THE CALL TO SELF-DENIAL

Mark 9:38-50

BRIEF INTRO: We have just observed the disciples discussing who would be the greatest (9:34), their lack of understanding regarding the Lord’s death and resurrection (9:31), and their impotence regarding the ability to cast out the demon (9: 18), and their confusion over the transfiguration (9:5-6). And now we witness a weakness in their understanding regarding unity in ministry (9:38). They lacked humility, experience, and proper ministry perspective, and yet, time and time again, we see Jesus, the patient “teacher” (v. 38), instructing them.

I am so thankful for the patience of Jesus. Just like these men, I struggle at times with understanding His words. I am “slow” to grasp His will for me and walk in it. I require constant reminders and exhortations regarding His teachings to stay focused on what He would have me be and do. Perhaps you can relate to this as well.

38 John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. 40 For the one who is not against us is [a]for us. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink [b]because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.

FOCUS ONE: A snapshot of unity

John calls him teacher, and rightly so because that is one of the roles He is filling now. Jesus has spent and will spend much time teaching these men about the kingdom and their role in it. He has also shifted a bit in what He has been teaching because the time for His death, burial, and resurrection is approaching, and they need to be ready for it (8:27-31). Over and over again, we witnessed the disciple’s lack of understanding of the things Jesus taught them (the previous post catalogs them). Sadly, that reality holds as they move forward into Capernaum.

In Capernaum, in “the house” (probably the one belonging to Peter and Andrew 1:29), Jesus assumes the posture of a Jewish rabbi; he sits down and begins teaching them. You can find our study on the previous verses HERE 

During this private time with Jesus, John speaks about an incident that occurred during their travels. He tells Jesus of a man they encountered casting out demons in Jesus’ name, AND he wasn’t one of the twelve (v.38)!

This person WAS casting out demons successfully

In the name of Jesus 

The disciples (we) tried to stop him!

The disciples thought that anyone that wasn’t in their small group couldn’t be serving Christ in the right way (v. 38). It’s as if to say that if someone is not in our particular church, following our brand of theology, or even doing things just like us, then they must not be “of us.” 

Jesus’ viewed it differently than the disciples

He tells them not to hinder such a person. Do not stop him. It appears evident that by this person using Jesus’ name, he is acknowledging a relationship with Him. He is just not among the called-out 12! He manifested by seeking to serve the Lord that he was “with Jesus” or on the same team by faith, even if he was not in their group. The disciples were quick to dismiss anyone that wasn’t in their “click” or doing things in a way they felt proper.

Application: We should not be too quick to dismiss or rebuke others serving Christ simply because they do not do things the way we do or are not in our church, our ministry team, or our denomination!

But, like Christ, we should appreciate others seeking to live for Christ and save the lost! This is what unity is. The “church” is far more vast than our local congregations. It is worldwide, which means many other people are living for Christ and serving Him in different ways than us due to their geographical situation and different cultural or societal realities. If Jesus recognizes that “he who is not against us is for us,” why can’t we?

41 “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink [a]because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

FOCUS TWO: Rewards for service and condemnation for leading astray

In verse forty-one, we read about somebody exhibiting “kindness” to those who follow Christ and that they have a reward that will not be lost! This act of kindness seems small and insignificant compared to the previously mentioned exorcism. In our fallen minds giving a cup of water to our pastor who is parched from preaching is nothing compared to performing an exorcism. 

But we see in this verse that Jesus broadens His previous words (vv.39-40) to include activity beside exorcism. Even I would add other acts that we might consider more significant, excellent, and valuable. “Even one who performs the smallest act of hospitality in Jesus’ name, such as giving a cup of water to someone because he belongs to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. He will ultimately be recompensed by participation in God’s kingdom (v.47; Matthew 25:34-40), not on the basis of merit but because of God’s gracious promise to people of faith” (Luke 12:31-32).

42 “Whoever causes one of these [a]little ones who believe in Me to [b]sin, it is better for him if a heavy millstone is hung around his neck and he [c]is thrown into the sea.”

I place this verse in this focus point because it seems to contextually fit here better than it would with what follows. It appears to coincide or go along with the previous verses that spoke of the disciple’s attempt to stop an unknown man from removing a demon in Jesus’ name (v. 38). 

