Unfortunately, many people have died in an enormous fire at a west London tower block where residents had repeatedly complained about fire safety. Why? Tragedies happen when we ignore warnings. Despite the fact that we live in a city full of safety regulations and warning signs, accidents can still happen when warnings are ignored. The Bible warns us many times so we can avoid spiritual accidents that can kill us for all eternity. How can we avoid them?
In this talk, I would like to look at Mark 9, verses 38-50, to help us to see three warnings and three lessons given by Jesus to his disciples. My hope is that by the end of it, we all can learn what to avoid doing as Christians and most importantly, what things we need to put into practice in order to be spiritually protected. Let’s see what they are.
- Avoid working for a tribe by working for Christ (38-41)
Context: Mark tells us that there was a man who he decided to work for Jesus but was not chosen by him. This man probably saw the things that Jesus had done and began to use Jesus’ authority to cast out demons, in other words, he told bad spirits to leave people’s body. John, a disciple, told Jesus that this man was not part of their group, therefore he should be rebuked. However, instead of rebuking the man to stop him, Jesus rebukes John saying, “Do not stop him”.
Question: Why did Jesus say it? Wasn’t John doing the right thing as this man had no authorisation to work for Jesus?
Answer: The answer is in verse 39 and 40. Jesus says that even tough that man was not one of the chosen disciples, he was still doing God’s work. Jesus was making a clear point. He wanted his disciples to understand that anyone who is working for him recognise God’s power and authority in Jesus. However, anyone who sees the work of God in Jesus and instead of celebrating it, rejects it is against Jesus. Let me illustrate it.
Illustration: When I was a child, I only engaged with people from my classroom or my brother. I only spoke with my classmates or my brother. I only played with my classmates or my brother. They were my tribe. One day, during the break time, my brother was playing football when someone started to make fun of him. A guy older, taller and stronger than him. As his big brother, I ran towards the guy to defend my brother. I didn’t do it because I was a courageous and brave boy, but because my brother was part of my family and my classmates, came with me. How could I lose this fight with so many helpers? For my surprise, as soon as the guy started to beat me up, all my classmates and even my brother left me alone. My tribe left me! My luck was a guy from a different class who came from nowhere to separate the fight and save me. My helper was not from my family or from my classroom. In other words, he was from a different tribe. That day I understood that who is not against me is for me. In the same way, anyone who works for Jesus is part of his group. It’s part of the Church. It is part of his big family.
Lesson: So, to work for Christ is a blessing but to work in isolation is a curse.
Application: Those who put their trust in Jesus and understand that he is God who can to Earth to save us from hell by dying on a cross to pay for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day to give us eternal life in Heaven for free are known as Christians. Therefore, even though we belong to different local churches, all of us, Christians, need to work together for the good of God’s Kingdom instead of working only for our own ministry, local church, denomination, network or theological tribe.
“Tribes must be our home, not our prisons”, says Mark Driscoll. Jesus died not for a specific group of people but for his people, the whole church. He didn’t die for an individual or tribe. Tribalism slows down evangelism. We have a common enemy and a common mission, right? Therefore, let’s fight Satan together, make disciples together and work for Christ together.
Challenging questions: Are you working with other churches for Christ? Are there people working alone in your church?
Link: But how do we work for Jesus? We teach about Christ. Let’s look at verse 42.
- Avoid false teaching by teaching about Christ (42)
Context: Jesus clearly makes his point in verses 38-41 by saying that we need to work together for him. However, in verse 42, Jesus warns his disciples of the danger that is to work against him. He says that in the same way an adult is responsible for a child, those who work for Christ are responsible for new Christians. He even says that, it would be better to have a mill-stone hang round a neck and drown into the sea than to make one of his to stumble.
Question: What did Jesus mean by that?
Answer: Jesus was saying that a disciple must be careful about what he/she teaches to others. He wanted his disciples to understand how serious it is to help someone to fall into sin. A millstone was a large and heavy stone with hole in the middle. It had a bar of wood through it and when pulled by a donkey, turned wheat into flour. The punishment paid by someone who teaches something wrong would be like swimming with a millstone hanging aroung his/her neck. In other words, if someone eventually lose faith due to a wrong teaching, the consequence is spiritual death, not only for the learner but teacher as well.
