Jesus came to bring in the Kingdom of God and many embraced it gladly when they recognised it. However, there were always those who couldn’t accept what Jesus was bringing. Perhaps it didn’t look right, perhaps it was too challenging. Such people not only rejected Jesus and his message but made some ridiculous accusations, one being that Jesus worked through the power of Satan to do the wonderful works that he did. Today as we do our best to spread the Good News, some will embrace it and others will push it away, perhaps falsely accusing us as they do so. Jesus faces every person with a challenge – accept me or deny who I am. There is no middle way, no neutrality with Christ.
On Thursday I reflected on this at the 2pm SLT service. The readings were Jeremiah 7:23-28, Psalm 95:1-2, 6-end, Luke 11:14-23.
Recently my mother completely denied that she had received a letter which I knew she had received. No matter how hard I tried to remind her, she simply had no recollection of it. I know older people sometimes forget things but actually my mother is brilliant at remembering. The reason she forgot is that she has been under a lot of stress.
I realise now that I am very much like my mother in this respect. I have been blessed with an excellent memory. It’s not really photographic but does allow me to locate information on a page in my mind which then allows me to recall it. I can also hold on to a lot of facts about people, diary entries and so on. I know that if I am under extreme stress I begin to forget things.
Pressure, stress, does odd things to people and they can act irrationally or out of character as a result. When Jesus healed the mute man he was freed from a lifetime’s disability, free to live a normal life. I’m sure the family and friends of the man would have been very glad to see him so wonderfully healed by Jesus. But we’re told that some of the crowd made an extraordinary accusation against Jesus: ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons’. It seems that seeing such an unusual occurrence some of the people were not able to face up to the implications, that perhaps God was in their midst in the person of Jesus. The stress of the evidence in front of their eyes plus their unwillingness to see God at work seems to have led to a quite ridiculous accusation.
All of us must have seen families, churches, businesses, nations which have been dogged by division and fighting. So much energy goes into the disagreements that the normal everyday work which should go on gets sidetracked or stopped altogether. The people in the crowd must have seen the same in their time. Yet they suggested that there was civil war in Satan’s kingdom and that is how the miracle was performed and the mute demon departed from the man.
Jesus points out how ridiculous their idea is. Their own people performed exorcisms in God’s name not in the name of Beelzebub, ‘disturber of the house’, who was the Baal of Syria. Far from working for Satan, Jesus was binding Satan as he is much stronger than evil can ever be. Jesus was bringing the kingdom of God among the people, the kingdom being ‘the realm in which God’s will is fulfilled’ as the Webster’s dictionary defines it. God’s will is for people to be free from all that holds them captive, that they should have abundant life.
It seems that some of the crowd just couldn’t accept this. Perhaps the kingdom didn’t look as they expected it to do and so was impossible for them to accept. I’m currently reading Maggi Dawn’s book of Lent readings called ‘Giving it up’. It’s not a book on how to live without chocolate or swearing. Instead, she maintains that we have ideas about God in our heads and they get in the way of the truth. We need to be prepared to give up our ideas and allow God to show himself as he really is.
As God said, in the words of Jeremiah: ‘I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you.’ This prophecy came true; Jesus spoke and demonstrated who he was but the people could not accept it. The same will happen for us. We will try to share the Good News and some will accept it but others will reject it. Not only that, they will reject us and falsely accuse us. We should not be surprised that what happened to Jesus happens to us.
Jesus has a habit of raising the bar when it comes to our behaviour. Remember what he said about adultery. You don’t need to commit adultery at all to be found guilty. Just look at someone with lust in your heart and you may as well have jumped into bed with them. There is no difference. And murder. Hate someone, even just call them a fool, and you may as well take up a knife and plunge it into their heart.
In the crowd we are told about, there would have been some who were rejoicing that Jesus was around to preach and heal. There was another group who were content to class him with Beelzebub. There would have been a third group also, those who didn’t know what to believe. They might have been rather pleased not to have accused Jesus of being in league with Satan but Jesus didn’t leave them content. He doesn’t allow for neutrality when it comes to responding to him. If you are not for him, you are against him. Just as anger is equivalent to murder, lust to adultery, neutrality is equivalent to disbelief. You cannot sit on the fence with Jesus.
In the book of Hebrews we are told that ‘The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’ We might interpret ‘word’ as being God’s written word but it could just as easily be the ‘Word’, Jesus. Ironically Jesus, the Prince of Peace, said he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword. He made it plain in the message to the church in Laodicea that he wanted them to be ‘either cold or hot’. Always, Jesus faces us with a choice. He says with the psalmist: O that today you would listen to his voice: ‘Harden not your hearts’.
It is so easy to push away the truth we are not ready to face, even to be like some of the crowd and call what is of God exactly the opposite. Let’s pray this Lent that God will give us the courage to face the challenge of Jesus and let our hearts be softened towards him.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor