“The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.’”
“When the apostle departs, he should receive nothing but bread until he finds his next lodging. But if he requests money, he is a false prophet… Not everyone who speaks forth in the spirit is a prophet, but only if he has the kind of behaviour which the Lord approves. From his behaviour, then, will the false prophet and the true prophet be known. And every prophet who, in the spirit, orders a table to be spread shall not eat therefrom; but if he does, he is a false prophet. And every prophet who has met the test—who is genuine—and who performs a worldly mystery of the church but does not teach others to do what he is doing, he shall not be judged by you. For he has his judgement with God—for the ancient prophets also did similarly. And whoever says in the spirit, ‘Give me money,’ or anything else, do not listen to him. But if he says that it should be given for others who are in need, let no one judge him” [Quoted from THE DIDACHE 11:6, 8-12].
While not Scripture, THE DIDACHE, a Christian writing also known by the longer title, THE TEACHING OF THE LORD TO THE GENTILES BY THE TWELVE APOSTLES, was highly respected among the ancient churches. The words of that book reach back to a time within a hundred years of the passing of the last Apostle. What is written therein provides insight into the practises of the ancient church which was even then undergoing severe persecution sanctioned by highest officials within the Roman Empire. What is interesting for the purpose of this message and in relation to the passage before us, is the teaching that a prophet, or an apostle, was to eschew money for the ministry he provided.
Itinerating servants of the Master were to follow the practise Jesus established. You need only recall that when Jesus sent out the twelve, He gave specific instructions concerning recompense for their labour. We read the account provided in Luke’s Gospel. “[Jesus] called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere” [LUKE 9:1-6].
Those whom God has appointed to service—whatever that service may be, are to serve without thought of remuneration. That this is the case is stated multiple times and in multiple ways in the Word of God. Sending out the disciples to serve, Jesus said, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” [MATTHEW 10:8-14].
Whether functioning as a pastor/teacher, an evangelist, one showing mercy or demonstrating generosity, whether overseeing the work of the assembly or testifying to the grace of our Lord, the child of God is to serve with her or his eye fixed on pleasing the One who appointed to holy service. Our motive must never be the payment we may receive, but rather fulfilling Heaven’s mandate to advance the Kingdom of our Saviour.
Providing a parting word to the elders of Ephesus when they met in Miletus, Paul said, “I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” [ACTS 20:35].
Don’t imagine that the congregation of the righteous has no responsibility to support those who labour in the Word—the assembly does have responsibility to be generous to those who shepherd the flock! Scripture instructs all who follow the Master, “This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
“Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more” [1 CORINTHIANS 9:3-12a]?
Each one who is saved has been appointed to be a servant of the Living God. Each one who has been born from above is to proclaim the message of life, to advance the cause of Christ the Lord. The gifts God has entrusted to each follower of the Christ is given to build up the faithful, to encourage the people of God, and to console His people in the midst of this darkened world [see 1 CORINTHIANS 14:4]
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE SHEPHERDS — Shepherds, those whom the assemblies receive and recognise as “pastors and teachers,” bear an awesome responsibility to the assembly over which they are appointed. That responsibility means that they are responsible to answer first to the Lord who appoints to holy service, and then they must serve the flock over which God has appointed them. However, the appointment they have received is not to be servile or obsequious; it is not some sort of appointment to become a sort of “Stepin Fetchit” for half-hearted Christians.
Here is the thing—the pastor is not hired, he is appointed. His job is not to do all the “dirty work” while other members of the congregation glide through life unengaged by the business of being godly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had church members tell me that I was “hired” to do what they were unwilling to do. Let me say it yet again: if you see a brother straying, you are responsible to go to that one and seek to bring him back into walking with the Lord. When you witness a saint who is growing weary and despondent, you are responsible to go to her to pray with her and to lift her spirits. When you see a threat arising to the health of our youth, you are responsible to intervene so that these precious young people are not injured. By all means, inform the elders, but take responsibility for being a member of the assembly.
I have taught that the responsibilities of a pastor/teacher is revealed by considering the manner in which the Great Shepherd tends His flock. The pastor serves as the shepherd of the flock under the Great Shepherd. In order to see the role of the pastor/teacher as outlined in the work of the Great Shepherd, I invite you to review the TWENTY-THIRD PSALM. You undoubtedly recall that the Psalmist has written,
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
“You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
In short, the TWENTY-THIRD PSALM serves as a model for the pastor of the assembly as he conducts the ministry God has appointed him to fulfil. The shepherd of the flock is to ensure that the flock is led to verdant settings where they may rest. He is to ensure that he leads them to calm waters by which they can refresh their lives. The preaching of the Word is to rest and refresh the people so that they can continue to serve. Similarly, the shepherd is to lead the congregation into those paths noted as righteous, himself providing an example of righteousness for those over whom he is assigned responsibility. God expects His shepherd to be godly and to encourage godliness in the people.
