How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity! Psalm 133.1
This is a true story.
A young boy aged four I suppose, went to preschool for the first time. When he came out in the afternoon to greet his father, he had a huge smile and his eyes were shining. He was bursting excitedly with his news: ‘I made two enemies today!’
I’m not sure he knew what an enemy was, and since then this particular lad has gone on to make good friends and to be a good friend.
But isn’t that just like life? Aren’t we being told all the time who our enemies are? Our enemies are Muslims and asylum seekers, they are environmental greenies and gays who want to be married.
It’s important to know who your enemies are.
Sadly, sometimes it is necessary for us to know who our enemy is. There are circumstances where we must pay attention to this. But it’s not a way of life. It cannot be a way of life for the Christian who follows the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul says
For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
And in 1 John 4.18 we read:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…
Our way of life is love, not fear.
I’m writing some reflections for With Love to the World at the moment. They’ll be in the August issue. One of them is about the dying words of King David to his successor and son, Solomon. David counsels Solomon to keep the laws of Moses, but then he goes to other matters. Matters which I suspect are dearer to his heart while he lies on his deathbed.
These matters include Joab. Joab was David’s nephew, the son of David’s sister. Joab was also the commander of David’s army. Joab was pragmatic, even brutal. Kings used to like to have men such as Joab around, men who would do the dirty stuff when ordered, without question or hesitation.
But David thought Joab had gone too far. He’d acted without orders. He had two prominent men killed in cold blood, and sided with the anti-Solomon faction before Solomon came to the throne. David said to Solomon,
Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his grey head go down to Sheol in peace.
To me, this sounds like the mafia boss giving a coded message to the second in command. And indeed, Solomon dealt with his cousin Joab accordingly.
When Joab realised his end was coming, he sought sanctuary at the altar of the tabernacle, the tent of the Lord; but Solomon had him killed there in the tabernacle right by the altar.
King David doesn’t seem to have been an especially forgiving sort of bloke. And—do you remember?—sometimes Jesus was called ‘Son of David’.… So how much like King David was this Son of David? King David got his chance to tidy things up and sort people out before the end came; but Jesus didn’t get that chance. His end came too quickly for that. He didn’t die in old age like David did, plotting his revenge and enlisting Solomon’s help.
Jesus died—but he burst through the confines of death, and came to the disciples in the upper room. They were hiding behind locked doors ‘for fear of the Jews’.
(Let’s note a few things about this:
1: ‘The Jews’ does not mean all Jewish people; in the context of the story of John, it means the authorities.
2: The disciples were Jews too. Jesus was a Jew.
3: There is no room for anti-semitism in anything we do and say.)
So while the disciples are huddled away, hiding from the authorities who have murdered their rabbi, Jesus comes and stands among them. Unexpectedly risen from the dead yet showing the scars of his mutilation, the scars he suffered after they had denied and deserted him. In their shoes, knowing the stories of King David, I would have been very fearful of this Son of David, because now is Jesus’ chance to exact revenge, as David before him had done. Peter had denied him; he could be dispatched quickly. Others could be dealt with more slowly. They could be picked off one by one. One or two would survive.
That’s how the story would go if Jesus the ‘Son of David’ behaved like David. But David was very much a ruler, and rulers shore up the structures that have brought and maintained their power. Jesus gives it away—with the gift of the Spirit—to weak, undeserving people.
Jesus’ first words to the huddled disciples are ‘Peace be with you’. And he forgives them. All of them, Peter included. Jesus would have forgiven Judas too, if Judas had returned.
Then he gives them the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Jesus within us.
Some ‘Son of David’ he is! And aren’t we grateful?
The disciples already had a sense of family. But Jesus’ action made them something more. They were united in a way that went deeper than family; they were becoming the body of Christ here on earth.
Their life together was to be characterised by what Jesus had shown them: forgiveness. The mind of Christ. It reminds me of what Paul told the Philippians:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in [among] you that was in Christ Jesus…
Where this occurs, it is a sign of the Resurrection. Where this occurs, it is a sign of Christ in our midst.
This goes beyond the wonder of family living together in peace that Psalm 133 celebrates so beautifully. It issues in the life of the early church which Acts 2 describes: a life in which they held things in common and sold their possessions to give to the poor; in which they spent time together in the temple and broke bread together at home; and in which they praised God and gained the goodwill of the people. And people joined them, their numbers increasing daily.
The life of the early church was a sign of the risen Jesus among them.
That’s why they wanted Thomas there in the upper room on the second Sunday. We don’t know where he was on the first Sunday, but the others wanted him there next time Jesus would appear. They didn’t want him to miss out. He was their brother, so they wanted to ‘be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind’.
Let’s be clear here. We’re not talking about being ‘nice’ to each other. Neither are we talking about being satisfied with not hurting one another.
We are concerned with deeper work, the work of forgiving one another, the work of welcoming one another as God in Christ has welcomed us (Romans 15.7, Ephesians 4.32).
We are concerned with the deeper work of seeing the risen Christ in one another. Nothing else will do.
When that is our concern, it’s not possible to habitually live in fear. God doesn’t want us to live in fear; God has given us a Spirit of peace and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.
This fellowship here is a place of genuine Christian concern and care. We saw that once more at C’s funeral the other day. It’s a good thing about this congregation, so let us allow God to do more and more of it with us. Tertullian was a Christian writer who was born in the second century, and he imagined the Romans looking at the Christians and saying ‘See how they love one another!’ Let people say that of us!
Practical love for others. Peace with God, and among ourselves. A thirst for God’s justice to be done in our land. These are the greatest witnesses to the Resurrection that we have. They show that Jesus lives today.