“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). To get a good visual image of what millstones can do, watch the film, Amistad. In this movie, hundreds of pounds of stones are tied around passengers and then thrown off the ship dragging the people overboard and into the ocean. Does Jesus really mean that this is better than causing a little one to stumble? Or is he just overstating the situation to get our attention? Jesus does not indicate that His words are anything but the truth and a sober warning. He’s saying, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to [be scandalized], to lose his way and no longer believe, in this case, it would be better for him to suffer a horrible death.”
If Jesus actually means what He says, then we better pay attention. God’s children are precious to him. He desires all people to be saved. He is protective of his children as a momma bear is protective of her cubs and wants nothing to separate Him from His little ones. If someone loses his faith because of you, the far better alternative would be to plummet to the bottom of the ocean where you cease to exist.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He continues on, saying “…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” (Mark 9:43). Again, when we hear these words, we assume that Jesus is simply painting an image to catch us off guard. It doesn’t even occur to us that He is serious. But this might indicate that we aren’t very serious about our sin. We think, Jesus paid for my sins, it’s all done and now I don’t have to worry about that (my sin) anymore; it’s forgiven. And it is. But that doesn’t negate the gravity of our actions. Our sin causes pain to us and the world around us. Our sin makes us deserving of death, “the unquenchable fire.” Maybe if we saw sin as it really is, then we would be able to hear and understand this dire warning. Losing one hand is a whole lot better than being in eternal torment.
But there is something far more serious and important: being reconciled to our Father in Heaven.
Jesus continues with these hard truths until we hear and understand “…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 the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:43,47-48). Jesus wants us to know the truth that sin is serious.
Our hands, our feet, our eyes are all very important. If any of these is missing, we have a serious problem. But there is something far more serious and important: being reconciled to our Father in Heaven. Our sin separates us from God. Our choices and actions can separate us from each other. With our hands, we take what does not belong to us; we touch what we have no business touching, and we lash out at others in violence. With our feet, we go places we don’t belong; we lose our way. With our eyes, we look down on others and long for more than we have; we allow our eyes to be filled with lustful desires. Likewise, we use our tongues to brag about our achievements cutting down others in the process. We gossip; we lie; we hurt others.
Let’s look at this again according to Jesus’ words. Do you sin with your right eye? Tear it out. Did that stop your sin? Well, you’ve still got the left one. That one will have to go too. The same logic goes for your hands - one of them caused you to sin? Chop it off, and the second one will follow soon after. Still sinning? At this point, you are beginning to look like a bloody, crippled mess. But even with all of that, are you finally sinless? No. Are you righteous? Still no. Why not? Because sin doesn’t start in our hands, tongues, or even our eyes. So, where does sin start? Two chapters earlier, Jesus says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). The problem is the heart. But what did Jesus say? If anything causes you to sin, cut it out. So if your heart causes you to sin, then what should you do? Cut it out.
What’s more, Jesus was cut off from the land of the living despite the truth that He never caused anyone to stumble.
You will no longer sin, but then you will also be dead. In this life, ceasing to exist is the only way to stop sinning.
However, there is One who only used His hands to serve others. One who saw with His eyes all the riches of the world but did not give in to greed. One who used His tongue to speak only truths and lift up others. Such a person does exist. His name is Jesus. Even though Jesus did not use His hands, feet, mouth, or eyes for sin, we’re told in Psalm 22, that His hands and feet were crippled, “they have pierced my hands and feet."
What's more, Jesus was cut off from the land of the living despite the truth that He never caused anyone to stumble. And far from a stumbling block, He is the lamp unto our feet and the light unto our path. He is the road. He is the way the truth and the life. Yet the greatest of all millstones - the sin of the world - was hung around his neck as he plunged to the depths of hell. The One who truly had a pure heart was cut to the heart by the spear of a Roman soldier.
Sin is serious. It’s so serious that Jesus had to die to take it away from us. He who knew no sin became sin for us. Jesus was that bloody, gory mess, and that is how our sin had to be dealt with. Not by mutilating ourselves. But our diseased heart does need to be dealt with, so God promised through the prophet Ezekiel that “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26). We can’t fix ourselves, but Jesus will make us new. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds, we are healed. We are not saved not by our own doing but by what He has done for us on the cross.