The Gospel of Mark

Stay on Target: Don’t Get Distracted (Mark 9:38-50) Part 1

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Stay on Target–Don’t Get Distracted

Mark 9:38 to 50, part 1–verses 38 to 42


Recently, a local man ran into the vet’s office carrying his dog, screaming for help. The vet rushed him back to an examination room and had him put his dog down on the examination table. The vet examined the still, limp body, and after a few moments told the man his dog, regrettably, was dead. But the man was not willing to accept this and demanded a second opinion.

The vet went into the back room and came out with a cat and put the cat down next to the dog’s body. The cat sniffed the body, walked from head to tail, poking and sniffing the dog’s body, and finally looked at the vet and meowed. The vet said, “I’m sorry, but the cat thinks your dog is dead, too.”

The man was still unwilling to accept that his dog was dead. So the vet brings in a black lab. The lab sniffed the body, walked from head to tail, and finally looked at the vet and barked. The vet said, “I’m sorry, but the lab thinks your dog is dead too.” The man, finally resigned to the diagnosis, thanked the vet and asked how much he owed. The vet answers, “$650.”

“$650 to tell me my dog is dead?”

“Well,” the vet replies, “I would only have charged you $50 for my initial diagnosis. The additional $600 was for the cat scan and lab tests.”

Now that’s “off-target.” I’m confident every married couple has a funny story to tell about bad communication while driving–getting lost and off-target. I am sure at some point you wore clothes that now you look at and say, “What was I thinking?” You were off-target. Some of you pursued a major in college that was way off-target. Others of you worked at a job you thought would be great, but now you’re convinced it was way off-target. You kids wanted a toy, got it, and immediately knew it was junk.

Well today, in Mark 9, the Lord is going to challenge His men, and confront us with some very strong words to stay on target–to not get distracted, don’t get off-track, don’t swing to the left or the right, but stay focused on Christ and His Word. We are to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him. We are to run our race to win, die daily, and not lose our first love. But everything in our flesh, in this world, and our wicked enemy pressures us to get off-track–to get distracted and pursue other loves other than Christ. And it doesn’t take much, does it?

What distracts you from fleeing sin and pursuing Christ? It could be your job, or kids, or family, or home or even ministry . . . it could be a hobby, school, friends or getting a date . . . it could be a boyfriend or girlfriend, a husband or wife . . . it could be finances, or lust, or emotions, or anger . . . it could be a lack of love, or lack of forgiveness, or lack of involvement in the church, or distance from brothers and sisters in Christ who could actually help you stay on track—write it down. What would you say distracts you most from Christ?

Open your Bibles to Mark 9:43 to 50 and follow along in the outline found in your bulletin. As we continue in our verse by verse, word by word, exposition of the Word of God, seeking only to discover Mark’s intended meaning of this fantastic gospel, we find ourselves today in one of the toughest sections of the New Testament. What makes it so difficult? This week and next, you will discover in verses 43 to 50:

ONE–there’re some verses that actually don’t belong here and were added later by those who were making handwritten copies

TWO–there is one verse here that’s incredibly difficult to interpret because it’s so obscure

But in the midst of the difficult exegesis, Christ makes it clear, He wants you and I to stay on target. Do not get distracted–aggressively love Christ, pursue sanctification, run your race to win, desire radical discipleship and run away from sin while running to Christ. All of that is in these verses. Starting in verse 38, let’s read halfway through to verse 42, and as we do, see if you can feel the heat and the focus of Christ who, like a laser, wants us to stay on target and not get distracted.

Stand–you read silently as I read aloud, for this is dangerous stuff. Mark 9:38-42, “John said to Him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.’ 39 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. 40 For he who is not against us is for us. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward. 42 Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.’” Let’s stop there and pray.

Father, break us today under Your power of Your Word. Change us to be more focused, less distracted, and serious about how we treat others, our own sin, even our willingness to offer ourselves completely to You. Expose the hearts of any who think they are saved, but really don’t know You–all for Your glory, in Christ’s name, amen.

