SOME HARD WORDS OF JESUS
A sermon on Mark 9:38-50
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
September 26, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two
hands and go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. –Mark 9:43
Interpreting the Bible—and especially the words of Jesus—can sometimes be a slippery
business. Among our more conservative friends, we might hear such declarations as “I believe the Bible
is literally true—cover to cover including the maps in the back”…or we may hear the Bible described as
“the infallible, inerrant word of God”…or perhaps we could hear something like “The Bible says what it
means and means what it says.” If only that were true all the time. That would surely make things much
less complicated for those earnestly seeking to follow the way of Jesus, wouldn’t it?
In some cases, it must be said that such an attitude really is true. Sometimes the words of Jesus
are to be literally understood and followed. For instance, Jesus said that the greatest commandment
was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as
ourselves. Not much to debate there. It’s a pretty straightforward statement…Or maybe when he said,
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Clear as a blue sky on a
beautiful summer day…Or when he said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where
moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in
heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Those are pretty straightforward sayings, aren’t they? There is not a whole lot of room for
misunderstanding or misinterpreting what Jesus was saying in any of those passages. But then there are
other times where trying to follow the words of Jesus literally misses the point entirely. And in fact, it
can do more harm rather than good…Here are two examples from Christian history to illustrate what I
Origen has been described as a man who is among the greatest of all Christian theologians. He
was active in the first half of the 4th Century in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. At that point in time,
Alexandria was considered to be a center of learning and philosophy in the ancient world. Although
some of his later views wound up being condemned as heresy by the church—and rightfully so—there is
no denying that he was one of the most prolific and gifted Christian teachers of his day. Perhaps his
most enduring contribution to the church has been the concept of sola scriptura—that is, the concept
that the Scriptures are the only true basis for Christian faith and practice.
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Whatever his failings as a Christian thinker might have been, there is no doubt that Origen was a
fervent believer. He lived a very strict life. He fasted frequently, and he ate very little even when he did
eat. He owned only one set of clothes. And he refused to wear shoes. His devotion to Christ was
unquestioned. He was so resolved to closely follow the words of Jesus that, in response to today’s
gospel text, Origen actually castrated himself. Was that extreme? Certainly…But in doing so, he believed
that he was literally obeying our Lord’s command…
Another example is that of a 10th Century man named Samaan el Karaz. His name translates as
“Simon the Shoemaker.” Samaan is venerated as a saint in the Egyptian and Ethiopian Coptic churches.
He is said to have prayed and moved a mountain to demonstrate the truth of the Christian message to
an unbelieving sultan. That is the kind of deep faith that he had. It is also said that Samaan only had one
eye. The story is that he had poked the other one out after he gazed lustfully at one of his female shoe
In doing that, he believed that he was following our Lord’s order in verse 47 of today’s text.
That’s the verse that reads, “If your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out…”
Of course, Jesus never intended for us to take his words in today’s passage literally. If he did
mean these words to be taken literally, then we all would be blind and we would all be missing limbs.
For who among us has NOT used a part of our body as an occasion to sin? No—we all have. Jesus did not
mean these instructions to be taken literally. He was using hyperbole to make his point…
Jesus was a master teacher and used many different techniques to instruct his disciples in the
ways of the Kingdom. Parables, allegories, metaphor, similes—these were all ways that our Lord used to
communicate the truth of his message and make it stick in the ears of his listeners. And hyperbole was
one of the methods that he used…
For instance, here is another example of Jesus using hyperbole to make a point. Jesus once told
his followers that it is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to
enter the kingdom of God. Did he literally mean that? No—of course not. That was not it at all. It is a
ridiculous image! His point was that the rich have a difficult time in keeping their wealth in perspective.
Wealth way too often assumes the place of deity in one’s life. It can complicate our lives and prevent us
from keeping God first in our heart. And he also meant the image to teach that having money is not
necessarily an indicator of God’s favor on a person. Just because you have money does not mean that
you have a healthy relationship with God…
Or in another place, Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye
and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?…You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own
eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” This time, Jesus’ uses
hyperbole in a comical way. He was using the nonsensical image to bring home the point to his listeners
that they were to take care of their own sin before attempting to help others with theirs…
1 www.totallyhistory.com/origen (Accessed September 22, 2021) See also Matthew 19:12.
2 www.samaanchurch.com/en/biography (Accessed September 22, 2021)
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So if Jesus was using hyperbole in this passage—not in a humorous way but in a shocking way—
then what was his point? What was he trying to communicate to his followers…and to us?
What Jesus was communicating is that, when we sin, our sin is not the result of a rebellious
hand…or a disobedient eye…or an insubordinate foot. No…Sin does not reside in the parts of the body
that are actively involved in sinning. Instead, the true origin of sin is in the mind…and the heart.
