we find them jockeying for power following the predicted passion of our Lord

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. Mark 9:33-34

Here in these first two passages under our consideration, the contrast could not be more striking.  Jesus announces His pending suffering, death, and resurrection and the disciples are concerned with earthly authority and power, perhaps even as it relates to who would be in charge after Jesus’s death.

Once again we find a rebuke coming from our Lord and a reordering of expectations (Note the related event in Mark 10:13-16)

35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”  Mark 9:35-37

With this particular correction Jesus reverses the assumed order of societal structure, leadership, and ambition i.e. last will be first.  In order to drive this point home, He places a child in their midst.  Just after this, Mark 10:13-16, Jesus again uses the physical example of a child to establish the point that one must be child-like to enter into the Kingdom.

Prophecy #3

The third prophecy that our Lord makes, concerning His passion occurs in Mark 10:33-34

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

As if having nothing better to say on the matter, the disciples once again prove that they do not yet understand what Jesus is prophesying, rather they are more interested in seeking individual power and authority.

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:35-37

Notice the contrast between the predicted suffering of Christ and the power-play by two of the disciples.  After commenting that the disciples would likewise follow the Lord in suffering, and noting the indignation of the other disciples, the passage shifts towards another example of the overturned structural norms, specifically patterns of authority.

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Perhaps here in this final passage we have yet the strongest statement on the nature of leadership and authoritarian structures within Christ’s Kingdom.  Specifically, Gentile leadership is held up as an example of dysfunctional leadership, namely that of a top-down authority which our Lord directly contradicts by His establishment of servants being leaders.

In Mark’s gospel account, the contrast between suffering and servanthood with exaltation and authority could not be more striking.  With this, as with our previous post, we may clearly see that Jesus was reordering priorities, ambitions, and the nature of authority or leadership. His new Kingdom Paradigm establishes how we are called to live in our Christian communities and how we are called to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Is Social Justice Biblical?

 

Originally published December 8, 2010.  In 2010, The Emergent Church was at the apex of its popularity and the promotion of social justice was one of its chief motivations.  Sadly, almost 8 years later, while The Emergent Church has faded, the movement towards social justice as the central message of Christendom is alive and well again.  Perhaps repackaged from wealth redistribution, this new social justice focuses on systematic racism and the promotion of the LGBTQ+ movement.

I realize that the title above will be an unpopular assertion, but before you rush to dismiss it or to leave a contrary response, please hear me out.  Social justice is without question a huge buzz word these days within not only the secular media, but within the evangelical church as well.  Because of this dichotomy, the phrase is often misused, misapplied, and generally flawed in its assumptions.

Here is the definition of social justice from Wikipedia  :  “Social justice generally refers to the idea of creating an egalitarian society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being.”

 

Interesting, though a broad definition to say the least.  The idea that social justice creates an “egalitarian society” essentially means equality of religion, politics, economics, social status, or culture, i.e. that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or moral status.  (see also Wikipedia : Egalitarianism)  Digging a little further into the definition of social justice we find the following statement: “Social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality and involves a greater degree of economic egalitarianism through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or even property redistribution.”  When we hear the term “social justice” from the media, this is generally in reference to the redistribution of wealth mentioned here.  Primarily taking from the “rich” and giving to the “poor” by means of taxation or other government mandate.  Is this the same message that so many evangelicals are trying to convey?  Well, because social justice is such a vague term, it mostly likely depends on who you ask as to what definition you get.  In his newly released book Generous Justice, pastor Tim Keller offers the following distinction:

“I used the term “generous justice” because many people make a distinction between justice and charity. They say that if we give to the poor voluntarily, it’s just compassion and charity. But Job says that if I’m not generous with my money, I’m offending God, which means it’s not an option and it is unjust by definition to not share with the poor.”[1]

