A mid-week devotional from Central Presbyterian Church helping us to help prepare our hearts for the day ahead. If you would like to receive these in your inbox, please let us know. Find the complete archive here.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 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 with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the the beginning of the season of Lent, a period of self-denial and reflection designed to prepare Christians leading up the observance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus at Easter. It is also a day that reminds me of the fact that if you did not know me when I was a teenager you should consider yourself fortunate. After I came to know Jesus during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I knew with certainty that God wanted me to share the Good News with all of my friends and classmates. And although my zeal and passion for sharing my faith was genuine, often times my methods were much more obnoxious than winsome. While the vast majority of my community, and public high school, was Roman Catholic, throughout the year the large local Roman church sat mostly empty. Yet during Lent, the pews slowly began to fill and everyone at school suddenly gave up sweets and on Fridays the cafeteria only served fish sticks and cheese pizza.
Being raised Presbyterian, and having recently come to the realization that my salvation was based on faith alone in Jesus alone and not a result of my own good works, I made it my personal mission to attempt to expose what I saw as the self-righteous religious practices of my tragically misguided peers. To my shame, I vividly remember carrying around a variety of sweets, and a stick of summer sausage on Fridays, from class to class and tempting my self-denying, Lent-observing friends to break their vows and have just a little taste. And while I was at times successful in getting my friends to try a cookie, or a slice of cured meat, you might not be surprised to hear that my evangelistic efforts were largely fruitless.
In our passage today, Jesus reminded the disciples of the disastrous effects of sin beginning with an ominous warning for anyone who causes others, especially those immature in their faith, to stumble into sin. Using the analogy of being tossed into the sea with a millstone tied around the neck, Jesus was not just creating a hypothetical scenario, but referencing the horrific, and very real, Roman punishment that Jewish zealot insurrectionist leaders received as a result of following Judas the Galilean. But even more disturbing than the vivid mental image of hundreds of pounds of stone dragging a flailing body down into the watery depths forever was the thought that such a fate would actually be preferable to what awaited those who led others astray. Knowing that the disciples had just spent a great deal of time and energy bickering and arguing over power and authority, Jesus made sure they understood that with every position of influence comes even greater responsibility.
But Jesus also wanted to make clear that not only would His disciples have the ability to easily lead others into temptation, but they must never become complacent in their own efforts to battle sin. Speaking in regards to every believer, Jesus emphasized the idea that the mortification, or putting to death, of sin is a serious and personal responsibility. Jesus explained that it would be better to go through life as a blind invalid, amputating our own limbs and gouging out our own eyes, than continuing to live in sin. Although others can offer some assistance in our efforts to overcome temptation, it is primarily a personal struggle. No one else can do this for us.
Most simply put, sin can be understood as anything that takes us away from God and prevents us from fulfilling our ultimate purpose of glorifying and enjoying Him forever. Jesus said that we must take whatever measures necessary when it comes to eliminating the things in our lives, however benign they may appear on the outside, that draw us away from God. Killing sin is difficult, which is why Jesus gives us such a drastic picture. Now, when we look through the history of the church we don’t see too many communities of one-handed, one-footed, one-eyed Christians, but we don’t need to literally perform self-mutilation in order to heed Jesus’ dire warning.
By mentioning the hand, the foot, and the eye, Jesus declares that the demands on the life of His disciples are all-encompassing. It is impossible to be a Christian for only a few minutes each morning or a few hours each Sunday. Following Jesus is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year calling. It is not just something that we do, it is who we are. It is an invitation to die to our natural selves and the inferior desires of the world and live for God and the things that truly matter. In every moment of every day we have the sacred opportunity to overcome our natural desires and chose to honor Jesus with our words, our actions, our habits, and our thoughts.
The reality is that our sin is far more dangerous than we typically care to think. Our condition was so dire, our justly deserved punishment so heinous, that nothing less than the innocent blood of the perfect Son of God was sufficient to cover it. Because Jesus died for us, and rose again, we can be certain that nothing can separate all those who have placed their faith and hope in Him from the eternal love of God. While we will continue to wrestle with the worldly consequences of sin for as long as we have breath in our lungs, the eternal balance has been forever atoned for and washed away for good. May we live each day in light of His grace, and remove all that prevents us from doing so.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, You know all things. You see not only our words and actions but our thoughts and hearts. We ask that in Your mercy You would allow us to see ourselves for who we truly are. Expose everything within us that keeps us from fully devoting ourselves to You. Do not allow us to grow selfish or complacent, but kindle within us a passion and fervency for Your glory and Your kingdom. Empower us to fight against all of those lesser things within and without that keep us from fulfilling who You have called us to be. We ask in Your perfect name, Amen.