True Greatness – Part 2

True Greatness – Part 2

True Greatness – Part 2
Text: Mark 9:38-41

Main Idea:  Disciples demonstrate their true greatness when they celebrate the reality that the Kingdom of God is far greater than their personal convictions and experience.

Outline: (Continued from last week)

III.  The Priority of Christian Unity (Mark 9:38-41)

A. An  Unwarranted Censure (Mark 9:38)

B. An Unexpected Reprimand (Mark 9:39-41)

Mark 9:38–41 (Mark 9:31–41)

If I asked you the question, “Where is God actively working today?” How would you answer? Would your thoughts instinctively turn to the globe as you recalled recent reports from frontline church planters, translators, and other full-time missionaries? Would think about the unexpected work that God is doing especially among Muslim refugees in Greece and other refugee havens? Would you think about the thousands of missionaries that are sent around the world—even to America—from countries like South Korea, Brazil, China, and Russia.

But pressing even deeper into the question and much closer to home. Would you think about what God is doing at Keyport Bible Church, Peninsula Bible Fellowship, Seaside Church, Grace Point, New Life, or Gateway?

Is anyone starting to feel a little uncomfortable yet? First, none of these churches belong to our “tribe”—the EFCA. Second, even more, some of these churches subscribe to ministry models that some of you disdain and hold doctrinal convictions that some of you spurn.

Notice my question is not, “Where are you comfortable worshipping every Sunday?” “What kind worship music do you prefer?” “What kind of sermons do you prefer?” “What do you believe about the ‘charismatic gifts,’ God’s sovereignty, human responsibility, a literal 6-day creation, or the End-Times.” But, “Where is God working today?” Because it’s all too easy to forget—just like the disciples—that, God is not bound by our persnickety preferences, our denominational divisions, or our personal doctrinal distinctives. He’s not! And that is because, the Kingdom of God is far greater than our personal convictions and experience.

Main Idea: Disciples demonstrate their true greatness when they celebrate the reality that the Kingdom of God is far greater than their personal convictions and experience.

III. The Priority of Christian Unity (Mark 9:38–41)

An Unwarranted Censure (Mark 9:33–38)

Notice, John has completely missed Jesus’ point from last week that, True disciples demonstrate their true greatness when they humbly receive and serve “unimportant” Christ-followers. Rather, he seems to be utterly convinced that his call to discipleship is an invitation to entitlement, privilege, and exclusion; not humble service.

John and the other disciples are not offended his miracles. They are offended because he refused to follow them, “we tried to stop him, because he was not following us” (9:38)— We should expect him to say “ ‘because he was not following you.’ See, John and the other disciples are not jealous for Jesus they are jealous for themselves!

Even more, their attack against this man is utterly absurd, in that: One, this exorcist is clearly a follower of Jesus Christ because he is actively casting out demons in Jesus’ name, not just using Jesus’ name as a magical incantation.Two, they are behaving as if his ability to deliver people from demonic captivity is contingent upon their approval. Three, they were commanding him to stop doing the very thing that they could not do in 9:14–29.[1]

To put it bluntly, they were actively opposing God’s kingdom work through this man. Or to put it even harsher, they were taking the devils side, which is why Jesus responds with such a pointed and unexpected reprimand.

An Unexpected Reprimand (Mark 9:39–41)

See, Jesus is not threatened, displeased, or upset with this man’s ministry, he is perturbed with the disciples’ attempt to stop this man and prohibits them from obstructing anyone who does such works “in his name” (9:39). But, Jesus doesn’t just command them to stop, he grounds (or validates) his imperative with two seemingly pragmatic

Mark 9:39b for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.

Mark 9:40 For the one who is not against us is for us.

It almost sounds like Jesus is saying, “The end justifies the means” or “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Well, before we jump to conclusions, let’s drill a little deeper into these verses.

In the first instance (verse 39), Jesus is saying that people can only do miracles “in his name” if they are walking in a proper relationship with him. And that relationship throughout the entire gospel of Mark is defined by one word, faith. “Jesus’ name” is not a magical incantation, it is the proclamation that we do not have any power in and of ourselves; and that we are trusting in Jesus himself as our only source of hope. In fact, what happens when people try to use Jesus’ name as a magic incantation? They fail miserably!

Acts 19:13–16 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

When Jesus says, those who perform miracles in my name will not soon speak evil of me. He is laying out a general principle or a proverb, not an absolute truth. I think he is saying: people who invoke my name in this manner are usually authentic followers.

Are there exceptions? Yes, Jesus tells us:

Matthew 7:21–23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ ”

So the simple principle in this first saying is this, don’t be too quick to reject people who appear to be walking in a right relationship with me; rather wait and see if they remain faithful to me.

Secondly, when Jesus says, “For the one who is not against us is for us” (9:40). He is deliberately redefining the circle of discipleship well beyond the scope of the 12 disciples. As one commentator observes, The disciples have pridefully drawn the circle of insiders around themselves, which means that they are the standard of judgment at that point. But, Jesus draws the circle so-much wider: If they are not against us (like the Pharisees, Scribes, and Chief priests who think I’m in league with the devil), then they are for us. You guys need to understand that I am happy to work through people who believe in me even though who are not a part of my inner-circle.[2]

In fact, Jesus goes on to illustrate what it means to be “for us” in his closing promise, “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:41). Notice he is not saying, “God always rewards acts of selfless charity.” He is saying every act of Kingdom work is ultimately motivated by a person’s desire to honor me—it’s not because you are great but because you belong to me. The cup of water is given simply because the person belongs to Jesus Christ (Cf. Matt 25:31–46).

So “the one who is not against us” is not a call to pragmatic partnerships as if we were merely senators trying to solidify our political power to get a bill through congress. No. It’s a plea to recognize everyone who is pursuing God’s Kingdom work and embrace them as team-mates; instead of rebuffing them as rivals.

A Fundamental Question

This presents us with an important question as we transition to application, “Is Jesus telling us that we are supposed to embrace everyone who claims to be a Christian or any organization that claims to be a church?” I do not think so. The Bible clearly warns us about false Christians and false teachers who will try to destroy the church from the inside out.

The question we need to wrestle with is, “How do we foster the kind of unity that Jesus commands while we defend and hold fast to the gospel itself?” Notice this question has two parts: foster unity and hold fast to the truth. Yet, this careful balance is the exact place where most Churches and Christians fall into one of two common errors: doctrinal indifference and doctrinal narrowness.

One the one hand, those who trend toward doctrinal indifference are quick to lump Orthodox Jews, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and born-again Christians into the same group. Because, they avoid almost any form of biblical judgment, theological distinction, or gospel definition. Their only question is, “Do use the Bible and do they believe in ‘God?’ ”

And on the other hand, those who drift toward doctrinal narrowness tend to draw the circle of orthodoxy incredibly small because they treat theological differences as if someone is proclaiming a completely different gospel.

Theological Triage

I’m not sure where each of you land on this spectrum this morning. But, in an effort to promote Christ-exalting unity AND ferociously defend gospel purity I’d like to introduce you to a helpful concept called Theological Triage.[3] The word triage comes from the French word trier, which simply means “to sort.”

If you are familiar with emergency medicine, you probably know that our first-responders, battle-field medics, and emergency rooms use triage to determine which injuries require the most urgent treatment. That is why they will always treat a gunshot wound before they treat a scrapped knee.

In the same way, theological triage helps us determine the scale of theological urgency. Note, I’m not saying that some doctrines are completely unimportant. I’m saying that some doctrines are much more urgent to the gospel than others.[4]

The Scale

First-level theological issues define Christian orthodoxy, they are the doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Doctrines such as the Trinity, the true deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith alone, and the authority of Scripture. If you do not believe in and embrace these truths you are probably not a Christian.

Galatians 1:6–9 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

The early creeds and Councils defended the gospel by defining the primary boundaries of Christian orthodoxy: The Nicene Creed 325 AD, The Nicene-Constantinople Creed 381AD, The Athanasian Creed, and the Apostle’s Creed.

Second-level theological issues are different from the first-level issues, in that, believing Christians may disagree about these doctrinal issues without destroying the gospel. And yes, some of the most heated disagreements among serious believers take place at the second-level. But, that is because these issues frame our very understanding of the church and its ordering by the Word of God. Issues like:

  • Infant baptism VS believer’s baptism.
  • Reformed theology VS Arminian theology.
  • Congregational, Presbyterian, or Episcopal forms of church government.

Do these differences create significant boundaries between individual believers and impact the churches they choose to join? Yes! But, we must never allow ourselves to believe that these people are not Christians. Theological triage helps us see that “these people” are brothers and sisters with whom we will enjoy eternity together because second level differences do not discredit a person’s profession of faith.

Third-level theological issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree but still remain in very close fellowship.

For example, all true believers believe that Jesus will return bodily and in glory at the second coming, but they disagree about the timing and order of the events that will lead to his return (pre-trib premil, mid-trib premil, historic premil, amil, postmil). And some of you are simply pan-mil believing that it’s all going to pan out in the end.

Other third-level issues include:

  • The relationship between the Church and Israel.
  • Personal views of gospel freedom.
  • Continuation of the charismatic gifts.
  • Interpretation of difficult passages.

These doctrines have a place in the church BUT they can never be the test of gospel-fidelity, ministry partnership, or personal relationships. Nor, should they be the primary focus of our study… Your neighbors don’t need your prophecy chart. They do not need your personal convictions about the charismatic gifts or other third-level issues.

  • They need you to explain why a loving God would let anyone go to hell.
  • They need to hear you explain how one man’s sin brought sin to all.
  • They need to hear you explain the hypostatic union in simple terms.
  • They need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So how, how does theological triage this help us build unity in the body of Christ and celebrate the work that God is doing through other churches in Kitsap county and around the world?

One the one hand, it protects us from participating with or celebrating so-called churches that have completely abandoned the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And on the other, it helps us walk in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in that, it protects us from gauging gospel faithfulness by our personal list of favorite doctrines or ministry pet-peeves.

[1] Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 510–11.

[2] Strauss, Mark, 411.

[3] Albert Mohler, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity,” AlbertMohler.Com, 19 May 2004,

[4] “For not all the articles of true doctrine are of the same sort. Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned by all men as the proper principles of religion. Such are: God is one; Christ is God and the Son of God; our salvation rests in God’s mercy; and the like. Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do not break the unity of faith;” (Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2011], IV, i, 12).