The 17th Sunday after Pentecost October 1, 2017
Text: Mark 9:38-50 3 Year Revised Series-B 17:2032
Theme: Being On Top With Jesus.
Do you know the children’s outdoors game called “King of the Hill”? In grade school we used to play that game all winter long at recess. The object of the game is simple – take a mound of snow that the plows have piled into the corner of the school playground and see who can remain on top the longest. There’s a lot of pushing and shoving that goes on. It probably wouldn’t be allowed in today’s world. But we had fun with it. Last person standing was crowned “King of the Hill.” This story reminds me of that game.
While traveling down the road one day, Jesus’ disciples were arguing about the greatest in His kingdom. I doubt that there was any physical pushing and shoving going on, but in the end the disciples were exerting themselves and their individual abilities over the others. It seems like they wanted to be on top with Jesus.
Jesus must have shaken His head sadly. But He still loved them, just like He loves us when we disappoint Him. He said, “Whoever wants to be first will put himself last; he will be the servant of all.”
Christ-loving servant-hood, that’s the thing that puts one on top with Jesus. One doesn’t push himself to the top with our Lord.
I. Self-concern and jealousy don’t make one tops with Jesus. The disciple John was listening closely. When he heard the words about humbling oneself and caring for others, he thought of an incident that had recently happened.
One day as the disciples were out and about, they had come upon a man who was healing people in Jesus’ name. He was driving evil demons out of those who were possessed by the devil. He was doing something good in Jesus’ name. But the disciples saw it as something bad. Why? John says, “We told him to stop because he wasn’t one of us.” The man wasn’t a part of this inner circle of disciples! And they didn’t welcome him.
Perhaps they thought to themselves: “How dare he do that! We are Jesus’ disciples. We are the ones who spend all our time with Him and know things that he doesn’t.” So they told the man, “Stop!” and sought to prevent him from doing anything more.
Was this something good or something bad in the way the disciples acted? They were the 12 hand-picked men whom Jesus chose to carry on the Gospel ministry. On the one hand it was good to hear John express his concern for Jesus and His kingdom. But on the other hand it was bad because it seemed to reveal a sense of rivalry and selfish concern for John’s rights as a disciple. The first is proper – concern for Jesus; the second isn’t.
Lives that are self-concerned and jealous about one’s spot in God’s kingdom…lives that are marked more by arguments, rivalry, and failure to be considerate of others….lives that have erred in loving the neighbor who is not one of us….can it happen to follower’s of Christ? It happened to the Twelve. But those who are tops with Jesus don’t push their weight around. They let concern for Him and His saving name guide them, not self-concern and jealousy.
The simplest work done in love of the Savior finds His blessing, no matter where or through whom it comes. Jesus said, “Anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose His reward.” Humble, unselfish, submissive, Christ-loving service that depends on Him puts one on top with Jesus; self-concern, rivalry, and jealousy don’t.
II. So be ever watchful of yourself.
But what if others don’t do it right? Maybe that was part of John’s concern. What if people aren’t proclaiming Christ right?
We are to test everything to see if it is in line with the Scriptures. And if it is not, we are to avoid it (Ro.16:17). But to stop others from proclaiming Christ…that’s not ours to do. That’s the Lord’s. We leave the final judgment to Him and His Word. On our part we are to be ever watchful of ourselves lest by word or example we lead someone astray, especially those who are weak in the faith. Jesus warned, “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” (Mk.9:42).
Have you ever been to an old mill where grain was ground into flour? In the more recent past they were built by rivers where water flowed over a big wheel that turned the grinding mechanism within the mill. In Jesus’ day a team of donkeys or oxen provided the power that turned the wheel. The grain was poured in between two large stones. As the team of oxen turned the upper stone, the grain was ground into fine powder between the stones.
Those stones were big, weighing thousands of pounds apiece.
Imagine taking one of those stones, tying one end to a rope, the other end around your neck, and then dropping it into the sea. What would happen to you? You would sink so fast, that you’d be out of sight at the snap of a finger – never to be seen again.
Now that’s a serious warning to make us ever watchful of ourselves. It would be better for us should we ever lead anyone to fall from faith through sinning that we would first forfeit our own lives and be cast into the sea with such a stone around our necks.
Sin is something dreadful; it caused Christ to die for us. But that sin is overcome through faith in the Savior who cleanses us as we look to Him. However, to lead someone else into sin that causes him to fall from such faith is definitely worse. That has eternal consequences for him and possibly for you.
So be watchful of yourself and your life, dear friend. It’s important that you don’t lead yourself or anyone else astray from God by what you say or what you do.
You see, the absence of faith leads to hell. Hell is forever; there is never an end to its sufferings. Think about that – forever! Those who die in sin without faith in Christ’s atoning work suffer forever. One never gets out of there; one never gets relief; the worms never stop gnawing; the fire never burns out. These are dreadful pictures. This is what all face who push their weight around, sell out to sin and unbelief, and lead others into it.
So, what price are you willing to pay to avoid hell? Jesus says be ready to cut off your hand, your foot, or to pluck out your eye should it be the cause of leading you, a little child, or anyone else from God. Don’t take sin and unbelief lightly. Watch yourself.
III. And salt your life with Jesus.
But is it really the hand or the foot or the eye that causes one to sin? No. It’s the heart, as Jesus said in our lesson a few weeks ago, “From within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts and deeds.”
We need clean hearts that only God can give (Ps.51). How does He clean them? Jesus uses another word picture to tell us. He said, “Everyone will be salted with fire….Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other.” Let’s call that salting your life with Jesus. What does it mean? Think of salt and its purposes.
The first thing that comes to mind is the salt shaker on our tables at home. Why is it there? Because we use salt to season our food; it makes it taste better.
There are other uses for salt. It is often used as a preservative to keep food from spoiling. It’s even used as a medicine.
When I was kid and we had sore throats, Mom always had us gargle with salt water. It burned at first. You know what that burning of salt is like, don’t you? You get salt into a cut on your hand. Yikes! It burns like fire!
Well, God’s Word does a similar thing. When we hear words of warning for sin and words of hell, like Jesus describes here, it hurts; it burns; it makes us totally uncomfortable. It’s like salt burning in an open wound. But salt burns in the wound for a reason; it works to cleanse the impurities there and help to heal. So also God’s Word through the Gospel promises of the Savior works to soothe our sorrow and pain, assuring us that Christ died for sin. That good news of a Savior heals our hearts and lifts us out of hell to heaven. It gives sinners peace with God. It graciously puts us on top with Him. No pushing or pulling here on our part; only Christ’s saving, sacrificial, and serving love reaching out to us in our weakness and need.
So, salt your lives with Jesus, be watchful of yourself, and know that self-concern, rivalry, and jealousy don’t make you tops with Him. Faith in the Savior does. And such faith leads to the humility of service to Him and those He loves. God grant it to us in faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.