Friday, May 31, 2013

Mark 10:32–34

Mark 10:32–34 (ESV): Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time


Another short, and very simple passage: Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, except the disciples are walking behind Jesus. It could be because “they were amazed, and those who followed them were afraid” (verse 32 (ESV)). Jesus then pulls aside the twelve Apostles, and explains to them, again, what is going to happen to him: when they get to Jerusalem Jesus is going to be delivered to the chief priests, condemned to death, and handed over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him and flog him, and then kill him. Then, after three days, he will rise.

In this particular passage we aren’t told the reactions of the Apostles.


The meat of this passage is very simple: Jesus predicts his death to the Apostles, and as we’re aware, his prediction came to pass exactly as he said it would. As mentioned above the Apostles don’t even react to Jesus’ prediction this time, so we don’t know what they thought of it.

Probably the most interesting part to me is the fact that the people who are following Jesus are amazed and afraid. The ESV Study Bible had some theories as to why that might be:
  1. Perhaps they were viewing Jesus as a political leader—a common misconception about his coming—and thought that he was on his way to Jerusalem as part of his mission to overthrow Rome, in which case they might have been afraid in anticipation of the upcoming battle(s). Or:
  2. Perhaps they had heard of Jesus’ predictions of his impending execution, and were afraid that they’d suffer a similar fate for being his followers.
These are definitely both valid theories, but we aren’t really told by Mark which it might be.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mark 10:17–31

Mark 10:17–31 (ESV): The Rich Young Man


This passage starts with Jesus about to leave on a journey, but before he can go a young man runs up and kneels before him, calling him “Good Teacher” and asking him what must be done to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks the man why he calls Jesus good, since nobody is good except God alone.

Jesus then reminds the man about the Ten Commandments:

“You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” (verse 19 (ESV), Jesus speaking)
But the man answers Jesus that he has kept all of these commandments since his youth. Jesus lovingly looks at the man (verse 21 (ESV)), and tells him that there is one thing he still lacks: he should go and sell all he has and give the proceeds away to the poor, and then come and follow Jesus.

Unfortunately the man is very rich and this “requirement” from Jesus seems to be too much for him, so instead of following Jesus’ suggestion (or command?) he goes away sorrowful. This isn’t entirely unexpected for Jesus, who turns to his disciples and tells them that it will be difficult for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.

It seems, however, that this is unexpected to the disciples, who are amazed at Jesus’ words. So Jesus reemphasizes what he has said:

And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (verses 24–25 (ESV))
If the disciples were “amazed” before, now they are “exceedingly astonished.” If this is the case, they ask Jesus, then who can be saved?!? Jesus tells them that this is impossible for men but not for God, since all things are possible with God.

Peter speaks up, and reminds Jesus that the disciples have left everything to follow him. Jesus promises Peter his reward for this:

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (verses 29–31 (ESV))
More on the last sentence, especially, below.


Does it seem like the prologue to this story, where the young man calls Jesus “Good Teacher” and Jesus tells him that nobody is good “except God alone,” is unrelated to the rest of the story? If so, you might not be getting the full point of Jesus’ message. Jesus isn’t just messing with this guy’s head in telling him that only God is good; it’s central to his point: Do you want to inherit eternal life? With man this is impossible, but all things are possible with God. It’s what Jesus came to do, and it’s only by trusting in Him that we are saved.

It’s very possible to read this passage and come away in judgement of the rich young man, and I don’t think that’s an invalid way to read it. After all, he comes to Jesus asking how he can inherit eternal life and Jesus tells him, but he decides not to listen to Jesus. But compare Jesus’ response to this young man with most of his responses to the religious teachers: Jesus doesn’t lambaste this man or call him a hypocrite, or even call him foolish. Verse 21 (ESV) says that Jesus, in answering the young man’s question, “loved him.” Jesus seems to have great empathy for this man. And to me, when I read this passage, this young man really does seem to be earnestly seeking the way to inherit eternal life. Even when he gets this answer, which was probably a shock to his system, his response is not to argue with Jesus, he goes away sorrowful. He seems to take Jesus at His word, and it depresses him because he doesn’t feel he’s able or willing to pay the “price.” If ever there is a passage which indicates that trusting in Jesus is more than just believing his words are true, this is it: the man seems to believe what Jesus is telling him, but he is obviously not saved, to his great sorrow.

