By Simon ManchesterSunday 29 Oct 2017Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 18 minutes
If you look at Mark chapter 9 verse 33, you will see three words which are highly significant and they are that Jesus and his disciples are on the road, or they are ‘on the way’.
And they are on the road or the way to Jerusalem to crucifixion. And when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, and he allows himself to be arrested and to be crucified and makes the sacrifice of himself and he wins a very great victory on the cross, believe it or not, this is the turning point in the world – this is the turning point in history – this is the death on the cross which opens the door into God’s family – opens the door into eternal life which when a person discovers that cross, that door, everything is brand new. And this crucifixion of Jesus changes the whole world.
Now what Jesus teaches his disciples in these verses “on the road/on the way” is that he is going to achieve his purpose or mission, but he is also going to create a new people whose values are going to be from heaven. The values are not going to be earthly values, but they are going to be heavenly values. And what has he been talking to them about as he travels on the road with them?
Well, we discover in chapter 9 verse 31 that he has been telling them he will be killed and that he will rise. And you would think that would grip them and sober them and humble them but look at what they are discussing – chapter 9 verse 34? They are talking about who is the greatest.
I reflected on this in my preparation, and I thought – what a ridiculous and embarrassing conversation. Can you imagine going down to Morning Tea and finding yourself in a little group that is discussing which in the group is the greatest? Can you imagine being in your car on the way home and the mum or dad sitting at the wheel ‘boys and girls, let’s just have a little discussion – do you agree that I am the greatest?’ It’s just absurd, isn’t it?
But I suspect the conversation may have come up because they had just watched three of the disciples go up the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and then had watched none of the disciples able to exorcise the demon from this boy and so it may well be and I am kind of imaging this as best I can that at some stage as they are on the road to Jerusalem, some of them had said – ‘Where did you 3 guys go – and why did he pick you?’
And perhaps the answer came back;
- ‘Well, he does normally pick us, we seem to be the three among the 12, it’s possible that we have a special role and a superior position
and by the way the three say to the other 9,
- what happened with the boy? How come you didn’t do anything? I mean when we went out on a mission back in Mark chapter 6 we were driving demons out with the authority of Jesus Christ, and you seem to be no good at it.
And it’s possible you see that the discussion came up in this kind of way. When Jesus calls them together and says ‘what were you talking about’? DEAD QUIET! They are absolutely silent because it’s embarrassing, isn’t it? He had been speaking to them about his sacrifice, and they had been talking about their success.
So look at chapter 9 verse 35 – he sits them down (this is what a Rabbi does when he is going to teach) – he sits down, and he begins to teach them very carefully about how they are to see other people and how they are to see themselves. And I can’t imagine there is anybody here this morning – pulpit or pew – who couldn’t do with a bit of instruction from Jesus on ‘how to see self’ and ‘how to see other people’.
And as Jesus begins to teach them how they see other people and how they are to see themselves, let me say this very clearly, he is not so naive as to think that this little pep talk is going to change their minds and hearts and lives. He does not imagine that this teaching is going to cause them to get up and say “We will do it – yes we are going to be brand new selfless, revolutionised people”. No, he is not so naïve.
What he is going to do, is he is going to take himself through to Jerusalem and die on the cross which is going to unleash a brand new life in the hearts, and the lives of the believers and that brand new life is going to make it increasingly possible to put into practice what he has been teaching them. In other words, it’s the life which gives the power to the teaching.
So this little section of chapter 9 verses 33-50 is a unit – it begins chapter 9 verse 33 with the disciples arguing and it ends chapter 9 verse 50 ‘be at peace’. And that’s what Jesus can achieve in the heart of a self-centered individual, a transformation through his death which works for peace.
There are lots of ideas in these verses, lots of ideas, but I am going to put it all under two headings this morning.
- Christian Tolerance
- Christian Intolerance
We Christians are meant to tolerant and intolerant at the same time. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking – Oh we are meant to be tolerant, not intolerant – we are meant to be tolerant and intolerant, and all sensible people are tolerant and intolerant.
- You have to be tolerant of your family
- You have to be intolerant of an intruder
- You have to be tolerant as a doctor about who you look after
- You have to be intolerant of shoddy standards
- You have to be tolerant of the children at school
- You have to be intolerant of the stranger at the school gates
- We are meant to be sensibly tolerant and intolerant.
