Using the Name of Jesus
38 John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn't in our group."
39 "Don't stop him!" Jesus said. "No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.
42 "But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It's better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. 45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It's better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It's better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 'where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.'
49 "For everyone will be tested with fire. 50 Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other."
The disciples complain that a man who isn't a member of their group is acting as though he is. Jesus responds by telling them that even the smallest act of service done in his name is a good thing and will be rewarded. Jesus then addresses the seriousness of causing anyone to stumble and the drastic way in which his disciples must deal with whatever causes them to sin. Those who follow Jesus are to be like salt.
Wasn't in our group (Mark 9:38)
It seems the disciples were still stinging from their inability to cast the demon out of the boy. Here someone who is not a part of their group was doing what they were supposed to be doing but could not.866 Although the disciples thought they had done the right thing in rebuking the rebel exorcist, they were now having second thoughts after Jesus' statement regarding welcoming others in his name (Mark 9:37)867 Apparently the anonymous exorcist "was a disciple but not one of the Twelve commissioned by Jesus to do this work."868 Thus "Jesus is not dealing with a man who is settled in his determination not to join the band of his disciples but with a man whose knowledge is still limited, whose faith is yet young, and of whom our expectation must be that he will grow in both."869
Rather than focusing inward in an attempt to identify and deal with the true source of their problem, the disciples focused outward in an effort to label and deter the man whose ministry was successful. And so Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them about the nature of sin, including its source and its seriousness.
This situation is reminiscent of God's appointing 70 elders to help Moses:870
16 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Gather before me seventy men who are recognized as elders and leaders of Israel. Bring them to the Tabernacle to stand there with you.17 I will come down and talk to you there. I will take some of the Spirit that is upon you, and I will put the Spirit upon them also. They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone. ...
24 So Moses ... gathered the seventy elders and stationed them around the Tabernacle. 25 And the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. Then he gave the seventy elders the same Spirit that was upon Moses. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But this never happened again.
26 Two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed behind in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but they had not gone out to the Tabernacle. Yet the Spirit rested upon them as well, so they prophesied there in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!"
28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses' assistant since his youth, protested, "Moses, my master, make them stop!"
29 But Moses replied, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit upon them all!" 30 Then Moses returned to the camp with the elders of Israel. (Numbers 11:16-30, NLT)
Regarding that situation, one Bible commentator offers the following helpful remarks:
The text states that these elders prophesied, but they did not continue to do so. It seems that the temporary gift of prophecy to these elders was primarily to establish their credentials as Spirit-empowered leaders rather than to make of them ongoing agents of the prophecy of the Spirit. Their principal task will not be revelatory; God still speaks through Moses. The task of the elders will be to help in the administration of the immense population, in its varied needs, especially in the context of the increasing impiety of the people.
Two of the designated elders did not meet with the others when the Spirit of God came on the group. For some reason they remained in the camp. But they also received the gift of the Spirit, and they also began to prophesy. A young man who was devoted to Moses rushed to his master to inform him of this phenomenon and to beg his master to have them cease. The prophesying of Eldad and Medad in the camp where the common people would see them was perceived as an opportunity for further personal attacks on Moses. If these men had the same gift as Moses, and if they were in the midst of the people making prophetic proclamations, then could they not use their new gifts to bring about further sedition against God's servant?
Here the true spirit of Moses is demonstrated. Rather than being threatened by the public demonstration of the gifts of the Spirit by Eldad and Medad, Moses desired that all the people might have the full gifts of the Spirit. This verse is a suitable introduction to the inexcusable challenge to the leadership of Moses in Numbers 12. Moses' magnanimity compares with that of Jesus in Mark 9:38-41 and Paul in Philippians 1:15-18. His expression of the desire for the falling of the Spirit of God on all the people is anticipative of the promise of God through the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32) and the experience of the early Christians in Acts 2:5-21.871
Cause ... to fall (Mark 9:42)
Jesus warned against causing one of the little ones who trusts in him "to fall into sin" ("to stumble" NASB; Greek skandalizo), meaning "to cause to sin, with the probable implication of providing some special circumstances which contribute to such behavior."872 (Our English word "scandal" is closely related to it.) The original picture is of "the piece of wood that kept open a trap for animals,"873 and so had the sense of "'springing forward and back,' 'slamming to,' 'closing on something,' or 'trapping.'"874
