Mark 10:17-31 – All Things Possible

Mark 10:17–31 17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Yes, this is the same text we looked at last week.  Yes, we are looking at it again.  No, it isn’t the same sermon.  Some will be review of what we covered, but, overall, today will have a different focus from last week.

Last week, we looked at this rich young man who realized that he was incomplete; he was lacking something for his salvation.  He looked to Jesus, yet he walks away from Jesus grieved with his face clouded over.  Jesus’ command, “Go and sell all that you have.  Give it to the poor.  Then come, follow Me as I go to Jerusalem where I will die on the cross,” was just too much.

Jesus had asked the rich, young ruler to do something that was more difficult than shoving a camel through the eye of a needle; Jesus’ command was something that was more difficult than impossible.

Imagine with me, please, the life of this rich young ruler—let’s call him “Joshua.”

Joshua is born into a family with royal lineage.  His parents raise him to be a devout Jewish boy.  Joshua’s parents teach him about Yahweh Who had delivered His people in the past.  He learns about Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Elijah and all the great prophets of old.

Joshua learns the great Shema Blessing, the confession of Israel, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  Joshua’s parents diligently taught Joshua when they sat in their house, and when they walked by the way, and when they lied down, and when they rose (Dt. 6:4–7).

As Joshua grew up, not only did he became strong and tall, but also loving and wise.  People liked him, and God was obviously blessing him.

Joshua’s parents continued to teach him.  Each year they would bring him to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.  Joshua continued to hear and learn his people’s history.

Parents wanted their kids to be like Joshua, and other kids liked him too.  Even though some were jealous of how greatly he was blessed, no one had any reason to complain about Joshua being greedy or stingy because he was always generous.

Joshua never caused anyone to suffer or be in any distress; he was blameless in his words and deeds.  Joshua gave freely to anyone that had need; he helped when someone else was in trouble.  Joshua always spoke well of people—even when others were gossiping; he never complained about what others had, but was excited for them when they were blessed.  And Joshua continued to honor, serve, obey, love, and respect his parents.

But when Joshua grew up, he suddenly left.  He left his parent’s royal house with all its comforts.  He simply walked away.  People began to wonder why he left.  Some thought he was crazy and wondered if he leaving his royalty behind.

But Joshua left because something was not right.  Something was missing for eternal life.  That something kept nagging his mind, so he left.

Now imagine, please, as the rich, young ruler’s face clouds over and visible grief overtakes him, he walks away.  He turns the corner, and the disciples ask, “Who can be saved?”

And Joshua (Yeshua), Jesus the real Rich, Young Ruler—Who had perfectly obeyed the Commandments and Who had great riches and power and glory and Who gave it all up, giving everything He had to the poor.  Jesus says, “With man, entering the reign of God is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.”

You see the real Rich, Young Ruler here is Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t asking the man who ran up and knelt before Him (let’s call him Henry) to do anything Jesus hadn’t done Himself.  Jesus looked at Henry and loved him because, I think, Jesus saw something of Himself in Henry.

We tend to look at this text and see Jesus heaping the law upon poor Henry, but Jesus was tenderly calling on him to receive the Gospel.  Jesus was calling Henry to give up anything that he thought made him right with God.  Jesus was calling Henry to give up on winning and excelling and, even, living.  Henry wanted to earn an inheritance, but Christ wants to give a free gift.

Christ is waiting, just waiting, to give him this gift, but Henry walks away.

“How hard it is,” Jesus says, “for those who have stuff to enter the reign of God.”  This is not just the final nail in the coffin for those who are rich.  The word wealth in v. 23 (again from last week) simply means things, possessions, stuff—even, possibly, debt.  The words from Jesus, “How hard it is to enter the reign on God,” condemn us all.

“How hard it is, for those who have stuff to enter the reign of God.”  Or in another place (Mt. 7:13-14), “Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

But Jesus also said (Jn. 12:32), “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”  That includes Henry; that includes you.

I wonder, what if Henry had stayed?  What would happened if, after Jesus had commanded him, “Go, sell, give, follow,” Henry had simply said, “I can’t do that”?  I think Jesus would have said the same thing but in a different way.

“It is difficult to enter the reign of God.  So difficult, in fact, that with man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.  That is why, dear Henry, I am going to Jerusalem.  You see, Henry, I am going to Jerusalem to be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes to be condemned.  Yes, Henry, condemned to death.  I will be delivered over to the Gentiles who will mock Me and spit on Me and flog Me and kill Me.  Yes, it is a far cry from the royal riches that I left, but after three days I will rise.”

