So far in Mark’s gospel, the Lord Jesus has made clear — by the things he said and by what he did — that he’s the Christ, God’s Anointed King. By the parables he told — parables about the kingdom of God — and by the miracles he performed — driving out demons and healing the sick — he’s demonstrated that he’s God’s Anointed King who is able to deliver us from our sin and misery and give us everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. We’ve seen too that the way to enter his kingdom is through repentance and faith: turning in repentance from our old life of sin and unbelief; and turning with faith to the only Saviour of the world. That’s how sinners enter Christ’s everlasting kingdom.
That’s what we’ve been learning up to now. So, what do we learn from today’s passage? Well, from today’s passage, we learn how we’re to live as members of Christ’s kingdom. From today’s passage we learn that the members of Christ’s kingdom are to be servants of all, loving and serving our neighbour. And we’re to be tough, even ruthless, with ourselves and with the sin inside us.
Verses 30 to 32
The passage begins with the Lord predicting once again his own suffering and death. You’ll see from verse 30 that they left the place where the Lord had cast out the demon from the boy. And they passed through Galilee. Now, normally wherever the Lord went, crowds of people would gather to see him and to seek his help. On this occasion, he kept his presence a secret, because he wanted time to teach his disciples. And the first thing they needed to know, of course, was that he would be betrayed — or handed over — into the hands of men who will kill him.
He once again refers to himself as the ‘Son of Man’, which was the way he normally referred to himself. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that the phrase ‘Son of Man’ is used in Daniel 7 to refer to a divine-like person who came with the clouds of heaven and who approached the Lord Almighty on his throne. And this divine-like Son of Man received authority from God and glory and sovereign power. And we read in Daniel 7 that all peoples will worship him and his dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom will never be destroyed.
That’s the background to the phrase ‘Son of Man’, which the Lord used when referring to himself. And, of course, once the Lord’s earthly ministry was over, he ascended through the clouds to heaven to sit at God’s right hand in glory from where he rules over all things and from where he’s extending his kingdom on the earth, a kingdom which is an everlasting kingdom and which will never ever be destroyed despite all the efforts of the Devil to overthrow him. So, he’s clearly Daniel’s Son of Man and he fulfilled everything that was said about the Son of Man in Daniel 7.
However, before the Lord Jesus ascended to take his seat on the throne in heaven, he first had to suffer and die on the cross in order to satisfy God’s justice and to purchase our redemption and the right to receive everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. Before he ascended to heaven, he first had to die for us. And so, here’s the Lord, predicting his death on the cross and his resurrection afterwards; and though he’s the Eternal Son of God who is worthy of all our worship and honour; and though he’s the Son of Man who was destined to rule over all, nevertheless here we see that he was prepared to humble himself and to suffer and to die for his people and for their salvation. What a Saviour! The rulers of the nations expect everyone to serve them and to do what they say. Kings and queens and presidents will sit, while their servants are running around, doing whatever the ruler has commanded. But the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, not to be served by us, but in order to serve us by laying down his life for us. He’s the Great King who humbled himself and who suffered and died for his people.
Verses 33 to 37
That’s what he did for us and for our salvation. And that too is the example he has left us to follow: an example of putting others first and doing what is best for others before what is best for ourselves. But his disciples, not only did not understand what he meant when he predicted his death and resurrection, but they were not yet ready to follow his example. Look at what happened next. When they arrived in Capernaum, the Lord asked them what they were talking about on the way. And look: they’re like school boys who have been caught out by the teacher and they don’t know what to say. They don’t know what to say, because they knew that what they were talking about was wrong; and they’re ashamed, because they were discussing with one another which of them was the greatest.
And we can imagine the conversation, can’t we? We can imagine one of them boasting that I’m the greatest, because I’ve done this. And another one pushes himself forward and reminds them of the things he had done. And still a third comes forward to boas about something he had done and why that makes him greater than all the rest. We can imagine the conversation because we’ve all been in that kind of conversation, haven’t we? This kind of conversation is held all the time in schools and colleges and in the workplace and even in families among siblings who often envy one another. And if you haven’t been in this kind of conversation, then you’ve had this kind of conversation in your own head, haven’t you? We’ve told ourselves how unfair it is when someone else has been praised instead of me. We’ve told ourselves how I’m so much better than that other person who gets all the attention. We’ve asked ourselves why am I not receiving the honour I deserve? Can’t they see how important I am? We have these conversations in our head all the time; and when someone is praised and honoured, instead of being pleased for them, we often secretly resent it, don’t we?
And yet, think of the example the Lord left us, because he’s the Eternal Son of God, and the great Son of Man who was destined to rule over all. He is greater than all. And yet, he was willing to humble himself and to lay down his life for his people. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. And so, the Lord told them plainly in verse 35:
If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.
That’s how we’re to live our lives. That’s what we’re to seek to do every day as members of his kingdom. We’re to live as servants who are ready to love and serve whomever we meet.
