Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
One of the mistaken ideas that you often hear bandied about today is that the Jesus of the Gospels preached a message of love and non-judgmentalism.
In their view, there is OT law, which is very harsh and narrow and really just for Israel, and there is the Apostle Paul who spoke to the culture of his time, but Jesus, in the Gospels, is where you find the timeless message of love and non-judgmentalism that ought to shape our thinking today.
And so, as an example, we welcome homosexuals into church membership and even into the pulpit because the Jesus of the Gospels doesn’t want us to judge others.
Well, the passage before us today reveals just how mistaken that idea is. The very idea that Jesus ushered in a new era of tolerance for sinners and sin is given the royal heave-ho by the passage before us today. For, as JESUS CONTINUES TO TEACH ABOUT GENUINE DISCIPLESHIP, we hear Him speak plainly and piercingly about sin and hell.
Now let me first demonstrate that Jesus is continuing to teach about genuine discipleship!
• Last time we were together, we saw in vv33-37 that Jesus was teaching His disciples about genuine discipleship.
• And then there was this episode in vv38-41 of the disciples telling Jesus about this man who had been driving out demons in the name of Jesus. And they had tried to stop him because he was not one of the twelve. But Jesus told them not to stop such a person.
• Well as we come to vv42-50, at first read, it appears that Mark ends the chapter by recording a series of small and seemingly unconnected warnings that Jesus gave to the disciples.
• What we need to see though is that this whole section, from vv33-50, is Jesus teaching about genuine discipleship. The episode in the middle, vv38-41, is an ILLUSTRATION of what Jesus is teaching around it. Let me explain:
o In v37, Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.” And in v42, Jesus warns anyone who would “cause one of these little ones who believe in me to sin…” And in between these references to “little children” and “the little ones,” we are given an example of the disciples not welcoming a ‘little child’ and quite possibly causing a ‘little one’ to sin.
o Here was a man, you see, who hadn’t heard everything that the disciples had heard from Jesus. Here was a man who hadn’t spent the time with Jesus that the disciples had spent. Here was a man who hadn’t seen everything that Jesus did, as the disciples had. And remember what led up to this teaching moment – the disciples had been arguing about who among them was the greatest. And so, in their minds, this man didn’t have the status that they had has the 12 disciples of Jesus. And so, they tell him that he has no business trying to drive out demons in the name of Jesus.
o But later, after the Holy Spirit had come upon them, as the disciples thought back to the things Jesus had taught them at this time, they remember what they said to this man. And they can see that in trying to get this man to stop what he was doing, they were doing the opposite of what a disciple of Jesus ought to do.
So vv42-50 are not some random thoughts added to the end of a chapter. They continue the teaching of Jesus about genuine discipleship. And what we learn from these verses is that a genuine disciple TREADS GENTLY, OPERATES SURGICALLY, and INTERACTS HUMBLY. First of all then, from v42, a genuine disciple TREADS GENTLY.
Jesus has said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.” And now He says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.”
And as we have seen, the story in vv38-41 is an example of the disciples failing in this area. There was this man who really knew one thing which was that when you spoke the name of Jesus, with belief, demons were driven out. We might call him a man with a new or weak faith. And here come the 12 disciples of Jesus telling him that he must stop doing this because he is not one of them.
1. Now, WHAT THEY COULD HAVE DONE is commended him and befriended him and begun to meet with him more regularly so that he would know more about Jesus. And in that way, with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, he would have grown in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. But that is not what they did, is it. And you can imagine the potential spiritual damage they caused through their efforts to get him to stop!
a. Perhaps you boys and girls can remember a time when you were learning some new skill or trying something difficult for the first time. Maybe something like a sports activity. And you try and shoot the ball through the net or hit the ball, but you miss and someone laughs at you or tells you that you are hopeless or tells the others there that their grandma could do it better! And it is humiliating, isn’t it. And it often leads us to stop what we were trying and to not touch it again.
b. Well, we can picture this man, after the disciples had left him, unsure about whether he ought to be doing what he was doing. Maybe they were right. Maybe he wasn’t qualified. Maybe he should find something else to do. And most importantly, as a result of his encounter with the disciples, his attraction to Jesus is likely to be far weaker, if not non-existent, than what it was before. Rather than having been drawn closer to this gracious and loving and powerful Saviour, he has likely drifted further away.
