June 24, 2012
Pastor Joe Wittwer

Follow the Leader!

#3—Relationships in the Kingdom


    Our mission is to make disciples—to help people become whole-hearted followers of Jesus.  But what does that look like?  Years ago, we asked this question, searched the Scriptures, and came up with this description of a follower of Jesus.


  • God: A growing relationship with God.

  • Me: Developing Christ-like character.

  • We: Healthy relationships with others.

  • Others: Service to God and people.

Today, we are continuing our study of the Gospel of Mark.  We come to a passage in which Jesus predicts his death, and then talks about relationships.  Following the crucified God will change the way you relate to others and yourself.


Introduction and offering:

    We are in the second half of the gospel of Mark; everything is moving towards Jesus’ Passion in Jerusalem: his death and resurrection.  In the section we’re going to read, Jesus predicts His Passion again, followed by some interesting stories and dialogue that all revolve around our relationships with others.  Here’s:

The Big Idea: Following Jesus, the crucified God, changes the way we relate to others and ourselves.

Once again, we’re going to use the SOAP method, which is in our journals, and we use in our daily time with God.  


  • Scripture: read the Bible.

  • Observation: what does it mean?  

  • Application: what does it mean to me?  

  • Prayer: pray it back to God.

Because this is a longer section, I’m going to read it and make observations in chunks; then we’ll finish with some application.

Scripture: Mark 9:30-50


Mark 9:30–32

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

    On their way to Jerusalem, Jesus and His followers pass through Galilee for the final time.  Unlike other times in Galilee where Jesus taught large crowds, this final time He spends alone with His disciples.  He was teaching them, and the teaching focused on one thing: His upcoming Passion—His betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection.  This was prep time; it’s cramming for the final.  Jesus wanted to be alone with His disciples to ready them for what was coming.

But they didn’t understand—this is consistent every time Jesus brings up the subject of his suffering, death and resurrection.  Why didn’t they understand when He says it so clearly?  The Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be a political and military figure who would drive out the Roman oppressors and restore Israel to greatness.  There was no room in that framework for a criminal’s death on a cross.  

ILL: It is a presidential election year.  Imagine working on the inside of a candidate’s campaign—you are one of the candidate’s top people.  Every now and then, he mentions that his plan is to go to the Washington D.C. and be betrayed, suffer and be killed there. (I know—it sounds familiar!)  But wouldn’t that baffle you?  Would you understand that?  Probably not.  You expect him to win and run the country and make it great.  Talk of dying doesn’t make any sense at all.

It didn’t to the disciples either.  They didn’t understand what Jesus meant and were afraid to ask.  Why were they afraid?  Maybe Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” had spooked them.  Who wants Jesus to call you “Satan”?  More likely, they were simply afraid of what He might say. They were afraid to hear the truth, afraid His answer wouldn’t be what they wanted to hear.

    We are no different; we have a remarkable capacity to hear only what we want to hear.  

ILL: Your child asks if he can do something and you say “maybe”, and what does he hear?  “Yes!  Do it!”

We’re no different than our kids—we hear what we want to hear.

ILL: Years ago, a man in our church took me to breakfast to tell me he was leaving the church.  I asked why.  I had recently spoken on what the Bible says about God’s discipline.  He told me that he didn’t want to hear about a God who disciplines and corrects us.  He wanted to hear about a Father who loves us and gives us good things.  So he left so someone could tell him what he wanted to hear.

We hear what we want to hear.  Jesus’ disciples were like that.  They were afraid to hear what they didn’t want to hear.  “We don’t want to hear about suffering and death; we want to hear about conquest and prosperity and power.”  That is clear in the next story.

Mark 9:33-37

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

    Their failure to understand what Jesus was about to do on the cross was never more obvious than here!  After Jesus explains that He is sacrificing Himself, they are busy promoting themselves, debating who is greatest.  This is their response each time Jesus predicts His suffering and death.


  • In Mark 8, Jesus predicts His suffering and death, and Peter takes Him aside and rebukes Him.  Dying wasn’t in Peter’s plans for Jesus…or himself.

