Print This Page Print This Page

‘ON OUR SIDE’ – Mark 9:38-41

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on March 6, 2016 under 2016 |

Message preached Sunday, February 21, 2016 from Mark 9:38-41

Theme: Jesus teaches us to view anyone who works favorably in His name as ‘on our side’

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

I was told once about a sad story in the history of our church family. I’m not really sure who was involved, or what the specific details were. But it’s a story the gist of which makes me wince every time I think of it.

Several decades ago, as I’m told, there were some repairs being done to the church building. Specifically, it involved repairs being done to a doorway. And as our church has always depended on volunteer help, a family member of someone who was attending the church at the time—a relative who was an unbeliever—was doing a lot of work to help repair this particular doorway. In a way, I think it’s rather ironic that it was a doorway; because a doorway in a church should communicate the idea of ‘welcome’. But as this gentleman was graciously giving his time to help out and was working hard with the repairs, the man who was the pastor at the time came by, saw him working, and told him something like this: “Now, you know; this wont earn you salvation.”

To be fair, I think the pastor was trying to use the occasion to introduce this man to the gospel. And of course, what the pastor said was true. Doing ‘good deeds’ will never get anyone into heaven. That can only happen by placing our faith in the work our Savior did for us on the cross. But as true as the statement is, the pastor nevertheless showed insensitivity and a lack of gratitude in the way he said it. As a result, that man—who had been giving generously of his time and energy to help out the church—lost interest in the gospel and never set foot in the church building again.

I have thought of that story often. And in all honesty, I’ve probably blown it many times myself. I’m sure I have ruined some good opportunities to welcome someone through the doorway into a closer relationship with Jesus, simply because I treated them as ‘outside the group’. Maybe as a believer, you wince when you hear that story too—not only because it’s painful to hear, but also because you’ve done the same sort of thing yourself a time or two.

That regretful story came to my mind once again this week as I studied this morning’s passage. You’ll find it in the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel.

Jesus was in a house in Capernaum with His twelve disciples. He had just taught a very important and very powerful lesson to them. He had picked up a small child, held him or her in His arms, and told them;

Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me” (Mark 9:37).

And it was then—perhaps because of hearing those words about “receiving” others—that John remembered something that had happened not long before. Mark 9:38-41 tells us;

Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:38-41).

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; before we look closer at it, let’s be careful to understand what this passage is not teaching us. First, this passage is not teaching us that someone can earn their salvation by doing good works for Jesus. In that respect, the pastor in the story I was telling you earlier was absolutely correct. The Bible is very clear on this. We are only saved by God’s grace through faith in the cross of Jesus—and by not by our good works. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

And very much related to that, we shouldn’t think that this passage is saying that it doesn’t matter what people believe. That’s been something that people have been fond of saying in our day—that ‘what you do is more important than what you believe‘. But that’s a spiritually dangerous idea. In terms of God’s plan of salvation, it makes all the difference what you believe. The Bible teaches us that what we believe about Jesus is the primary thing; and that what we do is to be the secondary result of what we believe. As the apostle Paul put it in Titus 2:11-14;

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).

So; we need to understand that Jesus is not teaching us in this passage that it doesn’t matter whether or not someone believes on Him, or that they can earn salvation by doing good deeds. But I do believe this passage is telling us (and I hope I am saying this carefully) that the doing of good deeds in the name of Jesus may be—in the sovereign and providential grace of God our Savior—an important part of the process He graciously uses to draw someone toward a true saving faith in Himself.

And you and I need to be aware of that—and be careful not to hinder that process.

I believe that the Lord Jesus is teaching us, in this passage, to have a welcoming attitude toward anyone who desires to work favorably in His name, and to view them as ‘on our side’.

That’s quite a remarkable thing, isn’t it? I suspect that it’s a lesson that’s especially hard for a church such as ours to accept. As a congregation, we all care very much about biblical truth, and about the integrity of the gospel. We want people to know that there is—indeed—only one ‘doorway’ into salvation; and that doorway is through faith in Jesus alone. It may be that we can be so protective of those important things, though, that we actually stand in the way of how Jesus might be drawing someone to Himself through that door of faith. They may not have walked through the doorway yet. But it may be that they know that doorway is important; and that they want to show respect and honor toward it. And we need to make sure that we view anyone whose heart is inclined toward Him, not as an outsider, but as someone who is growing to explore and investigate the wonderful Savior that we know and love. We need to be welcoming toward them—no matter how slowly or imperfectly they may be inching their way in His direction.

* * * * * * * * * *

Let’s look at this passage together; and first notice the mistake that John made. Let’s consider . . .


