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“Jesus’ Name’s Reward versus Sin’s Dastardliness”

Mar.11/12 Mark 9:38-50


It’s wonderful to be ‘in Christ’ - to belong to Him as our Saviour, to be able to call on His name in prayer out of a believing heart, and to come together with others also called “Christian” with whom we sense a special kinship because they are also indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But the church hasn’t always been a place of harmony and accord. Some churchgoers may get in an argument with others or the pastor and leave in a huff. Criticisms arise over music and styles of worship. Even in the body of Christ factions develop and splits happen over everything from theology to the colour the committee chose for the new carpet.
    At the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Lord Nelson came on deck and found two British officers quarreling. He whirled them about and, pointing to the ships of their adversary, exclaimed: “Gentlemen, there are your enemies!”
    In today’s passage, Jesus reminds His disciples of the things that ought to unite us together, particularly belonging to Him, sharing in His name. He also reminds us how deadly is our common enemy: sin that can destroy us and land us in hell.
    Before we hop to the end of chapter 9, let’s catch-up with what’s transpired since chapter 8, where we left off last week. Six days after His first revelation to the disciples that being Messiah would involve His rejection by the religious leaders, suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus took three disciples up a high mountain. There His identity as God’s Son was confirmed by a startling physical transfiguration; His clothes became dazzling white. His authority was endorsed by Moses and Elijah, Old Testament champions of the Law and the Prophets, who appeared and were talking with Jesus. Further, a cloud enveloped them and the voice of God the Father directed attention to Jesus as His beloved Son, saying the disciples were to listen to Him. These 3 things highlighted that Jesus was supremely special, THE man who was also God’s heaven-sent messenger to mankind. But even this moment of grandeur was tempered by two allusions to Jesus’ upcoming death (vv9,12).
    The event of the Transfiguration showed (albeit to a private audience) that Jesus was the Christ; the next incident, that people need to BELIEVE in Him. Upon descending back to where a large crowd is, they find a man has brought his son who’s possessed by a deaf and mute spirit. The disciples haven’t been able to drive it out. Jesus says in v19, “O unbelieving generation” - belief is at issue here. When the man asks Jesus to help “if you can do anything,” Jesus exclaims, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” After the boy is delivered from the spiritual enslavement, the disciples ask Jesus why they couldn’t drive it out; He replies, v29, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Faith leads us to depend on God and call out to Him in prayer for help, beyond our own abilities.
    So, Jesus is THE MAN; believing in Him, anything is possible. But at this point, v31, Jesus is deliberately spending time alone with His disciples to teach them, specifically, His second prediction of His upcoming suffering: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” We saw last week how Mark punctuates the middle of His gospel with these 3 predictions of the passion in chapters 8, 9, and 10. Surprisingly, in view of popular Jewish notions of the day, Messiahship involves redemptive suffering.
    After each prediction in this set comes a misunderstanding of the disciples, followed by Jesus’ correction and further instruction on the true meaning of discipleship. In vv33-37 Jesus asks them what they were arguing about on the road – that’s embarrassing, because they were arguing about who was the greatest! Jesus tells them very pointedly that whoever wants to be first must be the very last, and servant of all. True greatness isn’t a glory-ride, but serving others well in their need.
    Dr David McKenna was President of Asbury Theological Seminary. He comments, “Great and humble tasks merge in the Kingdom of God. Almost daily, I drive past our church on the way to the president’s office...Vice presidents are waiting to see me and secretaries are waiting to serve me.At my fingertips are computers, word processors, three telephone lines, a dictating machine, and an instant intercom. Yet, as I drive past the church, I see the wisp of a gray-haired woman bending over the shrubs with pruning shears in her hand and a lawn basket at her back. Her ministry is to keep the lawn of God’s house worthy of His name. Her task is as simple and as humble as giving a cup of water in Jesus’ name.I pray each day that God will give me the honour of following her through the gates into His kingdom.”


