As I so often tell you, I preach through the Bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter. In so doing, we end up dealing with the attractive parts of the gospel, and the not so attractive parts of the gospel. But irregardless of a particular scripture’s agreeableness, we know that all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
I suppose that I preach through the gospel verse by verse, is because I’m not smart enough to write out a series of sermons on popular topics such as loving relationships, or on God is love, or about how to live your best life now. However, I suppose that if I were really smart, I would skip right over this passage before us today and move on to chapter 10 as if nothing was amiss.
This passage and subject matter would have to be one of the most difficult to speak on in light of the attitude of our present culture, and the incongruity of speaking on such a unpopular subject of divine judgement and the punishment of hell. I’m sure that speaking on these subjects will certainly disqualify me from any popularity contest. Those of you visiting here will probably go home and tell all your friends of this horrid experience you had, when you visited a church on the beach on a really delightful morning, with the sun shining and the waves breaking and the dolphins jumping, and then this awful preacher started ranting on about hell fire and damnation. Really quite a terrible scene.
But you know what’s really weird, is that Bible scholars tell us that Jesus spoke more on hell than He did about heaven. So if you are going to preach through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, then you will have to hear a lot about hell. And so I really don’t see how we can avoid this for long. So let’s just get to it, and deal with it, as best we can.
Thankfully, this passage doesn’t start with that subject, however. It starts with the apostle John asking Jesus about someone they had seen casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and they had told him to stop doing it, because he was not one of them. It seems a bit out of context with the rest of the passage, but I think there is a thread of continuity that runs through these verses and we see it all come together at the end.
Vs. 38 John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as [followers] of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”
It’s important to read this keeping in mind that the disciples had just had an embarrassing incident which we looked at a couple of weeks ago in which they had been unable to cast out a particular nasty demon. Actually, it wasn’t so much that the demon was particularly powerful, but that the disciples had neglected to spend enough time in prayer, recognizing their utter dependence upon Jesus Christ to do any mighty works. Pride, or a lack of humility on the part of the disciples were really the problem, not the power of the demon. Remember Jesus had cast out thousands of demons that were in the demoniac of the Gerasenes. So the difficulty wasn’t the demon, the difficulty had been their lack of reliance upon God for their authority.
So then the disciples see a man casting out demons who aren’t a part of their group and they have a problem with him, perhaps due to jealousy on their part. In fact, they tried to stop him. But what they failed to pick up on was that this man was not some Jewish exorcist, he was casting out demons by the name of Jesus Christ. In other words, this man was a believer in Jesus Christ. He was working the works of God through the power of Jesus Christ. That’s what it means when Jesus said, “in my name.” In the power and authority of Jesus Christ. And he could only do that because he was a believer in Christ. Just because he wasn’t a member of the 12, didn’t mean that he was not a disciple of Jesus.
And Jesus speaks to that, saying, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us.” The key to understanding that saying is that this man was working “in My name,” or “in Jesus name.” The power of Christ works in us that believe in Him to bring about any righteousness that we do. Our ability to live the Christian life lies not in our power of discipline, or our power of self control, but in having given our life to Christ, so that the power of Christ lives in Me. That’s what it means to be saved, to be born again, it’s to have new life in Christ, Christ living in me. That’s what Paul speaks of in 2Co 12:9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
And that power of Christ in us is the reason that we do good works. As Paul says in Eph 2:10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
Now there is a special significance to that phrase, “in My name,” or “in Christ’s name.” What it means is that it is true to the gospel of Christ, it is according to the truth of Christ, it is by the authority of Christ, it is in the power of Christ. Jesus, as the Son of God, omnipotently knew that this man was speaking the truth of Christ and working in the genuine authority and power of Christ. We may see someone today who claims to be speaking and working in the power of Christ but we may wonder if the person is truly representing correctly the gospel of Christ. And sometimes that is a justifiable concern. Because the devil often masquerades as an angel of light, as we are told in the scripture.
So we have to balance this admonition of Jesus to not hinder someone who is preaching in Jesus name on the one hand, with another admonition against those who claim the name of Jesus, according to Matthew 7:21-23, but their sinful life betrays them as not being of Christ. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven [will enter.] “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
So we must use spiritual discernment to know when someone is truly working in Jesus name, and when someone falsely claims Jesus name, but they aren’t preaching the truth of Jesus’s gospel.
But for those who truly work in Jesus name, Jesus says in vs41 “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as [followers] of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” So as we do the works of righteousness which God prepared beforehand, that we might walk in them, even to the very minor work of giving a cup of water to another believer, Jesus says that such work will be rewarded. Heaven is a place of rewards, as well as a place of rest. It’s a place where we are given rewards for the works that we have done on this earth.
But at the judgement seat of God which is in heaven, it will on the last day be a place for the judgement of wickedness. And just as a minor thing as giving a cup of water will have a reward, so will every thought and deed, no matter how trivial it may seem now, have a consequence or a reward in the judgment.
Jesus spoke of that in Matt. 12:35-36 saying “The good man brings out of [his] good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of [his] evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.”
And so having spoken of the reward of the righteous works, at this point Jesus turns His attention to that judgment of the unrighteous works, those who have rejected Him, and who hindered those who would come to Him.
Jesus says in Vs42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.” These little ones that Jesus speaks of are the children of God, those who have believed in Jesus Christ, who have believed His gospel and been converted. This statement relates back to vs 37 “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.” Matthew’s account of this saying gives further amplification of this – “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” So little children are the children of God, made so by conversion, being born again.
