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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on April 17, 2016 under 2016 |

Message preached Sunday, April 17, 2016 from Mark 9:49-50

Theme: To have the impact the Lord wants us to have in this hostile world, we must keep distinct as His followers.

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

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We come this morning to the end of the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark—and particularly to the two very remarkable verses at the end of that chapter.

It may be interesting for you to know that most of the commentaries I have consulted consider these two verses to be among the most difficult to understand and interpret in the whole Gospel of Mark. You yourself may have read them before, and have been perplexed by them. In them, the Lord Jesus says a couple of seemingly strange things—and here, I’m going to read them as they are found in the New King James version; which itself may be slightly different than the translation you’re using:

“For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another” (Mark 9:49-50).

But as strange as those words may initially sound to our ears, I believe that—with some careful reflection together—we can grasp what Jesus meant for us to understand by them. And when we do indeed understand them, I believe we’ll discover one of the most important calls to distinctive Christian living you’ll find in the Bible.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I think it might help to clarify this passage if I begin by telling you a little of my own experience in coming to Christ. It may be an experience you can relate to.

As many of you have heard before, I grew up in a good, stable, loving family. But it was not a family in which the Christian faith was particularly emphasized. I didn’t grow up going to church, or hearing the stories of the Bible, or having a lot of Christian friends and Christian influences. We had a picture of Jesus on the wall of our home; and I have that picture in my home today. I treasure it. But that picture was pretty much the only consistent reminder of the Christian faith I had. In fact, for most of my growing up years, I didn’t believe in God at all; and my unbelief fit in quite comfortably with my surrounding world.

But in August of 1973, I heard a clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ; and I placed my faith in Jesus and believed on Him as my Savior. Almost immediately, everything began to change in me. My attitude began to change—because whereas I was hopeless and despondent before, I had a growing sense of joy and an increasing hope for eternity. My appetite for spiritual things began to change too—because whereas I was only interested in dark stories and occult literature before, I began to crave reading the Bible and learning more about the doctrines of the Christian faith. My way of talking began to experience a dramatic change—because whereas before I prided myself in having a very dirty mouth, I began to repent of my use of curse words and foul jokes. A lot of things began to change very dramatically after I received Jesus as my Savior.

One of the areas of change that I noticed the most, though—and that truly surprised and saddened me—had to do with the people from that surrounding ‘unbelieving’ world. It was in the way other people, who were formerly close to me, began to oppose my new faith and alienate me from themselves. When I began to talk about what had happened in my life, I began to lose friends that I had for almost all my growing up years. I found that they weren’t interested in doing things with me anymore; and I began to feel very lonely and rejected. Some of those friends were pretty harsh about it too. I remember one summer when my parents went out to the mailbox and found that various pornographic magazines began arriving to our home in my name. Apparently, some of those old friends began subscribing me to them in order to mock my faith. I got labeled a ‘Jesus-Freak’ throughout high school. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t exactly sure what a ‘Jesus-Freak’ was; but I knew that it wasn’t mean it as a compliment.

On one occasion, I was in my bedroom—sitting on my bed in my bare feet, reading my Bible—when some of those old friends came by. They said they came by to ‘kidnap’ me and take me out somewhere; and my folks gladly let them in—thinking it was all just good fun. These friends came in, grabbed me as I was, literally carried me out to their car on their shoulders, threw me in, and off we went—although I could tell that there was something very unfriendly in it all. They drove for a little while, stopped by the side of the road, shoved me out of the car, and—without a word—drove away. I had to walk for about a mile across the gravel in my bare feet and t-shirt to get home. My feet were sore and my body was chilly; but what hurt most of all was the animosity from my friends. I never heard much from them again after that.

Shortly afterward, I began attending a very good, evangelical Presbyterian church down the road; and in that church, I found a new set of friends who supported my new-found faith. But the regular habit of attending church brought a new wave of tension and pressure—this time from my parents. To be honest—because I was completely new to the Christian faith, and was largely on my own in growing in it—I’m very sure that I didn’t represent my new faith to my family very well. But I began to be subject to very long, very painful, very heated talks about what hypocrites Christians are and what crooks their pastors were. I think that the effort was to ‘shame’ me out of following what was perceived to be a ‘cult’. I remember long nights lying on my bed in my room—deeply brokenhearted and frustrated about those talks. I think my parents were trying—in their way—to do me some kind of good. But it was one of the most awful periods of my life.

Now; I hope you know that I love my family and past friends, and mean absolutely no disrespect to any of them. I’m grateful for them. And also please know that I haven’t said any of this to solicit sympathy. I really don’t deserve any sympathy at all. My story’s not all that bad. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have gone through far, far worse. Some—even as we speak—are paying for their faith with their very lives. But I tell you those hard memories from my story for one reason only. I only mean to show that those very difficult trials—those very painful attempts, if I may put it this way, to ‘derail’ us from faith, or to turn us from a whole-hearted devotion to Jesus Christ, or to shame us into us ‘blending in’ with this world—are actually permitted by God and are used by Him to test the sincerity of our faith, and to prove that faith to be the real thing. Here I am today—still following Jesus, and stronger in my faith for it all! Praise God!

The apostle Peter put it this way, when He wrote to some persecuted Christians:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:6-9).

And I believe that that—for me, anyway—shines a lot of light on what Jesus is talking about in this morning’s passage.

* * * * * * * * * *

Look again at it with me. Do you see the word “for” at the beginning of verse 49? That’s to let you know that whatever Jesus was saying in verses 49-50 had to do with what He had already said in the verses that preceded them. And in those preceding verses, He had been talking about “offenses” or “stumbling blocks”—that is, those occasions when a follower of Jesus is tempted to fall off the path of faithfulness or obedience to Him.

He had been holding a little child in His arms. And in verse 42, He spoke of how we had better never try to turn one of those little ones away from Him, or cause them to stumble from Him:

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea” (v. 42).

Pretty serious words, eh? But He also speaks in verses 43-48, with an equal kind of seriousness, about those things that we let in our own lives that may cause us to stumble in our own walk with Him:

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where

Their worm does not die

And the fire is not quenched.’

And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where

‘Their worm does not die,

And the fire is not quenched.’

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—where

Their worm does not die

And the fire is not quenched’” (vv. 43-48).

So you can see that Jesus is speaking about the serious matter of “stumbling blocks” or “offenses” to the Christian faith—first the ones that we may cause in the life of another, and second the ones that we might bring upon ourselves. And I believe He is still talking about “offenses” in the two verses at the end of Chapter 9—but this time, about the offenses to our faith that we will receive from the influences and pressures of the unbelieving world that surrounds us:

For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another” (Mark 9:49-50).

Those times of opposition and pressure—those trying times of “fire”—will come upon all of us who seek to follow Jesus. As the apostle Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12; “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” That’s something that, in this fallen world, you can count on. But those times of “fire”—as it turns out—are permitted by our sovereign Lord to refine and purify our faith. And what I believe the Lord Jesus wants us to know from these two verses at the end of Chapter 9 is that—rather than being made to stumble because of them—we need to allow our distinctiveness as His followers to shine through because of them.

To have the impact the Lord wants us to have in this hostile world, we must keep distinct as His followers. And to some degree, that’s what those “fiery trials” help bring about—a sanctified “distinction”.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; look closer with me at verse 49 and see what it tells us about . . .


In the translation I am using, we’re told that Jesus said, “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt” (v. 49). In the verses that preceded this one, Jesus mentioned “fire” several times. And in those cases, He meant ‘the fire of eternal judgment in hell’. But I don’t believe He’s talking about that kind of fire in this verse. I believe that, here, He’s talking about the kind of fire that the apostle Peter spoke of in the passage I read earlier—the kind of fire that refines our faith and proves its worth.

I was praying about this passage the other day. I felt that—just like the commentators I had read were saying—it is a very hard passage to understand. But as I was reading in my daily personal time in the Scriptures, I ran across these words from the Lord Jesus in Luke 12:46-52; and I thought to myself, “There it is! That explains what Jesus is talking about!” Jesus said;

“I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Luke 12:49-53).

The Son of God has walked into the realm of humankind; and now every human being must make a decision about Him. And because He places a high demand of complete obedience and total sacrifice upon those who would be His disciples, those who hear His call and follow Him will suffer persecution from those who wont. His having come into this world has made divisions in what are usually the most indivisible aspects of ordinary human relationships. He came, He said, to create division! That was the “fire” He came to send on the earth.

And those difficult choices we must now make—to love Him more than even father or mother, or more than even son or daughter, or more than material comfort, or success, or possessions, or reputation, or a peaceful existence, or even our own life itself—is a big part of the daily world in which we must now live. It can easily tempt you to stumble from a walk with Him, or to turn away from Him, or even just to live a double life. But it’s by that fire that the Lord Jesus purifies and refines our faith, and shows to the world that we really are His. It’s how we are “seasoned” and “flavored” in our walk with Him.

You’ll notice that, in the translation I have used, there’s a second half to that verse. Some of you are using a translation that doesn’t contain it. It’s where it goes on to say, “and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” That’s a quote from Leviticus 2:13; where the Jewish people were told, “With all your offerings you shall offer salt.” Most New Testament scholars believe that those words are not in the original text of Mark’s Gospel. It seems that some copyists in ancient times wrote those words off to the side of verse 49, sort of as an explanation of what this verse might mean—and it ended up, over time, getting copied in as part of the text.

But to tell you the truth, I don’t think it’s a bad explanation of the first half of that verse. The apostle Paul once wrote that we are to present ourselves to God as “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1). And just as the Old Testament law required that all sacrifices be purified by the addition of salt, so we—as a holy sacrifice to God through Christ—must also be purified with the fire of the trials we receive from a hostile world.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; that’s our experience in this world. We shouldn’t be surprised by it. Jesus Himself said that it would be so in several places in the Gospels. The apostle Peter once wrote about it and said, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing were happening to you . . . “ (1 Peter 4:12). And even the experience of our suffering fellow Christians around the world also confirms this to us.

But knowing that this is to be our experience in a hostile world leads us next consider . . .


