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September 28, 2003
[Mk 9:38] 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.”  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.  “For he who is not against us is for us.  “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.
 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.  “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to 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 stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell,  [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.]  “If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell,  where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.
 “For everyone will be salted with fire.  “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (NAS)
[Mk 9:38] 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.”  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.  “For he who is not against us is for us.  “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” (NAS)
“We tried to prevent him because he was not following us.”
Before we get to the “meat” of this story, we should spend a moment awed by what crime this “interloper” was doing; he was using Christ’s name to cast out demons. That was something even the disciples had problems accomplishing [see Luke 17:14-21]. This is an important study about one of the greatest faults of Christ’s followers throughout history. What is that fault? The Twelve thought that simply hanging out with Jesus was enough to claim they were his disciples. Then they attacked someone who was outside of their clique but actually doing the work that they should have been doing. This sounds strangely familiar in all too many churches today.
Instead of praising the work of this “outsider” or asking Jesus how they could support this man, they were trying to figure out how to stop him.
This attitude almost killed the early church when the early Jewish Christians tried to force circumcision and other specific Jewish rites onto the newer Gentile converts. At one point, the very life of the church hung in the balance as Paul argued against this but was opposed by some of the early church’s greatest names including James, the brother of Jesus. This attitude still dogs the church in the halls of denominational-ism whenever being “in the church” is elevated above being “on the street.” It works the other way as well; being on the streets needs to be balanced with being in community. Neither should be superior to the other.
Yet, the key tenet of faith is obedience. The Apostles were accusing this man of using Christ’s name “in vain.” In actuality, a person uses Christ’s name in vain when he or she calls himself a follower but doesn’t do what Christ commanded:
 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NAS)
Discipleship is about going and doing; not staying and blaming. The Apostles themselves, with their diminutive attitudes, were more closely demonstrating blasphemy (using God’s Name in vain) than the man who was using Christ’s name to exorcise demons. Adorning myself with the robes and titles of God without doing the work of God is what is most abhorrent to the Father.
Casting out demons
Many people believe that the time of casting out demons is behind us. They would preach that these simple country folk believed in demons and therefore, they had to be healed of them. They believe that demons are merely the conjectures of a primitive mind.
I would contend that this distant, laissez-faire attitude towards Satan’s labor is in itself evidence of just how effective demons are in our contemporary era. It is as though the church sleeps while the lives of children and families are destroyed by the very animate demons of alcohol, drug addiction, pornography, systemic violence (disguised as justice), and a media barrage that glorifies sin in all its forms.
The United States incarcerates more youth per capita than any other country in the world and anyone who has spent time in our jails or on our streets would be intentionally blind not to see the influence of the demonic on the shattered lives of our young men and women today. Furthermore, the demon of consumerism which drives our culture to global acts of selfishness has made us a country known not for our compassion or our commitment to democratic principles; but for using our wealth and military might to feed our own unsustainable way of life. We are catatonic to the greatest threat any culture faces, avarice.
Our demons aren’t “gone,” they’ve just become institutionalized. The classic meaning of the word demon [GSN1142 daimon], is one who “distribute destinies.” When I consider the meaning of that term, I cannot help but think of our covert and destabilizing hand in the governments of Central America, the Middle East, and Asia as we seek to fuel a lifestyle that cannot be sustained. We are literally borrowing our children’s resources to wallow in our own greed. It is our duty as followers of Christ to ask how our own silence or lack of involvement has not resisted the unfair distribution of destinies that keeps the United States fueling violence abroad and poverty at home.
I think of the words of one great man’s attack on our military-industrial state over fifty years ago; “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children.”
If anyone would know the cost of militarization in human lives it would be the man who made this statement, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
To battle the demonic today is to resist the march towards greed and militarism. Will Christians be found reclaiming the destinies of our children by resisting our unilateral plunge into becoming a military-state? Will we personally demand a glutton’s rights to this world’s resources regardless of the cost to the people’s of other nations or the resources that belong our children? Will we allow education, health care, and the alleviation of hunger to slip through our fingers in the process? Will we be found sedated and oblivious on the sidelines, replete in carefree worship while “pooh-poohing over cocktails” those who would strive to cast out the gentile demons of this age?
Lord, I just ask that you startle me from lack of consciousness. Help me wake up on a side. Even if it’s the wrong side, do not let me fail in the lukewarm waters of the middle ground.
“Do not hinder him”
There are many ways to hinder a doer of the word.
1. Most often we ignore them. Their stories of God’s living, vibrant, power cause guilt or jealousy so we turn a silent ear towards them.
