The 4 Gospels part 2 – The revolutionary ways of the Kingdom of God

     Part 1 of the four gospels started with Mark’s gospel because Mark immediately explains why Jesus chose disciples to join him. If we’re looking for a quick reminder from Jesus, then, as to why he also chose US to become his disciples, it’s right here in Mark 1:17. In the simplest of statements Jesus said: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Jesus recruited his original disciples to make them into effective recruiters of others. He called them to walk with him and assist him in proving his message was true, that “The time has come at last,” verse 15, “the Kingdom of God has arrived.” And together they’d prove it in such a manner that people would believe it, love it, and be drawn into it. They’d see it as great news. Jesus chose us, therefore, to make us into highly effective recruiters for the revolution he began. And he wants to make us very good at it too.

He gave us some clues right off the bat as to how we become good at it. We become good teachers for a start. People “were amazed at Jesus’ teaching,” verse 22, because he taught with conviction, confidence and passion. He wasn’t like those dry old teachers of the law, who droned on about keeping the law in every tiny detail. There was nothing wrong with teaching the law in great detail, but it wasn’t having much impact, was it, because when John the Baptist came roaring out of the wilderness crying out to people where they needed to change, there was massive repentance as it dawned on people how much they’d fallen short of the law without even knowing they’d done so.

So dry, boring teaching, even when it’s right teaching, doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t move people to act or change. John the Baptist, by contrast, drew hundreds of people to him because of his passionate teaching. But that’s what God had called John for, to wake people up, grab their attention, and lift them out of their stupour. It was John’s job to get these people mentally ready for the arrival of the Kingdom of God and the revolutionary power it contained to move people and change their lives for the better. And for that purpose God made John effective. People couldn’t resist him. They poured out from the surrounding towns and villages to hear him speak.

But that’s what Jesus provides to make us skilled fishers of people, because he means us to have an impact. It certainly had an impact on the evil spirit world, because as soon as Jesus starts teaching and amazing people a demon rudely interrupts him in Mark 1:23-24.

And it’s a real dampener on the atmosphere. The evil spirit is accusing, it’s negative, morose and full of know-it-all arrogance: “I know who you are,” the evil spirit spouts, “you’re that Holy One of God sent to destroy us.” Well, imagine being in the audience and being amazed and inspired by Jesus’ teaching, when suddenly this strident, ugly, negative voice cries out, accusing Jesus that what he’s really there for is to wreck lives, not help them. Thanks a lot, demon; atmosphere destroyed.

But it raised the question in my mind: “Would the demon have cried out that way if Jesus had been droning on about the law?” I doubt it, because there is no record in the gospels of demons interrupting John the Baptist, whose teaching mainly revolved around keeping the law. But as soon as Jesus gets up and starts talking about the Kingdom of God arriving with the power to change people’s lives for the better, and he bangs the lectern in a passionate appeal for people to believe the good news and get on board, that’s when the evil spirit world is stirred to action.

That’s when the opposition begins. Animated, passionate expression of what the Kingdom of God can do for people is when the trumpet call to action begins and the battle lines are drawn. Dry, boring teaching doesn’t do that. The demons yawn with disinterest too. But let loose with a passionate appeal as to what the Kingdom of God can do for you in comparison to the typical teachings of the culture, and the demons are falling off their beds, scrambling for their weapons, and stirring up their disciples to mount a propaganda campaign to stamp out the sparks of interest before they flare into flame.

It was Jesus’ animated teaching that suddenly woke up the demon world to the revolution under way, and they blasted into immediate action to squash it. And they realized very quickly as they heard Jesus teach – and the manner in which he taught – that this was to be a revolution waged and won by teaching. Jesus taught “as one who had authority” (22). “Authority” from the Greek in that verse means power and influence. It meant the ability to move people, to inspire and even amaze them, and that scared the demon world because that’s how revolutions pick up steam, through the inspiring words of skilled teachers.

So when Jesus said he’d make his disciples into fishers of men, capable at recruiting other people into the Kingdom of God, it clearly included the ability to teach. He would supply the mental power and skill to literally “amaze” people, because that’s what revolutions need to gather momentum.

It makes me wish I was young again, with all the energy and enthusiasm of youth, and hearing someone tell me this when I was a teenager, that becoming a disciple of Jesus automatically equips a person with gifts and skills that make the Kingdom of God and what it stands for irresistible to others. What a better revolutionary I might have been. On the other hand, maybe there’s still a bit of that revolutionary tucked away waiting for opportunity, or the realization to dawn more clearly in my head that this is what Jesus intends for all his disciples, to make them into wonderfully effective teachers.

