And Old Testament Verses
— Isaiah 6:9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
— Isaiah 53:1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
John repeats some of the most troublesome Words in the Bible. They are God’s judgement given to Isaiah to let unbelievers know He will use their unbelief for His purpose. Not all judgment of God is punishment, but it is always reality. God sets the rules. He has judged this group of unbelievers will be made deaf, blind and dull of heart. I see that, but I wish it weren’t so.
What possible purpose could the Sovereign Lord have in making such a judgment? Why has He identified these unbelievers in this way? He’s obviously not punishing them for what He’s done. I have an idea that this judgment has to do with the reality of grace and glory.
I wonder if what He has seen in this group of people is the nature of man’s heart to listen but not heed His truth and see that truth as a useful tool to manipulate life but not believe it’s His power. The nature of God’s Sovereignty is driven by grace that must respond to belief. Could it be that God has judged these unbelievers in order to protect the integrity of His grace for those who DO see with their eyes, and hear with their ears,and understand their transformed heart is for the sake of God’s glory and for His purpose.
“God is sovereign over all belief and unbelief.
He knows exactly how to plan both of them in ways
that exalt his sovereignty and preserve man’s accountability.”
NRSV Matthew 12:29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
NRSV Mark 9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us.
NRSV Luke 9:49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”
After reading several versions of these passages and looking at commentaries written by people at various levels of prestige from St. Augustine to names I didn’t recognize this is my #1 question. Is Jesus speaking more about people outside the disciple’s experience of faith rather than those in opposition to Jesus? Is Jesus challenging us to check the balance of our focus on the relationship between doctrine and comfort?
Apparently doctrine is an age-old conflict. What if Jesus is speaking of people who operate outside the body of faith as we know it but don’t actually oppose Him? What if Jesus’ emphasis is about “tying up the strong man” with dependence on doctrine, rather than Himself. Can that be what makes the “strong man’s house” vulnerable to plunder? What if these three passages reveal the very words of Jesus that lead us from doctrine to comfort?
That makes sense to me when I read the Mark and Luke versions of this passage. I feel like I can read between the lines of John’s words in Mark. Sure the man is “casting out demons in your name” but how can what he’s doing possibly be OK “because he was not following us”? John’s concern for the corporate integrity of their ministry was real. Jesus matches his assurance to John with the same group-inclusive pronoun, “us.” “Whoever is not against US is for US.”
John’s invested his own life and identity in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus knew the question of integrity was still very personal to John. John’s own conflict was finding the comfort between doing things the way they “should” be done [doctrine?] and his commitment to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus words from Luke challenged John to move from doctrine to the exclusive assurance of comfort of a personal pronoun, “you.’ “Whoever is not against YOU is for YOU.”
I Peter 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a foreigner or exile? I doubt I’m the only one who needs to think about that question. We are foreigners and exiles, but from what? I’ve been in social situations where I felt completely out of place. I didn’t like that feeling or my response. In that uncomfortable place I realized how much I wanted to fit in rather than be a foreigner or exile. Fitting in is the “war against your soul.”
That uncomfortable place is where the battle lines become clear. There are two sets of values; one for fitting in and another for spiritual things. There’s only one defense that will save us – the integrity of faith.
In·teg·ri·ty: the state of being whole and undivided.
Whole and undivided faith is the winning strategy that makes it possible to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Note to Self: You may be a foreigner and exile but people see the integrity of your faith and will remember it’s purpose even if they don’t agree with it…yet.