It is not possible to get through a week without being troubled by news about the Church’s response to same-sex marriage, a pastoral leadership crisis or some such thing. The people of God seem to be fulfilling the prophetic judgement; “I set every man against his neighbour.” (Zech 8:10). God is using the moral and political disorder of the times to trouble us. This is a good thing in an age when like the evil kings of Israel we are used to getting our own way; “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?”” (1 Ki 18:17).
The Old Testament unapologetically treats the LORD as a trouble maker. Moses remarks; “Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.’” (Ex 5:23). And later; “Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents…and Moses asked the Lord, ‘Why have you brought this trouble on your servant?…If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me right now” (Num 11:10-11, 15 cf. ).
Trouble is often a sign of judgement on idolatry (1 Ki 11:14, 23). Jesus came to bring trouble; ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matt 10:34-36). Jesus prophesies trouble in the most intimate relationships of all, the family. Such conflict is simply expected where Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists turn to Christ, why is it not present with us (Matt 24:9)? The answer is found in subtle false worship.
Instead of being taught by the Spirit of Jesus we are being instructed by the false witness of idols (Jer 10:8; Hab 2:18; Isa 44:20). Aussies revel in the idol of indifference; “No worries. She’ll be right mate.” Inside and outside the church we bask in a view that God is indifferent to how we live.
On a more sophisticated level, like the Green lobbyist outside my polling booth, we are convinced that we have outgrown creation, natural law and tradition and have the power to construct a moral and spiritual world in our own image. It is humanity which defines the ultimate reality of “good and evil”, properties once reserved for God or the gods.
Contemporary Christianity is facing a cultural crisis like that in Roman times. In its apathy the Laodicean Church seems like most of us; “you are lukewarm…you say I need nothing” (Rev 3:16, 17). Jesus however is not indifferent to their indifference, “I will spew you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16). The spiritual situation of the time was catastrophic in the following way. Down the street from the Loadicean (house) church was a temple containing an image of “mortal man” immortalised (Rom 1:23).
The age old Eden-born desire to never die had been realised in a speaking image of a beast whose “mortal wound was healed” and whose number 666 is “the number of a man” (Rev 13:3, 15, 18). This was a temple to the Caesars, and whoever would not worship this living idol could be put to death. The power of the Caesar cult was that its worshippers did not want to die. Apparently this was a value that the local Christians shared with the general populace. A willingness to suffer for Christ is hardly the mood in our churches today. Of this apathetic blindness Jesus would deliver us.
Bearer of Trouble
Unlike the rest of humanity for whom death is the climactic trouble Jesus was born for the purpose of dying; “the Son of Man…came to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). The troubles of rejection, temptation, attempted murder and so on left Jesus unperturbed.
What then are we to make of his struggle in Gethsemane, ““if possible take this cup from me…”” (Mark 14:36)?
The cry of dereliction, ““why have you forsaken me””, reveals that the most serious dimension of the cup of God’s wrath is handing sinners over to a conviction that he is apathetic to their “sins” (Mark 15:34). The most troubling aspect of a parent-child relationship is not anger but disinterestedness, indifference and being lukewarm; this is what Jesus bears in our place on the cross (2 Cor 5:21).
Truthfully however there in no apathy in the heart of God and Christ’s death is not evidence of an absent Father but the place where the false fatherhood of Satan is exposed and vanquished (John 8:44). Here, Jesus “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col 2:15).
Here he made the whole demonic host “an open shame” by refusing Satan’s lie that mortality in itself is fearful and shaming (Heb 2:14-15; 12:2). Deliverance from lukewarmness for the Church today lies in joining with Jesus on the journey to the cross as a public spectacle of dishonour. We are being recalled to the ancient practice of the public humiliation of society’s trouble makers.
Many churches today are designed like entertainment centres, theatres or stadiums, but these places in the ancient world held a very different significance for Christians.
They were the places where Christians as defiers of Caesar were dragged forth for torture or mauling.
This was to be a stage arranged spectacle designed to image the triumph of the Empire over all other powers. It turned out to be a spectacle of quite another sort. Take the example of Origen. In 0202 when his father was beheaded for his Christian beliefs, Origen wanted to die as a martyr, too. But his mother prevented him from even leaving the house—by hiding his clothes.
Thousands of others however made it to the stadiums and by their undying faith in Christ joined him in making a mockery of evil’s threat of death.
The message remains the same today; “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God…” (1 Pet 4:16).
It is nearing the time when Western Christians will eagerly embrace the prospect of being hauled before the arenas of our time, like the law courts, to be mocked and vilified by those who think that humanity can legislate into existence the truth about morality.
As if the ancient demonic lie, “You will not die….you will be like God knowing good and evil.”” had at last come true (Gen 3:5-6). Only those unashamed to accept the death of reputation and worldly success can open the eyes of the blind to another world created by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. With Jesus we are one in redemptive suffering for others (Heb 2:10-11). No indifference here, but glorious trouble upon trouble.
““These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” v.8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed” (Acts 17:6-8).
When was the last time you were labelled, inside or outside of the Church, as a trouble-maker?
For us not be stigmatised means we share with the Laodicean believers something which Jesus and the apostles lacked, conformity to worldliness.
Tragically, this exposes us to the very thing for which Jesus died to deliver us – being spectacles who can experience the power of Satan’s shame and fear.
May the Lord trouble us so much that the idol of apathy might die in our midst so that we may enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom 8:21).
Author: Dr. John Yates