2. And THE SERIOUSNESS of causing such a one to sin or stumble in this way is such that Jesus says, “It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” Commentators tell us that this type of execution was one that the Romans were using on Jewish rebels. So the disciples could well picture someone being tipped into the sea, tied to this large weight, and struggling until they drowned. It is a devastatingly horrible way to die. But Jesus says it is preferable to being one who leads new or weak believers to sin or to stumble in the faith.
a. Now, JESUS IS NOT SAYING THAT IF YOU SIN IN THIS WAY, YOU ARE FINISHED. This is not the unforgiveable sin. The disciples are proof of that. But it is an extremely serious sin. We must be very careful not to do or say something that would cause a new or weak believer to sin or to stumble in their faith. And if we come to see that we are guilty of this sin, we must come before the Lord in confession and repentance.
b. So how might we sin in this way, today?
i. Well, watch many of the early morning ‘preachers’ on TV and you will see men and women who need to heed this warning. My wife told me the other day about a news report of a preacher who was trying to convince his congregation to fund a new private jet for him because that would extend his ministry capabilities. And if they would give, till it hurt, the Lord would reward them with money and houses and boats. And the reality is that many who have got caught up in the PROSPERITY GOSPEL have then renounced it and the Jesus who they have been taught is at the centre of it.
A. It would be better for the preachers of the prosperity gospel to have a millstone tied around their necks and thrown into the sea that to cause weak believers to stumble as they do.
ii. LLOYD GEERING, here in NZ, and Bishop John Spong, from the USA, and many others like them, claim to be Christians but in their preaching and writing they deny the virgin birth and the divinity of Christ and the physical resurrection of Jesus. And they have led a great many into unbelief.
A. It would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their necks and thrown into the sea that to cause weak believers to stumble as they do.
iii. MINISTERS OR ELDERS OR DEACONS who commit serious public sin, like some sort of sexual immorality, for example, can lead members of the congregation to doubt their faith.
A. It would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their necks and thrown into the sea that to cause weak believers to stumble as they do.
iv. There are PARENTS who profess the name of Christ but then neglect Bible reading and prayer and opportunities to gather with the Lord’s people, or they engage in a lot of gossip, or they have an unforgiving spirit, or they spend a lot of time complaining about other people at church, in the presence of their children, which can lead their children to stumble in the faith.
A. It would be better for the them to have a millstone tied around their necks and thrown into the sea that to cause their children to stumble as they do.
v. There may be SOMEONE NEW AT CHURCH who is ignored by us all, or who through your words has come to think that because they have a nose piercing or a tattoo they can’t be a real Christian, or who hears one of us swearing or talking about the excessive alcohol we drank at the party last night or the obviously filthy movie we watched last night, or who lent one of us some money with the promise we would pay them back tomorrow, but that was 6 weeks ago and the debt remains, and they can’t reconcile Christians with the Jesus of the Bible?
A. It would be better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck and thrown into the sea than to cause that person to stumble as you do.
c. Oh, how we need to treads gently with the ‘little ones’ that Jesus speaks of.
3. Now, before we move on to the second point, note that there is also an OBVIOUS FLIPSIDE to this sin. If my words or actions can cause someone to stumble in relation to Christ, my words or actions can also cause someone to grow in their attraction to Christ.
a. In terms of the things we say, the Spirit of the Lord can use them to make Christ attractive.
b. And it terms of the things we do, Paul said to the Corinthian believers, “I urge you to imitate me.”
c. And in Hebrews we read, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”
d. So this should be our prayer: Lord, let me talk and behave in such a way that others might grow in their devotion to Jesus Christ!
So, the genuine disciple of Jesus Christ TREADS GENTLY. But secondly, as we see in vv43-48, the genuine disciple of Christ OPERATES SURGICALLY.
Jesus says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”
1. Now, some of you may have noticed that there is NO V44 OR V46 in your Bible versions. And perhaps you have a note that explains that some of the old manuscripts from which we get our Bible versions have the words of v48, about the worms and fire of hell, repeated also in v44 and v46, while other manuscripts only have those words in v48. But repeated three times or stated just once, the truth of these words and what they reveal about hell is weighty indeed.
2. WHAT JESUS TEACHES HERE is that sin is so dangerous that it must be dealt with decisively and that hell is a real place of unbearable agony.
a. And congregation, thinking back to the opening words of the sermon, how anyone can read these words of Jesus and come up with a view of Him just teaching a message of love and non-judgmentalism defies belief! The reality is, as one commentator puts it, “The strongest support of the doctrine [of hell] comes from the lips of Jesus Christ. Think of it: the most terrifying imagery and detailed descriptions of hell are found in the discourses of the Redeemer! Jesus continually warned men and women of the danger of going to hell. Jesus Christ, who foretold that He would come again to judge the entire human race, spoke more about hell and its terrors than the prophets and apostles combined.”
b. The Greek word translated as hell is GEHENNA. The term comes from the valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem.
i. There, for many years, infant children were sacrificed to the fire God, Molech.
ii. King Josiah ended this pagan practise in Israel and turned the place into a kind of tip where animal guts were burned and the rubbish was dumped.
iii. In Jesus’ time, it served also as a kind of crematorium for the bodies of executed criminals.
iv. So there was this continual smouldering fire going on there, and a terrible stench, and the decomposing work of worms and maggots.
v. And Jesus uses that imagery to give us a sense for the terrors of hell.
vi. My friends, there maybe a certain pizza franchise that makes light of hell, but hell is a terrifyingly awful place.