Now… does what I wrote in the first paragraph disagree with what I wrote in the second? If the only way to get to God is through the work done by His Son, then why would Jesus require the rich young man to sell all he has before he can follow Jesus? Surely He’s not telling this man that he can “earn” his salvation, is He? No, He’s not. What Jesus is doing is calling out for the man his biggest problem: his wealth. Or maybe, to be more specific, I should say the hold this man’s wealth has on him. Jesus can see that this man’s “god” is his wealth; even though he’s been trying to follow the commandments, and seems to truly want to serve God, for him his wealth will always be the real god in his heart. God Almighty would, at best, take second place in this man’s heart, whereas we know that God will not take second place to anyone or anything. So Jesus isn’t telling this man that selling his possessions and giving to the poor is a quick-win to earn salvation, but it was important for this particular man because his wealth was getting in the way of his opportunity for salvation.

So this is all well and good for this particular man, but then Jesus tells his disciples something which absolutely shocks them: it’s more difficult for someone who’s rich to be saved than it is for other people. Personally, I think this is part of the reason Jesus feels for this man: of course the man is responsible for his own sin, everyone is, but Jesus knows that it’s even more difficult for this man to accept salvation than it is for others. You might say I’m reading too much into this, and I wouldn’t argue the point too hard, but I don’t think I’m off on this either.

But regardless of whether Jesus has extra pity on this man or not, the indisputable fact of this passage is that it is more difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for someone who’s not rich. It’s impossible for anyone, but it’s even more impossible for someone who’s rich. Jesus doesn’t say why in this passage, but I feel that it’s because the hold of money on the rich ties them too closely to this world. Personally, I haven’t been “very” rich, but I have been quite well off, and I’ve been quite poor—not to the point of living on the street, but a step away from that—and I have to say that my spiritual life has done better when I’ve been poor than when I’ve been well off. It’s definitely true that poor people can lust after money, and that lust can impact their relationship with God, but rich people also lust after [more] money, while at the same time obsessing about the fact that they don’t want to lose what they’ve already obtained. That’s my own armchair psychology, not based in any studies that I know of, so take it with a grain of salt.

I previously wrote on this topic when it came up in Matthew 19:16–30—actually, I even wrote a part 2 to that post—so I won’t go off into another rant on the subject.

This passage does tell us one different detail than the Matthew 19 passage, though: in verse 28, when Peter tells Jesus that he and the other disciples have left everything, look at how it is worded:

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” (verse 28 (ESV), emphasis added)
This is then followed by Jesus’ reply. To me, when it says that Peter “began” to say this to Jesus it indicates that Jesus is actually cutting Peter off. It’s possible—and I’m just theorizing here, so don’t take this too strongly—but it’s possible that Peter is about to go down the same path that others are tempted to go down when reading this passage: “Jesus just told this man that he could enter the kingdom of heaven if he sells his stuff! And I left all of my stuff behind… so I’m in!” We know that that’s not how it works; they key message Jesus is giving his disciples is not, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor,” it’s, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” This particular man has a particular problem with wealth that would have impacted his relationship with God, and he needed to fix that, but selling his possessions would not have made him right with God. You might have your own sins to deal with, be it the same problem with money that this man had, or sex/pornography, or the mind-numbing effects of television and movies, or putting your marriage on a pedestal, or something quite unrelated, and you need to fix that too, but doing so still won’t make you right with God; you still have to accept Christ the same as everyone else. Fixing those spiritual problems will definitely help your relationship with God, but they aren’t the sum total of all that you need.