But, a person, might say, I’m not the teacher type. Put me up in front of people and my brain cuts out. It stops working. I can’t even remember the simplest of scriptures or where to find them. I mumble, I stutter, I squeak. And even in a nice friendly one-on-one chat about what I believe, my brain only remembers a good explanation after the conversation is over, or three days later. I’m much happier curling up in the back row where it’s all nice and quiet.

Ah, but, there are OTHER ways of teaching, other than being called upon to speak and explain things, as Jesus is about to demonstrate in Mark 1:40 when “A man with leprosy came to him and begged Jesus on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’”

As an aside my NIV has a note at the bottom saying, “The Greek word (translated in this verse as ‘leprosy’) was used for various diseases affecting the skin – not necessarily leprosy.” So it may not have been full-blown leprosy this man was suffering from, but some other horribly contagious skin disease. Either way, it still registered the man as ‘ceremonially unclean’.

And that made life very difficult in a nation that was still being governed by the Law of Moses. It was a lonely life because all during the time you were declared unclean by the priesthood you weren’t allowed to come into contact with people, or greet them in the usual way, with a hug, kiss or even touch. If anyone came close you had to cry out, “Unclean, unclean” to warn them away. Your clothes had to be torn and your hair left disheveled as further signs you were contagious and to be avoided.

So think of a person today in that situation, a person our culture prefers to leave on the margins and not have to interact with them. Prisoners in jail come to mind. So do those who return from their war experiences emotionally crippled for life, who are left to rot in their misery in some dingy apartment alone. I think of people with mental disorders too, that so far, even with all our medical advances and leaps of understanding about the human brain, can still only be treated by isolation and chemical sedation. These are the ‘unclean’ of our world, the people on the edges we don’t know what to do with. So we lock them out, or lock them away, to live out their lives without the normal relationships that keep us humans happy and sane.

It was such a man who begged Jesus to make him clean, a man on the margins that nobody wanted around. But how difficult this must’ve been for Jesus’ disciples, because they’d grown up in a culture that legally put these people on the margins. According to the Law of Moses in Leviticus 13 and 14 a man with a highly contagious skin disease was supposed to be steering well clear of people. So how would Jesus react to him?

To the disciples’ great surprise and consternation Jesus, “Filled with compassion,” Mark 1:41, “reached out his hand and touched the man.”

The man probably hadn’t felt a human touch for years. I imagine he leant his head into Jesus’ hand feeling its warmth, and Jesus just melted.

And as you stood there watching (as one of Jesus’ disciples) maybe a picture began to form in your mind, stirred by this amazing scene of Jesus breaking all the rules, his eyes brimming with tears, his hand touching the man’s face, and the man looking up at him with longing and hope, that this too was what the Kingdom of God was all about. It included compassion for the marginalized. It included deliberately reaching out to people on the edges. It included going against the tide of public opinion and cultural prejudice. It included the rather startling realization that the revolution Jesus had just begun only needed the warmth of a human touch to grow, like a hug for someone with AIDS.

So I’ve asked myself, “Could I do what Jesus did?” Could I reach out and touch someone with AIDS, or put an arm round a homosexual’s shoulder, or hold the hand of someone with severe handicaps strapped in a wheelchair? And would I be doing it because I couldn’t help melting with compassion at the sight of them? And could I do it with other people looking on too, like Jesus did? Could I?

Well, I tell myself, I’m not the compassionate type. I’m stuck with this streak in me that can’t help reacting negatively to a man with an effeminate voice, or a man dressed in a woman’s clothing, or people of the same sex holding hands and kissing. I naturally recoil.

To me they’re like the ‘unclean’ of Jesus’ day; they’re on the margins of society, and that’s where they belong so that their influence isn’t contagious. I’m fearful of their contagion, and what it’s doing to people they come in contact with, especially children. So would I welcome a member of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender community to church? I might but I’d be on my guard watching and listening for the slightest hint of them trying to influence people their way, or justifying their sexual and gender aberrations.

But Jesus saw uncleanness differently. He saw how it marginalized people and turned society against them, denying people the warmth of human kindness and normal human relationships. And it touched him deeply when people had been hurt by society’s rejection. And they in turn were moved by his approach to them, because they saw in him someone who cared, and cared enough to welcome actual contact, no matter how bad their illness was.

It was revolutionary in that culture, just as it would be in ours attempting to integrate a pedophile back into society so he can live as normally as possible, rather than be hounded into hiding and fearing for his life. It taught the disciples something vital about the Kingdom of God, that it marginalized and ostracized no one. There was no such thing in the Kingdom of God as ‘out of sight, out of mind’, or even the hint that some people should remain on the edges, forever condemned by society as pariahs and odd.

But did that mean Jesus just accepted everyone as they were? Did he mean to give the impression in touching the man with the horrible skin disease that you just open the church doors and let anyone in, no matter what physical, mental or sexual illness they’ve got, because you don’t want to make anybody feel unwanted or rejected?

Yes, he did, because compassion means just that – your heart goes out to people that society keeps at arm’s length. But, take note, the contagious man didn’t come to Jesus looking for acceptance, he came looking for healing: “If you are willing,” he said to Jesus in Mark 1:40, “you can make me clean.” What this man saw in Jesus was the chance to STOP being on the edges and marginalized.

It was horrible for the man, knowing that people couldn’t accept him. He could have started a campaign to demand acceptance – like marginalized groups do today – but it wouldn’t have worked any better back then than it does today, because no matter how much the marginalized scream ‘discrimination’, or demand that we all ‘celebrate diversity’, there will always be people whose brains cannot accept some behaviours as normal. A man acting, dressing and sounding like a woman, for instance, will forever be considered weird, scary and repulsive to some people. The solution for the man approaching Jesus, then, wasn’t demanding acceptance. What he wanted was healing.

And lo and behold that’s exactly what the Kingdom of God offered, because Jesus’ answer to the man hoping Jesus would want to heal him in Mark 1:41 was, “Of course I’m willing. Be clean.”

What an eye-opener that must’ve been for Jesus’ disciples, that the Kingdom of God was about helping marginalized people to not be marginalized – by healing them of what was causing their marginalization. As a disciple, therefore, you were learning two things about the Kingdom of God from Jesus here: First of all, that nobody fell outside the circle of Jesus’ compassion. He really felt for the marginalized. But secondly, healing was on the books too, the chance to rid oneself of the stigma that society would keep on placing on you – by removing in you what was causing that stigma in the first place. It sounded like a great solution to a problem that both the unchangeable Law of Moses and the natural revulsions in people’s heads could do nothing about.

So let’s ask the question outright: Does the Kingdom of God accept marginalized people? Answer: Yes it does, all of them, no matter how weird or repulsive society thinks they are. But is that all the Kingdom of God is about? No, because acceptance alone doesn’t solve the problem of being marginalized, but healing can. And this is what the man in Mark 1:40 grabbed a hold of. Obviously he much appreciated Jesus’ compassion and willingness to touch him and accept him, but what he really wanted was healing, because he knew what it was like living in a culture that could not and would not accept him in the condition he was in. The stigma of his illness would never go away. People would naturally and understandably avoid him. He would always be marginalized and viewed negatively, therefore, while his problem remained.

Healing, therefore, was what he needed, and he saw in Jesus the chance to get it. And when he asked for it, guess what? In verse 42 he got it.

It was a perfect illustration of a man who saw the Kingdom of God in action in Jesus and he sought what it offered. He literally proved Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:32-33 that if you seek the Kingdom of God your needs will be taken care of. Well this man sought the Kingdom and the healing it offered, and his need was taken care of.

Can you see how demonstrating the revolutionary ways of the Kingdom of God draws people to it? We may not be the greatest teachers in the world when it comes to speaking in public or explaining our beliefs, but we can become hugely effective teachers in the ways of the Kingdom when we treat the marginalized and rejected in our society like Jesus reacted to the man in Mark. Jesus reacted with compassion and the offer of healing. And he promised he’d equip his disciples with those same desires, because that’s how he draws more people into his Kingdom. Compassion and healing go hand-in-hand. Compassion alone starts the healing process rolling, but Jesus is also offering the power to heal through his disciples too.

So where does that leave us now?

Well, I for one readily admit I’m not the most compassionate creature, and I haven’t really thought much about the impact of compassion on healing the marginalized. Some people just disgust me, and I’m not actually sure I want to see them healed. Could I, for instance, accept a priest who’s abused dozens of children? Could I take his hand if he came to me seeking help and healing? Could I feel compassion for him when he tells me his life has been hell?