What does Jesus say about Christian tolerance and wider fellowship – verses 33-41? This is very important. If you are the sort of person like me who needs to be freed from what John Stott used to call “the little dungeon of yourself” and if you want to be a blessing to other people (and I am sure you do) and if you want to be glorifying God (and I am sure you do) you need what Jesus teaches here – look at chapter 9 verse 35 –
If anyone wants to be first,
He must be the very last,
And the servant of all
This is the headline; this is the key truth, this is the summary – if anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last and the servant of all.
In other words, this is what Jesus is saying – if you are thinking that you should seek your own preferences which is entirely natural and maybe you even think you deserve a position of greater greatness and you think that becoming great in splendour or comfort and being recognized and applauded and maybe even being pampered, is something that you not only want but you deserve – Jesus says ‘has it occurred to you that there is a greater greatness than that’? There is greatness, says Jesus, where you don’t get the immediate benefit but someone else does, and you are the source of their immediate benefit.
These are very famous words, aren’t they, that we are to be a servant, that we are not to try and be the first but the last – they are incredibly famous – they are kind of noble words, aren’t they, in the New Testament.
Are they as revolutionary and as supernatural as we think they are? Because we know for example that human beings can serve others whether they are Christians or not.
We know that a soldier can put himself last for the sake of his fellow soldiers.
We know that a parent (mother or father) can put themselves last for the sake of their children.
We know that an animal can instinctively look after the vulnerable.
What Jesus is teaching here is not just that you will do something as a rare extreme, but he is teaching that there will be a change in self which is total. It’s as if the pressure which comes to us from the world (you deserve everything) and from the human heart (which says ‘anybody remembered me’?) it’s as if that world and that flesh gets replaced by a brand new priority and the brand new priority comes from the very heart of Jesus himself because when he dies on the cross a new life is unleashed into the people of Christ and this new life, this new heart, this new love, this new priority begins to work itself in and through his people, slowly but surely.
I imagine we would hear this type of text at a School Speech Day – ‘being a servant’. One of our nearby schools has this as a motto “That I May Serve”.
I guess it’s possible – you might even hear this at a business seminar ‘we should be serving’.
I suspect that a school or business would talk like this if the serving is the path to success. Whereas Jesus is teaching something quite different and that is when you are serving another person you have arrived. The service is not the stepping stone to greatness; it is the greatness. And the reason that we can think like this because when we belong to the King of Kings and when we belong to his Kingdom which is so exponentially wonderful, the trinkets and the rewards of the world seem very small, and we find ourselves wonderfully set free with by the grace of God – a new nature.
I heard Tim Keller say on this teaching some very interesting things. He was answering questions, and he said that this talk in the Western World in the English Speaking Countries about ‘serving and forgiving and turning the other cheek’ – this is looked on in our culture as impressive. But when you take the New Testament teaching says Tim Keller, on marriage and sexuality, well the people of our culture will say it’s ridiculous, it’s outdated.
But, says Tim Keller, hop in an aeroplane and go over to a non-Christian country, perhaps a Middle Eastern Country and interview somebody on the street and say to them;
- ‘What do you think about New Testament sexuality’? And the average person will say it’s absolutely right.
- What do you think about the New Testament teaching on turning the other cheek and forgiving seven times seventy? And the average person on the street there will say that is unworkable. It’s naïve and ridiculous. It will never happen.
So what a strange thing it is, says Tim Keller that we will impose the lens of our cultural arrogance on the Bible and kind of dictate where we think it is right and wrong whereas we should expect the Bible by its very nature to confront us with our own prejudices and weaknesses.
So you see Jesus is teaching his disciples that they must see themselves as servants belonging to a very great servant with a very great new nature. Now in the next verses from 36 onward he looks at the disciples and tells them how they should see other people.
- he wants them to receive other believers
- he wants them to encourage the believers
- he wants them to value other believers (verse 36)
He took a child, and he put the child in the middle, and the text says that he embraced him; he wrapped his arms around him. Nobody had higher standards for children than Jesus. When we look at the disgraceful activities in the church with children – remember not to blame the doctor, the sickness is not his fault. He is the one who is repairing the mess.
Well, Jesus takes a child in his arms and why does he take a child because the child in Jesus’ day was very insignificant. He is not teaching the child he is cute or humble or innocent, or anything like that – no these disciples are so fixed on themselves, and they are so dismissive of other people that Jesus is teaching them – you are to welcome the believer (who you may think is insignificant) is significant.
You are to see them as God sees them. You are to see them as the family members of the heavenly Father. I presume when he says that the child comes IN MY NAME (verse 37) he means this is a Christian who comes to you and claims the name of Christ and you are to receive them because behind that person claiming the name of Christ is Christ and behind Christ is the Father.