Even if Jesus is cutting Peter off, though, his answer to Peter (and the disciples around them) is not harsh. In fact he does reassure Peter and the others that they will be rewarded for all they’ve given up for the Gospel’s sake, both in this life and in the life to come. Interestingly, though, when you look at that passage, Jesus slips in something the disciples might not have wanted to hear:

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (verses 29–31 (ESV), emphasis added)
Wait, what’s this “with persecutions” thing? I loved those whole three verses except for those two little words. It’s great that God is going to reward me for leaving behind the things that hindered me, but why does He have to let me be persecuted, too? Well, the “why” is probably a topic for another post on another passage, but for now it suffices to say that the Christian is guaranteed persecution. Jesus mentions it a number of times. God has His own plans for how He will use those persecutions, but when they come we shouldn’t be surprised.

Finally, when Jesus is telling Peter and the disciples that they (and we) will be rewarded, he ends by saying that “many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Based on the context, this means that there is good news for those who feel they aren’t special, or who don’t have prominent roles in the Church: God doesn’t reward us according to the place of prominence to which we have risen; after all, He is the one who put us there in the first place. God rewards us according to our faith and our obedience. God made some to be preachers of multi-million-dollar mega-churches with shiny clothes and TV shows, and He made others to be preachers of small, neglected churches in poor neighbourhoods, and He made others who play music or sing in the church, and He made others still who clean the church and who teach Sunday School and who run the sound equipment and who change the broken lightbulbs and who do a million other tasks that nobody will ever know about. Even the person doing those tasks will have forgotten about doing it within hours. We revere some of those people more highly than others, we are sometimes even jealous of some of those people, but don’t expect to get to Heaven and see that God has rewarded people according to how we revered them. That person who had no official role in the church but did odd jobs to keep the building together may have a place of greater honour than the preacher of the mega-church. God sees the heart, and is able to judge people with much more accuracy than we ever could going by simple outward appearances.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mark 10:13–16

Mark 10:13–16 (ESV): Let the Children Come to Me


In this passage some people are bringing children to Jesus but the disciples rebuke them. But Jesus will have none of this:

But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (verses 14–15 (ESV))
He then goes back to blessing the children that are being brought to him.


We shouldn’t take this passage too far, to think that somehow children can be saved and adults cannot. However, it is an important point that when we come to God we must come to Him “like a child.” What does this mean? I’d say it’s a general attitude of trust coupled with obedience. When a parent tells a child to do something it’s understood by both the parent and the child that the child is supposed to do it. The child might ask the parent questions about it, why are you asking for this or why do you want it done this way or whatever, and the parent may or may not explain, but regardless of whether the parent does or does not give an explanation, regardless of whether the child understands it all, the fact that the child is expected to obey the parent never changes.

This same attitude is expected of us as Christians. When God tells us to do something—when we read our Bibles, in other words—we should go in with the basic, underlying assumption that He knows what is best, and that we are to obey Him. It is not wrong at all to ask Him questions about it, it it not wrong at all for us to strive to understand better—in fact I’d say it’s very good for us to strive to understand Him better—but regardless of how far our understanding does or does not progress it should never change the fact that He is God, and we are His creations. He knows best, He knows what He is talking about, we can see only dimly, and only what He chooses for us to see.

We see examples all through the Bible of people asking questions of God. Some do it with the proper attitude (“I know that you’re God, and I’m just a man, but I want to understand You better. Please help me to understand.”), some do not (“You can’t possibly have meant that! You must have made a mistake.”), and it’s not usually hard to tell the difference. We can trace this back to the very first moment when a person becomes a Christian: They will not fully understand what Grace is, or how salvation works, they might not even properly understand their own sinfulness (though they have an idea), but they trust God when He says that they need Him. As time goes on He’ll help them to understand, but in the meantime, He’s God.