  • Here in Mark, Jesus predicts His suffering and death, and the disciples argue about who is the greatest—what will the pecking order be in Jesus’ new kingdom?

  • In Mark 10, in a story we’ll read next Sunday, Jesus predicts His suffering and death, and James and John ask if they can be the VP’s, His right and left hand men, in His new kingdom.

They really don’t get it! He’s going to a cross, and they are arguing about the pecking order.

    And yet, when Jesus asked what they were talking about, they lapsed into guilty silence. By themselves, it seemed like an important subject to discuss; in the presence of Jesus, it suddenly seemed stupid and wrong.  The presence of Jesus shows things for what they really are!  If we set everything in the sight of Jesus, what a difference it would make!  

ILL: I’ve mentioned before that Laina and I learned early in our marriage that when we got into a heated argument, it was best to call a time out and pray.  I’d go into a different room and say, “Lord, that woman…that you gave me…she is so wrong!  Would you please straighten her out?”  And Jesus would say, “Let’s talk about you.”

    “No, I’d rather we talk about her; she’s the one with the problem.”

    Not only would Jesus deal with my attitude, but somehow the issue we were arguing about just didn’t seem as important anymore in the presence of Jesus.     

I wondered why this mattered to the disciples; why were they arguing about it?  Their culture was very hierarchical; there was a clearly defined pecking order.  Even seating at a meal followed a carefully defined order that they believed ultimately reflected the order in heaven.  Additionally, they expected Jesus to set up his new kingdom in Jerusalem; they wanted to know who was going to be the top dog in the new administration.  I’m betting when Jesus took Peter, James and John alone to the mountain it added fuel to the fire.  

    Jesus sat down—this was the position that an authority spoke from.  We stand up when we speak with authority; they sat down.  So those two words, “sitting down”, indicate that Jesus is about to teach something important.

    Then Jesus turns their notions of greatness upside down.  Anyone who wants to be first must be last and servant of all.  The word “servant” is a Greek word, diakanos, that refers to one who freely chooses to serve another.  You don’t have to serve; you choose to serve.  Greatness is measured by humble service, not by status or position.  Rather than trying to climb over people to get to the top of the ladder, the great person stoops to serve those on the bottom.  You must be the servant of all.

    And to illustrate this, Jesus took a child in his arms and talked about welcoming a child.  Today, we celebrate and value children, but in most ancient societies, children were marginalized.  They were vulnerable—infant mortality rates were high; some families didn’t name children until they were 5 or 6 years old in case they died young!  They were liabilities, not assets; they cost a lot, but produced nothing. Children were the least significant persons in Jewish and Roman and Greek societies.  Keep them out of the way of important adults. (The disciples do exactly that in the next chapter when they shoo the kids away from Jesus.)  

Children represent those without influence, who can do nothing for us and give nothing to us, those on the bottom of the ladder.  Be the servant of all, even the least of these, the lowest, the most insignificant and marginalized.  Serve those who can do nothing for you in return.

Why?  What you do for them, you do for Jesus.  When you welcome a child, you welcome Jesus and you welcome God.  This echoes Jesus’ famous words in Matthew 25, “Whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you do for me.”  When you welcome a child, you welcome Jesus.  When you serve the poor, the needy, the marginalized, the weak, the insignificant, you are serving God.

Mark 9:38-41

38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

    Why did John want to stop this man?  “Because he was not one of us.”  He was using the name of Jesus—the authority of Jesus—to drive out demons, but he wasn’t one of the disciples. He hadn’t been screened and vetted.  He wasn’t misusing the name; he just wasn’t authorized. John was being protective and exclusive.

ILL: I get this.  If someone uses the name “Life Center”, I want to make sure they represent us well.  I don’t want someone saying, “This is a Life Group from Life Center,” and then everybody gets plastered, or they teach something really weird.  If they do, we stop them.  

So I get what John is doing.  But he’s lost sight of the forest for the trees.  He wants to stop someone who is doing good in Jesus’ name.  Think about that.  That’s not something you want to stop; that’s something you want to encourage!  There may be something more than being protective going on.  

