Series Theme: Short meditations through Marks Gospel
This Page: CHAPTER 9
Overview of all
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Notes: These meditations are particularly short for easy digestion. To go to a chapter use the table above. To go to a verse use the contents on the left of each page which has been simplified by showing only every third meditation. Please go to nearest number and scroll up or down.
171. Kingdom Come
Mk 9:1 And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."
When Jesus started his ministry we find, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4:17) The kingdom of heaven is the expression on earth of the King who rules from heaven. At that moment the Father ruled from heaven and Jesus expressed His rule on the earth. Now that Jesus has ascended back to the Father, the Bible tells us that he is now ruling at his Father's right hand and will one day hand back the kingdom completed to his Father (see Eph 1:20-22, 1 Cor 15:24,25).
The rule of God on earth is seen through men and women. This is not to mean that God doesn't rule over all things anyway, but that when He refers to His kingdom on earth, it appears to mean His rule expressed through men and women. When Jesus started his ministry, he was the only one fully surrendered to the Father and it was through him that the Father expressed His rule. Once the Day of Pentecost came and the Holy Spirit was poured out, then the rule of God was expressed in and through every born again believer.
The rule of God can only be expressed in this way through those who have surrendered their lives to Him; that is what conversion and being born again is all about. It is the point of life where the individual surrenders their life to God and He puts His Spirit within them, to teach, train and guide them and express Himself through them in power.
It seems that the words in our verse above act as a balance to what Jesus has just been saying. He has just been speaking about giving up your life to follow him ( 8:35 ) but now he places before those who have ears and hearts to hear him, the reward for doing that. If you surrender your life to Jesus, you become part of the divinely supernatural community where the rule of God is expressed in power: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised.” (Mt 11:5)
All those things are signs of the power of the rule of God. To follow that would come the power expressed as lives were transformed by being born again of the Spirit of God, yet another expression of the power of the kingdom – lives being transformed, being delivered out of darkness into the kingdom of the Son. Hallelujah!
Rejoice in the wonder of the transforming work of Jesus in you, rejoice in the wonder of what he is doing in you, and rejoice that he has a plan and a purpose for you, that involves his power changing you.
Mk 9:2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.
There is often debate in Christian circles when someone says “God loves you and you are special,” and someone else then pipes up and says, “If we're all special, then we're no longer special.” Actually that latter comment is not true because we are each special to God in different ways, in the same way that each one of my three children is special to me in different ways.
When it came to the twelve apostles, I am sure Jesus loved each of them (because he was the human expression of love – 1 Jn 4:8) but that doesn't mean he treated them in the same way because to do that would mean ignoring their unique individuality and also their potential.
Peter, James and John occasionally were called out by Jesus, separated from the others. These would be men who would eventually stand out as leaders in the new church. There was something about each of them that made them stand out. It wasn't a family connection thing – James and John being brothers – because it didn't include Peter's brother, Andrew.
This doesn't make these three men ‘more special' but just different. We've just suggested that Jesus always knew the potential of those he called to follow him. He knew that Judas Iscariot would betray him and commit suicide, and he knew that ten of the eleven remaining disciples would give their lives for their faith. John was the only one who would die in old age, but that after serious persecution and a period of exile on the prison island of Patmos where he lived in a cave for a number of years. No, a martyrs death wasn't the all important criteria but it was what most of them experienced. John shows us that it isn't necessary.
But the fact is that Jesus did pick out these three as he had done when he had gone to raise Jairus's daughter (Mk 5:37). it was these three who came to talk privately to Jesus on the Mount of Olives (Mk 13:3) and who Jesus took with him to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:33).
Yes, these three had the privilege of being the closest to Jesus, it seems, and would have remembered so much of what went on from the inside, and perhaps that is why Peter (with Mark) and John ended up being Gospel writers as well as pillars in the new church.
It is a mystery why we are each like we are. We may be like these three or we may not. Whatever we are though, let's be all out for God with whatever gifts and characteristics that He's given us. The Lord knows what He can do with us. Dare we pray, “More Lord, use me more.”
173. Heaven on Earth?
Mk 9:2-4 There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
This is possibly one of the strangest occurrences in the Gospels. Jesus has taken the three key ‘inner disciples' and they have climbed this mountain. When they get near the top (we assume) suddenly everything changes. Suddenly Jesus changes and becomes dazzling bright. There is a brightness or whiteness to his clothes that goes beyond anything known on the earth. In other words, he takes on a heavenly appearance. He is different, he is shining bright.
But there is more than this. Suddenly there are two figures with him who the disciples identify as Moses and Elijah. Now we don't know how they know this. Maybe Jesus told them after the event, maybe they just knew within themselves. Here are two figures who represent the Prophets and the Law, two key players in the Old Testament, two men who stood out for God – and now they appear and talk with Jesus. Luke records, “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” (Lk 9:31)
In philosophy and sci-fi, people talk about alternate realities existing at the same time. Those tend to be the same people existing in different worlds at the same time, but what we now have here is heaven, which exists in a dimension that is beyond us, breaking through into our reality. It seems a bit like a Stargate experience where you go from one place to another in an instant. Moses and Elijah who obviously dwell in heaven simply slip through into the earthly reality and suddenly something of the heavenly reality reveals Jesus as he truly is – the glorious Son of God.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:5) Jesus existed in heaven with the Father before he came to earth to be born in a young woman; he existed with the glory that God has. Every picture or experience of the real presence of God in the Bible reveals Him in bright light, revealing a glorious presence.
If Jesus had come with that presence we would all have fled from him. The apostle Paul caught something of this when he wrote, “Christ Jesus…Who, being in very nature God… made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man….” (Phil 2:5-8) Most of the time in the Gospels we just see the man. On rare occasion, as now, we see something of the glorious Son of God who deserves our worship.
Mk 9:5, 6 Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
When we get in very stressed situations we sometimes come out with very strange – or even very ordinary – things. I often think we read Scripture so easily without getting into what was actually going on. Here are the three disciples up a mountain with Jesus when suddenly he starts glowing incredibly brightly and two figures appear with him. Yes, this is real, this is still on the mountain, I am not dreaming! This is happening in real life – but it is impossible! We were up here alone. It was impossible for anyone to creep up on us – and as for this brightness…. How would you have reacted? Scared out of your life! It's one thing to see it on TV; it's another for it to actually happen to you in ordinary everyday life! Have you ever noticed those two words at the end of verse 6: “so frightened” ?