“Little ones” in this context does not appear to be speaking of small children; rather, it bodes well with followers of Jesus. As we read this statement, it quickly becomes evident that this offense is serious in the Lord’s eyes. So severe that “it would be better for one to be drowned than to commit it.” The verb “cause to sin” (skandalise) refers to enticing or provoking a follower of Jesus Christ to turn away from Him resulting in spiritual damage. 

To sum this up, scripture is saying to us: “1.The undeveloped faith of the exorcist (v.38) or anyone else who acts in Jesus’ name (v.41) should be encouraged rather than ruined by harsh criticism or sectarian  bias.” 

43 “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed, than, having your two hands, to go into [a]hell, into the unquenchable fire.[b45 And if your foot is causing you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life without a foot, than, having your two feet, to be thrown into [c]hell.[d47 And if your eye is causing you to sin, throw it away; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be thrown into [e]hell, 48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished. 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you [f]make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

FOCUS THREE: Self-denial for the sake of the gospel 

These verses teach that followers of Christ should be diligentvigilant, and radical in their fight against the sinful flesh, denying it all its wickedness instead of continuing to practice sin, satisfying the flesh, and going to hell.

That’s why we take notice of the language of mortification. If your hand—cut it off; if your foot—cut it off; if your eye—cast it out.

Why such harsh, violent language? Because our pathway to eternal life is riddled with our constant battle against our unredeemed flesh. Temptations abound. Our flesh is always hungry and wants to be satisfied, so we need to deny the flesh, which requires radical steps.

These divine words are telling us that self-denial and the “mortification” of our flesh with its enmity against God are worth the temporal cost or perceived and actual loss we suffer in this life for the glories of the next! 

“Self-denial expressed in the mortification of the flesh is evidence of a regenerated heart and such people enter into heaven. The opposite is true of those who do not bear such fruit worthy of or exhibiting a regenerative work within.”

How are we supposed to understand these words in verse fifty?: “salted with fire.”

“1Viewed in three different ways: (1) It could refer to every unbeliever who enters hell. They will be salted with fire in the sense that as salt preserves food, so they will be preserved throughout an eternity of fiery judgment. (2) “Everyone” could refer to every disciple living in this hostile world. They will be salted with fire in the sense that Old Testament sacrifices were seasoned with salt (Leviticus 2:13; Ezekiel 43:24). Disciples, living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), will be seasoned with purifying trials (1 peter 1:7; 4:12). The trials will purge out what is contrary to God’s will and preserve what is consistent with it. (3) Everyone” could refer to every person in general. All will be “salted with fire” in a time and manner appropriate to their relationship with Jesus— for nonbelievers, the preserving fire of judgment; for disciples, the refining fire of present trials and suffering. This last view seems preferable.”

Salt is a good thing. Who doesn’t enjoy dumping it over corn on the cob, potatoes, and cucumbers? It seasons and preserves. “The main source of salt in Palestine was from the area southwest of the Dead (salt) Sea. The coarse, impure salt from the saline deposits of this area was susceptible to deterioration, leaving savor less, salt like crystals as residue. If it loses its saltiness (savory quality), it cannot be refined so such salt is worthless.”

These scriptures warn the disciples and all who will follow Christ because of them to maintain their allegiance to Jesus at all costs and purge out destructive influences.

Verse 50, “have salt in yourselves.” “2Jesus is warning His disciples not to lose that characteristic in them that brings life to the world and prevents its decay. But what is that characteristic that, if lost, will make the disciples of Jesus worthless? It is the disciples spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice (v. 49) to Jesus Christ and His gospel. It will only be possible for disciples to be at peace with one another where that kind of devotion instead of self-interest prevails (v. 34).”

So, in concluding this part of our study together, I want to point out three warnings that the Lord has given throughout His teaching, while in Capernaum First, there is a warning to humility in verse 35. Then an admonition to good fellowship within the body in verse 39. Lastly, a warning to maintain faithful allegiance to Christ at all costs in verses 43-49. 

How are we doing in these three areas? What can we take away from this teaching to aid us in our prayers in these three areas?

1 The Bible Knowledge Commentary, pages 147-148

2. The Expositors Bible Commentary, pg. 709

3 thoughts on “THE CALL TO SELF-DENIAL

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