Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to stumble…
Our minds naturally jump to the conclusion that he is talking about little children. Especially where Mark places this – because fresh in our minds from last week is Jesus pulling a little kid up on His lap and saying “you must become as a little child.”
However, commentaries and scholars agree that Jesus is not talking about little kids, but those without a mature understanding of the Scriptures….those who are followers in the faith – Matthew 11:25 says “babes in the faith”. No offense, but Jesus is talking about many of you, and I hope those of you who believe that is not you, that you are not offended. But those of you who would say about yourselves that you are not studying and understanding God’s Word like you would like to be at this point in your Christian walk or in your life… that you are not offended, but in agreement. Jesus could very easily be talking about American Christianity here. Just as the Apostle Paul was when he said to the Corinthians in 3:2 – you should be eating meat by now, but I have had to keep giving you milk. But unlike Paul, which can be taken as a little bit of an insult, Jesus is talking about people who have accepted Him and His teaching and they are suffering from bad teaching and leadership.
Matthew 9:36 – Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Diane will sometimes point out to me and to other people about my status in the church – she reminds others that I will be judged more strictly than you all. . I do not mind telling you that is not a comfort to me to be reminded of that, but it is true. She usually says this when I preach tough sermons. I have to preach the entire truth of God’s word. God have mercy on those who do not. If anyone who goes to our church or listens to my sermons goes to hell, it will not be because of wishy washy preaching. I want to have the confidence of the Apostle Paul when he said in Acts 20:26-27 – Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not failed to preach to you the entire Gospel. If you go to hell, it is not on me. Christ have mercy on those preachers who dilute the Word of God to the point that nobody would ever feel a need to repent of their sin. To condone and celebrate sin from the pulpit is to condemn people to hell. Instead of leading us to repentance, we are led to a false sense of security. Nobody worries about going to hell anymore.
Lord, have mercy on sinners that they would hear the truth that You died for sinners and would confess their sin and repents of it and will receive mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus says of those who cause people to sin, and how do we cause people to sin? By denying God’s call to repent and affirming sin… celebrating sin… preaching many ways to heaven, doing anything to lead people away from the historic Christian faith, Jesus says if anyone causes someone to sin, it would be better to have a millstone hung around their neck and be cast into the sea. Do you know what a millstone is? While Diane and I were in Michigan we stayed at the Old Mill House. It is an old flour mill that now serves as a bed and breakfast. In the back yard of the B&B was a millstone. It was a big round stone that had been hewn – chiseled into a wheel. It weighed hundreds of pounds. Jesus says if you lead His children astray, the most merciful thing you could hope for was to have this stone tied around your neck and to then be cast into the sea. As bad as this sounds to us today, as the Jews heard this they would have known something you do not know. While it sounds pretty hopeless and bad enough to us, the Jews knew the sea was traditionally a place that symbolized terror and destruction in Jewish lore and Jewish poetry. So not only would one be better to be cast into terror and destruction, but there would be no hope of escape with a millstone tied around your neck.
The next six verses go from the previous warning about offending others, or causing others to stumble in sin, to an offense against yourself. The NIBC says that entrance into the kingdom of God is so precious, so immeasurable a gain, that anything which might prevent that, no matter how good it may appear to be in this life, should be ruthlessly cast aside and disposed of. “Ruthlessly sacrificed” the NIBC says. Whatever hinders entrance into the Kingdom is a fatal liability. The idea of sacrificing a lesser good for a greater good is an idea that runs through all of life. I was at a dollar general yesterday and they had KitKats for 50 cents – not baby ones – the real full sized ones. That was a good deal. But for the greater good of my health, I bypassed the 210 calories and the temporary good of the Kit Kat and walked out of the dollar general without one.
So when Jesus says, your hand, or your foot, or your eye… We are reminded that it is whatever it is that stands in the way of our goal of the Kingdom of God. Our desires from little to big… like a Kit Kat or our sexual appetite. Certainly, we are to sacrifice what is evil, but we also must sacrifice some things that seem pretty good, remembering the old saying that the good is sometimes the enemy of the best. Again, the NIBC reminds us that things that are not inherently bad in themselves become bad when they eclipse the sin of the kingdom. Sometimes ease and comfort is what we need to sacrifice!
Finally, we get to the final verses of chapter 9 –
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 among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
Jesus was talking to people who knew salt – The disciples knew the importance of salt. It was a preservative – a spice that saved food. The Christian that loses their saltiness – their Christian flavor, cannot perform their function as a preserving force in the world.
NIBC tells of a man who said in a time of crisis, “If you have anything peculiarly Christian to say at this hour, for God’s sake, say it. If you have nothing to say but what is echoed on every street corner and in every luncheon club in the land, for God’s sake, keep still.”
NIBC – When Christians and the church have lost the Gospel and pronounced their blessing on carnage and violence and the things that God condemns, they have lost their saltiness. For the church to proclaim the ways of the world as holy and the commands of God as judgmental and unloving, they have lost their saltiness. That have lost their preserving power. When the church of Jesus Christ proclaims that all roads and all religions lead to heaven, when the church of Jesus Christ proclaims that the sins our society is affirming are ordained by God, when we are afraid of offending people by calling them to give up their lusts of the flesh and love for money
“According to the men of the world, few are going to hell; According to the Bible, few are going to heaven.” –J. C. Ryle