Summary: This sermon looks at Jesus' four teachings here: taking sin seriously, rebuking, forgiving, and serving. This sermon applies the text at each point, and does so in a Gospel approach.
“Just climb up, sit down, let go, and enjoy, honey!” Lainey’s father to said to her. Little Lainey had recently learned how to swim, and was now standing on the ladder of the water slide, frozen in fear. Lainey had just started jumping into the pool, and then would frantically dog paddle back to the ledge. However, this was different. This slide emptied into the deep side of the pool. This isn’t the three foot kiddie section anymore! Her father, noticing her fear and death grip on the ladder, said, “Honey, it’s not that scary. You can do it. Just climb up and go down!” However, her grip tightened and she said, “No way, I’m not doing it! I’m not going down.” Her father chimed back from the pool: “Don’t worry, honey, you’ll enjoy it! Just go down. Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen. Trust me!” Ever been in that situation? Called to act but frozen in fear? Today, in our Gospel reading, Jesus challenges us to step forward and to go up the ladder. However, too often, we clutch to it, frozen in fear! What Jesus says this morning is hard, very hard. Even the disciples find it so! Despite the difficulty and fear that might arise, Jesus challenges us, He encourages us. He encourages us to trust His promises and voice as He teaches us to take sin seriously, to rebuke, to forgive, and to serve.
Jesus begins His teaching by saying, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” Jesus starts by bringing out an obvious fact: what do sinners do? They sin! Since the church is full of sinners, temptations and opportunities to sin will never be fully eliminated. They will always be present. We will offend others by what we say and do. Our behaviors might encourage others to sin. It could be our careless use of words that encourages someone else’s careless use of them. Our loafing on the job, ignoring the needs of others, you name it!, might encourage them to do the same. While all of this is bad, Jesus wants one thing to be avoided at all costs.
The Greek word for “temptations to sin” is skandalon, and I’m sure that you can guess what English word we might get from it, scandal, right? While the word does mean “temptations to sin,” it also carries with it the idea of apostatizing, or making others fall away from the faith. These are those actions that can offend and damage the faith of others. These are activities that can lead others astray or away from Jesus. This story helps to illuminate what Jesus is talking about here.
In High School, the driver’s education teacher was a ruthless guy. Whenever you made a slight mistake, he would brutally let into you, and just not stop. He almost had me in tears a few times because of what he said, and I dreaded his class every Tuesday and Thursday. He wasn’t just like this to me, though. He made my neighbor sob while driving because of his words, and he told one of my best friends, one of the politest people that I know, that he was the rudest student he ever had. Jeff later became a priest. The teacher’s reputation and actions were well-known. One day, though, while sitting in his classroom, I noticed he had a Christian devotional on his desk, and I found out later that he led the staff Bible Studies at school. I was honestly surprised at these things. His actions gave no indication of his faith, and his behaviors were a complete turn-off. If he ever told me about Jesus, I would be inclined to say, “No thank-you, I’m good. I’m not interested.” This is what Jesus talks about here. We pray that we would not be this others. We pray that our lives and actions wouldn’t turn others away.
Jesus opens our eyes to the seriousness of sin and temptations by saying, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves!” The term “little ones” refers to any Christian, not just those who are young or new to the faith. His words highlight the seriousness of temptations, the seriousness of our sin, and the effects that they can have.
While there will always be temptations to sin, our Lord always provides a way out. We are not helpless or alone. We have a great High Priest who knows our weaknesses, who knows our temptations, and sympathizes. Our God is loving and caring, and by His Word exposes our sin that threatens our lives and that of others. Be open to His Spirit’s nudge as He exposes sin and points you to grace. Our faithful God can deliver us from temptation and He desires to keep all members of His family under His love and care. Jesus wants us to take sin seriously, and this ties in nice to His next point: rebuking.