Luke 9:49&50 “‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you.’”

This is one of the briefest dialogues in all the New Testament. John makes a statement to Jesus and our Lord answers him; that is that. Its conciseness is itself fascinating, and we ask such questions as who was this man, and why did John stop him, and what did Jesus mean in his reply? All we need for answers to these questions are here in our passage. The actual incident reminds us of a problem which we regularly meet in our Christian lives. The disciples had come across a follower of the Lord Jesus who was believing and doing so much that was right. However, the apostles didn’t know him. He didn’t belong to their group. They’d never seen him before. What had happened was something like this. They had gone somewhere and seen a crowd of people. What was going on? There was a man preaching to a congregation about Jesus of Nazareth, and people were being brought to him who were troubled by the forces of darkness, and then the preacher was delivering each one of them from this satanic power by speaking to the demon in the name of Jesus. The disciples had never come across this phenomenon before. They had been appointed the official spokesmen of our Lord. He had been teaching them for months about the kingdom of God; they had heard his preaching and seen his life, and then, when he judged that they were prepared, he had sent them through the villages of Galilee preaching his message and healing people empowered by his own authority, they were able even to cast out demons. It had been an extraordinary time for them, and when they came back to Jesus at the end of their mission one of the things they said to him was that the very demons had been subject to them. Now they bump into someone that none of them had ever heard of, and this man was able to do what they had been doing, teach and heal and exorcise demons. Let us look at this scene from four different perspectives.


i] How the man possessed by demons saw it. Here was a man whose life was being destroyed by the activity of the god of this world the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience. There had been a man in Gadara who was the worst case of demon possession in the New Testament. We are told that he came from the tombs to meet Jesus; “This man lived in the tombs, and no-one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No-one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (Mark 5:3-5). The Lord Jesus delivered him from the power of the devil and soon he was clothed and in his right mind longing to spend the rest of his life in the presence of Jesus. But our Lord was unwilling, saying, “‘Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed” (Mark 5:19&20). The impact on the whole community was extraordinary, but particularly for this one man and his own family – what a deliverance they’d all experienced! He blessed the day that he had met Jesus of Nazareth, that he had heard our Lord say the words, “Come out of this man you evil spirit!” From torment to peace; from madness to sanity; from alienation to acceptance. He was an ordinary servant of God again.

So firstly there is the response of this demon-possessed man who had been delivered by this anonymous disciple. Would he be angry with the man for changing his life? Never! Long his imprisoned spirit had lain fast bound in sin and nature’s night. He had been a pawn of Satan but now his chains had fallen off and his heart was free. It was all through the power of the name of Jesus that the great deliverance had come. He blessed God for this man and his compassion and power to change him.

ii] How the man driving out demons in the name of Jesus saw it. How do I feel when I’ve had help in preaching? How does any preacher see it when God has blessed a Sunday sermon and people are helped; some Christians feel their souls have been restored, others have been delivered from unbelief and are putting their lives and futures into the hands of Christ? We feel humbled, hardly able to believe it, and very thankful to God that he should use us. I am not patting myself on the back and saying, “What a clever chap you are.” I am simply grateful that what I say about Jesus Christ’s mercy and power to save has been realized before all our eyes and in the experience of these men and women. As the title of a fine new book by Paul Wolfe puts it, My God is True! (Banner of Truth). I’m always preaching that Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, that his blood can make the foulest clean, that he can deliver us from the power of Evil, that where sin abounds his grace much more abounds. I tell you those great realities, and then someone’s life is changed and we all rejoice that what I preach has been experienced in our midst. This preacher who was stumbled across by John and the disciples was rejoicing at the power of God resting on his labours.

iii] How the demons saw it. When they heard this man raising his voice, lifting it up with strength and exalting the person of our Lord as the promised Messiah, the one who would come and bruise the Serpent’s head, the one mightier than the god of this world, the irresistible omnipotent Jehovah Jesus, then they were terrified. When Jesus said, “Get out,” they got out.! From the beauty of our glorious world they were being sent back to the pit of hell from whence they had been sent by Beelzebub in order to torment these poor people. They had failed in their mission. They had met their God and Judge. They had been conquered by the proper Man Jesus Christ, whom God himself hath bidden. They were doomed as were all the spirits in the canyons of hell. They were on a lost mission; they were utterly without hope, even the strongest of them or a legion of them. They could not succeed against Christ.

