In a recent post on Mark 6 we saw that rejection is a real possibility for those who follow Jesus. And that means you need to make a decision. Following Christ will have consequences. It will mean rejection. And so you must choose.
- You must choose Christ over family approval
Jesus has already said his true family are not his relatives, but those who do God’s will (3:31-35). If some of you become Christians your families will reject you. You’ll have choose between Jesus and your family – just as he did.
For others the choice is not so black and white. You’re family don’t reject you. But they do put pressure on you to put family before faith – to put career before mission, to put family gatherings before church gatherings.
- You must choose Christ over peer approval
Verse 26 says: ‘The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her.’ Herod doesn’t want to kill John, but he does so ‘because of his dinner guests’. He can’t lose face. So he gives in to peer pressure.
Maybe you’re like Herod. You’re fascinated by Jesus just as Herod was fascinated by John. But you’re trapped by peer pressure. You can’t commit yourself to Jesus because of your dinner guest, because of your family and friends. you’re worried about what people will think.
Being a Christian today is not cool. It never has been. 1 Peter 4:3-4 says: ‘For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.’ Some of you know this experience.
It’s not just young people. A friend recently toured theological seminaries. In each case the Principal wanted to make the Seminary more missional, but main opposition came from the faculty because they wanted the approval of their academic peers.
We all have peers. We all want the approval of some group of people. I want to encourage you in your life group to identify the peer group whose approval you crave. Who do want to like you? Who do want to respect you? And what pressures does that create to compromise the gospel?
- You must choose Christ over social approval
Homosexual marriage. The reality of hell. Euthanasia and abortion. Self-sacrifice instead of self-fulfilment. The uniqueness of Christ. It’s not hard to list big issues on which the church is at odds with our culture – and increasingly so. Christian truth is no longer mainstream. But more than that. Our view are often now seen as deviant. It’s not just that what is moral has expanded. Morality has become immortality. Black is white and white is black. Christian truth is now seen as immoral. So will you wave the flag of Christian truth when it means other see you as immoral?
These are the choices that Mark is presenting to us. And if we ended here the answer would be obvious: we would opt for family, peer and social approval. Why follow Christ if it means rejection? Why pay that price?
But Mark’s Gospel does not end here. These stories are not an isolated cluster. Instead they are part of a bigger story. So we need trace how the theme of rejection unfolds in Mark’s bigger story. And Mark makes some big promises to those who are rejected for Christ.
The ultimate verdict
Look at 14:61-64:
Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’
‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’
They all condemned him as worthy of death.
Here is Jesus on trial. And what is the world’s verdict? Condemnation. Death. Here is the ultimate rejection. He is ‘worthy of death’. This is the worst the world can do.
- Today people ignore Jesus. Our society excludes him from public discourse. Or friends refuse invitations to engage with his message.
- Today people mock Jesus. Our society makes him the butt of jokes on satirical TV programmes. Our friends repeat those jokes in the staff canteen or on Facebook.
- Today people attack Jesus. Our society sends angry diatribes to the top of best-seller lists. Our friends can’t believe we hold such old-fashioned beliefs.
We see all of those things happening today. But they are all manifestations of the ultimate rejection: when we get the change we kill our Creator.
But in that extract from his trial Jesus quotes from a famous vision that the Prophet Daniel had seen. Jesus says: ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ (14:62).
Daniel saw the empires of this world. He describes them as ‘terrifying and frightening and very powerful’ (Daniel 7:7). But then he sees heaven with God on the throne. And he describes heaven as a court room: ‘The court was seated and the books were opened.’ (Daniel 7:10). And the empires and cultures of the world are stripped of their power. And instead ‘there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the son of man is given everlasting dominion (Daniel 7:13-14).
This is what Jesus quotes at his trial. He’s saying this: ‘You may condemn me here on earth. But there is a courtroom in heaven. And the verdict of that courtroom will overturn the verdict of the world. The earth condemns me. But heaven will vindicate me.’
And that’s precisely what happens. The earth declares Jesus ‘worthy of death’. Heaven declares Jesus worthy of life. And so Mark’s Gospel ends with the resurrection of Jesus. The earth condemns him to death. Heaven vindicates him by raising him to life.
The disapproval of your family or the scorn of your friends or our culture’s rejection of Christianity is not a sign that Jesus is wrong. It is simply the latest expression of humanity’s rebellion against God. In the Garden of Eden Adam doubted God’s word and rejected God’s rule. And we have been repeating that act of rebellion ever since, bringing it to a terrible climax at the crucifixion. It’s not new. And it’s not clever. For in heaven our verdict is overturned and Jesus is vindicated.
But that’s not all. There’s a feature of Daniel’s vision that’s not often noticed. It’s clear that ‘the son of man’ is Jesus. That’s how he describes himself and he is the One who receives all authority. But in fact in Daniel 7, when God explains the vision to Daniel, it’s not Jesus who is vindicated or rewarded, but ‘the holy people of the Most High’:
As I watched, this horn [kingdom] was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favour of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom … Then all sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. (Daniel 7:21-22, 27)
In Daniel 7 the court of heaven finds ‘in favour of the holy people of the Most High’.
So is it Jesus? Or is it his people? The answer is both. The vindication of Jesus is the vindication of his people. We are vindicated in him and through him. His resurrection is a sign and promise of our vindication.
Why choose Christ over family approval and peer approval and social approval? Because his resurrection is the sign that the verdicts of this world have been overturned in the heavenly court of appeal. Even while your family pressurises you or your friends mock you or your peers scorn you or your society rejects you, the court of heaven is finding ‘in favour of the holy people of the Most High’. And this is the ultimate verdict. This is the ultimate vindication.
- Suppose you choose to live on a needy estate. And your mother berates you for risking the safety of her grandchildren. Even as she speaks, the court of heaven is finding in favour of the people of God.
- Suppose you choose teach English to refugees rather than pursue a career. And your father tells you how disappointed he is with you, especially after he paid for your education. Even as he speaks, the court of heaven is finding in favour of the people of God.
- Suppose you ask a colleague to read Mark’s Gospel with you. And they go on about how you can worship a God who allows children to get cancer, who sanctions suicide bombers, to is homophobic. Even as she speaks, the court of heaven is finding in favour of the people of God.
His trial is not the only time Jesus alludes to Daniel’s vision. He does so right at the centre of Mark’s Gospel in 8:34-38 as he calls on people to follow him:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’ (8:34-38)
Jesus calls us to take up our cross. In other words, we must accept the rejection that reflects the cross, the ultimate rejection. The world may even condemn us as worthy of death, just as it condemned him. But the court of heaven finds in our favour. And it will vindicate us by raising us to eternal life, just as it vindicated Jesus.
This is the choice and promise before all us this morning. We face it in different ways, but we all face this choice. We can be ashamed of Christ and affirmed by the world. Or we can affirm Christ and be shamed by the world.
But the promise of Jesus is this: If we stand firm then in Christ we can have the verdict of heaven and Christ will welcome us when he comes in glory.