I read one commentator who called this the story of ‘the Strange Exorcist’. Mark tells us in verse 38 that the apostle John came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”

If you’re like me, you have lots of questions about this. First of all, when did this happen? It might be that it happened as the disciples walked along with Jesus in their most recent trip—as they journeyed down from Cesarea Philippi, and from the Mount of Transfiguration experience, and on down to Capernaum. Perhaps the fame of Jesus had begun to spread, and this man was trying to cast a demon out of someone in the name of this ‘Jesus’ that everyone is talking about. Or perhaps it happened at the time, not long back, when Jesus had sent the apostles out two by two to preach about Him—giving them the authority to heal and cast demons out in His name. Perhaps John saw someone trying to do this in Jesus’ name; and he tried to stop the man because he thought that only the apostles had been authorized to do that. I tend to think it was a recent event that may even have still been going on, because Jesus told John and the others not to hinder the man.

Another question I had was whether or not the man who was caught casting a demon out in Jesus’ name was successful in his efforts. And amazingly enough, it appears that—at least to some degree—he was. John didn’t say that he saw someone merely trying to cast out a demon, but that he saw the man actually doing it. Even Jesus seemed to refer to the man as someone ‘who works a miracle’ in His name.

And that has led me to ask what John’s motive was in trying to stop the man. Was it because of pride? Was it because he didn’t want anyone else doing anything in the name of Jesus but he and his fellow apostles? Was it out of a sense of having ‘exclusive ownership’ of Jesus? There’s a story in the Old Testament that may suggest to us what John’s motive was. It’s a story in the life of Moses; and it seems remarkably similar to this one. It’s the story of how God appointed seventy elders to minister with Moses; and of how the Holy Spirit came upon that official group of seventy and they prophesied around the tabernacle. We’re told;

But two men had remained in the camp: the name of one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them. Now they were among those listed, but who had not gone out to the tabernacle; yet they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” So Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, one of his choice men, answered and said, “Moses my lord, forbid them!” Then Moses said to him, “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:26-29).

It may be that John was behaving like Joshua. It may not be that he was just jealous of someone else being used by God. It may be instead that he was sincerely ‘zealous’ for the Lord Jesus and wanted to protect the integrity of His ministry. Personally, I suspect that was the case. John and his brother James, after all, were called “Sons of Thunder” by our Lord. They often displayed great zeal for Jesus’ honor.

And that leads me to one more question. Why did John tell Jesus about it. I have to admit that I used to think that it was because John was trying to impress the Lord. I have always thought that John was saying, “Good news, Lord! We saw someone trying to do a miracle in Your name who isn’t authorized to do so; and we—Your loyal apostles—put an immediate stop to it.” That’s what I have always thought in the past, anyway.

But now, I wonder instead if John was motivated in a different way. He had just heard the Lord Jesus speak of how, if anyone receives even a little one who belong to Him, they also receive Jesus Himself. And it may be that John thought back on how they stopped that man who was doing a miracle in Jesus’ name—and now wondered if he and the others had done something terribly wrong. Perhaps he winced when he thought of it.

And if that’s the case, then I have to say that John did something very admirable. He would have heard the Lord’s teaching about receiving others; and his conscience convicted him. He would have wondered if he had committed a serious error; and he would have then told the Lord about it.

If John was guilty of being insensitive to someone that he thought was an ‘outsider’, then I’m afraid I have that in common with him. But if he was later convicted in his heart about it, then I have that in common with him as well.

* * * * * * * * * *

I love how gentle our Lord is with His errant followers; don’t you? He was gentle in how He corrected John and the others. As someone who has often erred myself, I’m very glad for that. But more; what He taught His disciples in the process was truly revolutionary!

Let’s go on now to consider . . .


After John told Jesus about the ‘strange exorcist’—the man who was outside the circle of the twelve that John forbade to cast demons out of people in Jesus name—Jesus spoke. And in the original language, He wasn’t speaking just to John. He spoke in the plural form of the verbs; addressing His words to all His apostles. He said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me.”

I believe that the Lord Jesus is teaching us an important principle here about those who are what we might consider ‘outside’ the household of faith. It’s that we shouldn’t be too quick to forbid them from participating with us in some way in the work of the kingdom; because participating in the work of Jesus’ kingdom blesses people and encourages them in having a favorable attitude toward Him. No one who works a miracle in Jesus’ name could then turn around and very quickly speak evil of Him.

There’s an interesting example of this in the New Testament. In the Book of Acts, there was a very energetic and committed husband-and-wife team named Aquila and Priscilla. They lived in Asia Minor; and they were very supportive of the ministry of the apostle Paul. No one could ever accuse them of being soft on the gospel!

But at the same time as they were ministering, they heard about another man. He was a Jewish man named Apollos. And he was an astonishing genius!—a man of brilliant intellect who had been educated in Alexandria. (Alexandria, by the way, was the Harvard of the ancient world.) He was going around to the major cities on a lecture circuit, fervently teaching—with great accuracy—the things of the Lord Jesus. But he had only a limited grasp of what he was teaching; and did not yet have enough understanding of the truth to have a saving relationship with Christ.

Priscilla and Aquila just happened to be in Ephesus; and they just happened to go to the synagogue, where they heard Apollos lecturing very boldly about the Jesus he did not yet know. But they didn’t forbid him from doing so. Instead, we’re told;

When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 18:26-28).

