Good morning Gathering! It’s good to be back with you this morning. I had the opportunity to serve at a church in Santa Cruz last week. That congregation was recently removed from their worship space because of some protests, and it was good to be with them to encourage them. But, as great as it was to fellowship with those brothers & sisters, this is our church home and we definitely miss you guys when we’re away. So, it’s good to be back and I’m excited to continue in our study of The Gospel of Mark. If you have a Bible with you this morning, I’d encourage you to turn with me to Mark chapter 9. I’ll go ahead and PRAY for our time together in God’s Word.
We’ll focus our time this morning on verses 38 – 41. But, what I’d like to do is back up and begin reading in verse 30, because, if you look carefully at what’s happening in this larger section of text there is a pattern that we see with the disciples. And if we don’t understand this pattern, we won’t really understand our verses correctly.
So let’s begin reading in verse 30, and we’ll end with verse 41. This is what God’s Word says:
“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 me, 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.” (Mark 9:30-41)
Let’s make sure we’re clear on what’s happening here — and I’ll back up a little bit into chapter 8 for review. We see Peter confess Jesus as the Christ. He declares, “You are the Son of God!”, “You are the Messiah!”, “You are the One who has been sent to rescue us!” And we’ve said that this is the turning point in The Gospel of Mark. Everything shifts at that point, from who Jesus is, to what He’s come to do. After Mark 8:27-30, things start moving very fast toward Jerusalem and toward the Cross. So Jesus sits His disciples down and He tells them exactly what ‘s going to happen to Him (8:31-33). He says that He’s going to suffer, He’s going to be rejected by the religious leaders, He’s going to be put to death, and He’s going to raise from the dead on the 3rd day.
And how does Peter respond to this? After this beautiful confession he’s just made of who Jesus is as the Messiah, Peter actually tries to rebuke Jesus for saying that He’s going to die. Just let that sink in for a moment. Peter tries to rebuke Jesus! Now, of course, we read that and say, “That’s ridiculous!” But there are all kinds of ways that you and I practically rebuke Jesus in our lives, aren’t there? Like when His designs for my life don’t match what I’ve designed for my life?
The point here is that the disciples still don’t get it, even when Jesus puts it plainly to them. Then we fast forward a bit to the Transfiguration — this amazing event where Peter, James and John get to see the glory of Jesus. And then we look at the account of the disciples who are unable to cast a demon out of a boy and Jesus has to step in and do it for them. Both events that should have reiterated who Jesus is in the hearts and minds of the disciples. But they still don’t get it.
And we know they’re not getting it, we know that something is misfiring in their hearts, because Jesus tells them a second time that He’s going to lay down His life so that He can be raised from the dead. And what do the disciples do right after that? They start arguing about who’s the greatest. Now, just think about that for a moment. Jesus says, “Hey, as the Messiah, the deliverer, the one who will make all things right, the one who will reconcile people to God, I have come to lay down my life — to give myself as a sacrifice so that I can raise from the dead.”
Right after He says that the disciples start arguing over who among them is the most awesome. It’s a pretty stark contrast between Jesus and His disciples, between servanthood and looking to be served, between humility & pride. And, again, the temptation in our flesh is to say, “Those morons!” “How could they not get it???” But how often do you and I promote ourselves, and seek the approval of man, and try to advance our agenda over and above everyone else? The truth is that we do this same thing — and it’s actually worse for us because we have the Indwelling Holy Spirit.
So Jesus sits these guys down and says, “Look, if you want to be first, you have to be the last.” “You guys are talking about being the greatest, you should be talking about who can be the least.” And then, to drive the point home, Jesus actually welcomes one of the “least of these” into their conversation. He brings a child into their midst (which would have been very counter-cultural in the day). In fact, you might remember in Matthew chapter 19, the disciples actually rebuked people for bringing children to Jesus. So Jesus illustrates what He’s talking about by bringing a child into the middle of their conversation.
All of that has been happening in this scene: Pride, selfishness, these guys completely missing the point. And then, as we come to our verses today, John chimes in once again. He says, “Hey Jesus, we saw this guy who was casting out demons in your name and (you’d be super proud of us) we told him to sit down & be quiet because he wasn’t following us!” Did you catch that little bit of grammar? John didn’t say, “Because He wasn’t following you, Jesus.” He says, “This guy wasn’t following us.” More pride, more selfishness, another example that they’re just not getting the point.
So Jesus responds, “Why would you do that? Don’t stop him, he’s doing work in my name.” And then He says, “The one who is not against us is for us.” So that’s the overall flow of what’s happening with the disciples. Now, before we get to what I believe is the main idea for us this morning, I want to point out a couple of things that are interesting. In fact, these are things that don’t seem to make sense.
The first deals with John himself. Based on what we know about John’s temperament & character, these conversations don’t seem very “John-like”, do they? At least not the John that I grew up hearing about in Sunday School. Isn’t John supposed to be the disciple that’s all about love?” It is true that John becomes that. There are early church historical records that detail John living to a very old age and being known for his Christ-like temperament. And we certainly see that heart come out in his New Testament writings. But that’s not who he is at this point in the narrative. In fact, we need to remember that Jesus gave John & his brother James the nickname “Boanerges”, which means “Sons of Thunder”.
