“Then He took a child, had him stand among them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me, but Him who sent Me.” John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” “Don’t stop him,” said Jesus, “because there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name who can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For whoever is not against us is for us. And whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of My name, since you belong to the Messiah — I assure you: He will never lose his reward.” (Mark 9:36-41 HCSB)
Growing up, I wasn’t a part of the cool kids group. We tended to move quite a bit and I changed schools every couple of years. So, I was always having to make new friends and establish myself in a new peer group. When you go to a new school or move into a new neighborhood, it isn’t hard to tell who is in that “cool kids” group and who isn’t. In fact, it is often painfully obvious. Especially if you are not in that group. You just don’t belong and they let you know it up front and they remind you of it, quite often.
In many ways, that describes the situation we’re dealing with in this week’s focal passage. Last week, as you’ll recall, we were dealing with the argument the disciples were having among themselves about who was the greatest in their group. This week’s lesson is an extension of that argument and Jesus’ response to the core issues – personal pride and self promotion versus being a servant and putting others before self. That’s why I included two verses from last week in this week’s passage. Side note, the next several lessons are all tied back to this core issue. Apparently it is a very real issue that needed to be addressed in the lives of the disciples. In my opinion, it is a very real issue in our lives and needs to be acknowledged and addressed by you, me and by most Christ followers.
This week, the pride issue goes a step further as the disciples seek to exclude those who are following, obeying and performing miracles based on Jesus’ authority but are outside the established group of disciples. After hearing what Jesus has just said about welcoming someone like the small child in His name, John tells Jesus about someone they had encountered. He says, this unnamed person was driving out demons “in Your name and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” This “rogue disciple” appears to have been successful in his efforts which is in stark contrast to the situation they had encountered when the nine disciples had been unable to drive out the unclean spirit earlier in this same chapter. Maybe there’s a bit of jealousy at play here, too.
Let me clarify, I use the term “rogue” in the sense that this disciple is not a part of the established group of followers and certainly not a part of the twelve disciples. While the term rogue tends to indicate someone is a scoundrel or miscreant, I simply use it here to describe someone who is working outside the expected group or established boundaries. In fact, some manuscripts of the New Testament have the added phrase that the disciples saw someone “who didn’t go along with us” as a way of describing and identifying this other disciple. In other words, he’s driving out demons in your authority but he’s not a part of our group so we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.
Did you catch that? “He wasn’t following us…”
The disciples are tying their actions and response towards this man to being a part of the group but Jesus ties the man’s actions only to Himself. “He wasn’t following us… who will perform a miracle in My name…” This isn’t about being a part of their group but it IS about believing, trusting and obediently following Jesus. The disciples wanted to make this about how the man related to their group but Jesus indicates that it is not about how the man relates to them but how the man relates to Him. It is extremely important that we get this because it has significant impact on the church and our relations with one another.
When the disciples reject the actions of this disciple because “he wasn’t following us” they appear to have made assumptions that are wildly inaccurate. I called him a rogue disciple above and mentioned that “rogue” tends to carry a very negative connotation. While I indicated that I don’t think this guy is a scoundrel or a criminal, like rogue might suggest, I think the disciples might think he is. While John doesn’t directly call him evil, it seems he may have implied it because of how Jesus responds: “Don’t stop him, because there is no one who performs a miracle in My name who can soon afterward speak evil of Me.”
Based on Jesus’ response, it would seem that John or the entire group may have indicated or implied that this “rogue” disciple really was evil in some way. Jesus says that anyone who is able to perform a miracle in His name cannot speak evil of Him soon afterwards. So, that implies that the disciples believe this disciple had said something “evil” or negative about Jesus or was against them simply because he wasn’t a part of their group.