Illustration: Do you remember the tsunami on December 26, 2004 off the west coast of Indonesia? About 230,000 people were killed by that tsunami. Do you remember the pictures of the surge of water and the waves pounding the coastline? Well, a tsunami is an exaggerated picture of what Jesus said, but the point is that you false teachers leave a mass of destruction once they strike, just like wild waves of the sea.
Lesson: So, to teach about Christ is a blessing but teaching wrongly about him is a curse
Application: Does it mean that we can only teach about Jesus when we become doctors in theology? No, that’s not what the text is saying. I believe that Jesus wanted us to avoid the methods used by false teachers. Let me point two ways false teachers normally wrongly teach others about Jesus.
First, they teach wrongly in order to confuse you. The snake used this method to tempt Eve by saying, “Did God really say it?”. The idea is to make you doubt something that is very clear in the Bible. It confuses you so you end up not trusting the Bible. Second, they teach wrongly in order to manipulate you. The snake used this method as well by saying, “You can be your like God”. They say what you want to hear. It twists the Bible to fit it to the desires of your heart. In both cases, the outcome is the same, sin. They help people to stumble by teaching the Bible in a wrong manner. What irony, right?
Challenging questions: Are you ready to recognise a false teacher? What are the things you want people to tell you, even though you know it is a lie? What are the things you still don’t understand but never asked a mature Christians to explain for you?
Link: Disciples must not cause young believers to lose their faith. They must not do it by what they teach but must not do it by their example as well. How do we do it? We live in Christ. Let’s look at verse 43-50.
- Avoid living in sin by living in Christ (43-50)
Context: Verses 38-41, Jesus warn us how bad it is to work in isolation for him. Verse 42, he warns us about the fearful punishment kept for those who block the spiritual progress of others. Now, from verses 43-50, Jesus warns us about the seriousness of our sins by saying that it would be much better to have parts of our bodies, that lead us into sin, cut off than to end up with the whole body in hell.
Question: Why did he tell his disciples to amputate parts of their bodies? Should we take it literally?
Answer: Jesus did not want his disciples to cut their bodies but instead, he wanted them to know how bad sin is to save their lives from hell, eternal separation from God. Jesus tells his disciples that the bad things that people do are worse than illness. These bad things do not only cause pain and trouble but people can go to hell because of those bad things. Nobody wants to lose part of his/her body but when a person’s hand, eye or foot becomes bad, sometimes a doctor decides to cut it off so that illness does not destroy the whole body. Let me tell you a story to illustrate it.
Illustration: In 2003, a man called Aron Ralston had gone hiking, alone. While he was climbing down a narrow slot in a canyon, a stone rolled, crushing Ralston’s right forearm and pinning it against the wall. For five and a half days, he struggled to get free until he was forced to do the unthinkable. Using a blunt knife from his multi-tool, he began amputating his arm in order to save the rest of his body. In a spiritual way, when sin is not removed from our lives it destroys us for all eternity in hell.
Lesson: So, to live in Christ is a blessing but living wrongly in him is a curse
Application: Sometimes a person says, ‘It does not matter if I do bad things.’ But that person is wrong. These things do matter. Jesus died because of them. He died so that God would forgive people. So, people must not continue to do bad things. The bad things that people do are worse than illness. This is because these bad things do not only cause pain and trouble but also leads us to hell. God does not want this to happen. He wants to forgive people. But God will only help people who change their minds. They must want to change their lives. Jesus said we need to be like salt. Why? Because salt gives flavour to food, making it better and it prevents things going off. In other words, believers in Christ are like salt, making the world a better place to live and preserving it from going further bad than it already is.
Challenging questions: Have you been like salt in your community? What are the things you need to amputate from your life?
Link: We work for Christ, we teach about Christ and we live in Christ.
We are all exposed to many dangers in the world and the most serious is the one concerning our eternity destiny. Hell is eternal separation from God. He is love, peace, mercy, grace and good. Therefore, those who are not in Heaven with Him then, will be able to experience the opposite. That’s why Jesus warns us to work for him, teach about him and live in him. Jesus warns us for the sake of the salvation of many and for our own protection. Is Jesus your saviour? Is he your protection?
 How many warning signs do you see per week? Many, right? We live in London and the number warning signs we have here is huge. They are everywhere we go. Mind the gap! Slippery floor! Beware of dogs! No overtaking! No entry! We see them on packs of cigarettes, drinks, medicines. Why do we have so many of them? We live in a city that is filled with danger and warnings help us to be protected. But it is not only in London we see warnings signs. The Bible is also full warnings that can help us to be spiritually protected?