We read later in the New Testament about what a great servant of God and a mighty preacher of the gospel Apollos came to be. God used him greatly to advance the cause of Christ. But I shudder to think what would have happened if Aquila and Priscilla had forbade him—this unapproved intellectual—from teaching or speaking about Jesus. Instead, they were kind to him, welcoming to him, and took the time to teach him the way more accurately.

May God help us not to turn anyone down who wants to participate—in some way—in the cause of Jesus. Let’s welcome them while being sure to teach them more accurately who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Let’s do this faithfully; because no one who sincerely participates in the work of Jesus’ kingdom—and sees Him do great things as a result—will soon speak evil of Him!

* * * * * * * * * *

Jesus then went on to tell His apostles something remarkable. He put things in what we might call ‘black and white’ terms. He said, “For he who is not against us is on our side” (v. 40). This man that John spoke of—this ‘strange exorcist’ who was casting demons out of others in Jesus’ name—was not working against Jesus at all. He was not an enemy of the cause. He was working for the advancement of Jesus’ kingdom, however imperfectly he may have understood what that meant. And Jesus here gives us another principle regarding those who we might consider to be ‘outside’ the circle of faith; that whoever is not against His cause is for it.

Now; I believe that the Lord would have us treat this matter carefully. We have to make sure that when we’re talking about such folks, we’re truly talking about someone who is not against His cause. And someone can be ‘against’ His cause by intentionally holding on to and deliberately teaching a completely different doctrine about Jesus than what the Bible gives us. There have been cult groups that have taught an utterly false version of Jesus—a version that is in clear opposition to what the apostles taught us and to what the scriptures declare to us. We need to be very careful to have nothing to do with those who pretend to be partners with us but who—in reality—have an agenda that is hostile to the faithful gospel of Christ. Paul once wrote that . . .

there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:7b-9).

When it comes to such enemies of the gospel, Jesus says something else that is equally ‘black and white’. In Matthew 12:30, He said,

He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (Matthew 12:30).

Well; those are some pretty serious words; and they remind us that we must be discerning. But what about those who may be outside our particular ‘circle’, but who nevertheless hold to Jesus as He is taught in the Bible? They are not against us. They’re on our side. I believe that means we should be willing to join arms with any believing Baptist, or Methodist, or Presbyterian, or Episcopalian, or Pentecostal, or Catholic; or even someone who has no denominational connection whatsoever—someone who just wants to know more about the Jesus of the Bible. We can have a few differences on a few things here or there; and we shouldn’t feel that those difference do not matter. But when it comes to Jesus Himself as He is presented in the scriptures, “he who is not against us is on our side.”

I believe that that sort of welcoming attitude helps people from other traditions of the faith, who are sincerely seeking Jesus, to be drawn closer to Him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now to say that we ought to welcome others who wish to serve Jesus speaks of our attitude toward them. And the idea that those who are not against us are for us—that speaks of what we share in common with them.

But what about those wish to serve us—even if they are, from our perspective, standing on the ‘outside’? Jesus has something to say about that too. In verse 41, He makes this remarkable affirmation: “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” And this teaches us that even the smallest act of kindness toward Jesus’ followers—from whomever it comes—will be rewarded.

Way back in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said something very similar. As He was preparing His disciples to go out into the world to proclaim Him—and, in a sense, as He was preparing all of His followers in the centuries that would follow to do the same—He made this promise:

He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:40-42).

A cup of cold water. That isn’t much. And yet, Jesus promises to reward anyone who graciously gives even that much to one of His followers just because they belong to Him. He uses very strong terms. He says, “assuredly” or “verily, I say to you”; and whenever He uses a phrase like that, we’re meant to take His words very seriously! And then, He uses a double negative in the original language to say that they will “in no way” or “by no means” loose their reward.

Now; if Jesus would welcome and approve and reward someone who would even give no more than a cup of water to one of His followers, just because they belong to Him, then we shouldn’t be afraid to welcome and involve anyone who wants to serve Him along with us.

* * * * * * * * * *

As I said at the beginning—back when I told that story of the repairs on the church doorway—the insensitive way that poor man was treated makes me wince. It brings to mind the many times I have not been welcoming to those that Jesus may be drawing to Himself.

But I want to change. Let’s take Jesus’ instruction to heart. Let’s welcome anyone who wants to be a part of the work of Jesus’ kingdom. Let’s trust that God is using that to incline their hearts toward Him; and treat whatever it may be that He is doing in their hearts with care. Let’s always remember that, if they want to serve Jesus, then they’re on the same team with us. Let’s remember that their service is valued by the Lord; and that even the smallest act, done in sincere love for Him, will be rewarded by Him.

Let’s learn to view anyone who works favorably in His name as ‘on our side’.

  • Share/Bookmark
Site based on the Ministry Theme by eGrace Creative.