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Posts Tagged ‘gehenna’

Series: Be at peace with one another!

We are wrapping up our series on being at peace with one another, based on Jesus’ teaching in Mark 9:33-50. So far we have looked at three different relationship problems that can happen in the church:

1. Competing with each other for status – the disciples were arguing over who’s the greatest.

2. Excluding those who are different than you – the disciples tried to stop someone working for the kingdom because he was not a part of their group.

3. Causing little ones to stumble – acting in ways that would cause those who are weak in faith to fall into sin or lose their faith in Jesus.

Today we look at the last part of this passage – vs. 43-50, a section that brings home this point – we need to get serious and work hard at having good relationships with one another.

Jesus begins by giving –

Three amputation sayings

They are all quite similar, one concerning the hand, the foot and the eye. (Just a note, in case you are wondering. vs. 44 and 46 are not in the oldest manuscripts, so they are not included in most Bibles today. They say the same thing as v. 48, however.)

v. 43-48 – “And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the un-quenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, 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, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’”

First, a couple of observations. Jesus talks about the resurrection in several different ways here, twice as “to enter life,” as in eternal life, and also “to enter the kingdom of God.”

But he talks even more about the opposite of eternal life, which is hell. Now this is not Hades, the place of the dead. This is “Gehenna,” the final place of punishment for the wicked. Gehenna literally means the “valley of Hinnom,” which was southwest of Jerusalem. It was once a place of idol worship, including human sacrifice, but later was made into a garbage dump. As such, it became an image of the final punishment of the wicked.

In v. 43 Jesus describes hell as the “unquenchable fire.” In v. 48 he quotes Isaiah 66:24 as a description of hell (via the Isaiah Targum) – “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” This comes from the original garbage dump imagery where there would be worms and fire. The idea is that the worms will always be eating away and the fire will always be burning. A gruesome picture.

There also seems to be a progression from v. 43, that simply says, “to go to hell,” to vs. 45 and 47 that says, “to be thrown into hell,” a more forceful phrase.

The focal point of these verses, however is Jesus’ concern about stumbling. We talked about stumbling last week in connection to how our words or actions can cause someone else who is weak in faith to stumble. Here the concern is what might lead you to stumble, not someone else. There is a shift of focus.

A stumbling block is what causes someone’s downfall, or what trips someone up so that they fall. Again, there is a metaphor here of the Christian life as walking on a path. And so you are walking with Jesus, but something trips you up and you fall into sin and stop following Jesus. So we certainly need to beware of such stumbling blocks.

But what is Jesus telling us to do?! Well, he’s not suggesting that we literally cut off our hand or foot or tear out our eye. After all, this wouldn’t help us keep from falling into sin. No, these are proverbial sayings that warn about the dangers of stumbling blocks to sin, in rather drastic terms.

What they mean is simple, get rid of anything that might lead you to sin.

And this is so serious that you should get rid of the stumbling block even if it is as precious to you as your hand or your foot or your eye; even if it is as painful as cutting off your hand or foot or tearing out your eye. Better to come to the resurrection having made painful sacrifices in this life, than to have stumbled and fallen into sin, so that you are thrown into hell, the place of unending worms and fire.

So this is a strong admonition to separate from whatever might cause you to trip up and fall into sin. Don’t just get rid of the sin, get rid of what might lead you to sin. And notice that Jesus wants us to get this point. That’s why he says it three times.

Now, this warning can refer to stumbling blocks that lead to any kind of sin. (Jesus uses this language in reference to adultery in Matthew 5:29-30). But in context, the point here is more specific. Cut off anything that might lead you to tear apart the peace of the church. Deal with any issues you have that might lead you to damage relationships and people in the church.

He is talking about getting rid of anything that would lead you to do what he has already talked about in this passage:

  • competing with others for status
  • unnecessarily rejecting others just because they are from another group or are different
  • or causing little ones to stumble

And the warning part applies to this as well. And it is clearly stated. If we don’t do this, and tear apart the church, we will be thrown into Gehenna. (See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 for a similar warning about what will happen to those who tear apart the church.)

In Luke 17:3 these amputation sayings are paraphrased like this, “Pay attention to yourselves.” Jesus is saying, look at your own life to see what might cause you to do one of these things – and get rid of it.

Well, this raises the question –

What do you need to amputate?

What leads you to sin in general? What causes you to give in to your weaknesses? Here are some examples of such stumbling blocks:

  • If you struggle with alcohol addiction, this could be a person or a place that encourages you to give in to your weakness.
  • If you struggle with pornography, unfiltered access to the internet could be a stumbling block.
  • If you are a new Christian, hanging out with old friends who pressure you to forsake Jesus would be a stumbling block

Let’s get more specific – what might lead you to damage the peace of the church? Being too competitive? Always wanting your own way? Allowing yourself to hold on to some bitterness? Not dealing with conflicts, because you don’t like to do this? Being so comfortable with the way things are, that when someone new comes who is different, you get upset. Feeling superior to those who don’t know as much as you? Any of these things might well lead you to damage relationships in the church, and so if they lead you to this you need to separate from them.

In relation to all these stumbling blocks, there may be sacrifices, but the reward is more than worth it. We will enter eternal life in the kingdom of God.

Next Jesus gives us –

Three salt sayings

The first is in v. 49 – “For everyone will be salted with fire.” This is difficult to make sense of. There’s not much to go with. Our help comes from the context just before. It is connected to verse 48 by the theme of fire and judgment.

The point is that everyone will be judged. Just as salt is sprinkled or poured out, so will the fire of judgment come upon all, even if you are one of the twelve. So the amputation warnings apply to them and to all disciples.

Now, the righteous will not experience the fire of Gehenna. But a refining fire is connected to what the righteous will experience on the last day in Malachi 3:2-3. So both the righteous and the wicked will experience fire at the final judgment. (On salt and judgment – Genesis 19:24-26; Deuteronomy 29:23; On fire judging the work of Christians – 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. This text is also connected to breaking apart the church – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.)

v. 50a – “Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?” Salt had many uses: preservation, seasoning, fertilizer and more. It had real value. As Jesus says, “Salt is good.”

Here the disciples are the salt, who have been made salty by living out Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 5:13). But there is a warning. If you lose your saltiness, that is, you are unfaithful to my teaching – how will you be made salty again? If we don’t practice Jesus’ teaching we aren’t worth anything as disciples. Salt is good, but un-salty salt isn’t.

In Matthew 5:13 this saying is coupled with a clear statement of judgment. For such salt “is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

The application of this can be broad, to any teaching of Jesus (Matthew 5, Luke 14), but here it is focused on whether we are living in peace with one another in the church.

9:50b – “Have salt in yourselves . . .” Here the salt is simply Jesus’ teaching. He is saying, take to heart my teaching. Put it into practice. Again, specifically focusing on relationships in the church.

And then finally, 9:50c – “. . . and be at peace with one another.” This is the summary message of the whole of Mark 9:33-50, which begins with arguing and ends with this exhortation to peace.

Let me end with a question –

How salty are you?

Are you putting this teaching of Jesus into practice?

  • Lowering yourself to serve others?
  • Accepting others from groups that are different than yours?
  • Helping little ones who are weak and susceptible to falling?
  • And in general, living at peace with one another?

If you are putting Jesus’ teaching into practice, you are salty salt and you are useful for all kinds of good things in the kingdom. Let us all put this teaching into practice.

William Higgins

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