Jesus has revealed Himself to His men. In chapter 8, He told us He is the Messiah who must suffer, die, then rise again. In chapter 9, the Father proved Jesus is God in the Transfiguration. Christ is the promised one the entire Old Testament points to as our only hope for forgiveness now, and Heaven later. He’s called His men to deny themselves–and as they follow Him, to be the servant of all, especially the lowliest, most needy in our midst. And He just clarified they must follow Him in dependent faith as He delivered a little boy possessed by a vicious demon.

So now the reality of eternity in Heaven, shown at the Transfiguration, the awesome deity of Christ on display on that mountainside, the manifestation of a hellbound demon torturing that little boy—all these events lead our Lord to speak of a great danger facing His followers, which is: where will you spend eternity? Eternity in heavenly joy, or eternity in hellish torment awaits every one of you here in this room. Christ alone is God who became a man to provide the only way for anyone to be forgiven now and enter Heaven later. There is great danger in not responding to Christ, and there is great danger facing those who claim to be real believers but get off-track, possibly demonstrating they are make-believers.

You must not get off-track, or live indifferently. And since the danger is so great, Christ requires drastic measures that He now describes. Christ calls for a radical discipleship, a serious sanctification–why? If you don’t get it right, if you have no interest in what Jesus says here, if you don’t stay on mission, then you could be facing an eternity in Hell. Great danger demands drastic measures, and this passage is full of drastic measures given by God to us.

So as Jesus wraps up the final months of His earthly ministry from verses 38 to 50, He decides to warn His followers to pursue aggressive Christianity, to run to win, to make a difference for Christ. There is no such thing as a lukewarm Christian. There is no such thing as an uncommitted Christian. There is no such thing as a carnal Christian. Though Christians can temporarily live in the flesh, they will not remain that way, since God promises to spank all His true, wayward children. Genuine Christians strive to remain focused and on target. So the Lord warns us not to drift in five different ways from these verses, the first of which is–don’t get distracted . . .

#1  By an unnecessary RIVALRY: a failure of PRIORITY  Verses 38 to 41

The only way to understand verse 38 is to grab onto what Jesus says in verse 37, “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.” From last week, we know the child here represents a Christian. So the Lord is showing us, just like He is doing right now, by welcoming this child to Himself, by holding this child with tender care like He is doing right in front of them–just like our Lord, His true disciples are to receive the Lord’s servants with open arms. We’re to love our fellow-Christians with the same kind of love Jesus is demonstrating as He is holding this child.

Forget about rank, pre-eminence, and worldly greatness. Welcome His servants who minister in His name, who are of no rank or caliber, like this child. This instruction convicts the apostle John, who immediately describes an incident where the disciples failed to demonstrate this kind of love toward a fellow disciple of Christ in verse 38. “John said to Him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.’” The disciples were manifesting pride, and lacking humility.

Instead of embracing the Lord’s death as the means of redemption, they were only seeing the Lord’s coming rule as a means of reward. They were arguing with each other over who is the greatest. They weren’t even concerned about the coming sacrifice of Christ, reminding us again of just how sick pride is. Pride destroys unity, it rejects God, and pride results in the sin of exclusivity, like what John has just confessed in verse 38.

Look again at verse 38, “Teacher, we saw someone . . .”–John feels guilty as He remembers this incident. We don’t know when it happened, but John remembers it. So he says in verse 38, “We saw someone casting out demons in Your name and we tried to prevent him because he wasn’t following us.” Every one of you understands what’s going on here, especially you students. The disciples are very competitive with each other, trying to be the greatest. They certainly don’t want anybody else succeeding outside their group, Triple T: the Top Terrific Twelve.

