Summary: Be careful about causing others to sin, be careful about sin in your own life and live out the cause of Christ.
Rev. Brian Bill
February 18-19, 2017
Did you hear about what happened in California this past week when the spillway around the nation’s tallest dam started eroding so severely that officials warned a 30-foot wall of water could be unleashed on towns below? Around 200,000 people were ordered to evacuate. This mandatory order triggered a chaotic exodus, filling highways with evacuees.
Some chose to ignore the warnings, putting their lives at severe risk. Apparently people have been allowed to return now as water levels have receded.
Our passage today contains some of the strongest words ever spoken by Jesus about the severity of sin and the harsh reality of Hell. If we ignore them, we do so at our own peril.
One of the reasons I like preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible is because we’re forced to deal with warnings we’d rather avoid. Most pastors would not put a sermon series together called, “The Severity of Sin and the Harshness of Hell.” One of the many things I like about Edgewood is the high view of Scripture and hunger for biblical preaching. In fact, one of the guys in the Growth Group Beth and I lead on Wednesday nights has been asking me to do a 12-part series on Hell. When I told him what the topic was this weekend he said, “Bring it on!”
We’re not going to skip this section or water it down because Jesus cautions us to be careful about how we live. Turn to Mark 9:41-50 where we’ll encounter a series of stern warnings. Last weekend we were challenged to not exhibit a drive for personal status or to have an attitude of group superiority. We’re going to see today that we must avoid causing a follower of Christ to sin, we must cut off anything that causes us to sin and finally, we must live out the cause of Christ.
1. Avoid causing a follower of Christ to sin. Listen to the front half of verse 42: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin...” Jesus put a young child in the midst of the disciples and then picked him up to make the point that we must become least and last if we are serious about following Christ. We’re called to receive the forgotten and the marginalized – the preborn, children, orphans, widows, the poor, the disabled, the mentally challenged, those who are deaf or blind, those in prison, immigrants, the persecuted, refugees, and minorities.
Picking up on that scene, Jesus now refers to little ones “who believe” in Him. He’s talking about our brothers and sisters in Christ. We see this because He uses a different word for “little ones” here. 1 John 2:28 refers to Christians as little children, “And now, little children, abide in him.”
We’re cautioned against causing even “one of these little ones” to sin. The word for sin here is the word skandilizo, from which we get scandalize. It means “to offend, to entice, to entrap, or to put a stumbling block” in front of someone. Most of us don’t consider how our attitudes and actions can be the cause of a fellow Christ-follower falling into sin but 1 Corinthians 10:32 says: “Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God.”
I’m grieved when I hear a Christian say something like this: “I have liberty in Christ to do whatever I want.” What I say to that is this: “You might have liberty in some areas but love dictates that you and I must watch how we live because others are watching us.” In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul wrote: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything.”
Jesus wants us to know how serious it is to cause a Christian to cave into sin. Look at the second half of verse 42: “…it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” The word translated “millstone” is literally, “a donkey stone” that was so heavy (several tons) that a donkey was tied to it in order to turn it. As the stone moved it crushed the grain. The image of wearing a millstone necklace and being thrown into the sea would be absolutely horrifying, especially to a people who didn’t like water.
Right before I graduated from high school, one of my friends drowned in the Rock River. To this day I’m afraid of water. The Israelites were an agrarian people and they avoided the sea whenever possible. In addition, they were aware that the Romans sometimes carried out executions by tying heavy stones around the necks of people and throwing them into rivers and lakes. I can’t imagine a more horrible death. And yet, Jesus said this is preferable to causing a fellow follower of Christ to fall into sin.