We try to rationalise Peter's words but they come out of stark naked fear. I've often in the past thought that Peter was wanting this experience to continue and continue and hence his words – can we set up shelters to keep you all here? But I've never really taken in those two words: “so frightened.” When you are scared out of your wits you don't want it to carry on; you want it to stop. More likely words would have been, “James, John, run for it!” or just very simply, “Oh no!” When you are so frightened you don't know what to do with yourself except flee the situation, but Peter seems to be indicating the exact opposite!
So what exactly is he suggesting? That the disciples build three shelters. Now note that. First, three shelters. One would have meant that Jesus could have carried on talking with Moses and Elijah, three speaks of separation or individuality – failing to recognise what is going on – the three men are communicating which speaks of needing to be together. But, second, shelters? This suggests a feeling of vulnerability, a need to protect or hide someone or something. Would those shelters have hidden these men from the disciples? Is this a panicky subconscious expression of trying to hide these supernatural figures from the sight of the disciples? Did the sense of their holiness suggest to Peter that in the same way as the Ark in the Tabernacle had to be hidden behind a curtain, so these supernatural figures would be better hidden from this world? The truth is that we really don't know. It is a mysterious event and it evokes a “I'm scared out of my life” reaction from Peter. Let's not be hard on him.
175. Reality Imposed
Mk 9:7,8 Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
The disciples have just had an experience where heaven has broken through into the realm of the earth. The glory of the Lord has been literally seen and two of the historical figures from the Old Testament era had appeared and talked to Jesus. The experience had scared the life out of the disciples – but it was a temporary, mystical, heavenly experience, but we are called for this time at least to live in the experience of the earth – heaven will come in due season, but not yet, only in the Lord's time.
Now one of the problems that we have in the Christian world is that we get caught up with experiences. The Lord in His goodness allows us to have an experience that is right out of the ordinary. Afterwards we talk about it and talk about it and talk about it. It becomes a focal point in our lives. But it wasn't supposed to be that; it was merely a temporary experience that the Lord allowed us to have. Now it's time to move on.
“Then a cloud appeared.” Clouds seem to be associated with the presence of the Lord. On Mount Sinai (Ex 19:16 ) a thick cloud came down. It is almost as if the Lord provides a cloud as if to say, I am reducing your vision so that you cannot tell afterwards what you saw. I don't want you to rejoice in the experience. A cloud limits vision.
“and a voice came from the cloud.” God Himself speaks rarely out loud like this. He had spoken at Jesus' baptism and each time He directs towards Jesus, with words of affirmation: “This is my Son, whom I love.” Exactly the same words as at the Baptism!
“Listen to him.” That is why he's come, to teach you, so listen to him. The Father is directing them away from the experience back to His Son. Jesus is to be the all-important focus in our lives, not individual experiences. Jesus is the revelation of God, Jesus is the one who has come to be the Saviour of the world, Jesus is the one who has come to teach the truth about life and living in accordance with the Father's design. There is no one and nothing that is as important as Jesus. He is to be our focus.
Yes, the disciples have just had an amazing experience and they will eventually all have it written down, but for the time being it is time to move on and leave it behind. There is to be no hankering after repeat performances of it, no living a life constantly looking for goose-bump experiences. This is to be a life of following Jesus, going where he goes and constantly listening to him. The time is limited.
176. Keep it Quiet
Mk 9:9,10 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what "rising from the dead" meant.
When I was a young Christian, everything was black and white. I was quite clear about everything. As I have grown up a bit, I have come to realise that everything isn't crystal clear for we are called to live by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) and that means that quite often we won't be able to be absolutely certain.
The other problem with the Christian life is that so often preachers speak of issues in the word of God as if they have a telephone line to heaven and therefore everything is absolutely clear and certain – but it isn't! And these verses above prove that.
First of all note that Jesus gave the three disciples an instruction but NOT the reason for the instruction. Why weren't they to say anything about what they had seen until later?
Second, note that the disciples themselves did not understand what Jesus meant when he referred to ‘rising from the dead'. To us, with the whole story written down in our Bible, it is quite clear but for them at the time is wasn't.
There are various possible reasons why Jesus had told them to keep quiet about what they had seen but they are all speculation. The first is that he did not want his reputation accelerated. He had a timetable and that timetable meant being in Jerusalem for the next Passover and only then would he let his approval by people reach celebrity status to galvanise the authorities into action against him. But that wasn't to happen yet, so they must keep quiet about what they had seen.
Another possibility is that Jesus didn't want to put a stumbling block in the way of the three disciples, he didn't want them to get fame to having had this experience. So often in the Christian world, we find ‘celebrities' who have had a particular special experience and we focus on them instead of upon Jesus. The Lord doesn't want any of us to take on celebrity status because he knows the damage that pride can do in a life.
This raises a whole question about spiritual experiences. They have the possibility for raising people to celebrity status, but they also have the possibility of causing division, by some people rejecting what happened by either rejecting that it had actually happened or attributing it to Satan. This happens all the time in matters of the gifts of the Spirit or of moves of God in history. Let's not let such things create either celebrities or divisions.
Mk 9:11 And they asked him, "Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?"
A little knowledge, they say, is a dangerous thing, or if it's not a dangerous thing, it can be confusing. The disciples, travelling with Jesus saw and heard many things that confused them. The three who had been up the mountain with Jesus were, after all, just fishermen, but even fishermen had grown up as children in a culture where the synagogue was the heart of the local community and teaching was one of its primary functions.
But the thing about teaching is that it sometimes leaves gaps in understanding. Having watched Christians over many years, I believe many of us live with ignorance because we are embarrassed to ask for answers. It may be that we have leaders who appear to have all the answers, and that puts them on a ‘professional' level and that is very different from us, so we keep quiet. It takes courage to ask questions. It requires a sense of security to be able to speak out and ask. The good news is that the three disciples appear to have that sense of security and thus feel free to question Jesus, although the way they ask suggests a slight diffidence.
They refer back to what they have heard others say about Elijah needing to come first. But why do they ask? Surely because they have just seen Elijah, with Moses, up on the mountain. Perhaps what they might be asking is, have we just witnessed a fulfilment of prophecy, have we just seen the coming of Elijah that we've been taught about in the synagogue?
They are a bit diffident about this because as wonderful as the experience was up there, it didn't seem to shake the world. Yes, that had seen Elijah but surely there must be more to it than that? Surely that brief appearance can't be what the teachers of the law have been on about, surely there must be more to it than that?
Do you see the obvious dilemma they faced, and which we so often face? On one hand we have the Scriptures that we are taught, but then on the other hand things happen which don't seem to quite square with what the Scriptures say or, to be more precise, what we've been taught they say. There is the nub of the problem: interpretation.
You may think that I am taking a lot of space over a small issue, but it is an issue that crops up in every Christian's mind at some time or other and much of the time, I am convinced, we just leave it there and don't go to the Lord to ask for answers; we remain content with confusion and lack of clarity. If there are areas of your walk you are unclear about, ask the Lord. Don't leave it.
Mk 9:12,13 Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him."
My experience over quite a lot of years, is that many Christians have an attitude that says, make everything simple for me, spell it out for me, and if you can't I don't want to know. Now I need to say this in the light of the verses before us now which are not overly clear. The question is, how hungry are you to know the truth. Spiritual hunger is a vital requirement for spiritual growth. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:6) If we really hunger for truth, we will not be put off when things are not overly clear. Moreover it will not affect our security.
So the disciples have just seen Elijah and now try to put his appearance into an historical context. Yes, says, Jesus, Elijah will come first. It was as the closing words of the Old Testament had said: "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” (Mal 4:5) That had left a lot of people wondering because it appeared to refer to the Last Day – but it doesn't have to mean he will come immediately before that day, but simply God will send one to prepare people so they cannot say they were not warned.
Yes, Jesus implies, Elijah will come at some point but the bigger question that is raised in the prophetic scriptures is why the Son of Man, the prophetic Messiah, is going to have to suffer and (implied again) I'll leave you to think over that one!
But, he continues, if you want to know the truth about Elijah, well, yes, he has already come. “Just as it is written about him” ? Well there was nothing saying he would suffer but if Jesus was referring to John the Baptist (as is clear from other scriptures) then there were certain parallels between what happened (and was written down) to Elijah and now what has just happened to John. Elijah confronted an evil kings and his wife, Ahab and Jezebel, and John confronted an evil king and his wife, Herod and Herodias. Elijah suffered from the words of the queen, Jezebel, and John suffered and lost his life because of the words of the queen, Herodias.
So yes, says Jesus, the Scriptures do talk about one who will come and prepare the way for the Messiah, a prophetic figure of the order of Elijah, and that figure was John the Baptist, who came to prepare the people to receive me.
Mk 9:14,15 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
I am aware that I have said it many times in these studies, but it does bear repeating again and again: I am convinced that so often we read the Bible and just let it go over our heads. If we didn't let it do that we would be questioning it again and again for, as I've said elsewhere, the New Testament often appears as a set of notes taken by a student at a lecture – the bare bones are there but there are so many questions for the seeker. There are two things in these two verses that I find raise questions in me.
The first is, what was happening when Jesus and the three disciples got to the bottom of the mountain? They find three groups of people: the rest of the disciples, teachers of the law, and the crowd, and the teachers of the law were arguing with the disciples. Now here is my question: what were they arguing about? If you read on, the problem is a demon possessed boy and the disciples can't deliver him. So what is the argument about? Other versions use the word ‘discussing' and there is a sense that these teachers of the law were taking this opportunity to mock Jesus' disciples (in Jesus' absence) at their failure to help in this situation. Jesus' ministry had clearly been showing up the teachers of the law as powerless and effectual and so this was a good opportunity to get their own back, verbally at least!
The second question is why were the people “overwhelmed with wonder” when Jesus arrived and ran to greet him? It may be to do with the previous answer. Powerless and ineffective religious leaders (the teachers of the law) don't go down well with the public. They didn't then and they don't today. So here are these teachers of the law ‘beating up' the disciples for their inability to deliver this boy and the crowd feel that the ‘baddies' have got the upper hand, and they don't like it. Everyone is so wrapped up in what is going on (did you ever have fights in the playground when you were a child and everyone gathered round to watch and shout, completely unaware of a teacher arriving on the outskirts of the mob?) that they don't see Jesus and the three coming down the lower slopes of the mountain. It is only when he has almost reached them they somebody spots him. The cavalry has arrived, the baddies are going to get their comeuppance, Jesus is here and he will sort them! Where did he spring from? He's arrived at just the right moment! All this contributes to the wonder of his arrival and the joy of the crowd.
180. Jesus knows
Mk 9:16 "What are you arguing with them about?" he asked
I find I always smile now when I see God the Father or Jesus the Son asking questions of people because they always know the answer before it is spoken out. So why do they ask? Well of course we have to speculate because we are never told. The only answer that I can see is that they want us to speak out our answer. When we do that we either make clearer the problem, and thus come to see an answer, or speaking the problem makes us realise that this is something that only God can deal with.
Maybe, as in this case, Jesus wants to see WHO will answer because before him are the teachers of the law (who stay quiet), his own disciples (who also stay quiet), and the father of the demon possessed boy – who does speak out. Perhaps this is Jesus' way of giving the father an opportunity to vent his frustration and reveal the heart of this problem – the disciples can't handle this!
It is interesting to note that none of the disciples piped up with the answer, “I'm afraid, Master, we've got something here that is beyond us, but we know it won't be beyond you.” We're not very good at speaking out our failures are we? If we're going to get challenged, we'd prefer to let the truth sneak out quietly through someone else – except it doesn't sneak out quietly, it comes with the full rush of the father's frustration.
What is also interesting, of course, is that he is so frustrated because he expected the disciples to be able to deal with it. He knew because he had either seen or heard what happened when Jesus was around with his disciples and therefore he assumed that what Jesus was able to do, his followers were able to do.
Now of course that is the truth. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) That is the truth, but it seems so far away in today's church. We are very happy to run our church services, but to do the works of Jesus? Well that is another thing!
Let's remind ourselves what those works were: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) or as Jesus put it in other words, “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) That appears to be spiritual and physical changes ministered by the followers of Jesus; that appears to be what Jesus intends for those of us who call ourselves part of his ‘body'.
181. Demonic Control
Mk 9:17,18 A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not."
People who deny the existence of Satan or of demonic powers, must struggle with the Scriptures. Having said that, people will find reasons to challenge the truth and here, no doubt, the claim would be that this was simply an epileptic seizure, but there are several things to note. First whatever this is, it also robs the child of speech and the impression is, that it is not only when he's having a seizure.
The second thing to note is that this man is not afraid to identify what is happening as demonic. He isn't afraid the crowd around him will mock him for such quaint ideas. Now again, our sceptic's response at this point will be that this was just the superstitious beliefs of an uneducated people.
But then we come to the third difficulty and it is not one that can be swept away so easily - it is that Jesus accepted that this was the truth of this situation and he responded accordingly. We will see that when he speaks, there is response and the boy is delivered. This is the most damning of the reasons against the sceptics. This is the Son of God and he is not superstitious and he has the power to deal with what he sees – and HE declares that this is genuinely a supernatural evil presence called a demon – and he deals with it accordingly.