But probably during their last journey, they ran into someone who was actually casting out demons in Jesus’ name. This guy was not like the sons of Sceva, who couldn’t pull it off. Nor was he a phony Matthew 7 believer who said he cast out demons in Jesus’ name, but the Lord never knew him. Nor is this man like the Acts 8 Simon Magus, who wanted to buy the power of the Spirit. No, this man is the real thing–he is actually casting out demons.

This man is a true believer, even though we don’t know anything about him. He could be part of the Luke 10 seventy who were sent out with power to cast out demons. We don’t know, but what he was doing was genuine. God was working through him because he was a true follower, and he was casting out demons in the name of Christ. But the Terrific 12 told him to stop–why? Because he wasn’t a part of their group–their pride manifested itself in exclusivity. “Us four, no more, bar the door”–excluding others. Never forget, there is no room for others in a heart that’s full of itself.

In their pursuit of being the greatest in God’s Kingdom, the disciples were beginning to shut down and cut out everyone else. When pride begins, love ceases. So what’s Jesus say about this? Verse 39, “But Jesus said, ‘Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name”–and here Jesus affirms this man actually did cast out demons in His name. This was a true miracle. The rest of verse 39, “and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me.” This man is not going to speak evil, literally “vilify me”–why? Because He casts out demons in My name–according to who I am. Pride in the heart always becomes exclusive. You begin your own little club, invite your clique in and keep the rest out. But Jesus makes His approach clear in verse 40. “For he who is not against us is [what?] for us.”

“Just be glad!” Rejoice that my work is being done. If they’re honoring my name and doing my work, they are for us. Be like Paul in Philippians 1–Paul was in prison, and while in prison there were Christians who were preaching the Word, but saying terrible things about Paul. Did he defend himself? Did he tell them to stop? Did he correct them on his blog? No, he didn’t care. They were saying he was in prison because he botched his ministry. He was in prison because God put him on the shelf.

Paul responds, “They were hoping to add pain to my chains. They were building their own reputation by pushing me down and elevating themselves.” Yet Paul says in Philippians 1:18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.” This is a matter of priority. What matters is that the true Christ of the Scripture is exalted–that the authentic message of the Gospel is truly made known.

Doctrine does matter, and unity in a church is based upon sound doctrine. But when it comes to “the world” outside our church, we must not be exclusive. That doesn’t mean we turn our brains off and accept everything done in the name of Christ as good–it is not. But when the true Christ and an accurate Gospel are taught today, we should rejoice. There’s diversity in God’s work. Just because somebody doesn’t dot every “i” and cross every “t” exactly the way you do is no excuse to shut them down. They’re either for Christ or against Christ. And if they’re for Christ, then we should be for them. If Christ is being preached, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being preached, and Paul says, I will continue to rejoice in that.

Jesus is saying, this life is not a competition, it’s a mission. There are no real competitors among true believers. And true believers will preach the true Gospel–therefore don’t be exclusive and reject people outside your group. Stop competing with other genuine believers—that is off-track, it’s not focused, it’s distracting. And it’s off-target from your mission. We must stand for truth, and when there is error, we are to expose it–but we are not here on earth to correct everyone outside our church. We are here to teach sound doctrine inside our church, and to proclaim Christ to those who desperately need salvation outside our church.

For Jesus says that kind of focus actually brings reward in verse 41, “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” The disciples have reward on their brain. Greatness equals glory. Greatness equals reward. They want the payoff. The Greek word for reward means wages. They’re looking for the big payoff–the score.

Life is tough–and in that part of the world, at that time in human history, life was very difficult. So the hope of reward was very strong, and the idea of a glorious position from the King of all kings was desired. They want it now. They want the big payoff–glory, exaltation, authority, greatness. But they had to realize pride is not the path to get that glory–only humility is the path to reward. So Jesus shows what humility looks like in verse 41–you give a cup of water to drink to someone who belongs to Christ. That’s humility. You don’t have to psychoanalyze what humility feels like–forget that. Hey, as soon as you “feel humble,” guess what? You’re proud.