The boys and girls who are here and the young people: this is what you’re to do. You might think the way to serve the Lord is by going overseas on a mission trip or helping with a holiday club or by going to meetings in the church. And those things are fine. But the way for children and young people to serve the Lord in your daily lives is by loving and serving your parents in the home; asking them ‘What can I do to help today?’ instead of demanding that they serve you and give you whatever you want. And it’s no different when we’re older, because all through our life — no matter what age we are — we’re to love and serve the people we meet. We’re to love and serve the people in our family at home. And in the neighbourhood, and in the workplace, we’re to do what we can to love and serve the people we encounter there. Wherever we find ourselves, we’re to love and serve the people we meet. Greatness in Christ’s kingdom means being the servant of all; and when anyone is looking for a volunteer to help with something, our first reaction should be:
Yes, I’m prepared to serve in that way, because Christ my King calls me to be the servant of all.
And to make clear how we’re to serve anyone we meet and we’re to be servants of all, the Lord took this little child. And, of course, the reason he took a little child was because a little child had no standing in society at that time, no rights, no status. They had no influence in the world. Important people, powerful people, influential people did not bother with children; they had servants and slaves to look after their children. But the Lord said that whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name — or for my sake — welcomes me. In other words, the members of my kingdom are to love and serve anyone and everyone, even people of no importance and people with no standing in society. My people are to love and serve them in my name and for my sake.
And the Lord went on to say that by welcoming the little children and others like them with no standing in society, by loving and serving them for my sake, you’re welcoming and you’re loving and serving the one who sent me, who is none other than God the Father in heaven. So, how do we serve our Father in heaven? By serving the people around us, including those who are regarded in society as nothing. Greatness in Christ’s kingdom means being the servant of all. —
Verses 38 to 41
In verse 38 John said to the Lord that they had seen someone who was driving out a demon in the Saviour’s name. But they told him to stop because ‘this man was not one of us’.
‘Don’t stop him’, the Saviour said. Don’t stop him, because whoever is not against us is for us. And this person was clearly ‘for the Lord’, because he was driving out the demon in the Saviour’s name. In other words, though he was not one of the disciples, he was serving the Saviour. And how was he serving the Saviour? He was serving the Saviour by helping this person who was demon-possessed. In the Saviour’s name, he was bringing relief to this person who was suffering on account of a demon. And so, do not stop him and do not hinder him, for this man was loving and serving his neighbour in the name of the Saviour.
And then, the Lord added that the person who serves the disciples by giving them a drink of water in Christ’s name will receive a reward. In other words, by serving the disciples they’re serving the Saviour.
So, we should rejoice when we see someone who is serving others in the name of the Lord; and we shouldn’t try to hinder them. And the way we serve the Lord is by loving and serving the people around us. Christians sometimes wonder what they can do to serve the Lord. What can I do? Do I have to be a minister or an elder to serve the Lord? Do I have to go overseas as a missionary? Do I have to be the leader in an organisation? Do I have to stand up in front of everyone and lead a meeting? What can I do to serve the Lord? Well, the lesson once again is that the way we serve the Lord is by loving and serving the people around us for the sake of Christ the Lord. In fact, think for a moment about the offices in the church: being a Minister or an Elder or a member of the Congregational Committee. What are they? Well, they’re servants, aren’t they? The Minister serves the congregation by teaching them God’s word. The Elders serve the congregation by watching over them for their spiritual good. The members of the Committee serve the congregation by taking care of their practical well-being. Do you see? The leaders of the church are servants; and greatness in Christ’s kingdom means being the servant of all.
Verses 42 to 50
That’s what we learn about life in the kingdom of God from verses 30 to 41. In the following verses — verses 42 to 50 — we learn that — while we’re to love and serve one another — we’re to be tough with ourselves. We’re to be tough with ourselves; in fact, we’re to be ruthless with ourselves.
As we turn to these verses, we need to bear in mind that the Lord is using hyperbole in these verses. You know what hyperbole is, don’t you? It means exaggerating for effect. ‘We were going at a million miles an hour’ someone might say. Well, they weren’t really going at a million miles an hour; but the person who says that is trying to convey to you that they were going really, really fast. And so, when the Lord talks here about cutting off your hand or your foot or plucking out your eye, he doesn’t really mean that we should cut off our hand or foot or pluck out our eye. He’s using hyperbole; he’s exaggerating for effect. And he’s exaggerating like this in order to make clear to us that we should be prepared to give up anything — any sinful habit — which might cause us to sin. And the word translated ‘sin’ here means to stumble or to fall away. So, the Lord is referring to doing something with our hands or feet or eyes which might cause us or which might cause someone else to stumble and fall away from Christ and to stumble and fall away from the narrow path that leads to everlasting life. He mentions your hand and foot to refer to sinful things we might do; and he mentions your eye to refer sinful things we might look at. We need to cut out of our life whatever sinful habits we have which might cause us or someone else to stumble away from Christ the Saviour.