Even mature Christians should—must!—have this attitude when reading their Bibles. We must go to the Word with the understanding that God has written this document and that He has something to say to us. If we don’t understand what we’re reading, it doesn’t change the truth of the matter. We can ask Him to show us more clearly what we don’t understand, and in the meantime we should take it as a given that what’s written there is true, whether we understand it (or like it) or not.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mark 10:1–12

Mark 10:1–12 (ESV): Teaching About Divorce


In this passage Jesus and his disciples go to another location and as usual Jesus starts teaching the people. The Pharisees decide to take this opportunity to test him, so they come and ask him if it’s lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus answers their question with a different question: “What did Moses command you?” (I almost wonder if Jesus is laughing to himself as he asks this; the commandments in the Scriptures would be exactly what the Pharisees have been studying all this time, but they still haven’t been able to figure this out. But more on this question below.) The Pharisees reply that Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and send his wife away. And it’s probably with good reason that they phrased it this way—a “man” to write a certificate of divorce to send his “wife” away, rather than a gender-neutral way of phrasing it—because I’m sure that’s how it worked out in practice: men divorced women, women didn’t divorce men.

Jesus, however, doesn’t think this answers the question, and brings them back even further than Moses:

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (verses 5–9 (ESV))
This is a pretty famous passage, and most Christians are probably familiar with it, so it doesn’t seem all that shocking to us. To the disciples, however, this seems to have been pretty surprising, since later on, when they are alone with Jesus, they ask him about it again. If anything, Jesus is even more blunt with them than he was with the Pharisees:

And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (verses 11–12 (ESV))
There’s no background explanation of the desires of God for marriage, or nuance, just a straightforward statement: if you divorce someone and marry someone else, you’re committing adultery against the person you’d first married.


I wonder if Jesus asks the Pharisees about Moses’ “commandment” to point out their focus on the letter of the law rather than its intent. Whether that was Jesus’ reasoning or not, it is clear in how they respond: He asks them what Moses “commanded” about divorce, knowing that Moses didn’t give any commands permitting or denying adultery. So they can’t go there, they can only say that Moses “allowed” it. In fact, the passage in question would be Deuteronomy 24:1–4 (ESV), which isn’t specifically about the topic of whether divorce should be allowed, it’s about some matters on the aftermath of divorce. In other words, the Law doesn’t say “you’re allowed to divorce,” or “you’re not allowed to divorce,” or “you’re allowed to divorce under these circumstances,” but in this Deuteronomy 24 passage it says “if you do divorce, here are some rules on how to handle it.”

As Jesus says, because of the hardness of our hearts God knows that our marriages aren’t going to be perfect, many are not even going to be good, and therefore divorce will happen. Even Jesus gives “permission” to divorce in cases of infidelity. But just because God recognizes that divorce is going to happen it doesn’t mean He’s endorsing or approving it.

I’ve read some commentaries on the situation in Jesus’ day, and apparently there was a debate amongst the Pharisees as to whether divorce was allowed or commanded or forbidden or what. There were some who took a hard line saying that divorce is not permitted at all, and others who took a position far to the other extreme saying that a man could divorce his wife for matters as trivial as burning his toast. I’m guessing that these particular Pharisees simply wanted to draw Jesus into the debate; whichever side he took he’d be in trouble with the other side. In a sense we could consider Jesus to be taking a side here, saying that people shouldn’t divorce, but I think he’s going deeper than just the letter of the law: they’re asking him what is lawful, and He’s talking about what God desires. This is something we should always consider when digging into such matters; instead of asking “What does God allow me to do in this situation?” we should be asking, “What does God want me to do in this situation?”