Consequently, mutilating our bodies by removing eyes, hands or feet solves nothing. Such actions will
not remove sin and its influence from our lives because it does not deal with the root of the problem.
Instead, Jesus is calling his followers to a life of discipline in order to be the kind of people that God
desires us to be…While salvation is the free gift of God to us through Christ, discipline is one of the most
important components of life in the Spirit.
I know that many of you are college football fans. And it is no secret to you that, at my house,
being from Birmingham and Talladega, we are fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide. As you are probably
aware, Alabama was ranked number one in the preseason polls and has held on to that spot through the
first three games of the season. Two of the first three teams that Alabama have played this season have
been ranked. Though Bama won all three of those games, the game against #11 ranked Florida was one
of the closest games that the Tide has played in a number of years. The final score was 31-29 and it took
a stop on a two point conversion attempt late in the game to keep the game from going into overtime.
In the wake of that game, there has been a lot of discussion about whether or not this Alabama
team is as dominant this year as it has been in the recent past. At Wednesday’s press conference, head
coach Nick Saban discussed what he and his players have termed “the Alabama standard.” In describing
what that means, Saban said, “[It is when the players] maintain their intensity for 60 minutes in a game
and they’re more physical. They’re the tougher team. They play with greater discipline and intangibles
that the teams they play against. And that mentality creates a respect that helps you be successful.”3
In other contexts, I have heard Coach Saban define “discipline” as “doing the right thing, in the
right way, at the right time all the time.” Given the amount of success that he has had as a football
coach, it is hard to argue with his definition of discipline…
And while discipline has been a key to Alabama’s football success, it is also true of the spiritual
life. We are accustomed to thinking of sin as individual act of disobedience to God. And that is true
enough—as far as it goes. But the Scripture goes much further. In Romans, the apostle Paul frequently
refers to sin as a condition which plagues the human race. Sin as a condition works its way out through
our bodily members—that is, the ingrained habits of the body is what leads to sin. Discipline is what is
needed in order that we may “take away our bent to sinning” and become more of who God has created
us to be.
3 www.si.com/college-alabama/bamacentral/nick-saban-discusses-status-of-rb-brian-robinson-jr-defines-alabamastandard-blackwell (Accessed September 23, 2021) Emphasis mine.
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And how do we do that? How does that work? One way that it doesn’t work is to do it in our
I imagine that we have all had the experience of trying to deal with ingrained sin in our lives. We
find ourselves unsatisfied with our Christian lives, so we decide that we are going to live a life more
dedicated to the Lord. We resolve to follow Jesus more closely. And then sin crops up in our lives—as it
always seems to do. And when it does, our tendency seems to be that we will deal with it on our own.
Whatever the issue for us is—anger, bitterness, pride, sexual lust, alcohol, fear, whatever—we
determine that we will never do it again. We rely on our willpower and determination to conquer
whatever it is that is keeping us from growing in the life of the Spirit. And too often we set ourselves up
Deeply ingrained habits of sin will not be overcome by simply gritting our teeth and working
ever harder to please God. NO—like everything else in the life of the Spirit, whatever progress that we
make is going to be a gift from the Lord.
The Apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 12. There he discusses how it is that we develop
and grow in the life of the Spirit. He writes, “Therefore, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, that you offer
your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Notice
that, instead of removing offending body parts that cause us to sin, Paul counsels us to dedicate those
same body parts to God as an act of true worship. And then Paul goes on to tell us how. He writes, “Do
not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your
And how is this transformation to be done? We are to be transformed by the renewing of our
minds. And this is accomplished through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the gift of God to each
and every Christian believer.
You see, God does not leave us alone to fend for ourselves in the life of the Spirit. If salvation
was a “one and done” experience—that he saves our souls and then leaves us to our own devices—then
God would be setting us up for failure. None of us would be able to successfully address the issue of sin
in our lives. None of us would ever make much progress in the life of the Spirit…
Instead, God blesses us with the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is when we cooperate with
the work of the Spirit in our lives—depending on the Spirit for guidance and help—that we can see “the
renewing of our mind,” as the Apostle Paul puts it. Our disposition to sin is in our minds. And when our
minds are renewed, then we will be able to be more of who God has created us to be. We can be more
accurately reflect the image of Jesus in our lives—in the way that we talk, in the way that we think, in
the way that we act, in the way that we respond to others.
I am indebted to Richard J. Foster for some of this material.
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We need not go through our lives physically or spiritually maimed because of our sin. Instead,
we are to progress on our journey through the power of the Holy Spirit. Redeeming us and working
within us to transform us day by day, and even hour by hour. In that way, we may be pleasing to the
Father of Lights, in whom we are given birth through the word of truth, that we may be a kind of first
fruits of all he created. (James 1:17-18) It is what God has created—and is recreating—you to be as a
follower of Jesus…
And to God alone be the glory! Amen.