Mark 9:38-50 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." 39 "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. 42 "And 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. 43 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. 44 45 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. 46 47 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, 48 where "'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' 49 Everyone will be salted with fire. 50 "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."
Last week I was talking to my confirmation class about discipline with the Fourth Commandment. I asked them what would be the proper discipline for different age children if they did something naughty. For a 1-year-old they offered these disciplinary gems:
“Don’t give her any candy.”
“Put her in timeout.”
“Make her take a nap.”
“Don’t let her watch TV.”
“Sit her in front of the TV.”
“Lock her in her room.”
“Calmly explain to her that what she did was naughty and why she shouldn’t do it again.”
It’s a good thing they won’t be parents for a while.
I tried to explain to the students that this was a 1-year-old. She shouldn’t be getting any candy. She won’t sit still for a timeout. A child doesn’t always want to take a nap. A 1-year-old shouldn’t be watching any TV. It’s kind of dangerous to lock a child in her room – at any age. And there is no way to calmly reason with a 1-year-old.
Some of their ways of dealing with a 1-year-old’s sin sound kind of silly … or harsh … or extreme.
But then you listen to Jesus in today’s Gospel. His ways of dealing with sin sound even more silly … and harsh … and definitely extreme.
He says that if you cause a child to sin, you should have a large millstone used for grinding grain hung around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.
If your hands have touched what they should not have touched and have been slow in helping others, then you should cut off one of your hands. “It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.”
If your feet take you to places where you do not belong and where you know you should not be, you should cut off one of your feet. “It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.”
If your eyes have gazed upon images that were unclean and impure, then gouge out one of your eyes. “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.”
Cutting off body parts, wearing millstone necklaces while swimming, burning forever in unquenchable fire. That all sounds kind of extreme. But this shows how serious Jesus is about sin. Especially to a culture like ours that no longer has any concept of sin.
It is open-season on Christians, and our politicians talk about gun laws instead of sinful actions. Kaitlyn Jenner, Derrick Rose, Donald Trump, and a whole host of others are celebrated for living openly immoral lives. Bill Nye the Science Guy and Nancy Pelosi spit out nonsensical rhetoric to try to defend Planned Parenthood.
Our world has no concept of sin.
But we as Christians should be different. We hear about sin in every worship service. We discipline our children for the naughty sins they commit at home and school. We complain about sin when others sin against us at work.
But are we any different. … Or are we becoming like everybody else.
We move in together before marriage, even though we know what God says about it. We take the name of the Lord in vain like any pagan would. We overindulge at parties like the non-Christians at the parties do. We post pictures of what we are doing on Sunday morning because we are not here worshiping God.
And we are often celebrated for these sins!
We argue with our spouse because of pride. We fight with our parents because of a lack of humility. We worry about money because of a lack of trust in God.
We have no concept of living a moral, righteous life. It is all about living for now. Living for self. Living for pleasure. We take no responsibility for living for God. We feel no guilt for living against God’s will. We have no remorse for living the devil’s lies. We have no concept of eternal judgment and no fear of hell.
There is no shame to sin anymore.
Is it any wonder that our confirmation students have trouble figuring out the proper way to deal with a sinful child when we as adults have trouble figuring out the proper way of dealing with our sinful selves?!
Jesus is correct in saying that it is better to be handless, footless, half-blind and slowly drowned in the sea than to experience the eternal horror of hell. The question is: does hacking off body parts really keep us from sinning? Does sin really originate in the hand or the foot or the eye? Can we really prevent sin by drowning at sea? It would be worth it if we could, but we can’t. If we chopped off every body part that participated in sin, we would soon be a congregation of deaf, dumb, and blind quadriplegics. Even then, we would still be quite capable of committing all kinds of sins.
You can’t just shrug off your sin with the attitude, “Oh well, I’m forgiven!” “It’s just a flesh wound” (The Black Night in Monty Python and The Holy Grail). No, your sin goes much deeper than your flesh. Sin isn’t confined to our hands, feet or eyes. Rather, it resides within our hearts and minds. And if we cut out those parts … then we are dead. So, Jesus is placing us in the situation of realizing that it is impossible for us to deal with sin on our own. So, if we can’t deal with our sin, then we need to turn to someone who can – Jesus.
