Bible Reading Plan – September 10-16
Bible Project Reading Plan (September 10-16):
Mark 7-16; John 1-4; Psalms 98-104
Jesus is a wonderful teacher. He is capable of using everyday things to not only grab the attention of his listeners, but to instruct them in the ways of a transcendent God and his Kingdom. This is not an easy task! Bad teachers make easy things difficult to learn; the best teachers take that which is out of our grasp and make it simple. Jesus is a teacher par excellence.
One of the ways in which Jesus shows us this is his wonderful use of exaggeration. In dealing with exaggeration, the first rule is not to take it as literally as some are likely to do. Consider Jesus’ words in Mark 10:42-48, below:
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. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, 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 sin, 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.’
You can imagine, and I’ve heard stories, about people taking such words “literally” – meaning that Jesus must mean precisely what he says at face value. So, if you struggle with lust, pluck out your eye. If you struggle with coveting, and its sister-sin stealing, slice off your hand. Yet, even if these steps were taken, it’s unlikely to fix the problem. I’m sure that there might be some pirates in heaven – I doubt that it will be because they plucked out their eyes to keep themselves from stealing glances at pretty lasses in port. And neither do I think we can avoid hell simply by applying an eye patch to our faces or a hook to our forearm. We would still have an eye to see with, and a hand to steal with.
The point, simply put, is that we take such an attitude toward our sin. We should have the attitude to go to whatever lengths we can to get rid of our sin, even if we must do it in other directions. It is the graphic, violent nature of the picture that grabs us, though. These are lengths that we would not have ever considered pushing ourselves to. It seems quite too much – sin is serious, sure, but this serious? The picture is jarring, but it is precisely that fact that makes us truly consider what Jesus is saying; it pushes us to think through the extreme nature of what Jesus is telling us. Sin is serious, its outcome is serious, and its removal should be taken with the utmost seriousness. Limbs and eyes are not worth lives. Sin is a cancer, a gangrenous growth, and for the sake of your life it must be removed.
So, I wonder if we should even call this exaggeration. The problem isn’t that the picture goes too far – but rather that it goes in a direction that stresses the importance for us through graphic violence, without providing the correct solution. Why does Jesus do this? Why not give us the solution? Doesn’t this seem easier, and less likely to leave a pile of bloody stumps in its wake? Likely because the solutions will all vary – alcoholism must be dealt with differently than theft; both of these have much different solutions than the lengths someone must go to with a pornography addiction. So Jesus lays stress on what is most important: sin is serious, and one must be willing to take serious action to deal with it.
That is why the last portion of the statement is straight, as the kids say, fire:
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.’
This statement is true, factual, not-exaggerated, and worthy of a great deal of our attention. God will make all things right, and fully compensate those who lose for the sake of his Kingdom. If you must lose the internet to enter into heaven, it will be worth it. If you must not go shopping alone to avoid the desire to steal, it will be worth it. If you must let everyone know of your addiction to keep you from stumbling drunk into hell, it is worth it.
Let us not miss this fact: our sin takes us to hell. We must take it seriously and must deal with it seriously. This, by the way, does not negate the role of grace and faith in salvation (which, so that I’ve fully covered my bases, if fully undeserved no matter how seriously we try to purge our sin, and only received by the sacrificial grace of our Lord Jesus Christ). Rather, it simply means that we take the words of our Lord with the utmost respect and diligence. That is what believing in him must do. We take sin seriously because Christ didn’t just lose and eye or a hand to deal with our sin; he gave his life for it. Friend, run from your sin, kill and slay your sin, hack it off with a knife if you need to. Heaven with Jesus will be worth it!