No sacrifice too great in the war against sin! (Mark 9:42-50)

I was in a restaurant a few months ago when the proprietor said something along these lines, “Taxes are coming due and I am going to have to cheat on them so I won’t owe so much.”  The outrageousness of such a statement caught me off guard.  But there was a clergyman present, not I, who simply said, “I wonder what God thinks about that?”

On a similar note, Don Recker was telling me a story about being with an Intervarsity Staff worker in a convenience store a number of years ago.  When this man saw the rack of dirty magazines he walked up to the teller and asked him, “What do you think about these magazines?  Better yet, what do you think God thinks about them?”

Those are two specific stories but the question that each person posed was this: “What does God think about your sin?”  We don’t often ask that question, or if we do we just quickly say, “He hates sin.”  Most people go through life without ever a thought to what God thinks about their actions, and many Christians have never considered what actions he or she should take to see the sin in their life defeated.  We have gotten so comfortable with the words of the gospel that Jesus died for our sins, that we often fail to take our sin seriously and our role in controlling it. But that question, “What does God think about the sin in my life?” and the follow up, “What actions must I take to be rid of my sin?” are two questions every believer must ask daily.

Both questions are answered in Jesus’ words today.  Let’s begin with the second question first.  What actions did Jesus expect his disciples to take in dealing with their sin?  Whether we are a man sitting in the park drooling over the bikini clad females, or a woman worrying about how to keep her beauty as she ages, the Lord has strong words of instruction for us.  Whether we get angry with others when we are driving or working, or we find choice words escaping from our mouths when things don’t go our way, the Lord declares one startling action, in three different ways, we are to take towards the sin in our life: if your hand sins causes you to sin, cut it off…if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off…and if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out (Mark 9:43,45,47).1

Now of course, Jesus didn’t literally think that people should go and cut off their limbs, but he wanted those with him to understand how far they must go in their fight against sin. This is a form of hyperbole that is saying nothing is off limits, no action is overkill, take extreme measures if lesser measures are failing.  Fight the fight for complete victory and mastery. Play to win, no matter the sacrifice or the cost.

Stop sinning.  Stop it even if it requires a radical reorientation of life. That is what Jesus wants his disciples to hear.  Nothing is too radical when it comes to being rid of sin and pursuing holiness.  If you struggle with using pornography, then throwing away your computer isn’t too big a cost.  Humanity lived for thousands of years without them, you can too, in order to defeat the hold the images have upon your life.  If you struggle with lying, or defending yourself or making yourself look good, then refusing to speak isn’t too great a cost.  Simply be quiet.  If you struggle with your self-image, get rid of your mirrors and quit buying all those magazines and watching TV that presents and unreal and unattainable expectation of beauty. For me, one of those ‘extreme actions’ I must take is avoiding Bloedel Donovan in the spring and summer.  The dress of the women there causes my thought life to go places that are not beneficial.  Are you getting the picture?  In the words of one commentator, “No sacrifice is too costly in the war against sin” (TDNT, geenna).  Have you sacrificed everything; have you used everything at your disposal in order to take on the sin in your life?  I think that very few of us could say we have taken every possible step to keep from sinning.

Now if you think verses 43-49 are tough in their declarations and teaching about sin. Then I hesitate to direct you back to verse 42.  You see, the verses we have been talking about so far have all been related to our own actions and activities as they relate to known sin in our life – lying, stealing, cursing, lusting, anger, greed and the like, but in verse 42, Jesus made an even harsher statement about our life.  Listen to it: And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.  With these words, Jesus has upped the ante if you will in our dialogue about sin.  It isn’t just my sin I must worry about, it is the sin of others that I must be concerned with based upon my actions.  Though Cain had refused to acknowledge it, Jesus is making it very clear that “I am my brother’s keeper” (Gen 4:9).

But even more than just being concerned about his sin, I am to be concerned with my entire life, even those things which I do that are not explicitly sinful, but which might lead another person to commit a sin.  The life of a disciple is a life that must set such an example that there is not even a hint of immorality or a hint of sin.  The disciple must live in such a way that those watching us aren’t even tempted to stray from the straight and narrow.  For if someone sins, because of my example, it would have been better that I was dead than that I caused God’s people to stray.

