What are the dangers of divisive Christian communities? How can we detect this seemingly tribal Christianity? In this message on Mark Chapter 9, Pastor Mike Kelsey walks through three key symptoms of tribal, or divisive, Christianity. Many of these symptoms are often rooted in mere lack of foundational doctrine. Without a firm foundation to root ourselves upon, everything else is likely to fall around us. Pastor Mike Kelsey warns Christians of the signs of divisive community, and encourages them to seek out true Biblical understandings of how to love one another.
- The Spiritual Dimension of Christianity
- What is “Tribal Christianity?”
- The importance of Doctrine
- Symptom One: Limiting the Work of Jesus
- Symptom Two: Placing Ministry over Mission
- Symptom Three: Criticizing the Flaws of Others While Minimizing Our Own
Three Symptoms of Tribal Christianity
Well, it’s good to be together as we get ready to dive into God’s word. I want to welcome those of you who are new here in our church and those of you who are watching online. A special shoutout to those of you watching at all of our different locations. We’re going to be in Mark Chapter 9. Many of you know that we are continuing a series that we started a few weeks ago or picked back up, I should say, a few weeks ago called Following Jesus, where we’re walking passage by passage through the Gospel of Mark. Meet me in Mark Chapter 9, and before we dive in there, many of you know yesterday was our last day of 21 days of prayer.
I don’t know about you, but I can definitely speak for myself, my wife, our group, man, it’s just been such a rich time for us. It’s been a recalibrating time for us. I remember David preaching several weeks ago about resetting our lives according to what matters. I hope it’s been a rich time for you. I know some of us look back and were like, “I didn’t really maximize 21 days.” That’s okay. I tell people all the time, the reason why we do that, it’s like running a marathon, which I know nothing about, but I’m getting ready to speak confidently. I imagine when you’re running a marathon, you don’t try to kill it in the first mile.
What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to establish a sustainable pace. That’s what 21 Days of Prayer is designed to do. It’s just designed to help us establish a sustainable pace to get in a rhythm that will hopefully be consistent and ground us in intimacy with God throughout the rest of the year. Listen, it’s nothing special about the 21 days. We just stole it from another church. You got the rest of the year. God’s still here on day 22, and we got the rest of the year to cultivate the kind of intimacy with God that He’s inviting us to enjoy. I’d encourage you, you can still go to mcleanbible.org/prayer and access all those resources to help you in that.
We’re going to dive back in to Mark Chapter 9, and we’re going to pick it up in Mark 38. You all ready? Locations, I didn’t hear you all. Everybody ready? All right, locations, I still didn’t hear you because I can’t. All right. Mark Chapter 9, Verse 38 says this, “John said to him,” talking to Jesus, “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 afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”
I think this is a word that is especially relevant to us in our cultural context today, but also to our church. Before we dive in, why don’t we pray and ask the Lord to really work through His word? Father, we thank you for your word. Lord, as we give you our attention and as we study this passage, I pray, God, that you will not only speak to our hearts, but work in our hearts by the power of your Holy Spirit. We pray this in Jesus name, amen. Now, if you’re new to our church or maybe you’re just jumping in to where we are in this series, we’ve talked a lot about demons as we’ve been walking through the Gospel of Mark.
The reason for that is because as you study these first eight chapters and pivot into Chapter 9, Jesus is constantly encountering people who are being terrorized by evil spirits. Although demonic activity isn’t usually as dramatic as we see here in the gospels, although it can be this dramatic, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve personally experienced and I’ve personally observed some of the kinds of dramatic demonstrations of demonic activity that we see in the scripture, both here and abroad. It definitely happens, but although that’s not common for many of us, it’s still important for us to remember or if you’re exploring Christianity to realize that demons are real.
The Spiritual Dimension
We’ve talked about that in detail. There is an unseen spiritual dimension to the world we live in, and demons are real creatures with real personalities that instigate and perpetuate all kinds of evil in our world. As human beings, we are powerless against them in our own strength, not only because of their supernatural power, but also because of their often imperceptible influence in our lives. That’s why some theologians say, demons are the greatest sociologists of all time because they’ve been studying human history right since the beginning. Their influence is formidable. It’s often imperceptible, and therefore often irresistible.