And were this world all devils o’er,
And watching to devour us.
We lay it not to heart so sore;
Not they can overpower us.
And let the prince of ill
Look grim as e’er he will,
He harms us not a whit;
For why? His doom is writ
A word shall quickly slay him. (Martin Luther, 1483-1546).

iv] How the disciples saw it. They were no doubt delighted with the impact this deliverance made on the man and the onlookers. How powerful was the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Its effect wasn’t limited to those who had been ‘brain-washed by his magnetic personality’ as Jesus’ enemies said – attributing the transformation of Galilee by the months of ministry of these men to Jesus’ manipulation in influencing his clones. But here was a man who’d never been with them as they attended Jesus’ seminars and prayer times and counseling and sermons. This man hadn’t seen the miracles that they had seen. All he had was the message that they’d preached; he had received reports of Jesus’ mighty works, and he had believed that this was the promised Messiah, and he had gone to God in his name and put his trust in Jesus and his life had been transformed. Just like the lives of so many of you. You never saw with your eyes or heard with your ears the preaching Jesus, but people told you of him, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and people like myself bearing witness to you of his reality and truth and as a result you believed. Then when you told others about this same Jesus some of them also began to believe, and their lives were also transformed.

The disciples saw this change in the life and preaching of this man who hitherto had been a stranger to them – though his message was not strange at all. It was what they all believed. Yet their joy at the power of the name of Jesus was tempered by their perplexity at their ignorance of this man. He was the man from nowhere. Who was he? Why hadn’t he identified himself with them? What had kept him apart from them? Shouldn’t they all be working together as one united body in bringing the gospel to all of Galilee? They were concerned about the unity of the disciples of Jesus. Was the land going to be filled with individual disciples who did their own thing, responsible to no one but themselves? Wouldn’t this result in chaos and duplication? Men who were still novices would be setting themselves up as Christian rabbis and preaching to all and sundry while still untaught, holding some crazy ideas mixed with the good? That was their concern and the shock of finding someone else speaking up for Jesus outside their own little creek troubled them so they had actually tried to stop him. In fact they had the common passion of little men to control others.

So they had taken him aside and said, “I’m sorry but this has to stop. You have no authority to speak in the name of our Lord Jesus. We are his chosen apostles and you have never met him or asked for his permission to speak in his name. You can’t act like this. These meetings must stop straight away.” Yet they may not have been very happy with themselves with their action, while the people delivered from demons and the preacher himself was firmly opposed to their attempts to silence him. They were perplexed by this. They wanted the Christian life to be very straight forward with no divisions between fellow disciples, and so they went to Jesus to describe the situation and ask him for his advice.

v] How the Lord Jesus saw it. His reply was simply this, “‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you’”(v.50). The disciples were troubled and perplexed and maybe they were proud and unhappy with anyone muscling in on their patch, and that resulted in them gathering against the man, but that preacher wasn’t against them. The Jerusalem-based opposition against the Lord Jesus was just a fledgling movement at this time. There was no systematic campaign of intimidation of Christ or the disciples. That is why his recent words to them about being ‘betrayed’ and arrested and rejected by the religious leaders and killed and raised from the dead all sounded so incredible in their ears. The disciples were actually in a position of strength, the closest friends of a very respected leader in a populist movement in the land. This was their opportunity to show kindness and encouragement to every manifestation of the growing Jesus-movement in the land, not being bossy and jealous and critical of anyone else.