Again, the shepherd of the flock is to be prepared to defend the flock from attack, going before the members as they journey to new pastures; he is to place himself between the flock and whatever dangers they may face. The shepherd is to hazard his own life for the welfare of the flock. He is given a rod and a staff with which to defend the flock, and that defence of the flock will include using these instruments to correct wayward members when such correction is required. It is important to remember that the bishop of the flock does not have the shepherd’s staff without reason.
Then, the shepherd is responsible to ensure that the flock is nourished, provided with healthy food that will make the flock strong. He is to tend to the injuries and illness that inevitably come upon the members of the flock, pouring oil on the wounds and binding up the injured limbs. When the shepherd fulfils these responsibilities, each member of the flock will be able to testify,
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
Christ is the Great Shepherd, and the TWENTY-THIRD PSALM definitely points to the Master. However, the Psalm is a revelation of the care the Master provides; thus, it becomes a model for those who labour in His stead while serving His flock.
We witness emphasis on these responsibilities as we read the New Testament. One example is when we read Paul’s instruction to Timothy, which is to be taken as instruction for elders. The Apostle has written, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” [2 TIMOTHY 4:1-5].
The elder is to devote himself to preaching and teaching; he is to be a student of the Word, investing himself constantly in what has been delivered for the people of God. The overseer is to reprove when reproof is called for. He is to rebuke when rebuke is required. And he is to exhort always as he delivers the message of the Saviour. As he labours among the people of God, the pastor is to seek to turn others to faith in the Risen Son of God—he is to do the work of an evangelist, even if he is not an evangelist.
In an earlier letter to Timothy, the Apostle warned of what even then loomed ahead, conditions that have come to full bloom in this day. “The Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” [1 TIMOTHY 4:1-5].
The Apostle spoke of departures from the Faith, a multiplication of quasi-Christian sects and cults, all claiming to hold the truth. Novel interpretations of the Word would be commonly bruited about as spokesmen for these groups clamoured for a hearing. Based on what was coming, and what is fully upon us, Paul gave specific instructions to the young theologue. He wrote, “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
“Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” [1 TIMOTHY 4:6-16].
The elder is to remain focused on Christ as Master over life. He is to be diligent in the service to which he is appointed. His eldership is to be his priority, not personal comfort or hobbies that consume his time. He is to shepherd the flock of God. He is to recognise that his life is to be an example to those who look to him for leadership and guidance; he must not dishonour the Lord who appointed him to this service. The gift that God entrusted to him must be always employed in such a manner that God is honoured. He is to be constantly progressing in understanding of Christ and of the work to which he is appointed. His purpose is to glorify the Master and to save his hearers.
It is an awesome responsibility to serve as a shepherd of God’s flock. No one should take this responsibility upon himself casually. No one should ever think that this is just a job, or begin to treat this holy responsibility as a mere means of earning a living. This is holy work that must be pursued only in the power of the Master who appoints to His holy service. The weight of this office will always be a burden for God’s servant.
Though the writer was speaking of the role of the high priest under the Levitical Law, the sense does apply to those appointed to holy service as an elder among the faithful under this New Covenant. Listen to the writer of the Letter to Hebrew Christians. “Every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God” [HEBREWS 5:1-4a].
THE SINS OF THE SHEPHERDS — “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: ‘This is what the sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the sheep! You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled over them. They were scattered because they had no shepherd, and they became food for every wild beast. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over the entire face of the earth with no one looking or searching for them’” [EZEKIEL 34:2-6].
Tragically, much of what parades as the Faith is uninformed by the Word of God. Too many of us who call ourselves preachers and who occupy the sacred desk are ignorant of the Word. We don’t know what is written in the Word because we haven’t studied the Word. We come into the service of the churches untaught by the Spirit, and we continue in our ignorance even as we contend we are leading the people of God.
I have witnessed a woeful display of biblical illiteracy on far too many occasions. I’ve witnessed preachers who distort the Word, whether deliberately or ignorantly is not always possible to tell, but the Word was nevertheless twisted into a spiritual pretzel by their foolish efforts. I witnessed on one occasion a man poised to graduate from a major pastoral school training men for ministerial vocation. Students were required to pass an extensive examination demonstrating competence in the biblical languages of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, discuss current theological issues, demonstrate competence in systematic and biblical theology, and exhibit a thorough grasp of practical theology.
