I want to share a photo with you. This was taken at 3AM last night. The subject is a meeting at the chapel of Asbury University, a Wesleyan seminary outside of Lexington Kentucky. The meeting began Wednesday at 10AM. After an hour when the chapel services typically close a group of students stayed behind.
Here’s what one visitor said about the meeting:
“What I noticed about this revival meeting at Asbury is that you just want to be there. You sit there and don’t want to leave. I also noticed that it seemed no body really knew what was going on, there was no schedule, and there didn’t seem to be any main leader or main preacher. It was mostly students leading but with no one taking the spotlight. We were just there in Gods presence. It was about worshiping and praising God. Then all throughout the building there were small groups of people gathered all around praying for each other and honest sincere worship happening everywhere. No star, no performance, No agenda”
A local pastor observed that, “No technology, no bells or whistles, no projection screens or led boards, no drums or professional sound, and out of the dozens of songs we sang, only one of them was written in the past 5 years.”
A professor at the university wrote that the meeting is not characterized by emotionalism. “It’s confession, repentance, reconciliation, restitution, and renewed love.”
I have had the experience which I believe is common of sitting in a church service, participating in the music and thinking – “heaven seems like a really long time for this.”
What are we missing? There are a few things we frequently misunderstand about heaven – but here’s the main thing we are missing: the presence of God.
God is not a topic we discuss but a person we experience.
God is a presence to be felt.
Those who have felt the presence of God report that once you experience it you never want to leave it.
Reports are already coming from other universities where students who have traveled to visit Asbury have come back and brought a similar experience with them.
You don’t have to go to Kentucky to experience God.
We’re in Mark 9:38-50.
Here’s the main point this morning: extreme dangers call for extreme measures.
There are 3 thoughts in this passage.
The first in verses 38-41.
It begins with John, the apostle who is known as the one Jesus loves, who wrote the gospel of John and the 3 letters of John and the book of Revelation.
It may surprise you to know that the gospels record three times John comes to Jesus with a question and none of the three make him look very good.
The first is here – “Lord, we found someone casting out spirits in your name and we tried to stop him.”
The second is in Mark 10:35-37 when John and his brother James ask Jesus for the two highest seats of honor in heaven.
The third is in Luke 9:54 when Jesus is sent away by Samaritans because he is a Jew on his way to Jerusalem – John and James reply, “Lord should we call down fire from heaven to destroy them?”
There’s hope for everyone isn’t there?
Our weaknesses and faults today don’t determine our future.
Here in Mark 9 the disciples have come across someone who is successfully casting out demons by claiming the name and authority of Jesus. They were offended because they had not authorized him to do that. What stands out here is the powerlessness of the disciples – they ‘tried’ to stop him. They could not. They tried to stop him from casting out spirits which is the very thing they were unable to do in the previous section.
We are prone to draw boundaries and pronounce judgments on who is in and out.
Time and time again, Jesus showed us that the boundaries of the kingdom are far larger than its people realize.
Jesus responds in verse 39, “don’t stop him.” No one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward be able to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us for us.
We should not confuse the boundaries of our community for the boundaries of the kingdom.
We should not interfere with or invalidate someone doing Jesus work in Jesus’ name because they don’t also carry our name.
In verse 41 Jesus tells them whoever gives you a cup of water because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
Jesus is trying to help them see the value that is placed on a person by the name of Christ. The smallest action, something which requires almost no effort or sacrifice – giving a cup of water to a person because they belong to Christ will be honored and rewarded in heaven.
The implication is – “someone who treats you will for my sake will be rewarded in heaven, you might want to think about how you treat others who work in my name.”
Maybe instead of trying to stop him you should have offered him a glass of water.
The second thought comes in two parts, in verses 42-48.
The concept is the eternal soul is far more valuable than anything in this world.
In verse 42 Jesus shifts the subject, 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.
The word sin here in the Greek is scandalize – it means to cause to stumble.
The word little ones may refer to young children, like the one Jesus called over in verse 37. But the word refers to size, not age. Many commentators take Jesus to be talking about his followers, especially the new believers. Either way, it is a serious matter to lead one of Jesus little ones astray.
He may be thinking about the disciples trying to stop a new believer from obeying the call of God.
He may be thinking of the disciples who tried to remove children from the places Jesus taught and ministered.
Whatever he has in mind, he is deadly serious about it.
It would be better for that person to have a large millstone hung around their neck and thrown into the sea.
In the days of Jesus, grain was ground heavy stones which were rolled over a hard surface. It’s not a pleasant thought.
“This had in fact been the fate of the leaders of an insurrection under the early Zealot leader Judas the Galilean, whom the Romans drowned in a lake. Seutonius, the Roman historian, also mentioned a graphic case having a similar punishment.” -R. Hent Hughes
This type of execution was particularly undesirable because you could not bury someone whose body has been drowned at the bottom of a body of water. There is a sense of finality in Jesus’ use of this imagery.