As mentioned, this is a pretty famous passage so we know that God doesn’t want us to divorce, and in another place Jesus gives a bit of an exception and tells us that divorce is permitted in the case of infidelity (which should underscore to us how important fidelity is!). So any Christian who has even a casual knowledge of the New Testament knows that divorce is not a good thing, and that only under extreme circumstances is it “allowed.” However, even with this explicit passage in front of us, we’ve somehow lost the view that marrying after divorce is adultery. We get that it’s best for people not to divorce, and God’s plan is for a marriage to be for life, but we’ve come to believe that when we do divorce it’s final and we’re then free to remarry, whereas Jesus teaches pretty explicitly here that even if divorce happens there is still an attachment to that person. If you get a divorce and then remarry you’re committing adultery against your first spouse. (I think it’s pretty safe to extend this and say that if you get a divorce and then have sex with someone else you’re also committing adultery against your first spouse.) In this day and age it sounds old fashioned to even be saying that, and yet it seems to be a pretty clear teaching in this passage.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mark 9:42–50

Mark 9:42–50 (ESV): Temptations to Sin


Christians sometimes create a false dichotomy when it comes to Grace vs. holiness: there are times when Grace is emphasized so heavily that it doesn’t seem like a Christian needs to worry about holiness at all, and, contrarily, sometimes holiness is emphasized so heavily that we start to act like we can “earn” our salvation by being good, or doing good things. Sometimes we think we can earn salvation just by not being bad—or by not being too bad.

To be fair, this is a complex topic, and North Americans are not fond of nuanced arguments, so it can be hard to talk about one without seeming like you’re neglecting the other. Even the Apostle Paul struggled with this. He spends much of the first five chapters of the book of Romans explaining Grace (that’s an oversimplification, I know), and then feels he has to stop in Chapter 6 to answer a question he imagines his readers might be asking:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1 (ESV))
Not surprisingly, Paul’s answer is no, we shouldn’t, and that’s what Romans 6 (ESV) gets into.

Because of this issue I know of pastors who try to make it a point to mention both Grace and holiness any time they mention either, trying to balance them out in their sermons, because they know that if they don’t, any time they talk about Grace they’ll get people coming up to them after complaining that it was implied we can all live like sinners, and any time they talk about holiness they’ll get a different set of people complaining that some kind of “works righteousness” was preached. (It doesn’t matter if you preach Grace for forty-five minutes one Sunday and then preach holiness for forty-five minutes the next, on the second Sunday there will still be people coming up to you and complaining that you neglected Grace. And vice versa.)

In this particular passage, Jesus talks about holiness—or at least about striving to cease our sin—and it’s all he talks about. It’s true that we’re saved by Grace, and I talk about that a lot on this blog, but in no way does that imply that living a holy life isn’t important. It is; thus saith the Lord. In this modern day and age we sometimes fall in line with the rest of the world, thinking that sin doesn’t matter, but this passage should set us straight: sin is important, and we need to eliminate it from our lives.

There are three parts to Jesus’ argument:
  1. Jesus indicates the child (who is still in their midst from verses 30–37) and tells his disciples that it is very serious to cause a child who believes in Him to sin. It would be better to have a millstone hung around your neck and get thrown into the sea than to do such a thing. (I think the implication here is that you’d rather deal with being drowned than face the wrath of God for this type of act.)
  2. He tells us that we should eliminate the things in our lives that cause us to sin; if your hand or your foot or your eye cause you to sin, then you should chop it off—it’s better to live life without that hand or that foot or that eye than to go to hell.
  3. The last few verses of this passage are somewhat difficult to understand—not just for me, but the ESV Study Bible notes say so too—but essentially I think that Jesus might be telling us to be holy as light to the world. He definitely tells us to be at peace with one another.