Salvation is impossible with man.  Salvation is impossible for you, but God specializes in the impossible.

Then Peter speaks up, but let’s not be too hard on Peter here—Jesus isn’t.  Peter rightly recognizes that he and the disciples have left things behind and are following Jesus.  And Jesus’ response isn’t harsh.  He doesn’t rebuke Peter.  He says, “Amen (Truly), I say to you there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands.”

Look around at your family here and imagine the family—the houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands—that you have inherited because you too are a part of the body of Christ.  Imagine the believers of all of history, they are your family, even now they are your family.  Imagine, Who your Father is—the Creator of the universe.  Imagine the age to come—eternal life with that family and Father.

Sounds good right?  Hold on, “with persecutions,” Jesus adds.  Jesus doesn’t save you out of all your problems.  He doesn’t remove you from this broken world.  He does save and pulls you safely through it.

“But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

That’s how Jesus works.

Jesus isn’t interested in your piety or honesty or good works at all.  Jesus doesn’t save you strutting around, dressed up in your Sunday best.  “The first will be last.”

Jesus saves you stumbling around naked and un-showered.  He saves you sweaty and smelly and dead and rotting.  “The last will be first.”

Jesus saves you the last, the least, the lost, the little, and the dead.  Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Mark 10:17-31 – What Must I Do?

Mark 10:17–31 17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jesus is on a mission.  He is setting out on a journey to Jerusalem where He, by His Own Words, will be betrayed and delivered into the hands of ruthless, evil men and killed.  Now, as He sets out on this journey, a rich, young ruler runs up to Him with an urgent question.

The rich, young ruler kneels before Jesus and asks a question that has been nagging him: “Good teacher, what must I do?  What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  The successful ruler is setting out on a journey too, and he wants to be prepared.  He reverently asks Jesus a sincere question.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Any rabbi, any teacher, could have answered this question.  And like any other rabbi would have, Jesus points this man to the Commandments—specifically, to the second table of the Law dealing with love towards your neighbor.  Interestingly, Jesus gives them out of order.  Jesus starts with the fifth through the tenth, “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud,” (9th & 10th commandments combined).  Then, Jesus goes back to the fourth commandment, “Honor your father and mother.”

Jesus doesn’t give the man anything new.  Jesus points the man to Moses, to the Commandments.  These Commandments had been around for 1500 years, and Jesus places them before the man once again.  But the question continues to burn in the man’s mind.  Something is still missing, “Jesus I’ve taken care of all of that stuff.  I have followed those commandments.  I have not killed or committed adultery or stolen or lied or coveted.  I have loved and honored my parents.  My integrity is intact, but something must still be missing.”

Notice v. 21, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him”.

Jesus sees a rich young man who has a clean conscience—there is nothing in his life for which he needs to repent.   Jesus sees this young man who has his whole life together and still seeks out Jesus to ask this important question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus, looking at him, loved him.

Jesus loves this rich and powerful young man who has clean conscience but still lacks the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.  Something is missing; he knows something is missing, but what is it?  The ruler is even seeking for the answer in the right place; he is asking Jesus.

“You still lack one thing.”  Jesus commands, “Go, sell, give, and follow.”

Imagine this from the disciples’ perspective because this would be threatening to them.  For several chapters now, the disciples have repeatedly misunderstood Jesus.  They have argued about who is the greatest (Mk. 9:34).  They have hindered a man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name (Mk. 38).  They rebuked children from coming to Jesus (Mk. 10:13).  Now, this rich, powerful man kneels before Jesus.  He could be the model disciple.  He is not asking Jesus any dumb questions.  He is young.  He is rich—God must be pleased with him.  He is good looking (it is hard to be young and rich without being good looking).  He is morally upright.  In the disciples’ minds, if he joins their group, he will obviously be the greatest among them.

But at Jesus’ words, “You still lack one thing.  Go, sell, give, follow,” the man is ‘disheartened’ (lit. clouded over) by the saying.  He walks away sorrowful, grieved.  Just as Jesus was grieved in His spirit “even to death” (Mt. 26:38) in the Garden of Gethsemane.  This ruler’s face clouded over and his heart was grieved, because he had many possessions.

Jesus watches the man leave.  “How difficult,” He says, “How difficult it will be for those who have stuff to enter the reign of God!”  The word translated ‘wealth’ here just means “things, stuff, possessions,” the word can even refer to debt.

