25 April 2013Mark 13:5-13
“When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (vv. 11-13)
Rugby union coaches often argue that a strong defence is the key to winning titles. If you're a passionate rugby fan, then seeing your team defend with such determination that the opposition makes a mistake is almost as satisfying as a flowing attack.
That sort of obdurate endurance, a team sticking to the right way no matter how difficult it feels, is part of the advice Jesus gives to his followers.
It's not the most encouraging tutorial they've ever had. Jesus warns of "wars and rumours of wars" (v .7) - signalling the ongoing struggle between good and evil - and then offers advice, beginning with "when they bring you to trial". Not 'if' but 'when'. It's a certainty, Jesus says, that his followers will be in great danger.
The word translated "endure" means to hold your ground, to keep your position in spite of pressure.
Christians in the West don't face that sort of attack, but it's much more common in other parts of the world. Followers of Jesus are still being imprisoned and killed because they hold to their faith.
What Jesus says is that however people see you - victim, prisoner, accused, outsider - God knows your heart and will enable you to endure, and to hold firm. The promise is that enduring to the end brings salvation: not an escape from the consequences of other people's evil but an assurance that God will triumph in the end. It means everything will ultimately be alright - not in a simplistic way but in the belief that's God's commitment to human beings will result in the defeat of injustice.
The key to holding firm is that the Holy Spirit, the power of God living within Christians, will give the right words to say in any circumstance: even for those facing a trial for their life. Some of those who accepted Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah faced trials that ended in death sentences: many of them shocking in their brutality.
The hallmark of their defence was a total commitment to the kingship of Christ, even in the worst of circumstances. That defence held firm because they clung to the promise Jesus made that God would not abandon them.
- Think of a time when you've had to hold firm. Looking back, can you see God at work in that? If so, in what way?
- How can Western people really empathise with people who are imprisoned or killed for their faith?