    Remember last week’s story?  The disciples couldn’t cast out a demon; this guy could.  Maybe there was a little jealousy about his success and their failure.  “I stopped him because he wasn’t one of us…oh yeah, and he’s better than us!”  Does this happen today?  

ILL: In our first few years here at Life Center, I was jealous of other churches who were growing when we weren’t.  I didn’t try to stop them—I couldn’t.  But I did say things like, “They are just growing because they have the coolest musicians in town.  But they are a mile wide and an inch deep.  They are just attracting a crowd; we’re building real disciples.”  I was so stupid.  It just came from my insecurity.  

I think John may have stopped this guy because of his own insecurity—this guy was better than him!  So John tried to stop what he should have celebrated.

Jesus, on the other hand, was generous and inclusive.  He didn’t feel the need to control everything; He was willing to let people outside his circle do things in His name.  He said that if someone does something good in His name, they aren’t likely to speak badly about Him.  And then this: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”  That’s a very generous attitude!  If Jesus had said, “Whoever is not for us is against us,” that would have been very restrictive, very narrow.  (He does say that in another context.)  But here He says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”  If someone is not against Jesus, then assume that they are for Him.  

Anyone who does good—even something as small as giving a cup of cool water to a thirsty person because of Jesus—will be rewarded.  Anyone.  Anyone means…anyone.  Very inclusive—anyone who does good in Jesus’ name will be rewarded, so don’t stop them—cheer them on and help them!

Mark 9:42-50

42 “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where “ ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.  

50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

These verses seem like a jumble—how are they related?  Mark assembles here some sayings of Jesus that were probably given on separate occasions.  But Mark saw some connection.  Let’s see if we can trace it.

    In verse 41, Jesus says, “If anyone does good, he’ll be rewarded.”  In verse 42, He says, “If anyone causes a little to sin, he’ll be punished.”  It’s the other side of the coin, and it connects to the “little ones” Jesus mentioned in the first story.  If you cause someone to sin or lose their faith in Jesus—even if that person is just a child or some other seemingly insignificant person—you will be punished.  There were two kinds of millstones: hand millstones that were used to grind small amounts of grain, and “donkey millstones” that were so large a donkey had to move them.  This is the donkey stone.  Imagine having that thing tied around your neck and you’re dropped in the ocean.  You are going straight to the bottom and not coming up!  

    Then in verses 43-48, Jesus moves from causing others to sin to causing yourself to sin.  If something causes you to sin, get rid it of it.  Cut it off.  Pluck it out.  Obviously, Jesus is not speaking literally—cut off your hands and feet or pluck out your eyes.  If he was, we’d all be hamburger in a week!

ILL: I know a man who took this literally—he was smoking dope at the time—and laid his arms across a train track and lost both hands.  That’s not what Jesus had in mind.

But He is clearly saying, “If something is causing you to sin, be ruthless.”  Men, if your computer is causing you to sin because it’s a pornography pipeline, cut it off!  Be ruthless.  Ladies, if there is a relationship at work that is causing you to sin, cut it off.  It is better to sacrifice anything rather than lose eternal life.  Don’t let anything keep you from the Kingdom of God!

    Verses 49-50 are some of the most difficult in Mark because they don’t seem to fit the context.  The fire that never goes out in verse 48 seems to connect to verse 49, “Everyone will be salted by fire.”  What does that mean?  I don’t know.  There are at least 15 different interpretations that have been offered!  

    The two sayings in verse 50 are connected to verse 49 by the word “salt”.  And there are many possible meanings. This section starts with an argument and ends with this command to be at peace with each other.  Possibly by maintaining their tangy saltiness (being fully devoted followers of Jesus) they will be able to get along with each other.  Their loyalty to Him will override their differences with each other.  

Application: Cross-shaped relationships are characterized by…

    1. Humble service.  Mark 9:33-37

    As Christians, our relationships with others are to be characterized by humble service; we are, in the words of Jesus, to be the servant of all.  All includes those on the bottom of the ladder: “the least of these”, the poor, the weak, the marginalized, and the insignificant.  Jesus chose a child to represent “the least of these.” Children represent those without influence, who can do nothing for us and give nothing to us, those on the bottom of the ladder. Serve those who can do nothing for you in return.

