Jesus Prepares His People
A sermon based on Mark 9:38-50
Sunday, October 8, 2012
When you're preparing your favorite meal, what do you all to make it taste so good? Do you put ketchup on everything? Maybe you prefer mustard. I remember my dad used to put pepper on everything. My mom covered everything in salt. But one member asked me once, "You know what my favorite food additive is?" I guessed salt. But he replied, "No. It's fire." And he had a good point. Fire makes a lot of good foods edible. A raw burger, raw chicken, raw salmon, just aren't as good as meat that's cooked. And it's not very healthy either. You know I like bacon, but I've never eaten it raw. Fire is an excellent additive to food.
But even after it's cooked, I take after my mom. I like to add a little salt. I like salty bacon. I like salt on my burger, salt on my fries, salt on my popcorn, salt on my chips. Give me salty snacks over chocolate or desert any day. Salt is an excellent additive to food too.
Add fire and add salt when you prepare your meal and, in most cases, your food becomes better. And this morning, Jesus says the same is true of people too. As he prepares his people for heaven, Jesus adds fire and adds salt to make us better. Jesus says everyone will be salted, or sprinkled, with fire. And Jesus says we are to have salt among us too. Then, with Jesus doing the preparing with his fire and salt, we have a pleasing aroma to God, delightful and delicious to him. Let's take a look at how Jesus prepares his people according to Mark 9:38-50…
38 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."
39 "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 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.
42 "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where " 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' 49 Everyone will be salted with fire.
50 "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."
I. With a Little Fire
Last week, we heard how Jesus' disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest and we heard his gentle rebuke as he taught them that true greatness was serving others without thought of repayment, but in thanks to him. But it seems like the lesson didn't take too well—at least not with John. "Okay," John conceded, "No one of us is better than the others. All twelve have equal greatness as we serve you, Jesus. Got it. But… at least all twelve of us are better than this guy. I mean, sure he drives out demons, but he's no disciple. He's not one of us." 38 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."
And again Jesus rebukes his disciples: 39 "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 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.
"Leave the guy alone!" Jesus told John. "He's serving me. That's evidenced by the fact that he is driving out demons. If he didn't belong to me, he couldn't do what he's doing. So what if he's not one of you?" And Jesus redirected John's attention. "Instead of worrying about this other man and his faith, why don't you guys worry about yourselves and your own faith? Before addressing the speck in his eye, let's talk about your plank of pride and jealously. After all, there's plenty to worry about here isn't there?"
And just as he addressed Peter as "satan," he would use harsh law to jar his disciples into examining their own lives and hearts. "You're obviously very concerned about the spiritual welfare of others, John. How concerned are you about your own sin? To what extent are you willing to go to root sin out of your life?"
43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where " 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'
Harsh law, right? But did you notice the conditionals? "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off… If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off… If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out…" If these body parts were the cause of sin in your life, you would do well to get rid of them! Because being crippled or blind sure beats being damned! But Jesus isn't calling for self-mutilation here. If only the problem were in the external limbs—then maybe self-mutilation would be a simple solution.
But the problem runs much deeper, doesn't it? It wasn't John's hand or foot or eye that caused him to sin, was it? It was his foolish pride that ran much deeper than his extremities. It was a poison that began in his heart and from his very core infiltrated every part of his body.
So out of great care for John, this disciple whom Jesus loved so dearly, he pointed out that this jealousy toward this other man was just as deserving of hell as any other sin.
And Jesus does the same for us. You haven't killed anyone? You haven't had sex with anyone but your spouse? You've never robbed a bank or done illegal drugs? At least you're not as bad as those other Christians ("or at least they call themselves Christians!") Well… so what?! Your heart still causes you to sin in your own way. You are still corrupt to the core, from the inside out. Who cares about them? Worry about you! Worry about your own pride. Worry about your own arrogance. Have you been willing to go to any and every extreme to be rid of sin in your life?!
