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Countercultural discipleship

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Date: March 18, 2018

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Savior and Lord

Scripture: Mark 9:14–9:50

This morning, we are in the eleventh week of a sermon series I am calling “Savior and Lord,” looking at what it means to relate to Jesus as both Savior – the one who died for our sins to give us eternal life – and Lord – the one who we follow and emulate. We are working our way through Mark’s gospel in this series. Mark was Peter’s traveling companion, and the Gospel of Mark is mainly Peter’s eyewitness testimony of Jesus (Peter was first known as Simon before Jesus changed his name). This morning we’ll be in Mark 9, looking at the countercultural reality of the life of discipleship.

 

Mark 9:14-50 - When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.  16 "What are you arguing with them about?" he asked.  17 A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not."  19 "O unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me."  20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.  21 Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered.  22 "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."  23 "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."  24 Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"  25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again."  26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead."  27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.  28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"  29 He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer."  30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were,  31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise."  32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.  33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?"  34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."  36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them,  37 "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."  38 "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."  39 "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,  40 for whoever is not against us is for us.  41 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.  42 "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.  43 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.  44   45 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.  46   47 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,  48 where "'their worm does 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 in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."

 

The first part of Mark’s gospel has built up to last chapter’s revelation of who Jesus is. But then it takes an unexpected twist. Jesus is not just a Messiah, he is a Messiah who has come to die. The second half of Mark will be addressing that question – what has Jesus come to do? The first half was dominated by miracles, healings, exorcisms, and revelations about Jesus as the Messiah. The second half will be dominated by teachings about discipleship and movement towards the cross. That unexpected juxtaposition of an anointed king who will suffer and die an unjust death helps us frame this chapter, because this is also all about countercultural reality of the life of discipleship.

 

  • Power comes from dependence

 

The chapter begins with Jesus descending from the mountain where he was transfigured, along with Peter, James and John. As they descend, they find the other disciples with a large crowd and teachers of the law arguing with them. Apparently, a man has brought his demon-possessed son to the disciples to be exorcised, but they were unable to do it. Jesus replies “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” The demon attacks the boy once more, and Jesus asks the father how long the son has been like that. After answering, the father says, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” After all, the disciples could do nothing, so he’s not sure if Jesus can do anything either. But this leads to a great exchange: “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” And then Jesus commands the evil spirit to leave the boy, and he is healed. And afterwards, the disciples as why they couldn’t drive it out, and he replies “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

 

This passage is dominated by the theme of faith, particularly faith in Jesus. I would define faith as trusting in someone or something. The man is not sure his son can be healed, but Jesus tells him that all things are possible for him who believes. All things are possible does not mean some sort of name-it and claim-it theology, that if you just have enough faith, you can accomplish anything. No – all things are possible because God can do all things. If you believe in God and have faith in Him, nothing is out of the realm of possibility. No disease is beyond cure, no person beyond saving, no situation is too hopeless. This is not a guarantee that the disease will be cured or the person will be saved or the situation will be turned around. But we put our faith in Jesus, knowing that all things are possible for Him.

 

In other words, it’s not about the size of your faith, but the location of your faith. What are you placing your faith in?

 

And in this passage, we particularly see how faith is demonstrated by prayer. Prayer is an act of faith. Prayer is faith in action. It is declaring with our words and actions that we believe God is capable of doing anything. We are declaring that it is a better use of our time to talk to God about it then it is to do anything else in our own power.

 

The disciples in this passage could not cast out the demons. And when they ask why, Jesus tells them it is because demons are only cast out by prayer. Evidently, the disciples thought the power was in the method, but thought mistakenly that they had the power to cast out the demons, when the power was really in God. And as a result, they did not pray, and did not depend upon God.

 

The first countercultural reality of the life of discipleship is that power does not come from building your own strength independently. True power comes from dependence upon God.

 

Our faith is not in our methods. Our faith is not in a person. Our faith is in God. That is where our power comes from.

 

Tell me about your prayer life, and I will tell you about the power of God in your life. Your prayer life, or lack thereof, reveals a great deal about where you have placed your faith. Is your faith in your own abilities, or in God’s ability?

