The viewing level
As part of our trip to London last Saturday for Isobel’s birthday, we visited the Tate Modern gallery. I suggested going up to the new “viewing level” on the 10th floor. I was expecting some nice views of the London skyline from behind a window; instead, a door took us out onto an open balcony, where I was separated from the pavement 200 feet below by a four foot steel fence. I’ll be honest: I’m terrible with heights! I turned clammy, dizzy and pale and edged my way round, practically clinging onto the walls of the building.
In the meantime, my girls were running round fearlessly, peering out and over.
Throughout today’s passage, we see how fear manifests itself and how it can be overcome. Firstly, fear manifests itself as legalism. Yesterday we heard how the Pharisees jumped through all kinds of ritualistic hoops in an effort to appear holy. However, Jesus first words in this passage are: “beware of the leaven (‘yeast’ [NIV]) of the Pharisees”. Jews had been eating unleavened bread since the Passover, and yeast had become a byword for impurity. Here, Jesus denounces the Pharisees as impure and contagious. Furthermore, it’s physically impossible to reverse the effect of yeast on a batch of dough. The Pharisees’ hearts were ruined, and their teachings were ruining others.
Praise God that, through the cross, we can be made pure! We need to guard against the idea that we can earn God’s favour through appearance or through works.
In the remainder of the passage, Jesus addresses the disciples’ various fears:
In verse 4, Jesus says “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body”. This was a real threat. Of the twelve disciples, Peter was crucified upside-down, Philip was cruelly executed and the rest are said to have been martyred. (John is the only one believed to have died of old age, having escaped unhurt from a pot of boiling oil in Rome). Whilst we can practice our faith relatively freely in the UK, the threat of violent persecution is real in much of the world.
In verse 11, Jesus says to his disciples “do not be anxious about … what you should say.” The disciples were from all kinds of backgrounds, with differing levels of education, and they were set to face all kinds of crowds, from high priests to baying mobs. The message is the same though. Whoever we are, whoever we face, we have the Holy Spirit on our side as our teacher.
For much of the remainder of the passage, Jesus tells us that we have no need to be anxious about our possessions. Jesus addresses his disciples as his “little flock”, and paints a picture of a loving, sovereign Father who is in full control of the world, who demonstrates more creativity in a single lily than in a thousand palaces. In addition, Jesus gives us an alternative to that anxiety: generosity with our possessions towards those who need it; and an investment plan in eternity.
In addressing the disciples’ fears, Jesus paints Kingdom life as a beautiful antidote to the fearful, anxious legalism of the Pharisees: bold, generous, fearless and passionate pursuit of God.
Having written all of that, I’m acutely aware of how my fear of heights is an analogy for many of the fears we can carry with us. We can’t always pinpoint when they developed; we can often end up adopting coping or avoidance techniques to mitigate their impact on our lives; we can end up thinking “that’s just who I am”. But we worship a God whose peace “will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7); a God who sweated drops of blood as he prepared to take all of the sin, sickness, fear and anxiety of the world on His shoulders. And we worship a God who breathes life, boldness, wisdom and fearlessness into us as we grow in faith and trust in Him. I’m praying for stories of breakthrough in this area over the next few weeks!