The kingdom of God, you see, isn’t about talk – it’s about power.1 Corinthians 4:20
Mark’s gospel records Jesus miraculously feeding thousands of people with half a dozen loaves of bread and a few fish for a second time, in chapter 8. On this occasion, he follows up this miracle with a stern warning to his disciples. He tells them to be wary of two systems that were competing with the kingdom of God which, if not attended to, would adversely impact their ability to display God’s power and his kingdom. The political system and the religious system. As followers of Jesus, we too need to be mindful that we don’t become influenced by these worldviews and ways of thinking.
The political system is less about politics and political government and more about a way of thinking that elevates ‘becoming the best me I can be’ and personal advancement as humanity’s highest goal. It gives us a view of ourselves through the eyes of others. It makes us chase popularity and crave the approval of others, even strangers through social media. This view at best makes God absent in the world and disinterested. Jesus described this as the yeast or leaven of Herod, the self-proclaimed king of Israel at the time.
He also warned about the religious system or the yeast of the Pharisees. The Pharisees weren’t the only organised Jewish religious sect at the time, but they did play a major role in running the Temple in Jerusalem. Although Jesus interacted with a number of Pharisees with great kindness and compassion, he frequently gave this group a hard time.
A short history lesson. Originally, Moses made a tabernacle or tent to house God’s presence in the community of the Israelites as they wandered through the desert for 40 years. Later, King Solomon replaced the tent with a temple and God’s presence remained in the temple. However, when the Babylonians captured the Israelites and took them as captives to Babylon, they destroyed Jerusalem and the temple – and God’s presence left. Many years after this, Ezra and Nehemiah led a group that returned to Jerusalem from Babylon to rebuild the city and the temple. But God’s presence did not return to the temple. Over time, the Pharisees took on the role of running the temple in the absence of God’s presence and, when God did return, in the person of Jesus, they didn’t recognise him.
The religious system that Jesus warns about is a worldview that contains God but leaves him silent and powerless. It relegates him to the side-lines, elevating common sense, principles and programs over God’s presence and power. It is content to talk about Jesus but is unable to demonstrate him and to put the reality of the life of the age to come on display through miracles, signs and wonders.
If you take a moment to reflect, you may see the degree to which you have become influenced by the political or religious systems and have settled for the familiar and comforting. However, you may find yourself stirred and dissatisfied with cultural Christianity and find yourself echoing the prayer of Isaiah when he cries
God, if only you would tear open the heavenly realm and come down!
How the mountains would tremble in your awesome presence!
In the same way that fire sets kindling to blaze and causes water to boil, let the fire of your presence come down.
Reveal to your enemies your mighty name and cause the nations to tremble before you!
When you did amazing wonders we didn’t expect, you came down,
and mountains shuddered in your presence!
These amazing things had never been heard of before; you did things never dreamed of!
No one perceived your greatness.
No eye has ever seen a God like you, who intervenes for those who wait and long for you!
(see Isaiah 64:1-4)