“So do not stop him,” commanded Jesus, “or anyone like him,” and though he does not give the positive it is clearly implied; “rather support every godly and earnest effort being made in my name to redeem men and women from sin.” The reason the Lord Jesus gave to encourage a positive attitude in his disciples to this man was that the man was not preaching against them; he was not preaching against Christ. And that is to be our attitude also, that if a man is in no way opposed to Christ then we don’t stop him in his work. That is the principle, that if a preacher or an evangelist or a seminary professor or an author in no way opposes the person and claims of Christ we don’t attempt to hinder his work. This is a word about preachers. It is not saying that if people in the world who never have a thought about Jesus Christ but who aren’t stirring up opposition against him then those neutral people, sitting on the sidelines, are actually supporting Christ. No. no. That is not what is being taught here. What characterized this preacher who was delivering demon-possessed people in the name of Christ? He was for Christ. How would that show itself?

A] If he supports the claim of Christ to be the only way to God. “I am the way and the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” There is no redemption in anything or anyone else. The sole Saviour of sinners is the Lord Jesus. There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. There is none other name under heaven given amongst men by which men must be saved.

“None other Lamb, none other Name
None other hope in heaven or earth or sea.
None other hiding place from guilt and shame.

None beside Thee!” (Christina G. Rossetti, 1830-1894).

That is why Christ sent his servants to go into all the world and teach men and women all the things they learned from him. That is what makes men missionaries. So a commitment to the sole salvific work of Jesus Christ is one non-negotiable. Then we support such men.

B] If he supports the teaching of Christ to be equal with God. We think like Jesus, and he thought it not robbery to be equal with God. “I am my Father are one” he said. When Thomas bowed before him and said, “My Lord and my God,” then Jesus did not rebuke him for blasphemy. Jesus called God his ‘Father’ and the Jews were incensed; “he is making himself equal to God,” they said. But if anyone denies that the Father is God and the Son is God and the Spirit is God and these three are one God then we cannot work with them. They need the gospel of the divine Jesus. They have no message that’s fit to give others. If he says that Jesus Christ is Jehovah then we pray for him that God will help him magnify our Saviour.

C] If he supports the claims of Jesus that he was sent into the world as the Lamb of God to bear away the sin of the world. He said that he came not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many. Why did he die? Paul says that he received this message from the Lord Jesus, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Cors. 15:3&4). Paul says that he was determined not to know any other message among men save Jesus Christ and him crucified. He claimed that the preaching of the cross is the power of God. Peter said that the Christians he was writing to those who had been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. The very heart of the Christian gospel is that we deserve eternal death because we are sinners but Jesus Christ, because he loved us, died for us. Paul said, “He loved me and gave himself for me.” If men oppose this message and start to talk in hideous parodies of it in language like this – an ‘example of cosmic child abuse’ – then we cannot support them because they are against Christ himself. If he exalts the precious blood of Christ as very powerful in making the foulest clean than we support him.

D] If he supports Christ’s warnings about hell. Now all of us would agree that there was never a more compassionate and forgiving man that the Lord Jesus. Yet this Christ spoke of the place where the worm did not die, where the fires were not quenched, where there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. He told those who hated his gospel that it would be more bearable for Sodom at the judgment than for them. “Fear him who, after killing the body, has the power to throw you into hell,” he said. He told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus where after his death the rich man was in torment in hell. He said that there would one day be a great separation and he would say to many, “Away from me you evil doers.” Why do parents warn their children of danger? Because they love them and want to save them from harm. They don’t warn them about Daleks, and bad fairies, and boogey men because they don’t exist. Jesus warned of hell, and those who deny it are claiming to be more loving than Jesus, and to know more than the Son of God. They are against Jesus, and so we can’t work with them, but if knowing the terror of the Lord a man beseeches sinners to be saved from the wrath to come we’ll work with him.