No? Well, clearly I haven’t caught on to the revolutionary ways of the Kingdom yet, and how beautifully they work. And there’s no denying they work, because a brief glimpse into Christian history reveals remarkable healings by compassionate disciples of Christ. Wilberforce, for instance, took on the fight to free slaves from their misery, and he won it. Florence Nightingale became the founder of modern nursing in her fight to get proper care for the sick and wounded in war. Livingstone took on the challenge of breaking through the darkness in Africa with the light of the gospel, and he succeeded. Elizabeth Fry fought to improve conditions for women in prisons, and was honoured and supported by royalty. Barnardo transformed the lives of vulnerable children and young people, and when it comes to leprosy, well, Christians have revolutionized the understanding and treatment of lepers. Leprosy, because of Jesus’ disciples living what Jesus started, is no longer the terrible scourge it used to be.

Christian history, therefore, clearly proves that Jesus has never stopped being willing to make people clean. And through his disciples he’s never stopped bringing healing and hope to thousands of outcasts and unfortunates. The evidence is overwhelming that the revolution he began has not slowed down one bit, and it’s having the same impact today in its revolutionary ways as it had on the man with the skin disease in Mark chapter one.

So, do I feel guilty that I haven’t done great things like Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa for those in need? At times, yes, I do, but it’s more accurate to say I’m embarrassed that I didn’t quite understand what Jesus got started, or that it has continued in power and healing ever since. As a Christian and a disciple, therefore, I have underestimated and underused the ability Jesus gives to his disciples to demonstrate his Kingdom and draw people into it.

But at least I understand why. I can see now, after reading this incident in Mark’s gospel, that my view of other people has been heavily tainted by the prejudices and fears of the society I live in, and I haven’t overcome that part of the world yet. I know I shouldn’t be prejudiced or condemning, but a part of me still wants to poke a stick at people I’m revolted by.

On the other hand, I’m not backing down from the fact that what some people do is awful, revolting, and horribly contagious – and it’s not surprising that society fears and avoids them too. But we’re not society. We were called by Jesus to be his disciples demonstrating the revolutionary ways of his Kingdom – AND the power it has to heal.

Evil doesn’t want the power of the Kingdom of God to be seen, of course, so it tries to give us excuse to maintain our prejudices and fears. But Jesus dismissed evil and told it to shut up. And so do we. Not by yelling at it with authority like Jesus did, but by refusing to accept any excuse for treating anyone as a lesser being and undeserving of the power and healing of the Kingdom of God.

Can we, therefore, view people as Jesus viewed them? That people are just sick. What they need, therefore, is a hospital that can comfort them and make them well. And Jesus came to provide exactly that. He came to reverse the damage done to people by evil by creating a hospital for them called ‘the church’.

And the church’s response is the same as Jesus’ response. It says to the sick, “We want to help; let us help you and make you well.”

But what has made that easier for me to accept is that what’s causing things like homosexuality, pedophilia, pornography and any other sexual aberration you care to mention, is nothing more than a contagious illness picked up from others. It’s just like the man in Mark 1 with the highly contagious skin disease. It got started somewhere and he simply picked it up in the same way you pick up any other contagious illness.

And that includes mental illness. It too floats round society lodging in a mind here and a mind there, and some people are more susceptible and vulnerable than others. Evil has managed to create that kind of world, where somehow these illnesses get started and then they become contagious. They spread through society and develop such strength that no treatment can cure them. Such was the problem with leprosy. But there are mental illnesses just as strong and untreatable as leprosy, condemning people to a life of being scoffed at, bullied and marginalized.

But we have the cure. Jesus gives us the warmth of his kindness for mentally sick people, and he gives us his healing touch too, because that’s what he started the revolution and called disciples for. It was to provide a hospital for the sick that would clearly demonstrate the revolutionary purpose of the Kingdom of God to heal the damage caused by evil.

And think what that might stir in the heads of young Christians who understand this, who set out into the career world with this in mind and make huge inroads in the understanding and treatment of mental illness. And by doing so they become witness to Jesus Christ that he was absolutely right when he said the Kingdom of God has arrived and it is great news.

If that’s what they seek, then Jesus will make it possible. That’s what seeking his Kingdom means. It means seeking to promote and live the revolutionary compassion and healing touch that Jesus demonstrated and taught. And that’s how we become highly effective teachers.

Going through the book of Mark, therefore, has helped me grasp that Jesus is still on the job reaching out through his disciples to the people on the edges and making people clean, and since I’m one of his disciples I can be part of that too, BECAUSE, he promised, he would MAKE me into that kind of person. I can think I’m not a teacher or the compassionate type, but Jesus just says, “You’re my disciple, chum, so watch me make you into one – if that’s what you seek too.”


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