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Mark

Faith, Humility and Care

Mark 9:14 -- 50

We shall take today’s Scripture in its pieces, for the sake of the lesson. But do remember these things all happened on the same day, in very short order. They are connected; they tell us of life in the kingdom.

Faith

When they came back to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. And He asked them, "What are you discussing with them?" And one of the crowd answered Him, "Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it." And He *answered them and *said, "O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!" They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. "It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" And Jesus said to him, " 'If You can?' All things are possible to him who believes." Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief." When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again." After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, "He is dead!" But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, "Why could we not drive it out?" And He said to them, "This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer."

(Mark 9:14-29 NASB)

Arguing with the Pharisees

Recall that we are talking here of the “other disciples” – the ones who did not see the Transfiguration. As is often the case, we can see the difficulty the disciples are having not by what they are doing but by what they are not doing. They are arguing with people. They are concentrating on winning the argument, and so sacrifice healing for debating points.

The argument, clearly, concerns the demon possessed boy. Recall that the Pharisees most certainly believe in demon possession; they believe in exorcism – they just don’t believe in Jesus. They are, however, experienced debaters. They have managed to get the argument on their own terms here; debate, rather than action.

The simple fact of the matter is this: Without prayer equals without power. Rather than debate these people, they should have gone to their heavenly Father for aid.

Christ’s approach

As Jesus approaches this knotty little argument, we see his approach to the problem. It is very different from the Pharisees and the disciples.

  • First, by asking what they are arguing about, he simply points out the absurdity. They are arguing over this exorcism. Either the disciples can do it, or they must appeal to Christ. What’s to argue about?
  • Having displayed the disciples’ problem, he next goes on to tell them the solution – and to give vent to his disappointment with them. The matter is one of faith, he tells them.
  • But such a statement is not sufficient for the boys father. “If you can help” arises, a statement which challenges both Christ’s power and his love. Christ’s response is simply to ask for the smallest of obedience: bring the boy here.
If

The statement is a classic; it reflects the view of so many of us. I believe (I really do, Lord) – but I need some help with it. There is just enough faith here to allow that it is possible.

  • Note, please, that this is not the cynic demanding a sign, for no such sign is given the cynic. The father genuinely believes.
  • His mistake is to doubt “whether or not.” He is asking the wrong question. The right question is “Who is this Jesus?” If he is not from God, all the belief in the world will not help. If he is, then praise God.
  • Remember the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace? Their faith extended beyond circumstance; whether God chose to save or not, He is still God.

The matter is rather simple for most of us. We believe – and we’d be a lot happier about it if God gave us the power to work miracles. But remember: power in us, that’s magic. Power in Him, that’s faith.

Humility

From there they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it. For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later." But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him. They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. Sitting down, He called the twelve and *said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, "Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me."

(Mark 9:30-37 NASB)

The example of humility

As the Transfiguration showed his glory, his death on the cross showed his humility. Jesus died the death of a despised criminal. He has now chosen to take his disciples away from the crowds to teach them. Teach them what? Humility. You cannot help but contrast his humility in going to death on a cross – which is what he is talking about – with their pride in being first.

How often our pride is an embarrassment to us! Is it not like God to puncture our pride when it surfaces?

Teaching with formality

There is a certain style to the lesson. He does not ask them what they are arguing about while they are arguing about it, on the road, with the crowds near by. He waits until they are behind closed doors. If you need to have your pride punctured, it is best done gently.

He then sits down. This is the picture of a rabbi holding a formal time of instruction. We still speak of people who “take the chair” of a meeting, meaning to take charge of. If you need to have your pride punctured, it is best done with dignity.

The lesson is short (pun intended) and to the point. He takes a convenient example at hand, a small child. In those days children were held to be the lowest members of society (a position now reserved for Junior High students). The example is clear to them. If you need your pride punctured, it is best done with a practical example.

The lesson itself

The lesson is remarkably economical in words. Christ lays out three principles of conduct in the kingdom of God:

  • First, it is a kingdom of servants. If you follow the website on which these lessons are posted, you will notice a page marked “Web Servant.” Most sites have a page for the Webmaster; but this is not appropriate for the kingdom of God – in which there is but one true master.
  • Next, that kingdom extends to “all who will.” One’s status in society, high or low, makes no difference.
  • Indeed, it makes so little difference that we can safely say that many who now appear to be in high position will be found to be in low position. Indeed, finding the best “team player” is often difficult. Finding the worst usually is not.
Who the work is for

If the work is lowly (and it often is) we should consider who we’re working for – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It just appears to be for the church nursery.

  • If the task seems a low one, we should do it nonetheless – for the task is for the highest.
  • The task therefore deserves to be done as well as possible. Give of your best to the Master, as the old hymn says.
  • The task also therefore deserves to be done cheerfully, as God loves a cheerful giver.

Inclusive care

John said to Him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. "For he who is not against us is for us. "For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.] "If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.] "If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast 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 becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

(Mark 9:38-50 NASB)

For and against

Christ here lays out another principle of life in the kingdom of God. It’s binary, as the computer types would say. You’re in, or you’re out. How is this?

  • Christ, by his very nature, by the claims he makes about who He is, forces this choice. You cannot mildly approve of Jesus Christ.
  • Because of this nature – in or out – we are not to judge others. If they are not Christ’s servant, then our mission is to evangelize them. We need know nothing more than the fact that they are sinners like us. If they are Christ’s servants, who are we to judge them?
  • More commonly, however, do we put barriers in the way of Christ’s servants. You cannot serve Jesus unless you are a member of the right church; worshiping in the right way. All this is pain to the Lord who prayed that we might be one.
Caring for the least

Now that we understand “in and out,” we can see why we are commanded to care for even the least in the kingdom of heaven. We don’t really know who will truly be the least (or most) when Christ returns, but we do know his command is to care for all of our fellow Christians.

Look at it this way: suppose you do a favor for one of my children. For example, one friend got my son a summer job during his college years. My son should be grateful; I certainly am. Now if I (a sinner) can understand such gratitude for good things, how much more does this apply to Christ, and to God the Father?

No half way

Of all the principles of the kingdom of God, this is likely the least popular. Christ puts up with no half way measures. He gives you three examples here:

  • “foot” – it is better for you to stay away from some places than to wind up in hell. For most of us there are such places. Some have signs on the door saying “adults only.” Others have signs in our hearts.
  • “hand” – it is better for you to avoid doing some things than to wind up in hell. Some of us are not to be trusted with a drink in our hands. Some of us are not to be trusted with money in them either.
  • “eye” – it is better for you not to gaze upon some things than to wind up in hell. Pornography is not a victimless crime.
The principle of “salt”

Jesus sums it up: have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other. Salt?

  • In the Old Testament it was a symbol of purification (we still gargle with salt water). We need to keep ourselves pure – not half way pure.
  • In the Old Testament grain offerings which were “first fruits” were salted. We need to present our first and best to our Lord.
  • In the New Testament, we are told[1] that our speech is to be seasoned with salt – meaning that it should be full of grace.

In these things we can find peace in the kingdom of God. By keeping ourselves pure; by doing our best for our Lord; and by keeping our speech gracious and kind we keep peace in the kingdom.

Summary

These look like isolated instances, but I think not. The basic call to follow Jesus is rooted firmly in faith. If you will walk with him, you will walk in humility. You will share that walk with many others of many different views; maintain peace with them in your purity, best work and gracious speech.


[1] Colossians 4:6

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