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I invite you to open your Bibles or Folders to our Gospel lesson for today, Mark 9:38-50 as we see how Jesus reminds his disciples that Little Things Matter.
When Jesus stood a child before the disciples and taught them that, if they wanted to be great in his kingdom they needed to be the least of all and the servant of all, John was moved to make a confession. He said, Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name. We tried to stop him, because he was not following us. At the time he thought he was doing what was right, like Joshua in the first lesson today. Humanly speaking, it looked to Joshua and to John that someone prophesying or casting out demons who was not part of the official group would cause division. But both Moses and Jesus pointed out that what felt like concern for the kingdom and for their masters was misguided. God is not limited. He doesn’t just work through one group of people, like the elders of Israel gathered at the tent, or the twelve who traveled with Jesus. He works when and where he will. He has other sheep who are not of the fold, the official group. And praise the Lord that this is true, because if it weren’t, how few would be saved!
John confessed to Jesus what he had done because he wondered if he had done the right thing. Jesus confirmed what his conscience was telling him. He should not have tried to stop this person, because no one who does a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil about me. Whoever is not against us is for us. It’s good for us to remember that, although we may not be able to join with others with whom we are not in complete agreement, and that there are others who are doing things in the name of Jesus that we don’t even know exist, God is using them to do his work. In fact, Paul said that there were some who were preaching the Gospel out of jealousy, certainly a wrong motive, but he still rejoiced that God was getting the good news of the gospel out in spite of their wrong motives.
John had focused on what seemed to be a big thing, someone publicly performing a miracle in the name of Jesus. Jesus wants to teach us that it’s not just the big things, the noticeable things, that are important. Little things matter.
- 41, Amen I tell you: Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ, will certainly not lose his reward. Doing a miracle in the name of Jesus seems great, but so is seeing that one of Jesus’ disciples is thirsty and giving them a cup of water. They may not be doing a miracle but they are doing what they can to encourage and support someone that they know belongs to Christ and is working to spread the gospel. As the hymn writer reminds us, not everyone can preach like Paul, not everyone can rouse the wicked with the judgement’s dread alarms, but there is always something you can do. You can share your love of Jesus with children, friends and neighbors, you can tell what you believe, that Jesus died for all. With your prayers and with your offerings you can be like faithful Aaron holding up the prophet’s hands. You can clean, you can help serve, you can do little things that enable more time and money to be spent on the spread of the gospel, you can pray for and give encouragement to those who are called to preach and teach the word. Still today, little things matter.
Little things also matter when it comes to hindering the gospel. Jesus encourages John, and us, to watch ourselves closely; to be more concerned about what we are doing that may hinder the gospel than we are about what others might be doing. We don’t ever want to be the reason that someone uses for giving up their faith. V. 42 Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall into sin, it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around his neck.
Who are these little ones who believe? In the context it would seem to be children, for Jesus had placed a child in front of the disciples as he was teaching them. But, at least by application, it also applies to those who have little, or weak faith. When we don’t live our faith, when people, especially our children, see that we are just going through motions, that we go to church out of habit, that we listen to the word but don’t do what it says, we can become a stumbling block for their faith. It seems that this has happened to a large part of the next generation. They see people professing to be Christians, but then denying parts of the Bible. They see non-Christians who are more giving and less judgmental that those who profess to be Christians. They conclude that Christianity is not genuine. It looks to them like just another social club that’s mostly interested in self-preservation. And they see no reason to listen or be a part of it. Jesus’ warning is very strong. If you are the cause of someone rejecting Jesus it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a great weight tied around your neck.
Who can bear such a responsibility? We know that we all sin and who knows how our sin might affect others? Each one of us is worthy of death by being thrown into the sea with a great weight tied around our neck! How can we ever hope to be saved?
James helps us. He reminds us that there is one lawgiver and judge. He is able to save and to destroy. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up. Admit that you can’t handle the tremendous responsibility to keep from being a stumbling block for others. Humbly come before the Lord and say, “Lord, I am weak. Forgive my sins for the sake of Jesus who lived and died in my place. Send me your Holy Spirit as I hear and study your word and receive your sacrament, so that my faith grows stronger. Live in me and keep me from doing or saying anything that might be used by Satan to cause another to stumble in their faith.” And then listen to the risen and ascended Lord as he assures you of your forgiveness, “this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for YOU for the forgiveness of YOUR sins.” Listen as he assures you that he is with you always.
Little things matter because Satan can use our sinful words and actions to try to turn people away from Jesus. But little things also matter in our own lives because Satan can use what we might consider little things to try to destroy our faith. If you excuse your hand for taking something that was not yours because, “finders keepers, losers weepers,” or because “they have more than they need, they’ll never miss it, they are greedy anyway, maybe this will teach them a lesson.” If you excuse your foot for kicking someone because they were mean to you, or for stepping on someone when they are down because they hurt you. If you excuse your eye for lusting, looking at porn, coveting what you see your neighbor has. If you excuse any sin as “just a little thing, not a big deal”, you are in grave danger.
Jesus says hell is real. It’s a place where maggots chew on you but never finish devouring. It’s a place where fire burns on you but, like the bush Moses saw, you are never burned up. It’s a place of intense suffering that lasts for all eternity. It never ends. It’s worse than having that huge weight tied around your neck as you are thrown into the sea. In that case you would lose your physical life, but losing an eternity of glory in the presence of Jesus and getting eternal suffering in its place, is far worse than the worst physical death you can imagine.
Jesus’ point is clear. Hell is real. Don’t take sin, any sin, no matter how small it seems, lightly. Every sin starts in the heart. When you recognize that a thought or feeling is sinful, stop it right there. Confess it. If you have difficulty overcoming it, seek the help of a trusted fellow Christian. Ask them to hold you accountable, to pray with you and for you. Make use of the Ministry of the Keys that God has given you as fellow Christians. Have them remind you of the seriousness of any sin, no matter how small. Have them remind you that Jesus not only lived and died and paid for your every sin, no matter how big or small, but that he is risen. He rules all things and is able to empower you to fight temptation when it comes, to resist the devil so that he flees from you. There is nothing he wants more than to have you be with him forever.
Jesus makes is very clear. Hell is real. Nothing in this life, not even a hand, a foot, or an eye, is more important than Jesus and the fact that he has rescued you from the Hell you deserve. Don’t let any little thing you say or do keep anyone from trusting in Jesus. Don’t let any little thing you think keep you from trusting in Jesus. Life is short, eternity is forever. Be salted with God’s word. Yes, like salt, it will burn where there is an open wound caused by sin. But it will also purify that wound, washing it with the cleansing blood of Christ and covering it with his righteousness in your place so that you are preserved for eternal life, and enabled be salt and light to those around you. Don’t let the word of God lose its saltiness for you. Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.