Sermon on Mark 9: 30-50

Here is the rest of my sermon notes on Mark 9. The first half is here.

After climbing a mountain and being affirmed by God the Father, Jesus told Peter, James, and John about his resurrection again, Mk. 9:9, which they still didn't understand, and he pointed to Biblical prophecy in general, but I look at Isaiah 53 in particular. He explained to them that the prophecy they were thinking about, the arrival of Elijah, predicted in Malachi 4:5 in particular, was fulfilled in John the baptizer, Mk. 9:12-13. They didn't understand the death and resurrection talk in the previous chapter either, Mk. 8:31. He is focused on teaching his disciples but life interrupted in the case of a demonized boy. Jesus delivers the boy then resumes his important teaching.
9:30 They went out from there and passed through Galilee. But Jesus did not want anyone to know, 9:31 for he was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”

Mark keeps picking up with this conversation because it's important to him, and as well to Peter who probably was Mark's source, that he keeps bringing it up to his readers. The good news depends on this murder and resurrection. Without Golgotha and the empty tomb there is no acceptable sacrifice for our sins by the only one who could pay the price. But like many today, the disciples don't get it.
But they did not understand this statement and were afraid to ask him. 9:33 Then they came to Capernaum. After Jesus was inside the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

Many Bible translations like to separate v. 32 from v. 33 with a heading, like "Who's the greatest?" but I think the key to v. 32 is v. 34. What could they possibly be afraid of? Peter, James and John were able to talk with Jesus about their doubts. Jesus was teaching them. School was open. It's time for questions. But if they were arguing about pecking order, then I'm sure insecurity was the real reason they were afraid. They weren't afraid of Jesus, they were afraid of each other! No one wanted to appear ignorant. Despite no one knowing what Jesus meant, they still had the temerity to argue about superiority. How does this happen?

I think the first clue is they were having a "conversation" apart from Jesus. How quickly the neglect to maintain fellowship with Jesus results in the manifestation of pride. This results in Jesus sitting down, which is a serious thing.
9:35 After he sat down, he called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 9:36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 9:37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

When Rabbis sat down, it was time for serious learning. He gathers the boys and delivers God's methods. Greatness is recognized in servanthood. In contrast to the kingdom of man where the greatest are known by how many are under them, the kingdom of heaven recognizes those who are under the most. Then, by example, he takes a child in his arms. I have fellowshipped with children in cultures where they aren't highly valued. I have friends at my job, raised in the Orient, who did not have a name for the early years, only their birth number. As Christianity has spread, cultures have been transformed by v. 37. According to Jesus, welcoming a child equals welcoming him which equals welcoming the Father. Jesus values children. Hence, typically, Christians value children. It was Christians in the 1st century who were taking home babies left outside to die by parents who didn't want them, and those parents were exercising their legal prerogative. The church has always been pro-life. The earliest, non-canonical writing of the church, from the turn of the 1st century is the Didache which, among many topics, addresses abortion and infanticide. 1. But the second commandment of the teaching is this: 2. "Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery"; thou shalt not commit sodomy; thou shalt not commit fornication; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not use magic; thou shalt not use philtres; thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide; "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods". Wherever Christian missions have gone, orphanages have been started to care for those children no one else will care for. Sponsoring orphans is the most frequent way most Americans encounter this aspect of Christian missions, especially through huge organizations like WorldVision. My trip to Haiti included painting at an orphanage. They now have three children in their care. I've also been following another missionary family's blog in Haiti who are trying to prevent malnutrition in Haiti. The current excitement about abortion among Christians like myself is not a new, political thing. It is as old as the church. The church has always been pro-life, because Jesus values children.

In response to this profound statement, John tries to exert authority.
9:38 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.” 9:39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, because no one who does a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to say anything bad about me. 9:40 For whoever is not against us is for us. 9:41 For I tell you the truth, whoever gives you a cup of water because you bear Christ’s name will never lose his reward.

