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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 9: 38–50

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 18, Proper 21, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Sep 27, 2015 

Hell is far worse than anything we can experience in this world.  It is so terrifying that many people refuse to believe that it exists.  Even more people believe that it so distressing that we should not talk about it.  Todays reading from Marks Gospel account forces us to talk about hell because Jesus talked about hell.  He said, It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:43, 45, 47-48) Jesus described hell with terms such as unquenchable fire and undying worms.  He also said it was better to lose body parts than to enter hell with an intact body.

Jesus then spoke of one of the many reasons we deserve to go to hell.  He spoke about causing someone or something to sin.  Jesus said, 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.  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. (Mark 9:4246)

The Greek behind the phrase causing someone to sin is from the word that gives English the word scandalize.  Whoever scandalizes one of these little ones who believe in me If your hand scandalizes you If your foot scandalizes you If your eye scandalizes you throw it into the sea.  Cut it off.  Gouge it out.  Do whatever it takes to get rid of the scandal.

I remember the surgeon holding up a slide from the CT-scan of my left kidney.  He pointed to the very obvious growth and simply said, This needs to come out. In other words, It is better for me to live with one kidney than to have both kidneys and die of cancer. Jesus said that the cause of scandal in our lives needs to come out just like a cancerous kidney.

Notice also that Jesus used the word if.  Although that word is only two letters long, it is very important.  Yes, the eyes see the scandal.  Yes, the feet take us to the scandal.  Yes, the hands participate in the scandal.  Never the less, are any of these body parts the root cause of the scandal?  Jesus said that if they are, we should get rid of them.  But did any of these body parts participate in the actual decision process that led to the scandal?

Ultimately, none of these body parts had any choice.  It is the mind that interprets the information from the eye and distributes orders to the feet and the hands.  The eyes, the feet, and the hands have no choice.  It is the mind that is the true source of the scandal.  In the Gospel reading from a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus say, From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:2123) So it is our thoughts, feelings, desires, and so forth that are the true cause of scandal.  And, if Jesus is right about removing the cause of scandal from our lives and He is then it is our inner being that has to go.  That means that we must die.

It is at this point that I begin to wonder if Jesus hasnt painted Himself into a corner.  He has said that in order to enter eternal life, we must remove everything that scandalizes us, but at an earlier time in His ministry, He taught that main source of scandal is our inner being our essence the thing that makes me me.  Has Jesus really gotten us to the point that we must understand that God gives us eternal life by destroying the self?  Has He really said that God gives us eternal life by putting us to death?

This is one of those marvelous paradoxes that God gives to us.  In order to avoid death, we must die.  It doesnt sound right, does it?  That is the reason that God must do the work of rescuing us from sin and death.  It is God who must put us to death in such a way that we live forever.

The earlier words of Jesus give us a hint at how this might work.  He said, 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. (Mark 9:42) While this is horrible, crushing law, there is also Gospel here if you know where to look.

Here is another hint.  Consider the teaching of Martin Luther in the Small Catechism: What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Do you believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins?  Then you are one of those little ones who believes in Jesus.  Do you also have a sinful nature that constantly leads you into scandal?  Martin Luther often talked about that sinful nature and he called it the Old Adam.  His words tell us to remember our baptism every day.  Every day our baptism ties a stone around the neck of our old sinful nature and throws it into the deep waters of baptism.

Now, although people call us Lutherans, we dont believe in something just because Martin Luther said so.  Instead, we follow Martin Luthers example and believe in things because we can find them in Gods Word the Bible.  So where did Luther get his teaching of drowning the Old Adam?

One of the places we find this teaching is in the words that the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write to the Romans.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:34)

The Apostle Paul then went on to say, For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:511)

These words teach us that our old self what Luther called the Old Adam was crucified with Jesus.  The sinful corruption that was already part of us at conception along with all the sins that we actually committed were crucified with Jesus.  As Jesus hung on the cross, He took on all the guilt and the punishment of our sin.  It all died with Him.

But Jesus did not stay dead.  He rose from the dead and when He rose, He left our sin and its guilt in the grave.  Since His body no longer carries our sin, it is immortal.

Our Baptism joins us to Christ so that we died with Jesus.  But it also promises that we live with Him.  We are now dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11) Yes, we must pass through death, but, on the Last day, Jesus shall raise us just as He rose.  The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:5253)

It is utterly impossible for us to cut off the true cause of scandal in our lives.  Even if we killed ourselves, we would only accompany our scandal into the eternal punishment where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies.  Only God can deal with the scandal in our lives.  He has done this by sending His Son into the world to take up our human flesh and suffer the punishment of our scandal in Himself.  Only in this way can He put us to death in order to give us eternal life.

In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are already dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11) We already have eternal life in Jesus, but we cannot experience it to its fullest while we live in this world.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12) For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:1617) Amen



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