Jesus "refers to enticing or provoking a disciple to turn away from [him], resulting in serious spiritual damage. The undeveloped faith of the exorcist (Mark 9:38) or anyone else who acts in Jesus' name (Mark 9:41) should be encouraged rather than ruined by harsh criticism or sectarian bias."875 The good news is that God has provided all that is necessary to prevent our stumbling: "In his farewell discourse Jesus declares: 'I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away [hina me skandalisthete]' (John 16:1). He refers here especially to the promise of the advocate, paraclete or helper (John 15:18-27), but also to his preaching as a whole (cf. John 6:63)."876
Jesus' warning can and should be applied to wolves in sheep's clothing who promote blasphemous heresy such as can be found within Christian Science, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons, and the Word (of) Faith movement (see Romans 16:17-18; 1 Timothy 6:3-12; 2 Timothy 3:1-6). These types of false teachers are guilty many times over of enticing people into sin through the abandonment of sound doctrine.877 Their (apparent) success is fleeting, however, and on the day of judgment they will beg for a millstone necktie rather than the eternal fate that they will have earned for themselves. The fact that God has not yet judged these leaders for their false teachings that cause many to take offense and stumble is in no way a sign of his approval; rather, it indicates "that the time of judgment is not yet ripe."878
Hand ... foot ... eye (Mark 9:43, 45, 47)
"[F]rom the thought of entrapping and destroying others Jesus turns to the allied thought that we may entrap ourselves and do this through one or the other of our bodily members."879 Jesus identified sin with parts of the human body. Not only was this in keeping with contemporary rabbinic teaching,880 but it helped to underline the nature of sin. Obviously Jesus was not advocating literal self-mutilation, since there would still be one hand, foot, etc. that could cause us to sin.881 "In the Bible, feet are often associated with traveling to do evil, hands with accomplishments, and eyes with vision or desires of the heart, aspirations, or ambitions."882 While our bodies do not lead us into sin, we do use our bodies to commit sin. As one source puts it: "Do [your bodily members] really act independently of your person? Does your hand, foot, or eye without your volition set and bait a trap for your soul and then catch and kill it? Certainly not. It is your own evil heart and will that abuse these bodily members to make them the instruments of lusts and passions that center within you. It ought to be plain, then, that removing these members from your body and mutilating it would not help you, the lusts and passions would still be there. The heart and will must be changed."883
A person with a diseased limb that had to be amputated in order to save his/her life would be foolish indeed not to undergo the surgery, since, after all, it is better to sacrifice a limb than to lose a life.884 We should see sin in the same way: We can keep our sin and lose our life, or we can give up our sin and save our life. Jesus was saying "that any relationship, practice, or activity that leads to sin should be stopped. As a person would submit to losing a diseased appendage (hand or foot) or a sense (sight) in order to save his or her life, so believers should be just as willing to 'cut off' any temptation, habit, or part of their nature that could lead them to hold onto this world and turn away from Christ and into sin."885
Later the apostle Paul admonished the believers in Rome to "not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present ... your members as instruments of righteousness to God" (Romans 6:13, NASB). The word "instruments" (Greek hoplon) originally meant "any tool or implement for preparing a thing."886 It was used "figuratively for weapons of both offense and defense," and in the NT is always used "in the plural for 'weapons.'"887 This helps underscore the fact that the followers of Jesus Christ are in a spiritual battle of cosmic proportions. Our bodies are neutral instruments that can be used for either good or bad. We sin when we use our hands to harm rather than to help. We sin when we use our feet to carry us to the places we should not go rather than to the places we should go. And we sin when we use our eyes to look longingly at the things we can't have rather than to gaze gratefully on the many blessings God has given us.
Hell (Mark 9:43, 45, 47)
The word Jesus used for "hell," Gehenna, is
the Greek representative of the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom, or Valley of Hinnom, a deep, narrow glen to the south of Jerusalem, where, after the introduction of the worship of the fire-gods by Ahaz, the idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to Molech. Josiah formally desecrated it, "that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech" (2 Kings 23:10). After this it became the common refuse-place of the city, into which the bodies of criminals, carcasses of animals, and all sorts of filth were cast. From its depth and narrowness, and its fire and ascending smoke, it became the symbol of the place of the future punishment of the wicked.888
When Jesus spoke of "'hell, "where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out,"'" he was quoting from Isaiah 66:24, which reads: "'Then 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'" (NASB). The torment will be internal (ref: "the maggots"/"their worm" = the conscience889), external (ref: "the fire"/"their fire"), and eternal (ref: the undying worm and the unquenchable fire).890 Hell serves as both a warning and a reminder: it is a warning of "the unending, conscious punishment"891 that is in store for anyone who continues living in rebellion against God, and it is a reminder of the "unending torment and eternal exclusion from His presence" that we are delivered from if/when we accept Christ's offer of salvation.
