What is a Christian doing in this world #33

The Holy Spirit had come to keep the Apostles and their followers in the world and not take them out of the world (John 17:15-19). They were to be “Kingdom Builders” and not space travelers. However, their memories of what Jesus had said that they were to do, were suppressed by their endeavor to depart from this world in a hurry. It was after their commonality failed, that they let the Holy Spirit help them recall Jesus’ charge and Jesus’ teachings. The “Manual” or the “Sermon on the Mount” are the Words of Jesus, the Son of God, and Son of God the Father (John 6:63; 14:24). They summarise everything we need in this world to represent Jesus our Lord and build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. That is why spirit-filled people speak of the “Sermon on the Mount” as being “Kingdom Ethics.” Ethics of the world and not of heaven where we no longer need a manual to live by. 

The Commonality was not like the Kingdom of God

The first Christians in Jerusalem were led by their faith and not by a manual; however, their community was bound for heaven. Only, God’s intentions and schedule did not conform to man’s hope and prayers (Mark 13:32-37; Acts 1:7; Deuteronomy 18:20-22). The two witnesses, regarding the return of Jesus, gave the Apostles presumptuous hope, contradicting Jesus’ request to keep the Apostles and their disciples as witnesses in the world (John 17:15-21; Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8). Obviously, their faith was unrealistic and misdirected; a tendency we humans all have—hoping and praying for things, that God, who is all knowing, cannot give to us. Much that we wish for and desire may cause more harm than we can possibly bear nor endure (Matthew 6:8). The fact that we end up doing so much that does not end in good faith but in fate, is evidence that God does not interfere in our choices. It is the Lord’s Wish and Will that man seeks first His Kingdom and His Righteousness (Matthew 6:33). However, it is up to man as to whether he will do the Will of the Lord (Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46). Even the Apostles, who were to leave Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit had arrived, did not leave when the first persecution scattered all the followers of Jesus, except the apostles (Acts 8:1).  

The idea to have “all things in common” ran into trouble when there were no more owners who parted with their properties, and those who had misgivings about giving it all to the Apostles, were treated severely with death (Acts 5:1-11). That was presumed to be the work of the Holy Spirit. The action of Peter frightened the new believers and therefore, it kept others from joining, and it also drained the supply of the sustenance. With the shortage of food and other necessary things, the Gentile widows were not receiving equal treatment from the Jewish distributors. So, seven men were selected to alleviate the disparity (Acts 6). Instead of appealing for help to a huge crowd of interested prospects in the Jesus way, the hyper zealous Stephen hammered the people with guilt, which turned the crowd against himself and Jesus’ followers. Stephen was stoned and the converts of Christ were scattered over Judea and Samaria (Acts 7-8). The Holy Spirit led these scattered converts of Jesus to spread the Good News. The Apostles did not leave Jerusalem for a very astute reason (Acts 8:1).

The first attempt for a commonality of life failed. However, the Mission of Christ was ignited, and the calculated decision of the Apostles to stay in Jerusalem paid off. A huge influx of people from all over the Roman empire came to learn about the man who was dead and now was alive. The Jews tried to bury Jesus, but now they were facing the Apostles and hundreds of witnesses, who had seen the man — who was dead and yet — was not dead. The first violent persecution was triggered by Stephen and it was carried out by a Jewish mob. The Jewish religious authority followed Gamaliel’s advice to let God take care of their problem (Acts 5:33-39). The leaders did listen to Gamaliel, but a man from Tarsus by the name of Saul, who guarded the clothes of Stephen’s stoners, persuaded them to give him the authority to continue persecuting the followers of Jesus. With the approval in writing from the Highest Jewis Council, Saul set out for Damascus to bring back men and women in chaines to Jerusalem. And as Gamaliel had warned, they did step on God’s Purpose and Jesus stopped Saul and the persecution. To add insult to their helpless intentions to end Jesus’ Mission, their main persecutor ended up with the Apostles in Jerusalem as a witness against the Jewish leaders. Imagine the impact the convert Saul into Paul had on the hostile council and on the followers of Jesus. There was peace and the Church grew larger and spread her wings over Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9:1-31). 

