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Homs and Aleppo

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Matthew 11: 1-5
 

Probably every home in Jersey will have seen images of the devastation wrought upon Homs and Aleppo of recent months. Blocks of flats half-demolished and empty; rubble filling the streets; shops collapsed; homes burnt; billions of pounds worth of physical damage.

And then there’s the people – people like you and me, used to a routine life, bringing up a family, earning a living. Now dead or severely injured, starving, homeless, blind and impoverished.

Is President Assad the 2014 Messiah of Syria? Clearly he thinks so. He thinks its best that he stays in power - so as to bring peace through the use of power.
 
 
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‘Violence is normal in a fallen world.’ (Os Guinness, Author)
Take a fresh look at the paragraph in bold above from Matthew’s biography of Jesus Christ. The “John” to whom Matthew refers was known as John the Baptist. He was in prison because he had offended King Herod Antipas. The year was around AD 30.

How had he given offense? Herod Antipas has a brother, Philip, who was married to a rather beautiful wife. She was from Petra (yes, “the rose red city half as old as time”). Herod Antipas already had a wife. Both Herod and Philip’s wife were entitled to be happy so they both divorced and married. John the Baptist had called them to be sorry towards God. So he was in prison. Soon he would lose his head – literally – because his new wife needed that to maintain her “happiness”.

John – dear John, who had been so fully convinced about Jesus that he had clearly stated, pointing to Jesus, “Look and see, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” – had begun to doubt. Doubt in the dungeon.

John sent messengers to Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

Today we could send messengers to President Assad and ask him a similar question. “Are you the Saviour of your nation?” His answer would be one of words only. He would not show us Homs and Aleppo.
 
 
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‘Any man who knows the nature of his heart realizes that violence is not another man’s problem.’ (Os Guinness, Author)

Jesus, counter cultural as always, asked the messengers sent by John to report back to John about what they saw around them – Jesus’ equivalent of Homs and Aleppo: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

Miracles? You don’t believe in miracles, do you? My words are poor so here are some from one who can do better – Philip Yancey in his book “The Jesus I Never Knew” which has sold one million plus worldwide.

“The miracles Jesus did perform, breaking as they did the chains of sickness and death, give me a glimpse of what the world was meant to be and instill hope that one day God will right its wrongs. To put it mildly, God is no more satisfied with this earth than we are; Jesus’ miracles offer a hint of what God intends to do about it.

“Some see miracles as an implausible suspension of the laws of the physical universe. As signs, though, they serve just the opposite function. Death, decay, entropy, and destruction are the true suspensions of God’s laws; miracles are the early glimpses of restoration. In the words of Jurgen Moltmann, “Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly “natural” things in a world that is unnatural, demonised and wounded.””

But what about Jesus’ final message to John? And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

The original Greek word for “offended” is skandalisthe. It refers to the trigger on a trap. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of seeing Jesus as weak and useless – no power, no money, no clothes, no reputation, no beauty.

If he had clung to any of these he wouldn’t have changed the world. But folk are offended by him and not by Assad.
 
 
Richard Syvret

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