Walking Like the Servant King (Part 2) – Mark 9:38-50
We have been talking about “Walking like the Servant King.” Jesus, our Servant King, has told His disciples that He’s going to the cross as an ultimate act of being a servant, even to His death. He calls His followers to walk in His shoes (or sandals) and last week we saw that we must:
I. Walk like a Humble Servant (Mark 9:33-37).
As the disciples were fighting about which one of them was the greatest, Jesus lovingly tells them that true greatness comes from service to others. He tells them not to do the activity of service, but to have an identity of a servant. Jesus then took someone marginalized and insignificant in that culture, someone who couldn’t necessarily give anything back to you for serving them, a child, and told them to be like Him in how He embraces the weak and lowly.
Now He gives us two more marks of what it means to walk like Him:
II. Walk with Compassion (vv. 38-42).
“Be the servant of others. Be last.” The words fall from Jesus’ lips, goes in one ear of the disciples and out the other. Then John said…doesn’t it seem like in Mark that each time a disciple (actually mostly Peter) opens his mouth that you just start cringing? As Mark is recording this, I can see Peter saying, “It wasn’t me this time!” This is the only time Mark calls attention to the Apostle of love, John, alone. At this point, John felt it necessary to defend the disciples by pointing out their zeal. 
“Teacher, we…” “We” here indicates that he’s speaking on behalf of all the disciples. Supposedly an unnamed exorcist was around casting out demons out of people. The disciples were like, “What in the world? Who’s this guy? No you don’t!” He was told to stop by the disciples. Why? It was not the man’s misuse of Jesus’ name that troubled them but rather his unauthorized use of the name.  He was doing so without their authorization! How dare he!
Remember that a few moments ago the disciples themselves had failed to deliver the deaf and dumb boy from Satan’s power (Mark 9:18). This guy actually pulled it off. This is a follower of Christ, not the fakers like the Sons of Sceva who were trying to misuse the name of Christ (Acts 19:11-20). Jesus at one point did send out the 70 and gave them power over demons (Luke 10). Maybe this guy was part of that group? We don’t know. Nevertheless, this was a true believer, serving the Lord, but just not part of the 12.
We know they had a competitive spirit already, so certainly they were not going to let someone else succeed outside of them. I mean they were Jesus’ boys right? He picked them! So who is this guy? One commentator says, “In complete disregard of the lesson of the preceding story, John regards his call as a disciple not as a call to service but as an entitlement of privilege and exclusion.”
Note John, who would one day be called the Apostle of Love, Dr. Love himself, but right now is not concerned that this independent exorcist isn’t following the Lord. The problem is that he wasn’t following us. It is an “us” versus “them” mentality, though everyone is on the same team here.
What does Jesus say? “Do not stop him,” that is, “ ‘Do not stop such people.’” And do not forbid them in the future. Jesus says it is hard for someone to cast out a demon in my name and then publically deny me. The man, whatever his motivation, had at least done a deed of mercy for a possessed person and had stood against Satan in so doing.
There are people who are for Christ and those who aren’t. There is no way you can be neutral about the person of Christ. So the issue is not if people are in our group or not, but if they belong to Christ. If they belong to Christ, Jesus then shifts the focus from small distinctions to even small tasks done in His name will be rewarded. Casting out a demon in His name is rather spectacular. Giving a glass of water is commonplace. But both are precious to Him when done for His glory.
Then Jesus gives a sober warning. Verse 42 follows the thought of v.41, that whatever is done to a follower of Jesus, whether for good (v. 41) or bad (v. 42), is done to Jesus himself.  Notice “who believe in me,” in orders these are those that are characterized by faith in Him, making it clear that Jesus was thinking of weak and obscure believers, not just children. One of these stresses that not even the lowliest among them may thus be willfully injured without the incurring of terrible guilt. The enormity of the sin is measured by the fact that the one thus injured is Christ’s (v. 41).
The idea here to “cause to sin”…means “to cause to stumble” or “to offend,” and here “refers to destroying the faith of a fellow believer or causing a believer to fall away from God.” Whoever causes one…not a group, one, and one is emphatic…it would be better to have a millstone tied around your neck. A “large millstone” reads literally “a millstone of a donkey,” [which] was pierced in the middle to fit a beam attached to a blindfolded donkey, who circled round and round to grind grain or olives. This stone weighed a lot. To be the cause of another’s spiritual shipwreck is so serious an offence that a quick drowning [with such a stone] would be preferable to the fate it deserves.Wow!
