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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
Title:Dark Days?
Text:Mark 9:49 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

MARK 9:49

(Reading: Leviticus 2:1-16; Mark 9:42-50)


Dark Days?



Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ…


     What we have here in our text is a bit of a puzzle. As Mark is bringing out the Lord’s teaching in regards to nature of church leadership he pops out these three pithy sayings. Three very succinct proverbs which really have nothing to do with each other or with what the Lord has just said. Indeed, the first saying – our text – is only found in Mark’s Gospel.

     Mind you, you could say that there is a connection between these three maxims. There is the word “salt” in all three of them. But that is all you can say they have in common.

     To our western mind there is no chronology in this. It doesn’t have a distinct logical flow, which we can easily follow.

     To a middle-eastern mind, though, this was a way they connected subjects together for ease of memory in their teaching pattern. And in this case it would have been the apostle Peter’s teaching pattern. It was his recall – his oral history - that John Mark largely used in his gospel. And it certainly comes out at distinct parts of this gospel.

     There are those who don’t agree, however. To them these two verses naturally flow on from the Lord has been laying down about how his followers are to lead his flock. After verse 42 has spoken about this being for those in church leadership, and the verses 43 till 48 have spoken about the wrong kind of church leadership, they say the verses 49 and 50 are about what’s behind true leadership.

     This seems to naturally flow. And it draws the verses 42 till 50 into a central theme.


     Let’s answer that with the first aspect in considering these seven words. And this aspect, like our other two aspects, takes the form of a question. The first question is this: WHO IS THE “EVERYONE” HERE?

     While verse 42 began with “whoever”, indicating the disciples, our text commences with “everyone”. And so it’s helpful to look at the Greek word for “everyone” here. What does it exactly mean?

     Well, literally it means “all”. And so “everyone” is a good translation because it includes within it the whole.

     But it cannot be everyone in the world, though. This is not a universal, global application. Rather, this is about everyone who is a believer.


     So this doesn’t only apply to leaders in the church, even though they may well experience more of this personally. Rather, this is something the Lord wants all his flock to be aware of. Dear person in the pew – this is precisely for you! Don’t think now that this is for a particular time in church history, or even for those who are gifted to be able to do this. “Everyone will be salted with fire.”

     And don’t think either that the connection with “fire” means these ones are those destined for eternal punishment. That would rip it right out of its context – even allowing for the middle-eastern line of connection. Rather, this “fire” ties them in very much with being part of the believing community. You see, this “fire” has been “salted”.

     We are helped here by the footnote to the ESV here. There it notes that some of the original Greek manuscripts add the words, “and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” You think about it. If all believers are to be perfect sacrifices that please God what are you doing thinking you shouldn’t be doing all you can for the Lord?

     Wasn’t that exactly what the correct sacrifice in the Old Testament was all about? Didn’t it have to present the perfect animal in the right way? How could you think you get away with the minimum amount of input into church life?

     Yes, you could say that all of life is worship. And you could say that all of what you do is done in a Christian way. But how can that be if you don’t sacrifice yourself in every way? And this very much includes what you do by joining together with your brothers and sisters in the family of faith.

     In our reading from Leviticus 2:13 God’s people were told not to let the salt of the covenant with their God be missing from their offering. The subject of salt we will consider next. But the concept of the covenant draws this into the bigger picture of the Lord God’s dealing with his chosen and precious children – the Church of Christ.

     This is why I must ask you this question before we go on to the next two questions: Are you honestly a part of the Church of Christ? Are you someone whose soul has been saved by the blood of the Lamb? Are you absolutely committed to living out his life in your life – no ifs or buts!

     Are you? Because if you’re not you best stop right now. In fact, you had better walk out of the church right now. Because what you’re going to hear from now on you won’t want to hear!

     Am I being too harsh? Is this unloving?

     You know, that couldn’t be true. To be honestly loving would mean being frank with people about where they are with the Lord. A loving parent punishes his child when he does wrong – an unloving parent will let him get away with everything!


     So let’s hear what it is that really challenges us in the faith here. In the words of a second question of our text: WHERE DOES THIS “SALTING” COME FROM?

     We have seen that under the old covenant a sacrifice must be salted with salt before it was offered to God on the altar. That sacrificial salt was called “the salt of the covenant.” This was what purified the sacrifice to God.

     King Abijah of Judah referred to this when he called out to King Jeroboam of Israel in 2nd Chronicles 13. There in verse 5 he shouted out to him, “Ought you not to know that the LORD God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?”

     Did this mean Abijah was a better king than Jeroboam? Not at all! But Abijah, by God’s grace, was of the line of David. And it was this line which blessed God’s people of old, and through them has ultimately blessed us in David’s greater Son – the Lord Jesus Christ.

