“We tried to stop him because he was not following us.” v. 38
Why are we so eager to police the kingdom of God? John came running to Jesus saying, “there’s someone out there casting out demons in your name! We tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us!” I can see him now. Somewhere in town John and the disciples notice a man doing the very thing Jesus had commissioned them to do. He was casting out demons in Jesus name. I’m surprised that it was John, of all the disciples, who wanted to stop the man from handing out “Unauthorized grace”. All the disciples run over to this man and tell him he needs to stop casting out those demons right this minute! How dare he do ministry without the endorsement of the disciples! I wonder how much of this was concern for propriety and how much was guilt. If they had been busy doing the same they wouldn’t have had time to police everyone else. I won’t apply that to us since we are way too spiritual to ever make that mistake. The other issue here is the disciples fear of unauthorized grace being handed out. It’s a common fear isn’t it? We are so afraid of the wrong people giving out God’s mercy and grace that we scan the internet looking for false prophets and heretics to stop. Today our definition of a heretic or false prophet has widened to include anyone who isn’t just like us. We push away from those outside our Christian circle, in essence saying, if you don’t follow us, you can’t follow him! I wonder how many bullet holes we have in our feet, from rejecting fellow saints, who could be helping us spread the gospel. Let’s hear what Jesus had to say to John and to us about unauthorized grace.
- Don’t put the brakes on a good work done on Jesus behalf. Jesus put it this way; “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” (39)
Our Lord says here that anyone who is willing to walk in his grace and power is a welcome friend. For too many of us this is a frightening idea. Can we imagine God using a willing worker who doesn’t belong to our brand of the faith? Apparently Jesus isn’t as religious as we would have him to be. God honors anyone who serves him. (John 12:26; Acts 10:34-35) He’s not looking for your denominational logo before he accepts someone into service. I realize this may be quite disturbing to those who have found the true essence of Christianity and need to define everything and everyone by their own personal experience. Try to open up a little bit and appreciate the believers who come from other Christ following traditions.
- Don’t make an enemy where you could have a friend. “For the one who is not against us is for us.” (40)
There are plenty of genuine opponents of the faith out there. We have many who would love to put an end to the movement of the gospel. We are commanded to love our enemies, and pray for them. But I worry that this generation of Christ followers is so angry and fearful, and quite honestly, so eager to feel persecuted, that we are making enemies out of friends. We’re drawing lines in the sand where they don’t exist. Too many of us are sitting on the edge of our pews looking for a chance to boycott or protest anyone who even looks like they might disagree with a value we hold. Yes there are times to make a stand against evil. But we need to ask ourselves if we’re standing up for the gospel or just standing up for the sake of standing up. Our reactionary posture may be impressive to those who hold our opinions, but it may be confusing to a world that keeps waiting to see us love our neighbors. Remember one of the signs of the early church was, they “enjoyed the favor of all the people.”(Acts 2:47) Without compromising the gospel, they lived in love toward those outside of the church. So be about the business of making friends for the gospel. The enemies don’t need your help.
- Don’t underestimate God’s grace. “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” (41)
God is more interested in who he can save than who he can judge. He says here that even a cup of water given to a follower of Jesus will be rewarded. You mean to tell me that Jesus is willing to bless and even reward someone who does a small act of kindness to you just because you are a follower? Wow! Doesn’t sound too hard to me. God is so eager to bring people into his kingdom that he will offer his grace to anyone who takes a step in his direction. Are you serious? But what if the person handing out water is wearing a tattoo? What if they are pierced in all the wrong places? Will God allow someone into his presence who struggles with addictions and uses bad words? Is there really room in the kingdom of God for people who watch movies and read novels that I don’t approve of? That’s amazing. What’s even more amazing is that there’s even room in his kingdom for somebody like me, who has spent way too much time criticizing and too little time loving.
Final note: I love how the verse reads, “We tried to stop him.” They weren’t able apparently. Maybe they wanted Jesus to come stop him, because they couldn’t do it. Friend, you can’t stop real grace. Try all you will. The true grace giver will not be hindered by anyone. If you are handing out grace today, at some point someone may try to stop you. Don’t let them. Just keep giving it out. The Lord is standing with you.
One of the great surprises in heaven will be the wide variety of saints from every nation, tongue, tribe, political persuasion, and church affiliation or lack thereof. We will stand in awe of the grace of God. As we look around at the heavenly collection and see literally trillions of people in an unimaginable chorus, we will be blown away by God’s amazing grace. But here’s the kicker to keep us thinking. Will I be more amazed that God welcomed those people to heaven, or that he welcomed me?