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42 “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. 43 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. 45 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. 47 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, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ The word of Jesus.
The doctrine of hell is always getting brushed under the carpet. No one really wants to think about it or talk about it because it’s unpleasant. We love to talk about heaven and going to heaven and we look forward to the day when we go there. But the thought that there is a place called ‘hell’ ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’ is so repulsive that we either try to deny that it exists or deny that anyone will actually “be thrown into” it, except of course, Adolph Hitler, Osama Bin Laden and a few others who are really, really bad people.
The only problem is, Jesus sure does believe that there is such a thing as ‘hell’ and that it really is THAT TERRIBLE that “it is better for YOU” to ‘CUT OFF’ whatever causes you to sin than to “be thrown into” it. And it is neither safe nor wise to believe differently than Jesus.
As long as we in this world we live between the two realities of heaven and hell. Our time in this world is temporary and it may last on a few days or years or we live to 100. But after our life in this world we all will live forever – either in heaven or in hell. Even if we were to live to 100, our life in this world is nothing but the finest point on a timeline that has no end to it – either in heaven or in hell.
The idea here is not that Jesus wants to scare us out of hell and into heaven. Through His Word and Promise given to you in your baptism, Jesus has already opened the kingdom of heaven to you. He has already MARKED YOU as one who belongs to Him. “Receive the sign of the cross, both upon your forehead and upon your heart that MARKS YOU as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.”
And even though you are still ‘in this world’ you are also already ‘in heaven.’ Our life in this world and in heaven are NOT SO FAR APART as we think they are. In just a few moments we will sing and eat with ANGELS, ARCHANGELS AND ALL THE COMPANY OF HEAVEN.
And this is NOT BECAUSE you are so good and faithful and never sin. But because Jesus is so good and faithful and He has atoned for your sin by His SINLESS body and blood, given and shed for you for the FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS .
But there are forces at work in this world that would like to see you forsake your baptism and the Word and Promise that God put on you and forfeit your place in heaven for a place in hell. “Fix your eyes on things BELOW and not ABOVE. Store up for yourselves treasures on earth, because they will last forever and rust will never destroy them and thieves will never break in and steal them and you can take them with you after you die.”
Actually, the way Jesus puts it here, those forces are not only at ‘work in this world,’ they’re at work IN YOU. He’s talking about YOUR HANDS, and YOUR FEET, and YOUR EYES.
It’s your sinful heart that tells your hands to do what they shouldn’t do and not do what they should. It’s your sinful nature that tells your feet to go where they shouldn’t go and not go where they should. It’s your sinful mind that tells your eyes to look at what they should not look at and to not look at what they should see.
The forces of the evil that are in the world and in our own bodies want to ‘cut us off’ from heaven. Because in heaven, there is NO SIN. All of your sin and all of the temptations to sin are CUT OFF from you and as far from you as the EAST IS FROM THE WEST.
Everything and everyone is ‘SINLESS’ and everything and everyone is VERY GOOD just as it was in the beginning BEFORE SIN ENTERED THE WORLD.
Adam and Eve let their FEET walk them to that one tree in the garden that God said, “you shall not eat.” Their EYES saw that the fruit was good for food and desirable for making one wise. Their HANDS reached out and grabbed hold of it and plucked it from the tree and brought it to their mouth – and they ate.
Oh, if only they had cut off their feet and their hands and plucked out their eyes.
JESUS IS ISSUING SOME SERIOUS WARNING HERE. The consequences of sin are REAL. This is not a game. Jesus is taking your sin this seriously and therefore, so should we. Because it is neither safe nor wise to take lightly what Jesus takes seriously.
We cannot continue to live in sin and live in Christ. Sin will take you to hell, “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” And Christ will take you to heaven, WHERE THE JOY DOES NOT DIE AND THE SPIRIT IS NOT QUENCHED. And the one is so bad and the other is so good that “it is better for you to enter life with one hand and one foot and one eye” than to be “thrown into hell.”
And besides, what we loose, what we CUT OFF here in this life will be restored to us in heaven. Bodies will be raised from the ground and united to pure and sinless souls and HANDS will take hold of eternal life and never let it go. And FEET will walk in paths of righteousness and never go astray. And EYES will behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ – forever and ever.
This is a good gospel for us to hear and take to heart BECAUSE WE TEND TO TAKE SIN LIGHTLY AND MINIMIZE THE DANGER that confronts us both from without and within. This is certainly not something that Jesus took lightly or minimized. HE GAVE HIS HANDS AND HIS FEET OVER TO THE NAILS AND CLOSED HIS EYES IN DEATH FOR YOU.
Thomas Kelly put it like this in the hymn we just sang:
“You who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great,
here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed; see who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.”
Truly, ‘it is be better FOR YOU that Jesus had a great millstone of wood hung around his neck’ than that He would save His own neck and His ‘little ones who believe in Him’ be thrown into hell.
What good would it be for Jesus to enter into heaven with two un-pierced hands but not you – his little ones?
What good would it be for Jesus to enter into heaven with two un-pierced feet but not you – his beloved child?
And what good would it be for Jesus to enter into heaven with two good eyes and not see you at His banquet table with all the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven?
“Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost;
Christ, the Rock of our salvation, is the name of which we boast;
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrificed to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded who on Him their hope have built.”
(LSB #451 st.3,4).