HG088-91 Matthew 17:22-18:14, Mark 9:30-50, Luke 9:43-50
Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him. Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.” Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”
Even after a clear revelation of Himself in Mark 8 where he was recognised for who he was: The Christ, the Son of the Living God. It is obvious that the disciples still only saw in shadows even though Jesus spoke plainly. The problem was, of course, their preconceptions and their way of thinking could not accept the saying that he was to die.
It is good for us to be clear about what we believe but it is evident that not one of us has got it all right. We all need to be open to correction in our thinking and not stubbornly hold onto things once we are shown to be wrong. It took quite something to change the disciples’ outlook.
It was also here that Jesus warns that he is going to be betrayed. You cannot be betrayed by an enemy because you know that they are out to get you. You can only be betrayed by someone close. When we look at the Old Testament there are many occasions of betrayal: Samson and Delilah is a good example, King David was betrayed several times – once by his own son Absalom. It seems to me that betrayal is commonplace. There may be one among us who will betray or one that will be part of us. Only God knows. What can we do about it? Nothing. We are to love one another and if it happens then we are to take the rough with the smooth and know that judgment rests in the hands of God. After preaching such words at my former fellowship one of the members did great harm to the Gospel. What I find interesting is that Jesus already knew that the path to the cross was going to be by betrayal and he did not change his demeanour to the one who would betray him but gave every opportunity for him to put his heart right.
See that these words were missed by the disciples. Note also how important it is that we take into account every word that is spoken by our Saviour. He does not waste words. The words in our Bible are there because he wants them there as He is the ultimate Word of God through whom the world came into being. And, it follows, I think, that if we have the word in our Bible then they are there to be understood.
Well, the disciples were so set on a ‘King Jesus’ dethroning the Romans that in their hearts the disciples had other things on their minds to do with position and power. They still thought that the Kingdom was going to be established in the place of the Roman occupation and their hearts just couldn’t grasp that it wasn’t going to be that way. The disciples had their mind on selfish ambition about who was going to have the most influence and were working out what ministerial post they would get: Ministry for Health, for Education, for War, for Security, for Justice etc. They were so into it that everything they heard from Jesus went through the filter of ambition. The post they all most wanted was to be Prime Minister. We see such political games play out today in every Country along with the intrigue that we would have thought best suited the 18th Century or Roman times.
Jesus is out of earshot and so the disciples gave full vent to their ambitions disputing with one another but the moment Jesus asks them about their conversation silence ensues. Jesus both saw and heard everything and both sees and hears everything today too.
24 Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?” says the Lord; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord.
Jesus is omnipresent despite being contained in His earthly body.
13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
Yes, He is on earth but also in Heaven. He, in the flesh, was still fully God as He was fully human.
Jesus then dealt with their argument – if only this was the only time He had to say this to His disciples.
Those of us who are more interested in how great we are going to be are dealt a blow because we are told that to be great you have to be last and a servant to all. It is for this reason that I am referred to as a minister, which is another word for servant. Well, at least, that is what I am supposed to be but I suspect that there are ministers among us as a fellowship who are greater in God’s sight than I ever will be. It is generally those who are unseen; those who do things behind the scenes, who are the greatest in God’s sight.
Jesus takes a child in his arms to prove a point. We are all too happy to receive powerful people, the rich, those who are of benefit to us spiritually, materially, or emotionally but children cannot provide us with these things, or at least it would be unusual for them to do so, because children, by nature, are dependent upon us.
Their dependence upon us also places a word of warning on the lips of Jesus. Because children trust us, rely upon us beware of what you do. Do not lead them astray or do anything to them that you would not want God on your back for. Watch yourself and watch out for children that the example given is a godly one.
Jesus then goes a step further saying that if any part of our body sins then cut it off for going to hell is a place you really do not want to go. For those who want to doubt the reality of hell then you have to take up your argument with Jesus as He believed it and warned of avoiding it. In another place Jesus speaks of it:
46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The word ‘everlasting’ and ‘eternal’ are exactly the same in Greek.