It would be helpful at this point if we defined “justice” and “charity”.  Dictionary.com defines justice as “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness” also, “the administering of deserved punishment or reward”.  The same site defines charity as “generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless; something given to a person in need; alms; benevolence; Christian love; agape.”  Just as Keller states, quite the distinction, but his own statement is troubling.  He asserts that some say giving to the poor voluntarily is compassion and charity but that the Bible claims a lack of generosity is offensive to God and thereby is not voluntary, but a mandate.  The difference between these two statements of Keller’s can be summarized by saying: “I want to give to the poor” vs. “I have to give to the poor”.  The former is a movement of the heart, the latter a letter of the law.  To his statement Keller adds, “It’s biblical that we owe the poor as much of our money as we can possibly give away.” [2] Does that sound any different than the definition we read earlier which is so prevalent in the media?

Quite simply, it’s no different.  To say that “we owe the poor as much of our money as we can possibly give away” is to assume somehow that the “rich” of this world are indebted to the “poor”.  Where in the Bible does it state that?  (Actually Keller’s statement can be argued as to ask based on what standard is someone defined as rich while another is defined as poor?, but that might be a separate post)  What Keller has done is to erroneously replace the government mandate with biblical mandate, tag it with the social justice label, and state that it basically calls for redistribution of wealth also.  This is not in line with Scripture as he asserts, but is quite contrary as we’ll see in a moment.

Tim Keller did not provide the reference to Job in his interview with Christianity Today, so we are unable to follow up on his statement, but other times he has used Job 31:16 as a defense for his argument so it is there we can look for Biblical evidence.  In Job 31, Job is giving his final defense, his final argument as to his undeserved condition and in verse 16 he includes “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired….”  Is Job saying here that he neglected to give the poor as much of his money as he could possibly give away because he owed it to them?  Well we know that in Job 1:3 he was the richest in the land and we know in Job 42:10 that the Lord restored to Job twice as much as he had before his dire circumstances.  To conclude from Job 31:16 that Job was obligated to give to the poor is a poor exegesis for the purposes of defending the concept of social justice.  Job wasn’t talking about compulsion to give as a duty, but rather neglect to give from an improper heart.  In 2 Corinthians 9:7 we read “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Keller is not alone in his call for social justice, Emergent Church leader, author, and activist Brian McLaren asks, “And could our preoccupation with individual salvation from hell after death distract us from speaking prophetically about injustice in our world today?”[3] McLaren adds, When Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about the Kingdom of God, it’s always closely related to social justice…. The gospel of the kingdom is about God’s will being done on earth for everybody, but we’re interested in getting away from earth entirely as individuals, and into heaven instead.”[4]

Equally troubling are the views of pastor and author Rob Bell, who shares McLaren’s association with the Emergent Church.  In a 2009 interview with Christianity Today the interviewer asks Bell to expound on his statement of “Jesus wants to save us from making the Good News about another world and not this one.” To which Bell replies,

“The story is about God’s intentions to bring about a new heaven and a new earth, and the story begins here with shalom—shalom between each other and with our Maker and with the earth. The story line is that God intends to bring about a new creation, this place, this new heaven and earth here. And that Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning, essentially, of the future; this great Resurrection has rushed into the present.”[5]

Note here that the resurrection Bell talks of has nothing to do with Jesus dying for the sins of those who believe, has nothing to do with forgiveness of sin, with grace, mercy, God’s wrath poured out on His own Son.  There’s no talk of becoming a new creation in Christ when those who believe in Him are raised from the dead with Christ.  No, instead Bell’s talk of “resurrection” signifies the beginning of a new heaven and earth, i.e. one of the central goals of social justice that McLaren mentioned earlier and the primary focus of the Emergent Church mission.