This is not about feelings. Jesus focuses on what humility does, because that’s the only way you can define it—“for whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name.” True humility looks like simple kindness. Humility is shown when there’s sacrifice given towards 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.

Why does He say that? Because there was this fear that if I humble myself, I’m going to lose. This is a competition, we’ve got to win, we’ve got to be first, we’ve got to get the recognition. So the fear is, if I end up at the bottom, I’m going to lose the reward and not get the big payoff. But Jesus says, “No, you’re not going to lose. You’re going to gain it. The simple act of sacrificial kindness given to one who belongs to Christ will result in what you can never achieve by elevating yourself. You won’t lose your reward–you gain your reward, eternal reward.

So the Lord says, stop looking at other believers, other ministries, and other true churches as competitors—as rivals. If they genuinely know Christ and proclaim a true Gospel–if they’re not swimming in false doctrine, and they manifest fruit, then cheer them on. Don’t get off-center. There are some who spend all their time gloating over how they know the truth better than others. Instead of sharing the truth, they mince over doctrine.

Now elders are required to refute error in the church, and elders must not tolerate biblical error in the midst of the church–and subtle heresy must be exposed and condemned in the church. In Titus 1:9, “Elders must hold . . . fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” But don’t get off-center. Your entire Christian life must not be defined by, “I’m not like those Christians.” You should be saying, “I’m not like Christ, so Lord, help me to grow more like Jesus–and help me to make the Gospel known to those who are lost.”

Don’t get off-target. Inside the church, learn the truth, live the truth, grab on to sound doctrine, and grow deep in Christ. But outside the church, proclaim the Gospel and encourage those who know Christ and honor the true Gospel, to stay on target. This is dangerous stuff, and now it gets worse. Great danger demands drastic measures. Secondly, Mark says, don’t get off-center . . .

#2  By not protecting God’s PEOPLE: a failure of LOVE  Verse 42

Can Christians forget just how precious God’s people are? Do we sometimes look at each other with the wrong lens? Can a believer get critical, defensive, harsh, damaging, even cruel to those whom Jesus Christ died for? Yes! So Jesus says these strong words in order for us not to forget. The Lord shocks you to stay on target. He says never forget just how important those people who are sitting around you right now are to Me, by saying in verse 42, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.”

This verse is a call to love God’s people, no matter what! This is a reminder of your responsibility to others in this church. This is a warning shot across the bow of your ship. You say, “Chris, Jesus is talking about children.” No, look at verse 42–these little ones who believe He’s describing are fellow Christians. Jesus uses a physical child as a symbol of a spiritual child–a Christian. Do not lead a fellow-Christian into sin. Keep your brother or sister in Christ upright, and don’t cause them to fall down into sin and stumble spiritually.

“Oh,” you say, “I would never do that!” Don’t say that–you have a loaded weapon on you right now that has no safety. You can easily cause another to sin with your tongue. Just gossip, slander, guess motives, malign, murmur, complain—really, just talk too much and you’re going to harm others. This is a warning never to abuse a believer–yes, lovingly confront, teach, speak the truth, but do so with love and grace. This is a challenge never to lead another Christian into sin.

Verse 42 is one of the most severe challenges that the book of Mark and Jesus ever gives. The Lord is no holds barred–because there is great danger, it demands drastic measures. Simply stated, you’d be better off dying a horrible death than to lead another believer into sin. Never mess with God’s sheep. Don’t ever abuse the Church of God–never elevate your agenda so you harm the body of Christ. He died for the people all around you, and He does not want you harming them, leading them into sin, or causing them to sin.

Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, and He protects His sheep. Are you this morning mindful of the danger of harming a Christian? Even Israel tasted this heart from God. You see it when the Lord said to Abraham, “Whoever blesses you will be blessed, and whoever curses you will be cursed.” If you harm God’s Old Testament people, harm will come to you. If you bless God’s Old Testament people, blessing will come to you. Remember Saul who became Paul? He was torturing Christians, and God stopped Saul on the Damascus road and said to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting [WHO?] . . . Me?” God says, “You’re hurting Christians, Paul, but in doing so you’re hurting Me!”