Which brings us to question, why some people want to take away and ignore certain parts of Scripture, or write them off as superstitious nonsense of the ignorant people of the time? A simple answer might be that people don't like what they don't understand, or they shy away from something strange that they have not experienced. A more likely answer, we might suggest, is that people shy away from the supernatural, that which points out that there is another dimension to this world, outside of our control. We like to be in control and anything which we can't control is thus worrying.
That really, is what is at the heart of the ‘argument' that was going on when Jesus arrived. Jesus' ministry delivered people and that upset the powerless teachers of the law. In this particular case the ‘presence' in this boy seemed to be beyond the disciples. This is clearly not a mechanical thing, this deliverance business; it's not merely a matter of speaking certain words because the disciples had obviously done that but with no effect. Thus they are now being derided by these teachers of the law. Authority comes with Jesus' presence.
182. Jesus' Expectation
Mk 9:19 "O unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?
Now these are uncomfortable words. The Gospels declare Jesus' challenges over lack of faith a number of times: in the Sermon on the Mount for not believing that God will provide for us (Mt 6:30), in the midst of the storm on the lake (Mt 8:26), when Peter was walking on water (Mt 14:31), after the feeding of the four thousand (Mt 16:8), here in this present incident, and after it (Mt 17:20). What this present instance, and all these other examples, show us is that Jesus expects us to have faith and when we should but don't, he challenges us over it.
We live in an age when people don't like being told what to do and yet the whole thing about being a disciple is that disciples have a Master who tells them what to do, how to live, and how to serve – and we are supposed to be disciples of Jesus. Jesus expects his disciples to have and exercise faith and when they don't he speaks out. Note also that a little faith is not enough faith. Again and again Jesus chides his disciples for only having little faith, as if that is not enough!
Now faith, the New Testament tells us, comes from hearing God's word (Rom 10:17), from believing what Jesus says, believing what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, not partly believing but wholly believing. For Jesus to come out with these words suggests that he is really moved by their lack of faith. These are strong words that come from strong feelings. Who is he speaking to? Well presumably to the disciples. They have been with him, seen him minister, and done some of the stuff themselves. They had been on the front line of training under Jesus and the outcome that he expected from his training was faith and, in such circumstances, faith is not just a word, it is an outworking, an action that brings about change – THAT is what Jesus expected.
Now come back to us today, come back to your church and to you and me. Do these words make us feel uncomfortable and defensive or does something rise within us that says, “Yes, bring it on!” That response is the response of faith. That is what Jesus is looking for in his disciples and that is what he expects of us.
Now why, perhaps, is that sort of faith lacking? Well, there are two sides to this coin. On the one side it is because we have listened more to the world and so doubt that these things can happen. On the other side of the coin, it is that we haven't listened enough to Jesus and so his word and his truth has not permeated our spirit, yet when that happens and we are confronted with the impossible, when he prompts us, we respond, “Yes, Lord, let it be, bring it on!”
183. Demonic Response
Mk 9:20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
In verses 17 and 18 we saw the power that this demon exerted over this boy. There was nothing he, nor his parents, could do about this. Neither could the disciples! Some of us may put this down as an epileptic fit but Jesus accepts it as demon inspired and demon controlled. Now what is most intriguing about this situation is that there is no hint as to why this boy is like he is and, even more, Jesus doesn't seem bothered by the reason either.
Very often we tend to feel we need to get to the root cause of something before healing or deliverance can be brought, but again and again the records of Jesus healing and delivering people seem completely devoid of ‘cause hunting'. It is almost as if Jesus is saying to us through these things, “I haven't come to condemn and make you feel awkward, but to heal and deliver you and my power and authority does not depend on the cause being dealt with.” Our experience would suggest that someone only becomes demon possessed when they give themselves to the enemy through occult activity.
The cause of this boy's predicament is far more likely to be the father but perhaps Jesus sees that the man actually bringing his son to Jesus to be delivered is an indication of his repentance and willingness to be confronted with his sin. Whatever is the truth here, Jesus is not waiting around to diagnose the original cause – because he will know it anyway because he is God! So they bring the boy over to Jesus and immediately the demon throws the boy into convulsions, a further suggestion that this is not merely fits. Again and again when Jesus was faced with a demon, the demon acted defensively, knowing who Jesus was. The demon's actions are not to hide because it knows it cannot be hidden from God's eyes, but it does cause the boy to fall into a state where he is unable to communicate with Jesus.
Perhaps it feels if the boy is unable to communicate, Jesus will not be able to do anything. It was wrong! There is a general point here that I have observed over the years and it is this: often when we have prayed for healing or deliverance, the ‘symptoms' of the person being prayed for appear to initially get worse. If it is a demon, then its activity gets noisier and more violent and a command to be silent is appropriate. If it is a sickness, the symptoms simply seem to get worse. This is not a sign to give up praying but a challenge to keep on praying. The issue is not how bad the symptoms are but how sure we are that Jesus wants to heal this person. Don't let the symptoms put you off!
184. Limited Appeal
Mk 9:21,22 Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."
We have commented before that Jesus, as the Son of God, had all knowledge and yet it seems that sometimes it isn't obvious, or he asks questions to draw out answers from people. Whether or not this was the latter case we don't know but the answer from the man shows us that this has gone on for a long time, and what that says is that there was obviously no one in the land with the authority of God to be able to deal with demons. We did see it earlier in Mark but here is that same thing again – no one can help this boy!
We also see here the destructive nature of demonic activity. Where he has the opportunity the enemy will seek to destroy so that individuals no long have opportunity to become children of God before they die.
But then we see the man's limited faith. Note his words: “If you can do anything .” If? Of course Jesus can do something. If you'd followed him around the countryside you would have seen his power at work and known that Jesus can do anything. But when you have a demonic boy perhaps you don't travel around the countryside! Now, of course, he has watched the attempts of the disciples to no avail, so perhaps his tentative words of Jesus are not so surprising. He appeals to Jesus' sense of pity – please feel for us and help us, for no one else can!
It is easy to be critical of this man but one thing I have found is that when I or someone close to me is in physical need, it is not always easy to be full of faith. When you have been plagued with pain, or when there is something else that has gone on and on, just like this man with his young son, it is not easy to feel full of faith.
Faith comes when Jesus turns up and expresses himself in some one. At that point something can rise within us, but it does need a sense of him coming first. Faith, the New Testament says, comes from hearing the word of God or word from God. When we are confronted by something hard or difficult or long standing, we really do need to catch a sense of God's heart of us.
