The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Mark 9:38 “John said to Him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.’ 39 But Jesus said, ‘Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is for us. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward. 42 Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44 [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 45 If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46 [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 47 If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast 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 becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’” (NASB)
Hyperbole is the use of an excessive exaggeration to make a point. We all do this on a pretty frequent basis. “If that ever happens again, I will die.” Mr Goad is older than dirt.” Now we all know that Mr. Goad isn’t older than dirt because dirt pre-dates Adam. God formed Adam out of the dust of the earth. There’s a place for hyperbole and there are places where hyperbole ought not be used.
Jesus often used hyperbole to make a point. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. Three times Jesus tells us that it is better to mutilate ourselves than to allow sin to live in us in such a way that drives out faith and leads to eternal judgment.
Jesus also wants us to understand that leading others, especially little children to fall away from the faith and to turn to a life of sins, that is a life of unrepentant sin, of the forsaking of the church, from the Law and Gospel is among one of the most grievous things a person can do. This is a warning that ought to be taken seriously in our day and age. It’s not, but it ought to be.
In Psalm 22:6 the Word of God says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Think about that for a moment. Most English translation get it right. They use the word “train.” A few will read, “teach a child.” But think about the connotation of those two words: teach and train. When you teach you do train. When you train you do teach.
But each word has a nuance. What does training look like? It is intense. It is ongoing. It focuses on a specific area. Think of training for football, or spring camp for basement. Pick a sport, any sport and in order to be good at it, you need training. Training doesn’t only belong to sports. Companies have training programs to help impart information, practices, habits, and techniques so that the one who completes training can do their job with a level of proficiency.
That is what Psalm 22:6 tells parents (and the church) what they are to do in regard to raising the children of the church. In the Old Testament period that meant, training one’s children what it meant to be a child of God, a member of the covenant. It meant teaching them that language and traditions and habits of the faith in an ongoing and intense way so that it became a way of thinking and a way of life.
Now a painful question? Is that what we have been doing for the past 50 years? Have we been training them to grow up to be Christians who are proficient at being Christians, who think and understand and act as Christians before God on Sunday morning and before our neighbors the rest of the week?
A very many parents and grandparents these days wonder what has gone wrong and why their children and grandchildren have forsaken the church. It might have something to do with lax training.
The Bible does teach that if a child is trained properly “when he is old he will not depart from it.” On the other hand we have this from Jesus. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.”
Jesus teaches two lessons here. First, children can stumble because of what someone else does. A child can be led away from Christ and the true Christian faith. Second the one who causes a child to stumble away from the faith will face the worst kind of judgment.
In a time when event parents have become so blind and stupid that they openly encourage their children to explore and experiment with spiritually deadly lifestyles, religious groups, philosophies, and moral codes this warning about sin and children ought to be placed firmly before every Christian. And it ought to be ever before the church. Training not entertaining is what the God has sent His church to do.
Jesus said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.” Jesus uses the word for a millstone so large that a human being cannot grind with it. It is so big that it would take a beast of burden to move it around the table.
As for the phrase “causing to stumble,” stumble is being used here as a synonym of sin. The Greek word used for “cause to sin” is scandalēzā— scandalize. A strict translation would read, “whoever scandalizes one of these little ones who believe in me.” “If your hand scandalizes you….” “If your foot or your eye scandalizes you….” Scandalous thoughts, words, and deeds are also sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.
This is all one complete lesson. First the scandal over a stranger casting out demons in Jesus’s name, a task I might remind you the disciples failed to do because they did not use prayer and Jesus’s name.
The Greek word that Jesus uses when He rebuked the disciples because they stopped the man from casting out demons is kōlewō, which means “to prevent or deny, prohibit” and here it is connected to the ministry of God’s Word in the world.
Whenever kōlewō is used in the New Testament, it’s used in conjunction with Word and Sacrament ministry. Kōlewō is almost always used to contrast scandalous, selfish desires of man with the good and holy desires of God. When the disciples were running them off people who were bringing little children to Jesus, Jesus rebuked them. “Let the children come to me. Do not kōlewō them; do not hinder/prevent/stop them from being brought to Me.”
We hear this same word used with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch reads Scripture and asks Philip, “What does this mean?” Philip proclaims the Gospel. The eunuch asks, “What prevents me; what kōlewō’s me from being baptized? What prevents me from being made a child of?”
If Philip had refused it would have been a sin, a scandal. The use of kōlewō indicates that something good or bad, right or wrong is in the works. The man who was healing in Jesus’s name was doing the Lord’s will. Those who sin and cause others to sin are not.
Jesus’s use pf hyperbole makes the point that sin is no small matter. Here is the hyperbole. 43 “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.” “If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off.” “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out.” Why, because compared to “ hell, the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Missing body parts is nothing.
Now sin doesn’t originate in the hand, or the foot, or the eye. We had that lesson a few weeks ago in Mark 7:21-22 where Jesus told us that “out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts.”
If we chopped off every body part that participated in sin, we would still be quite capable of committing all kinds of sins and would. We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. Woe to those who cause the children of the church to fall into sin, to stumble away from a life of coming to church, a real and true church, to confess their sins and to receive God forgiveness and grace through the Word and Sacrament ministry of His Church.
The cutting off body parts is hyperbole. The description of hell and the God’s judgment on those who deal in leading children away from Christ is not hyperbole. If we follow Jesus’s line of reasoning to its proper conclusions, we find ourselves trapped in an impossible situation. Sin is very serious because it leads to hell and hell is a place of horror beyond our contemplation. Since the ultimate source of all sin is our thoughts and feelings, the only way we can avoid sin is not to think or feel. Since these two activities mark us as human beings and are pretty good evidence that we are alive, then it appears we were doomed from the moment we were conceived to fall under the judgment of the Law.
Now imagine the disciples hearing this for the first time, thinking about their hands and feet and eyes. In classic form Jesus preaches the in inescapable Law to them. To make matters worse, they were getting in the way of the church’s work. They were scandalizing the work of the Church when they tried to stop the man from casting out demons in Jesus’s name. This man without a name in Scripture did what the disciples failed– cast out demons in Jesus’s name.
The Old Testament lesson confronted the same problem. Some in the camp complained that there were people among them who were preaching God’s Word. They wanted Moses to shut them up. 29 “But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!’”
The disciples had lost sight of two things. The seriousness of sin and the Gospel itself. Jesus ends the lesson by saying (50) 50 Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’”
The salt is the Word of God, faith, and Jesus Christ Himself. Christian adults and Christian children world are not to be of the same rotten unbelieving immoral material as the rest of the world. We are in the world, but are not of it.
Our Baptism joins us to Christ so that we died with Jesus. But it also promises that we live with Christ too. “We are now dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)
It is utterly impossible for us to cut off the true cause of scandal in our lives. Only God can and has dealt with the scandals of our lives. Jesus was scandalized on our behalf. The only sinless man was punished for the sins of the world and for your sin and mine.
One day soon for all of us, our scandalous lives and this scandalous world will end. There will be no contrast between sin and righteousness, right and wrong, good and evil. No more kōlewō. No more division. Just peace with one another.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.