In the last paragraph of Mark (Mark 9:33-41) we saw the disciples of Jesus arguing over who is the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus will have to teach the disciples many times that if you want to be first, you must be last of all and servant of all. Lower yourself and have no regard for status. Remember to illustrate this spiritual truth, Jesus has placed a child in their midst and called for them to receive even a little child. Though we had to stop the lesson for the sake of time at verse 41, the scene has not changed and Jesus continues teaching his disciples about counting the cost and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It is a passage that we want to skip over because it is so sobering and so graphic that we do not want to think about it. But Jesus is the master teacher and everything he teaches is for our spiritual good. So let us not soften what Jesus says but listen to the strong words of Jesus.
Not A Cause For Sin (9:42)
The “little ones” refer back to the child that is in Jesus’ arms which Jesus used to illustrate one of God’s children, that is, one of God’s followers. Jesus says to not cause one who believes in Jesus to sin. Do not cause someone to stumble and fall from the Lord Jesus. Listen to how important this is to Jesus. If you cause someone to sin, it would be better for a large millstone to be tied around your neck and then be cast into the sea. This seems extreme. Why is Jesus saying this? Why use such an extreme illustration? To fit into our context, Jesus wants us to see how important it is that we are not thinking about ourselves. We need to see how important it is to consider the seriousness and gravity of sin.
The Battle Against Sin (9:43-48)
But this leads Jesus to speak about our own personal battle against sin.
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. 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. 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, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:45–48 ESV)
You will notice that Jesus makes a similar statement three times which only emphasizes his point all the more. Consider the seriousness of the battle we are to wage against sin. Jesus says that if your hand or your foot or your eye causes you to sin, cut it off or tear it out. It is better to be crippled in this life, it is better to be lame, and it is better to have one eye in this life and enter life doing so. Now let us think about this illustration for a moment. Where does sin begin? James tells us that sin begins in our hearts with our own desires (James 1:14). You would still sin if you removed your hands, feet, and eyes. So Jesus is using exaggeration to make a very strong point.
We need to be radical in our war against sin. The call to discipleship is a radical call. Jesus is explaining the costly nature of following him. Jesus does not say that we should really think about stopping sinning. Jesus does not say that you should not sin but it is okay if you do. Jesus truly describes the seriousness of sin. Sin is what keeps us from enter the kingdom of God. Sin is what keeps us from entering life.
We live in a time where these things are considered fake or false. Sin is not real in our world. Further, there are certainly no consequences to sin, even if there was sin. But listen to what Jesus says is the full consequence of sin. In verse 43 Jesus says sin will cause us “to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” A fuller picture is given in verse 48, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” This description comes from Isaiah 66:24. In fact, it is worthy of our attention that for all the messianic comfort and hope that is found in the prophecies of Isaiah, the prophecy of Isaiah ends with those words. Isaiah is describing the eternal fate of the wicked who have rebelled against God. During the Old Testament times there was a place used for dumping and burning garbage, which is where this picture comes from. Rather than hell being a temporary burning landfill of trash, Jesus says it is a place that is far worse than that. It is a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. But as we approach the time of the first century (the intertestamental period), “gehenna” was used symbolically for the place of divine judgment. The fires of hell was a picture that people in the first century understood.
So what is Jesus trying to tell us? First, hell is not worth it. The graphic pictures are used to show us that hell is not worth it. We do not want this outcome. It would be better for us to cut off anything else in this life, even our own bodies, than our sins cause us to go to unquenchable fire. Jesus says that the radical measures needed to avoid sinning are worth taking. We need to be willing to take those extreme measures in our battle against sin. So here is this strong picture about hell. So why do we refuse to take radical actions against sin. Why do we refuse to make those radical choices so that we can avoid the sins that we know we are prone to taking? Think about all the things we should be willing to do so that we avoid the unquenchable fire of hell. It would be worth getting rid of our smart phones if we are using them to sin. It would be worth not being on social media if we are using it to sin. It would be worth not having internet if we are using it to sin. It would be worth not having cable tv or streaming services if we are using them to sin. It would be worth being tracked by our devices and being accountable for our actions if we need it to keep from sin. It would be worth quitting our jobs and changing careers if our jobs are causing us to sin. It would be worth not working with certain people or the opposite gender if these things are causing us to sin. You see that Jesus is calling for us to make these kinds of radical changes. Whatever is causing us to sin we are implored upon to cut it out of our lives.
So back to the question: why do we refuse to make those radical choices? The answer is simple. We love our sin more than we love Jesus. We love our sin more than we love eternity. To use the words of the text, we love our sins more than we love life (9:43,45). We love our sin more than we love the kingdom of God (9:47). We are ultimately saying that hell is worth it. We are choosing unquenchable fire over the kingdom of God. It is a shocking choice. There is no sin worth going to hell for. Yet it is a choice that we are willfully and regularly making.
But the second thing we need to see is just as important. Jesus is empowering our lives. We have a choice. You can and you are able by the power of God to do something about your sin weaknesses and temptations. There is nothing too great that cannot be overcome by the power of God. We sometimes want to make excuses for our actions. We want to say that sin is too strong for us. We sometimes will describe this as an addiction to shift responsibility away from ourselves so that we appear helpless. But notice that Jesus does not give room for this idea. Jesus does not say to cut off your hand unless you cannot help it and you have an addiction. Jesus tells us that we are responsible for our actions. No one else is responsible for our own actions and this is not something beyond our control. The reason we are addicted is not that we have no power but that we have willfully given our power to sin. Jesus says that we have the power to do something about these opportunities to sin. But we need to be radical. We need to be extreme. We need to be willing to do whatever it takes to fight against sin. Often, if we are honest, we simply do not want to change. We want to keep our sin. We want to do what we are doing. We empower our sin and become enslaved to it. We have to want Jesus more than we want to sin.
You Will Be Tested (9:49-50)
Jesus continues this thought in verse 49. “For everyone will be salted with fire.” Under the Law of Moses, all of the offerings had to be accompanied by salt to be pleasing to God (cf. Leviticus 2:13). Salt was a sign of the covenant (Numbers 18:19). Fire and salt were indispensable in the sacrifice system. The picture is that we are going to be put to the test. These sin opportunities will put our will and our love for Jesus to the test. Disciples must be seasoned with salt like the sacrifice. Trials are the testing process for us. We are being tested to determine if we love Jesus more than ourselves. This is ultimately what we are deciding every time we are tempted.
But listen to verse 50. We lose our saltiness when we are not cutting off what is causing us to sin. Our salt is our unwavering allegiance to Jesus and the gospel. We have to strive for holiness. We need to be putting sin to death. We need to put off the old self and put on the new self. We are given so many of these pictures of the life for disciple in so many passages. But then notice how verse 50 brings Jesus’ teaching full circle. We are to be at peace with one another if we are to be a disciple of Jesus. We cannot cause others to sin and fall away from the Lord. Be last. Be servant of all. Be willing to be insignificant. Be humble. Give to others what they need. Do not be a cause for sin. Cut sin out of your life. Cut off anything that causes you to sin. Be at peace with others.
Jesus made a very simple point. Hell is not worth it. Sin is not worth an eternity of unquenchable fire. Whatever we note that is causing us to sin, tear it out. If we are unwilling to tear it out, then we are telling Jesus that he is not worth it to us. We desire our sin more than him. Eternity with Jesus is better than sexual immorality now, adultery now, divorce now, pornography now, malice now, evil now, filling our desires now, or anything else that is a sin trigger in this life now. Jesus is so much better.