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The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity — Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost — is October 17, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:35-45

10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

10:36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

10:37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

10:39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;

10:40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

10:41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.

10:42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.

10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,

10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading about pride and humility would have been more powerful had the Lectionary editors added the preceding verses, which follow last week’s reading, about the rich young ruler. It ended with Mark 10:31:

But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Here are verses 32-34, where, for a third time, Jesus tells His disciples what will happen to Him (also see John MacArthur’s sermon):

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

After hearing that, it is incredible that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, would have the utter brass neck to ask that He do whatever they ask of Him (verse 35). Well, early on, Jesus had called them the ‘sons of Boanerges’, the sons of Thunder:

a name signifying sons of thunder , given by our Lord to the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, probably on account of their fiery earnesty. (Mark 3:17) See (Luke 9:54; Mark 9:38) comp. Matt 20:20 etc.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that, in Matthew 20, their mother petitioned on their behalf and they seconded it:

This story is much the same here as we had it Matthew 20:20. Only there they are said to have made their request by their mother, here they are said to make it themselves; she introduced them, and presented their petition, and then they seconded it, and assented to it.

Note, 1. As, on the one hand, there are some that do not use, so, on the other hand, there are some that abuse, the great encouragements Christ has given us in prayer. He hath said, Ask, and it shall be given you; and it is a commendable faith to ask for the great things he has promised; but it was a culpable presumption in these disciples to make such a boundless demand upon their Master; We would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. We had much better leave it to him to do for us what he sees fit, and he will do more than we can desire, Ephesians 3:20.

So Jesus asked what it was they wanted Him to do for them (verse 36).

Henry says this was a way of putting them in check so that they might realise the folly of what they were doing:

He would have them go on with their suit, that they might be made ashamed of it.

They continued in their conceit and pride, asking that Jesus place one of them on His left and the other on His right in glory (verse 37).

Henry explains the two brothers’ reasoning:

James and John conclude, If Christ rise again, he must be a king, and if he be a king, his apostles must be peers, and one of these would willingly be the Primus par regni–The first peer of the realm, and the other next him, like Joseph in Pharaoh’s court, or Daniel in Darius’s.

John MacArthur has more:

Now as we look at this incident with James and John coming to Jesus and making their request, I want you to see how this breaks out into three characteristics of self-promotion, three characteristics of self-promotion, the path to greatness through self-promotion.

First of all, it’s motivated by self-ambition, or its defined by selfish ambition. Verse 35: “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.’” James and John called the sons of thunder, they were brash, bold men. They were the inner circle. They were with Jesus intimately with Peter, the most intimate of all the disciples and apostles. They were close to Him on a regular daily basis, and they think they have gained some ground by that because of their intimacy, because of their participation in the transfiguration, because they have been privy to so many private conversations in times with Jesus. They are sure that they are certainly above and beyond the rest of the men, and so this has come to the place in their minds where they’re bold enough to ask for privilege in the coming kingdom.

MacArthur tells us why their mother petitioned on their behalf in Matthew’s version of the story:

Now this is important. Why would you bring your mother? Come on, be a man. What, you bring your mother? Well, it’s not just that they brought their mother, it’s who their mother was. When you study the crucifixion of Christ in the account of Matthew, Mark, and John, you see three women at the cross: Mary the mother of our Lord, Mary Magdalene, and a third woman. The third woman who is at the cross is identified in three different ways. Matthew calls her the mother of the sons of Zebedee; so it’s this woman, which means she hung in there. When the apostles had fled she hung in there, she was at the cross. So, strong faith there.

Matthew calls her the mother of Zebedee. Mark calls her Salome; so that was her name. John calls her the sister of Jesus’ mother. So their mother is Jesus’ aunt. So this is now a family deal. They’re going to play the family card here, okay. “Not only were we at the transfiguration, not only are we intimately involved with You in the inner circle, but Your mother is our mother’s sister. That’s got to be good for something big, really big.”

She bought into it. She didn’t ask for anything for herself, she didn’t ask if she could have a seat on the dais, she would find her proud fulfillment through her children, like unsuccessful people with bumper stickers, and others on the Internet. She comes worshiping proskuneō. She comes bowing low, and Mark – Matthew says she’s desiring a certain thing of Jesus, and what she’s desiring is exactly what they asked.

So they’re really – this is serious ambition. This is not just personal ambition, this is not whimsical ambition, this is family ambition. Everybody’s in on this deal; and they’re going to come and they’re going to gang up on Jesus thinking they have the right

There’s another feature of pride that rears its ugly head as well, and we could call it arrogant overconfidence, arrogant overconfidence, arrogant overconfidence. This is so much a part of people’s life and attitude today, it’s just absolutely everywhere. They say, “We want to sit one on Your right hand and one on Your left, in Your glory.”

Jesus tells James and John that they do not understand what they are asking; can they drink the cup that He will drink and can they be baptised with His baptism (verse 38).

MacArthur tells us what Jesus was saying. The cup was one of God’s wrath and the baptism was not one of water but being submerged in something profoundly horrible, akin to what we would call a baptism by fire:

“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” That’s an Old Testament idiom for taking in something, draining it. And it’s the cup in Isaiah 31 of God’s fury: “Can you handle, can you handle all that is to come?” Jesus was going to drink the cup of God’s fury. Remember in the garden He said, Matthew 26, “Let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done,” the cup of God’s wrath, He would drink it to the bottom. That was the image. Drinking the cup was literally imbibing it all in. It’s an Old Testament idiom meaning fully absorbing something, fully experiencing something, taking it all in.

Psalm 75, verse 8 talks about the ungodly drinking the cup of wrath. So that cup is very often associated with suffering. “Are you able to do that? Are you able to be baptized?” meaning not Christian baptism, but immersed into, plunged into, submerged. “Are you really able to go all the way under and suffer, to be, as it were, drowned in persecution, and ultimately martyrdom?” This is strong language. “Can you literally drink it all in and be submerged in it, because that’s what you’re really asking, because if you want the glory, the glory is the reward correspondent to the suffering.”

Naively, the brothers asserted that they were able, so Jesus agreed that they would drink His cup and be baptised into His baptism (verse 40).

Of the two, John was present at the Crucifixion and stayed until the end, with Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus. Jesus commended John to Mary before He died. In fact, John was the only one of the twelve Apostles to be there. Judas killed himself that day and the other ten, James included, hid themselves away in fear.

James and John had no idea what they were affirming and what lay ahead for them. Jesus granted their request about drinking His cup and bearing His baptism, as MacArthur tells us:

“Jesus said to them,” – verse 39 – ‘The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.’” That’s a prophecy, folks, that’s a prophecy. “Oh, the suffering? Yeah, you’ll have that. You will have that. Yes, you will drink the cup in full, and you will be submerged in suffering.”

