I was visited by a Christian, who was a politician. He was seeking my support—and I suppose, by proxy, my church’s support—in a non-partisan election. As we got acquainted, he steered the conversation toward other issues, both moral and social, of great concern to him (and to many Christians). He was involved in a number of projects, and provided me with several informational brochures. As I remarked on the broad range of issues he was tackling, he responded almost apologetically, and with a grin, “I guess I’m just all about saving the world.”
In each of chapters 8, 9, and 10 of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus warns his disciples of his pending death. He has a mission to fulfill in Jerusalem. The disciples’ reactions to his predictions, however, have another focus. First Peter rebukes Jesus, because death is not part of Peter’s Messianic plan. Then Jesus rebukes Peter, because it is. The other disciples give no direct response, probably because Peter’s experience has taught them it’s safer to ignore Jesus “when he gets like that.”
In the context, the disciples are only concerned about “the kingdom” and their place in it. “We want to be seated on your right and left in your kingdom, Lord.” There’s no great contrast between the disciples’ thinking and that of the crowd in John 6:15, who—after the feeding of the 5,000—“intended to come and make [Jesus] king by force.”
Regarding their hope for a Messiah who does not die, Jesus’ disciples will eventually understand: That’s not God’s Messiah. And a political Messianic kingdom in the first century AD is in no way the kingdom of God. Jesus has not come to set up a temporal kingdom, to reform society, to restore the glory days of Israel’s theocracy, or to send us all back to Eden. None of that. He has simply come to suffer and die. And to rise again.
The Apostle Paul stated it precisely, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). That is all.
We are distracted by worldly thinking. That is, how do we make a better world for ourselves, our families, our nation? We pray for peace on earth. All this is good. That candidate’s efforts to move people toward godly thinking and behavior? Admirable. But while the Holy Spirit may be moving him as an individual to political engagement, this is not Christ’s mission, and not Christ’s mission for his Church. Jesus came not to move the culture closer to godly thinking and behavior, but to bring sinners, in repentance, to God. The Church is called to reach individual souls, change in society and culture flow from that. Many “good missions” can distract from the best. This is why we say with Paul, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Rev. Brent Juliot is Contributing Editor of F&F magazine and Pastor of Living Hope Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.