38John 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.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
When a local school’s sports team goes on an away game, the student-players are told, “Your behavior reflects on the reputation of your school and your town. You represent your school and this town. So, follow all school rules and be kind and courteous to everyone.”
When salespeople go out selling, their behavior is seen as a model of the company they represent. If the salespeople are not prompt, are lazy, do not keep commitments, then the company they represent will be seen in the same way.
Some parents get very upset about how their children behave because they feel that their children’s behavior is a reflection of them. They have a strong need to look good to others.
This need to look good to others is to speak evil of Jesus. It is to be against Jesus. It is to put a stumbling block before one of the little ones who believe in Jesus. Little ones who believe in Jesus trust him to make them look good to God. The little ones do not trust their own behavior, their own good behavior, to make themselves look good to others, especially not God. How can anyone make themselves look good to God? We are to reflect God’s goodness, not try to use some other way to look good to God. To try and look good to God is to use some other way as what we trust, as our god. We do not trust God to make us good. We do not trust God to be compassionate to us. We will show God what is good instead of God showing us what is good.
That is why the disciples wanted Jesus to stop the man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. That man was not part of the group. He was not making Jesus (or them) look good. He was making himself look good. After all, when he cast out those demons, people would thank him and praise him instead of Jesus. The disciples were jealous, for Jesus, and mostly for themselves.
Well, so are we jealous for ourselves, jealous to make ourselves look good. But when we do things to make ourselves look good, we put a stumbling block before one of the little ones who believe in Jesus. A stumbling block is a scandal, something that shocks people and turns them away. Pastors or priests who abuse children are a stumbling block and cause people to stay away from those congregations and those denominations. When someone in your congregation acts in a way that makes them look good instead of Jesus, that causes a little one who believes to trip and fall away from faith. For when we make ourselves look good, we are telling the believers around us that Jesus is not enough to make us good and that the other believers are silly to think that Jesus can help them before God.
We do need help before God. There are those demons that possess us. The demon that possesses us is the demon of looking good. That is the demon of not trusting Jesus as how we look good. The demon would say we cannot look good to God if we look like Jesus—beaten, a loser, an executed criminal. How can looking so ugly make God proud of us? God has given us a list of ways to make God proud—the list of rules and laws and commandments that we are to obey. Use them to cast out the demon of looking bad to God.
But that list of rules and laws and commandments does not work. Jesus coming to us and dying on a cross is how we know that list of rules does not work. God’s expectation of us is not limited to us choosing to do good this time, good the next time, and maybe a little bad thing the next. God’s rules put us under God’s judgment before we even do anything. God gave us rules to show us, not how to impress God, but to accuse us that we are opposed to God giving us God’s goodness. We are opposed to God by our insistence on proving ourselves good enough instead of trusting God to give us God’s care.
We see how opposed we are to God when Jesus dies on a cross. We are the ones who put Jesus on the cross. We put the Son of God on a cross, the one whom God sent to give us God’s mercy. Jesus comes to us with forgiveness and peace from God and what do we do? We kill him. We put a great millstone around his neck and throw him into the sea. We will not let him make us good to God. We will do it. We are against God’s way of saving us.
But God will not let us stop his work of mercy. God will not let us stop God’s own beloved son from giving us God’s new mercy and eternal life. God kept Jesus’ work of mercy going by raising Jesus from the dead! God raised up Jesus! The power of God to make us holy, to make us look good, is Jesus risen from the dead! Jesus on the cross means more to God than anything we do. Jesus on the cross for us means more to God than any great, popular thing we do. You are good to God because Jesus has given you himself. You look the best to God when you look like Jesus—crucified, that is, when you have faith in Jesus.
So God gives you faith in Jesus so that the work of his son Jesus is completed in you. Your boasting about what is good is changed from boasting about what you do, or complaining about someone else looking better than you by their casting out demons in Jesus’ name, your boasting is changed into boasting about Jesus. We boast of Jesus by saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son.” We boast by saying, “Lord, have mercy on me.” We boast by saying, “I forgive you in the name of Jesus.” Those are our boasts. Those are our boasts about Jesus.
As we boast about Jesus, when we see someone else not of our group doing something in Jesus’ name, we do not complain, but rejoice. We can rejoice because we are not worried about how good we are, but about how good Jesus is. And if something good is being done in Jesus’ name, they are for Jesus, not against him.
As we boast about Jesus, we then do not cause little ones who believe to stumble or be shocked at what we do. We no longer shock the little ones by trumpeting our accomplishments, our wins, our impressive work, as if Jesus is not important or worthy of trust. We act in ways that give Christ to others. We act in ways to make others look good. We act in ways that get others loved and cared for. If we have a hungry neighbor, we do not sit in our kitchen and eat well as our boast. We bring our neighbor our food and ask if we may serve him, for he, in his suffering, reminds us of the one who suffered for us. So we will honor and praise him by our care and food. If we have a mean-mouthed person at work, who curses, insults others, makes them afraid, we can sit down with him at lunch and say that he is our friend, and that he is loved by us. But we also love others around us. So you and he are going to love them together. That is how we welcome our enemy When we welcome that person in Jesus’ name, not only do we welcome Jesus, we also welcome the one who sent Jesus and raised Jesus from the dead for us God welcomes us because we have trusted Christ.
We take away the stumbling block of thinking that winning is a sign of God’s love or blessing. The mother who likes to watch the band when they win causes her kids stumble when they think that they are worth something only if they win, only if they beat someone else. But if Christ has died for us and already given us God’s love and blessing, then we can watch the band out of love for our kids. We can be kind to our kids, not because they earned it, but because Christ died for them. That does not mean the kids are free to behave however they want because they think they will still be loved. No, that does not honor or respect the love that is given. That does not treat Christ as if he died for us. Rather, to behave however we want is to mock Jesus and deny that we die with him. For to trust Jesus is to die with him, to die to doing whatever we want, and to be raised up with a new heart that gives love and mercy and serves a cup of water to those who love them because of Christ.
For Christ’s sake we do not stick out our foot of boasting and trip others. We now live by the way of serving, so that Christ is given honor.
Pastor Timothy Hoyer