The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

October 3, 2021

Mark 9:38-50

Live Your Life—

In Jesus’ Name!

 

“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.”  “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.  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.  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.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, 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, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’  Everyone will be salted with fire.  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.”  (NIV1984)

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

 

Names are something that we generally take for granted.  And yet, people often take a long time to decide on just the right name for their newborn child.  When you stop to think about it, picking a name for a new pet is comparatively easy.  You can choose a pet’s name based on things such as their personality or their markings. Picking a name for your child— now that’s far more complicated, isn’t it.  Sometimes parents will pick their child’s first name based on how it fits with their last name.  Sometimes parents will pick their child’s name simply because they like that name.  Sometimes parents will pick their child’s name in order to honor someone in the family.  If a child’s name is chosen to honor someone in else in the family, there can be a strong encouragement for the child to “live up” to that name.

 

No matter what name our parents gave to us and no matter why our parents gave us our name, the most important name that you and I have been given is the name our God gave to us when we were baptized into His Name!  On the day of our Baptism we were given the name— Christian.  Since we are Christians, since we are disciples, followers of Jesus Christ we need to ask ourselves, “How well am I living up to the Name my God has given to me?”

 

Our sermon text for today reminds us that since we are Christians, since we are His disciples (Pointing to the cross) our lives need to openly reflect that glorious truth.  With that reality in mind let’s study our text under the theme:  Live Your Life— In Jesus’ Name!  Living our lives in Jesus’ Name will lead us to do two things.  First, living our life in Jesus’ Name will lead us to replace criticism with commendation.  Second, living our life in Jesus’ Name will lead us to recognize and remove our own sinful tendencies.

 

Our text for today picks up right where last week’s text ended.  Last week we saw that when Jesus’ disciples argued with each other about “who was the greatest” Jesus sat them down and taught them that instead of trying to figure out which of them was the “greatest,” their goal in life needs to center on striving to have the simple, humble faith of a child.  Were the disciples listening to Jesus?  Did the disciples understand what Jesus was trying to teach them?  I honestly don’t know.  Why?  Look at the opening verse of our text for today. Mark writes, “’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.’”

 

Why was John upset?  Was it because someone was helping people by “driving demons” out of them?  No, it was not.  Was it because someone was “driving demons” out of people by using the power of Jesus’ Name?  No, it was not.  John was upset because the person who was “driving demons out in (Jesus’) name”— “was not one of us.”  You may recall that when Jesus sent out the Twelve in His Name, He specifically gave them the power and the authority to “drive out” demons.  (See Mark 3:13-18; 6:7-13).  Since this person was not “one of us,” that is, since this person was not one of the Twelve, John and the other apostles told him to stop!

 

It seems as though John and the other apostles were being overzealous in protecting Jesus’ “name”— and perhaps protecting the power and the authority that Jesus had graciously given to them.  Did Jesus agree with His apostles?  Not at all!  Jesus not only sided with the person who was helping others by “driving out demons in (Jesus’) name,” but He said to His disciples, “Do not stop him.  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.”

 

Here is where we see that living our life in Jesus’ Name leads us to replace criticism with commendation.  Instead of condemning the man who was using the power of Jesus’ Name to do something as glorious as “driving demons” out of others, John and the rest of the Twelve could have and should have commended him!  Why?  Because as Jesus told them, “whoever is not against us is for us.”  Even if someone does not have an “official” title or an “official” position in the church, as long as they are not doing something “against” Jesus they are to be commended for whatever they do “in Jesus’ name” — even if they do something as simple as give a cup of water to someone because that person “belongs to Christ,” because that person is a fellow believer!

 

We would do well to take this truth to heart, my friends, as we strive to live our lives in Jesus’ Name.  When someone’s faith in Jesus, when someone’s love for Jesus motivates them to reach out and help someone with even the smallest act of kindness, instead of criticizing them because maybe they are not “one of us,” we need to commend that person.  Commend them for living their life in Jesus’ Name!  Commend them for letting their faith shine brightly in their life. Commend them for setting a wonderful Christian example for others to follow— perhaps even for us to follow!