If we believe we are given eternal life then we have to accept there is also eternal punishment, too. Jesus warns about it. We also should warn about it. God is just. Does he mean this literally? Yes, he does! Everlasting has within the word that it is non-stop, never coming to an end. A Christian can never be concerned on this matter but we could not wish this upon our worst enemy but to be an enemy of God is just plain stupid. He is stronger than you.
The problem is that we think that God will take pity upon us all or that in some way God will see the good in us and that will be enough to save us or others in the end; we will all, or most of us, get to Heaven. Jesus pointed out that there really would be nothing left of us if we tried to cut out everything from us that sin because we would soon discover there is nothing good because every part of us has sinned including our heart – you cut that out and you no longer live! We can never be good enough because out good is tainted with sin. Who is the measure of goodness?
Jesus makes this clear when the rich young ruler came to him and said: ‘Good teacher’. Jesus asked him: why do you call me good? There is only one good and that is God. The fact is that we are all in rebellion against God. And justice has to be served and the sentence is hell. We don’t want to hear it because we live cocooned lives in the West but in most places of the world where human cruelty is on show we would demand justice. God is holy and demands holiness and our sin is an abomination to him. The cure to the rebellion is found in Jesus sent to pay the ultimate price for us but if we reject Him then we remain under the judgment of God – and this means that the place we would go to is worse than the worst nightmare dreamt up.
Jesus uses graphic words: Worm and Fire. Their worm shall not die. There are two possibilities here: an outward worm that afflicts them and torments them and an inward worm of the conscience and thoughts of what could have been. I think that the worm is external and inflicts punishment but the internal conflict will also be present. Fire does not need to be explained. It burns, it hurts, and there is no relief. When people died at Grenfell we were horrified at the pictures on our TV of the massive fire that spread through that building. This does not come close to the experience of those in hell.
The moment we realise that our sin deserves hell and that we have been saved from such a judgment through Jesus Christ the sooner we will be that much more thankful and the sooner we will realise that our neighbours, friends and family need to hear the good news and be the salt that we are supposed to be. Instead we have sanitised God and sanitised the salt that we are supposed to be that it is of no use but to be trodden underfoot.
A judgmentless God is a God who does not love. A God who loves dishes out justice where needed and judges those who are in the wrong. It is what we expect of judges in court. A man is found guilty of murder and he sentences him to 5 years: There is an outcry! If sentenced to 12 years it is more acceptable but for those affected they would want a life for a life.
This world that rejects the idea of God being a judge and our desire to make Christianity sound much more acceptable we excuse ourselves from ever mentioning his judgment. The Bible mentions it, however, again and again and a time is coming when everyone will have to give an account of themselves to God to whom they owe their very lives. People look at the world and see pain and suffering and say what is God going to do about it…but reject a God who will judge and put those things right! Is it because the judgment will come too close to home?
Is God unjust when he says you have rejected me therefore I reject you? You want no part of me though I have given you everything you need for life and godliness and refused it and wanted to go your own way.
If we are to remain salty in this world then we cannot gloss over something that is so fundamental. Missionaries have gone to the far flung countries of our planet because they knew that if people did not turn to him then they would die and go to hell. Jesus came all the way from Heaven to lay down his life because otherwise we would have to go to hell. Jesus would not have bothered if in the end we would all get there!
We have avoided hell by faith in Jesus. In our saltiness we need to be as clear as Jesus was: we deserve hell – but the good news is it can be avoided because of His great love for us.
Jesus died to reconcile us to God and so that we can have reconciliation with one another and this passage ends with us having peace with one another – and as far as it is possible for us to do so let us get on with one another, loving and forgiving just as we are loved and forgiven by God.
Remember: Those who want to be great have to put aside their selfish ambition and be last and servant of all. We are salt in this world making known the good news of being saved from judgment. Live peaceably with one another. Love one another. In this we are recognised as Jesus’ disciples.