Carol was a dear, older member of our congregation in Kentucky. After breaking her leg in an accident, her foot was placed in a cast, but over the next few weeks, the foot became infected – from the inside out. Gangrene had set in. The only way to save Carol’s body was to remove her foot. Jesus is saying that in order to save your soul, you need to remove the offensive sin, not the offending body part.
Jesus is the Great Physician of body and soul. He uses the double-edged scalpel of His Law and Gospel to cut away at the sin and then save the soul. He warns you with the sternness of the Law so that He can then save you with the sweetness of His Gospel. Rather than drowning you in the depths of the sea because of your sin, your Savior has instead drown you in the depths of His baptismal font, to kill off your sinful nature and raise up a sanctified spirit within Him. Instead of salting you with the fires of hell, He seasons and preserves you from eternal destruction with His font, communion rail, pulpit and altar, where Word, Water and Supper are proclaimed, poured out, prayed and provided. You are made holy and whole by Christ’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit who lives within you.
Sin is serious. Serious enough for the Son of God to exit His perfect heaven and enter this world of sin and death. There are consequences to your sin. Consequences that Jesus took upon Himself as He suffered separation from His heavenly Father on the cross and endured an eternity of hell condensed into the hours on the cross. Your sin is more than a flesh wound. It is by the wounds of Christ that we are healed and allowed to remain whole.
Sin cannot be ignored. It is like gangrene, leprosy, a cancer inside of you that grows and kills. But instead of making us maim ourselves and cut off body parts, Jesus came to deal with our sin personally. He dealt with our sins of flesh and blood by becoming flesh and blood for us. And, in a way, the parts of His body were cut off for us. Think about it:
- Our feet take us where we do not belong, so He offered His feet to be nailed in place.
- Our hands touch what they should not, so He offered His hands to be pierced so they could not touch anything.
- Our tongues speak gossip, lies and unkind words, so He offered His tongue to be swollen and dry and to be burned with stinging vinegar.
- Our eyes have wandered, so He offered His eyes to be closed in death.
- Our minds think sinful thoughts, so He offered His head to be pierced with thorns.
- Our hearts beat with sinful desires, so He offered His heart to be stopped in death, with no blood left to pump after it ran from His pierced side.
- Our stomachs demand too much food, so He offered His own body and blood as our heavenly food.
- Our backs bend in compromise with a sinful world, so He offered His back to be ripped open with painful lashes.
- Our shoulders refuse to carry our crosses, so He bent His shoulders to accept our burdens.
- The fire that was meant for us, that should have consumed us because of our sin, Jesus extinguished that fire from ever touching His children by enduring hell while on the cross.
- Jesus removed the heavy millstone of the curse of our sin when He broke sin’s curse with the removal of heavy stone that blocked His resurrection tomb.
Are you starting to get the point about seriousness of your sin and the saving grace of your Savior yet? This is not Jesus talking about morality or philosophy or ethics. This is Jesus preaching the Kingdom of God! A radical Kingdom that justifies the ungodly and declares sinners to be righteous in a righteousness not their own. A Spirit-filled Kingdom where we asked in our Prayer of the Day: “Mercifully grant, O God, that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts, for without your help we are unable to please you.” An uncompromising Kingdom where the Holy Spirit directs us to use our hands to help instead of to hurt; to use our feet to walk with those in need; to use our eyes to look upon others in mercy; to use our ears to listen for cries of help; to use our hearts to reach out to the grieving; to use our tongues to offer forgiveness; to use our minds to consider new ways of sharing the Gospel. And so be the salt of love in a world where love is often in short supply.
I pray that we can all work with our confirmands to help them learn proper discipline for a 1-year-old. But more importantly, we all need to learn the proper way to deal with our own sin. We dare never say about our sin, “It’s no big deal.” Because it was the “biggest of deals” that the Son of God died and rose again. We dare never say, “I can just be forgiven.” Though God does forgive us, it came at the great cost of His beloved Son.
We cannot reason with a 1-year-old. Nor can we reason with our sinful nature. It needs to be cut out and replaced with Jesus Christ. Sin and grace. Law and Gospel. Jesus’s wounds that heal our wounds of sin. That is the only proper way to deal with sin. Amen.