[See below for the other posts in this series]
The journey to Capernaum and the argument the disciples had along the way has opened up a can of worms. I can almost see them, striding along, imagining what it will be like in heaven. Then the idea creeps up on them. Who will be the greatest? Their pride was popped though when Jesus takes a child in his arms and describes who exactly the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is like—a humble child. The one who humbly serves all the rest is the greatest. John points out something ‘good’ they did in trying to stop someone who was not with them but was rebuked further still. They weren’t getting it.
Since the positives haven’t gotten it through their heads, he moves to the negative. ‘It’s bad enough’ he seems to be saying, ‘that you’re prideful enough to push to the head of the line and stop legitimate kingdom work. But you’re not really getting what the real problem is…. And that is sin.
Sin isn’t just a moral failure, its outright rebellion against God. This is how bad it is, he tells them:
43 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. 45 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. 47 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, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire.
Before we go any further let me state clearly that I’m not going to advocate anyone maiming themselves, so listen up. This passage shows Jesus teaching how bad sin is and in context, it goes right along with the idea of ‘don’t be like this’. Don’t argue, be humble—serve one another. Don’t mislead children, don’t be a false teacher, don’t lead people to sin. Sin is bad and this is how bad it is: its better to cut off parts of your body than to participate in it. The mature reader will know that He is using hyperbole here to describe the worst imaginable thing in His day: being a cripple. It would be better to spend your days begging at the temple for alms and scraps of bread than to sin. That’s how bad it is. Repent! Jesus preached. ‘For the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ Be like this child he tells us here. Be humble and repent and sin not—that is the narrow road.
I won’t register ‘high-powered grammarian’ on anyone’s bible geek detector but it looks to me that the fire in v.48 and the ‘unquenchable fire’ in v.43 are different. Anyone who has tried to lead a holy life that’s subject to the Word of God will know what it’s like to be ‘salted with fire.’ It’s a sometimes painful process—if you’re doing it right. The world does not like holiness. There will be trouble when you live for the gospel. Trouble that leads you away from the fire in v.48. Millstones and unquenchable fire for the disobedient—that still makes me shudder.
And one more thing for my blogging brethren and sisteren that I would like to add. It’s easy to look at the verse about ‘tearing [your eye] out” if it causes you to sin and think, “Wow, I need to be careful what I look at and how I look at it.” Its even easier to look at the verse about the foot and say, “I need to be careful where I go and what I do there.” But read this verse: Mark 9:43 “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” and keep it in your mind as you TYPE your next angry reply or tear someone down online or write any blog post. “If your hand,” either one of those things with which you write all of those fine, biblical diatribes, “causes you to sin, cut it off.” Don’t start the chainsaw, but examine your motives before you post. Make sure you’re not just trying to score points for the ‘Baptists’ or the ‘TR’ or the ‘xMB’ or whatever your home-team label is.
Peace Brothers. That’s our next topic.
Other Posts In This Series: