Have you ever played Laser Tag before? It’s a game where you are armed with a computerized flashlight gun that you aim at another person’s computerized laser receiver pack. It’s kind of like a backpack. What you do is you get split into teams and then you aim the laser at the targets on the other person’s pack and you get points for zapping them.
So, I was playing at Frankie’s recently. They have a giant room where about 20 people can play at once. The Red Team and the Blue Team. Our team thought we were doing pretty well. We thought that we were really zapping the other team and racking up a lot of points.
But on the scores afterwards, our team got dominated. Why? One of the little kids had been zapping his own teammates. He had a giant negative score which was dropping our total score down.
He didn’t know who was on his team.
And it cost the team.
It’s hard to have unity when you don’t even know who’s supposed to be on your team. Today we are continuing our disciple series and we’re going to discuss that key issue of UNITY in discipleship. We want to learn (1) who is for us (2) what is against us and (3) how to remain united. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Who is for Us
This lesson starts in Mark 9:38 with a report from the Apostle John about a commotion going on up the road. He says, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop because he was not one of us.”
A couple of notes:
First, what the man is doing, he’s doing this In Jesus’ name. That means he’s probably shouting, “In Jesus’ name.” He’s telling people, “I’m doing this in Jesus’ name.” He’s handing out bumper stickers that say, “In Jesus’ name.” His Twitter handle is @InJesusName. Everything he’s doing – he’s doing for the sake of Jesus’ name.
Which can be either a good thing or a bad thing:
Giving groceries in Jesus’ name? Good thing.
Stealing groceries in Jesus’ name? Bad thing.
Running a 5k in Jesus’ name? Good thing.
Running a drug dealership in Jesus’ name? Bad thing.
Building an orphanage in Jesus’ name? Good thing.
Building a strip club? Awful.
The man’s actions are God pleasing. He’s driving out demons. Demons are bad. Jesus is good. The Bible describes demons as angels that rebelled against God and are constantly at war with him. Jesus is God’s son who loves his Father and is constantly at peace with him.
The point? This man being opposed to demons is a good thing. He’s not misrepresenting Jesus in anyways.
And what he’s doing to the demons isn’t very easy. It says, “He’s driving out demons.” About 5 sermons ago, we talked about how very real and very powerful demons are. They are supernatural beings. They tend to defeat humans in temptation after temptation. There’s a reason that humans get very nervous when watching them in a movie.
But this man is driving them out.
He isn’t ‘’trying to drive them out.”
He isn’t “attempting to drive them out.”
He isn’t “failing to drive them out.”
He’s doing the job.
Which makes John’s tattling a bit surprising.
Is John against demon driving out?
Is he for demon rights?
Nope. Look at his reason: “I told him to stop because he is not one of us.” (v.38b)
“He’s not one of the 12.”
“He’s not one of the apostles.”
“He’s not a part of our club Jesus.”
“You hired us to be demon-caster-outers, Jesus. Not that guy! He’s out of turn!”
And at the end of this report, John must have been feeling pretty good. Feeling like he did the right thing. Feeling like he did what Jesus wanted. I bet he even had his palm open above his head -- waiting for Jesus to slap him a high five.
But Jesus leaves him hanging.
“Don’t stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” (v.39-40)
Think about it logically for a second:
If this man is casting demons in Jesus’ name,
And Jesus is against demons…
And this man accomplishes his task…
A task only possible if God empowers him to do so…
He’s on God’s side.
And if this man is on God’s side…
And John is on God’s side…
Then John and this man are on the same side.
And if John is opposed to this man…
And this man is on God’s side…
Then, John is opposed to God himself.
About 7 years ago when I was a pastoral intern, I remember hanging out in the fellowship area eating donuts and drinking coffee with one of the elders in the congregation. A young man approached and was really excited. He said, “I’m super pumped because I’ve got a couple of my coworkers getting together for a Bible study this week. It’s gonna be awesome. A great chance for me to share Jesus and I’ll try to invite them to church afterwards.”
And before I could say anything, the elder responded sternly: “You can’t do that. You’ve gotta run that by the elders first. You aren’t really qualified.”
I asked him why he said that. “Because he’s not an elder. He’s not a teacher. He’s barely even a member of this church.”
And I said, “Oh, that’s right. I forgot about Matthew 28. It says, “Go and make disciples of all nations– if you are one of the elders of the church – otherwise, sit on your hands and don’t do anything except clean the restrooms.”
The problem there was the same problem John had and it’s the same problem that threatens our unity today--mistaking those on our side for those against our side.
This is really John’s fault more than anything. Look again at the first verse. What is John’s reason for assuming the man is wrong? He “saw” someone driving out demons.
He didn’t talk to him.
He didn’t investigate him.
He didn’t have a conversation.
He saw (and he saw something good) and he reacted.
Guys – the problem was pride. John didn’t want to consider that someone else could even be in the club because it would ruin his own status – at least in his mind.
Don’t think it doesn’t happen here either!?! I’ve heard it before.
Hey! He can’t fix that toilet at church because he’s not part of the maintenance crew. I am!
She better not bring cookies for fellowship because she’s not a part of the cookies for fellowship group.
Honestly, their opinion isn’t really all that important because they haven’t been here 25 years like I have.
Pastor should tell them that person to stop saying “Amen” during the sermon because that’s not how we do it here – so that person should stop or get out!
Listen. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” That’s the reality expressed by Jesus himself. If someone is a believer in Jesus, they are not our opposition. They are on our side. John, that demon-caster-outer-guy is not against us, but for us. Stop opposing him!
Take a moment. Look around.
Do you see the people here today? These people – are not against us.
They are for us.
God doesn’t want us to fight with others on our side; but fight for others on our side.
Why? Because he fought for them.
Just like he died for you; he died for them.
Just like he shed his blood for you; he shed his blood for them.
Just like he shared this message of love with you; he has shared that message with them.
We are not against us – but we are for us.
II. What is Against Us
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have some opposition. In fact, there is something that’s very much a part of this church right now and was very much a part of the church back then – that threatens unity and should not be a part of his church.
What is it?
Look at the very next verse:
If anyone causes one of these littles ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. (v42)
Do you know what a millstone is? It’s a giant 500 lb circular rock that was used to crush grain. The idea was that the grain would come by on an old-fashioned conveyer belt and the stone which was flush with the shelving would roll on top of it, instantly crushing it.
Millstones are great for crushing grain.
They are excellent for grinding flour.
They are super stones in the bread making process.
They are also TERRIBLE flotation devices.
Jesus says, “It would be terrible to have a giant stone like that tied around your neck and to be hurled into the sea – because you would drown.”
Do you know what would be worse?
Leading a little one to sin.
Because sin is not in unity with God.
Sin is opposed to God.
And people who lead kids to sin are not in unity with God…
…they are opposed to Him.
We aren’t just talking about having an at home school where one of the classes is: “Thievery 101.” No one besides Robin Hood does that. The reality is this subtler. We teach kids by being an example.
Otherwise, if we said out loud what we teach kids by our actions, I don’t know that we would teach them:
This morning kids we will be learning how God’s Word is important, but not as important as sleeping in and videos games.
Listen here kids – these four-letter words that I am saying – those are great ways to sinfully express your anger. Try it!
Follow my example children – Do you see how I am terribly I’m treating your mom? Yelling and screaming at her? Guess what – that’s how you should treat all women.
Our examples teach kids.
Our sinful examples teach kids to sin.
Teaching kids to sin is teaching them to be opposed to God’s kingdom.
And here’s how opposed to God’s kingdom sin is:
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed then to go into hell where the fire never goes out. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to go into hell where ‘the worms that eat them to don’t die and the fire is not quenched.” (v.43-49)
By the way! It is absolutely awful to lose body parts. No one ever wants that to happen. In fact, it’s so bad that amputation is one of the last resorts in surgery – something doctors turn to only when amputation stops certain death from spreading.
Amputation is awful.
But amputation is nothing compared to being wholly amputated from God’s kingdom.
That’s called hell.
And no, don’t go home and amputate your hand. The reality is if you want to rid yourself of sin, you’d have to amputate your own heart! The point of this section is not go and do some kind of horror movie thing.
The point is that sin is awful.
Sin is dangerous.
And the only hope against sin…?
It all depends on his mercy. No amount of cutting, plucking or maiming could save us. There needs to be a wholesale removal of our entire sinfulness from our souls.
And that’s what Jesus did. He did a wholesale removal of your souls’ sins. With divine, surgical precision and accuracy, he remove the entirety of your sinful being and took it to the cross and he completely eradicated it.
Jesus has separated sin and its consequences from your body.
Jesus has separated what separates you from unity with God.
Jesus has united you with his Father’s kingdom.
Jesus has united us into his Father’s kingdom.
And now He calls us to separate ourselves from the real cause of disunity: sin.
III. What Now
(1) Fight the Real Cause of Disunity
Again – this doesn’t mean cutting off your hand, but it does mean cutting off that anger at another member of this church.
It doesn’t mean cutting out your foot, but it does mean cutting out the bad example for your children.
It doesn’t mean plucking out your eye, but it does mean looking deeply at your heart, examining your thoughts and plucking out every bit of sinful pride, envy and racism that could ruin ministry here.
It’s kind of like that pair of pants that always gets lint on it. Do you have one of those? It’s the one that you like a lot but it seems to be a magnet for doghair, lint, and little pilly things. And for whatever reason it’s always a dark color and the little pieces are light colored. Embarrassing. You get a lint roller. You get a piece of packaging tape. You go repeatedly and repetitively over that pair of pants until it’s clean.
Do that to your heart.
Ask God for wisdom and in seeing the ugly realities that are there.
Ask God to empower you to separate yourself from the things within you that divide the kingdom of God!
(2) Celebrate Unity
Because it is a pretty amazing thing that God does. He takes people with completely different background, completely different races, completely different cultures, and completely different ACC basketball teams and he unites them. He unites them in the saving blood of Jesus our Savior.
That’s worth celebrating!
To be honest – that’s how the disciples should have reacted! They should have run over to that guy, hoisted him on their shoulders and thanked him for their hard work. They had someone else to share the load with – someone else whose faith in Jesus was so strong that he felt compelled to head to demon possessed people, say nothing more than “leave in the name of Jesus,” and God worked through him to drive the demon out!
We need to be doing the same thing.
We celebrate the additions to our family.
We celebrate the guy who is excited to post invites on Facebook and the guy who passes paper invites to his friend.
We celebrate the one with vision for Precious Lambs, the technical skills to build the building and the teachers with the skills to help kids build with Legos.
We celebrate the woman who makes delicious double chunk chocolate chip cookies for fellowship and the woman who brings Brussel sprouts!
We celebrate because we’re on the same side and it’s worth celebrating that unity!
Speaking of, we have a bit thing coming up. We have this year’s Easter celebration. We have two services. We have an awesome Easter breakfast. We have an egg hunt for the kids. We have two different but incredible musical plans for the services. We have the awesome opportunity to reflect on our risen Savior AND we have an incredible chance to plant the message of Jesus in the hearts of North Raleigh.
Here’s the truth. If we’re too busy planting seeds of discord in our own home, then we will miss out.
But if we work together…
If we plant together…
If we share the awesome message of Jesus together!
This year’s Easter harvest will be one for the ages.
To God be the Glory!