Stumbling Forward in Peace Together (Mark 9:38-50)

Introduction

A while ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop waiting for someone; the whole time I was there, I could sense some tension on a table within my ears reach. I could not hear what was being said, but you feel the tension in the tone and body language that accompanied the conversation; it was not long until one party stood up abruptly, put their hands on the table and said loudly enough to make everyone look: “I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS!” and then stormed out. They had definitely fallen out! I wonder how many times we have offended people in the last month?

According to one article married couples fight on average about 312 times a year; “discussions” that are most likely to happen between 8-10PM for about 10 minutes!1 Then another survey found that UK parents have on average 2,184 arguments with the children a year! That about 42 a week and apparently parents spend around 49 minutes daily “discussing” with children.2 Fall outs are not even limited to the family sphere, as according to one other research survey: 66% of people who responded said they had lost 90% of their friends over the last decade, while only 55% have kept the same “best friends” for over 10 years and 8% of respondents admitted to having no close friends at all.3 Humanity is forever seems to be fighting, falling out, and disagreeing with one another.

“That’s just the way of the world!” we might tell ourselves as we sit in church, we are not like that. Christians might fight now and then, but generally, we are far more peaceful! Blessed are the peacemakers said Jesus; Yet, there are over 45,000 different expressions of Christianity, and one 2005 survey found that out of around 1000 local churches, 84 of them suffered a split or fall out with their denomination!4 The world is constantly fighting with one another, and so it seems is the church! We seem to look a lot like the world when it comes to how we live with one another, yet, when we read through the New Testament, we see time and time again that Disciples of Jesus and the Kingdom of God are meant to look nothing like the world and confront the world by how different we live!

The Way of the World is not the Way of the Kingdom

Where the world might clamber over one another to reach the top, in the Kingdom, the last are first, and the first are last. The way of the world is to gather all we can and trust in possessions; in the Kingdom, we give joy because we have received our all in Christ. The world’s way pits us against one another in the name of success; in the Kingdom, we serve one another in love because we all stand equal in Christ and in need of Christ. Finally, where the world is constantly fighting and at war with one another to in the name of power; in the Kingdom of God, we are to be at peace with one another and can concern ourselves with the simplest acts of service – the giving of a cup of water to another worker in the Gospel. Why? Because through Christ, we have found all we need and more, the source of true contentment and peace. Thus, we should be at peace with one another (those God are at peace with)

1. Context: When Forces Collide

The chapters that precede our passage are full of conflict as Jesus proclaims the good news and lives out the way of the Kingdom. He is confronted by different opposing forces: Pharisees, demons, sickness and even his own disciples. In the moments after Peters declaration of Jesus as Messiah and the conflict that followed that Jesus shows how to counter to the way of the world, the Kingdom of God is by predicting his crucifixion and resurrection death coupled with the beauty of the transfiguration where the disciples limited. The narrative seemingly affirming this as a beautiful thing and the way of God by placing the transfiguration straight after. From that mountain top experience, the few disciples and Jesus descended down into a scene of chaos and frustration as the reminding disciples tried to deal with a demon-possessed boy. Jesus rebuked the frustrated disciples and reminded them that these things required less of them and more of God (in prayer). Jesus demonstrated the power of the Peace of God as he set the boy free from the grips of darkness.

As I read this, I found myself wondering how much the disciples ‘lack of success’ in dealing with the boy affected their response to the apparent ‘success’ of the unnamed disciples? Did they consider the unnamed disciple’s success through a lens of jealously and insecurity – him succeeding where they had failed and then perhaps fear how it might affect their standing in the Jesus circle? Did they even hear Jesus instructing them that it required not more effort or power from them but more of God – prayer. In that situation and every Kingdom situation, we must step back and give it to God in prayer. In the Kingdom, it is never about our strength; it is about the God we worship. The way of the Kingdom is to confront the forces of the Darkness with humility, service, sacrifice, and prayer as we look not to ourselves but God.