For James, he’s the first martyr; for John, he’s the last martyr. James’ martyrdom – had his head cut off – came fast, soon, sudden, lightning quick. For John, his was a slow agonizing, disappointing death as an exile at the end of the century on the island of Patmos which was virtually a prison island. “You will, you will drink the cup.” Rejected, exiled, in John’s case; rejected, executed, in the case of James – the first and last who died because of the gospel.

Then Jesus said that He could not grant them a seat at His right hand or his left, because that status has already been prepared, and not by Him (verse 40). The implication here is that God determines who will sit right next to His Son in glory.

Mark tells us that the ten Apostles listening to this conversation became angry with the two brothers (verse 41).

MacArthur says this was not because they thought the two were prideful but because they got there before Peter and the rest did in asking the question about sitting next to Jesus in glory:

Ha, they got preempted; James and John got there first. They were furious not because they were spiritually offended, but they thought they were getting cut out of the deal. And this is the third aspect of this, and it is ugly competitiveness.

This argument about who will be first continued until the Last Supper, even though Jesus was constantly reminding them of the pre-eminence of service, such as in Mark 9:34-35:

9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

MacArthur says:

Look, they’re still arguing about this at the upper room. They just had a hard time humbling themselves.

Jesus called the Twelve together and reminded them of the Gentile tyrants who lord themselves over their subjects (verse 42).

He said it would not be that way for the Apostles, because greatness lies in service; the one who wishes to become great must be the other’s servant (verse 43).

Jesus went further, saying that whoever wishes to be first must be the slave to everyone else (verse 44). Talk about radical theology: there it is.

MacArthur discusses the Greek words for ‘servant’ and for ‘slave’:

Here’s the path: Be a servant. Be a servant. Diakonos is the word. “Table waiter” was its primary meaning. “Be a waiter.” Don’t be the person that everybody serves, be the person who serves everybody. Big difference, you know. The fancier the restaurant you go to, the bigger the gap between the people eating and the people serving. You be the server, not the one served. You be the table waiter. That’s what it is to be a servant.

There are six words in the New Testament for servant, all of them Greek words. All of them describe a function: oikonomos, a house servant; hupēretēs, an under-rower in a galley ship pulling oars down in the bottom of a big trireme ship. Be a servant. Be somebody who does something for someone else. You’re not served, you are serving. Be a servant. He doesn’t say, “Be an archōn, be a ruler.” He doesn’t say, “Be a timē, a dignified official.” He doesn’t say, “Be a telos, possessing a powerful office. He doesn’t say, “Be a hiereus, a priest.” The word is, “Be a waiter. Be a waiter. Give your life giving people what they need. Spend your life giving people what they need.”

And it doesn’t end there. Go down even from there, verse 44: “If you want to be first,” – prime – “then be the slave of all.” Wow! The slave of all? This is the word doulos about which you have heard much because of the book Slave. I cannot tell you, folks, how important it is that you read that book; it’ll change your entire understanding of what it means to be a Christian, slave. Slaves were inferior to servants. Servants did a job; slaves were owned, totally controlled. He’s saying, “Consider everybody a person to be served, and consider everyone to be your master.”

Jesus ended by telling them about His primary purpose: to serve and to give His life, ‘a ransom for many’ (verse 45). Notice that He said ‘many’ and not ‘all’. Not all will be saved, because God has already chosen whom He will save: past, present and future.

MacArthur says that Jesus was the slave of His Father:

The greatest service and the greatest slavery was exhibited in Christ, right? He didn’t come to be served. He’s not like other kings, He’s not like other rulers. We say He condescended. That’s one of the ways. He didn’t come like all kings to be served, He came to serve. He didn’t come merely to be Lord and Master, He came also be slave of His Father, and do His Father’s will. He came to be the servant – diakoneō is the verb – but to serve.

But it goes down from there. In giving His life He actually offered a level of obedience that could be deemed slavery. And that’s the language of Philippians. Listen to this: “Do nothing” – verse 3, Philippians 2 – “from selfishness or empty conceit.” This is the same kind of instruction coming from Paul that our Lord gave the apostles. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves.” That’s exactly what our Lord is saying.

And then, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but the interest of others.” And here is the model: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a doulos, the form of a slave. Humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross.”

And what happened to Him? “For this reason God highly exalted Him.” He made the greatest sacrifice, so He was the most exalted. “God gave Him a name above” – what? – “every name.” So, He got the highest name because He made the greatest sacrifice. That’s the principle. The greater the sacrifice, the more the glory. The greatest sacrifice gets the greatest glory. That’s Christ; That’s the model, that’s the pattern.

We are slaves to sin. We cannot help it. Sin is in our nature and sin is our master.

Through His horrifying and humiliating death, Jesus paid our ransom in blood to God the Father, the only efficacious propitiation for our sin. We are redeemed in God’s eyes, and He welcomes us into His kingdom.

MacArthur discusses ‘ransom for many’:

You want greatness in the kingdom? It’s correlated to your selfless serving slavery on behalf of others in sacrifice. And what was the actual service that Christ rendered? End of verse 45: “He gave His life” – we know that; why? – “a ransom for many, a ransom for many.” Lutron is the Greek word; it means “the price paid for the release of a slave,” the price paid for the release of a slave. Only used here and in Matthew 20; parallel account. He gave His life as the price paid for the release of a slave.

To whom was the ransom paid? To God. To God. God is the judge who had to be satisfiedGod is the executioner who had to be appeased, propitiated. This has now today, gratefully and thankfully, become the dominant theme in our understanding of the gospel, that Jesus is the ransom, Jesus is the substitute. Jesus dies a vicarious, substitutionary death on behalf of sinners. That’s what it says. He gave His life to pay the price in full. The price of sin had to be paid to God, to His divine justice; His justice had to be satisfied. The price that Christ paid satisfied God, propitiated His anger, settled His justice. He did it for many. I love the, kind of, Hebraic way of saying this: “for many,” in exchange for many.

What does that mean? What’s the emphasis there? Why does the word “many” appear? Because it’s juxtaposed with “Son of Man.” The ransomed bought by the sacrificial death of Christ are the many in contrast to the one Son of Man. One Son of Man pays the ransom for many.

Somehow I doubt whether any clergy are going to discuss serving or slavery in their Sunday sermons about this reading.

Let us put away our pride and instead embrace humble service.

Blessings to everyone for a good week ahead.

John F MacArthurThroughout his letters, St Paul often wrote of endurance, a resilience to the end.

John MacArthur has a sermon on the subject, ‘Secrets to Endurance’, based on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[a] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Because we all want to know what St Paul’s secret to endurance was, I’ll start there, even though it is near the end of MacArthur’s sermon:

The secret is focusing on the inner man not the outer man, focusing on the spiritual and not the physical. The secret is to look to the future not the present, to take your eyes off present pain, and look at future glory. And the secret is to be consumed with what is invisible and not what is visible; to give your life to what will never perish, not what will perish. Place the unseen far above the seen, the future far above the present, and the spiritual far above the physical.

