Summary: Jesus Illustrates How Small Faith Can Do Big Things like restrain, rebuke, and forgive sin.
“How does she do that?” I think that whenever I see our organists play – especially at choir practice when they effortlessly play music they’ve never seen before. As much as I would like to do what they do, I can’t, even though I took eight years of piano lessons. I just don’t have the God-given talent they do to play the keyboard.
“How does she do that?” Have you ever asked this question in regard to another Christian? When you hear, for example, how the widow in the New Testament gave everything she had as an offering trusting that the Lord would take care of her, do you wonder how she did it? I’ve often even concluded that I can’t do what the widow did because my faith is not as strong as hers. If you too have thought this, Jesus has news for us. In our text he uses a mustard seed and a mulberry tree to illustrate how even a small faith can do big things like restrain, rebuke, and forgive sin.
Our text begins with Jesus saying: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 So watch yourselves” (Lk. 17:1b-3a). As long as we live in this world, temptation will bombard us. That, however, is no excuse to rush headlong into sin. Jesus especially warns us against doing anything that would lead “little ones” to sin. In fact, he says, it would be better to have a millstone (a round stone as big as a boulder) hung around our neck and be thrown to the fish then to promote sin.
That’s a strong warning for us parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and older brothers and sisters isn’t it? When little children watch us what do they learn? Do they learn how to be patient and calm even when the computer isn’t doing what we want it to, or do they learn how to throw tantrums? Do they learn how to speak well of our governing officials, or get the impression from us that they are the scum of the earth and can be ridiculed? Do they learn what it means to be a cheerful servant, or learn well from us how to mope and complain about the chores around the house? Do they learn how to tell the truth, or bend the truth? Should I keep going? I don’t think I need to. It’s clear that God ought to hang millstones, not medals around our neck for the way we often promote sin instead of restrain it.
Jesus doesn’t just want us to restrain sin by setting a good example for others to follow; he wants us to restrain sin by rebuking it in others. “If your brother sins,” Jesus said, “rebuke him” (Lk. 17:3a). Jesus, of course, doesn’t want us to do this in a self-righteous manner (Matt. 7:3 ff.). We don’t point out sin in others to show how superior we are. We rebuke because sin damns and we don’t want anyone to suffer the eternal consequences of impenitent sin.
Although pointing out sin is a loving thing to do, society tells us to mind our own business. Unfortunately we Christians have listened to society and we don’t rebuke one another as often and as quickly as we should. If one of us, for example, were to crack a crude joke, how many of the rest of us would rebuke the sin? Aren’t we much more likely to remain silent, even pat ourselves on the back for not having been the one to crack the joke?
Let me illustrate how dangerous it is to think that my neighbor’s sin is none of my business, and to suppose that as long as I keep myself from sin all is well. A lifeboat drifted away from a sinking ship. All those aboard were happy to be alive. It was a funny thing then when one of the passengers started sawing a hole in the floor of the lifeboat. What was even stranger is that none of the other passengers said anything about it. No one said anything because the man was sawing under his seat, not under anyone else’s. What could they do, the other passengers reasoned, but mind their own business? If that man wanted to cut a hole under his seat and have water rush in around his ankles, well that was his problem, not theirs. Not their problem? Of course it was their problem! They should have rebuked the man. And if he didn’t want to listen, they should have taken his saw away, for the action of that one man would in time adversely affect all passengers (adapted from illustration in Concordia Pulpit Resources Volume 11, part 3, page 13).