Handling Conflict Like Jesus
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
My friend Bradley has a rebellious brother named Brock. The two are night and day different. It’s hard to believe they were raised by the same parents.
Bradley is a “salt of the earth” Christian—teaches Bible class, conducts his own Bible studies with non-Christians, and volunteers at the local homeless shelter serving supper and talking to the people. He is a great guy.
Brock left the church twenty years ago and has no use for God. He drinks excessively, smokes pot, and lives a homosexual lifestyle.
Every family gathering produces nothing but conflict. The family confronts Brock about his lifestyle, shouting ensues, and eventually, Brock storms out of the house.
Finally, after an especially heated family argument a few Christmases back, Brock cut himself off from the family. He refuses to talk to anyone. He never comes around for holidays. All his phone calls go straight to voicemail. Occasionally, someone in the family gets a stray text message, but those are few and far between.
Nobody likes conflict. But all of us must deal with it. Even Jesus, the Prince of Peace, faced conflict.
In Mark 2:1-3:12, we have five conflict stories. All the conflicts are with the religious elite—the scribes of the Pharisees. Word of this Galilean carpenter turned miracle-worker has filtered down to Jerusalem. People say he teaches with a never-before-seen authority. So, they’ve come to watch and listen.
They see the amazing miracles. They hear the authoritative teaching. The rumors about Jesus are true! You’d think they would conclude that, yes, this man is the promised Messiah! Instead, they choose to create conflict. They love their power and position. What they say goes! Yet, this man is stirring things up! He’s making a mess of THEIR religion!
• He has the audacity to forgive people of their sins! Only God can do that! Who does Jesus think he is?
• He heals people on the Sabbath. You can’t do that!
• He hangs out with tax collectors, even eats with them under their own roof. This man is unclean!
• His followers pick grain on the Sabbath and refuse to fast. John’s followers fast. The Pharisees themselves fast twice a week. "Why do your followers not fast, Jesus?"
• The last straw is Jesus’ healing of a man with a withered hand in the Capernaum synagogue on the Sabbath. When that happens, the Pharisees storm out of the synagogue, hook up with the Herodians, and begin scratching out a plan to kill Jesus (I think there might be a commandment against that).
That’s a lot of conflict! Jesus should just give up the ministry gig and go home. That’s what a lot of ministers do. When the going gets tough, the weak give up. How does Jesus handle the conflict?
Jesus Maintained His Identification
First of all, Jesus handled conflict by maintaining his identity. The Father in Heaven has already identified Jesus. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He was led to the wilderness where he went toe-to-toe with Satan. He tied up the great accuser so he could plunder Satan’s house.
In Mark 2, Jesus declares himself the authoritative Forgiver, the Great Physician, the Divine Bridegroom, the Lord of the Sabbath. In Mark 3, Jesus reminds the Pharisees that the Sabbath is as good a day as any for doing good and saving life. It’s not a day for doing evil and killing people.
Jesus knows who he is and why he has come. He will not abandon his true identity. He is who he is. No pretending. No quitting.
Jesus Maintained His Connection
Secondly, Jesus handles conflict by maintaining his connection to God. We saw this happen in Mark 1 when He got up early in the morning and went to a place of solitude. There he prayed to his Father in heaven. He did that a lot. He liked to get away by himself, away from the conflict, to pray.
He prayed in gardens. He prayed on mountain tops. But I think one of Jesus’ favorite places was the lake, what scripture calls the Sea of Galilee. In chapter one, Jesus walks alone by the lake when he runs across four fishermen whom he calls to follow him. In Mark 2, Jesus heads for the lake where he meets a tax collector whom he also invites into his circle of followers. In Mark 3, Jesus goes to the lake where he preaches from a boat.
Jesus seems to like the lake. It’s generally quiet and peaceful there—a place free of conflict where he can attend to the things of God. Choosing disciples and preaching the Kingdom—that’s God’s work. The lake is a good place for that.
I suppose we all have conflict in our lives. Some people love conflict and will even create conflict where none exists. But most people avoid conflict at any cost. How do you handle conflict? We should be encouraged by scripture to handle conflict the same way Jesus did.
Remember Who You Are
First, remember who you are. By virtue of your baptism, you a child of God—a member of the body of Christ. It’s important that we act like it in the face of conflict. We are the one in the room who looks, speaks, and acts like Jesus—as Scott Ellyson puts it in his prayers, “May we be salt and light in the world.”
We are NOT the person who calls Democrats liars, cheaters, and idiots on Facebook. We are NOT the person who calls Republicans Nazis, racists, bigots, and homophobes on Twitter.
We are NOT prideful warmongers, but humble peacemakers. We are children of God who shine like stars in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation.
Remember Whose You Are
Second, as children of God, we stay connected to the Father through prayer and regular reading of His Word. Maybe we do that in a quiet place like a hilltop or a seashore or under a live oak. We find a place free of conflict where we can connect with God.
We also connect ourselves to God by doing His work wherever He sends us. We serve others as best we're able. We teach them about Jesus, telling our story of what Jesus has done to save us.
We keep our heads when everyone else is losing their minds.
By maintaining our identity and staying connected to God, we can overcome any kind of conflict as we look forward to that time when all conflict will be gone—a place of love and peace where God is among His people forever.
“Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the lake…” (Mark 3:7).