Three additional but related points are worth mentioning. First, when the Bible speaks of the "destruction" of the wicked, it is referring to an ongoing (= eternal) punishment and not, as some claim, total annihilation (see Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).892 Second, Hell is something that a person chooses for him-/herself, and then a judgment from God in keeping with that person's choice. Hence Jesus' "'go into the unquenchable fires of hell'" (v. 43) versus "'be thrown into hell'" (v. 47).893 Third, in all likelihood, both Heaven and Hell will be void of time and space as we understand those concepts right now.894
Fire ... salt (Mark 9:49, 50)
Jesus said: "'For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another'" (Mark 9:49-50, NASB). What did Jesus intend with all his talk about salt? While interpretations vary, it seems likely that Jesus was drawing upon the OT requirement, set forth in Leviticus 2, that the grain offering be salted.895 There the emphasis is on purity and permanence: God's people were called to live pure lives and to avoid whatever would spoil the permanent covenant relationship between them and God.896 Thus Jesus was referring to "the process of purification, or purging, through which everyone must pass in order to gain entry into the Kingdom of God."897 As another source puts it: "Jesus was looking upon the disciples as sacrifices to God and at discipleship as a purifying process. The 'fire' that purified them probably referred to trials and persecutions that made them fit for service (see Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:7; 4:12)."898
Jesus' reference to "fire" also recalls John the Baptist's testimony that the one greater than he (= Jesus) would baptize with both the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11 = Luke 3:16). A temporary, purifying fire awaits all those who follow Jesus (see John 16:33; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12-13), while a permanent, punishing fire awaits all those who reject him.899 "[W]ithin the hearts and lives of believers it will destroy what is bad and bring out what is good, causing them to be a preservative force, a salting salt, in the midst of their environment."900 This purification process can be compared to "salt in its burning property when it destroys the germs of corruption. It is the Word of Christ in its power to burn out of our hearts" whatever would prevent us from being effective for God, including "the evil desire to entrap others (v. 42) and the evil desires that would allow our own bodily members to entrap us ourselves (v. 43–48). ... [T]he Word which is excellent as salt may become saltless for us when we do not apply it properly to ourselves. You may have the whole Bible, but if you shrink from its sanctifying power you will not be freed from your corruption. Therefore [Jesus' admonition to 'have the qualities of salt among yourselves' (v. 50)] means using the Word constantly to keep us free from evil and spiritually clean and pure."901 This is true discipleship which, in practical terms, demands: "obedience, denial of self, humility, and willing suffering for the sake of the kingdom. The disciples were to allow God's purifying work to be done in them. They, in turn, would be purifying agents in the community and in the world."902
Once a person has entered into God's kingdom, he/she is fully expected to exert a positive influence on the world at large, to be sure, but first and foremost within the Christian fellowship. Hence Jesus' admonition to "'be at peace with one another.'" "If within the brotherhood there is nothing but carping and quarrelling, how can those who call themselves Christians expect to win others to Christ? It is therefore not surprising that an echo of this exhortation is found also in the epistles of Paul (Romans 12:18; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:13)."903 Along those lines, it is very possible to see in Jesus' words "the beginning of a move to a time when the defining characteristics of God's Spirit-indwelt people would not be temple, sacrifice, food laws, or Torah-observance, but rather the quality of their lives and relationships (cf. John 13:35)."904
The image of salt should remind us of
three qualities that should be found in [God's] people:
We should remember God's faithfulness, just as salt when used with a sacrifice recalled God's covenant with his people (Leviticus 2:13).
We should make a difference in the "flavor" of the world we live in, just as salt changes meat's flavor (see Matthew 5:13).
We should counteract the moral decay in society, just as salt preserves food from decay.
When we lose this desire to "salt" the earth with the love and message of God, we become useless to him.905
Belief Determines Character
The story is told of an ancient ring with the amazing ability to instill in its wearer such noble character as to be the object of everyone's admiration and affection.
By and by the ring made its way into the hands of a man who had three sons. Loving each son equally, he was utterly perplexed as to which of his sons should inherit the ring. Unable to decide, he had two other rings made that were identical in every way to the first. Upon his deathbed he called his sons in, one at a time, and gave each of them a ring.
Following the funeral the sons realized that each of them had the ring but that only one was the genuine article. Unable to decide for themselves which was the magical ring, they sought out a wise and discerning judge to advise them.
After examining the rings, the judge declared that he could not tell them apart, either. "But," he said, "you yourselves can decide who has the real ring. For if the ring provides its wearer with noble character, then each one of you must go and decide to live a life marked by kindness, truthfulness, bravery, and justice. He whose life is filled with these things is the owner of the true ring."906
This story helps to illustrate how our beliefs determine our behavior. If each brother believed he had the true ring, he would act accordingly. In the same way, those of us who claim to know and believe in Jesus Christ will act like it. We will see the seriousness of sin. And we will take note of our own sins before we take note of others' sins. Which, in turn, will lead us to draw ever closer to God in order to overcome our sins and live out the life he intends us to live through the power and direction of his Holy Spirit.
??? According to this passage, how serious is sin? What must we do to rid ourselves of sin's power in our lives?