There are moments when history is made, and the world seems a little different; in the last week in the United Kingdom, history was made as the third female Prime Minister was appointed. Then, a day later, after 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth passed away, and the nation mourned her loss and began to think about their new King. There was something poignant about that moment as a person, and the role that had been so constant in the life of so many across the world changed. Thus, as individuals and a nation, we find ourselves mourning the loss of a leader and a sort of national Grandmother at a moment when life is already difficult. Yet, as Christians, our hope remains the same in whatever we face or whatever it is we are considering, and more beautifully, our hope today was the hope of Queen Elizabeth II. She may have been a queen who ruled over the Commonwealth, but she was a person who gladly knew and bowed at the Throne of the King of Kings. Over all the years, Queen Elizabeth made it clear that her hope and trust were on Jesus, as the MP Tim Farron said wonderfully in his tribute:
“She was a constant to us all, but, as has been said already, the constant in her life was her faith in Jesus Christ. Let us remember this: for many people it may be a perfunctory ceremonial faith, but for her it was not; it was a living, active faith in a living saviour. Let us remember this: we have sung for 70 years “God Save The Queen”. If her faith is accurate—I am certain it was—God has saved the Queen” 1
Thus, it is a beautiful thing that today our passage of Scripture speaks to the hope and privilege of being a disciple of Jesus, or to put it another way, Discipleship under the King of Kings. We are reminded that whether royal or normal, it is a Hope, call, and privilege granted to all through Faith by grace who bow the knee to King Jesus. So let us consider what Mark 3:7-19 has to say about knowing Jesus and making him known.
He Will not Conform
What would he do? Would he conform to what was expected of him and everyone on that day, or would he continue down the path he had been set on? That path of defiance and boldness that at every turn seemed to stand the accepted norm again, and yet, more concernedly for the religious authorities of the day, always seemed to challenge the basis of what had become routine. It was bad enough that he would not do what was expected of everyone; it was even worse when he questioned the “why” behind the “what” of that which had become routine.
They knew he could heal and would heal because he never seemed to discriminate towards whom he might show mercy. Why did they expect it would be any different just because it was a Sabbath day? Hence, when Jesus entered the temple and saw before him a man with a deformed hand, he was moved by compassion to act and bring restoration not in the shadows but in front of all! Why? Because God delights in Mercy over Sacrifice; or to put it another way: God is concerned with the state of our heart, not the frequency of our religious acts. Jesus as God incarnate shows how the heart of God triumph’s over all the self-righteous actions and norms of humankind. The nature of God is mercy and the activities of Jesus at that moment bring life! Yet, in reaction to the wonder of Jesus’ act, we see the hardness of their hearts and the deadness of their religion. From the life that Jesus gives, they: seek to bring death.
A Changing Tone Towards Jesus
Mark 3:7, in the aftermath of the Sabbath Synagogue scene, marks an escalation in the reaction of the Jewish civic and religious leaders against Jesus. For three chapters, we have witnessed Jesus teaching about God, the coming Kingdom, and the long-awaited Messiah: and in his teaching, leave no doubt that all centres on him. Jesus is the fulfilment of all they have been taught, all they have been waiting for, and all they need. Yet, in his pride, those who should have recognised him (the religious teachers) are challenged because his completion of all they have been longing for will make them obsolete and remove the power basis they have built up.
There has been a mounting hostility towards Jesus from the moment he entered the scene; the Synagogue incident was simply the tipping point:
- From the moment in Capernaum when he forgave the sins of the Paralysed man, and the Pharisees accused him of blasphemy;
- Then, when he called the worst of sinners and traitor Levi to be his disciple and followed him to recline with gathered sinners at his table, thus identifying with them;
- Then, our first sabbath controversy was when the disciples of Jesus willingly ignored the ceremonial laws around fasting with their Teacher’s blessing.
Now the very existence of Jesus threatens their existence and lifestyle; thus, with every miracle and teaching moment, they feel undermined and challenged. From this moment in Mark 3, there is no longer neutrality or unsureness from the authorities when it comes to Jesus; they have decided that he must be dealt with – the only question is “when?”
