The Challenge of Discipleship

Discipleship is not always a popular word among Christians today. What is involved? What is required of being a disciple of Jesus Christ?
Let’s understand what Jesus requires for true discipleship.
Sermon Plan
We will discuss Mark 9:38-50 and Jesus’ challenge to all disciples.
Mark 9:38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” 39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.
42 “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. 45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’
49 “For everyone will be tested with fire. 50 Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”
What about Unauthorized Disciples (vs. 38)?
The disciples had previously failed to exorcise a demon and they had Jesus’ authority. Then along came a fellow who successfully cast out demons, but who had no authority from Jesus. What a puzzle. How would we react? A similar episode occurred under Moses’ leadership and Moses gave a similar answer (Numbers 11:27-29). How narrow is our perspective on the work of God? The Apostle Thomas planted churches along the Indian southwest coast and for 1500 years they were independent of Rome. Portuguese pressure for them to align with Rome began slowly after first contact in 1498, but resulted in many reclaiming their independence in 1653. Were these Christians not a part of the Church before Portuguese contact? Are those who re-claimed independence from Rome now shut out of God’s kingdom? Jesus’ instructions do not seem to indicate that.
How Exclusive are We (vs. 39-40)?
When someone acts in Jesus’ name and their actions are blessed how should we react? Should we be exclusive or inclusive in regard to people of other walks of life who use Jesus’ name? Jesus said, do not forbid him. What about uneducated preachers who seem to speak with authority, but do not speak as educated authorities on the Bible? It is obvious that the person did not have the same level of exposure to Jesus’ education that the Apostles did. It is also obvious that the Apostles were missing one important ingredient in their education, that the man was not against Jesus. The man was against Satan, casting out demons. What about those who believe in Jesus, but worship in a different manner to us? Do we welcome anyone to our side, even when they come from unanticipated backgrounds?
Even a Cup of Water (vs. 41)?
I once worked with a black gentleman between pastorates. It had been a discouraging time. I felt betrayed by various parties. He asked me what I normally did for a living and when I replied that I was a pastor, he said that he had been raised to always show respect to a pastor. I did not know what to say. While many discredit pastors, it was very encouraging to see that someone still showed support. Giving support to the disciples of Jesus is a heaven-blessed activity. What support do we show to a lonely pastor? Even something as small as a cup of water is an act of love, that heaven recognizes. It is an act of kindness that shows faith and love to a disciple of the Lord. Heaven will reward even such a small token of respect.
What did Jesus Mean these Least (vs. 42)?
Can someone who preaches Christ be among the least? Why not? Can someone performing exorcisms in the name of Jesus Christ be one of the least? Why not? Can we cause one of these the least of all preachers, exorcists, prophets to stumble? They may have a long way to go in their education. They may have a lot to learn about Jesus, but they are already acting on what little they do know. Imagine how much more they could do for Christ with a little proper encouragement along the way. Forbidding or stopping their ministry until they reach advanced knowledge might so discourage them that they become ineffective in the future. Is this a problem with our current seminary system? Is it a problem with the way we do things in churches? Do we cause such little ones to stumble?
How ought Disciples to Think (vs. 43)?
Is the competitiveness of the disciples that they had when they were disputing about who would be the greatest, also obvious when it comes to this outsider? Is that the attitude that the disciples, whom Jesus called little children, should have? Little children have not developed a pecking order like adults. Jesus refers to little ones. Are they also children, but perhaps the smaller children? Should they be excluded from the family, especially when they also recognize Jesus’ authority? Should the children of the kingdom cause little ones to stumble who also recognize the authority of the king? Is it such a grievous offense against heaven to offend such a little one, that it would be better to have a huge millstone around our necks and be drowned in the sea than offend one of these that God deems precious?
Cut if Off (vs. 43-48)?
Where are verses 44 and 46? They repeat verse 48 and did not exist in any of the original manuscripts, but were added in later history. Even those who take the Bible overly literally do not take verses 43-47 literally. I have never heard of a church of people who have cut off their limbs because they sin using those body parts. Sin enters when a hand steals, a foot harms or an eye lusts for instance. The cutting off or plucking out of these body parts is symbolic of making extreme efforts to obey God. When something in life tempts us to be unfaithful to God, it is to be cut off immediately.  Martyrs throughout Christian history have been tempted to deny Christ or die. They chose to have their lives cut off rather than be untrue to God.
What is Gehenna?
Better to enter eternal life maimed than enter Gehenna. What is that? Gehenna is literally the Valley of Hinnom which is the steep ravine which is found immediately south of Jerusalem’s Mt Zion. It was at times a garbage dump and is best known for the gross abomination of sacrificing infants to Moloch. In a world where we like to tolerate other religions, this is one religion which should have been stamped out and eventually was. It is a place which came to symbolize being cursed forever in hell. This gives us a picture of “radical obedience in the context of costly sacrifice.”1 What sacrifice are we willing to make in order to obey God? What in our lives are we willing to cut out? What stands in our way? Let’s stay as far from being damned as possible.
A Salt-Sacrifice (vs. 49)?
Jesus says, everyone will be tested with fire, literally salted with fire. This is not the fire of hell but of purification through trials. As salt preserves meat so do trials preserve us for eternity. Christians will be tried in an antagonistic world. Sacrificing a member of the body is small compared to sacrificing our whole selves. Old Testament animal sacrifices included salt. The metaphor of a salt-sacrifice of ourselves is a picture of the salt that makes living a selfless Christian life pleasing to God. When the pope speaks to America he offends both selfish abortion on the left and selfish greed on the right. Has American and European Christianity lost its salt? Have we focused on a false Gospel of selfishness, nationalism and prosperity rather than the Gospel of selfless sacrifice, the Gospel of Christ and the cross?
Are There Examples?
Do we know people who will cut off certain unethical practices that they could pursue with their hands because such practices would rob their neighbors? Do we know people who will cut off setting foot in ways of life where sin is involved? Do we know people who have cut out seeing with their eyes certain kinds of entertainment because it tempts them to be unfaithful to their spouses? I’m sure we do. We all know people who metaphorically cut off their hand or foot from pursuing sin or pluck out their eyes from the temptation to lust. Do we know people who make a radical sacrifice for God, who have given up selfish pursuits in order to help their neighbors? Do we know people who have endured great trials and sacrificed for others? Have we known some true Christians?
How much of our lives are devoted to selfish pursuits versus selfless sacrifice for others? How successfully have we cut off things from our lives which hinder us from entering eternity? That’s Jesus challenge of discipleship. May God have mercy upon us. (10:47)
1 William L. Lane. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1974. 349.