We’re not even aware of the ways that we’re being affected. Demons work directly through personal attack, generationally in the patterns that plague our families, and culturally in belief systems and social structures that compound the effects of human evil and draw people away from God. Casting out demons was a major part of Jesus’ ministry. As He was training His disciples to continue His ministry one day, He also gave them the authority to cast out demons. That’s just a brief summary.
We’ve gone into this in much more detail in previous sermons in this series, so I’d encourage you, if you got questions, to go back and check out those sermons.
But the problem here in Verse 38 is that the disciples start getting reports about some random dude that’s just out here casting out demons. They don’t know who this dude is. They don’t know what seminary he went to, what church he is from. But all they know is this dude has gone viral and he’s building this platform of casting out demons. Apparently, he’s claiming Jesus’ authority as he does it, and so who is he? Well, Mark doesn’t mention his name or any other details about him, and there’s no way for us to know for sure, but although he wasn’t one of the 12 disciples, I think it’s very possible, I think it’s actually likely, and a lot of scholars would agree that this man was a genuine follower of Jesus.
You got to remember that Jesus had a broad ministry. In fact, even before this, Jesus sends out 72 disciples two by two to cast out demons. There are more than just the 12 disciples who have become followers of Jesus. It was very common during this time for people to claim power over evil spirits. There were magician and sorcerers and all kinds of people that claimed this kind of authority over the spiritual realm. The difference in this case is that this is a man who, number one, is not just talking about or claiming to have this kind of power. He’s actually demonstrating this power to cast out demons, and he’s evoking the name of Jesus as he does it.
Now, some of you might say, “Well, just because somebody does something in the name of Jesus does not mean Jesus actually co-signs their ministry.” You would be correct. Jesus himself says in Matthew Chapter 7 that on the day of judgment there’s going to be people who did impressive Christian things and had impressive Christian platforms. But were actually living hypocritical lives, and Jesus will say to them, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” I would imagine the most sobering and terrifying words that anybody could ever hear, God forbid, depart from me, I never knew you. Using Jesus’ name doesn’t necessarily mean you’re legit, nor does it always work.
The Power In the Name of Jesus
There was another time several years later when the apostle Paul was doing so many spectacular miracles that a group of men actually tried to imitate him. The historian Luke recorded what happened. This is low-key funny to me. It is pretty serious, but it’s funny. Acts Chapter 19, Verse 13, it says, looking at the apostle Paul do all these miracles in Jesus’ name, “Then, some of the itinerant Jewish exorcist undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’ Seven sons of a Jewish priest named Sceva we’re doing this, but the evil spirit answered them.”
Here’s what they said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” In other words, they’re saying real recognize real, and we don’t recognize you. “The man in whom was the evil spirit leaped,” this is the funny part, “leaped on them,” this is like Brazilian jujitsu or something, “mastered all of them and overpowered them so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. Their day did not end well.” Listen to the effect though, “This became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, and fear fell upon them all.” Here’s the effect, “And the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.” You noticed that last sentence?
The effect, that situation caused people to revere the name of Jesus. Birth man translation, they put some respect on Jesus’ name. The name of Jesus, listen, the name of Jesus is not just a religious salutation that we use to close the end of our prayers. Like you end a letter sincerely. It’s not some magical formula that gives your prayers some extra spiritual boost when you need it. The name of Jesus doesn’t have any power in and of itself. In fact, Jesus was a common name in ancient Israel. Even today, there’s a bunch of Jesuses all over the world and there is no power in their name.
If I walk into a bank right now, and I wouldn’t because it’s 2023, who does that anymore? But if I were to walk into a bank right now, I walk up to the window, I say, “Excuse me, sir, I like to withdraw $17 million in the name of Jeff Bezos.” Exactly, that’s exactly what’s going to happen, followed by security. Because what they’re going to say is, you’re using the name, but you don’t have authorization. Listen, I love the song and I sing it all the time, I love it when we sing There’s Power in The Name of Jesus. As long as we understand that there’s only power in the name of Jesus, because Jesus himself has power.
It’s not just any Jesus. It’s not your homeboy Jesus. It’s not the Jesus that we make up in our imagination. This is Jesus of Nazareth. He is the one who has power. It’s this Jesus that speaks to wind and waves and they obey. It’s this Jesus that touches the eyes of blind men and now they can see for the first time in their life. It’s this Jesus who shows up on a scene when other people are overwhelmed and helpless because of demonic activity and demons begin begging Jesus to be thrown into the abyss. It’s this Jesus that causes demons to tremble. This is the Jesus that has power to heal people from a distance just because he says the word.
