Mark 9: Part of the team

Application

There are days when it’s tough to pastor a small church. In Bible college, we hear all sorts of accounts from people who arrived in their small churches and saw immediate and explosive growth. Once we get into the field, we get all these resources that talk about tremendous effectiveness only to discover that they were really designed for churches five and ten times our size. And when we get together with colleagues, there are always pastors there who have bigger churches with bigger budgets, bigger effectiveness, bigger altar calls. And when these colleagues generally get a bigger spotlight, too, it quickly becomes difficult to not view them as competition.

Then again, maybe that situation isn’t unique to pastors of small churches.

Indeed, we have a tendency to get jealous over all sorts of things. The guy in the next cubicle got a raise. The lady down the street drives a newer car. That kid over there is the star of the [insert your sport] team here. Yeah, we’re both employees of the same company, neighbors, and teammates, etc., but boy, is it difficult to not stew about the fact that we don’t have the monopoly on our little corner of the world.

As we have seen in every chapter thus far, Mark 9 continues at a feverishly staccato pace. Once again, there are any number of things that we could take a moment to focus on, including the transfiguration, the importance of faith and prayer in ministry, and the criticality of radically excising sin from our lives. But from where I’m sitting today, probably the single most important lesson appears in vss 38-41.

As Jesus and his disciples arrived that night at Capernaum, the Twelve were awfully quiet. The sideways glances between them were subtle, but it was clear there was something wrong even if you didn’t see them. When Jesus asked them about it, though, they were ashamed. They had been fighting over who was the most important of all the disciples, and each of them had their claims. Peter, of course, thought it was him because he was part of the inner circle and something of the spokesman of the group. James and John thought they were the most important because Jesus called them the Sons of Thunder, an expression of power and strength. Andrew had been the first, leaving John the Baptist to follow Jesus. Jesus actually came to Matthew and asked him to follow. Judas Iscariot was the only Judean of the group.

Even though they all pleaded the fifth, so to say, Jesus revealed in vs 35 that he knew all about the fight. And in vss 36-37, he plainly illustrated that the kingdom of God functions upside-down. That is, the greatest in the kingdom of God will be the one who makes himself a servant to everyone.

Then, embarrassed and eager to shift the spotlight off of themselves, John chimes in with what he hoped would be a distraction for Jesus. Someone other than one of the twelve had been using the name of Jesus to drive out demons. Clearly, this wasn’t right; they were Jesus’ apostles. So they did Jesus a favor and told the guy to stop.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that disaster had been averted and Jesus would certainly turn from rebuking them (gently as it was) to congratulating them on a job ell done. In vs 39, though, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth made clear that they had missed the point yet again. “Do not stop him.”

Wait! What? Don’t stop this guy? He’s not one of us! He’s not one of the twelve! He’s not called to be an apostle, and he wasn’t sent out by you, Jesus!

You can hear the protests going through their minds even now. Surely, Jesus was mistaken. They were Jesus’ disciples. They were the ones who were supposed to be driving out demons in Jesus’ name. They were the ones who were supposed to be getting the attention and credit and glory. They were the ones who were supposed to have a monopoly on the gospel and power of Jesus.

But as Jesus continued, he made himself clear. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” In other words, this guy wasn’t their competition. He was their ally. He wasn’t working to circumvent the twelve. He was working to complement the twelve.

In this life, even in ministry, this is a difficult lesson to learn, and even harder to implement. Rather than be jealous of a brother or sister who, on paper, is more effective and successful than we are, we must be the first to rise up and applaud. We’re not rivals vying against one another for our own slice of the believer market. We’re all members of the same team, working together for the singular kingdom of God.

Since major league baseball season opened yesterday, it’s appropriate to consider how the different members of the baseball team work together. On your favorite baseball team, you can name the big hitter. You can probably name the star pitcher. You may even be able to name the second baseman, left fielder, and all the rest of the starting lineup. Can you name all the members of the bullpen? How about the third base coach? All of the pinch hitters or runners? What about the batboy?

The batboy of a major league baseball team almost never gets shown on TV. I can’t remember ever hearing a batboy’s name. And while I’m sure that, if you really dug, you’d probably be able to come up with the kid’s name, the chances are that you’ll never take the time to do so. But does that mean the batboy isn’t important?

Did you know that most major league players have their own, custom-made bats designed to maximize their ability to hit the ball? That’s nine players. And since there is always the chance that a bat will break, each player will have three or four bats at any given game. That’s better than 30 bats. What would happen if the batboy got even one of those bats mixed up so that the wrong player took the wrong bat to the plate?