As people, we have emotional and social needs; we long to be loved, accepted, affirmed. It can be a challenge while growing up to find friends, buddies, even a group of like-minded individuals who understand us and appreciate us. A high-schooler recently lamented on Facebook, “Dear Life: You win, I give up. I’m tired of trying to fit in.” Life at times can seem cruel when others in our class or age-group don’t accept us, but instead snub us and leave us out of their circles. So-called ‘cliques’ can be nasty. Usually even those of us who are dorkier or nerdier know very well who the ‘jocks’ are and the ‘in’ group, the ‘cool’ crowd. Something inside us would like very much to be popular but we try to ignore that and keep it secret. But it’s no fun being isolated or alienated, left out, on the ‘fringe’ looking in. It’s a bit like being bullied, but more subtle – still prickly and a form of rejection. Within most of us there’s a hunger to connect, to fit in; we wonder, “Where can I ‘belong’?”
    Yes, this even goes on in the church, sometimes. Verse 38-41 may be the first example of a ‘clique’ in the Christian church. John explains that when they saw a man driving out demons they told him to stop because he was “not one of us” - NLT, “he wasn’t in our group.” Not one of the officially-sanctioned 12 disciples. Jesus immediately challenges their cliquishness: v39, “Do not stop him...No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” Jesus’ sense is this man is NOT against them: after all, a) he IS driving out demons; and b), he IS doing it in Jesus’ name (as John describes it). For Jesus, that’s most essential, not whether the man is actually very much a part of their shared history. He’s ‘for’ what Jesus is ‘for’.
    Note the phrase “in my name” in this passage: v39, “No one who does a miracle in my name...” V41, “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” To be doing something in Jesus’ name is to be claiming His authorization, appealing to His power and honour and merit – recognizing Jesus’ Lordship and rule. A related phrase here is “because you belong to Christ”; literally, because you “are Christ’s”, that is, you have His name upon you, like we encourage children to put their name on their coat or on your Bible so we know who it belongs to when it gets left behind after the service!
    When we trust in Jesus for salvation, we at once ‘belong to Him’; in baptism the strong Name of the Trinity is formally put upon us, labelling us as belonging to God thenceforth. Even if no other group or clique in the class or society accepts us, we know we ‘belong’ somewhere, Jesus has welcomed us to ‘fit in’ to His Kingdom. This belonging happens as an organic connection through the Holy Spirit: Romans 8:9, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Once we receive Christ by faith, we yield the rights to our bodies and desires to Him, we belong to Him, He ‘owns’ us in a way that our behaviour should reflect: Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature [Gk: ‘flesh’] with its passions and desires.” Part of that ‘fleshiness’ is our critical/competitive/selfish nature that is prone to exclude others and form cliques of folks ‘just like us’. Pride likes to control things, determine our own ‘in’ group, decide who’s in and who’s out – wielding power in a most UN-servantlike manner.
    In the case of the other man driving out demons, John’s first question should not have been, “Is he one of ours? Will OUR team get the glory, the credit?” but instead, “Is God’s will being done?” Is Jesus’ Kingdom being advanced and the power of the enemy driven back? I guess so, if demons are being driven out! In v41 Jesus says a person who does even such a small thing as giving a cup of water in His name “will certainly not lose his REWARD.” There is reward, it matters to God, even a small act of kindness counts in God’s Kingdom record-books. Paul writes in 1Corinthians 15(58), “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”
    Thursday morning when the ladies in the Tai Chi class arrived at the Anglican church, they seemed surprised to find 6 pastors from 6 different churches, 5 different denominations, all having breakfast together. Yes our churches have marked differences in ecclesiastical hierarchy, modes of baptism, liturgy, and even architecture. But as those “in Christ” we’re seeking to work together to be a witness for Him in the community. That expresses itself in joint events like the Palm Sunday ‘Walk through Holy Week’ and other community services. Jesus said other people would know we are His disciples by the way we love one another (Jn 13:35).


