Bigot or Believer?
Many people have been turned away from Christianity by the bigotry they've seen in the church. Latin Catholics persecuted Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics persecuted Protestants, and Protestants persecuted fringe groups. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was bitterly anti-Christian, yet his rebuke of religious bigotry still stings. "We desire the deepest fellowship, we long for true brotherhood, and you [Christians] give us only pious societies, which are in conflict with each other." Is that how it seems to you? Religious intolerance always indicates a bigot not a believer. It's Fascist not faithful to say that a religious teaching or practice is wrong. But is there never a time to declare someone's beliefs in error? Is it always name-calling to label someone a false teacher?
Our text teaches there are times when religious intolerance is bigotry. The apostles prejudged a man's teaching simply because he wasn't following Jesus with them. The unknown exorcist didn't oppose Jesus or the apostles. He just wasn't in their group. This exorcist wasn't judged based on what he taught about Jesus or by what he did in Jesus' name. He was judged solely based on where he followed Jesus from.
John's conscience was bothered for doing this when Jesus in the verses before our text stated that whoever receives a child in His name receives Him. John was convicted for not receiving the exorcist who worked in Jesus' name, and he should've been. Religious tolerance that comes from pride or prejudice is always wrong. John's came from both. The only reason he gave for opposing the man is, literally, "because he was not following us." This is pride. The boundaries for John's church weren't Jesus and His teaching but himself. Where pride is prejudice can't be far behind. The apostles presumed with no evidence that the man had to be against Jesus because he wasn't with them.
In being intolerant of the unnamed exorcist, the disciples were being religious bigots not faithful believers, and Jesus quickly corrects them saying, "Those who perform deeds for My name's sake are of Me. Such deeds don't even have to be miracles. Whoever aids you in even such a small way as giving you a glass of water because of My name won't lose his reward." Now didn't they feel stupid? The exorcist had been aiding the apostle's work of tearing down Satan's kingdom and they foolishly forbid him! What would they do next? Slap the hand trying to give them a cup of water in Jesus' name?
Jesus could've scolded the disciples more sharply for ignoring the facts they themselves admitted. First, they admitted the man was exorcising demons in Jesus' name. Jewish exorcists used the name of Abraham or Solomon. This man using Jesus' name showed that he had some measure of faith in Him. Second, the apostles admitted the man was successful. You can't use Jesus' name like a charm or spell and get results. In Acts 19 seven Jewish exorcists tried to cast out a demon "in the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches." The demon replied that while he knew who Jesus was and who Paul was, he didn't know them. The demon then beat up these would be exorcists and sent them running away naked.
It was bigotry justified by pride and prejudice for the apostles to reject this successful exorcist simply because he wasn't following Jesus in the same group as they were. But not all religious intolerance is bigotry, some is Biblical. Biblical religious intolerance is addressed in this text too. Jesus says His followers are salt. Salt cleanses and burns those things that are contrary to its nature. There are certain things that are contrary to our Christian natures, so we, as the salt of the earth, rightly burn against them.
We burn against whoever causes even the littlest of believers to stumble into sin and towards unbelief. It's not being a bigot to be opposed to those who lead others astray from the teachings of God's Word. In fact, Scripture demands it. Romans 16:17 says, "Watch those who cause disagreements and make people fall away by going against the teaching you learned. Turn away from them." 2 Thes. 3 orders us, "Keep away from any Christian who refuses to live and work" as God's Word has instructed. 2 John says, "Anyone who goes too far and doesn't stay with what Christ has taught doesn't have GodDon't take Him into your home or greet Him."
We oppose all who lead others astray by teaching things not in agreement with God's Word. We have no permission from our Lord to agree to disagree with those who teach contrary to His Word. If the person who causes others to err would, according to Jesus, be better off at the bottom of Lake Travis with a millstone around his neck, it would be better still to oppose him in hopes of leading him to repentance.
But before we get on our high horse and oppose false teachers, we had better first get off our horse to look in the mirror. When the Bible says that we are to oppose every way that is contrary to God's Word that includes our own sins. In fact, from Jesus' words about logs in our eyes and splinters in the eyes of others, we have to conclude looking in the mirror for our logs must come before looking for splinters in others.
