Mark 9:38–50 ESV
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
There’s too much going on in this text to adequately cover it in this brief venue. I’ll choose one topic: sin.
Jesus’ message is as stark as it is simple and can be brought down to three words: sin is deadly.
On the one hand, Jesus employs the use of hyperbole, yet on the other, he does not overstate his case. Sin means death. Sin doesn’t kill with the surgical strike of a bullet, but like the slow cell-scorching scourge of cancer.
It reminds me of the more modern-day stories that get passed along to describe sin. There’s the story of how monkeys are caught in certain parts of the world. Trappers cut a small hole into a hollow gourd and fill it with the monkey equivalent of candy bars. The monkey reaches into the gourd, gets a handful of the treats, and when he tries to pull his hand out, the hole is not large enough for his fist to fit through. The only thing between the monkey and freedom is his grip on the candy. He ultimately succumbs to the trap.
Then there’s the story of how wolves are trapped in certain parts of Alaska. They bury a very sharp knife down into the ice with only the tip of the blade exposed. On top of the blade they place a large hunk of raw meat. The wolf begins eating the meat and, in the process, cuts his tongue. Unable to distinguish the blood from the raw meat and the blood from his tongue, the wolf bleeds to death in the process of enjoying his last meal.
Of all the stories I’ve told my kids, they seem to remember these the most. They can tell these stories in striking detail. We get it. We understand what sin is and what it does and yet we still do it. Even the most dire warnings don’t manage to steer us clear of the seduction of sin. Jesus wants us to imagine taking a hatchet and hacking off our hand if it leads us into sin. Think about that. Jesus goes to such lengths because sin is so deadly. He’s saying it would be better for you to endure the pain of amputation than the outcome of a tortured life of sin.
Maybe there’s another obvious message hiding within Jesus’ stern warning. What if he’s calling us to preemptive strategies as relates to sin abatement? Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, sin has lost its power over us. Yet somehow it remains powerful. Permit me to be frank. Whether it be the sins of pride or gluttony or lust or envy or fill in the blank, sin continues to win in our lives because we have adopted a strategy of management instead of eradication. We choose sin-management because we aren’t willing to do what sin-eradication requires. Even worse, we deem the eradication of sin impossible. So what does sin-eradication require?
It takes more than me and the Holy Spirit. It requires other people. Until I’m ready to let a couple of other people into the inner sanctum of my soul to help me overcome sin, it won’t happen.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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