My friend Christopher Robin

My friend has gone to his final resting place. There awaits him, so I have hope, a glorious admittance to the place which the Lord had gone beforehand to prepare for him.

We had fellowship together in the Lord though we disagreed (and rarely agreed) on peripheral matters. He came as an elder to the church. He had already indicated where he was going, and soon he started to lead in such a way that we would become a congregation where each one had a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation, where everything would be done for the building up of the body of Christ. He would not tolerate, as James would not, those who showed partiality towards those who wear gold rings and fine clothing, giving to them the best seats but rather he opened up to the poor and needy providing support and homes to them.  

Not all in the congregation were ready for all of this, some called it innovation, others a revival of some of the things which the church had long ago been instructed to give up (not the bits about the poor and needy I hasten to add). Others were ready, and eagerly listened to the teaching that our brother gave; impatient with what was seen as slow progress, though they had heard him say that when one of us has a grievance against another we should not dare to go to law before the unbelievers about the matter and so kept the matter within the church, they did not remember that no charge should be admitted against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses, and in so doing they grievously injured our brother, causing him to groan under the weight placed upon him. It is sometimes very hard for us to be patient.

One writer suggested that when Paul left Titus in Crete he was left among a people where everyone wanted to be their own king. As it was in the days of the judges: everyman did what was right in his own eyes. It seems now ironic that his ministry began by teaching us what amphictyony means. We are little different. We each want to be king. But the Lord has already made us a nation of kings and priests, to serve him who is King of kings, who said whoever would be great among you must become the servant of all. My friend sought to be such a servant. We should not assert our own authority. All power and authority has been given to him. Let us then, we who are in churches, remember what the Apostle said to the churches: obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will have to give account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning for that would be of no advantage to you.


The Paradox of Monuments

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’

Whenever I read these words I began to wonder what the Lord meant when he said them. There seemed to be an incongruity about them. Of course when you read on you understand what he meant for the scribes and Pharisees were about to do exactly what they say of themselves they would not have done. But let us think for a moment about the perspective that the scribes and Pharisees were taking.

They had built monuments to prophets. Why had they done this? They wished to honour the memory of those who had been mistreated by the forefathers. The prophets had in the main been rejected by the people. We would like to say that they had been fearless in their denunciation of the sins of the people, but we only need to look a Elijah to see that fearlessness was not a quality that was in abundant supply among them. We might also want to say that they were men who wanted to be prophets – how many today desire to be prophets and how many search them out, whether they claim to be of the Lord or whether they are nothing more than necromancers? But again, we find that the desire to be a prophet was in short supply. Jonah rather than do the job tried to run away to Tarshish (somewhere in or perhaps beyond the western end of the Mediterranean Sea). Jeremiah complained that what he had to say burned in his bones; it wearied him. A later prophet found that the words which were sweet in his mouth were bitter in his stomach. No, it was not so. These men were ripped from obscurity: Amos a shepherd from Tekoa. Even Ezekiel and Isaiah, priests, could have remained in obscurity had they not been made a prophets.

The prophets were not popular men in their own day. Jeremiah complained that the words burned in his bones when he tried to keep silent. Isaiah who spoke his words openly in his early days, in later life had to speak more cautiously as the persecution grew and he spoke of the coming Messiah to the house churches before he was cruelly sawn apart by Manasseh’s crew.

They were honoured by the scribes and Pharisees of the Lord’s day, who said ‘we would never have done such things’, but in their hearts a cold December was waiting to be revealed.

What of today, we have statues and monuments to men, which men today find offensive. Those who pull them down say, ‘we would never have done such things’. Those who wish them gone say ‘We must change our practices’ and ‘Why is it such an agony to remove them’. But we benefitted from what they did, we are their descendants; they are our ancestors.

But are we any different than they were? Are those who pull down statues any different than the ones who put them up and the ones whom they represent? If they were slavers, are we any less so? Do they and we not buy at least some jeans, sandals, shirts, sweat shirts, t-shirts, track suites, trainers, trews, trousers, and whatever else men in these days wear from retailers who source at least some of their products from the sweat shops of south Asia made with cotton from the plantations of central Asia? Or are they the minority who go out of their way to discover the source of the materials in every item of clothing and refuse to do business with any who have any connection with slavers.

No, men are the same today as they were when they persecuted the prophets, as when they built monuments to them, as before slavery had not been abolished in the British Empire and as we are since that time. There may be external differences. Men may show their revulsion of certain things in different ways, but within the hearts beat in the same way, and the desires of those hearts are the same.

It is easy to throw stones at men of the past. They cannot answer back. Why do they not throw stones at the slavers of today or are the consequences too great to be contemplated? Ah, yes, I almost forgot, the Lord who said that those who build the monuments are no different than their forefathers who persecuted the monumented, also said that the one who is without sin should throw the first stone.

The people who are so vocal about the erasure of the memory of these things cannot throw stones at the ones who continue the practices which they claim to revile, for they are themselves as guilty as their ancestors. They continue to benefit from the things they claim to hate, not as a consequence of past actions, but of what they do in the present day.

The Lord goes on the speak of how those who built the monument will behave in contradiction of their words in the not very long coming after days:

Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

But he also weeps that they shall behave in such ways:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

Men continue to reject the prophets of the Lord Jesus, and treat his people like this. Oh that they would yield to him and be gathered under his wings.

Finally, a word of caution before you tear what I have said apart, but if you wish to do so, then please do for I am willing to learn. It will help me to present the case in a better way next time round, but I am aware that it is possible to represent the prophets in a different way than I have done in the preceding paragraphs. I have chosen this approach deliberately in order to illustrate what I have to say but not to misrepresent them. I know that It is not a complete representation of the prophets. They, and we, are complex individuals. When we try to produce a line drawing of ourselves or anyone else it will inevitably fall short of providing a complete picture.