So what do you see when you look in the mirror? I see a hand that strikes in anger, is quick to point out the error of others, and is quicker still to pat myself on the back. I see a foot that wants to go its own way not God's. A foot that is comfortable on the broad path that leads to hell. A foot that can stand hours of work and play but can't stand to be in worship for an hour. And I see an eye that loves to lust after forbidden fruit and to see the tinniest splinters of others.
What does Jesus say is to be done now? Cut off such an offensive hand! Hack off such a loathsome foot! Pluck out such a putrid eye! Don't tolerate such sinfulness in your members. But remember this: Though you had no hands to hit, no feet to wander, and no eyes to lust, you would still have a heart that wanted to. You don't need fewer arms, legs or eyes, but a new heart. You'll never cure a sinful heart by maiming a body. Sin doesn't reside in feet, in hands, or eyes but in hearts. If it did, Jesus wouldn't have commanded that one hand, one foot, and one eye be removed but both.
Jesus knows the answer is not in doing something to your outward body. Sure it would be better to be half blind, lame, and halt in heaven then to be whole in hell, but this doesn't tell you how to get to heaven. Going to heaven requires a new heart, a repentant heart, a believing heart, and how does the Lord give us one of those? By taking the holy hands and feet of Jesus and nailing them to a cross and by taking a large spear and shoving it into His holy heart. Even though those hands never were lifted to hurt, even though those feet never wandered from any of the 10 Commandments, even though those eyes never looked to lust, to envy, to nitpick, still they were nailed to the cross. Even though that heart always feared, loved and trusted God above all things, still it was stabbed with a spear.
By those nail holes, by that spear wound, you are healed, forgiven. Your sins of heart, hands, feet, and eyes have been paid for. Therefore, you can admit that you're a helpless, hopeless sinner whether your sins are secret ones of the heart or open ones of the body. You can confess that you are at the mercy of your own wretched sinfulness and that unless God has mercy on you for Jesus' sake, your sins will win.
God does and will have mercy on you for Jesus' sake. He who didn't spare the eyes, feet, hands, and heart of His perfect Son in order to pay for your sins will withhold neither His mercy nor His help from you. The sins you have no answer for, God has an answer for in Christ. The sins that no one can help you with, God in Christ will help you with. And He starts today, here and now. As Jesus rose from the dead without your sins, so you can rise from that pew without your sins on your back, on your account, or on your conscience.
There: facing your sins knocks you off the high horse of religious bigotry and on to your knees where you belong. Now you're able to handle those who cause others to err. Since we know ourselves to be such gross, guilty sinners, we know that we can't deal with the sins of others based on our holiness. The Bible never said we should. We are to oppose those who err because our Savior commands it. It is our Christian duty. By all means, the first duty is to see to the log in our own eye, but Jesus didn't stop there. He said, "After you do that, then see to the splinter that is in your brothers."
We don't go splinter pulling because we're right and they're wrong because after all, we're all wrong sinners. We go because God has made us His salt on earth through forgiving our sins for Jesus' sake. Note well Jesus doesn't give us a command to have salt in ourselves. No, it's indicative. Jesus says, "You do have salt in yourselves." Jesus isn't commanding what should be but telling us what is. Our new nature created by the forgiveness of sins is in the image of Christ: truly righteous and holy forever. It is salt. Salt can't help but burn and cleanse all that is opposed to it. Salt always melts ice. Salt always cleanses wounds.
Jesus says we have salt in ourselves and then He does command us to be at peace with each other. These are not mutually exclusive. These are complimentary. We can be salt to each other and still be at peace with each other. Salt doesn't salt salt; salt doesn't burn salt; salt doesn't cleanse salt but only what is contrary to salt. Therefore when we are being the salt God has made us, we only burn and cleanse in each other that which works against the peace with have in Christ. We are in reality seasoning each other for life everlasting. Amen
Rev Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost IXX (20061015); Mark 9: 38-50