Treat Christians as if they were Jesus Himself. Take this seriously–that’s the positive truth that leads to a negative threat. Look at verse 42, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.” “Stumble” is skandalizomi, meaning to be caught in sin, to be trapped in sin, to cause someone to step into sin.

Look carefully at verse 42–Jesus adds, “Whoever causes ONE.” Whoever causes just one–not a group, just one. Whoever causes one, and one is emphatic. One is emphasized–any one, any one child, one student, one adult, one brother or sister, just one believer. This warning is directed at believers–God’s children. If you cause a child of God to sin you entrap them in sin. What will happen? This is drastic. How drastic?

You can determine the seriousness of a crime by the severity of the punishment. If you are given a stern talkin’ to, or a slap on the wrist, you can assume the crime was not that serious. But if you’re skinned alive, then sprayed with salt, torn to pieces, then finally burned to ash, and your ashes flushed down a toilet, you’d assume it must have been a serious crime they committed, because the punishment was so severe.

Some believers today think causing another Christian to sin is like a sport–it is no big deal. It’s like a slap on the hand. But Jesus says differently—this is scary severe. We should shrink in horror over the idea of leading another Christian into sin. Instead of drooling over that next morsel of juicy gossip, or giving into the urge to criticize your spiritual leaders, or tearing down a Christian family, or ripping into a believer with slander–we actually should consider cutting our tongues out before we would cause another to stumble–why?

Verse 42 says it’d be better to have a mulos onikos tied around your neck. Mulos is mule, onikos is stone–these were giant mule-turning stones used to grind grain. Let me describe a millstone, since it’s probably been a week since you’ve seen one. The Jews lived in an agrarian society, so millstones were seen everywhere. The readers knew exactly what Jesus was describing, and the image frightened them.

There were two sizes of millstones in Jesus’ day. Each mill included two stones–one stone that was fixed, and a second stone that rotated on top. The kernel had to be separated from the chaff, and so the stones would rub the grain of wheat, milling the chaff away. The smaller millstone could be turned by a person, a personal millstone. But that is not the type Jesus refers to here. The millstone Jesus calls for here requires a beast of burden to turn it–a mule. This millstone would be as much as four or five feet in diameter, and up to two feet in width, and would weigh 500 to 2,000 pounds.

Jesus says leading a believer into sin brings worse ramifications than tying that huge millstone around your neck and throwing you both into the sea. (That punishment had happened in Galilee, and they had memory of its horror.) The Jews hated the sea–they feared the sea greatly. In fact, it’s humorous they called Lake Chinnereth the “Sea” of Galilee.  The Sea of Galilee is little more than a glorified lake. The Sea of Galilee is three miles wide by seven miles long. (Lake Tahoe is twelve miles wide by 22 miles long.) The Sea of Galilee in Michigan would be considered a pond.

The Jews never ventured out into the Mediterranean Sea. That was where Leviathans and Phoenicians threatened. The sea was the place of unknown monsters and pirates, and the thought of being drown in the sea is horrific to them. This is how serious sinning against another brother or sister is–why? Jesus takes sin against another Christian so seriously because God is their Father. Dads, how do you like it when someone leads your children into sin? Does that rile you up? Don’t mess with God’s children–it riles Him up, to the point that the consequences of causing a Christian to sin are worse than tying a millstone around your neck and casting yourself into the sea.

Are you hearing this? Your loving Savior, gentle Jesus says, “You’d be better off to have a 2,000 pound rock tied around your neck and thrown into the sea to be drowned than to cause one of my children to stumble into sin. Do not fail to love God’s people. You cannot say you love God and not love God’s people. Without love, you are just a loud noise. Genuine, sacrificial love works very hard never to be a source of sinful solicitation to another person.

