“and if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…” v. 43
Today we read, what just may be, the most brutal passage in the New Testament. The prince of peace pulls no punches here as he makes war on our sin. There can be no real peace where we tolerate evil in our lives. We love to make war on the sins of society, but here he calls us to aim the cannon at ourselves, blasting away at the life of compromise. Any delusion of Jesus being okay with sin, as long as we have a nice sentiment toward one another, must die a cruel death in this passage. Let us be as blunt in interpreting as he was in saying these words.
- You and I are accountable for our impact on others.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones…to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (42)
We like to think we can sin in isolation. We’re so into ourselves and our personal freedom we actually think we can live any way we want to and not care how we impact others. Over and over the scripture betrays that lie, telling us not to use our freedom of conscience to cause someone else to stumble (Romans 14). Yet we insist on living however we please with no concern over our impact on others. Jesus gives a sobering warning to a self addicted culture. We belong to God and to each other, not just to ourselves. The gospel calls me to think, not only of my personal views on a behavior, but on how my actions will touch the lives of others.
- Like it or not, hell is real, and people are going there forever. “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (48)
He mentions three times in a row, that it is better to enter heaven with a missing body part, than, ” to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” (43,45,47)
Jesus makes it clear, that despite our preferences, hell is the destination of those who live and die in rebellion against God. We want to obliterate the offense of such a horrendous reality, but to do so we must erase a disturbing amount of Jesus teachings. The idea of an eternal hell offends me. I don’t want to believe in such a place. I want to think we all somehow make it to heaven. But God’s justice demands something beyond the scope of my understanding. I cannot fathom such a requirement, because I do not live in such perfect holiness as God. His absolute purity and justice are beyond me. But even this is grounded in an unimaginable holy love. Why is it that we expect to go to a perfect heaven and enjoy a place of perfect righteousness, but deny the reality of its antithesis, a place of absolute punishment for sin? Given this reality, we must live in a way that calls them away from death and into life.
- If it’s leading you away from God, remove it. “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…foot…cut it off…eye…tear it out.”(43-47)
If we were to take this command literally, removing every body part that causes us to sin, we would all be mangled and immobilized by the age of ten. Clearly the point is more abstract, to do radical life surgery, removing anything in our lives that leads us into sin. Jesus uses three images to depict this life surgery. Let’s apply each one.
The hand- Take stock of possessions and activities in your life. You cannot live for this world and the next at the same time. If your best life is now, you have a problem on your hands, pun intended. What are you putting your hand to? Is it leading you to God or away from God.
The foot- Think about the places you are going? Are you going to places that make you more or less inclined to live an obedient life? If you have to spend time convincing yourself it’s okay, you may want to rethink it. If you are going to questionable places because Jesus hung out with sinners, make sure you’re doing what he did when he was with them. He was healing and teaching, not hanging from the rafters.
The eye- What are you looking at? The eye is the lamp of the body, Jesus says. If that is true what kind of bulb are you using? In other words what are you feeding your mind and heart through reading, watching, and internet surfing? Someone once told me, “Whatever entertains you, enters you.” This is so true. How much time are you investing in looking into the word of God? How does that compare with your investment in personal entertainment?
- You are responsible for what you become and how you impact the world. “Have salt in yourselves…” 49
Jesus warns that you and I can become salt without flavor, good for nothing. As a younger man I always heard, “Don’t become so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.” I heard that from everyone except Jesus. I look around and see little danger of that happening anyway. The inverse is more likely. We’re in greater danger of becoming so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good. Jesus says to have salt in yourself. While we can do nothing without his help, we are responsible to pay attention to how we live and how we grow up in Christ. Peter tells us to grow in grace, not soak in it. We must actively pursue a life that truly reflects the values of God’s kingdom, knowing it will certainly run in opposition to the values of our culture. It’s a mistake to claim to love God and neighbor without paying attention to how you live your life. Holiness and love are deeply connected. If I love God I will obey his commands. If I truly love my neighbor I will live in such a way that points them to God. Make sure that you are living for his glory today, so that your life will be a stepping stone for some soul rather than a stumbling block. Stay dressed in his righteousness, because you really don’t look good in millstone.