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LSB Proper 21B Sermon – Mark 9:38-50

September 28, 2015

September 27, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”

Jesus’ statement to John mentions the ability to do a mighty work in His name. He gives this statement after John informs Him about an individual who wasn’t a disciple but who was doing miraculous acts: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” John’s objection seems to be reasonable. He understands authority and knows that Jesus has it. John also recalls how Jesus had instructed the Twelve to proclaim the kingdom of heaven’s arrival, heal the sick, and cast out demons. And he knows that Jesus hadn’t given that specific command to this unnamed man.

Jesus responds to John’s objection, but not in the way that John may have expected: “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. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” What is Jesus saying here? How is His response to be received? What is the point of His statement?

Jesus’ response to John deals with the matters of power and authority. But Jesus views them differently than the way John had understood it. John was correct—Jesus had not authorized this man to cast out demons. John was correct again—Jesus’ authorization is what gave the Twelve the power to do mighty works when He sent them out into the places where He would travel. But John is not correct that this man was an opponent or adversary who needed to be rebuked and stopped.

Jesus’ response is not an authorization for anyone to do whatever they would like in His name. It is not a declaration that His Name is a magic incantation which anyone can use to do some miraculous deed. But Jesus’ statement recognizes something in this man whom John mentioned: there is a level of faith and belief in him. Why did this unnamed man cast out demons in Jesus’ name? Because he believed that Jesus has the power over evil spirits. Because he believed that it is good for people with evil spirits to be cleansed of their affliction. At a very basic level, this unnamed man was a supporter of Jesus’ ministry. He welcomes Jesus’ presence and wants Jesus’ influence to be expanded. He sees Jesus as the Redeemer whom the LORD had sent to His people Israel.

Jesus alludes to this presence of faith and support found in this unnamed man: “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.” Remember what some people opposed to Jesus had said about Him: “The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.’” That was a declaration of hostile unbelief against Jesus and His authority. But such a statement didn’t come from this unnamed man. Since that man had performed a miraculous deed in Jesus’ name, he couldn’t say that Jesus didn’t have the authority to do such actions. That would have undercut his own work. No, this man trusted in the authority that Jesus bore, so much so that he had helped people with that power.

So Jesus mentions that this man is not an opponent who needs to be rebuked and stopped. Instead, Jesus recognizes him as an ally: “For the one who is not against us is for us.” That man and the people who had received benefit from his casting out demons had rightly taught about Jesus’ authority. That act would be a way that others were brought to faith and trust in Jesus.

Jesus follows that declaration with another statement about what some people will do when they recognize His authority: “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” Again, that might seem like an odd statement for Jesus to make. But what He’s getting at is this: the people who perform a service for His disciples because they recognize that His disciples bear His name are recognizing His authority. They are doing a good work as a way of honoring Jesus. They might not be able to do something for Jesus Himself. But because of their belief and trust in Him, they will honor Jesus by serving those who belong to Him.

Jesus’ statement to John is a way of teaching His disciples how to relate to others who are not officially members of the Church or who don’t hold particular offices within the Church but who are doing good works. Their faith and piety should be recognized instead of criticized, as long as they aren’t trying to take the place of Jesus and His Church. If they are doing good deeds because they recognize Jesus’ authority and power, then they should be commended, not condemned. They aren’t against Jesus and His Church; they are allies.

That is a good concept for all of us to remember, particularly as our nation faces a crisis of faith and morality. We see groups in the public square who are trying to protect the liberty to worship according to conscience and to oppose actions which denigrate what the LORD has established as His order. These groups which are recognizing Jesus’ authority and power are not opponents, even if they don’t belong to our part of Christendom. Instead, they are allies as they confess along with us that Jesus is Lord and that His teaching is to be followed. Their efforts are to be applauded by us. Jesus’ exhortation should be heeded: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Now that is not the case for those who actually do oppose Jesus’ authority and power. Those who deny that Jesus is Lord are not with us. Those groups will not be doing good works in His name. Instead, they will speak against Him and His teaching. They should be opposed. To say that they are allies is a lie. Such failure to tell the truth could lead others away from their trust in Jesus. And He warns against that: “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.” But that opposition is also coupled with the great command to pray for our opponents that they might be converted and brought to faith in Jesus.

This incident shows us another aspect about Jesus’ authority. He doesn’t lose any of it when He empowers people to do good works in His name. He isn’t denigrated or lessened when people perform actions with His authority. Instead, Jesus’ sphere of influence expands. His kingdom increases. The number of people who are connected to Him goes up. That’s how authority works in the Church.

There are certain actions which Jesus has limited to particular offices. And there are qualifications which have been Scripturally mandated as required for certain offices. Those limits are to be honored as Jesus established them. But whenever individuals who trust in Jesus’ authority and confess His identity as Lord perform actions consistent with His mission and in line with His teaching, the outcome is positive. Such good works aren’t limited to the clergy or to the congregational officers or to long-time parishioners.

Some of those acts were mentioned by James: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working…. 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.” Praying for the sick to be healed and helping to bring the wandering back to truth are truly good works. So are visiting the homebound, assisting with the charitable efforts done by our parish, giving your contributions and offerings, and speaking about the LORD’s righteous order in the public square. But they don’t have to be performed by the man wearing the black shirt and white collar or by the Church Council members or by those who have been members of Calvary for two or more decades. All who recognize Jesus’ authority and identity as Lord can do them.

This truth learned from Jesus’ response to John isn’t that the Church is an egalitarian, democratic institution. That is actually far from the truth. The Church is a benevolent autocracy with Jesus as absolute, yet merciful Lord. But that same Lord Jesus has bestowed His Spirit upon all His people. Moses’ prayer has come true in part: “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit on them!” All who have been baptized into Jesus have received the Holy Spirit and are His holy people. That empowers them to perform mighty works in His name and to speak rightly and worshipfully about Him.

So it is for you who have been made part of Jesus’ Church, who bear His name, who trust in His death and resurrection for your salvation, and who recognize His authority over you and your life. You are not against Jesus, but are for Him. What you do in recognition of His authority and identity is commended by Him. Doing those good works, you will by no means lose your reward.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


From → Sunday Sermon

One Comment
  1. permalink

    Thank you so much for emailing me your sermon. Rick and I were both “under the weather” last Sunday. I printed it out and will read it and pass it to Rick.

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