Sunday Gospel Lesson for 18th Sunday After Pentecost (September 26, 2021)
38 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.” 39 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. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 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.
42 “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. 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. 50 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.”Mark 9:38-50 esv
A great instructor in the study of the Bible hammered home again and again the principle that context is everything. This passage is one of the best examples of that principle. Jesus speaks of acts of desperation. If the choice was between life and death, in desperation we might cut off a hand or a foot or be willing to lose an eye. But that is not the choice and Jesus knows it and you do as well. It should come as no surprise that amputees still sin. It is not the eye or the hand or the foot that causes me to sin. You and I do that all by ourselves. It comes out of our own hearts. And we can’t very well cut our heart out without dying. There is no 12-step program, no therapy, no self-help process, even those based on the Bible, which will expel this old sinner who lurks in us. I cannot cut him out because he is me.
Jesus wants you to feel that helplessness. It is the very essence of the childlike faith he talked about last week and he will talk about again next week. You are the child, helpless before the power of your own sinful self. You could not change it even if you really wanted to, and that old stinker within doesn’t really want to change. When eternal death looms, no act of will, no effort, and no amount of chopping will make any difference. If we whittle you down to the nubs, there is still that old sinner in you.
But there is Someone who makes a difference. These words of Jesus are right in the middle of three predictions of his own death in Mk. 8, 9, and 10. Dial it in a little closer and we hear Jesus speaking about children, both last Sunday and today. We will hear of children again next Sunday. I encourage you to read and notice the children in the paragraphs around this passage. Notice the value that Jesus places on them. They are precious to him. His justice is fierce on their behalf. He rewards the smallest act of kindness shown to them. Now, know that with these words he has reduced you to childlike helplessness before you sin. Jesus is not trying to condemn you, not really. He wants you to see the danger you are in and to hear His comfort. He dies for sinners like you, not because you ever got anything right. He dies for sinners like you because that is what He does. He loves his creation that much.
Today’s “a devotion for you…” is edited and adapted, with permission, from original content from colleague and friend, Phil Brandt.