What does it mean then to walk in compassion?
a) Trivial tasks=spectacular in God’s eyes
Notice the reward for giving a cup of water as much as casting out a demon. This does not mean the server of the water has merited some favor with God. Rather, as Bill Lane says, “It serves rather to stress God’s awareness of all who share in the extension of Jesus’ work, and to emphasize that there are no distinctions between “trivial” and “important” tasks. There is only faith and obedience, shown in devotion to Jesus, and wherever these qualities exist they call forth the approval of God.” All the hours you put in discipling your children, praying for others, serving in all capacities at church, etc. do those to the glory of God, for He values them.
b) Loving Christ=Loving His church
Some people say, “I am ok with Jesus, but I can’t stand Christians.” It’s like saying someone said to you, I like your head and face Robin, but your body is disgusting! Hate my body and you hate me. Jesus is married to the church despite her warts and wrinkles. So Jesus is angry here in v.42. Why so harsh? Because righteous anger is the right response when someone or something we love is being threatened. If you are not angry about anything that means you don’t care about anything. Remember in Acts 9 when Paul was persecuting Christians, Jesus asked him why he was persecuting Him? (as opposed to saying persecuting them). Christ lives in every believer. How you treat a believer is how you treat Christ, and how you treat Christ is how you treat God. You can’t isolate the believer from Christ.
In the Old Testament, God calls Israel the apple of His eye. I think some people think that’s an apple you hold out here and look at. No, the apple of your eye is the center of your eyeball and God says if you touch Israel, you touch the apple of My eye, meaning that if you touch Israel, you poke your finger in My eye, and that irritates me.
This is the strongest threat that ever came out of the mouth of Jesus and it comes to His own people, calling them to a love that seeks someone’s best, a love that seeks to elevate, purify and seeks to bless. The next time you want to hurt your spouse, think about that. The next time we want to gossip and hurt a believer’s reputation, let’s think about that. Love, as Piper would say, is the overflow of joy in God, which meets the needs of others. Selfishness is its opposite, which leads others to sin or sinning against others.
c) A critical mind ≠ critical spirit
There is diversity in the Kingdom. Just because there are others who might not cross every T and dot every I exactly like you do is no reason to shut them down and shut them out. We have many different regiments of the same army.
Jesus tells us that we shall know a tree by its fruit and not to throw pearls to pigs. In other words, use discernment and have convictions. He is not calling us to accept every wind of doctrine or to embrace and believe everything out there, light some candles, group hug and sing, “We are the world.” But the stronger our theological convictions, the greater our love must be with those who differ with us. Gospel-centered jerks are an oxymoron. We should be the most humble and gracious towards others. Why? Because we are only saved by grace. We have been saved by grace alone. This means every other believer is exactly saved the same way, which makes us all just broken sinners. There is so much nit-picking, mean-spirited animosity to other believers over preferences and negotiables. People know what we are against more than what we are for.
It is often a small jump from critical thinking to a critical spirit. Jim Renke helps us distinguish:
- Critical spirits make statements, critical thinking asks questions.
- Critical spirits want to be right, critical thinking wants to understand.
- Critical spirits devalue people, critical thinking addresses ideas or actions.
- Critical spirits demand quick adherence, critical thinking allows time and space for growth.
- Critical spirits fuss over personal offenses, critical thinking is concerned about the bigger picture.
Even when I first read John’s statement, I thought, “Man, these disciples and their blind self-righteous attitude is so irritating!” And as soon as thought left my head, the Spirit of God checked my heart, “I wish you were more irritated with your blind self-righteousness.”
Walk like the Servant King as a humble and compassionate servant. One more mark:
III. Walk in Pursuing Radical Purity (vv. 43-50)
Jesus then gets to the heart of the matter, which is the matter of the heart. There is no way to walk in humility and compassion as a servant without understanding the depth of sin in one’s own heart and to commit to radically pursue purity. First of all:
There is very strong language here from our Lord on how he feels about sin in our lives. Body parts are mentioned and they are not meant to be taken literally because you can be blind and still lust. In Matthew the context is sexual lust (Matt. 5:27-30). However, here it seems to be more of anything you see, anything you do, anywhere you go, any desire you have—in other words, anything in your life that is destroying you and keeping you from Christ should be eliminated. Christ is referring to your whole lifestyle.
Keller says this: “[All of our sinful desires and behavior] are like a fire that has broken out in your living room. Let’s say a cushion on your couch has ignited. You cannot just sit there and say, “Well, the whole house isn’t burning— it’s just a cushion.” If you don’t do something immediately and decisively about the cushion, the whole house will be engulfed. Fire is never satisfied. It can’t be allowed to smolder; it can’t be confined to a corner. It will overtake you eventually. Sin is the same way: It never stays in its place. It always leads to separation from God, which results in intense suffering, first in this life and then in the next. The Bible calls that hell. That’s why Jesus uses the drastic image of amputation.”