What then is our response to this?  Am I saying that as members who make up the body of the Church that we should not help the poor, widowed, and orphaned?  Certainly not!  What I am saying is that phrases like “social justice” are not always benign and laced with good intentions.  They are often agenda driven and in this case can often be used to subvert the true Gospel message***.  Social justice was spawned out of liberalism in the late 19th century and today’s movement is simply repackaging of that same program.  Theologian and Author Dr. R.C. Sproul offers much needed balance on this topic,

“The false assumption of this so-called social justice was that material wealth can be gained only by means of the exploitation of the poor. Ergo, for a society to be just, the wealth must be redistributed by government authority. In reality, this so-called social justice degenerated into social injustice, where penalties were levied on those who were legitimately productive and non-productivity was rewarded — a bizarre concept of justice indeed.”[7]

Likewise, Sproul provides guidance for direction of the Church with regards to helping those in need, “The choice that the church has is never between personal salvation and mercy ministry. It is rather a both/and proposition. Neither pole can be properly swallowed by the other. To reduce Christianity either to a program of social welfare or to a program of personal redemption results in a truncated gospel that is a profound distortion.[8]

Our definition from earlier was that social justice should be a means by which all men are brought to equality, through economic means, regardless of race, religion, economic status, social status, culture, etc.  This however assumes that we are on unequal ground from the start.  When it comes to equality we have 2 distinct biblical themes which we can apply: 1) All men are equally created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27) 2) None are righteous and all have fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:10, 3:23) It is helpful for us to return to the ground level and work up from there.  We must ask then based on the biblical equality of men, what is justice?  From our dictionary.com definition earlier justice was “the administering of deserved punishment or reward”.  From the Bible we read of justice in Isaiah 42:1-4:

1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry aloud or lift up His voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed He will not break,
and a faintly burning wick He will not quench;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till He has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.

The ESV Study Bible offers the following note on this passage: Justice is “the key word in 42:1-4.  In the Bible, justice means fulfilling mutual obligations in a manner consistent with God’s moral law.  Biblical justice creates the perfect human society.  The messianic servant is the only hope for a truly just world.”  Biblical justice is dependent on the Messiah, Christ Jesus.  Like Isaiah says, He will establish justice.

Additionally we find that based on the sinful condition of man as we read in Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death.  Therefore justice from God would be giving each person what they deserved, namely eternal death.  So it is here we ask, is it justice we want?  Or is it perhaps mercy that we desire?  The justice that society deserves is not wealth and equality in this life, but eternal damnation and separation from God.  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-6

Perhaps a more biblical phrase would be “social mercy”.  We as a church body of believers are not called to work toward justice as defined extra-biblically, but to show mercy to those who need it.  It is not the Church’s job to demand justice and work towards that end in order to create a utopia of equality and better earthly lives for everyone.  Nor is it her role to prop up and become enabler to those who are able but unwilling.  The role of the Church is to preach the Gospel and in doing so establish mercy ministries along the way.  We are to show mercy because that is what God showed us, not justice.  We were naked and He clothed us with righteousness.  We were starved and He gave us the Bread of Life.  Thirsty yet Jesus provided Living Water.  Homeless but even now He prepares a mansion for us.  This isn’t justice, it’s mercy through the grace of God that has been given to us.  We cannot be so quick to follow men and jump on board their plans to execute justice in this world without examining what it is they are saying.  Instead we should follow Christ, the one who was executed for our justice.  He alone can bring justice to an unjust, sinful world.

Resources:

1 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/december/10.69.html?start=1

2 Ibid

3 McLaren, The Last Word and the Word After That, p. 84.

4 Ibid., p. 149.

5 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/april/26.34.html?start=2

6 http://www.svchapel.org/resources/articles/21-church-trends/505-the-emerging-church-part-2#_edn33

7 http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/do-we-believe-whole-gospel/

  1. Ibid.

***For more insight into Keller’s point of view, see also his interview with Kevin DeYoung: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/10/26/interview-with-tim-keller-on-generous-justice/

A Kingdom Leadership Paradigm

 

In our Lord’s earthly ministry, there is much that could be commented on from the records that we have in the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John.  In fact, it is this latter gospel account that informs us that had everything about Jesus’ ministry been written down, there wouldn’t be enough books to contain them.  However, there is one particular theme about Jesus’ ministry that touches everything else He had to say and came to do, a theme that we’ll summarize as a Kingdom Paradigm (pair-a-dime).