This is the Jesus that took death on the chin and demonstrated the fact that not even death itself, the dead end for every single one of us, the inevitable conclusion, the undefeated master of all of human life, he took it on the chin and stood tall over it in his resurrection. This is the Jesus who has all power, and that is why His name has power. Listen, if you’re taking notes, write this down. To operate in Jesus’ name means that He’s given you permission to use His power for His purposes. You’re using Jesus’ name, you’re using the power of attorney, that He’s given you authorization to act, to pray on His behalf, in His name, with His power for His purposes.
On the face of it, it seems like the disciples have a legitimate concern. Who is this dude? But Jesus said to them, Verse 39, “Don’t stop him. Don’t stop him, for one who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.” Very simply put, what Jesus is saying there is, this dude is legit. This is genuine evidence that the spirit of God is working through him and Jesus is saying, he’s an ally, not an enemy. He may not be one of the core disciples, but he’s not an enemy. In fact, he is being used as an agent of the Kingdom of God.
When Jesus says, Verse 41, “For truly I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” Jesus is saying, “Listen, you’re so caught up in preserving your rights to do all this spectacular ministry.” Jesus is saying, “But I’m telling you that there are going to be people who are doing the most minuscule work in the kingdom, and they’re going to be genuinely doing it in my name, and I will be honored by it and I will reward it. Jesus says, “Don’t stop him.” It’s a short passage, and the question is, it’s the question we always get to ask ourselves.
How Is This Passage Relevant To Us?
Especially when we’re reading narratives like this, is to zoom out and just say, what is being communicated here and how is that passage, how is this relevant to us? What is the Holy Spirit, how might He be speaking to us in this passage? Well, I want us to zoom in on something for a second. First of all, they didn’t consult Jesus. They just informed Jesus that they pulled up on the guy. Notice what John says in Verse 38. John says to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following you.” Is that what John said?
No. No, you would think that’s what John would say, that there was somebody out there claiming to have the authority of your name, Jesus, but they weren’t following you. That’s not what John says. John says, “He’s out there using your name, Jesus, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” NIV says, because he was not one of us. I’m sure if I got John on the podcast and started pressing him, he’d be like, “Come on, Mike. You know what I meant.” I know exactly what you meant, John. You read the gospels, even right here in Mark Chapter 9, and you see a pattern with John and the other disciples.
If I could summarize what Jesus is saying in this passage, what He’s saying is, the work of Jesus is not limited to our particular Christian circle. This is what He’s trying to teach, and He’s trying to uproot something out of the disciples’ hearts. Now, I don’t know what’s going on these days. I don’t know what variant we’re on. I just know it’s crazy in these streets right now. It’s just all kind of stuff going. I don’t know if it’s COVID, it’s flu, if it’s RSV, whatever the case, I don’t even know.
If I sneeze, I’m just like, I’m about to die. It’s a wrap. You know what I mean?
It’s just, it’s crazy. Literally, every single staff pastor out of the Montgomery County location has been out in quarantine over the last two weeks, and it hit my house. All three of my kids tested positive. By God’s grace, my wife and I did not test positive, and that’s because we were vigilant, you all. I actually took the reverse of Jesus’ words. My kids were no longer allies, they became enemies. I was like, “Not today, Satan. It’s not happening. It’s not happening to me.” Son is coming up trying to hug me, I’m like, “No, son. No.” Like a hard stiff arm. You know what I’m saying? No. We were doing everything we could.
We were in this environment surrounded by this virus, and we were taking every precaution, doing everything we could to not catch it. Listen, I think we’re in a similar environment when it comes to what Jesus is addressing in the disciples. I can’t speak for every other context in the world, but I can speak for the American church context, that we have become so infected by what I’ll call tribal Christianity. You can call it sectarian Christianity or divisive Christianity or whatever. It’s this tribalistic mentality, this instinct, this us versus them Christianity. I’m talking about within the body of Christ.
Three Symptoms of Tribal Christianity
This is what Jesus is trying to uproot and heal in the disciples. Here’s what I want us to do. I want us to just reflect for a moment, and I just want to give you three symptoms of tribal Christianity. Three symptoms that you or me or us or people in the American church, that we’ve become infected by the same thing that we see in John and these other disciples. Here’s symptom number one. We limit the work of Jesus to our particular Christian circle. We reduce the Kingdom of God to our little Christian circle. This usually happens in two ways. Number one, we’re tempted to dismiss Christians from different cultures or even disparage Christians from different cultures.