     It’s because of the Saviour that the salting he was to us all is now also the experience of each one of his own. After all, wasn’t it his sacrifice that was perfectly acceptable to his Father God? And isn’t it upon his sacrifice that we plead in our prayers? In the same way, each one of us must be a sacrifice for God.

     This is what the apostle Paul declares in Romans 12 verse 1. There he says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

     It was an analogy which would have been very clear to the early New Testament Church. Because didn’t they first have their meetings, after Pentecost, in the courts of the Temple? The very temple where the sacrifices would have been accompanied by salt!

     Ezekiel 43 verse 24 had confirmed this practice in Israel’s history. There the prophet had declared from the Lord regarding the various sacrifices, “You shall present them before the LORD, and the priests shall sprinkle salt on them and offer them up as a burnt offering to the LORD.”

     Now, it might seem to us that this “salt” is a bit superfluous to what has already been prepared in the sacrifice. I mean, haven’t you turned up at the right time for worship? And haven’t you got the right offering to sacrifice in worship? So why yet another thing on top of it all?

     Well, it is actually the very thing that makes it what it ought to be! It is this salt which flavours them. So just as salt is what’s needed to make our food edible so the sacrifices treated with salt did the same. Without it it wasn’t quite right. In fact it was far from right. There was something essential missing.

     Congregation, what Jesus was saying here means this: “Before a Christian life becomes acceptable to God it must be treated with fire just as every sacrifice is treated with salt.” This then becomes about how absolutely vital it is that we are always living out our faith. You must always be feeling the heat of being one of Christ’s own! Not for a moment are you your own!


     In this way we come to the third question we ask of our text. And this is: WHAT IS THE PLACE OF FIRE IN THIS?

     In the verse just before our text, verse 48, it also speaks of a fire. It is about a fire that is not quenched. But we can see from the verses 42 till 48 that this fire is for those who don’t truly believe.

     In verse 49, though, it is clearly different. With the words “everyone” and “salted” we have seen how the object here are those who are the complete opposite from those described above. You see, this fire is the salt that makes a life pleasing to God.

     So we need to understand what this “fire” is. And thus we turn to how “fire” has been understood in Scripture – and particularly in the New Testament.

     When we do that we find two possible meanings. The first is a connection with purification. It is fire which purifies the base metal, and so the alloy is separated and the metal left pure. This fire describes that which purifies life. This is the discipline of the Christ-like life – the training and experiences which brings about holiness.

     The second possible meaning is that of destruction. In this instance this saying has something to do with persecution. This means that the life which has gone through the trials and destructions and hardships and dangers of persecution is the life acceptable to God. The person who has voluntarily faced the danger of the loss of his possessions, and the loss of his own life, because of his loyalty to Jesus Christ, is the one who is dear to God.

     Taking these two aspects together, Jesus declares that the life purified by discipline, and the life which has faced the danger of persecution is the sacrifice precious to God. And if anyone knew what this meant wouldn’t it be the Master himself? His life was lived doing everything according to the will of his Father. So our lives should have exactly this aim.

     It makes sense, doesn’t it? As the disciples of Jesus should we expect to be treated any different than our Master?

     You see, the situation when Jesus first said these words is no different to today. Believers are being salted by this fire all over the world right now. Countless Christians are being purified and persecuted. But, dear listener, are you one of them?

     True, we may not be undergoing what the Church went through in the Rome of Nero. Because they are the readers Mark originally wrote to with this Gospel. But as Peter wrote in his first letter, chapter 1:7, it is all believers whose faith is being tested through various trials. All professing Christ are being tested by fire so that they will be praising and honouring the revelation of Jesus Christ.

     The apostle confirms at the end of that letter, in 1st Peter 4:12, that this fiery trial shouldn’t surprise us. It’s nothing strange that’s happening to us. But it should be strange to you if you aren’t sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Because then you cannot truly rejoice and be glad when he comes again.

     Congregation, COVID-19 has been sent to test us. God is using even this to show up what we’re truly like. So how are you looking? Or should I ask: Where are you looking?

     You see, it hasn’t just been these last two years we’ve been through the fire. Every day with Jesus means another day at war with the Evil One. That’s why to be at peace in this world is be at enmity with God.

     So to say, as one minister said, that these are ‘dark days’ isn’t exactly true. Every day since the fall has been a dark day!

     But for you and I they are dark days no more. For the Son of Righteousness has risen. He who is the light of the world has shone. And how much hasn’t he lit up our lives! Doesn’t he?






Let’s pray…


     O Great & Glorious & Gracious God…

     How much don’t we stand amazed at what you have done! Because in your only begotten Son you have won the victory. And so now, even though we are beset by demonic forces all around, and things can seem so very grim, we are absolutely safe and secure in him. No matter what might throw us it cannot throw you for you know it all through and through.

     That’s why we pray right now in the saving name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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