I cannot emphasise this enough, because so much is said about healing and sometimes we are made to feel really bad about our lack of faith, but it is simply that we haven't yet heard from God. We can read the words if the Bible even, but if the Holy Spirit hasn't come and quickened them in us, they don't have the power to release faith that says of God, “I KNOW you can do this and want to!” Until that happens we are left waiting and wondering.
185. Required Belief
Mk 9:23,24 "`If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
We considered previously the “If you can” element of these verses but there are two other aspects of them that stand out. There is this apparently incredible statement of Jesus' that, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Everything? What is implied by everything? That I will win the National Lottery? That I will have an expensive car? That I will have a house with ten bedrooms and a swimming pool? No, that's not the tricky bit, I realise. It is the “believing” bit!
I don't do the lottery because I realise the odds are so enormous so however much I tell myself I will win, deep down I don't believe it. I may envisage driving a £250,000 car but deep down I know that that will never be and similarly with the big mansion.
Now I realise that what I've just said is really running alongside what the man says, “I do believe,” but he doesn't stop here for he realises that one half of him wants to believe but there's this other half that says, “This isn't going to happen.” It is the unbelief that is the problem and unbelief comes when we measure our past experience and wisdom with the circumstances before us. I know that when I look at my income and outgoings, the big car and big house aren't going to happen. It would take a miracle for that to happen.
Ah! Perhaps there is the crux, for I immediately think, “Miracles are God's province, and does He want me to have a big car and big house?” and deep down I get an answer, “No.” Belief here, in this context, is equated with faith. Faith is the assurance of what will happen. And how did we say that comes? When Jesus turns up and speaks.
I have a feeling that sometimes when Jesus was ministering there would have grown a group sense of faith, that as you watched him heal person after person after person, you found a growing sense within you that Jesus wanted to heal everybody and that includes you. Yet, for whatever reason, this man wasn't in that category. He was coming to the disciples out of desperation, having heard of Jesus' ministry, but found that they seemed powerless and if he had had any doubts beforehand they were now reinforced. The disciples had unwittingly added to his unbelief.
And now comes the realism. The man recognised he now had another need and so ASKS Jesus, “Help me…..” That is what it always comes to, recognising we need Jesus help even to be helped. We'd love to be full of faith, but we even need him for that.
Mk 9:25,26 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out.
This is one of those occasions when the vague believer is put on the spot. Will you believe what you read or will you decide against it for some emotional reason. This incident allows for no room to make excuses to either deny the supernatural or, to be more specific, to deny the reality of demon possession.
The time for talking is over. So far there have been a limited number of people here but as the word gets out that Jesus is back and that something is going on, people start running to the scene. Jesus, not wanting to make a spectacle of the boy or his father, gets on with the deliverance. How many church leaders will ensure that deliverance is done quietly and out of the public gaze where possible, to spare the individuals concerned?
Jesus simply addresses the spirit by the symptoms that are exhibited, thus naming it, and commands it to leave the boy. That of course is what everyone wants – the spirit to be out of the boy. But he also adds to the command that the spirit will never return. Now that suggests a vulnerability of the boy and the possibility of that happening – which Jesus does speak about elsewhere. So it is not only deliverance that is required but ongoing deliverance!
Now when Jesus commands, the spirit responds by shrieking and then by violently shaking the young man, but it does come out. There is a clear sequence of linked events here: Jesus commands, the spirit responds and the boy is free. There is no way to explain this except by the straight forward explanation that is given.
What does this account tell us? First that there is a dimension beyond the purely material, there is a spirit world and some aspects of that spirit world are evil and destructive. Second, it says that human beings can become prey of such spirits which, we would suggest, can only happen when that individual or their family are deeply into the occult.
Third, it says that Jesus clearly had authority beyond anything the disciples had. There is nothing spectacular about this and no super spiritual words. It just simply was a straight forward command that leaves no room for misunderstanding. No melodramatics, just simple authority. This is the Son of God and what God says, especially in the spirit realm, happens! The warning from this passage is not to give the enemy any grounds for having power over us (because normally he only has what we give him). Don't!
187. Finishing off
Mk 9:26,27 The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
The result of the demon coming out of the boy was that it left him lifeless. The power source that had dominated him for so long was gone and it appeared that he now had no life, so much so that the onlookers starting declaring that he was dead.
Now there is no indication that Jesus then had to impart power into him to enable him to live, merely that Jesus helped him to his feet. This young man had life and had had life from birth; it was just that that life had been subjugated by a spirit power. Now that power was gone the life was free to live, but the experience of having had the demon cast out had left him exhausted it seems.
I have known a number of people who, after similar types of spiritual experience, have felt very weak and we've had to say to them, “It's like you've been through an operation and are now in recovery.” We need to be aware that when people have been through major spiritual traumas or great spiritual warfare, they are often left in a weak state and that weak state may be physical and/or emotional. Remember the example of Elijah who on Mount Carmel went through a great battle with four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal (1Kings 18). It was a great victory and yet very soon afterwards he was praying that he would die (1 Kings 19) such was his state of weakness.
We might expect a person who had just been delivered by Jesus to be feeling absolutely wonderful but the truth is that they have been through an (unwitting) battle, or rather their body has been a battle ground and after the deliverance they feel trampled upon. This doesn't need supernatural empowering, just gentle care and understanding.
So Jesus simply takes him by the hand and gently helps him to his feet so that he is now able to stand on his own. Remember, he is likely to be feeling dazed because for the first time for a long time he is not being pushed around from inside by this demon who had had power over him. Suddenly he is a free person and it is a feeling that perhaps he feels he's almost never had before. It must have been a strange feeling. Whether it is healing or deliverance this is something that we perhaps never think about. With healing especially we get so caught up with the excitement of the wonder of the healing that we fail to think about what the healed person is now feeling. Wonder and excitement certainly, but also a sense of strangeness for they are no longer struggling under the burden of the sickness or affliction. Freedom can be a funny feeling when you haven't had it for so long!
Mk 9:28,29 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer.”
First of all note here the benefit of being a disciple – you can ask Jesus things when they aren't clear while the rest of the world remains in confusion. So after they leave the crowd the disciples ask Jesus why it was that they had struggled and failed.
Now the problem with Scripture sometimes is that it appears as only brief notes with little explanation so when Jesus says, “This kind” we don't know whether he is simply referring to demons in general or to a specific type of demon.