And when you do that, you will be able to say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Paul suffered much persecution during his life, which, as an Apostle, though not one of the original twelve, brought him much physical pain. There was emotional pain also, because a lot of people wanted to kill him.

It could have been so different for him. As a Pharisee growing up far from Jerusalem, he was educated in Greek ways of thinking. When he moved to Jerusalem for religious training, he learned under the best teacher, Gamaliel. He could have had a highly privileged life.

Yet, the Lord chose Paul to evangelise in His name, far and wide, to Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece.

Paul’s three-day long Damascene conversion began with an appearance by Christ along the road to Damascus which left him blinded during that time. Our Lord spoke to him, uncomfortable, yet eternal, truths for a persecutor of Christians such as Saul.

Paul wrote that he had seen the face of Christ. That blinding moment helped him persevere through the hardest trials of persecution.

MacArthur cites 2 Corinthians 3:18:

… he found the solution for his trouble, and his trial, and his anxiety, and his depression by looking at the face of Jesus. And as long, “beholding as in a mirror” – as verse 18 of chapter 3 says – “the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ” – as long as he did that, he found strength, and comfort, encouragement, and even joy in the midst of his trials.

MacArthur wants us to develop a similar spiritual strategy, imagining the face of Christ from the pages of the Bible and making that ‘image’, for lack of a better expression, a living one we look at every day:

So, we’ve been suggesting to you that looking into the face of Jesus is the way to live your Christian life. And that is an objective thing, not a subjective one. We’re not asking you to find some mystical image of Jesus in space somewhere and fix yourself on it, but rather to look at the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed on the pages of Scripture. And finding there the real Christ, learn to trust in Him.

Now, I want to sort of approach the same program, the same issue this morning, the same pattern of vision, looking at the person of Christ, but from a bit of a different angle, rather than just talking about looking at the face of Jesus, I want to take a step beyond that, and I want to define that look as love, if I may, and say to you that the reality of the Christian life, as I have been saying, is looking at the face of Jesus. And the reality of that is simply loving the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s really what that is. That is synonymous with loving the Lord Jesus Christ.

The reality of loving the Lord Jesus Christ is at the heart and soul and core of the Christian life. Love for the Savior is present in every true Christian. I’ll say it again; love for the Savior is present in every true Christian. In fact, we could be defined as those who love the Lord Jesus Christ. Most frequently we say, “Well, I accepted Christ,” or, “I trusted Christ,” or, “I confessed Christ,” or, “I put my faith in Christ.”

And perhaps what would be more true would be to say, “I love the Lord Jesus Christ,” and in so saying, you are saying he is the object of my highest affection. He is my highest joy. He is the one to whom I am supremely devoted. He is the object of my desires, and my interest, and my love. My whole life is centered on Christ. To use the words of Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ,” is another way of saying, “I love Christ with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And Paul certainly exhibits that kind of devotion.

This is what Jesus asks us to do, as documented in the Gospels:

In John 8:42, Jesus said this, “If God were your Father, you would love Me.” “If God were your Father, you would love Me.”

In John 14:21, Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.”

This matter of being a Christian, then, is a matter of loving the Lord Jesus Christ – and being loved by Christ, by God the Father – and demonstrating that love in sacrifice a willingness to alienate yourself, if need be, from family, willing to give your life, a willingness to give up your life, and certainly a willingness to obey.

That is a tall order and one which I struggle with at times. I know very few believers, because there are few in Britain. Obedience is also something difficult for me, as I occasionally strain at the bit. Those are my weak points.

MacArthur summarises temptation rather well:

we take our eyes off Christ, don’t we? We fluctuate in the intensity of our love. We fluctuate; we wax and wane in the regularity of our devotion to Christ. Why? Because we become enamored with other attractions. Other things vie for our affections. Things in the world, material things; other people; other goals, and dreams, and ambitions, and desires, they compete.

And so, the love that we have for the Lord Jesus Christ, while always there, because it is an incorruptible love, fluctuates in its intensity, and we fluctuate in our devotion. When we take a our eyes off Jesus Christ, we become weak and sinful

and it’s hard to look if your affection is diverted.

I mean that’s true in the human life. You can and should be fixed and devoted to the object of your love, your marriage partner, an undiminished, incorruptible, and singular devotion. But there are other things, very, very often, that get in the way. And once other things or other people begin to distract our attention, no matter to what level of involvement we might come or not come, it begins to take away the singular devotion of attention that should be given to our own partner. The same thing is true in the spiritual dimension. So, Satan just parades a string of other things in front of us to divert us. And when we take our eyes off Jesus Christ, and our love for Him diminishes, we become weak and sinful.

This is something we must guard against because it can become a destructive habit.

MacArthur mentions our Lord’s letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:

Perhaps as graphic an illustration of that as is in the Scripture we would find in Revelation chapter 2. Let’s look at it, because it’ll set in motion what I want to say to you, and we’ll come a full circle by the time we’re finished and come back to this concept.

But do you remember the letter of the Lord to the church at Ephesus, a very, very well-known letter. And the Lord writes to them, and in verses 2, 3, and 6 of Revelation 2, He commends them. In verse 2 of Revelation 2, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance” – in other words, “I know that you serve; I know that you work hard, you labor, you toil to the point of exhaustion. I know your perseverance – that is your steadfastness – that is you stay at it; you stay at it. “I also know you can’t endure evil men” – you don’t tolerate wickedness. I also know that you put to the test those who call themselves apostles” – in other words, you measure them by the Scripture – “and if they are not, you will find them to be false.”

Verse 3, “You have perseverance, and you have endured for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” And then in verse 6, “Yet the – this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” They were a group of people involved in sinful indulgence, uncleanness, and immorality. He commends them for their purity, their discernment, their hatred of sin, their doctrinal soundness, their endurance, their service, their hard work. So much to be commended.

But the fatal flaw comes down there in verse 4, where He says, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Sadly, the honeymoon had ended. Love was cold. No longer were they fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ …

And so, then we have an essential word here for us as to the church at Ephesus. Verse 5, “Remember, therefore, from where you have fallen” – get back to that first affection, that first love – “repent and do the deeds which you did at first. If you don’t, I’ll remove your lampstand.”

The church in Ephesus was dying then. The Muslim invasions of the 7th century ended what was left of it.

Returning to Paul’s endurance, MacArthur says:

And so Paul here, as he writes, back to 2 Corinthians chapter 4, is in the middle of severe trials, severe problems, heartbreaking issues in the church, physical things pale beside the immense emotional trauma that he was feeling as everything was up for grabs, and his whole ministry was being assaulted as to its integrity.

