Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 9:38-50
Dear people who value eternal life: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Different perspectives change our value of things. Let’s take your household possessions, for instance. Right now, sitting in your house, your possessions have a certain value to you. Your furniture, your TV, your wardrobe, your jewellery all have a certain value. If you were to tear a jacket or lose a piece of jewellery the loss would probably sting and bring you some amount of sorrow.
Now let’s change the perspective. Let’s say you are moving across the ocean on a ship with your possessions, and a great storm hit. You would look at things a little differently. With all your possessions stowed away on the ship, as waves start to beat down on the ship, the value of those possessions decreases with the increasing fear of the storm. If it becomes necessary to lighten the load in order to stay above water, undoubtedly you would be ready to part with furniture even if it was a precious heirloom. Better to lose trunks of clothing than your life. Better even to lose precious jewellery and heirlooms and be saved rather than to keep them and drown in the ocean depths.
This different perspective changes our values. In the perspective of being compared to life, possessions decrease in value.
Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel lesson is meant to change our perspective; to change our values. Compared to a lot of things, our body parts are very valuable to us. We would not want to lose a hand, a foot, or an eye. Yet, compared to losing eternal life, our perspective changes. “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.’ (vv. 43-48)
Better to enter life crippled than with our bodies intact go to hell. This is meant to change our perspective. Are there things in your life to which you cling that may jeopardize your eternal life? However much you may value such things, cut them out of your life. Is something keeping you from regularly hearing and reading God’s Word? Cut it out. Are certain friends leading you to gossip and speak ill of others? Cut them out of your life. Compared to eternal life, we should be more than willing to give things up and cut things off that cause us to sin and endanger our hope of everlasting life. Yes, even when it comes to things we hold dear.
This isn’t just hyperbole or exaggeration from Jesus. He really wants to change our perspective on how we view things in this life, even our bodies. If cutting off our hands and feet would prevent us from sinning, this is something that we should most certainly do.
But would cutting off limbs or plucking out eyes prevent us from sinning? Would this solve our problem? If we cut off our hand that does what it should not do, we’re going to sin with our other hand. If we cut off our foot that walks into evil ways, we will still manage to find a way to hop into sin with our other foot. If we tear out our eye that lusts after what is not ours, we will still sin the same with the other eye. We wouldn’t be any better off. And even with losing all of our members, what about our heart, which is the root of the problem?
We heard Jesus say a few weeks ago that the problem is our heart. He says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 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. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)
Our heart is full of sin. We confess that we are sinful by nature. It goes beyond our limbs. It goes beyond our thoughts, words, and actions. Our sinfulness goes to our heart, to our core, to our very being.
We do not benefit at all from cutting off a limb because we have sinned with it. Even tearing out our heart would not solve our problem; it would only mean that we would kill ourselves. You cannot cure a sinful heart by maiming the body.
There’s only thing that solves our problem: that the Son of God would come to earth from heaven and save us from ourselves; that a Saviour would come and save us from our sinful hands, feet, eyes, and hearts. And this, the Son of God, even Jesus Christ our Lord did. He became man. The Word became flesh. He took on our flesh and did what we could not do. Jesus fulfilled the Law of God perfectly in thought, word, and deed. Jesus fulfilled the Law for us.
Jesus’ hands never sinned. He never took what wasn’t His. He never struck someone in anger. He never refused to give a helping hand. Jesus’ feet never sinned. He never walked where He shouldn’t walk. He never stomped His feet in anger. He never walked away from someone in need. Jesus’ eyes never sinned. He never lusted. He never coveted. He never avoided eye contact with someone who needed help. His heart was filled only with love and compassion for His entire creation. Jesus fulfilled what we are unable to fulfil.
Jesus’ hands, with which He never sinned, nevertheless were nailed to a cross. Jesus’ feet, which only walked on the paths of righteousness, were pieced with nails for our sake. His eyes, which never sinned, still looked with forgiveness even upon those who crucified Him, even as a crown of thorns was forced on His head. Jesus’ heart, which never sought its own good, but only the good of others, was pierced for our transgressions.
There was no other way. There’s no way we could do what God’s Law demands. There’s no way we could save ourselves. Jesus came and died in our place. Jesus gave His life for us. Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and was crushed for our iniquities; with His stripes we are healed (Is. 53:5). Jesus’ death paid for our sins of hands, feet, eyes, and heart.
Jesus has paid the price of your sins. Jesus has taken the punishment of your sins. Now you can get up and leave that pew justified and forgiven, with your conscience at peace. You can go home without the baggage of sin hanging on your back. God’s not going to come after you for payment for your sins. They’ve already been paid for in full!
Now that’s a different perspective! There’s nothing in this life worth comparing to the eternal life Jesus has earned for us. Why cling to anything in a ship that is going down when you have eternity in Paradise to look forward to? In the perspective of eternal life, nothing else has any value. Jesus’ death for us gives us a completely new perspective. We have the promise of eternal life. That has eternal value. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.