Gamaliel’s prediction did help to expand the church

The Holy Spirit used the persecution to strengthen the faith of the followers of Jesus and scatter them into the world with Christ’s message of “Redemption.” The Apostles were left alone, but the seven deacons, and three in particular, emerged as “leaders of the faith” in Jesus as the Christ: these were Stephen who was stoned for his faith (Acts 7), Philip who led Samaria and an Ethiopian to Christ (Acts 8:4-13; 26-40), and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch, where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians and where the world missions began (Acts 11-13). During this time, Peter and John went to Samaria (Acts 8:14-25), to Lydda-Joppa, and to Cornelius in Caesarea (Acts 9:32-10:48). Then, Peter, John Mark, Barnabas, Paul, Silas and others met and settled in Antioch, as the headquarters of Gentile Christianity (Acts 11-13). It was John Mark who joined Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey and no John Zebbedee who was a pillar in Jerusalem (Acts 13; Galatians 2:9). At this point Herod too became a persecutor of the followers of Jesus. Antioch was in his jurisdiction and it too was being overpopulated for its size.

What aroused and incited Herod, the Tetrarch, against the Christians? He was not concerned when his steward Chuza’s wife Joanna followed and supported Jesus (Luke 8:3). He was happy when Pilate sent Jesus to him, but he did not take part in removing Jesus (Luke 23:6-12). He did nothing when his court member Manaen was a leader in the Church of Antioch, in his district (Acts 13:1). But, when Peter and his companion arrived in Samaria, Herod felt that the trouble Peter had caused in Jerusalem had come to his backyard (Acts 8:14-25). Peter, to the contrary, had not caused any trouble in Jerusalem. Aside from his mishappening with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), and the misunderstanding regarding the imminent return of Christ, Peter made a name for himself and his fellow Apostles (Acts 5:12-16). The authorities stopped jailing them (Acts 5:17-42), and the election of seven men to serve the neglected Hellenist widows was regarded as the right choice. Things were going well with the arrangement and the Church grew immensely (Acts 6:1-7). But one of the seven called Stephen, was not the man he was chosen for. He ended up as the most outspoken witness for Jesus, and he dared to blame the Jews for his death. That hastened Stephen’s own stoning and deprived the Church of a very valuable teacher. Stephen’s boldness triggered the first violent attack on the Christians and drove them out of Jerusalem, but the pillars of the Church: Peter, James, and John were left intact (Acts 8:1; Galatians 2:9). 

Herod, the Tetrarch, was unfamiliar with Gamaliel’s warning

The leaders of the Church were aggressive and not as diplomatic and tactful as Jesus had suggested in his Sermon on the Mount. In a sense, they challenged Herod, presuming that the Lord would protect them. Well, the Lord at times, does let the wolf have one sheep so the others can be saved. Just as God the Father left Jesus in the hands of the Jewish leaders, so He left James Zebbedee to die at the hands of Herod’s men, but God did not let Herod have Peter or John. The messenger of God freed Peter from prison, and he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. Herod too was struck by the destroyer with a sickness that was mortal. He could not stop the church from expanding even with the removal of the three pillars (Acts 12).

The Tetrarchs’ persecution had a profound impact on the Church’s leadership and direction. To a student of Jesus’ intention, the Lord used the Herods more than He used the apostles to carry the Gospel into the world. The three pillars were replaced by Galileans and outsiders. Jesus’ half-brothers James and Jude took over the leadership of the Church in Jerusalem. They were backed by Joseph Barnabas, a Levite of Cyprus ( Acts 4;36), by Paul (Saul), a teachers and Parisee of Tarsus (Acts 9:11; 11:25; Silas Silvanus, a proficient Aramaic and Greek scribe (Acts 15:22; I Peter 5:12); and John Mark, cousin of Barnabas and son of Mary, prominent and very wealthy and respected by Jewish leaders and Romans.  These men were missionaries and were eager to reach the Gentiles. Paul, Barnabas, and Mark were the first team commissioned by the Church in Antioch (Acts 13). On the second tour: Paul partnered with Silas, and Timothy joined during their trip (Acts 16:3), Barnabas partnered with Mark and sailed to Cyprus (Acts 15:39). Following the split between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark, Paul’s health required constant attention and Luke, physician and writer, joined the team in Macedonia and stayed with Paul to his very end. Luke had already traced and written down the life and ministry of Jesus, and was keenly interested in recording Paul’s mission work. We do know that Luke was with Paul before he died in Rome (II Timothy 4:6-11; Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-11).