And in the midst of that he finds his equilibrium, and he finds his strength, and he finds his victory, and he finds his peace, and he finds even joy not by changing circumstances, but by looking at the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God revealed.

And so, we have said that as he talks [about] the new covenant here, and the great privileges of being a new covenant preacher, he’s not just talking about something for which others are privileged, but he himself, because his own joy is found in looking into the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the new covenant.

And so, in verse 18, he says looking at the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God is a clarifying look. In verse 18 he says it’s a transforming look. Then in chapter 4, verse 1, it is a strengthening look. At the end of the verse, we do not lose heart. Looking into the face of Jesus, in verse 2, is a purifying look. It causes us to renounce the things that are hidden because of shame and not walk in deception.

It is a truth-loving look. It causes us never to adulterate the Word of God, but always by the manifestation of the truth commend ourselves to ever man’s conscience in the sight of God. So, it is a truth-loving look. So, Paul has found that no matter what the trial, things become clear. He becomes transformed, strengthened, purified, and begins to love the truth as he gazes at the face of Jesus Christ in any situation.

Paul could have boasted about that, but he remained humble:

Whenever Paul talked about himself, he talked about his weakness. Whenever he referred to himself, he referred to himself in terms of his inabilities. The apostle Paul never promoted himself, never preached himself. His vision of Christ caused the glory of Christ to dominate his life. His love for Christ caused him to be completely consumed by Jesus Christ, and Christ was the focus of everything. If we would boast in glory, he would glory in the Lord. And if there was anything to boast about in him, it was his weakness – so in his weakness he could be made strong. He never promoted himself.

He goes further, in verse 5, “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord.” I think we could safely conclude from that that Paul was a lordship preacher. I think that’s a safe assumption. He preached Christ Jesus as Lord.

Humility is essential:

Let me tell you something, a true look into the face of Jesus results in humility. It results in humility. I mean this is very, very basic. Anyone looking at the face of Jesus is turned into a humble, self-effacing person. It’s true.

And conversely, anyone who is not humble is not looking into the face of Jesus. Anyone who is in love with Christ and deeply, profoundly devoted to Christ, anyone who has established the Lord Jesus Christ as the object of his affections, the singular object of his love is going to manifest humility. He’s going to be a servant of the one he loves and a servant of those whom the one he loves loves. Going to be a servant of God’s people.

Where there is a real look at Jesus, where there is a real love for the Lord Jesus Christ, you will see humility. And where there is no humility, there is no real vision of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and there is a kind of love that we could say is less than first love. In fact, where you see pride, there’s another person vying for that love, and it’s self. Right?

That’s why when I – when I look at someone who names the name of Jesus Christ, particularly someone who claims to be a preacher and represent the Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim His truth, the first thing I look for is – what? – humility. Because I’m going to know the level of love for the Lord Jesus Christ in that person’s life by the demonstration of humility. And if there’s not humility there, then self is the main object of affection, and they’re not looking into the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God.

The reason for humility is the realisation that we cannot accomplish salvation ourselves:

And salvation or redemption is as much a divine operation as was creation, and it’s as much a creative operation. Spiritual darkness covers the minds of men and women until God shines in their hearts. Colossians 1 says, “Giving thanks to the Father” – verse 12 – “who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness.” Thanks to Him, He did it. He delivered us. It wasn’t our cleverness, ingenuity, insight, ability to comprehend. It wasn’t our good sense, common sense, and it wasn’t the cleverness of a preacher; it was simply the truth presented. God turned on the light. God alone can dispel the darkness. Second Corinthians 5:18 says, “All these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself in Christ.” God alone can dispel the darkness of sin and ignorance in which people are perishing under Satan’s deception. Only the creative power of the Almighty can transfer men from that kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

It’s right back there in Isaiah 2, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” And Jesus came and said, “I’m the fulfillment of that.” He was the true Light that lights every man who comes into the world.

Christ bore the light of God. God alone can turn on the light in the heart. So, the point that he’s making is creation and redemption are each works of God. God commanded the light to shine out of darkness at the creation. And the light which shined in a creative way has now begun to shine in a redemptive way. The light of creation has become the light of salvation. The light placed in the heavens has now become a light placed in the heart. He light which was material has become immaterial or moral. The physical light of the sun – S-U-N – has become the spiritual light of the Son – S-O-N. The universal light has become the personal light. The sovereign God shines the gospel light into the human heart, when the truth is preached, and God designs to save.

And so, he says in verse 6, “God is the one who has shone in our hearts to give the light, to make the light known. And what is that light? It is the light that is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. What is the light? It is to know who Christ is: that He is graduate incarnate, that He is the clearest revelation of God. It is the illumination of the truth about God revealed in Christ. That’s it.

And Paul is saying, “Whatever might happen to me, I can’t despair. Whatever might happen to me, I can’t be depressed for very long. Whatever may happen to me, I can’t be sad and sorrowful. Whatever difficulties of ministry, I can’t quit, bail out and fail, and give up, because I am so immensely, immensely blessed that my heart is overwhelmed with thanksgiving, that in the midst of my darkness, a sovereign God chose to turn on the light.

MacArthur concludes:

So, rekindle that first love. Remember from where you are fallen. Begin again to focus all your life on knowing Jesus Christ, gazing at Him through the mirror of Scripture that reflects the glory of God in the face of Christ, and you’ll find in Him all the realities and all the resources for triumph, for peace, and for joy.

It’s an encouraging message for the week ahead.

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity — the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 26, 2021.

The readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 9:38-50

9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

9:39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.

9:40 Whoever is not against us is for us.

9:41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

9:42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

9:43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

9:45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.

9:47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,

9:48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

9:49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.

9:50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

These verses pick up from where we left off last week:

9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

9:36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,

9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus refers to children again in today’s reading as well as the disciples’ argument about who shall be first among them.

Jesus spoke of radical Christianity here, the necessity of mortifying our carnal desires and of ensuring our own purity.

‘Radical’ derives from the word ‘root’, meaning that it is essential.

John MacArthur has more:

This is a very unique portion of Scripture. It is full of graphic terminology, dramatic acts, severe warnings, and rather violent threats. It really is a passage about radical discipleship, and the language bears testimony to that. It calls for radical behaviors, and it shows us just how radical it is to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Our Lord here, in these verses, is calling for radical discipleship. I think this is a message that is highly necessary for the day in which we live when under the name of Christianity and even evangelical Christianity, there is so much superficiality.

The language here is severe, extreme, fanatical, and radical language. And that fits the radical nature of our Lord’s invitation to true discipleship. Let me talk about the word “radical.” It’s a word you hear, it’s a word you know, it’s a word that we experience in our world commonly.