In 2003, Aron Ralston went hiking alone in Utah. But while he was climbing down a narrow slot in Blue John Canyon, a boulder became dislodged, crushing his right forearm and pinning it against the wall. No one knew where he was. For five and a half days, Ralston struggled to get free, contemplating his own fate, until he was forced to do the unthinkable. One hundred and twenty seven hours into his ordeal, he amputated his arm in order to stay alive. Later his story was made into a movie starring James Franco called 127 hours.
In his own words, he writes about the moment of amputation and afterward:
“It was both extremes of pain and absolute elation. I had to keep myself from passing out from that pain…[but] the following moments, when I stepped out of my grave where I’d been hidden for five and a half days, were amazing…The closest I’ve come to being able to describe it is as a rebirth because I’d already accepted I was going to die. So it was all the joys of love and connection and discovery and wonder and amazement compressed into one moment. You take all the joys of life and put them in that one moment – and that was that moment of getting free. 
Ralston says that the moment he was able to cut off his arm was the most happiest and greatest moment in his life. He just cut off his right arm! How desperate would you have to be? How badly would you want to be alive that you would come to that point? Really he was faced with this question: Would I rather lose my arm to save my life or lose my life to save my arm?
I am glad I do not have to make that decision, except I read a passage like this and realize sins that I play with are like an 800-pound boulder on my arm and Jesus comes to me and asks “How badly do you want to be alive? How much am I worth to you? If there is anything standing between you and me, get rid of it. If it’s your hand, cut it off. If it’s your eye, pluck it out. Nothing is worth you losing me.” Christ is saying that He is more important than even those things most indispensable to us.
There is an 800-lb boulder on your arm and for some of us it is lust. What is it going to cost to rip it away from your life, to loosen its grip on you? Let’s talk in terms of sexual sin. Maybe for some of us, whether male or female, you have never confessed your struggle to anyone before or it’s been a long time? It’s going to cost you your pride to sit down with someone to do that. Exposure weakens the grip of sin. Secondly, stay in community and keep exposing the sin because it loses power as you lift it up by the roots. Maybe for some of us, it will cost us by stopping to watch a particular show that feeds our flesh or maybe need to get filters. Sure, those things cannot ultimately save you, only Jesus can and sure, those things can be inconvenient and slow up the computer, etc. but that is a small cost in losing intimacy with Christ. John Owen said, “My goal is God Himself…At any cost, dear Lord, by any road.”
The tenses here are all present tense acknowledging that it is a continual, on-going fight for purity. Jesus is so drastic and emphatic not because he is against your fun but because He is for your joy, like Ralston said, that pain was worth the joy that followed.
You can read this and think of Jesus slapping you on the hand saying, “Bad, bad boy or girl. Stop it or you will go to hell.” But remember the whole theme so far has been how personal Jesus feels with sin. When I was studying at Wheaton, I heard Jill Briscoe speak at chapel. She is a well-known writer and speaker. She shared a story which I never forgot. She talked about the time when she was 17 and hanging out with her boyfriend at her parent’s house. No one was home that day and her boyfriend suggested they go upstairs to the bedroom. She figured out from his suggestion he had other things in mind. She refused. He kept urging her and in frustration asked, “What’s wrong? Are you afraid of what your father will do to you if he found out?” She looked at him intently in the eye and said, “No, I am not afraid of what my father will do to me, but I am afraid of what this will do to my father.”
See, disobedience is a stab into the father’s heart. He is hurt by it. It breaks His heart and we suffer for it. First it was sinning against another brother or sister. Jesus says that is like hurting me. Here His heart breaks as we destroy ourselves and we lose our joy.
Moreover, living in sin will inhibit our usefulness for the Lord (vv.49-50). Haven’t you found it hard after drifting from the Lord and a season of sinning to feel motivated to serve, bless others? It is hard to create thirst for others for the living water when we ourselves are always running to broken jars that cannot hold water. Verse 49 is difficult. All will be “salted with fire,” meaning in a time and manner appropriate to their relationship with Jesus—for nonbelievers, the preserving fire of final judgment; for disciples, the refining fire of present trials and suffering. Either we have a bumpy flight now, sacrifice our comfort and convenience and put out small fires on the cushions over and over, suffer and finally land safely in His presence, or have a smooth flight– take it easy with sin, live for momentary pleasures, harden your heart and naturally go the way you were living, which was without Jesus and end up engulfed in flames.
Sometimes we say things like, “Staying away from sexual sin is impossible. I can’t stop. It just takes me away.” Some of that is bogus. Are you seriously saying that if you are on your laptop scrolling through lust-fueled images and videos that if your mom walks in you keep doing it? All of a sudden you have tremendous self-control. What was the difference? It has to do with the passion of your heart. Your passion to not be embarrassed and face shame and judgment was stronger than your passion for sexual sin. One passion is strong until a greater passion comes along.
Do you know what our heart needs to walk in humility, compassion and purity? We need more passion for Christ right? Yes partly. It is not that we love sin too much. It is that we have loved Christ too little. But more than that, we need to see His passion for us.
As Jesus is sternly warning the disciples to cut off anything that make them lose Him from them; as He is pleading to let go of these precious things to gain Him, to have Him, to know Him, to treasure Him, to savor Him and to drastic with that love, He realizes at the same time that in order to make sure He would not ever lose us, He would have to do something even more drastic.
You see, Living Hope, nothing was going to stop Christ from losing us, not even His own life, not even His reputation, not even verbal and physical abuse, not even the threat His intimacy with the Father. The Bible says He was cut off to bring us in. His hands nailed, His feet pierced, His heart ripped wide open, thrown into the wrath of God. He didn’t force Himself to do it, He willingly did it because at the end, there we are: His forever. When your heart is soaked with that kind of unconditional love, because He was cut off in that big way to gain you, you can cut these little things off to have intimacy with Him, for His glory and your good.
Let me end with this amazing quote by Tim Keller:
All sin is addiction. Your real problem is that God is not burning at the center of your heart. Whether it’s bitterness, whether it’s envy, whether it’s materialism, whether it’s laziness, whether it’s impurity — every sinful action becomes an addiction.
And sin turns the heart into a fire. Just as there has never been a fire that said, “Enough fuel, I’m fine now,” so there has never been a sinful heart that said, “I have had enough success. I’ve had enough love. I’ve had enough approval. I’ve had enough comfort [or enough lust].” Oh, no. The more fuel you put into the fire, the hotter it burns, and the hotter it burns, the more it needs, the more oxygen it is sucking and the more fuel it requires.
This explains how lies necessitate other lies. Envy necessitates more envy. Racism necessitates more racist thoughts. Jealously necessitates more jealous thoughts. Bitterness necessitates more bitter thoughts [lust needs greater and bigger lusts].
If you are a Christian and you are dealing with enslaving habits, it’s not enough to say, ‘Bad Christian, stop it.’ And it is not enough to beat yourself up or merely try harder and harder and harder. The real reason that you’re having a problem with an enslaving habit is because you are not tasting God. I’m not talking about believing God or even obeying God, I’m saying tasting — tasting God.
The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time.
This type of worship is the only thing that can replace the little if only fire burning in your heart. We need a new fire that says, ‘If only I saw the Lord. If only he was close to my heart. If only I could feel him to be as great as I know him to be. If only I could taste his grace as sweet as I know it to be.’
And when that if only fire is burning in your heart, then you are free.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Vol. 1, p. 142). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Grassmick, J. D. (1985). Mark. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 146). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 289). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
Edwards, J. R. (p. 290).
Hiebert, D. E. (1994). The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (p. 265). Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press.
Barton, B. B. (1994). Mark (p. 268). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1344). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Edwards, J. R. (p. 292).
Hiebert, D. E. (pp. 266–267).
Edwards, J. R. (p. 293).
Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 1, p. 261). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
France, R. T. (p. 380).
Lane, W. L. (1974). The Gospel of Mark (pp. 344–345). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Macarthur, J. Ibid.
Piper, J. (2003). Desiring God (p. 119). Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers.
Renke, J. (2013, March 13). Critical Spirits vs. Critical Thinking – 5 Differences. Retrieved August 29, 2014, from http://jimrenke.com/2013/03/13/critical-spirits-vs-critical-thinking-5-differences/.
Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and
Death of the Son of God (pp. 73-74). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
Ralston, A. (2010, November 9). 127 Hours in the life of Aron Ralston. Retrieved August 29, 2014, from http://www.wideworldmag.com/2010/11/09/127-hours-in-the-life-of-aron-ralston/.
Edwards, J. R. (p. 294).
http://www.crossroad.to/HisWord/notes/oswald/goal.htm Retrieved August 29, 2014.
Grassmick, et al. (Vol. 2, p. 148).
Mueller, K. (2012, July 9). Sin as Slavery: Keller. Retrieved August 29, 2014, from http://divinelyburdened.blogspot.com/2012/09/sin-as-slavery-keller.html.
Reinke, T. (2012, July 12). Fighting Sin With Worship. Retrieved August 29, 2014, from http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/fighting-sin-with-worship.