When Is It Necessary to Be Intolerant?
Mark 6.7 And He called the twelve to Himself and began to send them out two by two.
A few weeks ago I watched a movie called "The Last Days of Sophie Scholl." Sophie was a young college age girl in Nazi Germany. She and her brother and a friend recognized the evil of the Nazis and published leaflets urging Germans to peacefully resist. Because of this all three were executed. What amazed me the most was Sophie’s grip on the truth when everyone around her was caught up in the nationalistic pride of the Third Reich. Looking back we see how evil the Nazi regime was. But at the time most people didn’t think so. Sophie was accused of being unpatriotic. If I had lived in Germany at that time, would I have recognized the evil of the Nazis?
That movie made me think about our world today. What kind of movements are taking place? What is good? What is bad? Where do I stand? Today there are a number of bad ideas that I think Christians need to resist. But number one on that list for me is the pervading idea of "tolerance." In many ways tolerance is a good thing. We have to tolerate many things in life in order to live together peacefully. I tolerate my neighbor’s barking dog to a point. I tolerate wasteful government spending to a point. I tolerate my neighbor’s opinions about sports… Edwardsville vs Collinsville or Cubs vs. Cardinals. That kind of tolerance is very important. The tolerance I’m speaking about is spiritual and religious tolerance. Even here there is a very good form of tolerance. I tolerate my neighbor’s freedom to believe and express their beliefs even though I may believe differently. But the tolerance that concerns me the most is that which says all religions are basically the same. Anyone who says their religion is true and others are false is intolerant and evil. This I cannot accept.
This is not a modern idea, but in fact it is very old. A teacher of the Hindu religion described it this way: "Ten children went to a cloth shop and bought material that they all liked. They then took their cloth to a tailor, and the tailor sewed each child a shirt. Each shirt was a different size according to the needs of the child. Yet each shirt accomplished the same purpose." So they say it is with different religions. They are all basically the same, but each one is customized for our own special needs.
Does it really matter what people believe and what religion they practice? It mattered very much to Jesus, and that is why one of the first things he did with His disciples was to send them out preaching. Jesus did not believe in "tolerance," if by that word people mean all religions should be accepted as good. As we work our way through St. Mark 6.7-13 you will soon understand what Christian tolerance and intolerance is all about. As we begin we pray with the psalmist…
Let my cry come before You, O LORD; Give me understanding according to Your word. (1)
I. He Gave Them Authority Over Unclean Spirits
In Mark 6.7 we read that Jesus sent the twelve out by twos giving them authority over "unclean spirits." Many people today no longer believe in spiritual evil. People think it is a myth or a fairytale. Even worse, in many books and movies, we are told that unclean and evil practices of witchcraft are actually tools that can be used for good. It’s not necessarily wrong to read these books or watch these movies, but it is essential to have this little talk with your family… Supernatural power, according to the Bible, comes only from two sources: Either it comes from God, and it is exercised in God’s name as is the case with miracles; or, it comes from Satan (2). St. Paul taught that Satan is able work "with all power, signs and lying wonders." (3) Here we see first of all, that Jesus does not tolerate evil. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the Son of God who became man "that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (4). So you see, we need to be careful with evil. We don’t want anyone to get the idea that evil is not real. Nor should anyone have the idea that supernatural powers can be used apart from the name of God and still be in anyway good.
II. And He Commanded Them to Take Nothing…
Now Jesus gave this special command because this particular mission was urgent. Later Jesus would tell them to take these things because the journey would be longer (5). But again there is something for us to learn and to believe. God supplies us with the things that we need when and where we need them. But the most important thing He gives us is His message and the power of the Holy Spirit. With these things alone we can accomplish so much. Always concentrate on these things.
Too often I have said to myself, "the reason I can’t do what God wants me to do is because I just don’t have what I need." We now have a beautiful church building and school. But shouldn’t we be careful—very careful not to think that these physical blessings are really the most important thing? No, we must continue to rely on God’s means of grace—His word and sacraments—as we receive them in worship, Bible study, and in the mutual consolation of the brothers and sisters. These tools alone will deliver what people need the most for the converting and for the enlightening of souls. As we keep this in mind then we will see the real benefit of a beautiful church and school building.
This is also true on a personal level. Some think they will have a better family life if they have a better house. A young person might be tempted to think, "If God had made me more physically beautiful and popular, then my life would be so much better." It’s easy for us to fall to this temptation. But God doesn’t want us to tolerate it. He promises to help us in all our personal battles first with His word: "Direct my steps by Your word, And let no iniquity have dominion over me" (6).