ILL: I’m reading Bob Goff’s wonderful book, Love Does.  In the first chapter, Bob writes, “When I was in high school, I met a guy named Randy. Randy had three things I didn’t have: a Triumph motorcycle, a beard, and a girlfriend.   I wanted all three in ascending order.”  It turns out Randy was a Young Life leader at Bob’s school; they became friends.

    At the start of Bob’s junior year, he decided he didn’t need a high school diploma; he was going to quit school and pursue his dream of being a rock climber.  So he loaded his VW bug with a down vest, a pair of rock climbing shoes, and two red bandanas.  What else do you need?  On his way out of town, he stopped by Randy’s house.  It was obvious that Bob had woken Randy up, but Randy listened to Bob’s plan, then said, “Hang on while I check on something.” He came back a few minutes later and said, “Bob, I’m with you,” and they set out for Yosemite together.

    They got there with no gear, no tents, no place to stay, no money.  Bob figured he could get a job, and for the next two days he applied all over the valley and struck out.  Finally, he told Randy that he thought he should go back home and finish high school.  Once again Randy said, “Bob, I’m with you.”

    When they got back to Randy’s house, Bob followed him in.  Here’s what happened.

    “On the floor, I noticed a stack of plates and some wrapping paper, a coffeemaker, some glasses. On the couch there was a microwave half in a box. I didn’t understand at first. Had Randy just had a birthday? Was it his girlfriend’s? A microwave seemed like a weird way to celebrate someone’s arrival into the world. I knew Randy wasn’t moving because there wouldn’t be wrapping paper. Then, from around the corner, the other half of this couple bounded out and threw her arms around Randy. “Welcome home, honey.” Then the nickel dropped.

I felt both sick and choked up in an instant. I realized that these were wedding presents on the floor. Randy and his girlfriend had just gotten married. When I had knocked on Randy’s door on that Sunday morning, Randy didn’t see just a high school kid who had disrupted the beginning of his marriage. He saw a kid who was about to jump the tracks. Instead of spending the early days of his marriage with his bride, he spent it with me, sneaking into the back of a tent.”  Goff, Bob; Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World (Kindle Locations 311-318). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Humble service—being a servant to all, including the least of these—is the path to greatness.


    2. Generous inclusion.  Mark 9:38-41

    The disciples were protective and exclusive; Jesus modeled a generous inclusion.  Whoever is not against us is for us.  Sadly, Christians have often been more like the disciples than like Jesus.  We are suspicious of those not in “our group.”  We need to have a generous spirit towards others that seeks to include them, that seeks to find common ground in Christ rather than fighting about secondary issues.

ILL: Recently, a group of Christian leaders from a wide spectrum of churches here in Spokane—Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran—met to discuss this question: What might happen if the Christians in Spokane united to do good for our city for the glory of God?  We are several meetings into this process and have identified a starting point.  We are going to start with our schools.  

    On Saturday, August 11, Christians from all these churches will show up at their local schools for a one-day work party to help get the campus ready for school opening.

    Then we are all going to work together to provide mentors and tutors during the school year for the thousands of children who need them.

    I believe God will use us to do great things for our community.  And one of the things I am praying God will do in us is give us a generous and inclusive heart towards each other.  I think that working side-by-side with folks from other churches might help us see our common ground rather than our differences.

Jesus is our common ground.  He gives us a generous and inclusive spirit towards others.  If someone is trying to do God’s work, I’m for them not against them!

    3. Focused choices.  Mark 9:42-50

    This is real simple.  If something is keeping you from following Christ, get rid of it.  If something keeps pulling you into sin, get rid of it.  The most important thing is knowing Jesus and having eternal life.  Don’t let anything keep you from that.  Make focused choices.  The focus is following Jesus; make choices that help you do that.  

    I want to finish by praying for you, but before I do, I want you to take a moment and pray.  What has God said to you today?  What is your next step?  Make it a prayer.


    Pray that God will help people identify their focused choices.