May 14, 2017
Are you familiar with the expression, “To play the field?” When a man or woman is not ready to settle down, they are sometimes said to be playing the field. In other words, they are not ready to get seriously involved in just one romantic relationship. They are going to date a number of people. But once you get seriously involved with one person, you no longer play the field. And once you get married you commit yourself to being faithful to your spouse until death separates you. Being married to that person consumes your life.
Discipleship to Jesus is just as consuming as marriage. Marriage is for better or worse. Discipleship to Jesus is only for better. Knowing Christ and living life in the kingdom of God is the most valuable commitment in life that a person can ever enter into. Today we are looking at Mk.9:42-50. From these verses I want to say that followers of Jesus seek to be faithful to Jesus in every avenue of life.
I. WE PROMOTE FAITHFULNESS IN OUR FELLOW BELIEVERS. Mk.9:42
Last week we looked at v.38-41. We learned about a man who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus, but because he was not part of their group, the 12 disciples tried to stop the man from having ministry. Jesus said they should not have done that because any ministry in the name of Jesus, no matter how small, is important. In v.42 Jesus says that it would be better to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea than to cause one of these little ones who believe in me to sin or stumble.
Who is Jesus talking about? Well it seems that he is talking about anyone who believes in him. In the immediate context it would seem to refer to someone like this man who was following Christ but who was not associated with the 12 disciples. We are talking about common, ordinary people who follow Jesus.
Because of the stark language that Jesus uses in this verse I see that Jesus highly values everyone who follows him. And he expects his followers to highly value everyone who follows him. The eternal life of righteousness, peace, and joy in the kingdom of God that Jesus came to give is the very kind of life that we as his followers want to promote in the lives of every follower of Jesus.
Our salvation is not just about ourselves. As followers of Jesus we bear fruit as we encourage faithfulness to Jesus in the lives of others. I’m using Rm.14:17 to define how we can promote faithfulness to Christ in the lives of other believers. Paul writes, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” How can you and I promote these virtues in other believers? In this verse Jesus makes it clear that one of the worst things we can do is to cause another believer to sin or worse yet, to turn away from Christ. In the context it seems that Jesus is saying that John and the other disciples were putting a stumbling block of disapproval and rejection in front of the man in v.38.
Now I’m sure that none of us would ever want to cause another follower of Jesus to sin or stumble in any way. But while that may be our intention, it is possible for this to happen, and it may have happened to you. A fellow believer may have caused you to sin or vice versa.
Let me share a number of ways this can happen. In 1Corinthians Paul answers a number of questions that the believers in Corinth had asked him. In 1Cor.8 he writes about whether or not Christians can eat meat that has been offered to idols. The pagan temples would take the meat offered to idols and sell it in the meat market. Is it okay for believers to eat that meat? Paul makes the point that since idols have no real existence and since meat is meat, eating meat offered to idols doesn’t make much difference. But then he says in v.7, “However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” And so Paul concludes that if by eating meat offered to an idol I cause another brother or sister to stumble, (go against their conscience), I am sinning against my brother or sister. Paul says much the same thing in Rm.14 in regard to anything that might cause a brother or sister to sin. In Rm.14:14 Paul writes, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” So we must be sensitive to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We don’t want to be a stumbling block to them.
In Gal.5 Paul again tells us to not use our freedom in Christ as an opportunity for the flesh. He writes, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” In the church it is not uncommon for believers to have disagreements with each other that can cause one another to stumble into sin. It might be a minor doctrinal issue or a disagreement about the direction of the church. It might be a disagreement about music or worship, or the color of the carpet. And before we know it we are promoting disharmony and sin in the lives of others. Most of us have been around churches long enough to know that it doesn’t take much to cause ourselves and other believers to stumble.
That said, it does seem to me that in this verse Jesus is talking about something more serious than just committing a sin. The word for sin that is used here can refer to sin or to falling away. In other words it can refer to giving up the faith. In the parable of the 4 soils the seed that falls on rocky ground refers to those receive the word with joy but fall away when persecution comes. Before Jesus is crucified he says to his disciples in Mk.14:27, “You will all fall away, for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”
I’m sure that none of us would ever intentionally seek to cause someone to lose their faith in Christ. But we all know that there are people who have attended our churches who because of unfortunate experiences in the church, they have turned away from Christ. In some churches there is a strong legalistic environment that is oppressive and unloving. In some churches, keeping up appearances is more important than credible Christ like living. I’m not saying that when people lose their faith in Christ it is always the fault of other Christians, but sometimes we share the blame.
All of us here this morning who embrace Christ as Savior, Lord and King are fellow travelers on the journey of following Christ. May we seek to promote righteousness, peace, and joy in the lives of one another, doing our best to build each other up in the Lord.