III. And Whatever Place Does Not Receive You… Shake the Dust From Your Feet
Pious Jews had a custom. When returning from a foreign country, they would shake the dust from their feet and clothes so as not to be associated with God’s ultimate judgment on those lands (7). But here Jesus directs the disciples to give that same sign to the people of Israel who refused to believe the Gospel. All of us will sooner or later run into this problem. Not everyone will believe in Jesus. It is especially frustrating when it happens to the people we most expect would believe—in this case Jesus’ own countrymen, and in our case, our own family and friends! As I mentioned at the beginning of the message, today we are told to relax, to be more tolerant of other people’s beliefs, and especially not to condemn what someone believes.
Jesus doesn’t tolerate this thinking for a moment. When the disciples are rejected because of their message, they are to give the warning that the fiery judgment that fell upon Sodom and Gommorrah will be more tolerable that the judgment that will come to those who reject Christ. Notice that the disciples are to do nothing more. They are not to force the faith on anyone. They are not to carry out some kind of punishment. In the past some ignorant Christians (in many cases they probably were not true believers themselves) have acted terribly against the will of God by punishing unbelievers for their unbelief. During the Medieval crusades many Jews and Moslems were killed because they refused to believe in Jesus. This was worse than stupidity; it was work of a church that had lost its first love in Christ.
Incredibly, today, many in the church are swinging in just the opposite direction. We are told that though people reject Christ and follow all sorts of other beliefs, they can still be saved because they are basically good people. People think this because they have lost their first love in Christ. They place family, friendship, and community brotherhood above God’s love in Christ. It is out of love in Christ that false belief is recognized as false. It is out of sincere love for souls that we must tell people they are judged and condemned when they reject Christ. When I say "reject," I don’t just mean they’ve become atheists. We reject Christ when we are no longer interested in His word, when we have no time for Him, or when we simply are no longer concerned with doing His will. Jesus said, "Those who are of God hear God’s words. Therefore you do not hear because you are not of God" (8). They may say they belong to God, but unless they are receiving His word, believing it and living it, they are rejecting God.
IV. And They Went Preaching that People Should Repent
St. Mark sums up the core of Jesus’ preaching at the beginning of the Gospel with these words, "Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’" (9). Let’s think about those who did receive these disciples and their message. What happened? First of all they were released from the bondage of sin. "Repent, and believe the gospel." The Bible describes sin as a "weight that easily ensnares us" (10). That weight would drag us down to destruction if we let it. Cain hated his brother Abel, and God warned him that "sin lies at the door and its desire is for you" (11). We are born to this world with bad desires, attitudes and an overall condition of selfishness. With a certain amount of civility and manners we can restrain these things, but that doesn’t take them away. Nor does it bring us "holiness, without which no one will see God" (12). Jesus is God’s cure for sin. His gospel—Good News—is this, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many" (13). What manifestation of sin are you struggling with… love of money, hatred, sexual temptation, doubt, jealousy, pride, impatience, laziness? Is there a voice in your head telling you to watch out for any of these things? Is there any person in your life who has suggested that you might need to address one or more of these issues? The devil will preach to you "tolerance." "It’s okay as long as you aren’t hurting anyone." What will Jesus say: "Be intolerant. Repent. And look to Me for forgiveness."
A popular Christian leader was being interviewed on a news program. The interviewer asked, "Are you one of those people who believe that Jesus is exclusively the only way to heaven?" He then added, "You know how angry that makes people." The Christian responded, "Jesus is not exclusive. He died and rose again so that anyone could believe and have forgiveness in Him."
When is it necessary to be intolerant? It is definitely necessary when it comes to sin and unbelief. We can thank God that He is not tolerant of this. It was because of this intolerance that He gave His Son. "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (14).
(1) Psalm 119.169 (2) See 2 Thessalonians 2.9 "The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders…" (3) 2 Thessalonians 2.9 (4) Hebrews 2.14-15 (5) Luke 22.36 (6) Psalm 119.133 (7) Lane, The Gospel of Mark, 208-209 (8) John 8.47 (9) Mark 1.14-15 (10) Hebrews 12.1 (11) Genesis 4.7 (12) Hebrews 12.14 (13) Mark 10.45 (14) Ephesians 1.7
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 5, 2009
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2009
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