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Mark 9:30-50: Misconceptions About Following Jesus Print E-mail
Sunday, 14 October 2007

As I have mentioned before, when I was in college I took a trip to the Holy Land.  One of my favorite professors was leading the trip and was encouraging me to go, so I decided to spend three weeks in Israel traveling from Dan to Beersheba (literally).  I was very excited about seeing all the different places from the Bible and I had a real expectation about how being there would bring me ‘closer’ to the Lord.  Yet, when we arrived and started traveling around to the different ‘traditional’ sites for certain events, I was somewhat disappointed.  In particular, my visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was not what I expected.  This Church in Jerusalem houses the traditional sites for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.  I thought this would be a solemn place, but when I entered it was noisy and crowded, being filled with many tourists from many different faiths.  My misconceptions about visiting the Holy Land were repeatedly corrected throughout my time there.

We often have certain misconceptions in our lives that need to be corrected.  For whatever reason, we come to false conclusions about a certain matter which need to be made right.  As we have seen over the past couple of weeks, many of those around Jesus had misconceptions about who He was and what He had come to do.  In our passage this morning, we see that the disciples had misconceptions about what it would mean to follow Jesus.  Jesus is continuing to reveal to them what this would mean. 

Look at verses 30-32.  For the second time, Mark records Jesus telling the twelve disciples that He will be killed and raised again.  Last time, Peter rebuked Jesus for saying such.  Yet, this time, even though they do not understand it all, they are cautious enough not to question Him about it (perhaps because they are beginning to understand that following Him will cost them as well).  Following this statement of their struggle to understand, Mark gives us examples of the misconceptions that the disciples had about following Jesus at this point.  I want us to consider three of these misconceptions and how Jesus corrects them.

First misconception: Following Jesus means being great and being served (v. 33-37).

Mark tells us that while traveling the disciples were discussing among themselves who was the greatest.  Look at verses 33-34.  Mark does not give us any details about the conversation, but it could be in response to the fact that Jesus had told them that He would soon be killed and they were wondering who would take the leadership role in His absence.  In regards to the larger context, they could be discussing this because of the three who were given the special privilege of accompanying Jesus up the mountain.  Either way, for whatever reason, the disciples are concerned about who among them is the greatest.  Of course, when Jesus questions them about their discussion, they immediately recognize their arrogance and Mark tells us that they kept silent.  They knew it was wrong, but they could not help wondering who was the greatest among them.  Their pride and arrogance got the best of them.  They assumed that following Jesus had to bring greatness on the earth.

Yet, Jesus corrects them in verses 35-37.  Look at those verses with me.  Jesus realizes the seriousness of their error and so He calls them together, sits them down, and teaches them an important lesson about following Him: If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.  Jesus then takes up a child into His arms and tells them that they must receive the humble and the insignificant if they are to going to receive Him.  Following Him was not about having great status or being the one that others served.  Rather, Following Jesus means becoming a servant to others, especially to children, or to those who are thought of as insignificant.

Humility is not optional in following Jesus.  You cannot be worried about your status here on the earth and follow hard after Him.  Followers of Jesus will not act like that.  After all, the very One that they are following is the One who left His heavenly home, took on flesh, dwelled among the lowly, served the despised, and died a humiliating death.  If anyone deserved servants, it was Him.  If anyone deserved royal treatment, it was Him.  If anyone deserved to be called the greatest, it was Him.  Yet, He came to serve.  Thus, all who follow Him must humble themselves and serve others, even as He did.  Any discussion about who is the greatest, or even who is greater, is futile in light of the One that we follow.  May we put pride to death and humbly serve the One who so faithfully served us first.

Second misconception: Following Jesus means rejecting those outside our circle (v.38-41).

This error is similar to the first, but needs to be highlighted because of the next story in our passage.  Look at verse 38.  Mark notes that this statement was made by John, but it seems that the other disciples agreed with it.  So, what is their problem with this person casting out demons in Jesus’ name?  They do not like it because he was not following us.  Seemingly, what they mean by this is that he is not one of the twelve, he does not share their status with Jesus, thus, he does not need to be casing out demons in Jesus’ name. 