Who is the Greatest: Still being formed by the World

The disciples reveal how much the world is still deforming their understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus as they ponder earthly notions of power and status. “Who of them is the greatest?” is not a question we ask in the Kingdom. They are fighting amongst themselves with false illusions of status as they seek to transfer old ideas into the new Kingdom of God. They still grasp that the first will be last and the last will be first, and the greatest will be found in weakness. Jesus confronts their earthly notions of the Kingdom as he uses the innocence of a child to teach about the normality of the Kingdom of the Cross:

“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.”5

In the Kingdom, there is no rivalry between citizens because we do not clamber for positions or power; we live as those who have received: thus, as our heart is transformed by Christ to be like Christ, it is opened to and welcomes ( and not threatened by ) others and outsiders. The Lesson is incarnated by Jesus use of a child – in the Kingdom even a lowly child (often marginalised in Jesus time6) is seen and received – valued. It is a picture of contrast’s – The disciples are concerned with earthly notions of status and power, yet, in the Kingdom of God, because we are at peace with one another through the Cross, there is no hierarchy or status, only grace. As disciples, we see no threat in others but live out the peace we have received. Where the world will pursue power, the Kingdom priorities the way of humility and lowliness. To do so is not only to live like Jesus but receive him and enjoy the beauty of our Grace-received relationship with Jesus and God the Father through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Passage: Mark 9:38-43,45,47-50 NIV

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” 39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. You should enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. You should enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where “ ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

49 Everyone will be salted with fire. 50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

2. We Are on the Same Team (38-41)

No sooner have they been taught not to think in terms of earthly notions of status do they display fruits of such thinking by raising themselves above another unnamed disciple by their proximity to Jesus. It is amazing how little the disciples seem to get it as they walk with Jesus and hear him teach. He has again told them to set aside the ways of the world and live out the welcome of the Kingdom encapsulated by the example of the child and the ultimate humble act – the giving of a cup of water. Yet, the fruits of their failure just before when it came to dealing with the demon-possessed boy seems to inform how they react to the success of the unnamed disciple. They were thinking with an earthly tribal lens and not the lens of the Kingdom. Hence Jesus rebuked them:

“Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” 7

Jesus was teaching them that in the Kingdom, all stumble forward together because they are at peace with one another and God through the Cross. Specifically, in the matters of the Kingdom, those who minister in the name of Christ are all on the same team and serving the same end – the Glory of God because “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Jesus is reminding the disciples that we are all on the same team! A team that we are on through grace, not effort. We bring nothing to the team, yet, through Grace God invites us on to it and gives us purpose through service. Thus, all who join it do so knowing their lack and need of Christ and that on this team, all are equal in status, position, and prestige. Yet, sometimes we might forget it; hence Jesus points out that this unnamed disciple is hardly going to do a good thing in his Name one minute then turn around and speak against him in another!

In the Kingdom, we are all on the same team, so we focus on our tasks and responsibility and leave the rest up to God because our reward is not in what might come from any task but in God already and yet even more! Indeed (verse 41), God notices the smallest and most insignificant acts of our Kingdom service: giving a cup of water for Christ. A hospitable and humble act that contrasts to worldly notions of status and power. God will see and honour because, in the Kingdom, we all serve together to the same end, so we do not need to see threats between one another. Indeed we must delight when others are successful and bring Glory to God. Our humility and honouring of one another, our being at peace with our brothers and sisters (in Christ), confronts the conflicts and competitions of the world as people strive for status, power, and positions. That peace with one another displays the beauty of God’s peace to the world. Hence it is important to live wisely and protect it; lessons Jesus gives in our next section!

3. CHOOSING PEACE: LIVING WISELY (42-48)

In the next section of the passage, Jesus challenges the Disciples to seek peace by being wise about their lives and aware of how it might affect others. People hate simple advice often because it’s right, and we just do not want to see it. before I worked for the church, I worked in an IT Support role, and eighty per cent of support queries would often be solved with that most basic of IT solutions: “off and on again.” When I used to say it to people over the phone, they thought you were questioning their intelligence, so I tended to find more creative ways of getting them to do the same thing: “I need you to rest the kernel…” I would ask the enquirer, and after they had asked how I would say the best way is to restart your device. Yet, we do not have the luxury of fancy language to deal with the severity of this situation and the simplicity of the advice that Jesus offers. The severity of the situation is our sin and its effects on others and us: the advice, we must deal with it. The situation is simple and the solution as such, and there is great beauty in the logic that is offered by Jesus to the disciples and all who might follow him.

The Severity of the Situation

Jesus warns all who are listening about the dangers of how our personal sin might affect others who believe in Him and how seriously God takes such things. The word translated here as “to stumble” gives the image of causing someone to fall over or be trapped. If that happens because of us, then it would be better for us to have a millstone hung around our neck and be thrown into the sea (a gruesome form of pagan execution) than to continue living in such a way that affects others in the Kingdom.8 God took sin so seriously that he sent his son to suffer its effects for us, and through Grace, we have received forgiveness and new life, yet, we are also those who know the seriousness of sin and its effects in the world even after grace, so we deal with it in the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence, if we are at peace with God and seek to live out that peace as witnesses among our Kingdom brothers and sisters, we will be aware of the severity of sin and choose to live wisely in dealing with it.

Additionally, we see the seriousness of sin and its effects on Jesus in the drastic imagery of the advice Jesus gives. Namely, it is better to act now in this life than suffer the effects of sin for the age to come – a reminder that decisions now have eternal consequences. To not deal with sin now is a sign that our hearts do not belong to God. Thus we are walking the road that leads to death (v46), where the fire never goes out (v45) and where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched’ (v47). Remember Jesus is speaking to his disciples – to people who will love him and serve him, people who have grasped their own sin, its’ eternal consequences and how it separates them from God – people who have received peace from God through grace! Thus, people will choose to deal with sin because their hearts are oriented to the things of God and not the ways of the world; Hence, in peace, they want to help others along the road. Thus, the question we must ponder is: are we serious about our sin, its effects on those around us and its’ eternal consequences?

Some Wisdom for living Peacefully

The priority of the Kingdom and our Disciples is God and his Glory; thus, we will do what needs to be done to further the cause of the Kingdom and those who work to its end. The thrust of Jesus advice is quite simple: if something is causing sin, then deal with it! The same advice with three different images is not literal but logical – if something is causing us to sin, then we must deal with the root.

First up is those wretched hands; if one of them is causing us to sin then, cut it off! It is betters to live life one-handed now than to know the judgment of God. If your foot is causing you to stumble, cut it off because it is better to limp through life now than to walk through hell two-footed! Finally, Jesus warns us about our sight: if your eye is causing you to sin, then remove it, better to wear an eye patch now than to see eternal separation from God. Again this advice is not literal. Jesus is not telling us to mane ourselves to deal with sin; because, of course, which one eye sees in sin, the other one will, and thus we should probably remove both. However, the point of advice is clear – we must deal with sin.

Additionally, if we are at peace with God and others in the Kingdom, we will be intentional about dealing with our sin that affects others on their walk because we are all working for the same cause. Thus we will all do what is necessary. That intentionally is a fruit of our living peace because we love our brothers and sisters in Christ; we will serve them (and the Kingdom) by dealing with the things in our lives that affect others. Be done to protect that which is valuable to us in the Kingdom. It is about dealing with sin. The question we must ponder then: What in our lives are we neglecting that affects others in the family of faith and the general mission of God, and how can we deal with it and bring it to God to live out our witness of peace and our call to be salt?

4. OUR WITNESS: PEACE IN A WORLD AT WAR (49-50)

We live in a world that is constantly fighting; as people strive to gather and get ahead, they see threats and rivals everywhere. The reality is that if you are born, you will come into difficulty in life because sin afflicts the world. This seems to be the truth is the truth Jesus is referring to in verse 49 of this passage which seems to act as some sort of bridge between the wisdom of verses 42-48 and fruit that is born out of such a life in verse 50.

