Today we continue in our message series Jesus In Action from the book of Mark. This is not just a historical study, for the things that Jesus did thousands of years ago, He is still doing through His followers.
Acts 1:1 (ESV) In the first book [Luke], O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,
Luke’s clear implication is that the book of Acts which records what the early church did and taught was a continuation of Jesus at work. So, what we’re learning about Jesus actions and words, we can trust Him to do in and through our lives today.
This morning our message is entitled “Serving Jesus.” So, let’s begin by looking at some terminology. A believer in Jesus is a follower of Jesus, which is a disciple of Jesus, which is a servant of Jesus. All of these terms: believer, follower, disciple and servant describe every true Christian. They describe different aspects of a believer’s life.
Today, we’re going to focus being a servant of Jesus, but we’ll be talking about the other descriptive nouns as well. So, what does it really mean to follow Jesus, to be a believer? Jesus called His first disciples by simply telling them to follow Him. Some think that to be a believer means to simply believe in God. When I use the word God, I am referring to God who has revealed who He is in the pages of the Bible. When others speak of God, they may be referring to something or someone who is very different than the God of the Bible.
James 2:19 (ESV) You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
Certainly to believe in the existence of the one true God is good, but it does nothing to put you into relationship with Him. James graphically illustrates that even demons believe there is one true God. We see in the Gospels that they recognize that Jesus was the divine Son of God. Yet demons are doomed to spend eternity in hell with their master Satan. You see, it’s not enough to just believe that God or Jesus existed or is alive today. You must entrust your life to Him and choose to follow Him. The demons certainly do not do that.
Others look back to the time that they prayed a simple prayer to repent of their sins and invite Jesus into their lives. I look back at a prayer I prayed with my mother at the age of 4. That is how you start to follow Jesus, that is how you start to believe. But life is a long journey and to continue to be a follower of Jesus, you’ve got to continue following. To continue to be a believer in Jesus, you’ve got to continue believing. Both Scripture and life have many examples of those who fell away from their following and believing and so were destined for an eternity apart from God. Let’s look at what Jesus said about following Him.
John 10:27 (ESV) My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
In this section of Scripture, Jesus refers to Himself as a shepherd who calls His sheep by name and they follow closely behind their shepherd. If a sheep doesn’t pay attention to the shepherd’s voice or chooses to disobey, they are no longer following the shepherd, are they. Not only do Jesus’ followers follow His instructions, they are also to follow His example.
John 14:12 (ESV) “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
Those who believe in Jesus, who are His followers are supposed to do the works or actions that He did and even greater things through the power of the Spirit. The works that we are do as we follow Jesus are many. From teaching God’s Word, to caring for the needy, to healing the sick, casting our demons and raising the dead. Today, we’re going to learn more from Jesus Himself about being His servant in every aspect of life. So, let’s go to Mark 9 to learn three steps to Serving Jesus in our lives.
Mark 9:33-35 (ESV) … he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
Jesus’ disciples were must like people today, arguing about who’s the greatest. Athletes argue about who’s the GOAT, greatest of all time in any given sport. The disciples each wanted to be Jesus’ favorite disciple, the one who could do the greatest miracle or cast out the biggest demon. They were not just discussing, they were arguing. Jesus knew what had been going on, but the disciples wouldn’t tell him because they knew that he wouldn’t be pleased.
Rather then directly rebuke them, Jesus began the teach His disciples the importance of being a servant. He told them, if you want to be great in the kingdom of God, if you want to be first, then you must be last and serve everyone else. In other words, the way to greatness in the kingdom of God is the opposite of how someone would become great in an earthly kingdom. To be last of all, means to put others first, to serve others, rather than seek to be served. Jesus goes on to give a visual illustration.
Mark 9:36-37 (ESV) And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
What does Jesus’ illustration with this child have to do with being a servant? A child in those days, even more so than today, was thought of as being insignificant, especially for a man to deal with. Those who presume themselves to be great in their own eyes, inevitably think of others as being lesser. Those who are great in their own eyes, seek to be served by those lesser. Jesus was instructing His disciples to receive, to care for a child in Jesus’ name.
They were to treat all others with dignity and respect, even though their abilities, like a child’s may not yet be matured. Even more important, Jesus told His disciples that when they received or served even those who seemed less worthy, they were actually serving Jesus and the Father. Jesus wants each of us to become a servant.
The lesson that Jesus taught was not an easy lesson for His disciples to learn, nor is it for us today. Our human nature tends toward pride and the pursuit of greatness at any cost. We tend to want to be the master whom others serve. Yet, Jesus wants to teach us both by words and His example, that we must be servants.
The first aspect of servanthood is to be servants of other people, especially of the vulnerable and the forgotten. Some of the most forgotten people in our world, are the babies in their mother’s wombs who in danger of being aborted. We grieve the 1.4 million people who have died from the COVID pandemic. Yet, in the same time period, abortion ended the lives of 37 million babies and hardly anyone is talking about it.
We are doing something to fight against this attack on these babies. This Christmas we are giving gifts to the mothers who have chosen to have their babies through the ministry of Thrive St Louis which we support. We encourage you, if you haven’t already, to sign up to give a gift to help those mothers and their babies.
Jesus is also teaching us to serve those around us when we see a need, when we have an opportunity. To think of others as more important than ourselves. As we grow in serving others, we are actually growing in serving Jesus, the King of Kings. As we grow as a servant of Jesus, we must learn to …
Mark 9:38 (ESV) John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
Jesus cast demons out of people and brought healing to them wherever He went. He taught His disciples to do the same, to cast out demons in His name. Apparently, someone else, who was not someone who closely followed Jesus was doing the same thing. Casting out demons in the name of Jesus.
The disciples didn’t like that because they didn’t know who this person was, they were not part of their group. Also, at the beginning of Mark 9, we see that Jesus’ disciples failed to cast a demon out of a boy and Jesus had to do it for them. Perhaps they were a little jealous of this other person delivering people from demons, so that tried to stop him.
Mark 9:39-40 (ESV) But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.
Jesus told them, don’t try to stop others from doing things in my name. Even if you don’t know them. If they’re doing something for the Kingdom, encourage them, even if they don’t have everything in place. If they’re doing things to extend the Kingdom, then we’re on the same team. Since, they’re not fighting against us, they are on our side.
Again, we see some of the disciple’s pride and exclusiveness surfacing. Jesus is encouraging them to broaden their view and understanding of God working in other’s people’s lives beyond what they recognize.
Mark 9:41 (ESV) 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.
What Jesus is saying is that the disciples ought to be open to serving or helping those outside their circle, like those casting out demons. For they would be rewarded. On the other hand, this was also a promise of Jesus to His disciples, that as they served Him, they would receive cups of water to drink from others. A cup of water represents a small kindness, a small meeting of another’s need. Even such a seemingly insignificant acts of service would be rewarded by God. Jesus was teaching His disciples and us to serve others with humility and honor.
As we look at the disciples, it’s easy for us to judge them and think we would never do or say the same things. But if we’re a little more honest, we can all see ourselves in the disciple’s attitudes. Even those who are seeking to serve the Lord can be become exclusive and prideful in their serving. God desires for us to learn to work together with other believers who may see things differently than us. Remember, those who are not against us are for us.
We can even better understand having right motives by thinking of the child that Jesus held. A child cannot return a favor done to them. When a need of a child is met, they cannot turn around and meet our needs. Serving with right motives is serving others with no thought of receiving something back in return from them. We must be content, that even if they cannot repay us, God will reserve a reward for us in eternity for every good deed, for every act of service in His name.
Who can we serve in our lives? Everyday, they is someone in your family that you can serve. There are those in the church family that we can serve in various ways. There are those at work or in our neighborhood that we can serve. Ask God to give you eyes to see the needs of those around you and then give you the resources to meet that need with God’s love. Serve with right motives.
Mark 9:42 (ESV) “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
As Jesus continues to teach His disciples, it appears that the child He had been holding was still there among them. Jesus indicates that this child believed in Him and was a follower of His. Again Jesus indicates that great worth of children. Not only can they believe in Him, but His disciples must be very careful not to cause that child, that little one to sin.
How could you cause a child to sin? There are a number of ways. Children tend to imitate older people, especially their parents or teachers. If you sin and the child sees your example, there is a good possibility that they will follow your example into sin. Or you could cause a child to sin by not warning them about sin or by telling them that sin was OK.
Now, the little ones that Jesus is talking about apply both to physical children, but also to spiritual children, those who are new to the faith. The penalty for causing a little one to sin is worse than being thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck and drowning. In other words, to cause a little one to sin will send a person to hell, Causing another person to sin is a very serious offense.
Mark 9:43, 45 (ESV) And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.
Jesus now begins to teach about other causes of sin in our own lives. First, he speaks of a hand that causes a person to sin should be cut off. It’s better to go through life with one hand than to keep the sinful hand and end up in the eternal torment of hell fire. Jesus does not intend for us to literally cut off parts of our bodies, but to deal violently with anything within ourselves that would cause us to sin. Our hand represents actions that would lead us into sin. Our foot represents places we may go that would lead us to sin.
Mark 9:47-48 (ESV) And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
Our eye represents various sinful desires that come from what our eyes look upon. Let’s not forget who Jesus is talking to, He’s talking to His disciples, His followers. He’s telling them that they must forcefully deal with any sin in their lives or they will end up apart from God in hell. We learn from Jesus here that hell is a place of unending fire in which the sinner is tormented forever.
And one of the disciples, Judas by name, did not deal with his sin and ended up betraying Jesus, committing suicide and going to hell. So, yes, contrary to popular belief, a follower of Jesus can fall away and end up in hell forever. These warnings of Jesus and in the rest of Scripture are not warnings of something that could never happen.
Mark 9:49-50 (ESV) For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Salt speaks of purity and purification. Salt was used as a preservative of food in Jesus’ day and in our day. Salt was also used in temple sacrifices, again as a means of purification. Fire in this verse represents persecution or the attacks of the world on the believer. Their lives are to be sacrifices to God, purified as with salt. When we respond in faith to those attacks, the attacks don’t harm us but actually serve to purify us from any sin in our lives.
This type of purity, represented by salt, must continue to be evident in the life of the believer. If they lose their purity by giving into sin, they will have lost everything. Finally, Jesus explains to His disciples, that when they have this salt of purity in themselves, when they consider others more important than themselves, they will be at peace with one another. Remember that this whole section began with the disciples arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus was calling them to serve Him and each other without sin.
One of the issues that we have with sin in our culture is that we see a downward spiral towards more sin and greater sin. As human beings, our tendency is to compare any sin in our lives with those around us. And we like to find others who are worse sinners to excuse ourselves. This same type of comparison leads people to believe that God only sends people to hell for really bad sins. That is completely false. Any sin, not forgiven will send a person to hell. That’s why Jesus speaks so bluntly in these verses about the importance of cutting off all causes of sin in your life.
Because of the prevalence of sin on the internet in all types of media, we must be diligent to guard ourselves from its influence. I’m not saying don’t use the internet, but use it wisely, as well as your television. If there’s something in your life that you don’t think is sin, but it may lead another person to violate their conscience and sin, the problem is yours, not theirs. Jesus’ teaching is clear, you must give up your own rights so as not to cause a little one to sin.
But the good news is that through the Holy Spirit, we can serve Jesus in holiness as He helps us cut off the causes of sin in our lives. Serving without sin, with purity is an essential part of serving Jesus.
Jesus calls each one of us to be His servant as we follow Him. To be a servant of Jesus is to serve both Him and others. Serving is not just a matter of outward actions, but also having a heart of love with the right motives. Serving Jesus must be done with a pure heart, unstained by sin. As the Holy Spirit reveals causes of sin in our lives, we must forcefully cut those causes out of our selves. We must be careful to lead little ones closer to Jesus and not further away. As we follow Jesus as His servant, He will fill our hearts with His joy and peace no matter the condition of the world around us.