Violence and Our World

The events of the past few weeks have raised violence, front and center. The sermon text on Sunday was Mark 6:14–29 (ESV).

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and abound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not,  20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, gup to half of my kingdom.”

24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.”  25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his hdisciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

This rather gruesome account is timely to say the least. We live in a broken world, with sinners doing what sinners do: sin. The recent events throughout the US and the world make it appear as if violence is not only increasing, but seemingly winning the day, the battle, and even the war. If we had only this text for contemplation, we might conclude that evil does win. A “righteous and holy man” is killed at the whim of a Queen who hated his message.

But did evil win? God had sent John as the forerunner to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God with the appearance of the King (Jesus). His focus was not just pointing a finger at people. Rather his call was for people to repent, each person to repent.

John appeared, baptizing in gthe wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4–5 ESV)

His message hit close to home: repent of your sins. Note what he did not proclaim: “Point fingers and blame others for your sins.” And yet that is often what happens. “Yes, I know my sins, but nothing like those peoples’ sins.” Ironically, John does not allow excuses for sin. Like Nathan before King David (“You are the man!” 2 Samuel 12:7),  John is blunt.

Herodias was convinced that if she could have John killed then the accusations would stop—for her and Herod. But the sin remained, the accusation of John stood, because it was God’s judgment, not some wild self-righteous do-gooder. Even killing John did not alleviate the problem. Interestingly in less than 100 years the entire family line of Herod the Great (this Herod’s father) was completely erased.

Context helps

The context of this passage is significant: In the immediately preceding verses, Jesus had sent His disciples out to do the following:

So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.  (Mark 6:12-13)

That is, John’s arrest and death were mentioned immediately after Jesus sends out the twelve. It was their proclamation and miraculous signs that attracted much attention, continuing what John began, and that caused Herod to remember what he had done to John.

Not only that, but notice what happens when the disciples return.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

Jesus’ words to returning disciples

This initial missionary trip must have seemed like a mountain top experience for the disciples. The message was heard, people responded, people were healed, demons were cast out. We might expect a celebration meal, regaling others with what they experienced. Instead Jesus responds:

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

Jesus knew the weakness of us humans. With John’s death, it appears as if evil has won a major victory. With the report of the disciples, it appears as if they have won a major victory. But Jesus knows that more is going on than this temporary battlefield report. So he takes them away for rest.

My reaction would be: “Jesus, look what has happened. Why stop now?” The battle against evil is not lost when John is killed. Nor is the battle against evil won by the wondrous things the disciples have experienced.

The Final Confrontation with Evil

Jesus knows that the approaching battle, His battle, will take place on a cross, a sign of defeat for Him, and a sign of victory for His enemies. There it will appear as if evil won once for all. But not so! His death was to pay for the penalty that the sins of all the world had earned. Herod’s, John, Jesus’ disciples, and everyone person in history, including you and me.

But Jesus’ resurrection from the dead showed that the devil’s apparent triumph was an illusion. Sin, death, and the devil could not hold Him or win over Him.

The Message of Victory Continues

For us as Christians, the real message is who Jesus and what He has done. As Paul put it: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Notice that this is not a simplistic statement and then all is taken care of. Paul writes much about the implications of this in the life of the Christian. But unless this is front and center, everything else will fail, no matter the intentions.

The temptation for us as Christians is to look to the sword, power, intimidation, voting, etc. to be the real basis for action in this present world. If so, we have settled for temporary fixes for something much deeper, more profound. At times it will appear as if evil has triumphed, like with John’s death. Other times, we will exult in “our victories” like the disciples. But ultimately the goal of “winning” is not determined by temporary fixes, temporary measures, temporary victories. Winning is losing all and getting heaven.

In a world filled with violence, the only effective, long term message is one of God’s lover for sinners in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. All other attempts will be short-sighted, stopgap, and frustratingly ineffective

As Christians we will continue to proclaim the victory of Jesus Christ, even in the face of enemies, or death itself. As P{aul wrote to the Corinthians:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:54-57)

 

 

Advertisements

About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
This entry was posted in New Testament, Personal Reflection, Tentatio and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.