The Church grew in spite of personal differences caused by Mark

God does not stop because men disagree over a certain way things had to be done in His Kingdom. John Mark had left immediately after Paul blinded the nasty magician Elymas, and Paul branded Mark as a quitter and so did Luke (Acts 13:13; 15:36-41). This is surprising when Luke used all of Mark to write his account of Jesus and did not acknowledge it. Could it have been that Mark’s brief Gospel became the heart of the other Gospels that propelled the Church of Christ past Paul in to the future. Paul had to tell his own followers in Corinth that it was about Jesus the Christ and not of himself (I Corinthians 3). In my studies, I found no one with the credential of John Mark. Prominent in the Jewish community as an unidentified ruler (Luke 18:18), was very rich (Mark 10:22), and educated in Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. Who else but Mark’s mother could accommodate 120 people and take in the families of Jesus and his disciples, and not be interfered with by the authorities. My mind cannot fit John Zebedee into such a huge task, when he disappeared, after Herod had killed James his brother and Peter escaped Herod’s executioner. 

There is more that made me think of John Mark as the man behind all these men who spread the message of Christ. He first appeared in the background of Jesus’ last Passover meal with his disciples (Mark 14:12-16), then at Gethsemane while the three pillars slept (Mark 14:37-41, 51-52), and he ended up following Peter to Annas, helped him inside the court of the high priest (John 18:15-16). It also is the other disciple who went with Peter to the empty grave and believed that Jesus was alive (John 20:1-8). Now, where were Jesus’ mother and family, the disciples, and the women who had followed staying in hiding at this time, and were being taken care of? It was in Mary’s place who was the mother of the disciple to whom Jesus committed His mother. John Zebedee or any other disciple was not in any position to take care of any one. All of them had become homeless and they were in fear of their lives, and no one of the eleven disciples were present at Jesus’ crucifixion. So who was this disciple who had earned the love of Jesus and was not afraid to appear with Jesus’ mother during the humiliation and death of her Son (John 19:25-27)? Could the young ruler whom Jesus loved, who walked away, and then came back and became the other disciple of Jesus? (Mark 10:17-22). Well, some one like him or John Mark did appear as Peter’s  spiritual son in Antioch and in Babylon (Rome) (I Peter 5:13; Acts 12:12). Mark also traveled with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:5; 16:36-40), and went with Timothy to be with Paul in Rome (II Timothy 4:11).

What happened to the Sebedee brothers?

For a long time, I was led to believe that Jesus had twelve disciples whom He promoted to be apostles, but I overlooked comments like, “And when it was day, he (Jesus) called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles” (Luke 6:12-16). The author of Mark was even more specific why Jesus needed apostles and what kind of men they were: 

And Jesus went up into the hills, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder” (Mark 3:13-19).

James and John were ambitious, selfish, and annoying. They stopped a man from doing what Jesus did (Mark 9:38-41), and they also were ready to burn down a Samaritan village, which did not let them stay overnight (Luke 9:51-56). Then they demanded to sit on both sides with Jesus in His New Kingdom. It was at this time, that Jesus did not regard them as leaders in the future Kingdom, but that they too would die:

And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared (Mark 1o:35-45).

Herod the Tetrarch did kill James, drove Peter out of town, and made John Zebedee disappear (Acts 12). One hundred fifty years later, the Greek Latin Church had distanced itself from Christ. To restore that affinity, John Zebedee became a pastor of Ephesus, the author of the Gospel of John, and the recipient of The Book of Revelation. Peter became the source for the Gospel of Mark, and Matthew Levi the father of the Gospel of Matthew. Luke, who had brought honor to the Jews and Gentiles, was left to speak for himself. At the end, it is what the Holy Spirit who had preserved for us, the way back to our origin: “God is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and are’” (Acts 17:27-28).