Back To The Dark

2 Chronicles 24:17–22, Matthew 10:17–22, Acts 6:8–15, Acts 7:51–59 (read online ⧉)

Yesterday was only Christmas and here we are back into the darkness of the world. How true to life that is. A baby is born and a family feels joy. In the midst of that joy, there are concerns about food, shelter, relationships. There can even be future concerns such as disease or college. While a new life begins, other lives continue. In some respects, it is dishonest to always talk about the baby, because everyone else is just as important. When we are talking about Jesus, things are a little different, but the reality is that Mary and Joseph still had their lives to deal with. For example, the whole reason they were in Bethlehem was to be registered. Once they were registered, the Roman government was going to tax them accordingly. Sounds great, doesn’t it? It does sound like real life. That doesn’t mean we have to enjoy the darkness, nor does it mean we have to accept it as inevitable. It is however reality.

Joash had been a good king with a singularly great and God-honoring advisor, Chief Priest Jehoida. Despite Joash’s obedience and Jehoida’s piety, the followers of other gods jumped into an advisory role with Jehoida’s death. As with much of Scripture, we don’t have the entire story. There was likely family and politics in the midst of it. There was also some hopeful and blind optimism which lead to thinking that all would be well. It wasn’t. Who knows how quickly Judah fell back into apostasy: days, months, years. God sent prophets to guide the people (especially the king) back to the right road, but they all failed. That God sent Zechariah—who would have likely had a significant place in Joash’s life—as a prophet tells us how serious God was. Joash, for whatever reason, sealed his apostasy and the fate of Judah by stoning him at the temple of God. The act that was to be used upon those opposed to God was instead used by them against a man of God.

Jesus knowing his future and knowing the past history of Judah wasn’t really predicting much. If Jesus’ disciples were faithful, they would be persecuted. When Jesus talks about the fracturing of the family perhaps he had in mind Jehoida, Joash, and Zechariah, who were (from our perspective) framily. At least, they should have been, and that is what the Scriptures guide us to concluding. The framily of king and prophet that should have been united, were divided and ultimately destroyed.

Not too much later, Stephen was killed. As he was in his community, it is possible that some of those who stoned him had been Jewish friends or family. For what was he brought to trial? Performing signs and winning arguments. So, he was falsely accused of blasphemy. Why was he killed? Because he claimed to see Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. The right and wrong lines between Joash and Zechariah are much firmer and better defined than those between Stephen and his accusers. We know that the Jewish (especially at that time) understanding of what it meant to follow God was wrong. However, unlike Joash they were not advocating for a different God. It was an understanding of God that was the issue.

This difference of understanding applies to us today. The Western church is going through a series of upheavals. Sadly, the world watches and laughs. These upheavals are necessary, though. The church needs to discover (in some cases) and rediscover (in other ones) what it means to be a Christian in a non-Christian world. Much of these upheavals will allow us to understand ourselves better. The reason this is critical for the church is that we will be returning to the times of persecution in the Western world. No, we are not quite there, but it will come. The church needs to be ready, and a lot of being ready will require the shedding of a lot of ancient weight. It also will probably require us to pick-up ancient ways long discarded. Lastly, it will require us to learn a new language with which to share the Gospel. The message doesn’t change, just the method and the language.

1) Do you think Joseph and Mary were concerned the day after Jesus’ birth, or were they still enjoying the moment? Why?

2) Today’s passages are actually historical church decision (i.e., the lectionary). Why do you think the observation of Stephen’s martyrdom follows Christmas Day?

3) Family and framily squabbles and fights are usually the ones that hurt the most. Why is that? How does impact the Gospel?