II. WE PURSUE FAITHFULNESS IN OUR OWN LIVES. Mk.9:43-48
Here Jesus is exaggerating to impress upon his followers just how valuable entering into his life really is. Receiving eternal living in the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus is so monumental that nothing must be permitted that will jeopardize that life. And Jesus makes it clear that this kingdom-of-God-life is experienced and lived out in our bodies. It is not just our souls that are saved; our bodies express the new creation life we receive in Jesus Christ.
The world does not know this life because the world is living old creation life that is passing away. The world is separated from God, the giver of life. In many ways, you might say that our bodies are ground zero when it comes to living the life of Christ in us. It all happens in our present bodies until we receive new bodies in the new creation. And so what we do with our bodies is important.
James Edwards writes, “…nothing, not even things we value supremely like eyes, hands, and feet, should stand in the way of eternal life.” What we do, what we look at, where we go all has bearing upon our life with Christ. In short, the way we use our bodies either promotes or hinders our life with Christ. The idea of cutting off one’s hand or foot or plucking out one’s eye, means that we must be ruthless in our pursuit of Christ. We are ruthless in dealing with sin, not because Jesus is watching us with his eagle eyes waiting for us to step out of line. No. We are ruthless in dealing with sin because our present life with Christ in the kingdom of God is so valuable. And again, it is a life of righteousness, peace and joy being lived out through the Holy Spirit in a world of sin and death.
My concern is that for many today, their experience of Christianity is primarily an experience shaped and defined by their church experience, and not so much by Christ. Their Christianity is defined by their past experience in the church and not by their present relationship with Jesus. Have you entered into life with the living Jesus Christ? This is a critical question.
We all know what it is to wrestle with sin. Some sins are more difficult to resist than others. Some sins are more deeply enbedded in our bodies and at times we feel helpless in sin’s grip. If you are a Christian you are probably well aware of these particular sins because the Holy Spirit continues to speak to you about them. Because we are followers of Jesus we do not give up the struggle of resisting sin and temptation. Jesus is not asking anyone to pluck out his or her eye, but he is saying that we must carefully monitor what we look at and read if that is the area in which we struggle the most. Jesus is not just saying that we need to have good intentions; he is calling us beyond good intentions to behavioral transformation. The Holy Spirit will help us as we take steps to change our sinful habits.
But what of these statements about unquenchable fire and being thrown into hell. Is Jesus suggesting that a believer can lose his or her salvation? First realize that Jesus is not talking about a doctrine of eternal security here. He’s talking about what it means to be his disciple. If a person who claims to be a disciple of Jesus continually practices sin there something amiss. When followers of Jesus sin, which we often do, we seek to confess and forsake it. If we can sin without confession, that is an indication that something isn’t right in our life with Christ. This person calls his or her salvation into question. It is not wise to assure a person of their eternal security in Christ if they are practicing sin. As followers of Christ we pursue faithfulness in our own lives no matter how often we fall into sin. In Rm.13:14, Paul says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
III. WE PERSUE FAITHFULNESS IN THE TRIALS OF LIFE. Mk.9:49-50
These verses are not so easy to understand. There are a number of interpretations. The interpretation that makes sense to me connects the ideas of fire and salt with the temple sacrifices.
In Leviticus 1 we learn that burnt offerings were to be wholly consumed with fire. The smoke was a pleasing incense to the Lord. Along with this, in Lev.2:13 we read, ‘You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.”
In his commentary on Mark, James Edwards writes, “In the present context fire and salt appear to be symbols of the trials and costs of discipleship. Discipleship to Jesus lays a total claim on one’s life; in the language of sacrifice, it must be totally consuming or it is worthless.”
When we face trials in our lives, if we are in any way rejected or persecuted for being a disciple Jesus, we must understand that God uses these trials and troubles to purify us that we might walk faithfully with the Lord. Trials and tribulations are an opportunity for us to become living sacrifices unto the Lord. Our lives are being offered just like those sacrifices were offered. We are walking as Jesus walked. He also experienced trials and tribulations on this earth.
Now everyone experiences trials and tribulations, but as believers we seek to navigate our way through the trials in such a way that we remain faithful to Christ. Disciples of Jesus are consumed with Jesus and following him.
Now brothers and sisters, many of us have known each other for years. We regularly see each other here at the church. I’m thankful for this. But I also realize that our church attendance is not necessarily a barometer of our commitment to Jesus Christ. As you know we have two men’s groups that meet once a month. When we meet as men we talk a little more seriously about our life in Christ. We get a better idea of where we are with Christ. We can see from Jesus’ words in Mark that being his follower is serious business. How serious a follower of Christ are you? Is your life characterized by righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit? The old hymn asks, “Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?” Are you pursuing a life of faithfulness to Jesus? Amen