The Crowd Follows (3:7-12)
Yet, compared to the religious leaders and their resistance to the Kingdom teachings of Jesus; and their plotting against him and the way of Jesus, the people of Galilee is still drawn to Jesus. There is something about him that they cannot put their finger on, something that draws them to Him even though they would now perhaps be aware of the feelings of the authority towards Jesus.
There is Hope in the Name of Jesus
The people came, why? Because they have their needs, and in Jesus Christ, they have found one who offers them hope. Their hope might have been misguided or misplaced, yet, as they had encountered him in the person of Jesus, they had sensed something more about Him, his message, and his way. Jesus both proclaimed and taught about the Kingdom of God, his mercy and grace made known in action and deed, and this living out of the way of God drew people to him despite the growing hostility of the religious establishment. We know that the hearts of the people are misplaced, yet, even here, we are reminded that to be a disciple of Jesus and to live in his Kingdom is to live like him as we look towards him: Then, as we live like him incarnating the mercy and grace of God, it will draw people to the hope that is ours. The disciples’ life is part of our witness to the Kingship and way of Jesus; our words and deeds are important ways of showing the one we live for.
News of Jesus had spread as he taught and performed miracles as a sign of the coming Kingdom and his rule, and as the news spread, so did the hope of people who had been in hopeless and desperate situations. Hence in verse seven, we have this picture of wave after wave of need coming to Jesus from proximity and far-flung places (several days of travel) like Idumea, Tyre and Sidon. Why? because they had “heard about what He Jesus was doing.” News about Jesus will always bring hope, so it is our job to share it, live it, and make sure people understand it when the opportunity arises. There was no more excellent example of that this week than the quiet yet consistent and bold faith of Queen Elizabeth; think of those Christmas messages where she constantly pointed to Jesus not just as some moral example but as her Hope above all hopes and unique alone as “hope” in the world:
“Although we can do great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.” – Queen Elizabeth II.
Consider even the fact that the only book the Queen ever allowed to be published in her name was by the Bible society. She had all the riches in the world, yet, she knew there was nothing richer in life than hope in Jesus, and she wanted everyone to see this hope:
“For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.” – Queen Elizabeth II.
Mercy, Always Mercy
It is nice to be wanted, to have someone need something from us sometimes. Yet, it is another thing to be constantly required because of something you have or offer; no matter where you go, people will approach you wanting only that. That is what it must have been like for Jesus as he moved from town to town and proclaimed the Good news of the Kingdom and the crowds descended upon him, not because of who he was or the message he taught but because they knew he could give them something they needed/wanted at that moment.
What did Jesus do in such moments? He showed mercy: because his way is always mercy. Jesus is gentle and lowly in spirit, and his heart is for sinners: thus, he delights in meeting the needs of those who come to Him. Yet, he meets the needs not in the way we think He should but in the ways he knows best. He is merciful, but he is also wise. Thus, to the waves of need and the multitude of people before Him, he takes to the waves as he gets the disciples ready a small boat so that he can stand and minister without the people pressing into him. Why does Jesus want to be able to continue to minister and teach without people pressing him or touching him? Because it is the Gospel of God that is the mercy of God. The people had come to have specific needs met, yet, Jesus knew their greatest need, and his merciful heart compelled him to act towards it even if the people could not see it – sin. So great was the ministry that had been done that as more were healed, those who remained pressed forward to receive. Thus, to keep ministering, Jesus withdraws to the boat to provide safety and security for his merciful works and, if necessary, to have a quick getaway.
So great was the power and authority of Jesus that the people pushed with more significant effort to get to him. The demons recognised him when they came into his presence as they cried: “You are the Son of God” Thus, we have this great contrast that the teachers of God’s law failed to recognise the messiah of God, yet, the enemies of God, the forces of darkness can do nothing but identify. However, now was not yet the time for such proclamations, so to remember, Jesus silences them because he will reveal his identity by his hand and timing.
This is the significant challenge/rebuke for us all: the Pharisees refused to see him as Messiah; the crowds only saw one who could meet their momentary needs; only the forces opposed to the Kingdom of God recognised and proclaimed the true identity of Jesus: “You are the Son of God.” So here is the question; Which group are we;
- Do we refuse to give Jesus the recognition that is due to him?
- Do we see Jesus only as we want to, in a way that suits our needs or lifestyle?
- Or do we recognise him as the Son of God and know genuinely what that means?