If you look in the dictionary, you’ll find two meanings for the word “radical.” Number one probably will be this word means basic or fundamental or foundational, something primary, intrinsic or essential. The second meaning, which may be the one that is more popular today, is that it also means something that deviates by its extreme. When we think of something radical, we think of something revolutionary or something severe or, as I mentioned, something fanatical. But really, the word is both.

It is a word that refers to something that is fundamental and fanatical, that is intrinsic and intensive, that is essential and extreme. Therefore, it is a great word to use as an adjective for a discipleship because discipleship is something fundamental and fanatical, something intrinsic and intensive, something essential and something extreme. The basics of being a disciple are really radical.

John tells Jesus that he and the disciples saw someone casting out demons in His name and that they tried to stop him from doing so because he was not one of them (verse 38).

We do not know when this happened. It could have been during the time when Jesus invested the Apostles with His own divine gifts of teaching and healing.

Jesus replied, saying that no one performing a powerful deed in His name would be able to speak evil of him afterwards (verse 39).

Furthermore, He said that whoever is not against us is for us (verse 40).

Matthew Henry and John MacArthur agree that it is possible that God granted a few outsiders these divine gifts.

MacArthur says:

There were others that the Lord had given this power to. Perhaps this is one who became a part of the 70. We don’t know. But what he was doing was legitimate. God was doing it because he was a true believer in Christ and he was doing it in the name of Christ. But they were telling the guy to stop because he wasn’t a part of their group. This is not Simon Magus, folks. This is the real thing here

Henry posits that the man might have been a follower of John the Baptist and spoke of the Messiah to come, not realising that Jesus was already on Earth:

some think that he was a disciple of John, who made use of the name of the Messiah, not as come, but as near at hand, not knowing that Jesus was he. It should rather seem that he made use of the name of Jesus, believing him to be the Christ, as the other disciples did. And why not he receive that power from Christ, whose Spirit, like the wind, blows where it listeth, without such an outward call as the apostles had? And perhaps there were many more such. Christ’s grace is not tied to the visible church.

Henry refers to a similar incident with Joshua in the Old Testament:

This was like the motion Joshua made concerning Eldad and Medad, that prophesied in the camp, and went not up with the rest to the door of the tabernacle; “My lord Moses, forbid them (Numbers 11:28); restrain them, silence them, for it is a schism.” Thus apt are we to imagine that those do not follow Christ at all, who do not follow him with us, and that those do nothing well, who do not just as we do. But the Lord knows them that are his, however they are dispersed; and this instance gives us a needful caution, to take heed lest we be carried, by an excess of zeal for the unity of the church, and for that which we are sure is right and good, to oppose that which yet may tend to the enlargement of the church, and the advancement of its true interests another way.

2. The rebuke he gave to them for this (Mark 9:39; Mark 9:39); Jesus said, “Forbid him not, nor any other that does likewise.” This was like the check Moses gave to Joshua; Enviest thou for my sake? Note, That which is good, and doeth good, must not be prohibited, though there be some defect or irregularity in the manner of doing it. Casting out devils, and so destroying Satan’s kingdom, doing this in Christ’s name, and so owning him to be sent of God, and giving honour to him as the Fountain of grace, preaching down sin, and preaching up Christ, are good things, very good things, which ought not to be forbidden to any, merely because they follow not with us. If Christ be preached, Paul therein doth, and will rejoice, though he be eclipsed by it, Philippians 1:18. Two reasons Christ gives why such should not be forbidden. (1.) Because we cannot suppose that any man who makes use of Christ’s name in working miracles, should blaspheme his name, as the scribes and Pharisees did. There were those indeed that did in Christ’s name cast out devils, and yet in other respects were workers of iniquity; but they did not speak evil of Christ. (2.) Because those that differed in communion, while they agreed to fight against Satan under the banner of Christ, ought to look upon one another as on the same side, notwithstanding that difference. He that is not against us is on our part. As to the great controversy between Christ an Beelzebub, he had said, He that is not with me is against me, Matthew 12:30. He that will not own Christ, owns Satan. But as to those that own Christ, though not in the same circumstances, that follow him, though not with us, we must reckon that though these differ from us, they are not against us, and therefore are on our part, and we must not be any hindrance to their usefulness.

Following on the same theme, Jesus said that anyone offering the disciples a drink of water because they represent Him will be rewarded (verse 41).

Henry tells us:

If Christ reckons kindness to us services to him, we ought to reckon services to him kindnesses to us, and to encourage them, though done by those that follow not with us.

MacArthur says that Jesus was cautioning against pride on the part of the disciples:

You give a cup of water to drink to someone who belongs to Christ, that’s humility. You don’t have any psychoanalysis of what humility feels like. Forget that. Because as soon as you feel humble, guess what? You’re proud. And as soon as you feel proud, you have hope for humility. I’m not talking about feeling, we’re talking about what humility does because that’s the only way you can define it. It looks like this, it’s basically kind, it’s basically sacrificial toward those who bear the name of Christ.

Whichever one of you goes to the other and gives a cup of cold water for the sake of Christ, you will not lose your reward. Because the fear was, “Oh, if I humble myself, I’m going to lose the fight. This is a competition, we’ve got to win, we’ve got to be first, we’ve got to be first.” So the fear is, if I end up at the bottom, I’m going to lose the reward, I’m going to lose the prize. No, you’re not going to lose it. You’re going to gain it. The simple act of sacrificial kindness to one who belongs to Christ will result in what you will never achieve by elevating yourself. You won’t lose your reward, you’ll gain it.

Then Jesus said that anyone who puts a stumbling block — temptation — before His ‘little ones’ would be better off having a millstone put around his neck and thrown in the sea than suffer the consequences of divine judgement (verse 42).

He was referring to the child in his arms but also to the wider body of believers, God’s children.

Henry tells us:

Whosoever shall grieve any true Christians, though they be of the weakest, shall oppose their entrance into the ways of God, or discourage and obstruct their progress in those ways, shall either restrain them from doing good, or draw them in to commit sin, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea: his punishment will be very great, and the death and ruin of his soul more terrible than such a death and ruin of his body would be. See Matthew 18:6.

MacArthur explains the gravity of that threat:

The threat is unmistakable. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe” – not children but believers who are considered His children, His precious ones – “to stumble” – to stumble. What do we mean by stumble? Skandalizomai, to be caught in sin, to be trapped in sin, entrapped. “Whoever causes one” – not a group, one, and one is emphatic – “it would be better to have a, mulos onikos, tied around your neck. Mulos is mule, onikos is stone.

They used to grind grain using a mule. There would be a fixed stone and on top of that a round stone that would roll around and crush the grain and be pulled by a mule. It would weigh tons – tons. You would be better off to have one of those tied around your neck and have you thrown to the bottom of the ocean than to cause another Christian to be trapped in sin. Drowning is a very unforgettable threat to Jewish people. They are not seafaring people. The ocean is a great barrier to them. They are agrarian people. They fish in the lake. They don’t like the depths of the sea. This is a horrifying threat.