2. We harass them; “Your theology is all wrong; by whose authority are you doing these works.”
3. We discredit them buy gossiping in their absence with second-hand testimony.
4. We support them—with strings. “You can continue in your work but only with our approval.”
Would Christ be sensitive to these strategies for hindering the person who is “outside of the clique?” Of course! Every one of these strategies had been used in the attempt to undermine his work.
Hinder [GSN2967 koluo] was a very graphic word in the ancient Greek language. It was used for securing an animal’s front feet to keep it from wandering at night. Yet, the worst use of “hindering” was used on slaves of Rome who were determined to obtain their freedom. Like hobbled animals with forelocks tied; slave-owners would cut the Achilles tendons of these runaways to prevent them from being able to run at all.
All too often, gossip, silence, and exclusion serve just these purposes, cutting off the prophetic from the congregation. This is what the Apostles were doing to this one man “caught healing.” They were demanding that Jesus hobble his powerful works because he wasn’t one of them.
We can stop our pettiness by taking four actions:
1. Get out in the harvest;
Recognize the crisis in harvesters and the ripeness of the harvest. If you don’t bring the harvest in during its due season, it will not just sit out there and stay ripe. This is the harvest time and we need laborers. Let’s be one and pray for more!
2. Quit defending the faith and take the offense in outreach;
Rest with Gamaliel, the wise Pharisee who trained Saul. In Acts 5:38 he said that God doesn’t need us to defend his name; he is quite capable of that himself. If someone’s work is of God, it will continue. If not, it will cease.
3. Recognize the signs of pettiness in our life and flee them;
If we are surrounded by ducks and quack; it usually means we are a duck. If those around us are petty and small, guess what...
We must flee such people! Instead, we should move in the company of giants, heading towards the outer boundaries of our “known world.” If we seek out people who don’t have time or use for gossip, then we will be forced to live at their level. They will hold our behavior and conversation to a higher standard and we will either grow to meet those standards or begin talking behind their backs as well. Let us hope it is the former.
4. Maintain the habits of faith.
We must maintain the habits of faith; a. Pray constantly, b. Hunger for God’s Word, c. Maintain a small group of accountability, and d. Be in personal relationship with “least of these.” Attending to these habits keeps us from becoming small-minded and hard-hearted.
“For he who is not against us is for us.”
How does Christ judge whether someone is for or against him? By the actions and power that flow through that person: “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.”
The word for miracles [GSN1411 dunamis] could best be translated as dynamic power or meaningful strength and ability. I have seen this dynamic power at work—not on showy televangelist programs—but by men and women who quietly give words of hope and encouragement in the unlit crevasses of our society. They carry the Word, in dynamic power, to the homeless, the incarcerated, and the forgotten. They are neither showy nor loud, but their quiet consistency is a testament to the enduring love of our God.
The true trial of faith to Christ is that God’s capacity flows through them and into the vulnerable. That is how others should know “whose” we are, by our fruits, our compassion, and his power coursing dynamically through us to others. In fact, Christ makes the litmus test of believers quite plain: “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward [v 41].”
Elsewhere, Jesus says something very similar: [Matt 10:42] “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (NAS)
The reward [GSN3408 misthos] or “wages” (as this word was also commonly used) strangely does not refer to someone who gives something to God, but to someone who meets the practical needs of God’s most vulnerable. The term “little one” [GSN3398 mikros] actually translates as “the least” or the “most remote,” not just “the littlest.”
In addition, getting a cup of water (especially cold water) didn’t just involve a run to the nearest faucet. There was usually just one well in a town (deep in the Middle Eastern desert ground where it required significant effort to obtain cool water). Who would even consider going so far out of the way to get a deep, cold, draught for the most easily ignored?
Jesus, that’s who.
Grace flows from the wounds of Jesus. Love washes over us through his mercy, a grace and love, compassion and forgiveness that cannot be contained. We can no longer ignore the least, little one and lukewarm love will not be accepted. We must become extravagant in love and our only reward should be the honor of giving love in Christ’s name.
Think of the response of those whom Jesus welcomed into heaven in Matthew’s gospel:
 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?  ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?  ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (NAS)
They didn’t give any thought to a reward; they didn’t even know that there was a reward. They had no clue that by loving “the very least of these” they loved Jesus. The word used here is elachistos [GSN1646], this word is even more radical than the word “mikros” which was used in Matthew 10:42. The first term tells us to reach out to the “forgotten” but this second term commands us to reach out to the “rejected.” There is a substantial difference.