But those that hinder a child of God, that cause a child of God to stumble, to fall into sin, Jesus says that having a millstone tied around your neck and being dumped into the ocean to drown would be a much better alternative than the judgment that you will face when you are called to give an account for your life. I think that there will be a hottest part of hell reserved for people who lead others, especially young naive people, even children, into sin. And yet I believe the devil has especially targeted children today in our society, and he’s using people of influence in the media and entertainment industry to put a stumbling block in front of them. Jesus says that such people will deserve the most severe punishment. And Jesus promises that God will judge such with the fullest measure of His wrath.
Jesus goes on to say that the disciples must be on their guard lest they cause others or themselves to stumble, to fall into sin. If any bodily organ, hand, foot, eye or anything, no matter how dear to us it may seem, if it threatens to become a trap or a stumbling block to someone, they must immediately take drastic action to be rid of it. Jesus correlates this back in chapter 8 vs 34 as taking up your cross, being willing to die to physical lusts of the flesh. Here he relates it as cutting off your hand, or plucking out your eye. In other words, you don’t try to mollify sin, to condone sin, to accommodate sin. You cut it off. You mortify the flesh.
Jesus says, in vs43 “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.] If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.] If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.”
There are some theological issues that are raised by this teaching which I want to address, and yet I am sure I cannot answer to everyone’s satisfaction. The primary question to my mind that arises is the reality of hell. Is hell a real place? I would say that according to Jesus, it is very much a reality. Is hell eternal or is it a place of annihilation? I would say that according to Jesus’ statement, it is eternal. Is hell a place of fire and burning? I would say that according to Jesus, it is an unquenchable fire. Then another question is, who will go to hell? According to what Jesus indicates here, it is for those who have rejected Christ and continued in rebellion against Him. Sin is rebellion. And hell is reserved as the punishment for sin.
I wish to God that there was not a hell. I wish that no one would ever end up in hell. I hope and pray with all my heart and soul that none of my loved ones or friends would ever find themselves in hell. I heard one preacher say that we should never be able to speak of hell without tears in our eyes. No one in their right mind wishes hell on anyone. Even our worst enemies we should love enough to do everything possible to keep them from hell.
But I also heard another preacher say that a person will have to walk over the cross of Christ in order to get to hell. They are going to have to trample on Jesus as He is dying on the cross for your sins, in order to get to hell. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus suffered our punishment so that we might be delivered from the hell we were destined for. The good news of the gospel is that salvation is a free gift of God, if we will just believe in what Jesus did for us, that as the Son of God He became our substitute, and was punished for our sins, so that we might be forgiven and receive the righteousness of God, and we might have eternal life.
But Jesus makes it clear that for those who reject Him, there is reserved for them a place in hell. Then Jesus continues to talk about the judgment of fire, which I think is directed towards His disciples, or believers, in vs 49 saying, “For everyone will be salted with fire.” He isn’t saying that everyone will go to hell. But it’s not easy to understand what He is speaking of. He probably is speaking of a trial by fire, what Peter calls a fiery trial, which will come upon everyone for the purpose of purification. In believers, this fiery trial will be the means by which sin is purged, our iniquity is burned away so that our righteousness may be revealed. Jesus correlates fire with the metaphor of salt to represent a curative, a preservative against the corruption of sin. If you rub salt into a wound, it burns like fire, but it also cleans and preserves against corruption. So is the work of a fiery trial in a believer.
In Isaiah, when the prophet saw the glory of God on His throne, he said, “woe is me for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” And an angel of the Lord took a lump of coal from the fire before the altar and put it on his lips, and said, ““Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.”
The hymn How Firm A Foundation that we sing here so often says, “when through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, my grace all sufficient shall be thy supply, the flames shall not hurt thee, I only design, thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”
Peter says in 1Peter 4:12-13, 17 “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. … 17 For the time [has come] for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if [it begins] with us first, what will [be] the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
So there is either a fire of punishment for the wicked or a fire of refining for the believer. But everyone will be salted by fire. But Jesus leaves the idea of fire and continues with the metaphor of salt, saying in vs 50 “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty [again?] Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
It’s easy to see that salt is good. It’s a preservative, it cleanses, it was even used as currency, as a measure for money. The saying that someone is “worth their salt” means worth their wage. It comes from Roman times when soldiers were paid in salt. Salt was considered of such great value that the soldiers were paid with it.
However according to Jesus, salt could become worthless. It could lose it’s saltiness. And He asks the rhetorical question, “how can you make it salty again? Jesus said in Matt. 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty [again?] It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”
You might say then that salt is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in your life, the refining fire of the Holy Spirit in your life. But if you disregard the Spirit’s warnings, and sin against God and man, then you effectively quench the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, and righteousness and judgment. But it’s possible to quench the Holy Spirit and rebel against the Lord, to continue in sin. And if that occurs in your life, then your physical life is no longer good for anything godly, but to be trampled under foot by men. Reminds us of trampling over the cross of Christ in order to get to hell, doesn’t it?
Heb 10:28-31 says, “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on [the testimony of] two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
So as a preservative against the temptation to sin, Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” It’s useless for a man to try to do good works unless by the grace of God he has been made good within. That is unless he has been converted into a true child of God. It’s having the power of the Spirit of Christ in you. To have salt within oneself means then, to have the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit in your life, working to conform you into the image of Jesus Christ. Romans 8:9 says, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” So having the Spirit within you, then you become, as Jesus said in Matt. 5:13, the salt of the world. And therefore also, your speech is always seasoned with salt.
To that end, Jesus said, be at peace with each other. Having the Holy Spirit in us as the salt that cures us from quarreling, from envy, from strife, from anger, from jealousy, from trying to outdo each other, but instead learning to love one another and serve one another, and value the other more highly than yourself. That is the means of peace. As Paul said in Rom 12:18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” That is how we become the salt of the earth. Being at peace with one another is how we manifest Christ who is in us, to the world. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” (Matt.5:9)