What our Lord is calling for here is radical love, the kind of love that works very hard never to be a source of sinful solicitation to another person. To solicit them toward the lust of the flesh, toward the lust of the eyes, materialism, toward the love of the world, toward pride. We’re talking here about the other believers in your life, children, spouses, friends, acquaintances. Love doesn’t do that. Love doesn’t solicit to sin. Love does the very opposite of that. According to 1 Corinthians chapter 13, love doesn’t enjoy someone falling into sin …

This is the strongest threat that ever came out of the mouth of Jesus to His own people, and it calls for radical love, and love seeks someone’s best, love seeks to elevate, love seeks to purify, love seeks to bless.

Jesus expanded on that by citing parts of our body that can cause us to sin. He does not intend us to actually remove them, just to rid ourselves of touching (verse 43), going to (verse 45) and seeing things (verse 47) that tempt us. Otherwise, we will end up in hell forever.

MacArthur says that He is calling us to radical purity:

But not just radical love is called for in radical discipleship. Secondly is radical purity – radical purity. And that’s what is laid out in verses 43, 45, and 47. And, of course, they go together because you’re never going to be able to lead someone else into righteousness if you’re not righteous yourself. You’re not going to be a purifying influence on others unless your own heart is pure. Just the reverse is true. If your own heart is impure, you will lead others into sin. You will be the means of other people’s entrapment.

So the danger of leading others to sin is eliminated when you deal with sin in your own heart. And what this text calls for is a radical, severe dealing with that sin.

MacArthur explains the strong metaphors that Jesus used:

The language here is just so strong. First thing that strikes me is the severity with which we are to deal with sin. This is extreme behavior. This reminds me of the illustration of the Old Testament of hacking Agag to pieces as a kind of a symbol of how we have to deal with sin. This is the language that’s similar to Romans where Paul talks about killing sin, mortifying it. This is aggressive, severe treatment of sin, and it’s in metaphoric hyperbole – it’s in metaphoric hyperbole.

The language calls for radical, severe action against any and all sin. Body parts are mentioned here, the hands, the feet, and the eyes. And I think the sum of those is simply to say everything you see, everything you do, everywhere you go – everything that relates to your life, all behaviors, these three separate parts are symbolic of the overall, general emphasis, and the verbs are all in the present tense, which means you keep on doing it. It’s not once and for all. We would like to think of that, but that’s not the way it is. Present tense verbs emphasize the continual struggle with temptation and with sin.

And what our Lord is saying is that salvation and the kingdom of God, mentioned in verse 47, which you want to enter, or life, as it’s referred to in verse 43 and 44, which means eternal life, spiritual life, salvation on the positive side and escape from hell on the negative side, is so important that you need to get rid of anything that is a barrier to that. That’s the point. Amputation is what’s in view. Amputation, radical, severe action against anything that stands in the way of the pursuit of holiness, righteousness, and purity.

Obviously, our Lord is not calling for physical mutilation, not at all. I promise you, a person with one eye and a person with one hand and a person with one leg – or, for that matter, a person with no hands, no legs, and no eyes does not thereby conquer sin. That kind of folly developed in the history of the church, even from the second century on, that somehow if you emasculated yourself or if you mutilated yourself physically in some way, you could defeat sin.

That kind of view in those early years gained enough traction to have developed into kind of a full-fledged cult in the Middle Ages, a false view developed by monks and ascetics who took passages like these and Matthew 19:12 where it refers to those who have been made eunuchs, as if somehow in an action like that they could thereby conquer sin. The testimony from people who did that is that it had no real effect on their hearts, although it may have seriously altered their behavior. The issue is on the inside.

Eagle-eyed readers might be wondering what happened to verses 44 and 46.

MacArthur says that they might have been added later then removed because they were not in the original text:

There are things here that are so firm, so strong, so threatening, so severe that somewhere along the line people thought they needed to ramp up the message because of its severity. And there are things in this passage that are cryptic and challenging to interpret, and so through the years, there have been some alterations, maybe by scribes who wanted to clarify a little bit. Not a good thing to do, change the text, but, fortunately, we have as close to the original as we’re going to get, and we’re going to take the passage at its purest form.

One of the great realities of Scripture is the preservation of the original, which God has overseen so that we have a true reflection of the original Greek and Hebrew text. Let me read this to you, and if you’ll notice it, I’m going to skip verses 44 and 46 when I read. It may be, if you have an NAS or one of the newer translations, you see brackets around them. That is because in the earlier manuscripts, these two statements do not occur. However, the statement in verse 44 and 46 is in verse 48. So we assume that some scribe saw the urgency of this and just wanted to pile it on a little bit.

Jesus said that the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched in hell (verse 48).

MacArthur explains why He used those words, which would have resonated with the Jews, His disciples:

The word “hell,” by the way, is gehenna – gehenna. It is a very interesting term. It is always the term that refers to the lake of fire, not just the place of the dead (like hades) but the actual burning lake of fire. That is why verse 43 describes hell as the place of unquenchable fire. And verse 48, “Where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

Gehenna – where did that word come from? The root of that word comes from the Valley of Hinnom – the Valley of Hinnom, mentioned in Joshua 15:8. It is a steep ravine down to a valley, south of the city of Jerusalem, very severe. That was a place where Ahaz and Manasseh, two kings, offered human sacrifices to Molech. You can read about it in 2 Kings 16 and 21, 2 Chronicles 28 and 33. Human sacrifices in the land of Israel in the Valley of Hinnom to pacify this vicious, false deity named Molech, an unthinkable practice that Jewish people would sacrifice their babies to Molech.

It was denounced, of course, by the prophets, particularly Jeremiah, Jeremiah 7:31, Jeremiah 32:35. In fact, Jeremiah renames it in Jeremiah 19:6. He calls it the Valley of Slaughter – the Valley of Slaughter. And he also calls it the Valley of Topheth. Topheth comes from a Hebrew word that means drum. Why would it be called the Valley of the Drum? Because some historians tell us that drums were beaten there regularly to drown out the screams of the burning babies. A horrendous place.

Josiah, the good king, according to 2 Kings 23:10, shut that down, stopped all that, and turned it into Jerusalem’s garbage dump. I mean real garbage, no plastic, no paper. Rancid food, sewage, maggots, and a 24/7 fire consuming it. And it was easily adapted as the word to describe eternal hell, unquenchable fire. This is the emphasis of Scripture. All the way from the beginning, Matthew 25 to the end, Revelation 20, hell is a reality about which we are warned. Hell is mentioned twelve times in the New Testament, eleven of them by Jesus, the other one by James (James 3:6) and in this place, the fire is not quenched and the worm never dies, that’s verse 48.