If we succumb to the pressures of a world that is hostile to our faith—if we seek to hide our allegiance to Jesus in order to avoid suffering for Him, or let the world push us out of the path of obedience He leads us on, or just seek to live like the rest of the people in this world who do not follow Him—then we lose our distinctiveness as His followers. And when we lose our distinctiveness, we lose our ability to impact this world for Him. Jesus put it this way: “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it?” (v. 50a).

Now; think carefully about this. “Salt”, He said, “is good.” And indeed it is. Think of what salt does. For one thing, it is that which helps arrest decay and putrification in certain things. In ancient times—because there were no refrigerators or freezers—salt was applied to meat to keep it from spoiling. Salt was also used to promote healing in wounds. It left a burning sensation in the wound, of course; but it also prevented infection. Salt was also used to cleanse. The Bible tells us that when a brand new baby was born, the midwife would gently rub the baby’s body with salt. And of course, salt adds zest and flavor to bland foods. Personally, that’s my all-time favorite “good” that salt does. I can’t stand the thought of French Fries without it!

And did you know that that’s what Jesus says that His redeemed people are on this earth? (‘Salt’ I mean; not ‘French Fries’.) The church—the community of His followers—are the “salt” of this world When His people live faithfully and distinctively before Him, they do all those good things for the world that salt does. They stand in the way of moral corruption and evil, and prevent this world from suffering complete decay because of sin. They bring about healing and cleansing because of the damage that sin has caused in this world, and help to make the lives of people better. And they bring about flavor and zest into this world by the joyful news of the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. This world would be a rotten, infected, bland place if it weren’t for the fact that Jesus left His church upon it—the salt of the earth.

You might remember that Jesus once talked about this in the Sermon on the Mount. But do you remember what He said? He told His followers;

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

When we respond wrongly to the fire of trials we suffer for our faith—when we allow those trials to make us stumble; and when we cease to be the distinct people that Jesus Christ calls us to be as His followers; when we hide our faith, surrender to the pressures to sin, and become just like everyone else—then we lose our effectiveness as “the salt of this earth”.

People sometimes say that the church is “irrelevant” in our times. Personally, I don’t believe that. If it seems as if we’re not “relevant” anymore, it’s because we’ve become too much like the world, and have lost our distinction. Resist the temptation to be silent about your faith, and live for Jesus Christ with bold and joyful openness and obedience in this world, and believe me—the kingdom of the devil won’t call you “irrelevant” anymore! I don’t mean to be gross about it; but you’ll end up being about as relevant as salt is to a slug!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; after having stressed our Lord’s emphasis on our need to be distinct (and while you’re still trying to get over that ‘salt on a slug’ comment), let me point out one more thing that Jesus says. He points out to us . . .


In the later half of verse 50, Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.” (v. 50b). These are two imperatives—two commands from our Lord. And it is are our responsibility to obey them. He does not promise that He will put salt in us; but rather commands us to “have salt in ourselves”. And He does not tell us that He will bring about peace in us with each other; but rather orders us to “have peace with one another.”

Now; consider that first command—to have “salt” in ourselves. How is it that we keep from becoming salt that has lost its saltiness? I believe it is by making sure that we always keep in mind that we are the salt of the earth—and that we make it our resolve to be the world’s purifying, and cleansing, and flavoring agents through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I believe that one of the best ways to make this happen is to simply obey our Lord’s commands. Study the Scripture, learn His will, and do as He says! In the Sermon on The Mount, He warned of what will happen with those who profess to follow Him, but who do not obey Him. He said;

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matthew 7:21-27).

Elsewhere, He asked, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). The key to our distinctiveness in this world as His followers is our obedience to His commands. So; I would strongly suggest that we “have salt in ourselves” by devoting ourselves to humble, loving, Holy Spirit-empowered obedience to our Lord’s command! We truly “flavor” the world when we (1) know what God says, (2) do what God says, and (3) proclaim what God says.

And you’ll notice that He adds another command to that. He says, “and have peace with one another” (v. 50b). I believe that this might be because this whole discussion that He had with His disciples had started because they were arguing amongst themselves over which of them was the “greatest”. They certainly weren’t having a very “peace-making” attitude toward each other. But I believe that there is something else very strategic in this. It shows the world that we truly belong to Him.

For one thing, we are saved for the purpose of this unity. Our unity and peace together is a part of our “calling” in Christ. As the apostle Paul put it in Colossians 3:15;

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful (Colossians 3:15).

That’s not talking about having an attitude of “inner-peace” within ourselves; but rather about having a state of relational peace with one another. And more than just being what we’re called to, our state of peace with one another is also a key part of our role as “salt” in that it provides the world a clear proof that we really do belong to Jesus. He said;

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

That’s one of the greatest arguments we can offer to this world for the defense of the reality of the Christian faith—when we truly love one another!

* * * * * * * * * *

So; dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s not let the trials of opposition we feel from this world cause us to stumble. Let’s not let those trials rob us of our distinction in this world as Jesus’ followers. In fact, let’s let those trials be used by God to refine us, and season us, so that we become effective as “salt” on this earth.

As dear pastor James put it in James 1:2-4;

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4).

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