Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Twenty Nine
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
November 11, 2018
If you are able - would you stand with me and follow along as I read our passage for this morning - Mark 9:30-50.
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And He did not want anyone to know, for He was teaching His disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise. But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him.
And they came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
And He sat down and called the twelve. And He said to them, “If anyone would be first, He must be last of all and servant of all.”
And He took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives not Me but Him Who sent Me.”
John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in My name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. “
“And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.”
“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be a peace with one another.”
These first 3 verses bring us back to where Jesus is and what Jesus is teaching - Jesus’ Theme.
Last Sunday the disciples were where? Caesarea Philippi. Verse 30 tells us that they went on from there down through the region of the Galilee. Which is what that whole region is called.
As they’re walking - probably taking a route that skirts the towns along the way - Jesus chose to travel alone with His disciples - Jesus comes back to what has been a core theme of what He is teaching His disciples about Himself. What it means for them - and for us - that He is the Christ.
Not just knowing the truth that Jesus is the Christ. But understanding the implications of that truth. How do we respond? How are we to live? What difference does it make to us in the day-to-day of life that Jesus is the Christ.
This is the third time that Mark records Jesus predicting His death and resurrection. That He will be delivered into the hands of men who will intentionally kill Him - after which - three days later - He will rise from death.
Mark records two reactions from the disciples.
First - they didn’t understand Jesus. Which means… they didn’t understand Jesus.
Everything they’d been taught about the Christ - the long waited for Messiah - as they were growing up going to synagogue school and what was the common understanding of the day was the seeming opposite of what Jesus was teaching about Himself.
The Messiah would come and restore all things - including David’s kingdom - and the prestige and glory of that kingdom - and that the Messiah would reign as sovereign over that kingdom forever. The Messiah was to be a conqueror and deliverer - not someone who would be delivered up and die at the hand of man.
What Jesus was teaching didn’t fit into what they’d be taught. So they just weren’t processing what Jesus was teaching.
Second - Mark records that they were afraid to ask Jesus questions about what He was teaching.
Probably because that hadn’t gone so well for them the last 2 times Jesus had been teaching on this theme.
The first time Peter had taken Jesus off to the side and basically told Jesus to knock if off and stop talking about His death and all. And Jesus had rebuked Peter and told Peter that he was talking for Satan and not focused on the things of God. Which is not exactly something you want to hear God saying to you. (Mark 8:31-33)
The second time Jesus taught about His death and resurrection was when Jesus, Peter, James, and John were coming down from Mount Hermon and they’d tried to go around the subject with a question about Elijah. Which had resulted in Jesus giving them push back that they were focused on the wrong thing - focused on the timing and sequence of the Messiah’s coming - that they were totally missing the point of what God was actually doing through the coming of the Messiah - Jesus. (Mark 9:9-13)
So the disciples hesitation to ask questions is understandable. But it’s crucial for them - in understanding and living what it means that Jesus is the Christ - it is crucial that they rework their concept of the Messiah. And so Jesus introduces His theme a third time.
The next three verses introduce us to The Paradox of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus and the disciples arrive at the town Capernaum - which we know is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee - and they go into the house. Which house? The house. Potentially Jesus’ ministry headquarters in Capernaum. Possibly Peter’s house in Capernaum.
If you were to go to Capernaum today you would be able to see ruins of houses. Like this one. Which date from just after the time of Jesus and is built on top of the ruins of the houses that were around when Jesus was around.
The Roman Church has a sanctuary there with a glass window in the middle - this window - which looks down into the ruins of a house. Archaeologist have dug down through the layers of ruins built on ruins - and found what they believe is Peter’s house. So that if you look close enough down through the layers you can see the flooring of what was probably Peter’s house and what Jesus Himself would have walked on. Maybe even while Jesus is teaching what we’re reading today.
Mark is recording real people in real time in real places doing real things. This really happened.
When they get to Capernaum and enter the house, Jesus asks them a question. “What were you discussing on the way?”
Jesus knew what they were talking about. This is just Jesus - on theme - using their discussion as an opportunity to teach.
Mark tells us that the disciples were silent because - what they’d been discussing was which one of them was the greatest. Meaning - when Jesus the Messiah sets up His kingdom - which one of them was going to have the position of greatest importance.
Presumably - Peter, James, and John - who seemed to be Jesus’ inner circle - they’d get to be Prime Minister, Secretary of State, maybe Attorney General. Then maybe Judas would be the head of the Treasury Department. Matthew would be head of the IRS. And so on.
They’re discussing all that because they’re still stuck on what they’d been taught and the common understanding of what the Messiah was all about and not tracking with what Jesus was trying to teach them - the reality of Who He is and what that means for them.
Jesus - knowing what they’re stuck on - Jesus asks the question. And in their silence Jesus sits down. Which was the customary position for someone who is teaching. And lets the disciples know that what’s coming isn’t a rebuke but a teaching.
Jesus begins with a paradox: “If anyone would be first, He must be last of all and servant of all.”
A paradox is what? A statement or proposition that - despite being sound or sounding reasonably sound in what it’s saying - that statement leads to a conclusion that seems senseless or logically messed up - self-contradictory.
Example: “This statement is false.” How can something be true and not true at the same time? A paradox.
The Paradox of Facebook is that we can have hundreds of friends and no social life. Just saying.
Jesus’ statement is that greatness in the kingdom of God is determined by a completely different set of criteria than greatness in the kingdoms of this world. Criteria that at first seem paradoxical - contrary to sound reason. Criteria that doesn’t fit what we experience in life.
Greatness is about the standing and position someone holds in society - however they got there or whatever they need to do to stay there.
Rulers in human kingdoms fear people who may remove them from power or even kill them - removing them from life. People fear rulers who may use force to subjugate and coerce them in order to protect their position.
Rulers rule and seek to go on ruling. Peons - like us - are just trying to stay under the radar and survive while going about the stuff of life.
That was especially true in Judea at the time of Jesus’ ministry - living in the Roman Empire. And that’s been pretty much true of human history.
We just had an election which was pretty ugly - still is. It’s just possible that a whole lot of that ugliness is because of the desire to have and exert power over others.
The kingdom of God inverts everything that we understand about how kingdoms operate. Jesus’ teaching is paradoxical to our common human understanding of what it means to be the greatest.
“If anyone would be first, He must be last of all and servant of all.”
In verses 36 and 37 Jesus exposes The Paradox of our Perspective.
Jesus uses a child as an illustration. He brings a child into the center of the group - a young boy. And Jesus embraces the child - physically illustrating His point. Then He tells the disciples: “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives not Me but Him Who sent Me.”
Generally children are not considered “great” by the world’s standards.
Generally - throughout history - children have been seen for their potential. A healthy newborn son has the potential to be a worker in the family business - to extend the family's wealth and power. An unhealthy newborn boy or girl is less valued. Potentially a drain on the family resources. And might even be abandoned. In some societies, killed.
The Aramaic word for “child” - Jesus and the disciples primarily speaking Aramaic - so this was probably part of the imagery of the illustration - the Aramaic word for “child” is also the word for “servant.”
The Jewish mindset - coming out of Scripture - is that child is a blessing of God created in the image of God. Which - in a sense - was the exception to the world view. And still - even with that exception - a child is still seen as weak and pretty helpless - having potential but not greatness.
To “receive” a child - the word in Greek for “receive” encompasses the idea of Middle Eastern hospitality. Treating someone - maybe even a traveling stranger - as a member of the family. Offering food and shelter. Honoring them and respecting them. Mi casa es su casa.
Jesus teaching that giving that quality of reception - kindness and respect - to the lowest ranking member of society in the world is equivalent to giving that quality of reception - showing kindness and respect to the top ranking member of society in the kingdom of God.
It’s an inversion of how we look at people. Greatness in the kingdom - meaning how God views greatness - is way different than greatness in the world - how the world views the relative worth of a person.
It’s a challenge to the disciple’s perspective - to our perspective - how we view the relative importance of people. A teaching which should make us consider carefully who we show respect and honor to - who we value and show kindness to - or not.
To follow Jesus - is to view people with the greatness that God views people. Meaning our attitude towards those who have no standing in society reflects our attitude towards Jesus - God Himself.
What it means that Jesus is the Christ - means that we need to have the same perspective of people as God does - even of ourselves.
Then, in verses 38 to 41 Jesus exposes The Paradox of Position.
John - who’s probably trying to think through the implications of what Jesus is teaching about greatness - John speaks up about something that happened maybe during when Jesus had sent the disciples out to do ministry in the villages of the Galilee and Judea and the surrounding areas. (Mark 3:14,15; 6:7-13)
Apparently there was a man who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus and the disciples had tried to stop him - to prevent him from doing that. Reason being: “He was not following us.”
Let’s make sure we’re hearing what John has just said.
The reason the disciples had tried to stop this man - who’s operating under the authority of Jesus - casting out demons in the name of Jesus - they tried to stop him from doing that because this man was not following us. Who’s us? “Us” meaning the twelve disciples.
Meaning he’s not one of our disciples. He doesn’t fit within the organizational structure of the kingdom of God as we understand it. He’s not one of us. So we commanded him to stop.
That’s kind of presumptuous. Isn’t it? Kind of full of self-inflated arrogance. Self assigned greatness.
At this stage of their instruction - of their discipleship training - for John and the others to think of themselves as disciples worthy of being followed. That they have the understanding and wisdom and position to say who’s in and who’s out of their little club.
