This article is linked to the TLW Bible study post for July 4 and based on these scriptures listed for July 4 (Revised Common Lectionary).
OT: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 — After years of dishonour, David is crowned as King of Israel and Judah
NT gospel: Mark 6:1-13 — Jesus is dishonoured in his home town, Nazareth
NT letter: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 — Paul is says he delights in insults, hardship and persecutions because they show show Christ’s power
OUR STORY this week is about how God’s honour, and public dishonour, often go together. Why is that?
There are two systems, two kingdoms in view here and they operate on opposite principles. We all know about getting votes, for politicians, or getting an impressive number of followers on social media. There’s a part of all of us that wants to grandstand, and a draw attention to ourselves, and it is shown in the perverse way we give honour to those considered ‘celebrities’.
But God’s kingdom doesn’t work that way. He has the glory and does not share it with others, and the honour He may give us is dependent on us understanding that well. Jesus said at the very start of His teaching on the mountain, the well-known ‘blessing’ sayings in Matthew 5, that the people God is looking for to bless are the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… and the meek.
“The meek” — it’s not a description we readily choose for ourselves. But what it means is simply the opposite of someone being ‘up themselves’ because the only person they want to ‘up’ is God Himself. The meek person wants what God wants, and doesn’t have their own agenda. The meek person is concerned about God’s honour and reputation, not their own.
We see this first in the OT story in 2 Samuel 5 which begins:
All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, you… led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’ ”2 Samuel 5:1-2
They knew the Lord has spoken this word over David through Samuel, but they had been remarkably slow in responding to it. During this time he had been forced to move from place to place for his own safety, at times treated like an outlaw. There had been a kind of ‘cancel culture’ operating in which David and his unofficial army kept Israel’s enemies at a distance with many courageous exploits — but nobody could mention this at court.
Saul, an incompetent and insecure ruler, needed to create a lot of honour for himself, while David was being schooled in the practice of humility and utter dependence on the Lord. He was learning that being surrendered to God’s will and purpose, was the way to see God’s power at work. It was best to leave that glory where it belonged.
But now there has been a shift. The timing is right. And there is a covenanting together in a place of historic significance where many of the nation’s patriarchs had been buried:
When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.2 Samuel 5:3
David waited until he was thirty years old before this word from the Lord could be fulfilled. It was a long and difficult apprenticeship — but it led to a long and renowned reign:
In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty years.2 Sam. 5:5
There is something of an echo of this in Jesus’ experience at the start of His ministry, followng His baptism and the spiritual transformation that happened at that time, when the Holy Spirit was seen to rest on Him like a dove.
We know that in these early days He ministered in synagogues in Judea before returning to Galilee. Like Paul and Barnabas and Silas and later, Timothy, He saw the synagogue as the natural place to find the more believing people who would be open to put their trust in His message of the kingdom of God. In Capernaum many people believed and some followed wherever He went. But in His home town of Nazareth, some who had known Him a long time were resentful.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given Him? What are these remarkable miracles He is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter?”Mark 6:3-4
It was acceptable to do the works of God, but not if you were just a tradesman. And they attempted to ‘cancel’ Him. And in Luke’s account they forcibly ejected Him from the synagogue, and Mark’s story continues:
He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them.Mark 6:5
But as is so often the case in God’s order, one door closing is the sign that another is about to open. And at this point, it is time for the Twelve to get some practice in proclaiming that this is the time for people to repent, change and believe that in Jesus the kingdom has come near to them.
But they were to go out in a way that forced them to seek the hospitality of others.
Calling the Twelve to him, He began to send them out two by two…
…These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff — no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.From Mark 6:7-10
It was a good way of finding out who was open to the message of Jesus — and who was not. They were not to persist in a place where people would not welcome them, or listen, but to find the ones who were.
They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.Mark 6:12-13
Jesus’ mission seemed to have been curtailed by hostility and an attempt on His life. But it was a shift in God’s timing and a new moment: now the disciples were exercising their mission in His name.
Following the Scriptures through and letting them bring their message in their own order, we now jump forward thirty years or so, and Paul is writing his later letter to the Christians in Corinth. In Corinth everyone, it seemed, wanted to be on a pedestal as a public speaker or teacher and in Paul’s absence, some for whom the gospel was the latest philosophy rather than a life-changing encounter with Jesus had begun to take centre stage.
Paul has already reminded them of the cost — and the scars — to him and his companions in bringing them the good news of Jesus and His kingdom. Paul was not a physical figure to impress, especially Greeks who were inclined to elevate style over substance. It was easy to dismiss this insignificant looking Jewish man with his unexaggerated, plain speaking.
Paul writes, reminding them of an encounter with God so profound it took him out of circulation for a few years. He doesn’t make it personal, but carefully present what God has done, by His grace:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven… I know that this man… was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.2 Cor. 12:2
Paul has had an encounter with God so profound He cannot describe it or talk about it freely. And he relates this to their perception of him as being, in Corinthian eyes, rather unimpressive:
I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.2 Cor. 5:5
He goes on to allude to a particularly difficult trial he has endured. This may have been the persecuting attentions of a particularly difficult enemy, or it may have been a battle with physical illness. His point is, that this trial served to keep him dependent on God. Perhaps he was remembering Jesus’ teaching: “Blessed are the meek…”
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”…
… That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”2 Cor. 5:9-10
What Jesus demonstrated, was what King David, the Twelve, and then Paul, all learned to put into practice. God’s loving grace is a uniquely powerful, life-transforming force, but it has to have a clear and pure channel to flow.
That means a channel cleared of the obstructions of self-importance and ego, or the false understanding that if God has worked something through us, that is about us!
The OT and NT — perhaps most clearly in the Acts of the Apoostles — are full of stories of righteous people doing their best to follow God’s will with God’s love — and being persecuted for it. Often it is religious people and even other Christians who are being deceived by the enemy into turning on God’s servants. The ‘cancel culture’ that is an contemporary expression may be a new label, but it is not a new thing. So, as believers we have to accept that difficulties — which can be personal — come with the territory, and the other side of that coin, to guard against falling for the same deception when we feel threatened by another ministry.
And above all, that God’s glory and honour is incomparably greater and more desirable than accolades from those around us.