Compassion might well up for the state of the helpless, the micros. But Christ tells us to run to those who have been rejected—the implication being that they have performed some act that has caused their exclusion. Is that where my faith takes me? Do I go to the “forgotten” and beyond? Do I go to the “rejected?”
In the story of those welcomed into the kingdom, their love was not forced or contrived for a reward. Their love was the result of a deep humility and gratitude. The Son of God died for them and embracing that gift simply flowed into a love of the forgotten and the rejected. Unfettered compassion and unrestrained love is the only natural response to the gift called Jesus Christ. Love to the forgotten and beyond to the rejected. For we too are sinners redeemed only by a God who wouldn’t abandon us.
 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.  “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to 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 stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell,  [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.]  “If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell,  where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. (NAS)
“These little ones who believe to stumble...”
In this reading, Jesus lists four types of sin that are horrifying in consequence. One might even see them as the four paths to hell. In each case Jesus suggests that death or mutilation is a better alternative than continuing in these sins. His purpose is to show his followers (these are not Pharisees he is speaking to) that this life is nothing compared to the next and that there are no illicit “indulgences” in this life that are worth a moment’s joy in God’s embrace. A small sin never leads to a lesser sin and toying with sin is like tinkering with an atom splitter. You never know when the chain reaction will cause total destruction.
In this reading, we learn that the four paths that Christ reviles are:
1. The path of manipulation;
Here is the path of leading someone into sin by example or intent; but it is also the sin using someone who is vulnerable for personal pleasure or gain. This could be the sin of a father seeking his own pleasures over his family responsibilities or the exploitation of the powerless by the powerful.
You will see that all of these sins can be corporate or individual and neither type absolves us from our responsibility. I am just as guilty for a system of injustice from which I benefit as if I was personally stalking the vulnerable. For example, the man who views pornography is as guilty as the man who takes the photographs. The family that vainly drives the gas-guzzler is as guilty as those manipulating governments to drive down oil prices or depleting our children’s environment for short-term energy and economic gains.
2. The path of the hands;
As with all sin, evil can be as much a result of what we do as what we omit doing. The sins of the hands, feet, and eyes can be as much what we do with what God has given us as what we don’t do with our abilities.
The sin of our hands is not just theft or violence; it is also idleness. If I see what needs to be done and do not use my abilities to further God’s justice in the midst of injustice - then I have sinned. I am convinced that more of us actually omit the solution than commit the crime. Yet, sin is still sin whether by omission or commission.
3. The path of the feet;
Once again, sin should not just be viewed as where our feet lead us but also by our refusal to go where our Lord calls us. And we mustn’t linger, thinking the Lord is going to call us to some great future purpose. If we claim Jesus as our Lord and there is any suffering around us then we have already been called! We have already been told our responsibilities in these matters repeatedly in both the Old and New Testament.
Micah—in his statement typifying the call of God’s People [Micah 6:8]—begins with the words; “You know, oh man, what the Lord requires of you…”
In Hebrew, that is the same as saying; “You already know what you are supposed to do, now do it!” “Justice, just do it. Kindness, love it as if it were life itself and humbly accompany God to where he would go.”
Some people might continue to ask; “But what will I do when I arrive in the midst of suffering?” Who says we must do anything? Usually the work of justice is less “doing things” than “being available.”
To embrace the poor is not “to do something to them,” but make them feel “not forgotten,” and “not rejected,” by being with them. Jesus rarely preached to sinners, he was far more likely to party with them. His preaching was in response to the attacks of the religious on the rejected. It was enough to Jesus to be present to sinners; he didn’t need to do anything to them.
It is our feet that take us down the path to sin and those same feet that won’t take us to the front line of Justice. However, if we would spend more time walking towards the latter; we would have a lot less difficulty walking away from the former.
Neurologists increasingly speak of neural pathways; cognitive trails formed largely in adolescence that we use habitually as mental shortcuts in the face of complex situations. For example, some people learn early in life to turn their stress into prayer while others turn it into alcohol, rage, or drugs. You can change these pathways by persistently forming new, habitual responses to stress but first you have to recognize the unhealthy paths. Where do your feet take you under duress? Through the Holy Spirit, we can learn to let stress become our pathway to prayer and service.
4. The path of the eyes.
The eyes often sin by what they decide to linger upon. What are the lingering habits of my eyes? Do they linger on the weaknesses of others or covet an impure passion for things or people?