E] If he supports Christ’s trust in the utter truthfulness of Scripture. Jesus believed Scripture to be the Word of God. When the devil was tempting him in the wilderness he overcame those temptations by saying to Satan, “It is written . . .” and then quoting Scripture to him. He said that the Scripture cannot be broken. He said that God’s word was truth. He told his opponents that they erred because they did not know the Scripture. He referred to Adam and Eve being created in the beginning by God. He referred to the great flood, to the destruction of Sodom, to Jonah being swallowed by the great whale, to those chapters so criticized by 21st century people. Jesus believed them. I have not come to destroy the law but to fulfil it, he said. He has given us a Book from heaven whose contents God has supervised to its jots and tittles. The heavens and the earth will one day fade away but the word of the Lord endures for ever. Anyone who undermines the trust that men and women have in Scripture is undermining the teaching of the Son of God. He is against Christ and so he is against us and we cannot support him.

F] If he supports the demands of Christ that those who follow him must obey him. Jesus sends his servants into all the world and he wants them to make disciples of all nations and that they are to teach people to observe everything that he has commanded. We are to leave nothing out, all of the Sermon on the Mount, all his parables, all his miracles, all his prayers, all his great discourses in John’s gospel. Teach them all of it and require them to do it in their lives. Tell them, “No holiness, no heaven.” If they love Jesus for saving them they will keep his commandments. I don’t want decisions, he says, I want disciples, and by their fruit you will know if they really are my disciples. “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it,” said Christ. Jesus warned some people that they were serving him with their words alone but their hearts were far from him. Christ demanded heart obedience. So here was this particular man preaching and healing in the name of Jesus and in nothing he said and nothing he did was there anything to suggest that he was against anything believed or taught by Christ. Do not oppose such men, said Jesus, even if you don’t know him and he’s not one of your gang, but rather, support them, pray for them, encourage them. Say to them, God bless you and your work.

Now some of them might be rather angular, awkward men with personality problems, (and that would include all of us at times), but that does not mean we have grounds to speak against them and denounce them. Dealing with such matters requires wisdom and love and grace. John Flavel says that once he was looking at a fine garden, all laid out in a very orderly way, the vegetable garden with its different beds of onions and carrots and beetroot, then the potatoes and the beans etc. Then there were the flower beds, the roses climbing the wall, the lobelia at the sides of the path, the lilies and dahlias and carnations. Then he was taken to the orchard and there were the lines of fruit trees, the apples, pears, plums, cherries and damsons. What a pleasing sight it all was. But one thing jarred; there was an apple tree out of line with all the rest in that very neat orchard. John Flavel said, “If that were mine I would root it up and also have an exact order in the orchard.” The man smiled and said, “It produces excellent fruit. It is the best fruit tree I have. Some years the other tress have a very small crop but this tree gives me large sweet apples year after year. Yes, there is a slight inconvenience that it stands there out of line with all the other trees, but that is nothing compared to the great advantage of having it in our orchard.” John Flavel was silent and thought much about that reply; he wished that many a preacher had heard it, men who are too quick in uprooting some fine fruitful people in God’s orchard because they are different from others in how they act and what they say. We all have men and women like that; every church has them, and we are to show great patience with them. They are not against us; they are for us, and we must make sure that they are always with us. We must not be like those people who destroy the fruit in order to preserve the form.


Those are also words of Christ and they seem to contradict what he is saying in our text. They are actually found a couple of chapters later on in Luke chapter 11, “He who is not with me is against me” (v.23). These are words from heaven, and they do not contradict what he has said in our text to John and his apostles. Jesus is teaching us that neutrality in responding to Christ is impossible. Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount, No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other; ye cannot serve God and Mammon. You have to make a choice as to whom you are serving. To serve one as he tells you, “Do this and love that and reject this and turn your back on that,” is then not serving the other master whose commands are quite different. Again the apostle John tells us that to be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God. The world is defined as serving the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. A Christian cannot get enthusiastic about such things and remain a friend of the pure and holy Lord from heaven.