Therefore friends, the worldly ways in which we assess people we need to steadily eliminate. It’s so easy and so natural for us to like people who are attractive and are nice and are thoughtful and are educated and are friendly and endear themselves to us. But here Jesus says we are to receive the one who comes in the name of Christ, whatever the categories as if Christ himself had sent them.
And then we are to widen the encouragement because suddenly John speaks up in chapter 9 verse 38, and he says – well Lord we saw somebody driving out demons, and they were doing it in your name but they did not follow us, and so we told them to stop. A very interesting word ‘US’ isn’t it? They were not following us, so we told them to stop! One of the Commentators, a very good Commentary James Edwards says ‘being in the inner circle seems to have had a bad effect on John as inner circles often do”.
And Jesus simply says to John – you are mistaken, you’ve made a mistake, you’ve driven away somebody who may by the grace of God have been coming to faith and fellowship – why drive away somebody who God is bringing in? And therefore I say to us we need to be aware of that kind of criticism or legalism or professionalism which throws a bucket of cold water over somebody who maybe just beginning the steps of the Christian faith.
John, you see, wants to tighten the fellowship to his own tiny little circle. Jesus wants to widen it.
Of course, Jesus is not naïve. He is not saying ‘it doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter what you think, it doesn’t matter who you serve’ – but he is simply saying ‘let’s be generous on the assumption the person who is coming maybe coming home’.
And we also need to value the ministry of another disciple (look at verse 41). Perhaps they bring you a cup of cold water – it doesn’t seem very significant to be brought a cup of cold water – but Jesus says the Father has noticed this cup of cold water and will reward.
Well, this is the main thrust in verse 40; this is the generous view of another person. Are they fighting against us? No – well it’s quite possible they are for us. It’s quite a generous spirit isn’t it? In other parts of the New Testament, he says ‘when it comes to you, however, if you think that you can be not for Jesus and still be safe, well you are against (Matthew 12:30).
So when it comes to yourself, says Jesus, take a stricter view of yourself because if you are not really for Jesus, you are probably against him. But when it comes to somebody else if they are not against then be generous in your presumption they may be for us.
So that’s Christian Tolerance in the wider widening fellowship. And I wonder if you can see how revolutionary this is for the local church because as we have heard in our prayers this morning, we live in a very anti-Christian society and the society that we live in as you know is cutting the roots of Christianity as fast and as hard as it can – still hoping to get the fruits.
But you will know from Galatians that if you cut the branches to Christ, you only end up with the works of the flesh – you end up with anger and rage and vitriol and violence, and this is the sort of thing we see in the texting and the politics and the morning news of our city.
Now Jesus is the secret of kindness, concern and grace. He is the one who can re-make individuals and cultures – that’s why the spread of Christianity is always brought in the train tremendous change and transformation when it’s real. And here is Jesus teaching that we are to take his Spirit and live his fruit to his praise.
The second thing this morning, is that Christian Intolerance is to tighten our own Discipleship. Christian tolerance is to widen the fellowship, and Christian Intolerance is to tighten our own Discipleship. I think you will see that these very strong verses which are very strong verses are directed to the disciples that they and we are to be intolerance of those sins and dangers and offences which wreck other people. There is a time for intolerance.
I was reading an article about rats, rats that form cities under cities and of course bring a huge amount of disease destroying crops and have been known to eat people alive. And the article said that a male and a female rat left to themselves to procreate for a year can produce 15,000 little rats – no wonder things breed so quickly.
But a lady, I think, in Germany has developed something called “Contrapest” which is a pink, sweet drink which works on the birth control of the rats. And where it has been experimented with (see how you learn things when you come to St Thomas!! – it’s amazing isn’t it? You were not expecting this, but it’s just a bonus!!) – the supply of Contrapest has reduced the number of rats by 40% in 12 weeks. There is a time, isn’t there, for intolerance?
Jesus teaches that there is a behaviour or a lifestyle of you or of me which damages the fellowship and we are to be intolerant. That’s why he says in chapter 9 verse 42 “I don’t want you harming the little one”, and when he says ‘the little one’ he just doesn’t mean the child, he means the believer. I don’t want you harming the believer; I don’t want you to cause, says Jesus, a believer to fall away. The word is to be “scandalised” or to be offended that they turn away.
