We see in this passage signs that the disciples’ heads are starting to swell. Can you blame them? By this time, a multitude of people could have claimed to be Jesus’ disciples, but the Twelve were his constant companions and closest confidantes. They occupied a place of privilege and prestige at this time in Jesus’ ministry. Others wanted to associate themselves with Jesus too. One of them was this unnamed man who got the idea to try casting out demons using Jesus’ name. Apparently, it worked! And when the Twelve got wind of it, they weren’t pleased.
The disciples took it upon themselves, they now inform Jesus after-the-fact, to forbid this unauthorized, unofficial activity in Jesus’ name. “He was not following us,” they tell him. What they were probably thinking was, “If he wants to cast out demons in your name, he should get his paperwork in order and go through the proper channels.” They presumed to have the authority to stop the man, and, what’s more, they tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us – not because he wasn’t following you, Jesus. Their closeness to Jesus was going to their heads during this time when his fame and popularity was surging.
The problem with the disciples’ thinking wasn’t the idea of going through the proper channels. For some offices in the church (pastor, ruling elder, or deacon), the Bible teaches that a person should only be given that responsibility by the Church after a period of training and examination, culminating in ordination.
No, Jesus has to correct something else in the disciples. They see Jesus’ star rising, and they won’t listen to any news to the contrary, not even from Jesus himself when he bluntly tells them he’s going to be killed. They’re riding on Jesus’ coattails, and they think the ride will never stop. But it will.
At the peak of Jesus’ popularity, even this unknown exorcist wants to do kingdom work in Jesus’ name. That popularity will not last, however. At least this person, who has done mighty works in Jesus’ name, won’t be quick to speak evil of Jesus. The implication is that others will. “At least you’ll have this one friend and ally,” Jesus seems to imply, “after everyone else has turned against us.”
The tide of popularity will turn so quickly that anyone not actively against Jesus and his disciples should be counted as an ally. In fact, the disciples should expect to be so reviled, that anyone who would show such trifling kindness as to offer a cup of water will later be rewarded richly by God.
The disciples mistakenly believed everlasting glory lay just ahead for them, a five-minute walk down the road behind Jesus. The truth is that, although the victory has been won and guaranteed by Jesus already, we walk a road marked by suffering on the way to glory. Jesus will sustain us entirely, of course, but if you see that clearly, you’ll also see that there’s no place for pride or presumption in our hearts along the way. Let’s ask the Lord to expose the pride and presumption in our hearts and to give us grace to grow in that area of discipleship in community with others.