One of the things is clear though from his answer, is that driving out demons is not a mechanical things, with an a,b,c, set of rules. When Jesus says “only by prayer” he is saying that you can only do this when you have a relationship with the Father and are being led by the Spirit. This should apply to the whole Christian life really, but it does so especially in the case of deliverance ministry. How does God want you to deal with this? How does the Holy Spirit want to guide you in dealing with this particular issue?
The assumption appears to be that the remaining disciples were sitting around at the bottom of the mountain while Jesus, Peter, James and John had gone up, when this man and his son came along and either recognised them or was told about them and naturally assumed that they could help because they were part of Jesus' band and that is what had been happening. They likewise assumed they could help and just dived in and spoke words of apparent authority to get the demon out – but found they were being resisted. Too much assumption!
If they were like most of us they would just try harder or shout louder but still they were resisted. Why? Because this demon was being attacked by human resources and one thing that is clear is that they do not respond to mere human authority. It is only the authority from heaven that they appear to respond to and that comes when the deliverer is in clear contact with heaven and becomes a channel of power and authority from heaven. Then and then only does the demon have to submit.
It is such a simple lesson that comes out here that we can hardly believe it is that simple. When confronted by a difficulty – pray – and listen to the Father. Find out how heaven wants to deal with this situation, receive the direction and authority from heaven to deal with it, and then perhaps, we will not be like the disciples, standing round and looking lost and defeated.
189. Being a Disciple
Mk 9:30,31 They left that place and passed through Galilee . Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples .
We sometimes forget that the key aspect of the life of a disciple was to learn what the Master has to teach. Jesus call to the disciples had been to follow him and that meant being with him and learning through him who he was and what he was capable of and why he was doing what he was doing – so that they could do the same and continue doing what he was doing (Jn 14:12)
So there has been activity and the disciples have even had cause to ask Jesus to explain what had been happening but now he takes them away through Galilee in such a way that the crowds don't know where he is – and all this with the intent of teaching the disciples without interruption. Now what is interesting about the Gospels (and frustrating?) is that we occasionally have these references to Jesus teaching his disciples but are not actually told what he taught them. I wish one or more of the disciples had kept notes of what he said, but even if they did, for some reason they never share it. The nearest we get to it is in, for example Acts 1:3 where “he spoke of the kingdom of God ”. I suppose ultimately all of Jesus' teaching could be summarised as that in some form or other, but we aren't told just what he said at these times.
But the fact is that Jesus realised that one of his key roles was to prepare this bunch of men (and women) to carry on when he had gone. His plan was not to carry on for years and years to follow, but after his resurrection and a short period of reassurance, to leave the disciples and return to heaven. His primary goal is for us, his followers, to continue the work that he begun – to share the good news of God's love with all mankind.
But part of that, quite clearly from the Gospel accounts, was to also teach his followers to minister the power of God in the same way to bring healing and deliverance. A large part of Jesus' ministry was not only to input to the mind, but to also impact the physical side of our lives as well. Being a disciple isn't merely knowing a lot of information; it is also applying that into practical, everyday life. When Jesus gave the disciples what we call the Great Commission, it also included the instruction, “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20) Obey means do. So we may not know what Jesus actually taught on these occasions, but we know that it would be imparting information and teaching them to put it into practice. May we do the same!
Mk 9:31,32 He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
We said in the previous meditation that the gospels don't tell us what Jesus taught his disciples in such times away from the crowds but that is not strictly true – we just aren't told much! What we are told is that on this occasion he started to tell them about what was going to happen to him when they reached Jerusalem , although he doesn't actually mention Jerusalem but we now in hindsight that that was what he was referring to.
Note the clarity of Jesus' understanding. He hasn't just got this vague feeling that he is going to have to give his life; he is quite specific. His death will come about because he will be betrayed and given over to the authorities. That implies that someone is going to give him up to them. We say the ‘authorities' because no one else had the power to take life and this doesn't have the feel of just, “I will be murdered by lawless men.” No, this will be carried out by the authorities and they will kill him. But it won't end there: after three days he will rise from the dead. Now if the first two statements - betrayal and death – were amazing enough, talk of resurrection was just way too much.
Whether it was the talk of resurrection or of the whole concept of being betrayed and then being killed, the disciples just couldn't cope with this. After having watched him for three years being God's blessing to that country, and being in total command of every situation, whether it meant walking away from hostile people (Lk 4:29,30) or calming storms (Lk 8:24), Jesus had been in control. There was no way this was all suddenly going to go pear shaped and get out of his control. It takes quite a lot to comprehend how difficult it must have been for the disciples to understand this.
Perhaps we need to make this very personal. How often do we find it difficult to accept things that God says? If we live in the part of the Christian world that doesn't believe in prophecy or ‘now' words, this won't apply to us, but how many of us have received words of love and acceptance from the Lord and thought, “Surely not.” Or how many of us have received words that spoke of great things in the future for us and thought, “Surely not, they must have got the wrong person.”
Jesus speaks of the things he plans to do in the future and, of course, they are things that only he can do and bring about and we need to remember that so that our answers may be like Mary's, “I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38)
Mk 9:33,34 They came to Capernaum . When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sometimes we say or do things that we think we get away with, but God has a habit of waiting until the time is right before confronting us with our misdemeanours! The truth is that God loves us and so at some point WILL confront us with our bad attitudes or our wrong thinking. On a bright sunny day when everything is going well, we may think we've made it, that we are good Christians perfect in every way. well, the Bible does say the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9). So there we are thinking that everything is fine when the Lord turns up with circumstances that face us with our bad attitude etc. and we suddenly find we are having to face an unpleasant truth about ourselves and repentance is the only way out.
As the disciples had travelled along the road, I can only assume that Jesus was either a bit ahead or behind the main group of them, perhaps talking with someone while the rest of them talked about things that had happened. Whether Peter, James and John had been basting about being special, having been chosen by Jesus to go up the Mount of Transfiguration with him, or whether there were other instances not recorded where different ones had been ‘used by God', we just don't know, but we do know that “they had argued about who was the greatest. ” The more we are involved in what we glibly call “Christian service” the more there is the temptation to think we are different, special, above others who are only doing “secular jobs”. There is always a grace temptation in the kingdom of God to compare ourselves with others – and to elevate ourselves. When God turns up and uses us in some particular way so that we have a special ‘testimony' there is this same temptation to elevate ourselves above others. We can carry on thinking like this, thinking that we are special until one day Jesus has the conversation with us. “Oh, by the way, my son or my daughter….”
And when Jesus asks a question, such as, “What were you arguing about on the road?” realise that he already knows the answer! So why is he asking the question? That's his gentle way of confronting you with the problem you have in your life, it's his way of getting you to face it, because the moment he asks, you know the answer, and the moment you know the answer, you know that the thing was wrong. You may have covered it up or settled with the idea, but suddenly, now Jesus has asked, you know it was wrong. Time for repentance.