In other words, we use our culture rather than scripture as a litmus test against other brothers and sisters in Christ. That can be our ethnic or racial or national culture. We’ve seen that throughout American church history and we still see it today. As pastors here at McLean Bible Church, we’ve tried to address that clearly and extensively over the past few years in our church. But it can also be other expressions of culture. Let me give you some examples. Sometimes, if we’re honest, we judge people’s Christianity based on their volume or how expressive they are. We do.
If they start getting a little loud or they extend beyond a respectable range of motion, we get a little nervous, a little skeptical. Or, on the flip side, if they don’t get loud enough, if they’re just comfortable within shoulder range, we’re keeping it low, we’re keeping it right here. That’s their zone. Then, they must not have the Holy Spirit. I can’t tell if that was a guilty laughter or if that was… Sometimes if we’re honest, we judge people’s Christianity based on their clothing, how formal or casual or fashionable they are. Some of you have seen this in the old school debates about whether we should dress up or dress down in church.
If my dad was watching, he would say, “That’s not an old school debate.” I know some of you all are like, “It’s not an old school debate, sir. You don’t have on proper clothing right now.” Got you. I got you. But I also see it when people, for example, they’ll judge young preachers for wearing flashy designer sneakers, but they don’t seem bothered at all about preachers who are wearing Ferragamos. That’s culture. I wore some very non-descript black boots today because I knew I was going to make that point. You can’t judge me. We can all come up with different examples, like those are some funny superficial examples, but there are more serious, hurtful examples where we dismiss other Christians from different cultures.
My point is that culture is just the way we do things around here, but that can become arrogant and sinful when the way we do things becomes our standard for judging or disparaging people for the way they do things. We’re tempted to dismiss or disparage Christians from different cultures, but we’re also tempted to dismiss or disparage Christians with different convictions. This is where it gets a little more tricky. I want to be careful here because a lot of us, especially younger generations, have become so disillusioned with the pettiness and the division we’ve seen in the church that we just say, I’ll keep Jesus and grace and love, but all that doctrine stuff doesn’t really matter.
Here’s the problem with that, doctrine really mattered to Jesus. He’s the way, the truth, and the life. Doctrine really mattered to Jesus. When you throw the baby out with the bath water, you just end up trading, listen, you just end up trading a more conservative form of fundamentalism for a more liberal form of fundamentalism. You become just as judgmental and intolerant as the people you’re trying so hard to distance yourself from. Listen, the solution to division in the church is not to minimize doctrine. The solution to division in the church is to learn how to distinguish essential doctrines, things you have to believe and submit to in order to be a faithful Christian, and other important doctrines that Bible believing Christians can legitimately disagree on.
I think Trevin Wax’s definition of Orthodoxy is helpful here. He says, “Orthodoxy is the historic Christian consensus on the essential elements of true faith in practice. What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” What he’s saying here is the essentials of the faith are the things that unite us with global brothers and sisters in Christ, that unite us all the way back to brothers and sisters in the early church. Those are the bedrock foundational truths of the faith. We cling to those. We die for those truths. We live by those truths, but we hold, not loosely, but graciously our convictions on secondary issues.
Now, you say, “Well, Mike, part of the problem is there’s a lot of people and preachers and religious groups that claim to be Christian, but how do I discern who’s legit and who’s not?” That’s a good question. Because let me just be honest with you, there’s a lot of clowns out here who are masquerading as preachers of the gospel, who prostitute the church for their own game. Who distort the word of God in order to satisfy and justify their own sinful lifestyles or in order to manipulate and take advantage of other people. That’s a good question that we have to ask ourselves. Let me give you briefly just a couple questions that you can use to evaluate, evaluate particularly any leader or group that claims to be Christian.
Do Not Be Deceived by False Doctrine
Because one of the things I see over and over and over and over again, particularly in emerging generations, people who want to follow Jesus and they get swept away. They get swept away because they get deceived by a false doctrine. I see it all the time in the African-American community because of racism and the historic legacy of injustice. Now, they listen to black Hebrew Israelites who say, “Well, you can be a Christian, but it’s not rooted in the Orthodox faith. It’s rooted in these other things.” People get sucked away all the time. How do you evaluate what’s legit and what’s not? Let me give you five quick questions.
