Listen to Jesus
If you have ever visited another country, you know that there are ways of doing things which are different. For example, when I went to Paraguay, one of the things I knew I would have to do was to drink terere. I was a little concerned about this because I did not know or understand the culture of terere. My hosts were very gracious and explained that sharing a bombilla was not a problem and that when I had had enough it was acceptable to say thank you and stop participating. In thousands of ways, we have learned to live in our world and many of the practices and habits of that world are taken for granted by us because we grow up in a culture and understand that culture and its ways.
When we become Christians, we become members of another culture. We become members of the kingdom of God. When that happens it is like going to another country and we need to adopt a different worldview - God’s worldview. The question is, “does God’s worldview fit with the worldview we have been living under all our life?” “What do we need to change in order to live with God’s worldview?”
In Mark 9:2, Jesus took three of his disciples up onto a high mountain. There he was transfigured before them and his garments shone whiter than any washing machine or any detergent could make them. Moses and Elijah appeared before them and Jesus was talking with them. The disciples were stunned because they could not understanding what was happening and Peter in his inimitable way suggested that he would build three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Peter didn’t know what he was talking about because by suggesting this he was putting Jesus, Elijah and Moses on the same level. He didn’t understand that a change of worldviews was taking place. Jesus was not on the same level as Moses and Elijah and right away a cloud came over them and a voice came out of the cloud from heaven to explain what was happening. God spoke and made it clear that Jesus was superior to Moses and Elijah. Jesus was and is the Son of God and as one who was superior to any who had gone before, God commanded the disciples, “Listen to Him!”
Since a change of worldview has taken place the way to discover how to live in the kingdom of God is by listening to Jesus. What an appropriate statement for the disciples of Jesus then and now. In the chapter that follows, the public healing and teaching ministry of Jesus began to change primarily to a time of teaching the disciples. In each of the stories which follow, Jesus took time to instruct his disciples on what it meant to be members of His kingdom. In each of the stories normal human thinking was revealed and Jesus instructed his disciples on the way in which they should live as members of the kingdom of God and so divine thinking was revealed. The worldview of the kingdom of Heaven was declared. Since we are members of that kingdom, we need to think about these things as well. We need to listen to Jesus. We need to understand divine thinking and compare it to the world’s way of thinking which permeates our thinking so much that we are not even aware of it.
We will not fully explain the rest of the verses we are looking at today, but we will focus on this one thing. We will think about and contrast human thinking and divine thinking in each of the seven accounts found here. Each is important and stands alone as a lesson on divine thinking, but more than anything, I would like to challenge us to open our eyes to be able to see and consider how our thinking is impacted by the world’s thinking and to open our hearts to be able to receive God’s way.
I. The Path to Victory - 9:9-13
As they came down the mountain, Jesus told them not to relate this experience until after his resurrection. They didn’t know what He was talking about. Having seen Elijah and trying to process the experience and the information, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Malachi 4:5, 6 predicted the coming of Elijah to prepare the way for Messiah. Jesus responded that Elijah had come, by which he meant that John the Baptist was Elijah and had prepared things. But he had not restored all things and his life had ended in suffering. Then Jesus said something puzzling. He said, “Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected?”
What is this interchange all about? The disciples were engaged in human thinking, in which they hoped that Elijah would come and “restore all things.” They were hoping for a great and clear victory of God. Jesus’ question forced them to think about divine things. In God’s plan, victory does not always come by power and by everything going right in this world. Victory often comes through suffering and death. That is the way in which Jesus brought victory and it was a theme which repeated itself. But the disciples could not understand this message of victory through suffering. Whenever Jesus announced that he would die before he rose to victory, they were troubled and puzzled. They didn’t get it because they were thinking human thoughts.
We continue to think in similar ways. We also wonder why everything doesn’t go perfectly. We also wonder why there has to be suffering. If God has won, why do we have all this trouble? Divine thinking helps us understand that sometimes the victory of God comes through suffering so that His resurrection power is demonstrated. When we go through hardship we need to learn to think divine thoughts instead of human thoughts and see where God is at work bringing resurrection out of death.
II. Faith in God - 9:14-29
As Jesus and the three disciples met the other disciples, they found them in the middle of a dispute. A man had brought his son to the disciples for healing. The boy had a spirit in him that made him mute and also threw him into convulsions. The disciples were unable to heal the man. Jesus inquired about what happened, asked the man about his son and promptly healed him.
As the incident closed, Jesus was together with his disciples again and they were alone and we once again realize that this is teaching time. The disciples asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” It must have been quite puzzling for them because they had in the past driven out demons. What went wrong? One possibility is that they had fallen into human thinking. Perhaps they thought that they could drive out the demons by their words. The phrase, “only by prayer” suggests that they had not brought God into the picture. In human thinking, we fall into one of several errors. One is that we think we possess the power to call God into action, especially if we have had some success in doing so in the past. Another human way of thinking is that we believe that God acts if we do the right things or say the right words. Some translations have added the word, “and fasting” which conveys exactly the wrong kind of idea. It suggests that if we do the right things, God will act.