How often do we make similar assumptions or accusations? We live in the an era of partisanship, not just political but often religious partisanship, too. We often judge someone’s character simply by external factors, assumptions and popular opinion. Last week, I referenced the Old Testament story of Samuel being sent to anoint a new king over Israel from the sons of Jesse (see 1 Sam. 16). Even though Samuel had clearly heard and followed God’s command in the initial steps he took, he made a mistake when he assumed he was sent to anoint Eliab, the eldest son. His assumptions regarding the chosen son based on appearances and external factors were absolutely wrong. God said, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart. (1 Sam. 16:7)”
“My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For example, a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and a poor man dressed in dirty clothes also comes in. If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4 HCSB)
This isn’t a principle that just applies to what happens within the walls of the church or within the confines of our own small group of close Christian friends. This principle applies to how we respond to those outside our group or fellowship of believers – those “rogue” disciples. I have been a pastor for well over 40 years now and I’ve pastored in a variety of settings. In all of them I’ve encountered real, genuine, committed followers of Jesus in groups that are considered outside the sphere of Southern Baptist belief and practice. In other words, we aren’t the only ones who know how to love, follow and walk with Jesus. Yet, we tend to sound and act a lot like John does in this story – “Jesus, I told him to stop because he wasn’t following us.”
Jesus says: “Whoever is not against us is for us. And whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of My name, since you belong to the Messiah – I assure you: He will never lose his reward.”
I stated last week, our value is found in the fact that we are made in the image of God. We are valued by God and we are to be valued by one another because we were created in His image. To value someone because they are created in God’s image is not just being anti-abortion, it is being pro-life and being pro-life extends from the moment of conception in the womb through natural death and into eternal life. It means that we care about people at every stage of life and in every circumstance they find themselves. Someone’s value before God isn’t diminished because they stumble on the path of life or struggle over a particular sin. Their value is found in the fact that they were created in His image, just like you and me.
In the same way, someone’s value before God isn’t elevated or diminished because they were born at a particular time in history, at a particular location on the planet, as a member of a particular ethnicity, or under a particular political regime or system. To believe so is to distort the word of God and to belittle the image of God in every man. By one man we were all made sinners and by the one man Jesus, the One and only Son of God, we can all be made righteous through His shed blood. That, my friends, is the truth of the gospel and message of the kingdom of God.
Finally, I want you to notice that Jesus takes the exclusivity the disciples were trying to develop and turns it into inclusivity in and through Him. But He also takes it a step further, He includes those who minister in simple ways to the disciples. Some of you may have read this passage and wondered about your ability to “drive out evil spirits” or your lack thereof. But Jesus includes those who “give a cup of water to drink” to those engaged in this difficult ministry. He says their simple and humble act of service will also be rewarded.
The kingdom of God consists of many different people with many different gifts and skills. Each of those, when used in service to the King and His followers, will be blessed and rewarded. Notice, they aren’t just giving them a drink of water because they’re kind hearted, nice people and have good manners. No, they are doing so “because of My name.” This goes back to the phrase, “whoever is not against us is for us.” Those “against us” not only reject the deity, authority and Lordship of Christ but they actively oppose and hinder His work. All disciples are called to serve, but not all serve in the same way and with identical gifts.
Paul stresses this very idea in his letters to the various churches. Each of us has received varying gifts of the Spirit and we are to practice those gifts in humble service to our Lord and King. Some have gifts of preaching, teaching, evangelizing and leading while others have gifts of giving, serving and healing. We must learn to not only value all people because of the IMAGO DEI or image of God within them but also value their varying giftedness and service within the kingdom. No one gift is greater than another, but all needed and necessary in building up the body of Christ and in carrying out the Great Commandment and Great Commission.
Let me close by encouraging each of you to look beyond the labels and names we paste on one another, the groups we tend to put each other in and the assumptions we make based on those labels, names and groups and see the unique value we each bring to God’s service. If you’re willing to do that you just might be surprised to discover what God is really doing. Believe it or not, we need to hear and consider those opposing ideas and thoughts and then agree to work together towards the purpose and will of God. We all tend to think we’ve got it right, but we will be surprised to find out just how wrong we often are and where we totally missed out on what God was doing because we were wearing cultural blinders.
Take off the blinders and see the hurting, lonely, frightened, hungry and frustrated folks who just want to be healed, loved, encouraged, cared about and heard. Oh, one more thing. Remember that it isn’t about what cultural, political, or religious group you align yourself with but who you follow. It’s not about “following us” but about FOLLOWING Him!
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