I’m not going to have time to dive into all of them in in-depth, and this is not an exhausting list of questions, but it covers the basics. If you want to know our answers to these questions here at MBC, you can read the doctrinal statement on our website or talk to one of our pastors. But if you’re taking notes, let me give you these questions to ask. What do they teach about God? It’s basic. What do they teach about God? Does that line up with what you see as an accurate interpretation of scripture? What do they think about the triune nature of God? What do they think about the authoritative nature of who God is as creator and as King?
What do they teach about God, more specifically though, what do they teach about Jesus? Because this is where the rubber often meets the road. What do they teach about Jesus? Is He fully God and fully man? What do they teach about the origin, dignity, and sinfulness of human beings? Let me tell you what I mean by that. What do they teach about the origin of human beings? In other words, where do we come from? What do they teach about the dignity of human beings? Who has value and who doesn’t, and how does that affect the way we treat certain people or certain groups of people? What do they teach about the sinfulness of human beings?
In other words, what is our core problem? What do they teach about the nature of the Bible? Lastly, what do they teach about salvation? Do we need salvation? How do we get salvation? Where do we find salvation? How do we know what happens to us after we die? What do they teach about salvation? What do they teach about God, about Jesus, about human beings, about the nature of the Bible, about salvation? Those are some questions that will help you evaluate the basics. If you don’t have personal answers to those questions, then you have work to do. Now, we’re in my lane as a pastor and as a teacher of the word.
This is why I love being a part of a church like ours, where we are devoted to equipping you to have biblical answers to these questions. The kind of biblical answers that Christians across all generations have held onto and been united by. Christians should be unwavering in the core historic fundamentals of the faith that are clear in scripture. While our other convictions are important, we have to resist the temptation to dismiss other Bible believing Christians who disagree on secondary issues. The work of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is bigger than our particular Christian circle, and God is working through other Christians that we may not be familiar with or immediately comfortable with.
If we’re not careful, we’ll miss out on the opportunity to learn from and be blessed by the broader body of Christ. I think about the different Christian circles here in our American context. I think about the Pentecostal Church. Anybody come from the Pentecostal Church? That was a very non-Pentecostal response. My grandfather was a bishop in a Pentecostal denomination. Their bold faith, their passionate longing for the power and presence of God, we can learn from it. When Pentecostals get together, they have this palpable sense of anticipation that the Holy Spirit is about to move. I think about liturgical churches.
I have no background in high liturgical environments, but man, we can learn from their reverence for God and their understanding of how the historic worship practices of the church help us rehearse and reinforce the rich truths of the gospel. I think about various immigrant churches, the way they share life together and show hospitality to one another as family, their resilience and reliance on God even in difficult circumstances. I think about the black church. Its enduring faithfulness to God, even in the midst of suffering, oppression and persecution, their rich legacy of preaching the gospel, serving the poor, and working for justice.
I think about the evangelical church, the emphasis on personal evangelism and personal conversion and this unwavering devotion to the core fundamentals of the faith. I think about modern day attraction of mega churches, their creativity and innovation in ministry. I think about Life Church at Oklahoma City. Do you know that the Bible app on your phone, that was not created by a company or some angel investors? That was created by a church. The creativity and innovation in ministry and getting the gospel out, here and among unreached people groups. We could go on and on and on, but one of the things I love about the diversity of our church here is that we get to interact with and benefit from all those different streams in one church family.
Do Not Forget the Mission
The work of Jesus is not limited, and we should not reduce it to our little particular Christian circle. Here’s the second symptom. Second symptom of this tribal Christianity is when we’re more passionate about our ministry than the actual mission. You think about the mission that’s being put on display here in Mark Chapter 9. When Jesus casts out these demons, that wasn’t just a snapshot of one moment, it was a picture of the mission because the Bible teaches that without Jesus, all of us are trapped in the domain of darkness. We’re held captive under the sway of demonic ideologies and demonic power. I’ve said this before, it’s like we’ve developed this Stockholm syndrome.
This condition where we develop a loyalty or bond to that which is holding us captive. Because of our sin nature, we actually enjoy our bondage and sin. We’re confused by the smoke and mirrors. Just like our fore parents, Adam and Eve, we believe the demonic lie that our bondage to sin is actually freedom, and that our confusion is actually wisdom. That what God prohibits is actually good and what God commands is actually bad. Rather than trusting the authority of God, we double down on our rebellion and we make our home in the darkness. That is the condition, that’s the human condition. God has every right to leave us in captivity, in the darkness, under the judgment and wrath of our sin, facing the consequences and the penalty of our own sinful decisions.