Jesus must have stared at him for a long moment. He just bailed out the crew when they couldn't deliver a boy from a demon. Now John wants to forbid someone from joining in the defeat of Satan's kingdom?! Why? The exorcist was doing battle with Jesus's name, and Jesus points out that he's at least temporarily on their side. Jesus lays out a few clues to determine who is on Jesus's side.
  • Person performs miracles in Jesus's name.
  • Person shows kindness because they recognize Christ on you
These people should be given the benefit of the doubt. This was very practical for the early church that suffered extreme violence, and betrayal to persecutors was a constant threat. This still happens in many countries today. If you want updates on the persecution of the church around the world today I suggest you read the Voice of the Martyrs. Jesus is upset with John for potentially damaging the nascent faith of a new citizen of the kingdom of God. So Jesus gives a general warning about this.
9:42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone tied around his neck and to be thrown into the sea.

The Greek word translated "little ones" is different from the one for children, mikrons instead of paediea or teknon. Jesus is surely referring to new believers. God is eager to reward those who are kind to his kids but he will also respond with serious repercussions to those who harm his kids. Jesus warns that one would be better off drowning than causing one of his kids to sin. What then should one avoid doing?
  • Causing believers to doubt
  • Stopping them from doing kingdom stuff
  • Tempting them to sin.
Paul talks about this in his first letter to the Corinthian church. 1 Cor. 8:11-12 So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed. If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
Paul says sinning against our siblings who are weaker in the faith is equivalent to sinning against Jesus himself. No wonder Jesus warns that such offenses deserve drowning. It's wonderful that God considers an offense against us as serious as an offense against his only begotten son, Jesus. He takes adoption seriously. Hence we should take our sin seriously. Jesus continues.
9:43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! It is better for you to enter into life crippled than to have two hands and go into hell, to the unquenchable fire. 9:45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off! It is better to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 9:47 If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out! It is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 9:48 where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched.
If you don't think drowning is serious enough, how about unending burning? It's not crazy fundamentalists who make up stories about hell, it's Jesus himself who describes and warns against this punishment by taking it's cause seriously. He uses hyperbole to get his point across. I believe it's hyperbole because we never read of the apostles living lives with one eye, one hand and one foot. But they took the warning seriously as they preached the message of repentance. The blind can lust and the paralyzed can hate. The issue is in the heart. If it's not taken seriously, by turning from the things condemned in the New Testament and asking God for forgiveness of those things, then the sinner will suffer the same judgment of the enemies of God. Jesus's language here is a quote from the end of Isaiah. This is how Isaiah concludes his long book. 66:22 “For just as the new heavens and the new earth I am about to make will remain standing before me,” says the Lord, “so your descendants and your name will remain. 66:23 From one month to the next and from one Sabbath to the next, all people will come to worship me,” says the Lord. 66:24 “They will go out and observe the corpses of those who rebelled against me, for the maggots that eat them will not die, and the fire that consumes them will not die out. All people will find the sight abhorrent.” Isaiah 66. Those who object to the doctrine of hell say they can't understand how heaven can be a good place while hell exists. This passage, quoted by Jesus in part, indicates that part of heaven includes an observatory of the enemies of God suffering for their rebellion. That's the data, whether we like it or not. Even if we don't like it, I'd rather be the observer than the observed. So I need to daily confess my sins and forgive those who sin against me.

The process of confession and repentance purifies us and prepares us for our heavenly citizenship. Jesus concludes, 9:49 Everyone will be salted with fire. 9:50 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.
Salt prevents decay. Fire removes impurities. But they both are painful. I enjoyed the slogan I saw this summer on a Marine's shirt at a recruiting tent. It said, "Pain is the sensation of weakness leaving the body." Welcome the pain of the conviction of sin. Jesus himself tells the church in Revelation 3:19 All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent! In Hebrews 12, we learn 2:7 Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 12:8 But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. 12:9 Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? 12:10 For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. 12:11 Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. The pain and suffering leads to peace and holiness. But we need to keep the painful salt in us. Don't lose it. It reminds us that we belong to Jesus.


Andrew Park said…
great post - thoughts on Mark 9. I'm preaching it this Sunday - your thoughts helped.
John Umland said…
You are welcome.
God is good
Sheri Kernik said…
Thanks for sharing! It helps to have another view point.

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