Again, as we saw in the previous story, they are concerned about their status.  They do not like it that others are doing what they are supposed to do.  It is interesting that the person is casting out demons, the very activity that the disciples failed to do earlier in this chapter (see 9:14ff).  Maybe it is jealousy and envy, maybe it is just pride, but for whatever reason, the disciples are rejecting those outside of their circle.

Yet, Jesus corrects them in verses 39-41.  Look at those verses with me.  The disciples are not concerned with the fact that the mighty act that this man has done in casting demons out is actually a good thing.  Apparently, they are more concerned with the fact that he is taking attention away from them with this mighty work.  Yet, Jesus will have none of that.  He tells them that if the man is not against us, then he is for us and we should not be against him.  He then tells them that even the smallest service that is done for those who belong to Christ, precisely because they belong to Christ, will not lose their reward.  Thus, following Jesus means accepting the help of those outside our circle, or those not like us, or those not against us.

The reason why I wanted to keep this error separate from the previous one is that it is such a subtle form of pride in our lives.  We oppose people who are not in our circle for all of the wrong reasons, all the while justifying what we do.  We as Southern Baptists have been very guilty of this.  We oppose other denominations for not believing like we do and refuse to rejoice at their successes in ministry.  Now let me be clear, I am not saying, nor do I think that Jesus is saying, that we should just support everybody and every action by those who claim the name of Christ.  No, we must use discernment, but we cannot let differences on miner issues prevent us from celebrating the work of God in other Churches and denominations. 

I fear that our status as ‘largest American denomination’ has caused us to respond like John to true instances of a mighty work of God.  We have to come to grips with the fact that God will use all types and that all of Jesus’ disciples are not members of Southern Baptist Churches.  We must be careful that we do not reject the ministries of those outside our circle because of our own pride or arrogance. 

Third misconception: Following Jesus means taking sin lightly (v. 42-50).

It is hard to know exactly why Mark brings these different teachings of Jesus together.  As we have seen, he is emphasizing discipleship, but we are not told what sparked this teaching of Jesus in verses 42-50.  Yet, I do think that the misconception of taking sin lightly was a problem among many of the first followers of Jesus.  In fact, we see Paul correcting this error on many occasions (Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 5:13).  Seemingly, many thought that the grace of God meant that we could live however we want to and still follow after Jesus.  To use the terms of Paul, they were using their freedom in Christ as an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). 

Yet, Jesus corrects them in verses 42-50.  Look at verse 42.  First, Jesus warns against causing others to sin, particularly young believers.  The imagery that Jesus uses has lost some of its sting due to its familiarity.  Yet, hear it again: it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.  This is a serious warning.  Even in my own life, I have often taken this and other charges against not causing others to sin too lightly.  We must be very careful in how we use our freedom in Christ.  Look at verses 43-50.

Second, Jesus warns against causing ourselves to sin.  Once again, the familiarity of the imagery lessens the blow to us.  But did you hear what Jesus said?  Brothers and sisters, we need to take serious action against our sin.  Why be concerned about hands or feet or eyes if they are leading us to Hell?  Let me ask it this way: why be concerned about TV if it is leading you to Hell?  Why be concerned about the internet if it is leading you to Hell?  Why be concerned about certain relationships if they are leading you to Hell?  Why be concerned about your job if it is leading you to Hell?  Do you get the point?  We must be willing to take the hard steps to be radical in our obedience.  The cost is too great for us to ignore this. 

Whatever you need to do to remove temptation from your life should be done.  Granted, I do not believe that Jesus means this literally, but that does not mean that the warning is not serious.  We need to take action.  Better to be without entertainment, without friends, without money, than to be on the road to Hell with them.  Following Jesus does not mean taking sin lightly, it means radical obedience.  Yes, this will be hard, but better to salted with the fire of the difficulty of following Jesus (v. 49), which is temporary, than to be thrown in the fire that never dies.

All of the corrections that Jesus offers to these misconceptions about following Him can be summed up in what He has already said: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (8:34).  This is the overarching principle of following Jesus.  There is no place for pride or status.  There is no place for excluding people because they are outside of our circle.  There is no place for taking sin lightly.  No, the call to follow Jesus is a call to die to self, including all of these areas and more.  May we be a people whose misconceptions about following Jesus have been corrected by the Word of God.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 25 October 2007 )

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