Yesterday we gathered for our annual worship service and celebration meal to follow with our church family. We do this every Thanksgiving season and it always proves to be a good time of fellowship. Yesterday, my text was from Mark 9:42-50. As it turned out, I preached about hell in our Thanksgiving service. Rather than choosing another text to “be thankful” I focused on why we should be thankful for God’s warning about hell.
One of the most sobering warnings about the eternal wrath of God comes from the lips of Jesus in Mark 9:42-50. However, if you examine this text closely, what you will discover may shock you. Jesus isn’t preaching in the town square to unbelievers. Instead, Jesus has left his public ministry behind and is now focused on the disciples (the inner circle) as he prepares them for his upcoming death and resurrection. Therefore, as Jesus gave this sobering warning about hell, it was directed to his closest followers – the inner circle of disciples.
Warning About Our Influence Over Others
Jesus first warned about influencing his followers to sin. Jesus made the point clear, before you lead a Christian into sin, you better consider the consequences. Jesus said, ““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” (Mark 9:42). The millstone was the large stone that weighed thousands of pounds that would be drawn by a mule to grind the grain. It would have a hole in the center of it and when pulled by a mule, it would grind the grain against another stone.
When Jesus issues this warning, he was pointing to this particular stone. His point is clear. If you lead one of my children astray – it would be better for you to have the most horrific death in this life than for you to lead one of his disciples astray, because what’s awaiting you will be the eternal wrath of God.
Warning About Sin’s Influence Over Us
Jesus then turns to sin’s influence over his disciples and issues a stunning warning. Jesus speaks about a place called hell where the fire is unquenchable and where the worm does not die. This word Gehenna is derived from the historic name of the valley Ben-hinnom south of Jerusalem. It was known as the place of fire. It was where children were burned and sacrificed to the false god Molech. Years later, it would be the place where the city’s garbage was dumped and burned. There was a constant fire there. It was considered unclean, vile, and a place to avoid.
Jesus refers to the place of God’s eternal wrath by using this term to describe it. Constant fire, pain, and death abides there, but never ends. This is what the rebel of God has for his future. Jonathan Edwards once said, “Wicked men will hereafter earnestly wish to be turned to nothing and forever cease to be that they may escape the wrath of God.”
Jesus uses great imagery to speak of the radical commitment that’s expected to be a child of God. Every true disciple is expected to do the following:
- Fight sin
- Persevere in the faith
- Preserve unity among the disciples
In order to fight sin, Jesus speaks of plucking out eyes and cutting off limbs to prevent ongoing and perpetual sin. The person who claims to love Jesus but continues in a perpetual sin pattern proves to love a different Jesus – someone other than the Christ of God. Those who are true disciples will wage war on sin. To use the old language of the King James Bible, true Christians will mortify the flesh. What seems radical to the world is in all reality a normal pattern of life for the Christian. We must not allow sin to have a safe harbor in our minds, hearts, and homes.
Jesus made a statement about everyone being salted with fire. This is most likely a reference to experiencing the trials of the faith, the persecution that would eventually come among them to test them. Everyone of these disciples would pass their test, except one. When Judas was tested, his faith was found to be insufficient. Judas’ faith was false.
Jesus goes on to address their spirit of competition among themselves. They had been arguing about who was going to be the greatest in God’s Kingdom. Jesus addressed that issue and then came full circle at the end of this paragraph to point out the need to be at peace with one another. John MacArthur is right when he says, “Failing to seek and preserve spiritual unity weakens Christ’s church. Even more significantly, such failure to pursue unity is a sin.”
Is your faith true or could it be that your faith is like that of Judas?
Why would Jesus warn his disciples of eternal hell and urge them to persevere in the faith? The answer is clear, one of them was a false believer. He also knew that we would read this passage and he wants us to examine ourselves and see if we are in the faith.
Be thankful for the sobering warnings of hell.