Specifically, the ‘fire’ in verses 49-50 seems to be a purifying fire, not one of judgment. The inference seems to be that God will make the realities of the world a transformative experience for his children. Hence Jesus states: “Everyone will be salted with fire” because no matter who we are in the world, we can guarantee that the effects of the world will affect us. Yet, in the Kingdom, this reality is reorientated because of who Christ is and what he has done – The Cross. The Cross of Jesus reminds us that God can use the worse of the world for the greatest of his glory. Yes, the world will seek to stifle what God is doing in us and through us, but God in his providence will use all things to aid his purposes in us and through us, helping us become salt and distinct. Disciples are called to be salt, distinct in a mundane world. Part of what marks our distinctiveness (our saltiness) is that amid a world in conflict, we live and peace with one another in the Kingdom.

Specifically, we do not see threats in other people; we do not need to gather possessions or seek new positions because in Christ we have all that we need and more, so we choose to seek peace. That seeking of peace is part of our salty distinctiveness, and even that will draw the ere of the world. Yet, nevertheless because of our contentment in Christ we can rest amid the conflicts of the world and live for him, maintaining the counter-cultural values of the Kingdom9 as we live at witness to Christ.

When you read back over this passage and even the disciples’ conversation about the greatness, you realise that Jesus has been teaching the disciples the realities of peace in their lives. They do not need to worry about who is the greatest in the Kingdom because in the Kingdom, all are equal and at peace with one another; they do not need to be threatened by the Kingdom work of other citizens because we are on the same team working to the same end. Hence we are at peace with one another. Thus, in our wisdom, we will choose to deal with the sin in our own lives that might affect others walking the road of discipleship because we are all stumbling forward together, so we act to deal with our sin because we are at peace with God and each other. Nothing will get in the way of our mission to build the kingdom and bring glory to God. So today, as we stumble forward together, let us know the peace of God and bears its fruit’s in our living as we have salt in ourselves and live at peace with one another.

5. Conclusion: Keep Going

Today then, as we live in the peace of Christ and seek to live out the peace of Christ, let us be a people who avoid the perils of tribalism and the way’s of rivalry, rather than being threatened by the Kingdom success of others we will be a people who delight if someone is ministering for Jesus because we are all on the same team working to the same end, and we are at peace. Hence because of our peace with God and then our peace with one another, we delight in the success of the others because it will be God who gets the Glory. Then let us be a people who are serious about sin and its effects on others who walk the same Road. A people who help our peace will willingly deal with the things in our lives afflicting others.

Finally, we are those who are aware that part of our witness in this world (about the world to come) is that we have a peace that transcends the world and is made known in the world by how we live. Yet, because of our counter-cultural ways, we expect persecution and difficulty but trust that God will use them to do His work in us. Namely, God is so good and in control that all the world’s devices are used by God for his purposes in and through his disciples. The Cross is the ultimate example of this truth and hope. Hence, because of this certainty and our trust in God goodness and sovereign rule, we are free to live like salt as we incarnate distinct counter-cultural values and influence in the world for the Glory of God and the cause of Christ. One of which is the fact that we are at peace among ourselves. In a world full of conflict and hostility, we in the Kingdom display a different World and way by making known of God’s peace among ourselves.

The world will bring enough hostility, so in radical counter-cultural living, we chose to be at peace with one another: not clambering for positions; not being fearful of those who we do not know in the kingdom, but honouring, loving and serving them as we serve the same King; finally, as we increase that peace among ourselves by being aware of sin and its effects and choosing to deal with it. Today, let us have salt ourselves and be at peace with each other as we stumble forward together for the cause of Christ in a world of conflict.

  1. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1348308/Couples-argue-312-year-likely-8pm-10-minutes.html
  2. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/family-arguing-spend-time-minutes-day-a8464581.html
  3. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3379362/New-study-reveals-two-thirds-Americans-lost-90-cent-pals-course-decade-romantic-relationships-blame.html
  4. The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition., Mk 9:37). London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  5. Seen as lacking personhood
  6. Mark 9:39 – ESV
  7. The Millstone refers to a large stone that was so heavy it had to be turned by donkeys when used.
  8. Matthew 5:13–16
    13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
    14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (ESV)

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