Yet, praise God, this is where we enter the gospel. This is where if I was in a black church, it’d be a Hammond B3 organ right now, God in His love did not leave us there, but He sent His son Jesus, who came and lived a perfectly righteous life that you and I could not. He demonstrated the power of the Kingdom in passages like Mark Chapter 9. Then, He went to the cross and He willingly gave up His life in our place as a sacrifice for our sins. Then, three days later, He rose from the grave to demonstrate His power and authority overseeing sin and death. Listen, He did it for you and He did it for me. This is the power that’s on display in the gospel.
This is the picture that Jesus is painting as He’s casting out demons. The good news of it is even better because this is just a preview of His power.
It’s a commercial for the work that He came to accomplish on the cross. It’s a foretaste of the day when He will fully and finally establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Casting out demons was just a temporary demonstration of His supernatural authority. One day He is going to completely finish the job. That’s the mission. That’s the mission. The ridiculous privilege that we have is that we get to be those who were rescued, not those who are self-righteous and arrogant, but those who are humble and grateful.
We get to be the rescued who partner with Jesus to go out on this rescue mission and to tell anyone and everyone who will listen here and all over the world, that you can be set free, that you don’t have to live under the vice and the captivity of demonic influence. You don’t have to live in the consequences and enslavement of your sin. You don’t have to live estranged from God now and estranged from Him for all of eternity, because God sent Jesus on a rescue mission to come get you, to come get you. Maybe that’s why you’re here, and maybe that’s why you’re watching right now, so that you can hear and feel and embrace maybe for the first time that God sent Jesus on a rescue mission to come get you.
That’s the mission. That’s the mission that Jesus invited John and the disciples on. Here’s what I want you to notice. Did you catch what’s missing from the disciple’s response when they come to Jesus? You know what’s missing? Enthusiasm. What’s missing is this sense of excite… Remember we studied this a couple weeks ago, that they failed at casting out demons just a little while before this. Here’s a man who’s flourishing where they have been failing, and rather than cheering him on, they try to shut him down. Why? Because his ministry can’t be legit unless he’s one of us. They’re only focus on their ministry.
They don’t show any enthusiasm about the people who are being served and blessed and reached by the mission. The same thing can happen to us, that we can get so round up and so passionate about our thing. Becomes disproportionate to the kind of passion and enthusiasm and joy and investment that we should have in His thing. Here’s the third and last symptom, and we’ll close this out.
See Your Own Flaws
Third symptom, this tribal Christianity is when we criticize the flaws in other Christian circles, but we minimize the flaws in our own, in our own lives, in our own circle. A consistent theme in Mark’s gospel is the disciples’ failure. These were not top draft picks.
Deon Sanders is not trying to recruit them right now. You remember what we’ve studied over these past few weeks? Just in this one chapter, Verses 14 to 29, a father asked Jesus to heal his demon possessed son and they couldn’t do it. You remember why? Jesus says it is because they tried to do it without prayer. Something as simple and as basic. They’re not praying. We struggled with our prayer lives and we can’t even see God. They’re right there with Him. Verse 33 to 35, “They’re arguing with each other about which one of them was the greatest.” They are literally with Jesus, and they’re arguing with each other about which one of them is the greatest. Verse 36 and 37, “Jesus teaches them to welcome and honor children.”
The Patience of Jesus
But then, later in Chapter 10, when parents are bringing their children to Jesus, the disciples rebuke the parents and try to send the kids away, and Jesus is furious with them. Follow me. The disciples were relying on their own power, preoccupied with their own status, blinded by their own bias against the most vulnerable in society, children. Now, in Verse 38, we have a situation where they’re elevating their own ministry over the ministry of others. That’s just in Chapter 9, one chapter. Yet, what struck me this week, even though they are embarrassing, even though they’re so disappointing at times to Jesus, what struck me this week is how patient Jesus is with them.
