Man of Action, Part 6

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One purpose of Mark’s Gospel – one among several – was to portray Jesus as the patient teacher. He had to be. The crowds that followed Him around were not the brightest when it came to connecting the dots between the words of the prophets and Jesus. They just didn’t get Him. And Jesus’ inner circle – His closest friends – were slow in grasping the whole truth about their Lord. At this point in the earthly ministry of Jesus, He was still immensely popular with people, if not with the religious leaders.

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered over to human hands. He will be killed, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. (Mark 9:30 – 32 TNIV)

In “passing through Galilee,” Mark indicates that Jesus’ work was finished there, and He was now making His way to Jerusalem to complete His redemptive mission. But His work in teaching His disciples was far from over. Reading the Gospel of Mark, we can see what a master teacher our Lord was. The way He worked with His friends is a lesson in the teaching – learning process. Over and over again, Jesus warned them of His coming suffering and death. With persistent patience, Jesus worked with these men, helping them to grasp the truth. Studying how Jesus taught the disciples is good example of how the pastor and teacher must work with his listeners to help them understand the points of Scripture as they relate to the Christian life.

In verse 32, Mark gives us the slightest glimpse into the thinking of the disciples. They still didn’t the point of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but they were “were afraid to ask” Him for clarification. After the way Jesus rebuked Peter, no wonder they were afraid!

The way to greatness

Jesus and His friends were on their way to Capernaum. After hearing Him talking about His eventual suffering, death, and resurrection, the disciples were walking along, not discussing what their Lord meant, but something else.

…on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:34b TNIV)

The disciples were embarrassed when Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about, and they just kept silent. No wonder they were embarrassed. They should have been at least curious about what Jesus had been trying to teach them. But they weren’t curious. They didn’t want to know any more. They were self-centered; concerned only about their “greatness.” But what prompted this argument? Mark doesn’t say, but we may speculate. The question of an individual’s “greatness” in and around Israel and Palestine was of great import to men at this time. This was a land where one’s position in the local synagogue or at meals was the cause of debate and frequent arguing. This particular debate among the disciples might have been prompted by the recognition of some members of this inner circle – namely Peter, James, and John – over others. Whatever the reason, it was a classless moment.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35 TNIV)

Jesus assumed the posture of a rabbi and, as He had done so often, began to teach His friends. In essence, true greatness comes through service to others. Swete wrote:

The spirit of service is the passport to eminence in the Kingdom of God, for it is the spirit of the Master who Himself became “servant of all.”

He’s right. In fact, every aspect of Kingdom living is exactly opposite to worldly living. Living in the Kingdom requires a complete, radical reversal of values. If you want to be first, you have to be last. If you want live, you must die. Augustine got it:

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.

The master Teacher, Jesus used what would become the classic sermon illustration:

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “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.” (Mark 9:36, 37 TNIV)

To illustrate the principle in verse 35, Jesus used a child. In a society that too often viewed children as expendable, Jesus’ illustration was powerful in its day. There are two ways to understand what Jesus was doing. One explanation goes like this. In Aramaic, the words “child” and “servant” are the same word. So the Twelve are to become like little children in their discipleship. If they do this, Jesus taught, they become true disciples.

The other, perhaps more natural interpretation is this: When you welcome someone as seemingly unimportant as a child into your midst for the sake of Christ (because He cares for them), it’s as though you are welcoming God Himself. It’s not that a child is God or Christ, it’s that Jesus views them that highly. Moule’s comment is worthy repeating:

Jesus was one of the first ever to see how essentially precious any person is, particularly a young child. A concern for children was not invented by the welfare state; it goes back to the teaching of Jesus.

This object lesson, regardless of which interpretation is the correct one – perhaps they both are – was a dramatic rebuke to the disciples for the self-centered thinking in their desire for greatness.

Serve others

From a child, Mark moves on to an exorcist.

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” (Mark 9:38 TNIV)

At first glance, there seems to be no connection between the incident with the child and this one regarding the strange exorcist. However, it’s not insignificant that it was John who brought this up. He’s seldom seen doing a whole lot in the Synoptics. He was the sensitive type, and perhaps his conscience had been pricked by Jesus’ teaching on accepting “insignificant people,” like children. Or like these exorcists who weren’t part of the group.
Some see a lesson in tolerance here, but let’s look more closely at the complaint. John wasn’t referring to a person like the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19), who were complete frauds. And this exorcist wasn’t like the exorcists condemned by Jesus in Matthew 7:22. Apparently, this bloke was the real deal. He wasn’t part of the inner circle, yet here was doing what they should have been doing; casting out demons in Jesus’ Name! John (and the others) were a bit annoyed with this fellow, and tried to stop him. How dare this man do the work of Christ without being part of the group!

Jesus’ response was terse and to the point:

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:39, 40 TNIV)

Jesus’ point was clear: When a person does something in His name (in harmony with His revealed will), that work is approved of by Jesus Himself, and that person would never speak ill of the Lord. Casting out demons can only be done by God’s power, and so that showed that his man, who nobody seemed to know, was truly a follower of Jesus – a true believer. God’s power was not limited to just the Twelve!

Similarly, no church has a corner on the truth. Christians tend to be more like Pharisees than Christ in their view of those doing the work of God who aren’t part of their denomination or church.

This whole incident is reminiscent of something that happened back in the Old Testament.

However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:26 – 29 TNIV)

Seems like this sectarian attitude has been around a very long time! Dr McGee makes an interesting point:

There is a brotherhood within the body of believers, and the Lord Jesus Christ is the common denominator. Friendship and fellowship are the legal tender among believers.

Reason for reward

Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly be rewarded. (Mark 9:41 TNIV)

What does this verse have to do with anything that preceded it? Actually, it has everything to do with it because verse 41 reaches all the way back to what the disciples had been arguing about in verse 34. You’ll recall it was their argument about who is the greatest that sparked Jesus’ teaching about accepting unimportant people as though they were important and also accepting those who are doing good work for the Kingdom when they aren’t part of your group.

There’s nothing really special about a cup of water, unless you’re dying of thirst. Again, Jesus is taking an apparently unimportant thing – a cup of water – and using it to push a profound teaching. This cup of water becomes a special thing when it is given to a thirsty person because that person belongs to Christ. When you do that, it’s like you’re giving it to Jesus Himself. The key here is the phrase “because you belong to the Messiah.” It’s not just anybody getting the water, it’s a fellow believer. One of the great truths of Scripture is the notion that believers are not their own but they belong to Christ. When believers do good things for fellow believers – even if they are strangers or insignificant to anybody – it’s as though Jesus Himself was being blessed.

Jesus doesn’t elaborate on just what the reward will be for those who treat other believers well. Too bad He didn’t. But, He knew His audience. Had Jesus elaborated on the reward, the disciples probably would have started obsessing over it and arguing about it! Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus does mention at least two rewards:

If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. (Matthew 10:13 TNIV)

So peace is one reward, and so is public acknowledgement by Jesus when He returns:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” (Matthew 25:34 – 36 TNIV)

It would do well for all Christians, regardless of their denomination or church, to adopt the attitude of Jesus toward His Body. Paul was one who exemplified this way of thinking:

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice… (Philippians 1:14 – 18 TNIV)

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