 

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 - To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong

 

We are like the father: “I believe; help my unbelief” is our prayer.

 

The first unexpected reality is that power comes from dependence. The second is this:

 

  • Greatness comes from serving

 

In verses 30-32, Jesus again tells them what he told them in the previous chapter, that he is going to be betrayed, killed, and then rise again. It is amusing to see that they were afraid to ask him what that meant, having seen him rebuke Peter for challenging him the last time around. Soon after that, he finds out that they were arguing about who would was the greatest disciple. We’re not told where that conversation came from, but given that he has just spoke of his death, perhaps Peter told them that he would be the natural successor once Jesus died, and maybe people objected, and the argument began. Jesus has talked about giving up his life, taking up your cross, and obviously the disciples have missed the point. And so he says to them:

 

"If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." 

 

The way up is down. This is against our nature, that wants to dominate and be number one.  Think of Jesus, washing the feet of the disciples:

 

John 13:13-15 - "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.  14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.  15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

 

Think of Paul’s words in Philippians:

 

Philippians 2:5-8 - Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,  7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!

 

You want to be the greatest? Serve others. Put their needs above your own.

 

36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them,  37 "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."

 

Serving the least of these is serving Jesus. Don’t look down on others, expecting them to serve you.

 

38 "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."  39 "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,  40 for whoever is not against us is for us.  41 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.  42 "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. 

 

The disciples want to draw lines and exclude people who are not a part of their circle. They got their identity from being part of the in-crowd. They wanted Jesus to exclude this man. Jesus tells them not to, because he is working in the name of Jesus.

 

Hierarchy is not a part of the church. Don’t look down on the little ones. And don’t cause a little one to sin.

 

Galatians 3:26-29 - You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,  27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

 

In Christ, there is no in and out group. All who belong to Christ and proclaim His name are part of the in group. Be careful about denominational or theological snobbery.

 

James 2:1-4 - My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism.  2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.  3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet,"  4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

 

Greatness does not come from being part of the in crowd, lording over others. It comes from serving, from welcoming.

 

Woe to those who teach falsely and lead little children astray. Woe to those who cause new believers to sin, especially to those who have elitist, superior attitudes. People are watching you – don’t cause them to stumble!

 

41 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.

 

Giving a cup of water was standard courtesy in Eastern society. But Jesus is saying that even so small an act in the name of Jesus will not go unnoticed and unrewarded.

 

What are some practical ways to put this into action?

 

Park far away

Sit with someone who is alone

Serve in the nursery

Clean the church

Write an encouraging note to someone

Give your money away

 

  • Gaining eternal life is worth more than anything in this world

 

43 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.  44   45 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.  46   47 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,  48 where "'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' 

 

Jesus challenges his disciples to be serious about getting rid of sin in their lives. Not physically but spiritually being ruthless with your sin. Cut off your hand. Cut off your foot. Pluck out your eye. Cut off harmful practices from your life. Be willing to lose anything in this world in order to guard your soul.

 

Mark 8:34-37 - Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

 

As for the last part:

 

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 in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."

 

Temple sacrifices had to be accompanied by salt, according to Leviticus 2:13.

 

Leviticus 2:13-16 - Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.  14 "'If you bring a grain offering of firstfruits to the LORD, offer crushed heads of new grain roasted in the fire.  15 Put oil and incense on it; it is a grain offering.  16 The priest shall burn the memorial portion of the crushed grain and the oil, together with all the incense, as an offering made to the LORD by fire.

 

We must be a willing sacrifice.

 

Romans 12:1 - Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship.

 

You can have all this world, give me Jesus. I am willing to become the slave to all, to give up all power and depend upon you.

 

Discipleship is not only countercultural but counternatural. We can not do these things on our own. But we see Jesus, embracing servanthood, all the way to the cross, dying for us. And we realize how loved we are. And now we are happy to depend upon our God. We can serve, knowing that we are taken care of by our God. And we find ourselves desiring to pursue Him, knowing that nothing in this world compares to Him.