No doubt we can all think of people who seemed to be on the right path, the narrow path that leads to everlasting life. They professed faith in the Saviour and for a time they were following the Lord. But there was some sinful habit they refused to give up; or there was some sinful choice they made; they took a wrong turning in their Christian walk which led them away from the narrow path that leads to life and they ended up on the broad road that leads to destruction. It’s a terrible thing, when it happens.
And so, we all need to be tough with ourselves, ruthless with ourselves: not with other people, but with ourselves personally. We need to be ruthless with ourselves personally so that we don’t cause another person to stumble and we don’t cause ourselves to stumble. And to keep us from doing such a thing, the Lord warns us.
Now, we’re all familiar with warnings, aren’t we? You see a sign at the edge of a cliff, saying:
Don’t go near the edge.
And you know that the warning sign is there for your benefit; and someone who cares about your safety has put it there to alert you to something dangerous. Well, the Lord cares for our eternal safety and so he’s given us this warning to alert us to something dangerous. First of all, he says that it would be better to drown in the sea than to do such a thing as to cause a little one who believes in him to stumble away from Christ. So, there’s the warning: don’t cause anyone else to stumble away from Christ, because the outcome will be terrible for you if you do.
And if there’s anything in your own life which might cause you to stumble away from Christ and from walking in his ways, then you should cut it out of your life. No matter what the cost might be to you personally, you need to cut these sinful habits out of your life so that you will not go astray and end up like so many others suffering the eternal punishment of hell, instead of enjoying the perfect peace and rest of everlasting life in Christ’s everlasting kingdom. Whatever the cost to you personally, you need to cut if out of your life. That’s how ruthless we’re to be with ourselves personally.
‘Everyone will be salted with fire’, the Lord says in verse 49. It’s not entirely clear what he meant, but fire and salt are often associated in the Bible with purification: salt was a preservative to keep food fresh; and fire was used to burn up impurities in precious metals. And so, the Lord was perhaps referring to the way we need to keep ourselves pure; and we need to remove from our lives whatever might cause us to stumble and fall away from Christ.
And then, in verse 50, the Saviour says:
Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other.
Do you remember what the disciples were doing on the way to Capernaum? They were arguing with one another about which of them was the greatest. They were fighting with one another. Well, says the Lord Jesus, have salt in yourselves: keep yourself pure and free from sinful habits and sinful desires and sinful inclinations and you’ll remain at peace with one another. So, instead of treating one another in a sinful way, love and serve one another, as you should. And if you do that, then instead of fighting and arguing and falling out with one another and hurting one another, you’ll be able to live at peace with one another. —
So, there you are. As servants of Jesus Christ, members of his kingdom, you’re to love and serve everyone you meet, because greatness in his kingdom means being the servant of all. That’s the way to serve your Father in heaven and that’s the way you’re to serve Christ your King. You serve the Lord by serving your neighbour.
But you’re to be tough with yourself; you’re to be ruthless with yourself and cut out of your life whatever sinful habits might lead you or someone else astray. Cut them out of your life and keep yourself pure and free from the stain of sin.
This is how you’re to live as members of Christ’s heavenly kingdom; and this is how you’re to live that heavenly, kingdom life now: by loving and serving your neighbour; and keeping yourself from stumbling. But here’s the thing we need to remember as I finish: the Lord Jesus does not leave us own our own; and he doesn’t expect us to live like this without his help. Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and is united to him through faith has his word to guide us and to show us how we’re to live. That’s the first thing. And then, secondly, he’s left us his own example to follow. He’s the one who came into the world, not to be served by us, but to serve us by laying down his life for us and for our salvation. He did not look to his own interests, but to ours, when he left the glory of heaven and came down to earth as a man to suffer and to die on the cross to pay for our sins and to reconcile us to God. He laid down his life to love and serve us. And so, we have his example to follow.
But then, thirdly, not only has he given us his word to guide us, and his example to follow, but he also gives us his Spirit to help us. The Holy Spirit lives inside every believer and he’s at work in us to transform us more and more into the likeness of our Saviour, so that more and more we’ll become like him. The Lord Jesus Christ — who now rules and reigns in heaven — has sent us his Spirit to enable us to live this heavenly life now, so that while we go on living on the earth we’re able more and more to live as the citizens of Christ’s heavenly kingdom ought to live. He gives us his Spirit to enable us to deny ourselves and to live for others. And he gives us his Spirit to enable us to say ‘no’ to every sinful habit. He gives us his Holy Spirit to enable us to live holy lives and to live at peace with one another. And so, every day we need to rely on the help of the Holy Spirit to enable us to live as citizens of Christ’s heavenly kingdom and all to the praise of our great Saviour, who calls us to follow him and who will one day come to bring us into his everlasting kingdom.