In response - Jesus going on with His teaching - Jesus redefines what it means to be “in” to be a follower of Jesus. “...the one who is not against us is for us.”
In a sense what Jesus is saying is if you’re in a battle and someone is shooting at your enemy… let them! If you’re wounded in a battle and someone offers to give you aid… let them! If you’re in a dessert and dying of thirst and someone offers you water does it matter if they work for Perrier or Sparklets? Leave the answer to that question to God.
If they’re not against you, they’re for you. Even if they don’t fit your understanding of which team they’re on.
Their “reward” - literally the “wages” they’re earning - is up to God. Meaning it’s God who hired them. It’s God they’re serving. It’s God who will reward them with what they’ve earned by serving Him.
John’s response to this demon casting out man is totally negative because John’s main concern is his own special relationship with Jesus - his greatness and the commission he’s been given by Jesus to serve Him. So John has this “us” and “them” mentality because he’s concerned about preserving his own role - status and standing - his position in the kingdom of God.
Jesus is teaching that position is a God choosing us thing not a “we’ve earned it” thing. Which is paradoxical to a world view that says position is what we carve out for ourselves and maintain - honestly or otherwise.
Paul - writing to the Romans - Paul in Romans 15:7 writes: “...accept one another just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7 NASB)
An oldie but goodie illustration. There was a man who had twenty ducks which he put his son in charge of. Each morning the son would lead the ducks out into the pond to play. Each night the son would lead the ducks home again.
The father told the son: “The secret to herding ducks is to make sure they are all in a row. If you can’t keep your ducks in a row, you will never be a great duck herder.”
Of course we know - because we’ve all tried this - we know that keeping five ducks in a row is relatively easy. Ten is difficult. Twenty is just impossible. The only way to make this happen is to shoot the ducks and line up the corpses.
Needless to say, the son never could keep his ducks in line. For the rest of his days, he felt the disapproval of his father and all the other duck herders. He died alone and dejected.
Can we all say, “Awwww.”
So, question: “Are you accepted because of what you do, or because of who you are?” Do you ever feel like you have to pass some kind of achievement test before you’re accepted?
Ever feel not accepted at church? Any relatives who won’t speak to you? Parents who won’t listen to your feelings? A spouse who’s expecting you to be someone you’re not? Friends - co-workers - who gossip about your shortcomings? Are you wearing the right kind of clothes? Driving the right kind of car? Living in the right kind of house? Whatever. Are your ducks in a row?
Acceptance is when we feel free to be ourselves without any thought of being judged or criticized. We feel safe - secure. Acceptance is not based on achievement. We just are. Weak. Messed up. Hung up. Nutted up.
That’s what Paul says here in Romans 15:7. God accepts us.
We are made by God to be acceptable to God because of Christ’s undeserved work on the cross on our behalf which we do not deserve and could never ever earn.
Being a disciple - position - standing - greatness - comes by God’s grace being applied to our lives - what we receive through faith in what God has done - not our merit - not our working - not our achievement. But God’s grace - period.
Kind of levels the playing field a bit. Doesn’t it?
We are to accept each other as Christ has accepted us.
Which is what Jesus is teaching His disciples. The bottom line isn’t who’s in and who’s out of your little club. But God who establishes the kingdom - what it means to be a follower of Jesus - for His glory.
All of us need to spend more mental and spiritual energy focusing on our desperation for Christ and His work on the cross for us. Every day we need to humble ourselves and come before the cross and thank God for His love and mercy and grace.
The bottom line is that God’s kingdom is about God. God who is gracious to call us to relationship with Him in Christ and to serve Him and God who rewards those who do. For His glory. Period.
In verse 42 Jesus moves to The Paradox of Preservation.
Back to the child and to those who are casting out demons who are following Jesus and not the disciples. Jesus’ illustration is chilling.
Millstones - used for grinding - pressing. They’re big and heavy.
Sinking like rock. Dragged to the bottom and drowning. The terror of that would be better than leading a follower of Jesus into sin.
The shock factor in the illustration is Jesus focusing on the seriousness of the issue.
“Whoever causes” translates a Greek verb that has the idea of putting something in the path of someone that they’re going to stumble over. Worse, it has the idea of using bait. Attracting someone - luring them in - to what will be their downfall.
Which is what happens all the time when we’re living for ourselves - prioritizing self - preserving our greatness - being more concerned about people following us - accepting us - rather than Jesus.
Example? Look at church history. Or, think about how many of us are here because we’ve been wounded along the way by people focusing on themselves and not Jesus. May we not be that to others.
Going on Jesus gives a list of body parts. There is not much that we value more than our bodies. We spend a whole lot of effort and energy keeping ourselves warm and fed and protected and comfortable and entertained and covered and so on.