Divine thinking is clearly evident in the whole story. It is evident in the exchange between the man and Jesus. How is the boy to be healed? The man must believe. How much faith must the man have? He admits that he does not have much faith, but Jesus assures him that his small, weak faith is enough. Geddert writes, “Faith is measured in degrees of genuineness, not in degrees of certainty.” How does faith act? It acts when we ask God. Prayer and faith are the keys to God acting. We cannot manipulate God and we cannot act without God. God acts when we ask Him and when we trust Him. Our faith must be a faith in Him, not in what He will do for us so that our wishes are fulfilled. That is divine thinking.
Once again, it speaks loudly to our own situation. We struggle with the same things and need to learn the same method of divine thinking. Geddert writes, “’Thinking divine thoughts’ means trusting in the unlimited power of God, and humbly asking for increased faith.”
III. Servant Attitude - 9:30-37
As Jesus travels on through Galilee with his face set resolutely to Jerusalem, he announces once again that he will be betrayed, killed and will rise again. Once again the disciples do not understand. Yet these thoughts prompt them to think about the kingdom of God. As they do so, their thoughts are once again permeated by human ways of thinking. The text indicates that they were arguing about “who was greatest.” With Peter, James and John having just had the privilege of being up the mountain with Jesus alone, they may have thought that they were special to Jesus more than the others and could claim positions of honor in the kingdom. Yet even as they discussed these things, they knew that there was something wrong with this thinking because when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, they were silent.
Once again Jesus is teaching his disciples the way of divine thinking. He says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
As we hear this, we need to be careful that we don’t misunderstand what Jesus was saying and fall into another form of human thinking. I don’t think that Jesus was providing a strategy for greatness. It would be easy to begin to think, “If I am the best servant and serve the most people, I can look forward to a great position eventually.” I believe that when Jesus takes a little child and lifts him up as an example to them he is telling His disciples that the way of the kingdom is simply a way of servanthood. It isn’t about hierarchy or position, but about being a servant.
Jean Vanier is the founder of the international movement of L'Arche communities where people who have developmental disabilities and the friends who assist them create homes and share life together. From what I know of these communities, the underlying attitude is servanthood, without position, reward or greatness. That kind of service is an example of divine thinking about how we should live.
IV. Belonging - 9:38-41
Addressing Jesus as teacher, the disciples begin to understand that they are in a learning environment. Once again, John speaks words in which we can recognize human thinking. We don’t know when this happened, but possibly in reaction to the instruction on welcoming Jesus like a little child. John is reminded of a man who had been casting out demons in Jesus name but who was not one of the disciples who had been specifically trained and sent out to do the mission of Jesus. The human thinking of John is exclusive. The Good News Bible translates, “we told him to stop, because he doesn’t belong to our group.” He was thinking that if someone is not part of our group, they don’t belong and don’t have a right to do something in the name of Jesus.
Jesus once again points to divine thinking and expands their thinking about who belongs to the kingdom of God. Jesus says, “…whoever is not against us is for us…”
What are the implications of this kind of thinking for us? We easily fall into the human way of thinking, by which we build boundaries to identify who belongs and who does not. If we read this passage carefully we will see that Jesus does not even draw a line or establish any kind of a boundary. Setting boundaries about who is in and who is not is a human way of thinking. Jesus does not speak in terms of who is in and who is out. Jesus speaks in terms of who is around Him. To use mathematical terms, human thinking means to think in terms of a bounded set. What is in the set belongs and what is outside of the set does not belong. Divine thinking, the thinking of Jesus is to think rather of a centered set. It is to ask, “Who is near Jesus and moving towards him?” Geddert says, “Jesus is in the middle, and true inclusion in Jesus’ circle involves positioning oneself ‘around Jesus.’”
He also says, “The disciples are exclusionary; Jesus is inclusionary. They want to protect their prerogatives; he wants to see God’s reign established. They are thinking ‘human thoughts’; Jesus is calling them to think ‘divine thoughts.”
This passage challenges our thinking about who belongs. Whenever we begin to think about who belongs or does not because they are “Mennonite” or “evangelical” we are engaged in the same human thinking as John.
We need to understand that divine thinking is not wishy washy. To live around Jesus means that we still hold a solid grasp on the truth of the gospel. But divine thinking also recognizes that we must be humble enough to recognize that we may not have all the truth and we must also be gracious and accepting of others with differences.
V. Influence - 9:42-50
As the teaching conversation continues, we come to a passage that certainly has some difficulties to it. It is clear that hyperbole is involved. I am quite sure that Jesus would not want us to engage in self harm. There is much that is important to learn in this passage, but as we are following one particular train of thought, I would simply like to pick up one aspect of human thinking and recognize in its place one aspect of divine thinking. Verses 42 and 50 present to us the themes of influence.
