As someone who collected comics years ago, I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. The decades of characters and stories created in the comics combine with modern special effects to create the ultimate “popcorn” events. Thor: Ragnarok, released in 2017, was one I really looked forward to since I had read the original Ragnarok story line that culminated in The Mighty Thor issue #353 in March 1985.
(Caution: Mild movie spoilers follow!!!) The movie’s conclusion is significantly different than the comic version, with a twist that the heroes decide victory lies in not fighting the “Big Bad” of Surtur, a massive fire demon. However, after realizing this, they must convince the Hulk to follow the plan, resulting in one of the funniest exchanges in any of the MCU movies:
Thor: Hulk, no! Just for once in your life, don’t smash!
Hulk (in sullen voice): But big monster!
You can watch the 1 1/2 minute scene here:
Hulk logic is simple. Big monster is here. Hulk must smash big monster. That’s the plan.
In Part 1, Jesus was pictured in Psalm 2:4 as being enthroned in heaven, laughing in derision at the rulers of the world who sought to break free from His “bonds” and “cords”. This description of Jesus is a reassuring reminder to us that no worldly kingdom is a threat to Him, and we can trust in His protection. The post ended with a question of whether we also laugh as Jesus does? Do we hold our (and His) enemies in derision?
Here we began with a Marvel movie scene, because in a way, Thor convincing Hulk that fighting fire with fire wasn’t the answer is like Jesus’ rebuking of Peter for fighting back against the mob that arrested Jesus, and soon delivered Him to be crucified. In John 18:1-11, Judas leads a “band of soldiers and some officers” to arrest Jesus, and Peter (possibly thinking “Big Monster!”) drew his sword and cut off the right ear of one of the high priest’s servants, named Malchus. Jesus says “Peter, no! For once in your life, don’t smash”, or as more accurately rendered in the ESV: “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
Matthew’s account (26:52-54) adds: “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?’”
Jesus knows that He can beat any “Big Bad” the world has to offer at any time with an “appeal to my Father”. In Psalm 2:5-9, right after He laughs, the Psalmist writes:
“Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
‘As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.’
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
But rescuing His people must come first, and until then final judgment is delayed. Jesus knew when Psalm 2 was written that He would eventually judge all the nations, but He also knew what sort of death He would die to accomplish salvation for His people. Jesus does not laugh because His enemies can be taken lightly – He is fully aware of the evil of the world. His enemies cause real pain and suffering on earth, and He takes each offense personally. But if He decided to spend all of history laughing in heaven, we would all be without hope. Fortunately, He lived among us, and suffered terribly as a servant, knowing “that he had come from God and was going back to God”
At the time of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus had told His disciples multiple times, citing Old Testament prophecy, that His plan required being rejected, suffering, and dying, then rising again, but when the mob came for Jesus, Peter didn’t make the connection. He did not understand the plan, but later he would. We are not alone when we don’t understand God’s will for us. The twelve disciples were constantly out of step with Jesus. When asked to do something against our natural impulse we sometimes drop our shoulders, and our voice becomes sullen like Hulk’s.
But we have hope. Years later, Peter would write about his progress from his early impulsive days in 1 Peter 1:13-15:
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”
The “passions of Peter’s former ignorance”, may include the time Peter cried “big monster!” and cut off someone’s ear. None of us are immune from the same Hulk logic when threatened. But it might also be said that Jesus looked at Peter in derision when he did this. But for the grace of God, there go I.
Peter writes of the implications of understanding Christ’s mission on the cross, that Christ’s followers are part of the plan, as active participants in the mission. He calls the church to be holy, set apart for God’s purposes, to pursue the mission of the church, most succinctly spelled out at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (28:19-20). In this kingdom, the two most important commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
To answer to the question at the end of Part 1, the prescriptive truth that is like Proverbs 14:21 is love. Love defines how subjects in the kingdom of the One who laughs should behave. A love more thoroughly defined in 1 Corinthians 13 as patient and kind, and not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. Or, as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:1: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Paul adds in Rom 12:14 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
Jesus laughing in heaven is only a comfort to us if He is our King, and if He is our King, we seek to follow the laws of His kingdom. The laughter of Jesus is not a model for us, but is a source of comfort and strength if we are His. In contrast, the nations, kings and rulers of this world refuse the “bonds” and “cords” of the Lord, which are these laws of love. They make up their own system of “righteousness” by laws, and therefore “the Lord holds them in derision.” Their earthly rules and systems cannot measure up to His righteousness and are at best narratives and at worst tyrannies.