I feel this very keenly because how easy it is for a preacher or a pastor to scandalise or offend through sinfulness, sometimes through teaching a member of a local church. Three men have left the church in the last weeks over the teaching on Same-Sex Marriage – One because they said the teaching is too tough and two because they said the teaching is too soft. How easy it is to scandalise and to offend.
And Jesus may have had the child in front of him, but the child is an illustration of a believer – so we are not just talking about Sunday school children. We need to be very careful, says Jesus, that we don’t offend another believer. So look at chapter 9 verse 42 – he says it would be better if you wrapped a millstone around your neck, it would be better if you strangled yourself and fell into the sea than you strangled the faith of another person – that’s what Jesus says.
And then come these very famous warnings in verses 43-48 – ‘cut off your hand, cut off your foot, cut off your eye’ – obviously not literal because if you are left with one eye you can still sin, you can still sin with one hand, and you can still sin I presume with one foot.
But what Jesus means is take drastic action on yourself to not cut off another person’s place in the fellowship but cut off those things in yourself that would prevent their fellowship – that’s what Jesus is saying. These verses are not just about sex, they are not even just about private sins, although our private lives do affect the public fellowship – what I do in private affects my private ministry.
Very famous and well-quoted words of Robert Murray McShane who was a pastor but they apply to all Christians – he said: “My people need most from me – my holiness”.
And four times Jesus talks about the offence or the scandalising which might cause another person to fall away and therefore the need to watch ourselves. So can you get the balance of what he is saying? If you hold very tightly to some sin which has a bad affect causing others to distance themselves from the fellowship, it would be better, says Jesus, if you distance yourself from those sins to cause somebody to belong to the fellowship.
And he quotes “Hell” three times – nobody spoke of hell more than Jesus. The most compassionate loving tearful man spoke again and again about hell because he knew hell to be real and you warn when you’re serious, and you love people. In this private lesson for the disciples, it’s not a public sermon, he tells them hell which is real is ongoing in its dreadfulness – the worm doesn’t die, and the fire doesn’t go out – these are symbols which teach us that the loss or the separation or the dreadfulness of hell never stops.
Therefore this is a critical issue, isn’t it? We need the love of Christ in our hearts so that we will be prepared to put away those things which will destroy fellowship and bless other people.
Well, the last two verses (49 and 50) Jesus says everyone will be salted with fire which I presume everybody will be tested or there will be trials – it’s not easy. And then he says in verse 50 “But don’t lose your saltiness because if you belong to me, something is brand new about you. You have become the salt of the world, and something is wrong if you are not distinct. There is something wrong if you are insipid. But let your Christian life be real.”
So Christian tolerance widens the fellowship – what a wonderful thing it is to be part of this church family to see the people accept and welcome and love in the name of Christ – one of the great privileges of the Christian life.
Christian intolerance means that we are to work on those things, especially in ourselves that may ruin the fellowship. And all of this is going to be made possible because Jesus goes to the cross and dies and brings to the believer a brand new life without which the Christian life is impossible.
I want to close this morning by reading to you a short paragraph of a letter which was written by John Wesley, the great preacher, who did not become a Christian until he was 35 years old even though he was the son of a Clergyman. John Wesley had been looking for the light, the gospel for quite a long time – nobody had been telling him the Gospel. He had become a believer at the age of 35, and when he was 35, he wrote to one of the Ministers who had failed him, who had scandalised him by not giving him the Gospel.
I think this is a reminder of how much we need to know the cross if we are ever to live the Christian life. This is what John Wesley said;
How will you answer to our common Lord that you, Sir, never led me into the light?
Why did I scarcely ever hear you name the name of Christ?
Why did you never urge me to put my faith in his blood?
Is not Christ the first and the last? If you say that you thought I had faith already, Sir you know nothing of me?
I beseech you, Sir, by the mercies of God to consider whether the true reason of your never pressing his salvation upon me was that you never had it yourself?”
Very strong isn’t it? So as we finish this morning, I want you to picture Jesus, single-minded, big-heartedly going to Jerusalem. And as he goes to Jerusalem he practises what he preaches. He does costly things so that he might widen the fellowship, widen it so widely that you and I enter.
And when we do enter, and his new life enters into us the mark of the new life is not that we protect ourselves and pamper ourselves but that we put away those things which would injure another person and we pursue those things which would bring them fellowship and closeness and joy.
Let’s ask for help to do that, let’s pray. We thank you our gracious God for our saviour and we pray that the death he died would not be in vain but the new life which you give to us by your Spirit would create in us a style of living which is humble to self, gracious to the outsider, helpful to the believer and honouring to you.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.