Jesus had looked at this young man with love, and now Jesus watches the clouded over, grieved man leave.  You can see Jesus kicking at the ground saying this solemnly, and the disciples are amazed and speechless.  Jesus broadens His statement, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the reign of God!”

Now, many different explanations have been offered with this whole camel-eye-of-a-needle parable that Jesus gives.  Some people have tried to say that Mark wrote this wrong, there is a word that is just one vowel different that refers to rope.  So Jesus really said, “It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle.”  Nope.

Others have said that the “eye of a needle” refers to a gate that was small, so you had to completely unload your camel of everything to get it to fit.  Nope.

Neither of those explanations really work.  What Jesus is saying here is literally impossible.  A camel will not fit through the eye of a needle.  And that is easier than to enter the reign of God.  The impossible is easier than entering the reign of God

Even though the disciples have not been understanding Jesus from the middle of Mk. 9 all the way into Mk. 10, they finally start to get it now.  They come to the right conclusion with this eye of a needle stuff.  “Who can be saved?”

In the eyes of a 1st century Jew, this rich young ruler had everything going for him.  In that culture, his wealth proved that God was pleased with him.  He was respectful.  He lived a virtuous, moral life.  He was striving to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself.  Nothing more could be done.  “Who can be saved?”

So why did Jesus point this young man to works of the law?  Jesus did not ask other followers to sell all their possessions. Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy; he had a brand new tomb (Jn. 19:38), 1%er.  Nicodemus provided enough spices for a royal burial (Jn. 19:39) 1%er.  Plenty of rich people had faith in Jesus, but Jesus didn’t make them sell everything.  Why make an additional requirement for this man?  Why add an additional hurdle for him?  Why would Jesus require something extra for eternal life, especially something He knew this man wouldn’t do?  “Who can be saved?”

It is not what you do or do not do that allows you to inherit the reign of God.  And it isn’t what you have that keeps you from inheriting the reign of God; it is who or what you have as your ruler.

You see this rich, young ruler was ruled by the things he had—power, wealth, stuff.  He prefers hold on to his things for another 30, 40, 50 years.  But not matter what, this rich, young ruler will give up everything he has.  Eventually, he will die and leave everything behind.

And Jesus had been hinting at this all along.  Jesus gave a hint when He responded to the ruler’s address to Him as “Good Teacher.”  Jesus responded, “No one is good except God alone.”

The young man wanted to earn a status of being good, but “No one is good except God alone.”  This rich young ruler wanted to know, “What must I do?” and he wouldn’t accept help.  He wanted a checklist—not charity.  He wanted his own merits—not mercy.  He wanted a guide—not grace.  He wanted law—not love.

And he left.  He left, and Jesus didn’t stop him.

Jesus did what would most help this man—Jesus continued and set out on His journey.  I’m sure He thought about the rich young ruler as He journeyed to Jerusalem.  He was delivered into the hands of evil men; He was killed.  Jesus, the Good Teacher, shoved a camel through the eye of the needle.  He did something even more difficult.  Jesus shoved the whole world, and you, through the holes in His hands and feet.  He made the impossible possible.

Jesus brought God’s reign.  You are not limited to what you can do.  Jesus reigns now and forever, and He wants to give you His inheritance.  Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Mark 10:2-16 – Family Life in the Reign of God

Mark 10:2–16 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Some things just never change.  When people look at the state of marriages in our society, many will wring their hands and say, “This is terrible.  If only we could go back 20, 40, 80, or 100 years to when marriage was honored.”  You know what?—it wouldn’t help.  Sorry, folks, despising marriage is nothing new.

Marriage was in just as bad a position in Jesus’ day as it is in our day.  The Pharisees ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”   Is it lawful?  Even the question shows a mindset, a desire, to meet the minimum requirements.  Is it lawful?  When that is your view of things, even the bare minimum is done grudgingly.  Is it lawful?  They might as well have asked, “How much can we get away with?”

The Pharisees had two schools of thought on divorce.  On the one hand you had Pharisees (Shammai) who taught that adultery was the only legitimate cause for divorce.  The far more popular view among the Pharisees (Hillel) was divorce for many reasons—a spoiled meal or, simply, if the husband found another woman fairer than his wife.  One Jewish historian wrote in his autobiography, “I divorced my wife, not liking her behavior” (Josephus Life 426).

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  Ins’t it interesting that even the Pharisees, with all their rules and additions to God’s law, even they wanted to get away with doing the bare minimum.  More laws and rules do not make you more pious and righteous.