Love When Bad Things Happen
Jesus’ laughing is precisely what enables us not to hold people in derision, and to not mock and laugh at them. It is a key to achieving the “Us for Them” ethic described in an earlier post. Jesus laughing tells us that there is no monster scary enough to make His plan to love the wrong answer. Whatever your circumstance, “Love God”, “Love your neighbor” and “Love your enemies” apply to it.
To illustrate this, consider Jesus’ prophetic speech in Mark 13:5-23 from the framework of descriptive vs. prescriptive truth. I paraphrase and categorize some of the points below:
|Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’||See that no one leads you astray|
|You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, and nation will rise against nation||Do not be alarmed|
|Earthquakes and famines in various locations||Be on your guard|
|You will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake||Bear witness before them and do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say|
|Brother will deliver brother over to death and you will be hated by all||Endure|
|False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders||Be on guard|
To Jesus, none of the things in the descriptive column are new information. All were included in the plan. The actions He recommends are not new information either. The “Prescriptive” column means keep doing what you were doing before these bad things happened – Love God, love your neighbor. Even if your neighbor is “bad”.
False christs and prophets will cry “But big monster!” and offer to save us. But the true Christ calmly says “be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand”. (Mark 13:23). The false prophet takes the descriptive of evil in the world and creates their own false prescriptive. They recommend an incomplete and inaccurate narrative as an ultimate solution. Their own Babel which God must “come down” from heaven to even see (Genesis 11:5). The true Christ comes down from heaven and demonstrates how to create a true ladder all the way back to heaven, offering forgiveness to all, even those who refuse to accept it or practice love. He will be thoroughly and eternally glorified by manifesting His kingdom as the only eternal kingdom, ruled by love.
God doesn’t turn our Muerte into Morty by having us laugh at him and beat him up with a stroller (although that might be fun). He doesn’t tell us to Smash! Every time we try to follow the plans of the world to fight the battles of God’s kingdom, we are testifying that the world’s kingdoms are greater than His. Our rage will be futile and our plotting will be in vain.
Witness to the Cross
Note that the presence of false prophets, national rivalry, and natural disaster provide an opportune backdrop for proclaiming the superior kingdom of God in Christ, where none of these things will occur! We testify to the imagined utopias of the world – which are all at best narratives and at worst tyrannies – that the real utopia is one where people love so much that they are willing to die for specific others, not one where the “Pax Romana” is illusory and pointing that out is a crime. Jesus even died for the tax collector Zacchaeus, described by his Jewish peers as a traitor and cheat, a representative of a secular enemy power. Everyone He died for was once His enemy, and His sacrifice enables a paradigm shift from “Us vs Them” to “Us for Them”.
In our ability to do this, we all lie somewhere between the impulsive Hulk, the Peter of Matthew 26, the Peter of his New Testament letters, and Jesus’ obedience on the cross. We each are a narrative of our own “intricate matrix of beliefs, at different levels of truth and of conviction on every possible topic.” We all cry “But big monster!” at different things, at different times, and for different reasons, but Jesus guarantees our destination is holiness when we follow Him. Jesus cares about His people more than he cares about all the kingdoms of the world, and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:10.
But His blessing is not granted under all types of persecution. Persecution is not evidence of righteousness, but a result of it. Christians are not blessed when persecuted for unrighteousness, which sadly they often are. They are blessed when persecution comes from testifying to, and striving to live, a righteousness that is unachievable by any earthly kingdom. Jesus did this on the cross, and we do it by bearing the cross He assigns us. When we do this, His kingdom comes, because his will is being done on earth as it is in heaven. Logically, earthly kingdoms do not like this.
Therefore, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)
Don’t accept the cross anyone other than Christ assigns to you – it may crush you. The specific work God assigns for you is enough and comes with His power. Our cross will not kill our soul; it will enable us to truly live.
For the last enemy to be defeated is Muerte. Which means death.
Next post: a “minor’ prophet finds peace
To close out the discussion of Psalm 2, the last verses (10-12) describe the Psalmist pleading with the kings and rulers:
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Finally, as Paul urges us in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we should pray for our rulers to God, who is sovereign over the nations: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
 See John 13:3, and a previous post about this idea.
 Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22 and elsewhere
 As in Matthew 16:23, where Jesus refers to Peter as Satan for saying suffering was not necessary for our Lord.
 From Matthew 22:37 and 39
 “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor”
 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
 Adapted from Matthew 6:10
 1 Corinthians 15:26