That Jesus does not give up on them, that Jesus does not just discard them. He doesn’t just condemn them and write them off as soon as they’re frustrating, as soon as they’re disappointing, as soon as they say something crazy or they do something dumb. He was so patient with them. You look at Luke 9, when they’re going into Samaria with people of a different racial background and they won’t listen to the teaching. John is like, “Jesus, you want us to call down fire on these fools?” This is Luke Chapter 9, and Jesus rebukes them. Why? Why? Because Jesus is like, “I’m on a mission. I was not sent here to condemn the world, but to save the world through the sacrifice that I’m getting ready to make.”
John and these disciples had experienced such grace and patience from Jesus to the point where it says, in the Gospel of John, it says, I love this one verse, it says, “Jesus loved them to the end.” They had experienced that kind of persistent, patient, steadfast love from Jesus, and yet, and yet they were so quick to shut somebody else down, to cut somebody else off, to condemn somebody else who was not like them or from where they were from. This is where I just need to pull up from my notes and just have a pastoral moment for just a second before we close. I ask myself, how did we get to the point as the American church and even in our own church?
How did we get to the point where we refuse to model toward other people the kind of patience that Jesus continues to model toward us? I’m not even talking about non-Christians yet. I’m talking about brothers and sisters in Christ who are devoted and devoting their lives to the essential doctrines that have united Christians across all generations. How have we gotten to the point where we can look at a brother or sister who believes and is willing to die for those core doctrines, and yet will be so quick to criticize and condemn and literally call their very Christianity into question because of a disagreement on a secondary issue?
How have we gotten to the point as the American church where we are the perpetrators of cancel culture? Jesus says, “They’re going to know you’re my disciples by the way you love one another.” I’m not saying we don’t say hard things. We’ve already talked about that. I’m not saying we don’t challenge and we don’t admonish and we don’t stand for what’s right. I know some people right now listening and watching, especially on a weekend like this weekend. The murder of Tyre Nichols and the anger and the rage that is sparking again all over the country in protests. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video.
I know there’s people thinking, “Man, this is not the weekend to talk about unity when I’m watching how other Christians are responding to the issues that burden and break my heart. When I’m having the talk again with my son.” But here’s what you got to understand, and this is something the Lord had to help me with, justice and Christ likeness are not mutually exclusive. You cannot pursue justice in the name of following Jesus and refuse to be Christ-like in the way that you do it. This is what Jesus had to help me with and convict me of. Some of you all are new to our church, but I’ve had to stand literally right here to apologize to brothers and sisters in our church family in moments where my anger or my rage or my hurt got the best of me.
Listen, maybe what the Holy Spirit is saying to you, to all of us, maybe there’s a brother or sister in Christ that you need to apologize to for the ways that you slandered them. If not with your words, in your thoughts, for the ways that you refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe some of us need to post on social media because we’ve been keeping it popping so much online and machine gunning everybody as the world watches and like, “Yo, those Christians are crazy.” Maybe we need to publicly repent so we can model what it looks like to follow Jesus in humility and repentance when we are sinful and we are weak, and when we have flaws that get the best of us.
Maybe this is an invitation for us as a church family and for us in the American church to say, “We will not cave to the spirit of the age, but we will stand in the power of the Holy Spirit and we will demonstrate the character of Christ with the conviction of Christ.” That we’ll stand on truth and we’ll stand on holy living and we’ll stand on justice. We will be Christlike, and we will be gentle, and we will bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We’ll be gracious and patient in the same way that Jesus has persevered and being gracious and patient with us. Maybe this is what the Lord is saying, and maybe this is what the Lord wants to do in me and us for His glory.
A Prayer for God to Help Us
Let’s pray together. Father, we humble ourselves before you, Lord. We’ve heard your word, God, and we ask for your help. We pray, Lord, that you would heal us and uproot from us, Lord, this tribal Christianity, God. We pray, Lord God, that you would continue to make us the beautiful, compelling picture of the Kingdom, that you would make us as compelling to the world around us as Jesus was compelling to tax collectors in senate. We pray, God, that you would change and reverse the reputation of your church, not to us, not to us God, but to your name be the glory, for your renowned, for the sake of your name. Would you, Holy Spirit, do surgery, surgery in our hearts?
Make us more like Jesus. Father, I pray for anybody here watching who doesn’t know you, doesn’t have this life-giving, eternal life-giving relationship with you, Lord. I pray that you will pour out your mercy and open their eyes. You will lead them to turn from their sin and put their trust in Jesus, the only person in His work as the only sufficient sacrifice to cover their sin and reconcile them to you, Lord. Would you do that in their hearts? Right now, we pray this in Jesus name. Amen.