September 29 & 30, 2018 – Pentecost 19
Mark 9: 38-50
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
When you’re preparing your favorite meal, what do you do to make it taste good? Do you put ketchup on everything? Maybe you prefer mustard. Someone once asked me, “Do you know what my favorite food additive is?” I guessed salt. But he replied, “No. It’s fire.” And he had a good point. Fire makes a lot of good foods edible. Raw chicken and raw pork chops just aren’t as good as meat that’s cooked. Fire is an excellent additive to food. But I think most people would say that salt is an excellent additive to food too.
Salt and fire are important for food. And Jesus says the same is true of people. As Jesus prepares his people for heaven, Jesus adds fire and adds salt to make us better. Jesus says everyone will be salted, or sprinkled, with fire. And Jesus says we are to have salt among us too.
Last week, we heard how Jesus’ disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest and we heard his gentle rebuke as he taught them that true greatness was serving others without thought of repayment, but in thanks to him. But it seems like the lesson didn’t take too well, at least not with John. John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name. We tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” “Okay,” John conceded, “None of us is better than the others. All twelve have equal greatness as we serve you, Jesus. Got it. But at least all twelve of us are better than this guy. I mean, sure he drives out demons, but he’s no disciple. He’s not one of us.”
And again Jesus rebukes his disciples: But Jesus said, “Do not try to stop him, because no one who does a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil about me. Whoever is not against us is for us. Amen I tell you: Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ, will certainly not lose his reward.
“Leave the guy alone!” Jesus told John. “He’s serving me. That’s evidenced by the fact that he is driving out demons. If he didn’t belong to me, he couldn’t do what he’s doing. So what if he’s not one of you?” And Jesus redirected John’s attention. “Instead of worrying about this other man and his faith, why don’t you guys worry about yourselves and your own faith? Before addressing the speck in his eye, let’s talk about your plank of pride and jealousy. After all, there’s plenty to worry about here, isn’t there?”
And just as he addressed Peter as “Satan,” he would use harsh law to jar his disciples into examining their own lives and hearts. “You’re obviously very concerned about the spiritual welfare of others, John. How concerned are you about your own sin? To what extent are you willing to go to root sin out of your life?”
“If your hand causes you to fall into sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed, than to have two hands and go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ If your foot causes you to fall into sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ If your eye causes you to fall into 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.’” Harsh law, right? But did you notice the conditionals? “If your hand causes you to fall into sin, cut it off… If your foot causes you to fall into sin, cut it off… If your eye causes you to fall into sin, pluck it out…” If these body parts were the cause of sin in your life, you would do well to get rid of them, because being crippled or blind sure beats being damned. But Jesus isn’t calling for self-mutilation here. If only the problem were in the external limbs, then maybe self-mutilation would be a simple solution.
But the problem runs much deeper, doesn’t it? It wasn’t John’s hand or foot or eye that caused him to sin. It was his foolish pride that ran much deeper than his extremities. It was a poison that began in his heart and infected every part of his body. Out of love for John, Jesus pointed out that this jealousy toward this other man was just as deserving of hell as any other sin.
And Jesus does the same for us. You may say, “I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t robbed a bank. I’m not as bad as many other people.” Well, so what? Your heart still causes you to sin in your own way. You are still corrupt to the core. Who cares about them? Worry about you. Worry about your own pride. Worry about your own arrogance. Have you been willing to go to any and every extreme to be rid of sin in your life? Me either. The truth is that we all deserve to be drowned in the sea with a millstone hung around our necks. We all deserve to “be thrown into hell, ‘where [the] worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”
But in his great love for us, Jesus doesn’t throw us into the fire of hell. But he does salt, or maybe “sprinkle” us with fire. With strong preaching of the Law, he reminds us that hell is a very real place, a place we don’t ever want to go to, but a place we all deserve to go to. Everyone is salted with this fire of the Law. Whether they want to admit it or not, they know from their consciences that they deserve punishment from a holy God. So do we. And that reminder of hell is a good thing. It reminds us of our very real need for a Savior. Our suffering in this life is a good thing. It reminds us that life isn’t about this life. It’s much better to be salted with a little fire, better to be grilled with the law, if you will, than to burn forever in hell.
And you know that because of his grace, you won’t endure the fire of hell and be burned to a crisp. Jesus endured hell so that you won’t ever have to. He took the full heat of God’s wrath on the cross when the Father completely forsook him. And he did it all for you. By his sacrifice Jesus has made you clean.
And now we do belong to Jesus. Whether weak in faith or strong, we are the Lord’s. We belong to him. And that truth is now reflected in the way that we live, not for ourselves or for our pride or glory, but for him, seasoning our lives with salt. I like popcorn, but let’s face it, it’s really just a carrier for the salt. Without the salt it just wouldn’t be the same. There is no popcorn without salt. And that’s true of Christians too. There are no Christians without salt. Because they belong to Christ, disciples of Jesus produce fruits of faith.
This unnamed man who was driving out demons in Jesus’ name wasn’t an unbeliever. There’s not even any indication that he was teaching anything but the truth. He wasn’t using Jesus name as some sort of talisman against demons, but was a genuine believer, even if he wasn’t one of the twelve. His faith was evidenced by his actions. He didn’t drive out a demon by his own power, but by the power of Jesus in whom he believed and in whom he acted. And that was nothing for John to be worried or upset about. Instead, John (and the others) should cling to their faith in Jesus themselves and produce fruits of faith as well. In this case, the fruit Jesus called for was to get along: “Salt is good. But if the salt loses its flavor, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
“Have salt among yourselves, John. Don’t lose your saltiness, but cling to the promises I’ve given you. Have faith in me. And let this faith be evidenced in your actions. Have salt among yourselves. Season your words with kindness. Sprinkle your actions generously with love. Be at peace with each other, no longer arguing with each other over who’s the greatest, no longer worrying about who is better.”
And again, the same holds true with us. Since we belong to the Lord, since we have been redeemed and made his very own, we too produce fruits of faith. Not “we should,” not “we will,” but “we do.” It’s just who we are. We have been saved from the fire. And we’ve been sprinkled with the preserving salt of God’s grace in Christ. And as he prepares us, he generously sprinkles into our lives countless opportunities to show our thanks.
Now, “Have salt in yourselves.” Cling to the Word. Regularly come to church. And don’t lose your saltiness, but keep your faith in Jesus. And this will season your life in a wonderful way. You’ll continue to be eager to live, not for yourselves or for your selfish, proud, and jealous glory, but for your Savior, eager to humbly serve him, rejoicing when others do to.
And your fruits may seem big, as you drive out demons—literally, performing miracles, or figuratively, helping your fellow believers to resist Satan’s attacks. Or your fruits may seem less impressive as you give a cup of cold water to refresh a thirsty child or as you simply get along with one another, “and be at peace with one another.”
So be salty like your Savior, who gave his life for you that you might belong to him. Sprinkle some kindness into your speech. Add a pinch of humble service to your schedule. Throw in a dash of forgiveness to your family and friends. “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Amen.