This man could not read the biblical languages. He was unable to articulate what he believed. He was so ignorant of the Word that he argued that Titus had written the book bearing that name. He was uncertain of who might have written the books of First and Second Timothy. Nevertheless, the faculty voted to approve him for candidacy because they didn’t want to hurt his chances of a job. He did promise that he would only work as a chaplain, and that was good enough for that faculty. I protested, to no avail, that they had no control over what choice he might make after they had released him and sent him out from that school.
I vigorously dissented from their decision that day, reminding those assembled that they were foisting on followers of the Christ a man who was unprepared for even the most basic service. Did they have no concern for the damage such an individual would inflict on the cause of Christ? That faculty held their ground and did send that man out into the field without even a basic knowledge of the Word of God. Several of those present that day accused me of being petty and determined to injure an innocent man.
The biblical illiteracy of contemporary preachers reminds me of an old story of a man who was candidating for the position of pastor of a congregation. One of the questions the presbytery asked him was, “What part of the Bible do you like best?” “I like the New Testament best,” he replied. “What book in the New Testament?” “The book of Parables.” “Would you kindly relate one of those parables to us?” So the uncertain candidate bluffed as follows.
“Once upon a time, a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, and the thorns grew up and choked him.
“And he went on and met the Queen of Sheba, and she gave him a thousand talents of gold and silver, and a hundred changes of raiment. And he got in his chariot and drove furiously. And when he was driving along under a tree his hair got caught in a limb and left him hanging there.
“And he hung there many days and many nights, and ravens brought him food to eat and drink. And one night while he was hanging there asleep, his wife, Delilah, came and cut off his hair, and he dropped and fell on the stony ground; and it began to rain and it rained forty days and forty nights, and he hid himself in a cave.
“And he went on and met a man who said, ‘Come in and take supper with me,’ but he said, ‘I cannot come, for I have married a wife.’ And the man went out into the highways and byways and compelled him to come.
“He went on and came to Jerusalem and he saw Queen Jezebel sitting high up in a window. When she saw him she laughed. And he said, ‘Throw her down out of there,’ and they threw her down. And he said, ‘Throw her down again,’ and they threw her down seventy times seven times, and of the fragments they then picked up twelve baskets full. Now whose wife will she be in the day of judgment?”
There was no one in the presbytery who felt qualified to question the candidate further for each member suspected that his own Bible knowledge was as sketchy as that of the candidate. The man was voted in as pastor of the church.
Obviously, this is only a humorous story. However, it is tragically true that many leaders within our churches appear to think that their logic is superior to the revealed will of the Living God. Churches are run as though they were businesses rather than being the House of the Risen Lord of Glory. Ignorance seems often to parade as divine logic, and the results are often tragic. So long as the preacher is able to employ polished rhetoric and be entertaining, church boards are content to hire them for the job. However, I seem to remember someone speaking about the hired hand fleeing when the wolf appears [see JOHN 10:12-13].
Cautioning the believers of the Diaspora, those who were scattered by persecution, Peter writes, urging his readers to view God’s patience in not sending judgement on the wicked as opportunity for the lost to be saved. The Word teaches, “Count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You, therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” [2 PETER 3:15-18].
First, note that “the ignorant and unstable twist” the words Paul has written; and their Scripture twisting leads “to their own destruction.” Not content with twisting Paul’s words, these individuals will also twist “the other Scriptures,” the entirety of the Word. There are people who fit this description, the same individuals of whom Paul warned when he warned the Ephesian elders, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” [ACTS 20:29-30]. Clearly, Paul is describing people who present themselves as teachers of the Word, as scholars of the Scripture, as learned individuals; but they do not have the Spirit and they deny the Lord who bought them.
According to Peter’s words, those who would please the Lord must assume responsibility for themselves. The conscientious Christian must never allow himself or herself to be “carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.” The child of God must ensure that he or she “grows in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This means that you are not merely listeners as the Word is exposited, you are responsible to interact with the Word as it is presented. As a follower of the Master, you are to ensure that what is spoken aligns with the Word.
THE SENTENCE PRONOUNCED AGAINST THE SHEPHERDS — “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As surely as I live, declares the sovereign LORD, my sheep have become prey and have become food for all the wild beasts. There was no shepherd, and my shepherds did not search for my flock, but fed themselves and did not feed my sheep, Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: This is what the sovereign LORD says: Look, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand my sheep from their hand. I will no longer let them be shepherds; the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore. I will rescue my sheep from their mouth, so that they will no longer be food for them” [EZEKIEL 34:7-10].
I have sometimes wished that I could be positive concerning sin and the impact of sin in the lives of God’s holy people. However, as was true of the prophets during the days under the Old Covenant, I cannot be silent. I did not choose this calling—the Lord God appointed me, assigning me to this holy task. Recall that Amos cried out,
“The lion has roared;
who will not fear?