By the way, verse 48 is a direct quote from Isaiah 66:24, and if you remember Isaiah, that’s the last verse in Isaiah. Isaiah ends with a horrible, horrible pronunciation of judgment. “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.” Looking at the judgment when the Lord comes as final judge.

This is the strongest call to discipleship, maybe the strongest our Lord ever gave. You either deal radically with issues of sin in your life or you end up in the eternal dump, the garbage pit, punished forever, where there will be darkness, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth in isolation, according to what we read in so many places in Matthew.

Jesus went on to mention salt, in a negative and a positive way.

The use of ‘salt’ would also have resonated with His disciples, because salt was mandated in sacrifices of animals and grain as a sign of God’s covenant with His people.

MacArthur tells us:

Salt was added to sacrifices as a symbol of God’s enduring covenant. Salt is a preservative. But there’s one particular sacrifice that really fits perfectly here, Leviticus 2. In the opening five chapters of Leviticus, you have Scripture instruction on the five offerings – five offerings. In chapter 2, you have the grain offering – the grain offering – and it describes that offering.

But I want you to go down to verse 13, “Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt so that the salt of the covenant of your God should not be lacking from your grain offering.” With all your offerings, you shall offer salt. Salt symbolizes God’s promise, God’s covenant, God’s enduring faithfulness as you make the offering.

Jesus said that those who go to hell will be salted with fire (verse 49).

Henry explains that this salting with fire is eternal, because it works both as a corrosive and as a preservative:

in hell they shall be salted with fire; coals of fire shall be scattered upon them (Ezekiel 10:2), as salt upon the meat, and brimstone (Job 18:15), as fire and brimstone were rained on Sodom; the pleasures they have lived in, shall eat their flesh, as it were with fire,James 5:3. The pain of mortifying the flesh now is no more to be compared with the punishment for not mortifying it, than salting with burning. And since he had said, that the fire of hell shall not be quenched, but it might be objected, that the fuel will not last always, he here intimates, that by the power of God it shall be made to last always; for those that are cast into hell, will find the fire to have not only the corroding quality of salt, but its preserving quality; whence it is used to signify that which is lasting: a covenant of salt is a perpetual covenant, and Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt, made her a remaining monument of divine vengeance. Now since this will certainly be the doom of those that do not crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, let us, knowing this terror of the Lord, be persuaded to do it.

Jesus then ended with the good use of salt, a seasoning which makes our food taste good, and, in this context, a sign of grace making our utterances and actions palatable and pleasant as believers. If we lose our saltiness, how can we recover it? He called on the disciples and calls on us to have salt in ourselves and to be at peace with one another (verse 50).

Henry says:

Those that have the salt of grace, must make it appear that they have it; that they have salt in themselves, a living principle of grace in their hearts, which works out all corrupt dispositions, and every thing in the soul that tends to putrefaction, and would offend our God, or our own consciences, as unsavoury meat doth. Our speech must be always with grace seasoned with this salt, that no corrupt communication may proceed out of our mouth, but we may loathe it as much as we would to put putrid meat into our mouths …

We must not only have this salt of grace, but we must always retain the relish and savour of it; for if this salt lose its saltiness, if a Christian revolt from his Christianity, if he loses the savour of it, and be no longer under the power and influence of it, what can recover him, or wherewith will ye season him? This was said Matthew 5:13.

Jesus warned against salt that had lost its flavour.

MacArthur explains that this is because some salt was cut, or mixed, with other additives, one of which was gypsum:

Now, if any of you are into chemicals out there, chemistry, you know that sodium chloride is stable. Just sitting around, it doesn’t lose its saltiness, so the question comes up: What can this mean, since salt is stable and doesn’t lose its property, even over a long period of time? What can it refer to?

We’re helped by some historians. Some of them may be ancient, like Pliny, who recorded the fact that there were several kinds of salts in Israel and many of them had properties that made them impure, and they were basically worthless. One kind that seemed to be in some abundant supply was salt that was imperceptibly mixed with gypsum, and it was worse than useless.

So our Lord says, while we’re talking about salt and dedication, let me just pick my salt illustration up and move it up to another point. Salt is good but it’s only good if its unmixed – if it’s unmixed. And then comes His statement: Have salt in yourselves. Be salt, don’t be salt mixed with gypsum or anything else, be undiluted, unmixed.

Being at peace with one another means being humble rather than fighting over who will win top spot in the next life:

… that’s a command and I think it’s a command to radical obedience, a life that is unmixed. Why do you say that? Because He then gives them a direct practical application, “And be at peace with one another.”

Why does He say that? Because that’s what they needed to hear. Back in verse 33 they were – Jesus says, “What were you discussing on the way down here to Capernaum?” They kept silent. On the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. Wow. They were basically proud, self-serving, competitive. They were guilty of leading each other into sin. There was anger. Anything but humility.

I think our Lord simply says, “You need to be unmixed in your obedience, and here’s the command for today: Stop fighting. Stop elevating yourselves. Stop the competition. Stop being the cause of temptation. Such is the essence of radical discipleship, then, to love extremely, to deal with sin severely, to sacrifice one’s life wholly, and to obey fanatically.

These are certainly not messages we hear in today’s church.

I am looking forward to Sunday’s sermon at my church and seeing how close it comes to this exposition from Henry and MacArthur.

The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity — Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 18, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 9:30-37

9:30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;

9:31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

9:32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

9:33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”

9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

9:36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,

9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

In last week’s reading, Jesus and the disciples were in Caesarea Philippi.

They left there to pass through Galilee, although Jesus did not want anyone to know it because of their unbelief (verse 30). His ministry was finished there.

As such, He was using His remaining time to teach the Apostles privately, particularly to prepare them for His death and resurrection (verse 31). He always spoke of rising again, as in Mark 8:31:

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says of Galilee and His ministry:

He passed through Galilee with more expedition than usual, and would not that any man should know of it (Mark 9:30; Mark 9:30); because he had done many mighty and good works among them in vain, they shall not be invited to see them and have the benefit of them, as they have been. The time of his sufferings drew nigh, and therefore he was willing to be private awhile, and to converse only with his disciples, to prepare them for the approaching trial, Mark 9:31; Mark 9:31.

MacArthur tells us:

There will be a little more public ministry in Judea when He gets into the south, and Matthew and Luke tell us about that, Mark really doesn’t tell us about that. Mark jumps right through the teaching lessons here, right to the arrival in Jerusalem. But for Galilee, public ministry is really over. They have made their decision concerning Him, and it is confirmed by His absence.

He was teaching, verse 31 says, His disciples. You’ll find that again in chapter 10. It flows through the tenth chapter, one lesson after another, after another, after another, given to His disciples. He is preparing them for their future. Not only does He remind them all the time about His death and prepare them for that, as much as could be done, but He instructs them on matters related to the kingdom and life in the kingdom so they’ll be able to know and instruct others.