Never draw another Christian, young or old, toward the lust of the flesh, toward the lust of the eyes, materialism, toward the love of the world, or toward pride. Never cause any believers in your life, whether kids, spouses, friends or acquaintances, to sin–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.

According to 1 Peter 4, Peter says each of us is to “love one another with a fervent love.” Fervent is a Greek word used to describe stretching a muscle to its absolute maximum. Love others stretched to the extreme–I call it “yoga love”. It’s an all-encompassing love that reaches as far as it can possibly go. It holds very little back–it cares, holds, protects and sacrifices. And Jesus says this kind of love does not solicit to sin, it covers sin, it protects people from sin, it desires the holiness of God’s people. So how can a Christian lead others into sin?

1  Through DIRECT temptation

You invite someone to sin with you, or directly encourage them to sin against the laws of God. You encourage people to lie, gossip, cheat, steal, curse or hate. You draw them into ungodly entertainment (“Look at this!”), or a sinful activity. When young men press their girlfriends too far physically, they lead them into sin. Jesus says you should die a horrible death rather than do that.

2  Through INDIRECT temptation

Like provoking someone to jealousy by flaunting what you have, or provoking your child to anger by your indifference or harsh unkindness or inattention, or lack of affection, or lack of forgiveness, or overbearing expectations.

3  Through a SINFUL example

No one sins in isolation, and when others see your unrepentant choices to sin, sometimes they are encouraged to follow. “Gosh, if Chris can do that, then so can I.” Today, far too many flaunt their liberty to drink, which can lead others to drink against their conscience. Others may choose to remain unforgiving, or express unrepentant anger, which affects everyone who sees it. You have to be careful what example you set–just when you think people are not watching, the truth is they are. RMG leaders, student leaders, children’s leaders, elders and deacons—be warned.

So in any of these intertwined ways, we can lead others to sin. And our Lord says, “You’d be better off to die a horrible death than to do that.” This is the strongest threat that ever came out of the mouth of Jesus to His own people, and it calls for protective love that seeks someone’s best. Do not get off-target as a follower of Christ. Don’t make excuses for how badly you treat others–oh, they understand, they don’t care, it’s no big deal. No, Jesus says it’s a big deal.

If we ever get so focused on what we are doing for Christ that we run over people to get it done, we’re in big trouble. When we’re so busy, we can’t prefer people over tasks–we are taking an awful risk. When things are more important than people, when our work is more important than our family, when a kid’s grades are more important than his character, when a student’s school is more important than his spiritual life we are off-track, distracted, off-center and messed up.

Don’t get off-target by an unnecessary RIVALRY

Don’t get off-target by failing to PROTECT God’s people

And in verses 43 to 50, the Lord shocks us with . . .

Don’t get off-target by failing to take sin seriously, and

Don’t get off-target by not offering yourself fully, and

Don’t get off-target by not living attractively

You ask, “Chris, what’s that mean?” For the answer to that, you have to come back next week.

1  Is there any area of your life that is off-target?

Today is the day to repent. True repentance will mean you stop doing that which is off-target–that which distracts you (what you wrote down) and start pursuing what Christ teaches here. Stop focusing on unnecessary rivalries, and never fail to love and protect God’s people.

2  How seriously do you deal with sin in your life?

The Lord is reminding His followers that sin is serious stuff. So serious, Jesus had to suffer and die on a cross to remove sin’s penalty from His true children. And if it is that serious, you and I better stop treating sin as no big deal. Yes, we are under God’s grace, but sin is still a serious concern to Christ in the life of His children. Confess your sin, repent of your sin, get accountable on your sin–fight it, flee it, and never, never ignore it. Today–have you turned from your sin to follow Christ?

3  Are you protective of God’s people?

Do you work hard to guard your tongue, and refuse to listen to gossip, slander and improper speech about others? Choose this week to love your brothers and sisters with genuine affection and true sacrifice—just like Christ. Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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