Our physical comfort can - way too often - our pursuit of ourselves can distract us from God’s priorities for our lives - from our living pure and righteous - from God’s priorities for His kingdom and what it means to follow Jesus. That priority of self can - and most probably will - cause others to stumble.
Sometimes we lose touch with that when we’re giving priority to what keeps us from being here for worship or what keeps us from studying God’s word together - or praying together - or serving - or fellowshipping together.
When it’s about us the congregation suffers. Some may even stumble. Probably will. Priority self - however we may rationalize that - has serious consequences.
Stay with me: “Hell” translates the Greek word “Gehenna” which is a transliteration of the Hebrew word “Gehinnom” which is actually two words - “guy” meaning valley - and “Hinnom” meaning “hinnom” - which was probably someone's name. Meaning the Valley of Hinnon.
The Valley of Hinnon is a steep ravine on the southwest side of the old city of Jerusalem. Which is a place that the disciples and everyone knew about.
A few weeks ago I was there. Literally, “I’ve been to Hell and back.”
The reason it’s important to know all that is because of what was done there.
Back in the days of the kings - King Ahaz practiced human sacrifice there. King Manasseh roasted his own son there as a sacrifice to pagan gods. Hideous and horrible things took place in the Hinnon Valley.
King Josiah finally abolished all that and made the valley into the city dump where they burned the rubbish from Jerusalem. 24/7 Fires that never went out. Fires that everyone saw day and night. They saw the smoke rising. Putrid eye stinging fumes would rise out of that valley.
That went on generation after generation. And in time the Valley of Hinnon - “Guy Hinnom” became a metaphor for eternal punishment. A place of unquenchable fire.
Worms also would have been familiar imagery. Worms are a picture of being digested from the inside. Knowing the choices that we’ve made to go on in our sin. Knowing that we deserve God’s judgment and the punishment of Hell. Knowing that shame and guilt of that chewing on us from the inside - as we suffer deserved punishment forever.
Do you think Jesus is serious? Oh yes. Do you think that He just might have had the disciples attention? Hopefully. Hopefully He has ours.
We’re together? Jesus isn’t saying we all should be crippled and blind and somehow limp across the finish line into heaven on crutches. He’s teaching about the serious consequences of our heart attitudes. Is preserving our pride and position really worth causing someone else to stumble away from Jesus?
Are we hearing Jesus?
Whatever might tempt you to pay attention to yourself - to think more highly of your self and lose touch with your existing by God’s grace alone. Whatever priority you might have that might keep you from being “all in” following what God has for you in life as His servant for His glory. Whatever self-focused attitude you might have that might cause someone else to stumble as they seek to follow Jesus - don’t excuse it - don’t make jokes about it - don’t rationalize it - don’t put up with it. Deal with it. Cut it off. Cut it out. Get rid of it. Now.
Salt was a symbol of God’s covenant relationship with His people. And salt was a necessary ingredient in sacrifices.
For everyone will be salted with fire.
Meaning being a disciple - that relationship with God - following Jesus the Christ - discipleship costs us everything.
Discipleship isn’t about being the greatest - having some exalted position like a Prime Minister. Discipleship means suffering and sacrifice. Discipleship demands renouncing and removing anything that will keep us from complete - unreserved - “all in” - commitment. Even commitment to the point of sacrificing our body - or anything else God requires.
Following the example of Christ Who will go to the cross - being killed by the hands of men in order to rise again. As paradoxical as that may seem.
Disciples - don’t loose your saltiness. Be the servant who really is following Jesus. Have salt in yourselves, and be a peace with one another.”
Processing all that - what does it mean that Jesus is the Christ?
Wednesday morning I received and email from the Colson Center. One of those daily emails we can get on the list to receive. John Stonestreet was writing before the election results had come out. Which may have been prophetic.
He was writing to remind us to keep four things in mind: Christ is risen, Christ is Lord, Christ will restore all things, and that we are called to this time and place. That all those things are true.
Stonestreet wrote: “What I mean by that is that they are true with a capital “T.” They aren’t true for me and not for you. They aren’t true only for those who believe them to be true. They are just True – in the sense that they adequately describe the world in which we live.” (1)
All of that is true of Christ. Not us. Except this... which is true of us. Because all those things are true of Christ it is essential that we serve Him for His glory in this time and place that He has called us to follow Him and to serve Him. Merced, USA, November 11th, 2018 - where people need Jesus not a bunch of Christians that are focused on themselves.
Following Jesus means being a paradox. Living counter culture. We will stick out and probably will be misunderstood and a whole lot of other not so pleasant things - as was Jesus. But being a disciple - following Jesus - isn’t about us. Following Jesus isn’t about me. It’s not about you. Following Jesus is about following Jesus.
Not for the sake of getting recognition and building up our own little kingdoms but for the sake of building up God’s kingdom for His glory.
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.