Suddenly, the least noticed member of the team isn’t so unimportant anymore.

Jesus’ point here was that we all have a part in the team. No one is excluded just because they aren’t one of the superstars. And none of the superstars are, in the end, more important than anyone else. So don’t get jealous when someone else seems to be more effective or successful or attended. Don’t beat yourself up when you think you’re not as important as the other guy. And don’t think that the other guy isn’t as important as you. Do your job. Cheer for every success, whether it’s yours or someone else’s. Be part of the team.

Notes

  • (1) These statements always challenge me. Obviously, Jesus isn’t talking about literal, physical death. No one from that generation has survived the 2,000 years. Apparently, Mark didn’t really expect this; I sense no cynicism about the statement. So what, then?
  • (4) It would seem to me that Jesus didn’t need to be introduced to Elijah and Moses; they seem to be acquainted already. So maybe Jesus introduced them to Peter, James and John so as to confirm their identity. Or did Peter, James and John just instinctively recognize them?
  • (5-6) I love Peter. When you don’t know what to say, say something!
  • (10) Apparently, even after Jesus had spoken plainly with them about the crucifixion and resurrection in ch 8, Peter, James and John were still reluctant to believe and/or understand what was going on.
  • (11-13) “The progression of thought is this: If Elijah is to come before the last day and ‘restore the hearts’ (Mal 4:5-6), why should the Son of Man have to die? Christ replied that they were correct about Elijah but that their concept of the Son of Man was deficient, since it did not include the truths of His suffering and death (Ps 22:6; Isa 53). Then Christ added (v 13) that Elijah already had come, and been unrecognized, in John the Baptist” (Charles Ryrie).
  • (15) “overwhelmed with wonder” would seem to indicate that there was still some lasting effect of the transfiguration. Maybe his clothes were still sparkling white? Maybe his face shone?
  • (19) I wonder who Jesus is talking about, the man (who later admits a lack of faith) or the disciples. I suppose it’s probably both, the man for not knowing with certainty that Jesus could help, and the disciples for not believing enough to help.
  • (21-22) Here is where the boy’s condition differs from a standard epileptic: his seizures seemed to have a malevolent intent to kill him.
  • (23) Jesus is quick to catch onto the man’s issue: he wasn’t sure Jesus could do anything. His simple lesson is that God does wonders for those who believe.
  • (24) An interesting, if contradictory statement! Yet how many people operate like this today. They claim to believe day in and day out, but they never believe God for something great!
  • (29) Never underestimate the power – or importance – of prayer!
  • (30-31) Again, we see that Jesus is starting to move toward a private ministry, which was rather opposite of what most would have expected. Rather than invest his time teaching the masses, though, Jesus knew that if he was to have a lasting, world-changing impact, he would have to invest most of his time teaching just a select few who could then take his teachings and pass them on.
  • (31-32) Again, we see the disciples slow to understand. Jesus’ teaching was pretty blunt, difficult to misinterpret, but such is the power of a paradigm!
  • (33-35) It is interesting that the disciples instinctively recognized that the argument was frivolous, and Jesus would not approve. It’s also interesting that, even though they didn’t respond, Jesus knew what they were talking about. I wonder if it was a supernatural knowledge or if they were just arguing loudly enough that he heard.
  • (35-37) To welcome someone was an act of service. To welcome a child, who should have been serving the adults, was an extreme act of service since children were at the bottom of the importance pole.
  • (38-41) The disciples saw this man as competition; Jesus wanted them to know that, if he really could drive out demons in Jesus’ name, it was only by the power of God, which was only given to those who really, earnestly believed. And if he really, earnestly believed such that he could do these miracles, then he wasn’t competition, but an ally.
  • (42) The transition here is a bit rough, but not entirely disjointed. Jesus returns to the conversation about children after the disciples’ distraction by merging the two discussions. A faithful brother, even a small child, is not just an ally in ministry, but a fellow in life. Don’t make yourself a stumbling block to him.
  • (43-49) Segueing fully into the matter of sin, Jesus illustrates the severity of sin and the essential nature of holiness with a little hyperbole. We must be radical to excise sin from our lives!
  • (50) As salt, we are to be different than anyone else. Holiness is to be our distinguishing factor. If salt didn’t taste different than the rest of the food it was in, we wouldn’t use it. If we don’t think and act differently than the rest of the world, God won’t use or recognize us.
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1 Response to “Mark 9: Part of the team”


  1. 1 Br. Francis Therese Krautter April 6, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for these thoughts Jeremy! Satan is always trying to divide us by jealousy – God give us the humility to let others pass ahead of us, and let us always rejoice when good things happen to others!


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