This morning we walk through John 7:53-8:18.
Everyone Will Be Salted With Fire
Pass the salt. You have heard those words before, right? You sit down to eat some warm soup on a cold day. But what is the soup missing? It’s missing flavor. So you add salt. This is what we are used to using salt for today. But very often in the bible it’s used in a different context. We use it to flavor. But in Jesus’ day they used it to purify and preserve. In one of the very last verses of this section from Mark, Jesus tells us: “Everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49 NIV) Salt was used to purify and preserve. But here, in these words in this context, notice what Jesus says he will use to purify and preserve us: fire. In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells us these words: “49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:49–51 NIV)
Jesus salts with fire. He preserves with pain and persecution. This morning, even though Jesus finishes with these word, I start with them. Because they give shape and focus to every word that Jesus says here. So Jesus says that everyone will be salted with fire. But what does he mean by this? Jesus tells us: “38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” 39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:38–41 NIV)
Everyone will be salted with fire. Notice here in these words what that will look like. The church will be preserved through false teaching. John came to Jesus and spoke about someone who was performing miracles in Jesus’ name. John and those with him told the person to stop. Why? He should stop because he was not officially recognized as being someone who was “with Jesus.” John was wrestling with a very important question: do miracles establish a ministry? If a person performs a miracle does that mean he is a true, legitimate preacher of God’s word that we should listen to and obey?
And the question that John brings up here is a question we need to wrestle with today. Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. What would you do if…. What would you do if you talked to someone who said that their pastor proved that he was a legitimate pastor. He proved it by flying over to Africa and speaking in tongues and converting a whole village to Jesus. What would you say? What would you do if you were talking to someone who told you that you had to believe in the ministry of Mary. Why did you have to believe? You had to believe because she appeared to so many witnesses in so many different areas of the world. What would you say to these people? First, let me ask you the question: Do miracles make a real ministry? The answer is: no. What makes a real ministry is not miracles, but instead a valid message. Is what they say in line with what God’s word says? If what a person preaches is in line with what God’s word says, then he is a valid pastor and preacher. If not, then it doesn’t matter how many miracles he performs, he is not a valid preacher. That’s why in verse 39 Jesus says: “Do not stop him. For there is no one who performs miracles in my name who then in the next moment is able to speak against me.” A person can’t in one moment perform a miracle and then in the next moment bad-mouth Jesus. Sure, there have been many people and there will be many people who perform signs and wonders who are false teachers. But they cannot perform a miracle, then bad-mouth Jesus and then expect faithful Christians to go along with them. They cannot bad-mouth God’s true word. For they will lose God’s followers.
And so, everyone will be salted with fire. The fire that Jesus allows to afflict the church is false teaching and even people performing miracles who are actually against Christ. He does this to test us. He does this to bring us back to the bible to ask that simple and important question, “what is the truth?”
And here is where we see our sin, isn’t it? For it is much easier to be wowed by a miracle than to be won-over by the truth of God’s word. You can see a miracle in a moment. But it takes a lifetime to grow in God’s word. It takes a lifetime to compare what a preacher says to God’s living word.
And yet, as we see our sin and grieve over it, in God’s word we find a Savior for that sin. Jesus had both the truth and miracles. He shared the truth that he was the Savior of the world. And on Easter Sunday he proved it by rising from the dead. In these facts we can be sure our sins are forgiven.
Everyone will be salted with fire. The church endures the fire of false teachers. But there are other fires that Jesus speaks about: “42 “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 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 than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where “ ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 Everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:42–49 NIV)
There will be false teachers out there who speak against Jesus. What about them? Doesn’t God care about his church enough to do something about these false teachers? And the answer is: he does. He takes this little child that he introduced us to last week and says that if anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better to have a donkey’s millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea. Contrary to what many churches teach, Children and infants are sinners who can really, truly be brought to faith through God’s word. They really truly believe in him. And God will judge those who lead them astray.
But then notice what Jesus does. He directs their focus away from false teachers to the temptations in their own hearts. He says, “What about your hand, your foot, your eyes?” The “your” in these verses is not the plural ‘you.’ It’s the singular. What is it that causes you to stumble in your own life and in your own heart? And when you find whatever it is that causes you to sin, what are you supposed to do about it? Cut it off! Cut it away!
Now, here in these words Jesus is not speaking hyper-literally. If Jesus meant these words literally then all the disciples would have no hands, no feet and no eyes. No, instead Jesus is getting at matters of our heart. First, When it comes to temptation, we are able to say, “no.” If you have one baconator and then you can’t stop yourself from eating eight, then say “no” to Wendys. If you have one drink and then you know you aren’t going to be able to stop at one drink, but will then down a 12-pack, then don’t have any. And, my brothers and sisters in Christ, notice what’s at risk if you don’t. Eternal life is at risk. What good is it to smoke, drink and eat as much as you want and then go to hell not because there’s anything wrong with beer and burgers, but instead because you wore your conscience down to nothing. And where a conscience doesn’t exist neither can faith. Second, When Jesus says, “cut it off/out” he recognizes that we will fall to sin; we will give into temptation. With these words he urges us to cling to him. As we confess our sins and do not hide them or make room for them in our hearts he forgives our sins.
Everyone will be salted with fire. The church is preserved through false teaching. Each and every one of you is preserved through temptation. These words lead us not to rejoice in the false teaching or sinful temptations. Instead, they lead us to rejoice to what our Savior Jesus accomplishes through them. It produces a church that clings to God’s saving word. It produces Christians who cling to Christ to say “no” when we are tempted and “forgive me” when we give into temptation. Amen.