The truth is that we all deserve to be drowned in the sea with a millstone hung around our necks. We all deserve worse than that. We all deserve to, "be thrown into hell, where '[the] worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"
But in his great love for us, Jesus doesn't throw us into the fire of hell. But he does salt, or maybe "sprinkle" us with fire. With strong preaching of the Law, he reminds us that hell is a very real place. A place we don't ever want to go to, but a place we all deserve to go to. Everyone is salted with this fire of the Law. Whether they want to admit it or not, they know from their consciences that they deserve punishment from a holy God. So do we.
And that reminder of hell is a good thing. It reminds me of my very real need for a Savior. My suffering in this life is a good thing. It reminds me that life isn't about this life. It's much better to be salted with a little fire, better to be grilled with the law, if you will, better to have the heat turned up now, than to burn forever in hell. Thank God that as he prepares his people, he adds a little fire!
And you know that because of his grace, you won't endure the fire of hell and be burned to a crip. Jesus endured hell so that we won't ever have to. He took the full heat of God's wrath on the cross when the Father completely forsook him. And he did it all for us.
By his sacrifice Jesus has made us clean, just as Malachi prophesied: "2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years." (Malachi 3:2-4)
And now we do belong to Jesus. Whether weak in faith or strong, we are the Lord's. We belong to him. We're his own. And that truth is now reflected in the way that we live, not for ourselves or for our pride or glory, but for him, seasoning our lives with salt…
II. With a Little Salt
I like popcorn, but let's face it. It's really just a carrier for the salt. Without the salt it just wouldn't be the same. Without the salt, what's the point? So, in our house anyway, there is no popcorn without salt. And that's true of Christians too. There are no Christians without salt. Because they belong to Christ, disciples of Jesus produce fruit of faith.
This unnamed man who was driving out demons in Jesus' name wasn't an unbeliever. There's not even any indication that he was teaching anything but the truth. I don't know that's it fair to infer that he was somehow heterodox, that is, teaching things other than the truth. He wasn't using Jesus name as some sort of talisman against demons, but was a genuine believer and disciple of Jesus, even if he wasn't one of the twelve. His faith was evidenced by his actions. He didn't drive out a demon by his own power, but by the power of Jesus in whom he believed and in whom he acted.
And that was nothing for John to be worried or upset about. Instead, John (and the others) should cling to their faith in Jesus themselves and produce fruit of faith as well. In this case, the fruit Jesus called for was to get along: "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."
"Have salt among yourselves, John. Don't lose your saltiness, but cling to the promises I've give you. Have faith in me. And let this faith be evidenced in your actions. Have salt among yourselves. Season your words with kindness. Sprinkle your actions generously with love, with more than just a pinch! Be at peace with each other, no longer arguing with each other over who's the greatest, no longer worrying about who's better between you and others."
And again, the same holds true with us, dear friends. Since we belong to the Lord, since we have been redeemed and made his very own, we too produce fruit of faith. Not "we should," not "we ought to," not "we will," but "we do." It's just who we are. We have been saved from the fire! And we've been sprinkled with the preserving salt of God's grace in Christ. And as he prepares us, he generously sprinkles into our lives countless opportunities to show our thanks!
Now , "Have salt in yourselves!" Cling to the Word. Make regular use of the Sacrament. And don't lose your saltiness, but keep your faith in Jesus. And this will season your life in a wonderful way. You'll continue to be eager to live, not for yourselves or for your selfish, proud, and jealous glory, but for your Savior. Eager to humbly serve him, rejoicing when others do to.
And your fruits may seem big, as you drive out demons—literally, performing miracles, or figuratively, helping your fellow believers to resist satan's attacks. Or your fruits may seem less impressive as you give a cup of cold water to refresh a thirsty kid or as you simply get along with one another, "and be at peace with each other." And when you do live for Jesus with these "salty" acts, whether big or small, in whatever you do "in [Jesus'] name because you belong to Christ" you will offer a pleasing sacrifice to God. And by his grace, you "will certainly not lose [your] reward."