Questions for Littles: What should you do with even a hand that “caused” you to sin (v43)? Where is it better to go without a hand, rather than to go into hell? What never happens to the fire in hell? What never happens to their worm in hell (v44)? What should you do with even a foot that “caused” you to sin (v45)? Where is it better to go without a foot, rather than to go into hell? What never happens to the fire in hell? What never happens to their worm in hell (v46)? Where is it better to go with just one eye, rather than to be cast into hell fire (v47)? What never happens to their worm in hell (v48)? What never happens to the fire in hell? What must happen to everyone with fire (v49a)? What will happen to every sacrifice (v49b)? What must we have in ourselves (v50)? What must we have with one another?In the Gospel reading this week, there’s a lot of warning about hell. Remember from last week, in talking about the value of Christ’s name, the Holy Spirit emphasized the value of little ones upon whom He has placed His name.
In this week’s passage, Jesus continues that theme, but turning us to consider its application to ourselves. What might cause us to stumble into sin, and by that sin to stumble into hell?
There is a popular PCA preacher who said recently that “being homosexual doesn’t send you to hell; failing to believe in Jesus does.” But we must be careful not to be wiser than the Lord (cf. 1Cor 6:9-11). Refusing to trust in Christ is certainly a sin, and those who do so will go to hell for that sin, but they will also be going to hell for all of their other sins as well.
Hell is nothing to trifle with. It is internal (worm) and external (fire), continual, retributive punishment from God. It is not simply “getting what we want, by being far from God.” No, God is everywhere (cf. Psalm 139), and the punishment in hell comes from the glory of his presence (2Thess 1:9). He compares that to being eaten alive from the inside out, and burned alive from the outside in—forever.
Yes, the righteousness and sacrifice of Christ are bigger than all of our sin. But consider this: one sin is as bad as an eternity of hell, for hell is the proper punishment of that sin. How much, then, should we do to avoid sin—we who have been saved by Christ and love Him?!
Now, the real question in this passage is: what are you willing to cut out of your life in order to stop sinning? Obviously, we are responsible for our own sin. “My hand made me do it” (or foot, or eye) is not a good excuse. And thank God for that, or else we would need to open up a triage unit for those who obeyed this passage! We cannot blame God, like Adam, “this woman that You gave me; she made me do it!”
But there are certainly situations that we choose to be in, and relationships that we choose to enter or continue that become occasions for stirring up all manner of sin within our hearts, into which situations also we commit wicked behavior.
So, we have two options for fire: purifying fire upon a life lived as a living sacrifice, or punitive fire in condemnation of a life lived for oneself. This dual use of the image of fire appears also in Matthew 3:11-12. We may not find it pleasant to endure suffering and discipline in this life, as the Lord fits us for heaven by making us holy.
But, of the two fires, that is the one that is far to be preferred. And those whose lives are living sacrifices should not be surprised when it comes. Did our Lord not suffer far more than we ever will? And has He not been comparing His suffering to ours these last several passages of this gospel?
What situational/relationship choices are you making, despite the knowledge that they lead to sin? What fire is the Lord putting you through to prepare you for glory?Suggested songs: ARP1 “How Blessed the Man” or HB369 “How Firm a Foundation”