Summary: Jesus warns us of the consequences of being the cause of someone stumbling, but what is it they stumble over?
It is the stuff of nightmares, you’re unable to breath, the pressure is closing in and your last thoughts reflect on what you wished you had done. Regrets fill your mind, if onlys become your focus and as the darkness increases your struggles decrease until what was you has departed and what is left is held firmly beneath the surface by the weight of the millstone tied to your left ankle.
I can’t even imagine a death more frightening then being drowned, of knowing the ultimate outcome but being unable to do a thing about it. The panic, the sense of helplessness and doom. And Jesus told us that would be preferable to leading a believer astray.
In the context Jesus is referring to the little children who were listening to him preach but the warning is reiterated in Matthew and Mark and the implication is that we have a responsibility not only for our personal salvation but also for our influence on other believers around us.
We are almost to the end of our Red Letter Summer series. We started back in June and the preaching team has focused on the words in the Bible that are printed in Red. Those are the words of Jesus and they weren’t actually printed in Red in the original Greek, instead it was the brainchild of an editor with the Christian Herald magazine in 1899 who thought it would be a cool idea to print the words of Christ in Red in Bibles so they would stand out.
But red letters have been used for five centuries to mark important words. They were first used on calendars to mark the Holy Days, Red Letter Days.
And these particular Red Letter words seem a little at odds with the picture that some people have of Jesus. You know the picture of a Jesus who is always loving and kind and never says a mean or condemning word, and is never judgemental.
So let’s go back to the scripture that Paul read for us earlier Luke 17:1-2 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin. Wow, that doesn’t sound like the softly cuddly Jesus that some people love so much.
And some of you might even be thinking that this applies to how we treat and act around children, little ones. But the meaning is anyone you have a spiritual influence over, anyone who looks to you for an example.
There is a warning here, a warning that tells us that we are not only responsible for our own salvation but to a certain degree we are responsible for the salvation of others. And sometimes that is hard to get our head around.
And that isn’t a new difficulty, if we go back to the very start of the story of man, in the book of Genesis, which is the first book of the Bible. There we read a story of how Cain, who was the son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother in a fit of Jealousy.
And when Cain was confronted by God, after murdering his brother Abel, Cain asked God that infamous question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And while God didn’t respond directly to his question the implication was “Yes Cain, you are responsible for your brother.”
Today if you talk to people about their behaviour and how it might or might not affect a fellow believer you get the same type of response as God got from Cain, “Am I my brother’s Keeper, seriously?” and the implication is still clear “Yes you are.”
Paul told the believers in the early church in 1 Corinthians 8:9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.
Christians often spend a lot of time worrying about the actions of the world and how corrupt the world is. I have heard Christians talk about how shameful Miley’s behaviour was on the MTV award show and I want to ask “What were you doing watching the MTV award show?” Have you stopped and listened to the lyrics in the music they celebrate?
But seriously, Christ followers will not be held accountable for the actions of society. Jesus called us to be salt and light but he never called us to legislate Christian behaviour to an unchristian world. And ultimately I will never be held to account for the behaviour or misbehaviour of other Christians.
So, while we are not responsible for the actions of our brothers and sisters, we are responsible for our actions. We may not be responsible if they stumble, but we are responsible if what we do causes them to stumble. I am a world class klutz, I can trip over a line painted on the road. And that really isn’t your fault, if I would pick up my feet and pay attention to where I walk I’d be a lot better off. But if you intentionally lay something in my path and I trip over it then it’s a different story.