Only in one of these groups can we honestly know the beauty of life with Jesus and what it means to be his disciple.
Disciples are Called (13-19)
The crowds might have come to Jesus out of need and saw only what they wanted to see, but a Disciple sees Jesus as He is – The Son of God and Lord and Saviour – because they have been enabled to see him as such by the Mercy of God. The crowd followed, but disciples were called through Grace and Mercy, enabled to live out that call. No matter who they are! Notice the movement as Jesus withdraws from the needs of the multitude and crowds of people who come towards him. He does not need fame or desire for popularity – he has come with one purpose, which is his priority. Additionally, notice what he does as he withdraws to the mountain, “he calls those who he wanted” (13), and they came.
Discipleship was not a purposeless existence nor simply an exercise in academia. To be a disciple is to learn from the teacher to then live like the teacher in word and deed; thus, as Jesus ministered and proclaimed the goodness of the Gospel, so would those who were called to follow him. Mark makes this clear as he outlines the existence of the call before telling us who had been appointed. The new disciples, appointed apostles, would be with him, preach, and drive out demons (3:14-15). That is, those who Jesus called to himself would enjoy His presence and, in his fact, learn from him.
Additionally, from his company, they would go to make know the kingdom of God and the goodness of the Gospel in word (preach) and deed (drive out demons). That which was true for the first twelve called by Jesus and named apostles is still true today: Disciples are those called by God through Grace who abides in the presence of Jesus by gracious invitation through faith; go in the power of the Holy Spirit to make know the way of Jesus in word and deed. Who can be a disciple, and what qualifies us for such a privilege: anyone and nothing? God calls disciples by Grace through faith in the beautiful work of Jesus on the Cross. Thus, Queens of the commonwealth and ordinary people have the same access to the throne of God and the presence of Jesus because they approach via the same means – faith.
Twelve men are named and are the most ordinary people from most everyday places. They are fishermen, tax collectors, temperamental and emotional, and fearful men who Jesus called not because of who they were but because of who he was. It was an impressive list because they were the apostles, the original witnesses of Jesus. Yet it is a list that extends daily as the Gospel is proclaimed and people respond to the good news of Jesus. Through the Cross where Jesus took upon himself our sin made possible communion with God by faith, and in his dying defeated death, his rising restored the fullness of life. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? It is to see Jesus as he presented himself and trust in what he came to do, then as we dwell with him in the power of the Holy Spirit, we live, love, and serve like him as we make know the good news of the Gospel in word and deed. Thus, the question for us today is, as individuals and a church family, how are we sharing and how will we share this hope that is ours today?
Knowing Jesus and Following Him in every season
How much can change in a week, so much history in so few days as Prime Ministers have changed, and for the first time in seventy years, the Monarch has changed? Yet, even with the history-making events of the week that have passed, many of us face so much difficulty as we worry about the winter ahead and surviving deadly today. Yet, if we are Christ’s disciples, then regardless of the history-making events of the week or the daily pressure of life, we are those who have hope because we know and trust with confidence the greatest History-maker of all time. The King of Kings who by his death brought life, and by his life and those whom he commissioned to live like Him and with him in the power of the Holy Spirit changed the world. The King of kings to whom our former queen gladly bowed and placed her trust in as Lord and Saviour, here his words as she said:
” Christ not only revealed to us the truth in his teachings. He lived by what he believed and gave us the strength to try to do the same – and, finally, on the cross, he showed the supreme example of physical and moral courage.”
Today, let her faith be our challenge, and let his reign be our hope as we make sure we are those who can identify him as he made himself known – the saviour of the world – and as we put our trust in Him in every circumstance like Queen Elizabeth did let us then in the power of the Holy Spirit seek to know him more and make him known more (like the queen did with her Christmas speeches) so that in life others might see the hope that was Hers and can ours through faith in the one who is Lord over Life and death. Let us look to the King of Kings in our grief and in the power of the Holy Spirit to live out our call of Discipleship in word and deed even amid the difficulties of these days. A section from the Queen’s Christmas speech in 1980 sums our duty perfectly:
”In difficult times we may be tempted to find excuses for self-indulgence and to wash our hands of responsibility. Christmas stands for the opposite… we need to go out and look for opportunities to help those less fortunate than ourselves, even if that service demands sacrifice.” Queen Elizabeth II (1980)