192. A Serving Principle
Mk 9:35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."
I'm never quite sure if wanting to be the greatest is a sign of being egomaniacal or of insecurity. Few of us would admit to it, I suspect, but the truth is we'd like to feel we're ‘top of the pile' although there are lots of us who struggle with the fact that we clearly know that we're nowhere near the top of the pile.
Self-esteem and self-worth are tricky things and, as we quoted previously, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things'. In other words we kid ourselves about our motivation. But the disciples had been discussing this as they walked along the road, and now Jesus had pulled them up on it. What goes on in the world and what goes on in the kingdom of God are often diametrically opposed to each other.
Jesus sat down. He took on the teacher-role, for teachers in those days always sat when they taught. Sitting is also a sign of anchoring our attention. I'm not going anywhere. You want to hear what I have to say? They stay here, be still and listen! He knew what they had been arguing about. OK, he says, let's take this head on: if any one of you wants to be first – as you clearly do – then you need to recognise in my Father's kingdom those who are ‘first' or who are considered to be important, are in fact those who have put themselves last. You want to be recognised first, served first, dealt with first, acknowledged first, esteemed first? OK, go to the back of the queue and see what needs people have there.
To be ‘last' means you are going to take on the attitude and lifestyle of a servant, willing to serve and bless others, and so often the people most in need are those who are some way down the social ‘queue' or who have been banished to the end of the queue.
You want to be a ‘somebody' in God's kingdom? Then become a servant. We seem to have an increasing number of ‘old fashioned' dramas on TV, often portraying life “upstairs” and “downstairs”. The good servant is the one who sees what needs doing and does it. There's no question of ‘my rights'. They just know what their job is and part of that is seeing what needs doing and doing it! It is thinking about the needs of others and seeing how you can ensure those needs are met.
Now in the church, this is a very real and very practical thing. It means never looking down your nose at other people but seeing yourself as called to serve and bless other people. What do they need? What is their need, whether they are aware of it or not? How can I bless them and serve them. Back of the world's ‘queue', front of God's!
193. An Example
Mk 9:36,37 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him 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."
‘Important' people, big people, famous people, like meeting with and encountering similar people. Previously I commented on the number of TV dramas that focus on life a hundred years ago and particularly the distinctions of ‘upstairs and downstairs', the nobility and the servants. That time may have passed away but still today in every society there will be these social distinctions.
The disciples have just been chided by Jesus about their need for servant-heartedness. Now he makes the teaching more general and he does it by taking a small child. Look what we are told. He gets a little boy and brings him into the group where they are all sitting. But more than that, he gathers this little boy up into his arms. Now before we come to the teaching, note this. Whether or not this little boy knows Jesus, we aren't told, but he obviously feels sufficiently secure to let Jesus pick him up. Was there a mother in the background watching what was going on?
But Jesus is teaching his disciples. They had been talking about leadership among themselves, who was the most important. Important people deal with important people is the way of the world – but not in the kingdom of God !
Little children aren't important, they contribute nothing to our social standing but they ARE people in their own right and God loves them and if He does, then so should we. So, says Jesus, if you welcome one of these little insignificant people into your life, you will be pleasing me and welcoming me and my values into your life, and if you welcome me and my values, then you will be welcoming my Father in heaven into your life as well.
The challenge has to be, are there people who we consider too insignificant to bother with. Do we put people into categories and, for whatever reason, exclude some of them from our interest. Over the past year I have been involved in a community project that seeks to reach out and touch people in every walk of life (it doesn't but certainly a wide spectrum of people) and as I have been doing this I have come to appreciate ALL people I have encountered in the community.
Jesus isn't impressed with ‘special' people or ‘important' people; he is open to all people and loves all people – significant and insignificant and he challenges our hearts to be just the same – and it is a big challenge!
194. But what about…?
Mk 9:38 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."
Before we get to Jesus' response we need to observe something of the query that John brings to Jesus. Note it is John who, in those days, was also called a Son of Thunder (Mk 3:17 ), obviously a fiery sort of individual with his brother James. The disciples, obviously apart from Jesus, had come across a man who had been delivering people from demons and he had been doing it in Jesus' name – but he wasn't one of the ones called by Jesus to follow him.
Now all of us tend to be suspicious of people who don't come from ‘our group'. Some of us are deeply suspicious of others who are not qualified like we are. The disciples had already taken on a proprietary feel about Jesus and we suspicious and perhaps looked down on others who wanted to do the same as they were doing but not with them. It's fairly understandable because we're all a bit like this. If you're a trained counsellor you are suspicious and maybe even critical of those who counsel other without credentials. If you are a lawyer you would definitely be critical of unqualified people giving legal advice.
And so the disciples take it on themselves to rebuke and challenge this man even though he was obviously successful in delivering people! (There wouldn't have been any questions if he wasn't achieving anything!) We don't know what they said but we could hazard a guess: “How dare you use our master's name; you're not part of our group. Stop doing what you are doing!”
Now the fact of the matter was, as I've already just suggested, that people were getting delivered. Now there is no magic involved in deliverance. it is simply the power of God coming against the power and presence of the powers of darkness and dispelling them from human beings. Deliverance is God using an individual to deliver another individual and so if deliverance had been taking place through this man, we have to assume that it was God working through him, because as Jesus said in another context, Satan wouldn't cast out his own people (see Mk 3:23).
No, this had to be a work of God going on even though it was not being done directly by Jesus. This man was obviously a believer in Jesus to some extent because he realised the power and authority that came with the name of Jesus; he believed in Jesus and was just getting on doing what obviously came natural to him and we must suggest it was because God had prompted him. All of this had obviously passed the disciples by as they get caught up in their defensive action to preserve the apparent integrity of their ministry. Missed it!
195. A Unifying Principle
Mk 9:39-41 "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. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.
As we previously contemplated the situation that arose and caused the disciples concern, we noted our tendency to be isolationist when we have entered into blessing. This is what this is all about, isn't it? We've come into relationship with Jesus, we've had our lives transformed, and for some of us that transformation has really been dramatic, and therein lies the danger – we look down on those who have not had the same experience, those who might (in our eyes at least) have a lesser faith, who cannot talk so clearly about the dramatic change of being born again.
Now intriguingly, Jesus does not categorise the man who had been delivering people and does not vindicate his position, but simply lays down a principle that unifies all who do good in Jesus' name. This may not be the ultimate answer about the man's state (or whether some of our friends are genuinely saved or have only had a limited experience) but it does help bring us to rest and leave it in God's hands.