Jesus asks, “What did Moses teach about divorce?”

Now, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  You need to understand what where the Pharisees go to answer Jesus’ question—they go to Dt. 24:1-4.  The passage does talk about writing a certificate of divorce, but the focus of the passage deals with remarrying your first husband if you get a divorce from a second husband—it is an abomination before Yahweh.  The Pharisees, these experts in Scripture, twist a passage to fit what they want.  People still do that today.

The Pharisees use Dt. 24 to answer Jesus’ question; now, see where Jesus goes to talk about marriage.  Jesus gets away from the, Is it lawful? away from the, What is the minimum required?  These questions reveal a hardness of heart—a cardio-sclerosis—which desires to dumb down the holiness of God to something attainable.  As though reluctantly sloughing off and doing just enough to get by will make a marriage work.  Cardio-sclerosis indeed.

Jesus goes to the beginning, to the Divine intention for marriage.  Marriage is rooted in creation, rooted in the beginning of life.

From the beginning of creation, Jesus says God had an intention for man and woman.  God created the universe to house life; He created the plants and animals to sustain life; He created man and woman and marriage to propagate life.

God defines marriage.  No ballot initiative has the authority to define (or ‘redefine’ marriage); it cannot be done.  No human institution has that authority.  Marriage is defined by God, “God made them male and female.”

As He created, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a suitable helper for him” (Gen. 2:18).  God put Adam into a deep sleep then took out one of his ribs.  From that rib, God formed and crafted Eve.

Marriage was God’s idea—not Adam’s.  God created a woman—not a buddy or a chum or a pal.  God created a single woman to be Adam’s wife; He didn’t create not a herd of women for Adam to choose.  God created marriage to be a relationship between one man and one woman working together to subdue and dominate the world (Gen. 1:27-28).

God opened Adam’s flesh and removed part of Adam, but God’s intent was for that piece of Adam to be united with Adam once again as one flesh.  God brought Eve to Adam, and Adam responded, “This at last (how long had Adam been alive?) is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  God created precisely what Adam needed and desired.  God brought Eve to Adam and Adam to Eve.

In marriage, God joins man and woman together.

Husbands, God brought your wife to you, and your wife is God’s gift to you.  Wives, God brought your husband to you, and your husband is God’s gift to you.  Live that way.

Jesus teaches “The two become one flesh.”  God’s intention for marriage is that one man and one woman equals one flesh.  One plus one equals one.  When you take one away from that, what are you left with?

“The two become one flesh” by way of what happens in the marriage bed (1 Cor. 6:16), and “the two become one flesh” by the natural results, the fruit, of what happens in the marriage bed—children.  Children of a husband and wife are the ‘one flesh’ fruit marriage.  You cannot separate what God has joined together.

Oneness is God’s wonderful way to build husband and wife up, but husbands and wives can also use this oneness to tear each other down.  If there ever was a legitimate reason for divorce, the Fall into sin was it.  How can you remain one with someone who is brought death to you and to creation?  Now, both Adam and Eve share the blame for the Fall.  Yet, their marriage survived.  Marriage survived the Fall.

The Pharisees want to know what is lawful.  Jesus doesn’t deal with the lawful;  Jesus doesn’t work within the set of minimum requirements.  Jesus talks about God’s intent—what God has joined together better not be separated by anyone.  God’s intent for marriage is never divorce.

Several other passages of Scripture (1 Cor. 6:12-7:40) teach that there are Biblical grounds for divorce—adultery, an unequally yoked situation where the unbeliever abandons the believer (which includes abuse).  Divorce is always caused by sin.  One spouse may be ‘innocent’ by our standards, but divorce is always caused by sin. Divorce is always a result of something that needs to be repented and confessed.

Know that God truly does forgive—even divorce—through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Those of you who look down on people who have been divorced, knock it off.  God forgives.  Even if you are guilty of adultery or were abusive, Jesus took that sin and buried it in the tomb where it remains condemned and killed forever.

And God knew what He was doing when He inspired Mark to write about Jesus receiving the children immediately after this encounter with the Pharisees with their question, Is it lawful?

The fruit of ‘one flesh’ unions—the fruit of marriage—children, the ones of whom Jesus says (Mk. 9:37), “When you receive one of these little children you receive Me and when you receive Me you receive not Me but God the Father Who sent Me.”  The disciples are hindering them.  They allow the unbelieving Pharisees to come to Jesus with their questions about what is lawful, but hinder these children who come simply to receive blessings from Jesus.

