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For or Against?

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.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.” Mark 9.38-40.

I love the way that the Lord has always got something new to show, even in very familiar passages of Scripture. Take this morning’s passage. I have read it innumerable times over the last fifty years but until this morning I had never connected the incident it describes with what had happened to the disciples just a few days before and which Mark has recorded just a few verses earlier.

Jesus had taken Peter, James and John with him up a mountain and had been transfigured before them. But on coming down from the mountain they had been met with a scene of confusion and chaos. The remaining disciples have been trying to cast an unclean spirit out of a boy brought to them by his father. In fact, the father had brought the boy to Jesus but, because Jesus was not there, had asked the disciples to cast the unclean spirit out of his son. “But,” he tells Jesus, “they were not able” (Mark 9.18).

Jesus then does what the disciples had been unable to do; but their failure clearly rankled with the disciples and as soon as they can get Jesus alone, still smarting with humiliation, they ask him, “Why could we not cast it out?” Jesus tells them: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9.28-29). But now, in this morning’s reading, just a few verses later, we find John reporting to Jesus that “we” — that is the disciples en masse — “we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” Of course they did. They were jealous. This outsider was doing what they had not been able to do, yet they were Jesus’ special people!

Jesus’ reply is illuminating: “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.” This is sometimes seen as a contradiction of Jesus’ other saying, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12.30), but the two statements are not in opposition. Here, Jesus is laying down the rule that anyone taking the side of good against evil is taking his (Jesus’) side whether the person concerned knows it or not. As Jesus clearly spells out in the context of the other saying: Satan cannot cast out Satan. He would be destroying his own kingdom were he to do so. So if someone is truly casting out demons, they cannot be acting for Satan. They must, of necessity, be acting for God and therefore be aligned with Jesus.

The situation is quite different, however, when someone simply refuses to take sides or be drawn in when Jesus and Satan come into conflict. “That person’s supposed neutrality,” says Jesus, “brings them out on the side of Satan.” That is what the Matthew 12.30 statement teaches. “At the moment of choice between me and whatever opposes me,” Jesus is saying, “the person who tries to sit on the fence has, in fact, already come down against me.”

What am I to take from all this into today? First, that I am not to have a more restrictive view than Jesus about who is carrying out God’s purposes in the world. People who are genuinely “undoing the works of Satan” in any way at all are “for us” as the church, even if they don’t belong to it, and “for Jesus” whether or not they yet know him or acknowledge his Lordship. (This is very pertinent to my post of 27 April, “My Shepherd Cyrus” where I argue against those who say AA is not Christian and is not therefore a proper channel for deliverance from alcohol addiction.) Secondly, I am to be prepared to stand up and be counted whenever light conflicts with darkness, whenever what is going on in front of me (however other people may see it) is Jesus v Satan.

Help me, Lord Jesus, to be “for you” every moment of every day in every situation. Amen.

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5 comments on “For or Against?

  1. Chaz says:

    Neil…. you post brings to mind an image of a continuum.

    In the continuum of a person’s life, lets say before he/she ever realizes they are being called or directed by God, they start doing things that are positive, building, and in keeping with God’s nature and Jesus examples ….

    (to quote Philippians 4:8, …whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things)

    So if someone actually started doing these kinds of positive things and then later comes to know Jesus, are they any less right?

    Does the moment of salvation need to happen first to validate the true goodness or God’s approval of a person’s positive and Christlike actions as being worthy and blessed by God?

    I see noting to indicate that a salvation validation is required. How do we not know that God is not working in someone’s life and having them serve him in advance of the moment of salvation?

    I think I take your point to be saying that God can be working through people (for Jesus) at any point he wants.

    Ciao.

    Chaz

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  2. Neil says:

    Hi Chaz, yes, I’m with you on all that. I have a lot of time for the writings of Brian McLaren – have you come across him? If not, I think you would find his trilogy “A New Kind of Christian”, “The Story We Find Ourselves In”, and “The Last Word and the Word After That” as enjoyable and enriching and illuminating as I have. He says somewhere that the traditional evangelical image of salvation is a circle with Jesus at the centre and dots inside and outside the circle. The dots inside are those who have “made a decision for Jesus” and are saved. Those outside are the lost. BM doesn’t like that image at at all. He rubs out the circle and turns all the little dots into arrows. Some are moving towards Jesus some are moving away. Those moving towards him are in the process of “being saved”. They are on what you have called a “continuum”. There is a circle, of course, but BM sees it as unhelpful to draw it. We are not competent to say when any particular person has passed what you call “the moment of salvation.” And of course there is always the possibility of a change in direction!

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  3. Chaz says:

    Thanks Neil…. that is very much what I am describing.

    I will look for the Titles. I think for much of the past couple hundred years, evangelistic Christians have focused more on the circle than on the progressive movement toward or away from … to put it in the terms in your reply. Great analogy.

    It feels like being “circle focused” tends to create an “us and them” polarity.

    Two books that really shook me up a few years ago were, “What’s so Amazing About Grace”, and, “The Jesus I never knew”, both by Philip Yancey.

    In the ‘Whats so amazing’ book, Yancey questions why it is that christians and churches are known for their doctrinal competition and not for their grace competition.

    Given that one of the (if not THE) uniquenesses of Jesus and the new covenant is the functioning of Grace. I really do not think grace is represented as meaningfully by the circle. Yet this does not mean the circle does not exist.

    And it is these ‘doctrinal spitting contests’ that I think so many people are turned off by. When Jesus was about so much more than just a better doctrinal argument.

    Ciao.

    Chaz

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  4. Neil says:

    Hi Chaz.

    Yes, I love the Yancey books too.

    One of the comments Brian McLaren puts into the mouth of Neo in the first of the books I mentioned is: “I think some Christians use Jesus as a shortcut to being right, In the process they bypass being humble or wise. They figure if they say ‘Jesus’ enough, it guarantees they won’t be stupid. … If people reject Jesus when they hear some half-baked would-be evangelist strutting his stuff and mocking the Buddha or Muhammed, I don’t think they’re really rejecting Jesus. They’re rejecting the arrogance, ignorance, and bad taste of the preacher.” God forgive me for the times I have been part of that. (And I know I have.)

    Blessings

    Neil

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  5. Chaz says:

    Neil…. in the context of what you said in your reply about saying Jesus enough, it guarnatees…. etc…

    …In this context, can you see how I felt the debate/dialogue was going the other day about AA and Christianity?

    I do not mean to call the other parties stupid. Not my intent to be inflamatory or to project animosity to what are probably well-meaning people.

    I just feel that some tend to mindlessly blast scripture at others without consideration to the greater context of the experiences of the recipient of the scripture blasts. And then attempting to corner someone with “is Jesus sufficient or not?” type reasoning is frankly painful and a total turn-off to hear anything they have to say.

    I do not mean to pick on these folks specifically. Just this experience seems to describe the Brian McLaren quote you posted.

    I just can’t see this level of ignorance as being representative of the kind, gentle, yet deeply profound and powerful wisdom that Jesus spoke.

    And again, his life and conduct attracted people in droves. I do not see the lost being attracted to narrow-minded ignorance of so many of the people that profess to be his representatives.

    Thats how I see it anyway.

    Ciao.

    Chaz

    Like

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