Same old temptations threaten gospel simplicity and humility

“Throwing his cloak aside, he [Bartimaeus] jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said: ‘Rabbi, I want to see’.  Mark 10:50-51

In this story we see Jesus, identified as the Son of David, the promised Messiah, surrounded by a large crowd, stopping to focus on a nobody, a man who had nothing, not even his sight. In response to this man’s bold request which involved throwing down the one thing he did have, his cloak, Jesus heals him, and he follows Jesus up to Jerusalem.
This is another example of the compassion and the power of Jesus, who again and again demonstrated his identity and opened a glimpse of the future kingdom by overcoming physical curses on humanity such as sickness and disability. And this is a picture of you and me, and how we came to follow the Saviour today. Jesus meets the needs of those who know they are spiritually disadvantaged; as our merciful Lord he forgives and cleanses those who turn to him in repentance and faith. He opens the eyes of the spiritually blind, he enables the light of God’s love and truth to flood in where previously there was darkness, so we have power to follow him.
This is the Gospel of Christ – praise to Christ our Lord!
But now let’s go back a bit, to look at this chapter (Mark 10) in context. Note that Jesus asks the blind man “what do you want me to do?” – and Bartimaeus makes his request about wanting to simply be made whole. But in the previous section it’s James and John who take the initiative, saying in v35 “we want you to do something for us”. And their request is about much more – it’s about wanting to be in the high seats, to be in charge. Jesus has to teach them about servanthood. Their presumption and desire for power is contrasted with Bartimaeus’s humility and wanting to see.
Then go back further to the section beginning at verse 17. Another conversation, this time with the religious rich man. We’ve all heard sermons on this passage. Jesus’s attitude to this man is one of love (v21), but he discerns a deep problem in his heart, and cuts through to reveal what this is: pride in his conformity to the law; weighed down by his wealth. But then when Jesus warns his disciples about the danger of riches, their reaction is one of amazement.  “Who then can be saved?” they ask, and Peter seems particularly aggrieved:  “We have left everything to follow you…” perhaps implying, we were hoping for a reward? Jesus talks about the reward, not in finance, but in fellowship here, and heaven to come.

camel         sowers dial

And then we can go back to the beginning of the chapter. Another question for Jesus, this time from the Pharisees. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” We know that at the time different rabbis had different opinions, with some saying that you could divorce over a burnt dinner (see for example here, p10). There are certainly lessons in this exchange about how Jesus navigated a controversy of his time, and how his teaching specifically applies in the difficult pastoral situations today when marriages break down. But the bigger picture is this: Jesus is confronting the human tendency to seek ‘freedom’ from God’s good design in sex and relationships. Here even religious leaders in a strict monotheistic faith are looking for ways to push the boundaries. Jesus gives such an uncomplicated response - a man and a woman, for life, no divorce -  that the disciples can’t believe it and ask him about it.

Look what immediately follows. After this debate about the nature of intimate relationships and marriage, Jesus then welcomes and blesses children (Mark 10:13-16), who are not yet thinking about such things, but who are most damaged by the effects of adult sexual ‘freedom’, namely family breakdown. We should receive the kingdom like a child, not an adult, Jesus says. Then he confronts adult love of money, and takes the disciples aside and talks about the mission of the cross (Mark 10:32-34). Then Jesus challenges yearning for power, and this is contrasted with the faith of the poor man who throws aside even his cloak to get healing and shalom from Jesus.
Sex, money and power are still problems today, and not just in the world but also in the church. Within the Anglican Communion, the faithful have come together under bold and prophetic leadership, rightly discerning that attempts to overturn the teaching of the bible and of the Lord Jesus himself on sex and marriage are a symptom of a more widespread rejection of God’s creation order and his authority (see reports on the recent GSFA conference below). In different parts of the world Anglicans have made costly sacrifices of financial loss for the sake of truth, for example by not accepting donations with ‘strings attached’ of opening the door to the ‘progressive’ agenda.
But even Anglicans connected with Gafcon, and also GSFA, must be careful about potential compromise in these areas of sex, money and power, where satan continues to try to undermine the church. Yes we want to re-set the Anglican Communion,  but I want me and my people to be in charge! Yes I believe we are united with true believers all over the world through shared acceptance of the biblical gospel, but in practice I don’t want it to cost me financiallyI want to follow God’s word in matters of sexual ethics, but I’m drawn to interpretations which allow flexibility, and which won’t cause me to be a social outcast!

As we pray for the growth of the kingdom and contend for the gospel in a context of many false messages, let’s be careful that our vision is in tune with the challenging teaching of Jesus. Let’s ask the Lord to keep our hearts aligned with the example of the children, the faithful disadvantaged, and the Lord himself who did not come to be served but to serve.