What would you think of an Englishman in 1941 when Britain stood alone against Hitler and fascism who opposed and rubbished Winston Churchill our Prime Minister – disdaining our leader when the enemy were blitzing London with their bombs? It was the time of an enormous crisis and one great danger was a fifth column working in Britain to demoralize the people and persuade them that it was all a lost cause, that we had no leaders, and we ought to surrender to the Nazis. It was a time when the government needed support and prayers. So it is today we are battling with principalities and powers. The enemy of our souls, the god of this world, is seeking to destroy the world and it is our duty to stand with Christ as the only power who can overcome his devices, not to be neutral between Jesus and Satan. We are not to spend out time running down gospel preachers because they don’t belong to our denomination.

Are you with Christ in your thinking, and your disposition, and your affections? Do you love what he loves and hate what he hates? Are you with him as apprentices are with their teachers learning from them? Are you with him as soldiers are with their commanders, obeying their orders? Does Christ have the highest place in your life? Does he dwell in your hearts by faith guiding your every decision wisely? Do you say, “There was a time when other lords ruled my life but now it is you alone?”

There was a Christian speaking to a farmer and the farmer was getting agitated. “You don’t mean to call me an enemy of Christ do you?” The Christian quoted these words of Jesus, “he who is not with me is against me.” “But I am friendly to religion,” the farmer said. “How are you friendly? You don’t blaspheme and you don’t disdain Christ, I know that’s true. But do you say by your life and words that you are trusting in Christ and following him and that that is necessary to be a true Christian?” “No,” the farmer said, “I don’t profess to be a Christian, and I don’t tell other people to become Christians.” “So what is your influence on your family and friends and the men who work on your farm? You are saying that ‘personal trust in Christ is rather unimportant’ aren’t you?” The Christian was right. Why am I a Christian? Largely because my parents were for Christ; they were not against him. To them Jesus Christ and his day and his book and his people and his cross and his resurrection were very important. That’s one of the reasons why I became a Christian. Why are thousands of people around us not Christians? Because their parents and friends don’t think like that at all. It is unimportant to them to believe in Jesus and follow him. Every one of us is following one god or other. None of us is neutral especially about the Son of God Jesus Christ, and so the Saviour says, “He who is not with me is against me.”

I am thinking of those words in the opening chapter of the letter to the Philippians; “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry … the former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of that I rejoice” (vv. 15, 17&18). There were certain people, who, because Paul was in prison were taking advantage of his absence and were preaching the gospel and delighting to annoy him in doing so. One aim was to magnify their own importance by gaining a following; they didn’t need an apostle but the extraordinary thing was that though they demeaned Paul, and they were preaching Christ with an utterly disgraceful motive, the apostle himself rejoiced because Christ was being preached. That was more important than whether or not he himself was getting universal respect in the church.

Obviously Paul is not saying that he is indifferent to the kind of teaching that these servants of Christ give. He is not suggesting in these verses, “It doesn’t matter what they preach so long as they mention the name of Jesus and say he is great. Then I’ll be happy.” No, no! ‘Jesus’ is not some kind of mantra which you chant. The Apostle was not soft towards any and every preacher who offered a show of piety and who claimed to preach ‘Jesus.’ In Galatia they preached Jesus but they said that Jesus was not enough to save you; you also had to get circumcised. Paul didn’t say in some bland way that since we all follow the one Lord then we are all one. Paul would want to know which Jesus they were preaching. We too must constantly ask if the Jesus being promoted is the Mormon Jesus or the Jehovah’s Witness Jesus or the humanistic, liberal Jesus or the health, wealth, and prosperity Jesus. Or is it the biblical Jesus, the Jesus of Chalcedon, and the 39 Articles and the 1689 Confession? Paul gives the weight of his authority and approval not to his opponents’ sincerity and devotion and social concern but to this fact, that he agrees with their message. They were preaching the Christ of the Bible.

It was an ugly situation in the church in Rome. Notice the strength of language which Paul uses when he describes his opponents – “envy and rivalry … selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains … false motives” (Phils. 1:15&17). James Montgomery Boice comments, “Did you know that Paul very likely lost his life as a result of the trouble caused by the troublemaking Christians at Rome? The information that exists from the early church age about the death of Paul and the things that led up to it points to this conclusion: envy led some Christians to denounce Paul and, as a result of their denunciation, Paul and perhaps others also were presumably executed under Nero” (James Montgomery Boice, Philippians, Baker, 1971, p.59).