Paul preaches a very similar line of thinking in his epistles. To the Romans he declares (Rom. 14:13, 21) Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way…21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. To the Corinthians he declared, (1Cor. 8:13) Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

The Christian is called to a life of sinlessness.  We are called to turn away from all sin and every possibility of sin and every action that might cause another to sin.  We are called to be holy.

Why did Jesus have such an intense view of sin?  To answer this, we need to understand two things: First the personal responsibility we bear for sin and second, the punishment due every sinful act.

First, to the Jewish mind, there is no sin which one commits which he isn’t personally responsible.  The excuse, “he made me do it,” doesn’t exist in the Jewish world. There was no saying, “I can’t be held responsible for my actions” as Dr. Jekyl declared before turning into Mr. Hyde.  One cannot say, “I am a product of my culture so it is not my fault.”  These are lies. Each person is responsible for the way his body acts, the words that flow from her mouth, the thoughts he entertains in their mind, the things she does with her hands, etc.

Second, all sin will be punished.  Three times Jesus ties a life of sin to suffering eternally in hell. He says, It is better to enter life maimed…crippled…blind…than to go into hell…[or] be thrown into hell (Mark 9:43-47). The word he uses for hell is GehennaGehenna is thought to be a variation on the name for the Valley of Hinnom.  This valley was to the south of Jerusalem and was a place where human sacrifices had occurred to the God Moloch in Israelite history (2Ki 23:10, 2Chr 28:3). But at the time of Jesus, it had become the dumping ground of the city, a wasteland filled with rubbish and burning and smoldering fires.  It was a picture of unending heat and consumption.  Literally the fires in the valley never subsided. There were always flames and smoke and foul smell and trash being burned and consumed.  And the Rabbis and Jewish Apocalyptic literature of the time had taken this reality and transformed it into an image of the eternal punishment awaiting those in rebellion to God.  There would be an unquenchable fire, and eternal suffering, a punishment without end.  The fire itself would never end, nothing would stop it, not rain, not a lack of fuel, nothing.

Jesus is using a very particular image here to make sure that people recognize the eternal nature of the punishment of sin.  It won’t stop.  Every person in the world is going to be resurrected.  Some will be resurrected to eternal life and the rest will be resurrected to eternal punishment. This is the clear teaching of the Apostle John in Revelation 20:13-15. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

God intends to recreate humanity in such a way that the righteous will have a body that will never again decay, and likewise, the wicked will be given a body which can never perish but which will suffer eternally under the wrath of God for disobedience to the will of God while they lived on this earth. That is why Jesus declares that everyone will be salted with fire (Mark 9:49).  Everyone is going to undergo the trial of fire, the question is will you undergo the cauterizing fire of amputation in this life, having your sin cut out and removed or will you wait until the fires of Hell are eternally poured out?

The gospel calls us to act now: Repent and believe.  Turn from our sinful past, and live under the new reign of God.  And without downplaying our responsibility at all.  Without giving any impression that we aren’t to take seriously our sin and to act upon it, taking radical steps to see it expunged from our daily life, I want to remind us of this quote I spoke earlier: “No sacrifice is too costly in the war against sin” (TDNT, geenna). You see as we take seriously Jesus’ words about sin and as we seek to apply them to our life, the nature of our sin and the insidious web it has created in our life will lead us to but one conclusion, we need a costly sacrifice in the war against sin. Because of the nature of the war against sin, the Father has offered the supreme sacrifice for our sin. We need a perfect sacrifice and then we will find ourselves remembering that there is one and only one person who has lived a perfect life.  Jesus is the only person to have ever lived a life where his hand or foot or eye never sinned.  And for that matter, neither did his mouth, his ears, his mind or any other part of his life.  Jesus lived the life that never caused a brother to sin.  All who followed his example have been led away from the life of sin, not towards it.

He lived a life salted with the Holy Spirit, being wise in all he said and did – taking his direction from the Father.  He lived such a spotless, blameless life that the Father welcomes all who are united to him into his presence.  So when you find yourself having lost your saltiness, or trapped in your sin, or leading others into sin then look to Jesus.  Catch a glimpse of his glory and his love.  Gaze upon his holiness and his purity.  Cry out to the one who suffered the woe of the sinner so that you might be free to live in the newness of his life.

For no sacrifice is to great for the redemption of the sinner, even the sacrifice of God’s own son, the only one who can bring peace between God and man.



[1] Verse 44 and 46 are identical to verse 48 about the worms and it is generally though that v48 was read back into the text to make it more consistent.

About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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