Look, says Jesus by implication, we have enough trouble with those who are openly against us and criticise us. If there is anyone who does good in my name, or even go as far as performing miracles in my name, you can be sure that having done that one minute, the next minute they are not going to be turning round and criticising us. |If they are not against us – and they won't be if they use my name – then they will be for us, and surely that is a plus!
Look, he goes on, if anyone does good towards you knowing you are my disciples, even just giving you a drink of water, knowing you are mine, my Father will reward and bless them for it so, (by implication) don't be all stressed out by those who don't seem to be completely one with us. If they are on our side, on the side of my Father, even if they have not yet had the same experiences as you, don't get stressed about them!
There is within all this an important principle. When we encounter other people who appear to have some level of belief, do we look for thing that will unify us with them or do we find negatives that distinguish us from them or them from us, things that put a divide between us. Not all believers will have had exactly the same experience as you. That is God's grace, but they may still be believers, even if young ones or ones with limited experience. Don't reject them!
196. Simple Believers
Mk 9:42 And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.
What we have here is part of the ongoing flow of action and conversation that goes right back to 9:33,34 where we read, “They came to Capernaum . When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” They were back in Capernaum where Jesus had challenged them on their discussion about who was the greatest. He had then challenged them to be servant-hearted (9:35) and, taking a little child from the group in the house, challenged them to be childlike in how they respond to others (9:36,37). John had somewhat defensively leapt in and basically said, but surely we're not to accept everyone, like the guy we stopped working in your name ( 9:38 ). To this diversion Jesus had simply said isn't it better having him on our side than against us? (9:39-41).
Having dealt with one case of the disciples rejecting people, he now turns back to the little child and basically says, “And if you cause one of these little ones to turn away from me you will be in big trouble!” This is a direct follow on. They had just caused a believing man operating a deliverance ministry to stop ministering (and who knows what that left him thinking and feeling!) and so he now brings the child to the fore again and says, don't let anyone of you turn an innocent believing child away from me.
Now I think that could be applied to life situations in a variety of ways. Where there is a believing child or young person, who in the simplicity of their thinking has come to faith, Jesus warns parents, teachers and anyone else for that matter, if you try and dash their simple naïve faith, you are in trouble! It doesn't matter if they are simple and it doesn't matter if they are naive in their faith. If they believe in Jesus that is enough (they will have plenty of time as they grow up to mature their faith and come to greater understanding).
But then there are young Christians generally who, again, may appear simple and naïve in their beliefs and you wish that they would mature, but don't do or say anything that will quench their faith, because Jesus accepts them just like they are and he's quite happy that at this moment they appear to take everything on face value without thinking or questioning anything. Their time for developing, changing and growing up will come, so don't decry them or say things to put them down that might destroy their faith and leave them cynical doubters. Love them as they are.
197. Harsh Dealings
Mk 9:42 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire
never goes out
We said in the previous meditation that this all started with the subject of servant-heartedness, but Jesus has taken it on as an opportunity to teach more widely on discipleship, because that is what all these verses are actually about.
He's just previously spoken against divisive superior attitudes and the need to be open to all and sundry, the mature and the not so mature and then suddenly, it appears, he makes this apparently incredibly harsh statement. if this is what discipleship is about, it is not comfortable.
To catch its full meaning we really do need to see it in the context of what has gone before. Remember what we've just said, it's been about servant heartedness and openness to others and those are attitude things that have outworking in behaviour towards others.
But Jesus is a realist and he knows what we are like. Have you ever noticed this particular thing? We can be a good Christian, fully committed we think to God, doing all the right things, but then in one little corner of our lives we have this area of vulnerability, whether it is in respect of a particular temptation or it is a particular attitude. Let's see it in respect of relationships. We re outward going, loving and caring, but suddenly we recognise that in our thinking there is one particular person who drives us crazy, who annoys us, upsets us and makes us angry – just one person, but they are there for some reason as a little dark corner in our lives.
Or perhaps it is the case of a single action. Normally we are a good Christian, loving and caring and righteous, and then one day we are confronted by a circumstance and we handle it badly – just like the disciples and the man with the deliverance ministry. it may be a sign of an underlying wrong attitude that needs dealing with or it may just be a one-off failure.
Now our temptation is to be gentle with ourselves and write it off as something of no consequence, but Jesus knows otherwise. Jesus knows that if we don't deal with these wrong attitudes, or even wrong failures, they will grow and be repeated and if we allow them to do that, they may eventually bring about our eventual complete downfall.
Thus Jesus says these shocking words, words meant to convey the seriousness. Does he want us to do this literally? No, but he wants us to realise how incredibly important this is, this dealing with things so that they don't grow and bring us down. Think on these things and act.
Mk 9:50 Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.
Jesus brings this discussion and teaching to an end in quite a dramatic way. Possibly we are familiar with these verses, and so familiar that they have lost their tremendous significance. Now we didn't follow verse 42 to the end of that section because of the repetitive nature of it, but it was a dramatic passage : “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off ,” (v.43), “if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off,” (v.45) “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out,” (v.47) and in each case he says it's better to do that than end up in hell (v.44,45,47). That is dramatic language.
The whole of that might be summarised as, if you don't deal with the causes of sin, they may continue to cause you to sin and grow and grow until eventually your faith is zero and you have abandoned Christ and your destiny is hell. That is how important Jesus makes failing to deal with sin and so important is it, that he repeats the challenge four times in those verses.
Now he comes to the pinnacle of the challenge which in its simplicity is devastating. We come to it through, again, another chain of word uses. In speaking of hell he warns of it being a place of fire (v.48) and then he says, “Everyone will be salted with fire .” (v.49) Now commentators tend to agree that the meaning of this is unclear, but what is fairly obvious is that the reference to ‘salted' means purified. Now whether hell is a place where every being is purified and the ‘old man' or old nature is purged by fire, is not clear. Perhaps Jesus means that each one of us who are destined for hell will be purified on this earth.
The word of God should have a purifying effect upon us, bad circumstances have a purifying effect on us, and of course the working of the Holy Spirit has a purifying effect on us, so all of these things will be working to change us.
But Jesus, in other areas of his teaching has said that WE are to be salt, having a purifying effect upon this world: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Mt 5:13)
Now here is the terrible thing: if we fail to heed all of Jesus' warning in these verses we will lose out salt-effect and once that happens there is nothing you can do to restore it. You may think that you can get away with it, but if you don't deal with your sin it will eventually overcome you and there is no hope of return!