Many denominations do the same thing by denying baptism to infants.  But if you only look at others as falling short of God’s standard, you are just as concerned with the minimum requirements as the Pharisees.  The Pharisees are not alone despising marriage; the disciples are not alone when it comes to hindering children from coming to Jesus.

As your pastor who loves you, it kills me to say this, but you people, whom I love, are guilty too.  Some of you by the way you speak of your relationship reveal that you want to get by doing the minimum in your marriage.  Stop despising God’s gift to you.

Some of you hinder children and tear apart marriages by getting upset with the parents who do not “properly” control their kids here in church.  You Pharisee, you hypocrite.  There are enough ways that Satan is attacking children and marriage.

Serve those parents; help them.  Instead of complaining about the kids who run in church and scream during the service, instead of dragging your spouse down with you while they listen to you complain on the drive home, help and serve where it is needed.  Encourage parents; thank them for bringing their kids to church.  Offer to help; don’t give condescending advice.

When you hinder the children, Jesus is indignant, enraged.  He receives and blesses those who are not concerned about meeting the minimal requirements of the lawful, and He receives you.  He receives you precisely because He suffered the unlawful for you.

He has made you, the church, His bride.  He has made you one flesh as He gives you His flesh to eat, and His blood to drink.  Receive from Him, as a child from a parent, everything you need for life.  Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds and marriages and homes forever and ever in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Mark 9:38-50 – Say What?

Mark 9:38–50 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.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

42 “Whoever causes the downfall one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

One theologian says that preaching is, “Doing the text to the hearers.”  Who’s first?  We’ll get to the lopping, plucking, and cutting stuff, and don’t worry; I’ll keep the hatchet and hacksaw up here.

This is not an easy passage.  Jesus says several things that are hard to understand in this text—the instructions for self-mutilation are not the only difficulty.

Context, context, context.  When you get confused about a Scripture passage, remember to consider the context.  If you were simply reading the Gospel of Mark, you would certainly remember the context in which this is placed.

Today’s text picks up from last week’s where Jesus speaks to the disciples about His coming death and resurrection.  He plainly says, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him.  And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.”  Then, the disciples argue about which of them is the greatest.  Jesus takes a child—the obvious least and lowest among them—and teaches the Twelve that discipleship is a life of service to the lowest of the low.  God wants you to serve Him by serving your neighbor.  Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him Who sent Me.”

Today’s text begins with one of the three “inner circle” disciples, John—“the disciple whom Jesus loved”—saying, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”  Isn’t that interesting?  An unidentified exorcist is doing the work of God, he is casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but he “isn’t following us disciples.”  As though the disciples are people to follow, or as though Jesus said, “Follow us, and we will make you fishers of men.”

The disciples may have stopped arguing amongst themselves who is the greatest, but they think they must at least be greater than others who are not with them.  Just after Jesus has called them to be servants to the least among them, they are thinking egotistically that they have a corner on the Jesus market.  Jesus begins teaching the disciples to get over their pride and realize that disciples of Christ Jesus are called to a life of service.  With His first swing of the axe to chop down the tree of pride Jesus says, “Do not stop him.  The one who is not against us is for us.”

You know what, my fellow Lutherans, disciples of Christ, do we not often think just as John and the disciples thought that we have a monopoly on Jesus?  Jesus would say to us today, “Do not stop the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, or Roman Catholic who does a mighty work in My name for they will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me.”

Jesus gives a simple picture of what service looks like.  Jesus says that real service isn’t what brings the television cameras out, rather, “Whoever gives you, disciples, a cup of cold water to drink because you belong to Christ will not lose his reward.”  A cup of water is nothing.  In Jesus’ day, giving someone a cup of water is what you do to prove you are not a jerk.  But here are the Twelve demanding this unknown exorcist stop serving his neighbor.  The disciples should have offered this man their assistance—even something as small as a cup of water.

We also hold back from assisting and serving our brother and sister in Christ.  Worse than that, we hinder others’ service because of our own pride and jealousy.  We disagree with other believers (and that is ok), but they are as equally part of the Body of Christ as we are.  Jesus has called us into His Church—the Body of Christ—not into a sect.

Jesus continues to pull the disciples and us down from our soap boxes saying.  “Whoever causes the downfall one of these little ones who believe in Me, it would be better for him if a great millstone [the kind that took a donkey to move] were hung around his neck and have been cast into the sea.”

Jesus gives a perilous warning about destroying the faith of any brother or sister, no matter how insignificant we think they are.  It would be better to be in the state of sinking down into the sea with nothing to slow your descent.