 

Living our life in Jesus’ Name will not only lead us to replace criticism with commendation, but living our life in Jesus’ Name will also lead us to closely examine our own heart and our own life to see where we need to recognize and remove our own sinful tendencies.  Look at how that truth is brought out in verses 42-48 of our text.  Jesus says to us, “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.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut if off.  It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, 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, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”

 

Wow!  While the power of these words is undeniable and while the picture that Jesus paints here is unforgettable, how are we to apply these words to ourselves as we strive to live our life in Jesus’ Name?  I see two applications here.  The first application centers on Jesus words to avoid, “causing one of these little ones who believe in me to sin.”  Who are these “little ones”?  Since Jesus had taken “a little child and had him stand” among His disciples, our Lord is most certainly warning us against harming a child’s faith in Jesus.  This would include making sure that we do not do anything or say anything that could cause a little child to stumble in their faith or to question their faith.  This also includes doing everything we can to avoid the “Do as I say— not as I do!” trap that is so very easy to fall into.  Jesus is so serious and so adamant that we do not “cause one of these little ones who believe in (Jesus) to sin,” that He warns us of the severe punishment that someone who does this deserves to receive.

 

However, the definition of the “little ones who believe in (Jesus)” is not limited to just young children.  It also includes those who are “young” in faith, those who are new to the Christian faith, those whose faith is immature.  Instead of criticizing them, instead of belittling them, instead of dismissing them we are to help them “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  If we haven’t seen them in church for a while, we can remind them of how important it is for our soul to be strengthened by regular use of God’s holy Word and Sacrament.  If they are having difficulties with something that the Bible teaches, we can refresh our own understanding of that teaching and then help them to see and rejoice in what our God has revealed to us.  If they are struggling to live their life “in Jesus’ name” we can do everything we can to not only set a good example for them to follow, but we may also volunteer to mentor them.

 

That brings us to the second application of the powerful picture that Jesus paints for us this morning.  When Jesus talks about “cutting off” our hand or “cutting off” our foot or “plucking out” our eye if they “cause us to sin”— does He mean that literally?  Does Jesus actually want us to “cut off” the parts of our body that “cause us to sin”?  The answer is both “Yes!” and “No!”  No, cutting off our hand or cutting off our foot or plucking out our eyes cannot guarantee that we will no longer sin.  In fact, Jesus Himself tells us that sin “comes out of men’s hearts” (Matthew 7:20-23).

 

At the same time, we can say “Yes— Jesus actually literally means what He says here in our text!”  Jesus wants us to understand that anything that leads us away from God, anything that takes our focus off of what He has done for us (Pointing to the cross), anything that endangers or damages or weakens our relationship with our Savior God needs to be dealt with and if necessary, it needs to be “removed” from our life.  This could mean turning off the television, filtering where we surf on the Internet and censoring the music that we listen to.  This could mean “cutting off” friends who are having a negative influence on our faith and/or our life.  This means doing whatever is necessary so that we are not “thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”

 

Living our life in Jesus’ Name is not an easy thing to do, my friends.  It means that we need to replace criticism with commendation.  It means that we need to recognize and remove our own sinful tendencies.  How can we possibly do this?  On our own— we can’t.  If we try to do this on our own— we will fail.  That’s why Jesus says to us in the closing verses of our text, “Everyone will be salted with fire.  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.”

 

At first glance these words might sound rather confusing.  We know that salt was and still is used to season our food and/or to preserve our food.  What does Jesus mean then when He says that we will be “salted with fire”?  These words of our Lord become clear when we understand that the “salt” Jesus is talking about here refers to the holy inspired Word of our God.  God’s Word contains both Law and Gospel.  When God’s holy Law “exposes” our sin, it “burns” like salt poured into an open wound.  Once God’s Law has “exposed” our sin, once God’s Law has led us to repent of our sin, that is, to “cut” that sin “out” of our life— then God’s Gospel “heals” us by assuring us that we are forgiven.  This necessary combination of both Law and Gospel is not only what “preserves” us in our faith, but it also “preserves” us from being condemned to the eternal fires of hell.  When we have this “salt in ourselves,” when both God’s Law and God’s Gospel are a part of us then we will be able to “be at peace with each other.”

 

When we were born our parents gave us our name.  When we were “born again” through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism the God of heaven gave us a new name.  By the grace and power of God we are Christians, we are His disciples.  (Pointing to the cross)  May God grant that we will consciously strive to “live up” to our new name by consciously striving to live our life— in Jesus’ Name!

 

To God be the glory!

 

Amen