Human thinking would be such that we would consider our actions as no body’s business, but ours alone. We think, “I can do as I please because I don’t have to answer for myself to anyone else.” Yet divine thinking forces us to realize that we do have an influence on others. If our way of living has an impact on others that causes them to stumble, we will be held accountable for that. God will, in fact, judge us for the harmful influence we have on others. Our words, our actions and the living out of our faith have an influence on others that is not to be ignored. The next section talks about how we may ourselves be caused to stumble by our own body. It reminds us that being an influence on others begins with the kind of a life we live. If our life is not lived in obedience to God then we will hardly be able to be an influence on others. Geddert says, “The point is that there are activities we engage in, places we go, and things we see, that can become sources of temptation. Using graphic hyperbole, Jesus says, ‘cut it off.’” The mention of salt in verse 50, although admittedly a little puzzling, has at least this same lesson in it. Salt is an influencer and we are called to be influencers for good. Recognizing our influence and choosing to make it positive is divine thinking.
VI. Marriage - 10:1-12
Chapter ten continues the teaching of Jesus in regards to divine thinking.
These verses do not give us the Bible’s entire teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage and we will not develop that theme today. We will also not develop the entire Biblical teaching on these things, rather, we will continue to see how this lesson helps us discern between human and divine thinking.
The question which the Pharisees asked was, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife.” There are at least two aspects of human thinking present in this question. First of all, the Pharisees were asking, “what is the rule?” and “How close can I get to the edge before I break the rule?” They were also wondering if it was OK for a man who found another woman to divorce his wife so that he could pursue this other woman. In other words, they wanted to know, “how can I get away with adultery?”
Jesus answers with divine thinking when he speaks about God’s intention for marriage. He answers the question of permission to leave a marriage to pursue another relationship by pointing out that this is not what God wants for marriage. The intention of marriage is that a man and a woman will become one flesh and in that one flesh union, they are joined together by God. If they separate from that one flesh relationship, they break what God has intended and are guilty of the sin of adultery. Geddert says, “Jesus is then insisting that God calls for marital faithfulness; he does not permit legal games to justify sin.”
But woven into this answer is another aspect of divine thinking. Just as the Pharisees were asking, “what is the rule” Jesus points to another way of thinking of the kingdom of God which He is bringing in. Jesus points away from rule to intention. What was God thinking? How has God spoken in order to bring us to life? Divorce breaks relationship which violates God’s intention of peace, harmony and blessing. The problem of living by rules is that it has inherent in it the danger of trying to see how close to the edge we can get and also of judging others who do not measure up to our interpretation of the rules. Divine thinking invites us rather to learn to think with the mind of God, to learn God’s intentions and rather than living by rules, we need to learn to live by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Geddert writes, “Thinking human thoughts leads to justifying lust and sexual sin, seeking easy ways out of challenging situations, and playing games with texts. Thinking divine thoughts means looking for God’s true intentions, resisting temptations to sin, and living lives of purity and integrity.”
VII. Welcoming the Vulnerable - 10:13-16
In the final section we have the well known incident in which people were bringing children to Jesus. Children are enthusiastic. You can’t control all of their actions and movements. They are curious, honest and see things the way they are. If you have a great person in the room, children just don’t belong. They should be seen and not heard because one must maintain a certain decorum and order and children by their very nature destroy that. That is human thinking and may be the kind of thinking which the disciples held as they chased the children away and told their parents that they were not welcome there.
But by this time, we already know that Jesus’ thinking, divine thinking, is different. We already know that Jesus welcomes children. How could the disciples have so quickly forgotten what Jesus said in 9:37 when he said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.” Once again Jesus speaks not only about welcoming the kingdom, but points once again to the way into the kingdom, which is not by meeting formal guidelines or dressing in the proper way, or passing muster. Everyone who welcomes Jesus, with a simple and profound faith is welcomed into the presence of Jesus. As we read this, we should not only read this in reference to children, but in reference to all those who are vulnerable. Jesus welcomes all and blesses all He welcomes.
May we embrace the weak and vulnerable in Jesus name.
In Philippians 2:5 Paul says, “…your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus.” Romans 12:2 calls us to be transformed with a renewed mind. This passage helps us understand some of the details of that transformed thinking. The stories in this section reveal our human thinking and when we read about these ways of thinking we have to admit that such thinking is not far from any one of us. Therefore it is important that we engage in thinking that is transformed. We need to always be evaluating what is human thinking and what is divine thinking. We can do so well by continuing to engage the Word of God daily in our lives so that our minds will be filled with divine thinking. How thankful I am that we are not called to divine thinking with human power. The Spirit of God indwells us and we can learn and live divine thinking in His power. May we all adopt the thinking that is based on our Father in heaven each day of our life.