A couple of items before we continue. First, Mark’s Gospel offers little that isn’t in Matthew’s, so if a teaching was covered in Matthew, it will be skipped in Mark. We actually won’t spend much time in Mark in this series. If you think I’ve skipped something important to you, all you have to do is ask. It’s especially helpful if you ask specific questions about a passage or doctrine.
Next is a background issue that fits in best right here. We know that Christ came to make one last offer to bring the Nation of Israel fully back into the Covenant. They had long departed far, far from Moses. With very little exception, the teachings of Jesus are a renewal of the mystical core behind the Law. Jesus updated Moses to the current situation under which the Jews lived, but also made it painfully clear that He was superior to Moses, since Jesus was the Son of God, while Moses was just a servant.
A critical element in Jesus’ ministry was healing and driving out demons. Historically we know that Jews suffered an unusually high incidence of such things. The obvious reason is because of that departure from Moses, and the resulting loss of Covenant protection and shalom. A medical diagnosis doesn’t change the fact that the underlying cause is national sin. The cure was repentance and restoration of the Covenant blessings. Jesus was restoring divine justice in these individual lives.
Compared with today, the primary issue is that no nation acknowledges any covenant. There are no blessings outside of a valid covenant relationship with God. Western theology has a tremendous depth of deception about covenants in general, and a highly false concept of the Covenant of Christ, because it requires the heart-led way. Further, Western culture does not recognize genuine demonization. We are trained to think in terms of triage and symptoms, with no consideration at all of moral issues that aggravate our fallen condition.
It requires a heart-led awareness of moral revelation to recognize when a particular instance of human suffering rests on sin, and to what degree. So Western Christianity is horribly mistaken on most of this. American Christendom in particular is rather like the folks in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. We are so convinced we already know Jesus, and we don’t know Him at all, so He can’t do that many miracles here any more than He could at home.
In the narrative for this lesson, we see that the Twelve have encountered an independent demon chaser. Apparently this fellow had attended to some of Jesus’ preaching sessions and had taken it to heart. He was acting in the authority of Jesus the Messiah and casting demons out of people.
The disciples tried to tell the man he didn’t have permission to do that. He wasn’t part of the little club Jesus called as His disciples. So far as they knew, Jesus hadn’t ordained this fellow to the ministry, so it couldn’t be right.
The essence of what Jesus said is that there could be no miraculous powers exercised in His name if the worker didn’t submit to His authority in the first place. Thus, “He that is not against us is for us.” The mark of God’s favor is power to restore divine justice in one way or another, whether by words, deeds or outright miracles. It’s not a question of rituals and rules, but of genuine commitment from the heart. People might be able to fool other people, but nobody can fool God Almighty.