“But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.'”(Mark 9:39-40, ESV)
Mark’s gospel contains a curious incident that is reminiscent of Numbers 11:34. The disciples complained to Jesus about some man casting out demons in Jesus’ Name, one who was not one of the disciples. Jesus told them that if he was doing it successfully in Jesus’s Name, he was acting in the Lord’s authority. And then He speaks about religious hypocrites who were claiming to act in God’s authority but lacked it. They lacked such authority because they lacked the love, compassion and mercy of God and were overly concerned with adherence to man –made rules and regulations. They deserved the punishment of Hell because they were leading others astray from the truth.
In the Christian world these days we have a Church that is split into multiple factions and denominations, all claiming to speak for God. Though we should seek unity with other churches, we must be very cautious. We can find common ground with other believers as we agree on the fundamentals of the faith as well as the common goal of evangelism. But many have abandoned both and replaced the gospel with a form of pluralistic universalism or else define salvation in terms of prosperity, or personal, socio-economic or political well-being, not as reconciliation with God in Christ Jesus. We must be wary of judging the faithfulness of a church in terms of numbers, finances, signs, miracles and wonders. None of these factors are accurate indicators of the validity of the professions or of the preachers. Faithfulness is manifested by humble obedience to the will of God and loving service to all as well as adherence to the truth of the gospel no matter how difficult that may be.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42, ESV)
Usually when we read this passage, we think of people that set a bad example and cause children or others to sin. We think of those who by their example and influence teach children to lie, steal, abuse drugs and alcohol, to treat those around them as tools for self-gratification. While this is certainly an appropriate application, in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees, the religious rulers of the Jews were the ones who caused people to stumble. They were the ones who ought to have the millstone placed around their necks. They were false teachers who led others astray and caused them to sin by the example of their own evil behavior. So Jesus is referring to sins committed in the name of religion, those sins committed by outwardly pious religious zealots and bureaucrats who are lacking love for God as well as their fellow man.
Such people sin by stressing the literal application of external laws while neglecting the attitude of the heart. They sin by presumption: they think that they can and do keep the law perfectly and thus make themselves right with God. They sin by setting a bad example: they teach others the same sinful pride and presumption. They sin by perpetuating a man made system of religious rules that were extremely difficult for the ordinary person to follow. They sin by condemning all those who cannot follow and by harboring unforgiveness toward those who were genuinely repentant. They sin by granting forgiveness and absolution to those who could follow their external rules, but whose hearts were full of corruption and love. In contrast to God, they look on the outward appearance only, and ignore the internal attitude of the heart. Therefore we ought to heed the warning of Jesus and never presume that our works save us. Be on your guard, don’t follow the example of the Pharisees. Be forgiving and loving and merciful.
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
The James speaks of prayer as he draws near to the end of his epistle. Prayer is one of the primary sources of God’s help and comfort as well as the best means for drawing close to Him. In prayer we communicate with God. We tell Him our needs, secrets, fears, doubts, wants, desires and struggles. In prayer we strive to understand His will and increase our faith and trust in Him. As we pray for our brethren, we realize that we are one with them in Christ.
This unity leads James to disclose the underlying motive for speaking the hard truths he has shared and expects others to share as well. His purpose has not been for self-glorification, to prove himself right or godlier than others. His purpose has been to promote unity in the Church, to edify all and to bring the erring Christian brother toi repentance for his own good as well as to honor God.
This ought to be our purpose as well, to build each other up in the Lord and to win over the sinner through the use of God’s word. We do so not to prove ourselves better or more moral, but because we do not want to see sinners face eternal punishment for their sins. We want them to receive God’s grace and compassion just as we have. We want them to delight in His forgiveness and love just as we do. Any motive that puts our self at the center of our actions and speech is sin. Thus we ought to draw near to God with great humility so we may always honor Him.
“But, O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” (Jeremiah 11:20, ESV)
These words of Jeremiah are a reference to the Messiah would die for the sins of mankind. Yet the words spring forth from the prophet’s own struggles. The Lord had commanded him to preach warning and judgment and to cease praying for the nation. This was in response to the people’s disobedience to God’s covenant in favor of the gods of their pagan neighbors.
Naturally, Jeremiah’s negative pronouncements engendered opposition and persecution from the people of his own town. This was the first real opposition that he. He felt like a lamb led to the slaughter (11:19), for he was not expecting any problems. Perhaps the townspeople were afraid that their fellow countrymen would blame them for his words. Or perhaps they were annoyed because Jeremiah was calling for them to give up their own idols and false notions about Yahweh.
We Christians today find increasing opposition from the media, society and our fellow countrymen as well as friends and relatives. The people of this world do not want to change, do not want to submit their will to anyone, let alone God. Many churches cave in to this opposition by toning down the demands of the gospel to make it more politically correct and tolerant of diversity. In the process, they call Jesus a liar. Such accommodation to popular opinion and government behavior makes the gospel worthless and the church and the Christian unfit for the Lord’s service. Our only recourse in the face of opposition is to continue to remain true to God’s word and to call on the Lord as Jeremiah did.
“And when he had ventered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.'” (Mark 9:28-29, ESV)
Jesus was performing many mighty miracles as well as casting out demons. It became hard for Him to move about freely and conduct ministry because of the crowds so He sent His 12 apostles out into Galilee to do the work He was doing. He had the authority to give them the power to do what He did and they went about in His Name.
Yet as we see in their encounter with the demon-possessed boy, even with the authority they had, those disciples had limits even though they had His authority to perform miracles and signs. Despite that they failed to cast a demon out of this boy. Perhaps they had become a little proud and thought they were invincible. Perhaps they were unprepared to battle the devil. Maybe they were troubled by the instability of the boy, or perhaps the demon would just not allow him to stay still. In any case the lack of faith of the father coupled with their own could do nothing, though they tried.
Jesus took care of it. This incident should serve to remind us that we need to have faith in the person and power of Jesus. We may not be called on to perform healing or cast out devils but we are called to preach the Word of the Gospel which has the power to do both, to free people from the slavery of the kingdom of darkness. We always need to rely on the Lord when doing His work.