Mark 9:42-50 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.”
No person in their right mind would think that it is okay to abuse a child. A child is dependent upon their parents or guardians, teachers, and others for everything in life. They cannot provide for themselves. They are vulnerable and weak and trusting in all things. They are innocent and sweet and deserving of love. Jesus is using a child as a picture for His own disciples who were in confusion after Jesus first reveals to them that He is going to die and rise again.
Although the disciples did not believe that the Christ, their Savior would die (for how could salvation ever be provided through death?), they did recognize that Jesus was soon going to formally establish His Kingdom. In the book of Matthew we read that Jesus even uses a new word: “church.” Jesus would establish the church when He later sent the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended into heaven. This is the first time the word “church” is used in the New Testament and the disciples would have recognized the change in Jesus’ ministry at this point.
Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
But most of all the disciples thought about themselves. I suspect they were disillusioned at first on hearing that Jesus would die, then tried to fit Jesus’ teaching into their wrong understanding of the Christ. They justified their unbelief and they continued down a wrong path of understanding. They fought amongst themselves about the authority that they would receive in the new Kingdom. They became jealous of someone else casting out demons in Jesus’ name who was not among them. Jesus would leave them in charge of the Church but at this point they were not ready to be given such spiritual authority hence the illustration of the child. At this point Jesus would not trust them with any of His children. Jesus had renounced the teaching of the Pharisees and the religious leaders but how foolish were the disciples to think that at this point they were ready to replace them. There was no unity among the disciples at this point. They would individually rule and not Jesus Christ if they keys of the Kingdom were given to them at this point.
Right now, If Jesus gave the disciples little ones who believe in Him to care for they would cause them to sin. Why? Because of their bad example and their limited understanding. One of the many qualities of children is how they copy and imitate their parents. They become like them. They trust them. They believe them. A little one still has limited understanding and can be easily misled. Jesus is saying to the disciples, “If I give you the authority that you desire right now I will have no choice but to bring judgment upon you.” And Jesus gives them a very strong and powerful rebuke about a millstone hung around the neck of those who harm His little ones (new Christians). Such false leaders are to be thrown into the depths of the sea. How great is the responsibility of any who are called to authority in Jesus’ Church.
Jesus’ rebuke of His disciples does not end there. He then speaks about hell and reiterates that no sin will be permitted in His Kingdom. Sin must be cut off and cast away into the lake of fire forever. It will not be permitted in the presence of God. It doesn’t matter how great or small our disobedience to God is. God is holy and the servants in His Kingdom must be holy. Jesus expresses the urgency of the disciples recognizing their sin and repenting. He brings hell before their eyes and shows them how terrible it will be: ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’ (verse 48). Our only hope is to be united to Jesus Christ through faith and for the Holy Spirit to be actively at work in us as we walk with God. The disciples needed to repent. How often do we need to be reminded of the seriousness of sin and the severity of hell?
Jesus closes with another illustration about salt very similar to what is recorded in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:13: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
Salt is a picture of preservation from the contamination of the world as it is used to preserve meat and is very important without refrigeration. But old salt is useless. So too would the disciples be as leaders at this point. They would ultimately become like the Pharisees and they would be useless and ultimately be destroyed. Jesus calls them to have salt in themselves and to be at peace with one another. Jesus gave them a similar command right before His death upon the cross:
John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
At this point the disciples did not have peace with one another. They did not love each other as Jesus loved them. They were competing with each other. But in the future they would be united to each other and to Jesus Christ by the Spirit of Christ. They would be ready to lead the Church. Jesus later said of the disciples:
John 17:21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
The blessing of the Church is that true unity can be found in the body of Christ as we are all united to God through Jesus Christ and to each other in the Spirit. There is no competition or disunity in the true body of Christ. In the true body of Christ we are one in the Spirit and we are led by those whom God has specifically prepared for leadership in the Church. Do you know this unity in Christ? Have you experienced the true Church of God? Do you know Jesus?
Pastor Murray Hack