The Lord GOD has spoken;
who can but prophesy?”
I share the Prophet’s assessment. I have heard the plaintive cry of those who say, “Your message is too hard. Tone it down so we can feel good about ourselves.” I’ve been advised by religious leaders to soften my rhetoric, to quit being so firm in insisting that people must be born again. “It drives people away from the church,” they argue. Perhaps we need to drive some people away from the church if it will drive them into the arms of the Risen Saviour. I’ve on the receiving end of complaints arguing that people don’t go to a funeral to hear the preacher call those attending to prepare to meet the Lord. But if not at that time, then when shall we speak of accountability to the Living God?
The true prophet of God cannot be silent, though some will always be offended by his stern warning of divine judgement. The prophet has heard the voice of the Living God, and he must speak what the Lord has commanded him to say. Though his words sting, and though sinners cry out, demanding that he cease speaking, his love for the Shepherd and his love for the Master’s flock, impels him to speak truthfully. At once, he knows the power of the Spirit, and it is wonderful, and he knows the pain of those to whom he speaks. He cannot enjoy their pain, but rather, he grieves for them.
I’m not the only one who has struggled with this dilemma. I witness the Apostle Paul as he struggled with the power of negative preaching. Writing the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” [2 CORINTHIANS 2:1-4].
Earlier in the book of his prophetic writings, Ezekiel wrote of the response of the prophet to God’s command to speak the truth in love. Ezekiel wrote, “[The Lord GOD] said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey” [EZEKIEL 3:1-3]. However, those same words would impart bitterness to the prophet.
The Revelator had a similar experience. He witnessed an angel declaring that time was coming to an end. In the hand of that angel was a scroll. As John looked at the scene, he received a command not unlike that which Ezekiel has received. This is the account as John penned it. “Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.’ And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, ‘You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings’” [REVELATION 10:8-11]. Sweetness when the words are given by God, bitterness when the words are delivered. What a strange conundrum.
I know that God will hold me accountable for what I preach as one who has received appointment as His spokesman. The Lord will not hold me guiltless if I treat Him with disdain or handle the message He has charged me to deliver with casual disregard. God has given His Word, and He expects that those who declare His Word will neither add to it nor take away from what He has said. This becomes clear when the Revelator writes, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” [REVELATION 22:18-19]. Anyone who occupies the sacred desk must take this warning to heart. Any member of the assembly must take seriously what appears to be even a miniscule deviation from the Word of the Lord.
John’s warning echoes what the LORD spoke through Moses long years before John wrote that warning. God, through Moses, warned, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you” [DEUTERONOMY 4:2].
We reinterpret what the Lord has said at peril to our eternal being. We lead astray those who look to us for direction, bringing down on our head the severe condemnation spoken by Jesus when He said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a large millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. So if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life injured than to have two hands and go to hell, to the fire that cannot be put out. In that place, worms never die, and the fire is never put out.
“And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. In that place, worms never die, and the fire is never put out.
“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 to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. In that place, worms never die, and the fire is never put out” [MARK 9:42-48 ISV].
I find this warning issued by the Master terrifying should I dishonour Him! And that is true of any person who imagines they are appointed to preach! I take the matter of spiritual lese majesté very seriously, as should any preacher. There is no room for one who purports to speak for God to reinterpret the Word either in an attempt to make it more palatable to those listening or to justify his own sinful inclination. The man of God must speak the truth in love, telling all who hear his words that in Christ the Lord the love of God is revealed. Simultaneously, even as he declares the love of God, the spokesman of the Lord must warn those who hear his voice of the consequences of divine judgement. God is love; but the dark side of God’s love is divine judgement. God loves us enough to exclude all evil and all wickedness from His presence eternally.
We who are redeemed shall at last be delivered from the presence of sin when we are at last transformed into the image of God’s Son. When He returns to take us to Himself, we will be forever separated from sin. Now, we are delivered from the penalty of sin because Christ took that penalty upon Himself. We are enabled to be delivered from the power of sin as we rely upon the indwelling Spirit of Christ who empowers us to walk in holiness. At last, we will be delivered from the presence of sin.
This is the offer of the Living God to all who hear this message today. Christ the Lord died because of your sinful condition. He took the punishment you deserve upon Himself, tasting death in your place. He conquered death, hell and the grave and rose from the dead. He ascended into Heaven where He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Now, God calls you, if you will receive His offer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” [ACTS 16:31]. Forgiveness of sin, freedom from condemnation, is offered to all who will receive it. Amen.
 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. Used by permission. All rights reserved.