Although they knew that Jesus is Lord, they had a difficult time understanding that their long-awaited Messiah must die; it was something that made them afraid and reluctant to discuss (verse 32).

The Jews of that time had a well-developed idea of the Messiah. Death was not part of that concept, as MacArthur explains:

Now remember, they have said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” They know He is the Messiah, the Christ. They also know He is the Son of God, God the Son, deity.

In spite of the fact that they know that that is the case, He tells them He’s going to die. They can’t process that. They can’t handle that. They can’t comprehend that. You remember in 1 Corinthians 1:23 and following, Paul says that the cross is to the Jews a stumbling block. Right? To the Jews, it is a stumbling block. It is a stumbling block to the Jews to whom Paul writes and identifies, but it was also a stumbling block to these Jews. A crucified Messiah didn’t make sense.

They now know He is the Messiah. They know He is the Son of God. They can’t – they don’t even know the cross is the way He will die, but death, the death of the Messiah, is unacceptable to them, and so he that is convinced against his will is unconvinced still. They just don’t process it …

They could understand that as long as He was alive that He had power over death, but if He’s dead, who’s going to raise Him? First of all, they can’t understand the theology of a dead Messiah and they can’t understand where the power is going to come from. They’re really overcome by fear.

Verse 32, “They didn’t understand the statement and they were afraid to ask Him.” They certainly didn’t like what they’d heard up to that point, and they really didn’t want any more information. They didn’t want any details. Matthew adds they were deeply grieved – deeply grieved. They were in pain. They were in sorrow. They were in sadness even to think about this and so they just rejected it, which is a defense mechanism that we do – don’t we? – when perhaps someone that we know about and we care for and love has some terrible disease or some terrible accident and we get the initial word about death and we say, “I can’t really believe it.”

When they arrived in Capernaum in Galilee and were in the house, Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about along the way (verse 33).

The disciples had been arguing about who among them was the greatest and who would receive honour in heaven; they were ashamed to admit it to Jesus, so they remained silent (verse 34).

Mark 9 opens with the Transfiguration, which Peter along with James and John — the two sons of Zebedee — witnessed. They had seen the awe of divine glory.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the discussion became contentious, with each disciple presenting his own case for preferment.

Jesus, being omniscient, knew what the argument was about, but, as Henry says, He wanted them to confess their pride:

He knew very well what the dispute was, but he would know it from them, and would have them to confess their fault and folly in itNothing could be more contrary to the two great laws of Christ’s kingdom, lessons of his school, and instructions of his example, which are humility and love, than desiring preferment in the world, and disputing about it. This ill temper he took all occasions to check, both because it arose from a mistaken notion of his kingdom, as if it were of this world, and because it tended so directly to be debasing of the honour, and the corrupting of the purity, of his gospel, and, he foresaw, would be so much the bane of the church.

MacArthur says the dispute would have been a long one:

They’d been walking for a long time, we don’t know exactly how long, but it would be a significant journey for miles, 20, 30 – who knows? – miles, up into Caesarea Philippi, coming all the way down to Capernaum. And on the way, they were having a discussion, it was a prolonged discussion. It was a heated discussion. It was, frankly, a really ugly discussion. They were hassling with each other all the way down the trail. It was an embarrassing discussion. And our Lord exposes that.

They didn’t want to admit what they were talking about, but it related to this whole idea of death and self-denial and taking up a cross and suffering and persecution because they’re still ambitious. They’re still self-seeking. They’re highly competitive. And they’re following sort of their lifelong models of self-glorification. Very hard to overcome this. The apostles were struggling with it – even preachers in the modern world struggle with this – and what they were struggling with was which of them (verse 34) was the greatest.

The next several verses, then, focus on humility.

MacArthur explains why humility is an alien concept to fallen man:

If I were to title this section and the lesson, I might call it, “The Virtue of Being Last” – “The Virtue of Being Last.” That title would seem offensive to the culture in which you and I live because everybody wants to be first – number one – that’s the whole idea. Humility is not viewed as a virtue in our culture, and it wasn’t viewed as a virtue in ancient pagan culture, either. And it’s not just a cultural issue. Humility is foreign to fallen DNA. Humility is alien to the human heart.

The human heart, every human heart, every fallen human heart, is a relentless worshiper of itself. It is the nature of man to be dominated by pride. In a bizarre, convoluted emphasis in our society to diagnose people’s ills because they lack self-esteem, our culture has poured gas on a fire. Nobody lacks self-esteem – that’s a lie. People are dominated by self-esteem, dominated by pride, it just comes in many forms. And in those forms, people manipulate the things around them and the people around them the way they want to manipulate them and using the means they use.

Nobody lacks self-esteem, everybody is consumed with himself or herself in one way or another. To then diagnose all human ills because people lack self-esteem is to really cry out for people to be more proud when they’re already dominated by deadly pride. It is alien, then, to human life to talk about being humble, to be content to be last. And so I say if we put a big banner out in front of the church and said we’re going to have a conference on how to be last, nobody would show. We wouldn’t attract a crowd at all.

Jesus wanted to correct the disciples’ lack of humility, so He told them that whoever wants to be first must be the least and the servant of all (verse 35). He would demonstrate that at the Last Supper by washing the Apostles’ feet.

However, at this time, His message did not sink in. It comes up again in Mark 10.

MacArthur says:

you come over to chapter 10, verse 35, Jesus again (in 33 and 34) talks about His death. Again, He brings up His death, which, of course, again, is the model of humility. And immediately after that, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” “What do you want me to do?” He said. “Just grant that we may sit one on your right and one on your left in your glory.”

I mean this – the brashness of this, this is mind-boggling. This was deep into the fabric of their fallenness and of their religion. Pride just devastates unity. They actually brought their mother with them to ask on their behalf. Pride destroys unity, and unity is critical.

Returning to today’s verses, Jesus reinforced His message by bringing a small child into their midst, taking it into His arms (verse 36).

He chose a small child for its innocence and lack of pride.

Jesus said to the disciples that anyone who welcomes such a child welcomes Him and anyone who welcomes Him welcomes not only Him but also God the Father (verse 37).

Henry rephrases this for our understanding:

He took a child in his arms, that had nothing of pride and ambition in it. “Look you,” saith he; “whosoever shall receive one like this child, receives me. Those of a humble, meek, mild disposition are such as I will own and countenance, and encourage every body else to do so too, and will take what is done to them as done to myself; and so will my Father too, for he who thus receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me, and it shall be placed to his account, and repaid with interest.”

Two sentences in MacArthur’s sermon struck me:

God, who gives the rewards, gives grace to the humble, James 4:6. So pride will forfeit honor.

Here is a third:

How you treat another believer is how you treat Christ.

Those are thoughts to ponder in the week ahead.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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