Here were a group of men in the leadership of the church at Rome who virtually hated Paul. They were envious of his influence and success, and they were ambitious for leadership. Yet when everyone began to evangelise fervently even they were constrained to preach Christ with new zeal. How impressive and influential is Paul’s example. He really did live that the gospel might be advanced. That was his raison d’etre. So Paul could rejoice in their strange activity, his grumbling opponents were both preaching Christ, while also using the pulpit to make sly innuendoes and veiled threats and concealed, damaging hints about him. They were preaching the holy forgiving Christ the Saviour! They were men who gave a faithful gospel message, declaring a selfless, self-sacrificing, unself-seeking Christ, but privately they indulged in another set of values, self-seeking, and moved to hurt one whom Christ had died to save and set apart as his apostle. They were double-minded, dual personalities. Yet there was a complete absence of a retaliatory spirit in Paul. He didn’t even reveal the identity of one of his adversaries. There was no feeling of ‘name and shame.’ He felt hurt at their attitude, but he doesn’t dwell on what they were doing to him. He concluded with thoughts such as these: “They are genuinely preaching Christ. I don’t like why they do it. I don’t particularly like how, but over many years I have observed that God has put his treasure in clay pots and uses them to his glory.” Those who heard Paul’s opponents preaching had no idea of their attitude to the apostle. The congregations only heard good preaching of Christ, and some of them came to believe. God veiled the preachers’ bad motives from them.

How we need that spirit. Within a few months of John Kershaw beginning his ministry in Hope Chapel Rochdale a new minister came to the Town Meadows church nearby and soon that building began to fill and John Kershaw lost a number of his members to that growing congregation. A spirit of discouragement came over their church and they thought they would have to close. John Kershaw sought the opinion of an old Scotsman named Niven in the congregation. What should they do? This was his advice; “Let us pray to the Lord to bless and prosper our friends in Town Meadows so far as they have the glory of the Lord, the purity of his truth and the peace of Zion at heart, and then, if their chapel becomes so full that it will not hold them all perhaps some of the people who can’t find a place to sit there will come to our church, but whether the Lord will bless them or not must be left to himself. What we have to do is to study to be quiet and mind our own business, pray for his presence and blessing to be with us, and leave our cause in his hands, and it will be made manifest that the Lord of hosts is in our midst, and that to bless us.”

There may be a great deal in contemporary evangelicalism that we find profoundly disturbing, but one criterion can make us rejoice, that the Christ of the Bible is being preached from other pulpits all over the land. Their services may be compromised by being teenage-oriented, garish, high pressure, far too dependent on such devices as music softening up a congregation to make the message seem more attractive. Yet is the Christ of the Bible being preached? Is he being proclaimed as God and man? Is he being preached as pre-incarnate, incarnate, exalted? Is he being preached in his state of humiliation and glory? Is he being preached in his offices as prophet, priest and king? Is he being offered as the only Saviour, the one Name by which we must be saved, and the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, so that there is no need of purgatory, and praying saints, and penances, and an interceding Mary, and ritualistic Calvary-repeating dressed-up priests? Is the Jesus these evangelicals preach all sufficient? As we evaluate preaching, especially in denominations different from our own, the prime question is and must always be, is this Christ of the Bible being preached? If so, then those pulpits are supporting our pulpit in their labours.

There will be differences of personal like and dislike always in the church. Different stages of sanctification must mark individual Christians and groups of Christians on this side of glory. These things must be accepted, and, as far as unity is concerned, set on one side. There is but one essential. In its broadest statement, it is agreement in the truth; in its inner essence it is agreement as to what constitutes the saving message, the gospel, what we tell the world about Christ. Those preachers who are not against this Christ are for him.

3rd January 2010 GEOFF THOMAS