Below is the transcript to the sermon I preached yesterday. (I do substitute preaching at small churches.) Audio link here.
This is a challenging lectionary passage in a couple ways.
#1, It covers several issues, and could easily be a 3 or 4 week sermon series to properly delve into it. But I only have one shot here.
#2, It has tough content. Some could be shocked to hear from Jesus such frightening and tough words about sin and hell.
I actually considered disregarding the lectionary and preaching on an easier passage this morning, but in doing that I felt that I’d become part of the problem. – What problem is that?
I fear that too many Christians today follow a lopsided Jesus. We focus on things Jesus said and did that comfort us. And we avoid or overlook things that Jesus said and did that convict us and challenge us.
What we WANT to hear and what we NEED to hear can be very different. There is danger in surrounding ourselves with voices that only comfort and never challenge.
We can become spiritually sluggish and sleepy, and we need to be woken up from our slumber. We may need a spiritual alarm clock. [Plan was to have an alarm clock ring at this point! But I left it in my bag. Doh. So I improvised…listen to audio.]
Do you know of E. Stanley Jones? He was a well-known United Methodist missionary to India in the first half of the 20th century. In 1938, Time magazine identified him as “the world’s greatest missionary evangelist.” He has also been called the Billy Graham of India.
E Stanley Jones said this: “I spent half of my time trying to convert the world to Christ and the other half of my time trying to convert the church to Christ.”
Trying to convert the church to Christ.
Some Christians need to be re-introduced to Jesus. They have created a false Jesus of their own making. Jesus is their “yes-man” if you know that phrase – someone who endorses or supports without criticism everything you say or do.
But many things Jesus said should challenge us, convict us…wake us up from our slumber. Yes, Jesus loves us. But love does not preclude saying hard things sometimes.
Let’s look at this passage in Mark. In the opening verses, the disciples are concerned because they saw someone who was not part of their inner circle who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus – and they wanted to forbid this person from doing it. But Jesus said: don’t stop him, “for whoever is not against us is for us.”
Does this mean that the name of Jesus can’t be misused? As long as the name of Jesus is used, everything is okay? – I don’t think so, because that would conflict with some other things Jesus said. For example, in Matthew 7 Jesus said:
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Tough words from our Lord. The name of Jesus can be misused and misrepresented. Charlatans can use Christianity to take advantage of people. There are true and false disciples out there.
In Mark 9 Jesus said “whoever is not against us is for us” while over in Matthew 12 Jesus said “whoever is not with me is against me.”
I think these two statements, taken together, declare the impossibility of neutrality when it comes to Christ. We are either for Jesus or against him. There is no middle ground. It is not sufficient to think that Jesus was a good teacher and pick out certain things that Jesus said that we like, and exclude other things he said that we don’t like.
Jesus was a teacher, but he was much more than that. He was God Incarnate who came to earth to die for the sin of the world. We can overlook this amazing miracle. It is the greatest miracle in the Bible. God came to earth and lived a human life as our Lord Jesus Christ. Either this is true, or it is not true. We believe or we do not believe. And as a result – We live for Jesus, or we don’t live for Jesus.
Here in Mark, I think Jesus knew that this man casting our demons in His Name was for him and not against him – and the disciples were being unnecessarily critical. This is a warning about not being sectarian – of thinking that only our denomination or our little corner of Christianity is getting it right. There are Christians out there who think that if you are not Baptist like they are, or Methodist like they are, or Presbyterian like they are – that you are missing it.
Back in my 20’s, I was unfortunately guilty of this at times. I tried really hard to convince someone I knew that they needed to leave the type of church they were in and join mine. My view of genuine Christianity was too narrow. I was like the disciples in this Mark 9 passage.
I attend Covenant UMC in Greer and once in a sermon our Pastor, Darren Hook, mentioned that the pastor of a nearby church of another denomination (Baptist I think) called to let him know that they were praying for Covenant – and that we would be successful in reaching people for Christ and making disciples. Apparently this church picks a church in the area every month to pray for. I was very touched by this, and so was Pastor Darren. Whether we are Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian, we are all in this together as followers of Jesus.
Those who share a common faith in Christ should cooperate and encourage each other.
But we need to move into the next part of this passage. Jesus says these hard things about cutting off our hand or foot, or gouging out our eye – if it causes us to sin – because it is better to be maimed than to be thrown into hell, where the fire never goes out. – Oh my.
If we have personally trusted Christ as our Savior from sin, we need not fear hell. We all know the famous gospel verse John 3:16. Verses 17-18, go on to say:
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
There is good news and bad news here. If we have believed, we are not condemned. We need not fear hell. Romans 8 says that nothing can separate the believer from God’s love. If you need some assurance about that this morning, read Romans 8 this afternoon. Our sin was dealt with at the cross of Calvary. You can rest in God’s great love and salvation.
But if we have not believed, we are condemned. We either believe, or we don’t believe. We are either for Jesus, or we are against Jesus. Remember there is no place for being neutral when it comes to Jesus. We can’t sit on the fence. We must get off the fence.
To not decide — is to be condemned.
“whoever does not believe stands condemned already”
But even if we have believed and are thus not condemned, sin is still a serious thing. We should not take sin lightly, because that makes light of what Jesus did for us. Jesus died for our sin, and we should live in a way that honors our Savior – not in a way that dishonors him.
We should be concerned about sin in our life. And Jesus used strong and startling language to stress the importance of dealing with sin. It may require drastic action.
We may need to… give up a relationship, stop going to a certain place, limit our use of technology, ask a friend to hold us accountable because we can’t trust our self. Such things may be hard and painful to do, just like cutting off our hand or gouging out our eye.
The word methodist came to be used because John Wesley and his associates were quite methodical in their approach to the spiritual life and held each other in loving accountability in small group meetings. The very purpose of these small group meetings was to be open and honest about sin.
In fact, in each meeting, the 4 following questions had to be answered by each participant: What known sins have you committed since our last meeting? What temptations have you met with? How were you delivered? What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
– Those questions are intense and personal, aren’t they? And the point was not for the participants to judge and condemn each other, but to pray for each other and help each other make progress in Christian holiness.
If you have trusted Christ as Savior, you are not condemned. Not just anyone could be a participant in one of these accountability groups. You had to first answer some questions, one being: Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ? That’s the starting point. You realize you stand secure before God because of what Jesus did for you, and this is your foundation as you live the Christian life.
If we rarely feel challenged as we live our Christian life,
if there is little sin that we struggle with in our life
– I think this is a warning sign that something is wrong.
We need that spiritual alarm clock to wake us up.
I think a degree of struggle in the Christian life is a sign of spiritual life and vitality. It is a good thing! We are not spiritually dead or apathetic, we are awake and alive!
Don’t misunderstand – the Christian life is not a hopeless struggle. Rather, we just need a realistic view. The path of true Christian discipleship will involve tough decisions and self-denial. Jesus was upfront and straightforward about this fact.
If we are finding the Christian life primarily one of ease, I think some spiritual self-examination is in order.
Are you truly living as a Christian in this world?
Are you allowing the teachings of Jesus to impact you down in your heart and soul?
Pray to be spiritually alert, not sluggish.
Pray for an awareness of the sin in your life, so that you can overcome it.
Read through one of the Gospels and pray to see Jesus, and your own everyday life, with fresh eyes and with an eternal perspective.
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