The truth is that this John was known to have a fiery temperament. What we see here is John before Pentecost, John without the indwelling Holy Spirit, John before God’s grace transforms Him. And here he is telling this guy to stop casting out demons because the guy isn’t following him. And that’s all about pride being revealed in John’s heart. “Who does this guy think he is? This guy hasn’t spent any time with Jesus! He doesn’t have the knowledge that we do, he hasn’t seen what we’ve seen! I received my commission directly from Jesus! I’m a called out one, a trained one! And, on top of that, all of these other guys know that I’m Jesus’ favorite. That’s who I am, and this guy isn’t following me, so he must not be legitimate!”
What is all of that? It sure seems a lot like pride and a desire to be in control. We’ll come back to that in a few minutes to unpack it, but can we all agree that those are common struggles in our lives and in the church as a whole? This is just another point at which we need to check our hearts and say, “Oh, that’s right, I do that exact same thing!” We’ll circle back and unpack that in a few minutes but first, I want to point out one other interesting thing here (because I always want to address the confusing things in Scripture).
I’ve already pointed out that Jesus said, “The one who is not against us is for us.” But, here’s what’s interesting about that — Jesus says the exact opposite thing in Matthew 12:22-32. Here’s the context: Jesus is casting out demons and the Pharisees accuse Him of doing it by the power of the devil. Jesus responds by saying, “Why would the devil cast out the devil?” And then He says, “Whoever is not with me is against me.” It’s literally the opposite phrase. So, which one is it? “If you’re not for me, you’re against me? Or, if you’re not against me, you’re for me?”
It’s sort of like Proverbs 26:4-5: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” You read that and you’re like, “WHAT???” It literally says the opposite thing back to back. So, which one is it? Do we answer a fool or do we not answer a fool? It depends on the situation and it takes wisdom to discern that. The same thing is true of Mark 9 & Matthew 12. Sometimes it’s right to say the one, and sometimes it’s right to say the other. It depends upon the context. So,let’s think about the contexts of these 2 situations briefly:
In Matthew 12, Jesus is casting out demons but the Pharisees accuse Him of doing it by the power of the devil. What Jesus says in response is, “There’s no middle ground here, either I’m doing this because I’m from God or because I’m from the devil.” “If you’re not for me, you’re against me.”
In Mark 9, the context is completely different. There’s someone casting out demons in Jesus name, so he’s doing the right thing. He’s saying the right thing and He’s accomplishing the right thing. And what Jesus says in response is, “Why would he be a problem?” “The one who isn’t against us — is for us.”
Now, the application on that is tricky and takes wisdom to know how to apply it. The key in our text is that we’re dealing with the issue of truth. The man in question here is saying what is true, He’s doing what is true and he’s accomplishing what is true. Jesus says, “I don’t care that you’ve never met him before, he’s on our team.”
Another point of interest is that Paul, in Philippians chapter 1, makes basically the same point that Jesus makes here in our text. Listen to Philippians 1:17-18: “Some preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
Paul’s saying, “Look, some of these guys are preaching Christ out of rivalry & envy, they’re preaching Christ and people are hearing the gospel, so that’s a win!” And that really drives us back into the main idea of what Jesus is communicating in our text this morning.
I don’t think that this has as much to do with the circumstances of this guy not following the disciples, I think it has a lot more to do with exposing sin in John’s heart. It has to do with the pride that’s still lodged there because, if you look at the pattern of what’s been going on, it’s been lodged there for some time.
Now, let’s bring this back to our lives and talk a little bit about how this translates to you and me. I’ve already pointed out, as we’ve gone along, how the same things that we see coming out of the disciples (in attitude & behavior) are things that we exhibit in our lives as well.
But, I want to focus in for a moment on the subject of theological pride. There is an overwhelming sense of tribalism in the modern day church. Do you know what I mean by tribalism? We get into little theological, ecclesiological tribes based on our theological beliefs & doctrinal convictions. And, there are some really helpful elements to that because sound theology matters and right doctrine is crucial. It’s important to affirm and deny things based on what the Bible teaches. It’s important to know what we believe & why we believe it.
But, here’s the danger with tribalism: only being able to recognize truth when it comes from our own tribe. That’s what I think was happening with the disciples in this situation. Because it wasn’t coming from them, they couldn’t recognize the truth. And, if we’re going to be honest, we’re guilty of this far more often than we’d care to admit. The longer I’m in ministry, the more I have realized just how much I have to learn. And a part of what I’m learning is to celebrate the truth, even when it comes from an unlikely source (even a source that I didn’t know existed).
Pride stops that from happening. I had a good friend who used to say, “Pride calcifies ignorance in the heart.” In other words, there are things that you don’t know (that you’re ignorant of) pride solidifies that in your heart because you’re not willing to learn new things.
Humility, on the other hand, confesses with our actions and our attitudes that we believe that God is big & we’re small. Humility helps us understand that God is working in thousands of different ways, through millions of different people, and I certainly don’t have the market corned on truth. Does that make sense?
Now, there is certainly dangers that comes with this. We must learn to weigh everything against Scripture. We can’t be naive. We must have discernment and learn to be sharp biblically. But that shouldn’t hold us back from humbly learning from others.
The other danger here (or maybe tension is a better word) is, how can we be passionate about our convictions, theological distinctives, and good doctrine, while also being passionate about the Kingdom over our tribe? I think the key to this is found in what Jesus says in verse 39: “… for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”I believe that we should be praying for the supernatural work of God in every church (even ones that are doctrinally suspect). Because the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit draws people toward Christ & toward right doctrine.
So, in light of all that, I want to close our time this way. We are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper this morning, but I want to do 2 specific things with our time in Communion. I want to come against the pride in our hearts and I want to pray for the Kingdom to advance in our city — through all the church.