A paradigm, in it’s most common meaning and usage, is defined as a clear or typical example, properly speaking an archetype or pattern.  Under the administration of the Old Covenant, there were certainly patterns and examples as well, but those reach their completion in Christ Jesus.  Not only did the Lord come to fulfill those old patterns and examples, but by establishing a kingdom paradigm, He came to upset or alter how we view this world and each other in His Kingdom.

Perhaps more than the other gospels, Matthew is intent upon describing and defining the Kingdom of God (properly, the “Kingdom of Heaven”).  This is summarized with the verse highlighting the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”  Additionally, the founding principles of this Kingdom Paradigm are found in Matthew 5:1-7:29, which is commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount.

By the time we reach Matthew 18 in the account of our Lord’s ministry, we are given the Kingdom Paradigm regarding relationships in the Christian Community.  One aspect of these relationships that’s specifically addressed is leadership and authority within the community.  The baseline for this particular facet of the Kingdom Paradigm comes by way of a question asked by the disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1)  Depending on how Jesus answered this question, would define for us the paradigm, or pattern, of the kingdom.

Notice our Lord’s response below

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of themand said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-4

This instruction on humility, as the entrance requirement into the kingdom, sets the tone for the next three chapters which outline and describe the nature of kingdom relationships, including kingdom leadership.  Likely because Jesus had yet to fully open their eyes to this unfolding paradigm, the disciples fail to grasp the simplicity of this reordering, that one must become like a child, and are given second opportunity to comprehend it in the chapter that follows

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”15 And he laid his hands on them and went away. Matthew 19:13-15

Reiterating the statement made earlier on a humble child being the greatest in the kingdom, on this occasion the disciples were given a tangible example, but again failed to fully comprehend the message.

A third example for the establishment of this new Kingdom Paradigm, comes by way of a parable, but nevertheless brings us to the same conclusion.  This parable, referred to as the “Laborers in the Vineyard” is found in Matt. 20:1-16 and addresses the principle of equality in the Kingdom, regardless of when someone enters.  Jesus’ concluding statement on this parable serves again to highlight the paradigm we’ve been discussing, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:16

A fourth example for this re-ordering of cultural structure and one which lands more clearly on the nature of leadership in the Christian community, builds on both the two earlier passages where Jesus indicates that that one must become like a child to enter the Kingdom and the third passage, where last is first and first is last.  This particular example comes from Matthew 20:20-28

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Such a request from a misguided, albeit well-intentioned mother, harkens our minds back to the opening question in this section from Matthew’s gospel account, “Who is the greatest?”  This question had already been answered, those with the humility of a child are the greatest.  The low are high, the high are low.  The rich are poor, the poor are rich.  The last are first, the first are last.  This is the Kingdom Paradigm and it most certainly applies to leadership, the servants are the leaders.

While we will look at this particular passage from Matthew 20 in greater detail in a follow-up post, suffice it to say that the Kingdom leadership paradigm, outlined here by our Lord, was  contrary to the nature of worldly leadership then, “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority” and it is contrary to the nature of worldly leadership now.  Summarily, kingdom leadership is not top-down, authoritarianism, but bottom-up, servant-hood.  This, as we will see, is not the same thing as the popular, modern notion of a servant leader, or more clearly that  leaders serve.  Instead, it is that your servants are your leaders.

Jesus’ Kingdom Paradigm is intended to cause us to view the world through an upside down or inverted kingdom lens.  What the world perceives as the proper ordering of society is power, class, or wealth.  And what they perceive as the proper ordering of leadership is authority and domination.  What Jesus establishes as the paradigm for the Christian society is to be like a child.  In kingdom leadership it is humility and service.  The very pattern for this is His own life-giving service (deaconing = [diakoneo] – more on this later) which stands as the ultimate paradigm for the kingdom and the model for how we relate to one another in our Christian communities.

 

 

Ephesians 4:15 "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ"