Summary: A reward for those who welcome Jesus' disciples. A warning for those who lead them astray.
A SEQUENCE OF SAYINGS
1. John informed Jesus of “one casting out devils in Your name; and we forbad him because he follows not with us” (Mark 9:38).
Perhaps John’s jealousy was fired by the failure of the nine members of the team who - whilst Jesus, Peter, James and John were up in the mount of Transfiguration - had proved incapable of casting a demon out of a boy (Mark 9:17-18)?
2. Jesus’ answer was, “Forbid him not…” (Mark 9:39).
Denominationalism may seem to be as old as the hills, but we cannot limit the workings of the Holy Spirit. He is Sovereign and will work when and where - and with whom - He pleases. So, do not forbid whatsoever - or whomsoever - God has evidently ordained (cf. Numbers 11:26-29)!
3. Jesus continues “…for there is no man which a miracle in My name shall do, that can lightly speak evil of Me” (Mark 9:39).
This seems to be what the Apostle Paul is getting at when he says, ‘no man speaking in the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed; and no man can say that Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 12:3). When we have the Holy Spirit, we have the confidence to speak in Jesus’ name (cf. Matthew 10:19-20). ‘For there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). The key is the invocation of that Name ALONE (cf. Acts 19:13-16)!
4. “For he that is not against us is for us,” says Jesus (Mark 9:40).
This saying is not to be confused with another, in which Jesus seems to say the opposite: ‘he who is not with Me is against Me’ (Matthew 12:30). The context is significant: there Jesus was talking to unbelievers; whereas here, in Mark 9:40, He is talking to those who are believers. The most important thing is NOT which church we belong to, but whether we have Jesus as Lord!
5. A reward for those who welcome Jesus’ disciples (Mark 9:41).
A cup of cold water may seem an easy enough thing to give: but “to a disciple” during times of persecution? seems a little harder. As Jesus says elsewhere, ‘Inasmuch you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto Me’ (Matthew 25:40).
6. A warning not to lead any of these “little ones” astray (Mark 9:42).
Whether with reference to the child in their midst, or in the wider sense of new (zealous) believers (such as the one who John had tried to stop), or in the widest sense of all who are Christ’s, Jesus unsparingly warns what a serious matter this is. ‘Temptations to sin will come, but woe to him by whom they come!’ says Jesus elsewhere (cf. Luke 17:1-2). That is the force of the reference to the millstone, which normally a donkey (poor thing) was left to pull along.
7. There follows a mini-sequence of hyperbolic sayings, warning us to be aware of the potential causes of stumbling within ourselves, and reminding us of the reality of hell (Mark 9:43-48).
‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Galatians 5:24). ‘We are debtors, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live’ (Romans 8:12-13).
However, we do need to continue to ‘mortify’ what is worldly in us (Colossians 3:5), laying aside the sin which so easily ensnares us (Hebrews 12:1). ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation teaches us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age’ (Titus 2:11-12).
8. “For everyone will be salted by fire” (Mark 9:49) is an ironic saying connecting the refrain of the preceding verses (which is a quotation of Isaiah 66:24 and concerns the inhabitants of hell) with the salt sayings of Mark 9:50 (which concern Christians).
There may be a reference here to the seasoning of the grain offerings with salt in the Old Testament economy (Leviticus 2:13), and of the sacrifices likewise (Ezekiel 43:24). To “be salted by fire” (Mark 9:49) may itself be a metaphor for persecution. Or it may speak of sanctification.
The idea of salt losing its saltiness (Mark 9:50) takes us back to the Sermon on the Mount, where ‘You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?’ (Matthew 5:13). This in turn gives rise to the exhortation, “Have salt in yourselves and have peace with one another” (Mark 9:50). Which brings us all the way back to John’s original comments about the man “not following with us” (Mark 9:38).
‘Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to give an answer’ (Colossians 4:6).