For February 13, 2019
Chapter nine of Mark’s gospel narrative has fascinated me over the years. It contains two heart-wrenching stories that evoke poignant visual images that yet resonate with me.
First is the account of the man who asked Jesus to heal his son, whose violent seizures and muted condition threatened his life. When the man asked the Lord to heal his son, the Lord told him that faith would make it possible.
Instantly, the man was overcome with tremendous fear and anxiety because he realized if healing was to occur, he could no longer trust his senses. Instead, he had to rely upon a spiritual reality that could not be proven scientifically or explained logically. This was a state of being totally unfamiliar to him at that moment.
In other words, the man had to put his faith in what he could not see, feel, touch, taste, or smell. But like any loving parent, he wanted his child restored to perfect health. In tearful reverence, he cries, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24 KJV) That day Jesus healed the son’s body…and the father’s faith.
The second story contains some striking visual images concerning the destructive outcome of sin. Here Jesus teaches:
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.’ (Mark 9:43-48 NKJV)
Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation. He is teaching that sin is a natural consequence of our fallen condition, which produces a lifestyle of self-gratification, rebellion, and death.
As Ephesians 2:1-3 describes, we are content to boldly and shamelessly live out our sinful practices 1; serving our master, the Devil as we follow the lustful yearnings of our sin-tarnished nature. In this condition, and by default, we are subject to God’s wrath—forever.
Jesus cites Isaiah 66:24 in His warning of an actual place called Hell. He uses the word gehenna, (or the Valley of Hinnom); located just outside Jerusalem where the wicked ruler, King Ahaz sacrificed his son in the fiery worship ritual to the pagan god Moloch some seven-hundred years earlier.2 This heinous act was prohibited and condemned by Leviticus 18:21.
Although this valley was used as trash heap during the time of Christ, this graphic metaphor presents a somber warning to those who continue to reject God and practice sin.
Because whether the term is Gehenna as used here, the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20, or the Second Death (Revelation 20:14), the outcome is the same: eternal separation from God is the final state of all those who practice sin, and there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” forever. (Matthew 22:13)
Although the warning here is most serious, Jesus provides comfort as well. We can have the power to resist sin’s dominance—if we turn to Him completely. Because He was victorious over sin, He supplies us with the power to resist whatever is causing us to sin (as if it were “cut off”).
Thank God for His patience. He is not willing that we should perish; but that we come to repentance as 2 Peter 3:9 promises. As Romans 5:8 assures us, God demonstrated His wonderful, all-encompassing love for us in this single defining moment in human history:
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!
The Lord performed on our behalf what we were unwilling and incapable of doing ourselves. He paid the price of sin by His death on the cross. As a result, the power of sin and Satan, the cares of this world, and our own inadequate strength no longer debilitate us as we operate under His unfaltering might.
We grow to be more like Christ and honor him in everything we say, think, and do. Our new Spirit-driven life is born out of a sincere faith that transforms us while providing us with the clean hands and pure hearts that God requires.
Are we perfect? Absolutely not—but He is!
The Lord provides us with the spiritual strength we need to live nobly for Him daily as holy, acceptable, living sacrifices. Thus, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ; who walk not in the flesh, but in His Spirit. 3
We can represent Him in a manner that reflects His noble character. Like airplanes on a runway before takeoff, we will not achieve flight without our Eternal Pilot at the controls. With humble, reverent, and sincere faith in Christ, we are assured to reach our glorious final destination—eternal life—safely. What a wonderful Savior!