Summary: Examines the main point of what appears at first glance to be just a random set of sayings by Jesus.
October 19, 2003
What is the point?
Text Mark 9:38-50
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord.
This morning’s sermon is based on our Gospel reading, Mark 9:38-50. At first glance, this text appears to be just a series of short, disconnected sayings attributed to Jesus. They do not seem to have anything to do with each other. But, since God would not have just haphazardly had Mark write these verses down, there has to be a common theme, or point he wants us to get. As we look more directly at the text, we find that there are five basic points that Jesus is making.
First, in verse 40, Jesus tells us, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” OK, I can understand that. At least I think I do.
Second, in verse 42, Jesus says, “Don’t do anything to harm the faith of another person, especially a child.” That point is clear, especially the millstone and drowning part. If you do harm to a child, it would be better if you died, than to deal with God’s wrath; not a good thing.
Third, in verses 43 though 47, Jesus tells us that it would be better for us to mutilate ourselves than to risk losing heaven and eternal life. Now self-mutilation is serious stuff. I am not sure that am comfortable with that concept. After all, Jesus tells us that our bodies are temples, in which he dwells.
Fourth, in verse 50, Jesus tells us that we are to, “Have salt in yourself.” I can go along with that, for Jesus tells us in Matt 5:13, “you are to be the salt of the earth.”
Fifth, in the last half of verse 50, Jesus tells us to “Be at peace with each other.” Sounds like an excellent idea to me. So many points, all good points, but I do not think that any of these points is what the sermon is about. The more I think about it the more I believe that this text is a reflection of our lives!
To help you to better understand what I mean by that, I want to tell you a story that I heard, probably 30 years ago. There was a Montana sheepherder who got sick and was taken to the hospital in Fort Benton. His faithful sheep dog Shep kept watch outside his hospital door. It was not long before the sheepherder died and his body was taken to the train station, to be shipped back to his family in the East.
The story is told, that when the coffin was being loaded onto the train that Shep appeared, looking for his master. As the train left the station, he vainly ran down the tracks after it. Later in the day, he came back to the station exhausted, and for the next five and half years, Shep met every train that came into Fort Benton, as he kept looking for his master to come home.
Shep became well known, and kindly people took care of him; but he refused to be taken to anyone’s home. He had but one reason for living: waiting for his master to return. Shep’s loyalty to his master did not end until one cold winter day in 1941, when he died.
When I first heard about Shep and his loyalty to his master, I could not help but think; if only I, we, could demonstrate that same unwavering devotion to our God. For it is when we take our eyes off Jesus, that our daily living loses its ultimate purpose, its point for living.
Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean. Take your eyes off Jesus, and the Bible becomes a book of nice moral and spiritual sayings. That is why some people like Proverbs. Nice teachings, but what is their ultimate point?
Another example of what happens when you take your eyes off Jesus is that other things become your reason for living. They might be good things, like family, health, or career. On the other hand, they could be bad things, like alcohol, or drugs. It could be greed, or maybe you are being pulled in so many different directions that you feel like there is no point in anything.
So what is the point? The point is that our focus should be only on our Savior, Jesus. God tells us in Deuteronomy 6:5 “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Unlike, Shep’s devotion to his master, our devotion is often spread out over many things. Because of this lack of focus, Jesus has given us some very painful warnings. He tells us that if our hand, foot, or eye causes us to sin, we are to get rid of it. This is not meant to be taken literally, because our hands, feet, or eyes do not cause us to sin. It is our sinful self, our lying, deceitful, proud self that causes us to sin. He is just using these extreme examples to make a point, to tell us that we have to be done with sin. He wants us to know that our salvation is of utmost importance, even if we have to lose our lives to save our souls.