A. As a sinner without the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, you are polluted and unclean before God. And if you refuse to repent and submit to Jesus Christ, you will become eternal garbage. And I stress the word ETERNAL. Garbage on earth eventually burns up or decomposes. But in hell, “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
3. So sin, if it is not dealt with decisively, will bring the sinner to hell. That’s why Jesus says, “Cut it off”! “Pluck it out”!
a. Now, it is self-evident that Jesus is NOT SPEAKING LITERALLY HERE. If you cut one hand off, you would still have the other to sin. If you plucked one eye out, the other could still cause you to sin. What Jesus is saying is that sin must be dealt with decisively.
i. By way of illustration, if a DOCTOR were to tell you that you had a cancerous tumour that needed to be removed or you would die, you would not leave that tumour in for a while just to see what happens! And you would be even more foolish if you looked online and found that cancerous tumours feed on testosterone, for example, and then started taking testosterone tablets to feed the tumour. Right? You would take the doctor’s good advice and get that tumour removed, immediately!
ii. Well, sin is eternally far more dangerous than a cancer tumour. But some sinners don’t want to heed Jesus’ advice and rip it out. They want to hold on to it and enjoy it and even feed it! Well, you do so at the risk of hell. There is no getting around what Jesus says here.
b. The gory metaphors that Jesus uses tell us that half-hearted attempts to work on our sins will not do. YOU, and notice that that is where Jesus aims this exhortation, YOU must operate surgically when it comes to sin. This is not someone else’s task, it is YOURS! You have to ‘pluck out,’ you have to ‘sever’ if there is to be victory. Your action in regards to sin must be the equivalent of there being a bloodied hand or eye on the surgery floor.
i. So, what places of sin are your feet taking you to, at present?
ii. What hidden activities are your hands busy with that you would be embarrassed if others knew about?
iii. What are you watching or reading or looking at?
iv. When you are not busy, where does your mind go?
A. My friend, if you sit there now, with a troubled conscience, take decisive action today. Be humble and ask someone else to hold you accountable and to pray for you and with you.
B. To pluck out an eye or sever a hand or foot is painful. It will hurt to give up whatever is sinful in your life. But better some pain now and eternal life with Jesus than ease now and being eternal garbage.
So, a genuine disciple of Jesus TREADS GENTLY and OPERATES SURGICALLY. But thirdly and lastly and briefly, from vv49-50, a genuine disciple of Jesus INTERACTS HUMBLY.
Jesus says, “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
1. And we need to understand the first phrase to understand the second; “Everyone shall be SALTED with fire.”
a. In Leviticus 2:13, the people of Israel were told to add salt to all their grain offerings. And this is because the salt acted as a flavour and/or a preservative. Salt is a good thing.
i. So the genuine disciple of Jesus is one who is salted – he or she is a flavour adder and a preserver. He or she is a blessing to others. A world that is infected with sin’s corruptions needs ‘salty’ disciples of Jesus.
b. But how are genuine disciples salted WITH FIRE? Well, in 1 Peter 1, the Apostle speaks to Christians who were suffering grief in all kinds of trials. He says, “These have come so that your faith– of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire– may be proved genuine.”
i. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has told His disciples to expect persecution. We read that when He first spoke about genuine discipleship in ch. 8: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” And now He has told His disciples that they must be willing to sacrifice anything and everything to cut off sinful activity. Persecution and wrestling with ridding ourselves of whatever causes us to sin are the fire that salts a genuine disciple.
c. Jesus is saying, those who cling to me in the face of persecution and ‘cut off’ anything that causes them to sin are the ones I will use to bring others to faith in Me, to influence public policy, to promote honesty, to elevate that which is good and beautiful over that which is evil and ugly, and to build my church.
d. But just as salt that has last its saltiness cannot be resalted, so also, if you have heard the gospel but are growing less willing to take a stand for Christ and more comfortable with your sin, what use are you to Me?
Brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls, this passage began with the disciples arguing about which of them was the greatest. So we can be like them and climb all over one another seeking to be honoured and served by others, we can bite and devour one another by pointing out each other’s failings, we can criticize and be picky and tear down, we can withdraw and ignore.
But that is not the way of Jesus. That is not the way that promotes “peace with each other.”
The way of Jesus is to TREAD GENTLY with ‘little ones’ and to OPERATE SURGICALLY when it comes to anything that causes ME to sin, and to INTERACT HUMBLY with others.
So let’s finish with this question: It is nearly end of term at school. Teachers will soon be writing out report cards. So if the Lord Jesus Christ were to write out a report card for the Reformed Church of Dovedale, today, what would it say? Do we have salt in ourselves and are we at peace with each other?
And I trust you realize that you can only answer that question with a mirror in front of you – Am I salty? Amen.