The chapter started out on a very positive note, with the Transfiguration pointing to Jesus as THE Man, the Messiah, and vv14-29 underlining that faith in Him makes anything possible. The middle section, as we’ve just seen, emphasizes the privilege of belonging to Jesus and how we can have confidence that serving Him brings un-losable reward. But vv41-48 offer quite a contrast: how dastardly, destructive, and damning sin is.
    This section is full of hyperbole – language that exaggerates to make a point; and stark imagery. We can detect some of Jesus’ ferocity against sin and evil by the forcefulness of His words. Recently the news has been covering the trial of the man accused of murdering Tory Stafford in Woodstock; there are photographs of a sweet young girl, and grainy video of her skipping along with a woman in a white coat on the last day she was seen alive. If he is indeed the culprit, there’s some justification for the anger one may feel rising in your gut at the heinousness of what he did. Outrageous! Dastardly! Depraved! Yet that’s exactly what Jesus is likely getting at here in this passage – the seriousness and gravity, the sense of wrath and disappointment God feels when a person becomes ensnared in evil.
    V42, Jesus says if anyone causes a ‘little one’ who believes in Him to sin, literally to stumble or trip, “it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” (Not a small millstone a person might use, but a large one that would be operated by a donkey.)  Beware inciting others to sin! Paul wrote, “...Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” (Rom 14:13) “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God...” (1Co 10:32) In other words, your freedom is limited by the effect your actions might possibly have on the faith of a less mature believer; don’t do anything in disputable areas that might induce them to go beyond the measure of faith God has given them.
    Vv43-48 suggest the degree of vigilance we need in order to guard against sin’s encroachment in our own life. There’s repetition and parallelism here for emphasis. If your hand causes you to sin - cut it off! If your foot causes you to sin - cut it off! And if your eye causes you to sin - pluck it out!” NLT, “gouge it out” - gruesome! Gets your attention. Jesus is using hyperbole as a teaching method here, don’t take Him literally: after all, sin originates in the heart, not our members. His point is: It’s better to treat sin THAT RADICALLY, that intently (‘I mean business’), if that’s what it takes to overcome it and enter eternal life, v47 “the Kingdom of God.”
    Else – what’s the alternative? With two hands, feet, or eyes to be thrown into Hell - Gk.Gehenna. The word comes from the ‘valley of Hinnom’ beside Jerusalem where children were sacrificed at one time to the god Molech; hence the place became cursed, a garbage dump, where worms chewed away and fires burned – a vivid picture of what the real hell in the afterlife might be like. Jesus here quotes Isaiah 66:24 about the worm that doesn’t die and the fire that’s never quenched. (For other references to hell as a place of conscious agony and eternal punishment see Luke 16:24 and Matthew 25:41,46.)
    Now, hell is not a very popular topic these days, even though it was Jonathan Edwards’ sermon about it, “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God”, that corresponded to the beginning of spiritual revival in the United States called The Great Awakening. It’s okay in pop culture to talk about heaven and angels, but to mention hell would bring in the possibility of judgment, that maybe not all people automatically go to heaven; and, rebels that we are, we resent the notion that some Supreme Being would dare have the audacity to claim authority to pronounce judgment upon OUR actions! At our ministerial gathering, some were enthusiastic about inviting the public to study the current book Heaven is For Real; I just wonder whether the concept of hell being real will get any airtime as well.
    But you don’t have to wait until the hereafter to see the damaging effects sin can cause. For example, programs such as the CBC’s recent documentary “Sext Up Kids” show the negative effects media is having on young people’s self-esteem, self-image, and behaviour. A speaker at PromiseKeepers estimates that 5-7 men in the church have a problem with pornography. That can damage relationships between husbands and wives, and wreck families. Bill Innes said a recent trend is that young women now don’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with porn, they’re coming to accept it. This week female singer Jan Arden succumbed to a photo shoot in the nude, and then CBC for some reason chose to show the result in the news broadcast! Was that necessary?!!
    As morality slides, discipline of hand and eye become even more essential. Paul wrote, “...if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live...” (Rom 8:13) “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5) As we prepare to do our income tax, notice ‘greed’ was included in his list! Another good verse here is Titus 2:12, “[God’s grace] teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age...”
    Our eyes are vital in guarding our purity. Job said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” (Job 31:1) Jesus warned that if we look lustfully at a woman, we’ve committed adultery with her in our heart! (Mt 5:28)
    Sin of any kind draws its victim to sin progressively more and in other ways. The Citizen this week reported the name of a suspect arrested for robbing the local gas station. I was saddened as I read it, for the young man had formerly attended our youth group; in fact, my son had tutored this fellow back when he was a student quite a while ago. Who knows what he was so desperate to get the money for – or how many little incremental sins led to that larger, more public one? Be vigilant! When sin comes a-calling, ‘cut it out’ before it latches onto you.


Jesus adds in v49, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” Living in a fallen world, testing is bound to come; those who aspire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2Tim 3:12), even attacked. Leviticus 2(13) describes how salt was to be added to all the grain offerings in the Tabernacle worship; perhaps Jesus is hinting that testing is part of the purification process as we offer our lives to God. Just this week our daughter Emily in her blog was concluding God can and does give us more than we can handle sometimes, because that’s how we learn to depend on Him not just our own strength.
    And the chapter concludes, “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” Salt as pure sodium chloride can’t become un-salty; the problem back then was that unscrupulous merchants might mix in silica or other impurities to ‘extend’ what they sold you. Impure salt would be useless, unseasonable. So to ‘have salt in yourselves’ would be to have purity, be the genuine article, the real McCoy, not a Christian in label only. Stay high-grade, don’t be overrun or let your spiritual force be diminished by evil influences.
    As we have that salt in ourselves individually, the Holy Spirit’s governing and grace and self-control, that will help us to be ‘at peace with each other’ – not greedy or jealous or unkind and critical or sarcastic, but genuinely loving and caring.
    The current online issue of Faith Today tells the story of Alberta Mennonite pastor Peter Penner, whose family fled religious persecution in Ukraine and established refugee status in Germany. Peter’s father was taken away by Stalin’s secret service; in Germany, Peter endured cruelty in the Hitler Youth Camp. The article notes, “The injustice Peter felt under both Stalin and Hitler shaped his character.” His son Vic says, “It was from this place of deep pain that he tried to hear everyone and be gentle with everyone - especially children.Dad believed everyone’s voice needed to be heard because he knew what it was like not to be heard.” He was ‘salted with fire’, yet he let that mature him so he had salt ‘in himself’ and treated others in a peaceable way.
    Discover who you are ‘in Christ’, in Jesus’ name: He can help you through the worst trials. “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” Let’s pray.