Similarly, the heart often sins by what it refuses to see. That was the sin of the rich man (Dives) against Lazarus. Dives didn’t kick Lazarus; he didn’t hit him, verbally abuse him or even send his dogs after him. Dives ignored Lazarus; even as the dogs licked his wounds, even as he lay dying on Dives front gate.
It was the sin of the unseeing heart, of choosing not to see the suffering, right on as his doorstep, which condemned Dives to a forever without God (hell) [Luke 16:19-31].
All sin can be an act of commission (committing sin) or omission (seeing what should be done but turning away from our responsibility). These are the paths of sin that Jesus tells us to avoid at any cost.
Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched
We do not have to wonder if there is a hell; Jesus makes it quite plain that it exists. Neither do we have to wonder what it is like for Christ revealed that as well. Eight different times, Jesus describes hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. John the Baptist describes hell as the utter ruin of those who reject the Messiah (and thereby the Father).
[Mt 3:12] “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (NAS)
In this particular verse we are studying from Mark, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah regarding hell:
[Isa 66:24] “Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. for their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.”
Hell is a reality, a place of:
1. Weeping over lost opportunities;
2. Gnashing of teeth in blame;
3. Where a lifetime of rejecting God and his people becomes so imbedded in one’s fiber that there is no turning back;
4. Where fire (our need for pleasure) and the worm (our hunger—the term refers to an intestinal worm) cannot be quenched.
We have hints of hell in this life. We lust for things, we burn in anger and jealousy and yet for now, Satan deems to deceive us with illicit, pleasurable rewards. He entices us, feeds our lust and grants us momentary gratification. Yet, the lust deepens and the anger becomes increasingly hard to control until it finally consumes us and we can no longer put a stop to it. This is but an earthly taste of hell, amplified hunger with diminishing pleasure, like a fire that will not die or an intestinal worm that will not be satisfied.
The prophet Haggai describes it like this:
[Hag 1:6] “You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.” (NAS)
This is the reality of a hell that begins as close as the pleasures of today and yet ends in an eternal sorrow, devoid of hope or love. Were we to understand this concept fully, we would spend each waking moment trying to pull anyone we meet back from such an abyss. Jesus, himself, felt that it was worth giving up his life to save us from the Lord of Demon’s grasp. Do we take hell that seriously as well? What would I give to prevent even my worst enemy from such an agonizing existence? We think that the call of God is hard to decipher, but whatever answer I have to that question is my call today.
 “For everyone will be salted with fire.  “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (NAS)
Have salt in yourselves
Jesus makes four dramatic statements about salt here:
1. Everyone will be salted with fire;
We are all salted with fire, meaning tested by temptation. We will all find ourselves tempted to linger in sin, but whether we cut that temptation short or allow it to fester is totally up to us. However, we must realize that dwelling on temptation is not cathartic; instead it serves to increase the likelihood of future sin.
2. Salt is good;
To the extent that we turn away from sin in the present, it becomes easier to turn away from in the future. Our faith increases in strength when we resist temptation and the spiritual pathway to God is deepened.
3. Once the salt is stale, it can’t be refreshed;
There comes a point where temptation becomes an end in itself. At that point, we no longer feel the guilt of sin and care nothing about the cost even if it is the abandonment of those we once loved. At this point, we may experience self-loathing and disgust, we may plead for loved ones to not abandon us, but deep inside we know that nothing has become as important to us as the next fix; whatever that addiction may be.
4. Salt is associated with peace.
To those who turn to Christ, who resist and turn away, there is a growing sense of the Lord’s presence and a peace that cannot be explained. One just knows that the illicit pleasures of this world pale in comparison to the deep, abiding joy of the Kingdom. It is the joy of communing with God that calls to us and it overflows into every relationship and every discussion. It is so abundant that one desires that the entire world could taste it, understand it, and be freed of this life’s encumbrances so as to wholly experience it.
One runs to tell it to everyone, not out of obligation or fear; but out of the extravagance of love incomparable.
This inexplicable joy is so difficult to explain that—at some point—we just quit trying to find the right words. Instead, we simply love mercy, without conditions, without boundaries, with a grateful heart that is planted in the gift of God’s mercy for us.
That is the salt that grows sweet. It occurs when temptation leads not to sin, but immediately points towards the Christ. That is the salt that leads to peace.
Copyright © 2005 Jerry Goebel. All Rights Reserved. This study may be freely distributed, as long as it bears the following attribution: Source: Jerry Goebel: 2005 © http://onefamilyoutreach.com.
Scripture taken from God’s Word to the Nations Bible Society original work copyright © 1995.