Since I’m no better than any pastor (and worse than most), I will also mention Grace before I talk about Jesus’ point about holiness: just because Jesus is stressing the importance of holy living in this passage, and telling us that sin is a serious issue which needs to be excised from our lives, it doesn’t mean that Grace ceases to exist. When it says that it would be better to be drowned in the sea than to cause a child to sin it doesn’t mean that causing a child to sin will negate one’s salvation. What it does mean is that causing a child to sin is serious business, and that we should not take such matters lightly. I think this verse goes very well with James 3:1 (ESV): “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Are you a teacher in some kind of Christian ministry, a Bible study or Sunday School or something like that? Then you need to be careful what you’re teaching people, because God is going to judge your actions with greater care than He would if you were just having a casual conversation with friends. Are you teaching children? Then all the more you need to be careful what you’re teaching those kids! Don’t ever take a position at your church teaching Sunday School or doing other types of teaching just because you think it gives you prestige in the church, or because you think it’s an honour; take this seriously, and consider whether you understand the Word before you try to deliver it to others.

I’m mostly speaking to laypeople here, but this applies all the more for actual pastors. If you’re going to be getting up in a pulpit every week and telling people what you think the Word says, then you’d better be serious about learning what it actually says. It’s serious, and God will be judging you with greater strictness than He will judge other forms of speech.

Then, when Jesus talks about cutting off a hand or a foot or an eye that causes you to sin, I don’t think he’s literally talking about hands and feet and eyes; realistically, how is your hand or your foot going to cause you to sin anyway? (We could maybe make a better case for the eye, when we consider lust, but even that’s metaphorical. The eye doesn’t cause anything, it’s being led by the lust in your heart/brain.) What he is saying is that we have to be willing to remove the things from our lives that cause us to sin, even if removing those things is going to be painful, even if removing them is going to cause us hardship. It is better to endure that pain and hardship than it would be to continue on sinning. It is tempting to get lost in higher-level theological issues and confuse ourselves, asking, “How can it be better to endure hardship than to sin when we know that Jesus has already taken care of our sin on the cross?” It’s fine to have these types of probing questions, and to wrestle with them, but before you do (or while you do) you need to listen to what Jesus is actually saying in this passage: sin is serious, and we need to eliminate it from our lives. Trust in that and believe what He says, even as you’re trying to wrestle with other issues. If you’re studying your Bible seriously you can’t come away with the idea that sin isn’t important because Jesus specifically tells us in this passage (and Paul tells us in Romans 6) that it is.

And then finally we have some verses that are hard to understand:

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (verses 49–50 (ESV), Jesus speaking)
I could quote the ESV Study Bible note on these verses but it’s kind of long and doesn’t really add any clarity, since there isn’t a “definitive” answer as to what Jesus means here. Lots of people seem to view this passage as saying that believers are sacrificed to God akin to the Old Testament sacrificial system, where the “sacrifice” is suffering and hardship, but there’s disagreement on what the salt in this metaphor represents, with some saying it represents the Holy Spirit and others saying it represents the suffering and hardship. I don’t know about any of that, I just have no frame of reference to know what might be correct.

What I do find interesting, however, is Jesus’ last point to His disciples: be at peace with one another. If we are to really take our sin seriously, and to strive to eliminate anything in our lives that causes us to sin, and to take seriously the charge to teach one another to ensure that we only teach biblical truths, what will the Church on earth look like? We’ll get along. I think that would help our evangelical outreach far more than any miracles, far more than any fiery preaching, far more than any though-provoking seminar. If people see us at peace with one another it would make us so different from the world that we’d stand out.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Mark 9:38–41

Mark 9:38–41 (ESV): Anyone Not Against Us Is For Us


This passage continues on from the last one (I think), but the conversation shifts. John informs Jesus that the disciples had seen someone else casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and the disciples tried to stop him because he was not following the disciples. (Or was not following Jesus and the disciples; verse 38 (ESV) just says “he was not following us.”)

Jesus, however, tells his disciples not to stop this person, because nobody who does a “mighty work” in Jesus’ name will “be able soon afterward” to speak evil of Him (verse 39 (ESV)). He also says, “For the one who is not against us is for us” (verse 40 (ESV)). In fact, he tells them that even a small act like giving a Christian a cup of water because they are a Christian will result in a reward from God.