Jesus really starts swinging in an effort to chop down the pride of the disciples and us.  Jesus speaks of self-mutilation.  This is the same Jesus Who was born in a livestock stall and laid in a feeding trough.  This is the same Jesus Who healed the sick, blind, deaf, and lame.  This is the same Jesus Who described in Scripture, “a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not quench” (Mt. 12:20).

Jesus’ words here are direct and plain.  But we rationalize and assume that Jesus is simply speaking metaphorically.  We use our reason and logic to get away from Jesus’ desperate call to cut off the sin in our lives.  We think, “Even if I cut off my hand and foot and pluck out my eye, I would still be sinful.  I would have to cut off all my limbs and simply be a torso holding up a head with no eyes or ears or tongue.  But even then I would still have my mind and that will still think sinful thoughts.  I would still have an evil heart.  Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Out of the heart comes evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.’  If I took Jesus literally, I would have to cut off my head and pluck out my heart.”

And that is precisely the point; that is the conclusion Jesus wants you to reach.

Cut it all off.  You do not have to get a second opinion.  Jesus does not allow for tolerance of sin.  You do not adjust to evil, you do not reform evil, and you do not allow evil to remain.  Evil must be cut off like a limb with gangrene.

Yet we still rationalize.  We excuse our sins and others’ sins.  Sure we aren’t perfect, but does that really justify calling for amputations and plucking?  Yes.

Maybe we fall short of God’s standard, but does that really mean that we deserve to be sent to an eternal hell “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”?  Yes, it does; it most certainly does.

And we get a little upset with Jesus for speaking to us this way.  How dare even He speak to us this way?  Jesus can because He knows the severity of your sins because He made them His own (2 Cor. 5:21).

Thank God that the One speaking these terrible words is the very One Who was Himself mutilated, not for His sins, but for our sins.  He cut off all of your sin by mutilating His Own hands, His Own feet.  Jesus is the One who cast your sins into the depths of the sea.  He gives you not just a cup of water, but living water springing up to eternal life.

God connects you to Jesus’ mutilation and death in baptism (Ro. 6:3-7).  To us, baptism looks like a fairly mundane thing—just a little ‘cup of cold water’ in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But in God’s opinion of things, baptism has lopped off your sinful limbs and kills your sinful mind and heart.  In God’s opinion of things, you have been drowned in the sea.

But Jesus isn’t done saying difficult things; “Everyone will be salted with fire.”  Wait, didn’t Jesus come to keep us from the fire?  What is this, “Everyone will be salted with fire,” business in v. 49?

Fire purifies.  In Jesus’ day salt had three main uses: preserving, cleansing, and flavoring. In Lev. 2:13, God had required worshippers to offer their grain sacrifices, which were burned, with salt.  What is unsettling here is that Jesus is saying worshippers are the ones who are salted and fired.  Fire purifies; salt preserves.

Yes, Jesus delivers you from the eternal, unquenchable hellfire, but He does not deliver you from all fire.  Sobering, isn’t it?  Jesus knocks the pride of His Twelve disciples and our pride down even further.

Then, in v. 50, Jesus says what might be the most mundane thing He says in this text.  Even though it is mundane, it is still difficult.  “Salt is good.”  In Mt. 5:13, Jesus calls His disciples the salt of the earth.  Salt is good.  Salt makes a bland baked potato tasty; it can make a dry roast palatable.  We put salt on corn, cucumbers, and even sometimes on watermelon.  Salt is good.

Jesus says, “If salt loses its salt-ness [not just salty taste] it is no good for anything.”  The salt used in Israel during Jesus’ day was not the pure sodium chloride we have today, so this is something that would happen often.  If salt loses its salt-ness it is no good but to be cast into the depths of the sea, lopped off, plucked out, thrown into the eternal fire with the undying worm.

Salt can be a food connoisseur’s best friend, but salt where it is unwanted is offensive.  Believer, there are times where you will offend others.  You will be salt where someone wanted sugar.  Lovingly offend; serve others with your offense.  And you might get burned in the process.  Yet, if the salt loses its salt-ness, what good is it?

God loves His world, and He has made you, disciple, the salt of the earth.  God wants this earth salted.

Receive His grace; live in His grace, but do not expect a ‘happily ever after’ in this life.  The story-book ending is yours, but you await the revelation of it.  Amen.

May the peace of God guard you mind, body, and soul until the resurrection of your body.  Amen.