“Few things disturb Christ more than causing new or weak or uninformed believers to sin. . . a warning to make sure there is nothing in our lives that would make one of his ‘little ones’ stumble. . . how many have been turned off by an unforgiving spirit, or by a dishonest business transaction of a church member, or by the worthless, crude street language that sometimes falls from a believer’s mouth, or by the sarcasm of a malignant gossip.” -Hughes
How many children have been turned off by the behavior of their parents who come to church to worship God for an hour and then return home to fight and yell at the kids or totally disconnect from the family and binge pornography and in general act as if God does not exist?
The soul of one of Jesus ones’ is a priceless treasure to him. To hurt one of them is to hurt Jesus himself.
If you thought that was heavy, it gets even more intense as Jesus moves from causing someone else to stumble to causing your own soul to stumble.
In verse 43 Jesus says if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter life (read heaven) crippled than to enter hell with two hands.
An early church leader named Origen of Alexandria had himself castrated in order to avoid sinning. Not long after that the church council of Nicea outlawed the practice.
This is an example of what your English teacher would call metaphoric hyperbole. It’s not meant to be taken literally.
Jesus does not want you to take this literally.
However. That does not mean that Jesus does not want you to take this seriously.
Jesus is using extreme imagery to communicate the extreme importance of what he is saying.
Hell is a translation of the word Gehenna.
It was a name for the Hinnom valley, southwest of Jerusalem. During the time of Ahaz and Manasseh, human sacrifice was practiced in the valley. Children were sacrificed in fire to the god Molech. Josiah abolished the practice and turned the valley into a garbage dump. There are some accounts of perpetual fire due to the practice of burning trash and refuse. To go to Gehenna became a symbol of divine wrath and punishment.
“To be ‘complete’, in the world’s judgment, but to go to Hell (Gehenna was the place where offal and rubbish were permanently on fire) is infinitely worse than to be limited, in worldly terms, in what you do, but to enjoy eternal life.” -Donald English
“What Jesus is calling for is not physical mutilation, but spiritual mortification – the cutting off of harmful practices from one’s life.” -Hughes
“Extreme danger calls for extreme measures of escape. But radical and painful amputation of stumbling blocks out of our lives may be the only way to escape falling headlong into sin’s insidiously deceptive snare.” -Jon Bloom
“Surely it is beyond compare better to undergo all possible pain, hardship, and self-denial here, and to be happy for ever hereafter, than to enjoy all kinds of worldly pleasure for a season, and to be miserable for ever.” -Matthew Henry
Language like this makes us very uncomfortable. There’s not really a place for concepts like hell and punishment in our humanistic culture.
The question is not do I like this, but is it true?
Is there such a thing as justice? Is there justice in this universe or is that just an imaginary concept. Is there an afterlife? . . . If there is justice, if you and I are not merely biological but spiritual, my choices in this life suddenly become very serious.
We should ruthlessly eliminate anything in our lives that causes us to stumble.
The dangerous consequences of sin. (John Owen)
- With a little compromise my heart is hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13)
- Because God loves me, he will hate my sin and discipline me. (Hebrews 12:10)
- Sin torments the conscience and destroys peace and spiritual strength. (Titus 1:15)
- Ongoing unrepentant sin will prove that a person was never converted and lead to eternal destruction. (1 John 3:6)
Sin grieves the Spirit of God, it wounds Jesus and it disrupts fellowship with God the father.
You may be in extreme danger this morning. What are you going to do about it?
Is there an app on your phone that needs to be deleted? Is there a subscription that needs to be cancelled? Is there a place your feet take you that that needs to be avoided? Is there bitterness and unforgiveness in your heart that needs to be faced and dealt with?
“Better your blood on the ground than your life on the rubbish heap for eternity. If God is speaking to you to do it – do it now!” -Hughes
The final thought in verses 49-50 is tough to make out.
49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
The connection between salt and fire may not be obvious to us, but for the Jewish person it would have been.
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.
Every sacrifice required two things: salt and fire.
Jesus is calling for extreme sacrifice for the sake of holiness and eternal life.
Those who live pure lives of spiritual power are the salt of the earth.
But salty Christian who give in to sin lose their saltiness.
Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Too often we are unwilling to make the sacrifice needed to resist sin. We have not resisted sin to the point of shedding our blood.
But Jesus was willing to give up not just his hand or his eye or his foot, but his entire body. He gave his life. He spilled his blood on the ground and endured the fires of judgment in our place.
He made the ultimate sacrifice to take away our sin.
Will you give him your sin today?
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown