Most if not all of us have spent time in a classroom at some point in our lives. Which means we’ve all been taught by someone we call a teacher. Teachers are great. They have knowledge and they share it. However, as you likely know, some teachers are better at sharing their knowledge with others. And we all might have differing opinions about what makes a teacher better or worse at their job of teaching. And we all might look for different qualities in those who have taught or do currently teach us, and that’s fine. But, today, I want to share with you why each of us needs a teacher, and he is not just any teacher. This is Jesus, he is our Savior, and we need him. We need him to focus us and to encourage us.
Focus was what the disciples needed in our lesson. As we’ve been spending time in God’s Word from the book of Mark, we’ve been hearing how Jesus is everything. Yet, it seems like the disciples want to be everything. You go to Mark 8 verses 32 and 33 and you find Peter rebuking Jesus for laying out the plan of salvation. Then you jump into chapter 9 and you hear how some of the disciples are confused and upset as to why they couldn’t heal a boy who was possessed by an evil spirit. It embarrassed them to the point that they privately took Jesus aside to ask what went wrong. And, of course, there is the incident from last week’s sermon where Jesus catches them arguing about who is the most important and greatest in the group and, by their speechlessness before Jesus, we see them yet again embarrassed in front of their Lord.
Jesus’ disciples had gotten a little arrogant and had forgotten what their teacher wanted them to do And we see that again at the beginning of our lesson. Jesus’ disciples come to him and they felt like they finally did something that’s impressive they finally got something right after being embarrassed numerous times. John is their spokesman: “Teacher, he says, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Jesus, we told this man to stop using your name to drive out demons. He’s not one of us, so we stopped him.
The disciples didn’t’ believe Jesus’ name should be used by someone who wasn’t one of his day-to-day followers and they were likely jealous that this man was having success. What does Jesus say? Verse 39, Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me.” John, don’t worry about that guy. He is on our side. He knows me as his Savior. And whether he is driving out demons or, as Jesus says next in verse 41, “giving you a cup of water in my name” he will not lose the reward of heaven that is promised to him through faith in me.
But then you see what our great teacher does with this situation. He uses it to refocus the disciples. You think of a good teacher from your past and maybe you recall an instance where you or someone else answered a question that teacher asked and the answer that was given wasn’t even close. The teacher is talking about algebra and your answer to the equation is the name of the 23rd President of the United States – not even close. Yet, somehow that teacher takes your answer and is able to use it to bring the entire class to the right answer. Some teachers have that gift and Jesus, the teacher, did.
He says, look if anyone causes one of these little ones (here that phrase little ones includes not just small children, but those who are infants or immature in their faith) who believe in me to sin (the word, causing to sin, might be better understood as causing someone to lose their faith.), it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” Our teacher’s greatest concern in this world was the faith, weak or strong, of those who called him Lord and Savior.
So do we see how he is refocusing his disciples, how he is refocusing us? He’s teaching us to be humble to see that it’s not about who is the greatest. It’s not about how big or small the act of kindness and service is that is being done. It’s about the person being served. Our concern is to be the same as God’s concern, the soul, the faith of every human being. What am I doing to lead people to Christ? How am I sharing with others their Savior? Am I doing that at all, or am I leading others astray? But you know what else? Even as he’s focusing us on what we are doing to share his name he’s really showing us how important we are to him. Look at that warning to those who would dare lead someone away from their Savior! It would be better if they drowned themselves. It’s striking isn’t it? But this is how much God loves his children, how much he loves you. You are worth everything to him and he wants to see you clinging always to Jesus, who did give up everything for you, to give you the certain hope of eternal life.
So Jesus doesn’t stop there. He knows that if his disciples are to be focused on nurturing and growing the faith of others they also need to be encouraged to cut out and get rid of the sin in their own lives They need to be better. This reminds me of a teacher I had in Kindergarten, some of you have heard me tell this story, but in Kindergarten I loved to color, and one day after coloring a picture of Martin Luther nailing the 95 theses on the church door I took my masterful artwork to my teacher and do you know what she said? “Kindergarteners do not color outside the lines.” This teacher saw my mistakes and demanded better of me. The point is sometimes we need to hear the hard truths. And a good teacher will share those hard truths with you, for one purpose to make you better.
And so here is Jesus using graphic expressions to encourage his disciples, to encourage us to be better. Verses 43-47. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off…if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Why? Because “It is better to be maimed…it is better to be crippled…it is better to have one eye than two…it is better for all those things to happen…than to be thrown into hell. A place Isaiah describes for us where the worms that eat on our flesh will never die and the fire that burns us will never consumes us.
Have you ever heard of a man by the name of Aron Ralston? Aron was an outdoorsman who once while hiking in Utah, had a suspended boulder fall onto his right arm trapping him there. With no one around and after almost 5 days he knew he would have to cut off his arm in order to survive, and he did. He left his arm behind, but it saved his life. So I guess the question is, what do we need to cut out so that we don’t lose our life, our eternal life? That’s a tough question because often those things that we need to cut out are things that we secretly treasure and enjoy, they’re like our own arm, foot, or eye.
Maybe it’s something simple. Maybe it is cutting yourself off from the TV, a book, or a magazine that leads you to sin. Maybe it’s something a little harder. Cutting yourself off from a sports team that will keep you from your church family or cutting out your privacy, so someone can monitor your phone and internet browsing. It might be a radical move like cutting yourself off from a relationship or a job. But often that cutting out sounds too terrible, too hard, never-ending, and the alternative, “being thrown in hell”, too distant and unreal. And here is the thing. We can cut and pluck, and cut, and cut, but temptations will keep coming and we will keep failing. We will keep sinning. We will never be perfect. We can’t be perfect. That’s why we need this encouragement from our teacher, Jesus.
He shows us that this thing called sin is bigger than any one of us and that place called hell is real and far worse than we can imagine. He reveals that the ability to fully remove our sin and keep us from hell, is something we cannot do on our own. If there is to be a surgery, an amputation, we cannot perform it. But he can, Jesus can, and he did. He shows us in his Word how he cut off all our sins as he took them upon himself and was then cut off from God the Father. He was amputated, removed from the heavenly family. At the cross God looked at his Son, weighed down with our sins, and he abandoned him. He forsook him. And he did it for you. So, you wouldn’t be cut off from him. Here is your encouragement! God didn’t abandon you. He saved you. And he gave you the ability to cut out those things that might still lead you or others to stumble and lose the reward of heaven, a place with him forever.
And finally, isn’t this Jesus’ whole point? He wants his disciples, he wants all people, he wants us, to be with him. And so lastly our teacher encourages us all to think of something small, something simple, salt. You look at verse 50, “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Salt is good, right? It acts as a preservative pulling water from food, drying it out so bad things like mold and bacteria can’t grow. It also adds a little flavor to food – two good things! But if salt some how lost its saltiness it would be useless. Which is what was happening right now to these disciples.
Their focus had left Christ and they were instead focused on who was greatest and on who should be allowed to do miracles in Jesus’ name. They needed encouragement to once again cut out sin from their own lives so they could lead others to do the same. So Jesus said, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” Don’t let sinful pride and envy reign in your hearts. Preserve your faith in me, be at peace – stop arguing – and be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.
That same teacher comes today to focus and encourage us. He directs our eyes to the cross where his only focus was you and his only work your salvation. And with his sacrifice for your sin, he encourages you to cut out whatever might lead you away from him and instead to preserve like salt your faith that was graciously given to you. So that all of us, together, might be at peace with God forever and live with him eternally. God grant it. Amen.