When John tells Jesus that they’d tried to stop a guy for driving out demons because “he was not following us,” it’s not clear grammatically if he means that the man wasn’t following the disciples or that the man wasn’t following Jesus and the disciples. However, judging by the fact that the disciples were arguing not long before about who was the greatest, I’m inclined to believe that it’s the former, not the latter. I think the disciples view themselves as being very special, and are not happy about someone else appearing to be special too.

Jesus then tells the disciples that nobody who does a mighty work in His name can speak evil of Him very soon after. This is an odd phrase; I think it’s worth looking up in a few versions:

But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. …” (verse 39 (ESV))
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, …” (verse 39 (NIV))
But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me.” (verse 39 (NASB))
But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. (verse 39 (KJV))
But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. …” (verse 39 (NKJV))
So… what does this mean? I’m sort of leaning toward thinking that it means exactly what it says. Performing a mighty work, or a miracle, in Jesus’ name, has to be done out of faith. It is done with the core understanding that you yourself have no power, only God does, and so you are trusting in Him to do this thing, whatever it is. So I think there are a couple of reasons why one couldn’t perform a miracle in Jesus’ name and then turn around and say something bad about Jesus:
  1. You’ve had enough faith to turn to God in the first place, to ask for something to be done that couldn’t otherwise be done—and then He did it! It would be a very strange change in your mindset to then start thinking or saying bad things about Him.
  2. This thing you’re asking God to do is something that only He can do; you can’t do it yourself, or else it wouldn’t be a miracle/mighty work. Therefore, it’s all in His power: He can choose to do it, or He can choose not to do it. If He who knows everything knows that you’re about to bad-mouth Him, then perhaps He will decide not to do it.
Both of these thoughts seem a bit simplistic to me, so it’s possible that I haven’t given it enough thought.

What’s even more interesting, potentially, is the next verse:

For the one who is not against us is for us. (verse 40 (ESV))
The reason I find this interesting is because of Matthew 12:30 (ESV):

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
In one sense these verses are two sides of the same coin: whoever is not with Jesus is against Him, and whoever is not against Him is for Him. You’re either with Jesus, or you’re against Him; there’s no middle ground. However, what about the people who think they’re in the middle ground? The “I’m no Christian, but I got nothing against Jesus” people? They think they’re neither for Him nor against Him, but Jesus says that they’re either one or the other. The problem is that these two passages could lead us to opposite answers:
  • Mark 9:40 says that anyone who’s not against Jesus is for Him, so people who consider themselves on the fence would be for Him
  • Matthew 12:30 says that anyone who is not with Jesus is against Him, so people who consider themselves on the fence would be against Him
Is this a problem? An inconsistency, perhaps? I don’t think so; I think people in such situations should be paying more attention to Matthew 12:30 than Mark 9:40. For one thing, the context of Mark 9:40 is that the man in question had been driving out demons in Jesus’ name; maybe he wasn’t following Jesus around day-to-day like the disciples were, but he obviously believed, at the very least, that Jesus had the power to drive out demons. (In fact, for God to have been driving out demons when this man asked would indicate to me that he probably had more faith than that.) This is not an agnostic man, there is a certain amount of belief there. Secondly, the Matthew passage says that anyone who is not “with” Jesus is against him, it doesn’t say those who are not “for” him are against him. I hope I’m not pushing the word too far, but it seems that the word “with” implies more of a relationship; this isn’t just “rooting for” Jesus, and hoping that He comes out on top over Satan in the cosmic battle of good vs. evil. This word “with,” to me, implies that the person will be in that battle alongside Jesus, trying to do what is right and live a good life and please God. You can have a relationship with Christ, or you can be against Him. You can be a slave to sin, or a slave to righteousness—one or the other (Romans 6:15–23 (ESV)).