The Lord’s Day Evening
March 20, 2005
“Mortification, Jesus Style”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now as we continue this evening in the Gospel of Mark,
where we have been these Lord’s Day evenings for some time now, we come this
evening to a section that closes the ninth chapter, beginning at verse 43, and
reading through to the end of the chapter.
Before we read the passage together, let’s look to
God in prayer. Let’s pray.
Once again, O Lord, we would quieten our hearts.
We would be still and know that You are God. We come before You in all of our
needs, exposed as we are by the truthfulness and veracity of Your word. We have
just heard the little children being taught a lesson about sin, and what every
sin deserves, and we pray this evening as we come to this solemn passage that we
might consider afresh the reality of our own discipleship and walk and communion
Lord, it is our chief complaint that our hearts
and witness are not what they ought to be; that the good that we would, we do
not; and the evil that we would no, that we find we do. And we pray now this
evening as we look into the Scriptures together, come, Holy Spirit, and grant
that by the encouragements of Your sovereign grace we might be motivated and
challenged and enabled to run in the pathways of perseverance and obedience, for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Hear with me, then, the Scriptures as we find them
in the Gospel of Mark: chapter nine, and beginning at verse 43.
“…If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for
you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into hell, into
the unquenchable fire, where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not
quenched.’ If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you
to enter life lame, than having your two feet, to be case into hell, where
‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ If your eye causes you
to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with
one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where ‘their worm does not
die, and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire.
Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty
again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Amen. And may God add His blessing to this reading
of His holy and inerrant word.
I’m somewhat wondering this evening…the attendance
is due to the inclement weather, or Spring Break, or you saw the text that was
coming up tonight! Someone e-mailed this afternoon and asked if I would preach
an encouraging sermon this evening, and it’s difficult to preach an encouraging
sermon from this text. It’s a very solemn text. It’s a text of the words of
Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
And I was thinking this afternoon, had you been a
teenager–oh, somewhere in the age range of 14 or 15 years of age–in the
seventeenth century, and you had attended Christ College in Oxford, the largest
of the colleges in Oxford–a college in which the Chancellor would have been none
other than Oliver Cromwell, and the Dean and later the Vice-Chancellor would
have been no less a person than Dr. John Owen–yes, you would have been 14 or 15
years of age. They went to university much younger then than they do now; and
you would have been male had you been in attendance at this university. This was
the seventeenth century. You might have gone to chapel one day and heard Dr.
Owen say, “Suppose a man be a true believer, and yet finds himself, in himself,
a powerful indwelling sin leading him captive to the law of it; consuming his
heart with trouble; perplexing his thoughts; weakening his soul as to duties of
communion with God; disquieting him as to peace, and perhaps defiling his
conscience and exposing him to hardening through the deceitfulness of sin. What
shall he do? What shall he take and insist on for the mortification of his
sin? His lust? His distemper? Or corruption?” Imagine–you’re only 14 or 15
years of age, and you are listening to that, in the middle of the seventeenth
century. Owen is reflecting there his fundamental belief in the importance of
the issue of repentance, the issue that’s before us in the text that we have
Repentance is as necessary to salvation as faith
is. It is as necessary to salvation as faith is, and it’s worth remembering
as we come to a passage like this one, that the very first words recorded in the
Gospels of Jesus and in this Gospel in particular, are the words, “Repent! For
the kingdom of God is at hand.”
One of the great early church fathers in North
Africa, Tertullian, in his marvelous and almost unique treatise on repentance,
written, I think, towards the end of his life, wrote these words: “Sinner, as I
am of every dye, I am born for nothing save repentance.” And what has emerged
in our study of Mark, chapter nine especially, and in a startling way, in these
preceding sections, is just how much sin, how very necessary repentance is–not
just of the masses, but of Jesus’ disciples, His closest disciples. These very
ones who have followed Him–hand-picked leaders, those with whom Jesus had
established communion and fellowship and rapport, to whom He had taught the
fundamental principles of the kingdom of God–and now here we find them, after
returning from the journey to Caesarea Philippi where some of them, three of
them, have witnessed the transfiguration of the very body of Jesus; and now
they’re arguing amongst themselves who is the greatest. And forbidding–John,
the disciple, forbidding one who was attempting to cast out demons, forbidding
him to do that work because ostensibly this man did not belong to the inner
circle of disciples. The pettiness! The envy! The sense in which at the very
heart and lives of Jesus’ closest disciples repentance is so very evidently
It’s not surprising then, although the text is a
harsh one, a strong one–it’s not your favorite text. I doubt you’ve got it
highlighted in your Bible as ‘one of my favorite texts’ unless there’s a streak
of masochism in you. But you can see why Jesus now addresses these disciples on
the need for repentance. Remember Luther, in The Ninety-five Theses–the
very first one, as he nailed them to the Castle Church door at Wittenberg, that
our whole life is to be one of repentance. Repentance is a life-long duty.
And what I want us to see now in this passage that’s
before us–there are three things: The Where, and The How, and
The Why. The Where, and The How, and The Why: Where we are to deal
with sin; and How we are to deal with sin; and in the third place, Why
we are to deal with sin.
I. Where we are to deal with sin.
In the first place, then, The Where.
Sin is something, Jesus says, that we need to deal with, you and I. He’s
speaking to disciples, and He’s saying in this passage sin is a serious thing,
and it needs to be dealt with. We were singing just a few minutes ago
Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted. And the opening line of stanza three came
home to me as we sang it this evening; “Ye who think of sin but lightly nor
suppose the evil great…” That’s it, isn’t it? And Jesus is saying that The
Where is within ourselves. The Where is within ourselves.
Let’s take a look first of all at something of the
context in verse 42–and we took verse 42 along with the previous section. Jesus
had said ‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin…’
—and Jesus isn’t, I think, reflecting there ‘little ones’ meaning children; He
had taken, you remember, a little boy and embraced him, but I don’t think He’s
referring there to children so much as this disciple, this unknown disciple who
had been casting out demons, and John had forbidden him because he wasn’t of the
inner circle. And he had made him, caused him to sin. And in a sense, Jesus is
thinking there of sin that lies outside of us, but that’s not the focus of His
attention now. It’s not so much others who sin; we see sin in others all the
time. We take note of them, and we underline the sins of others, and we talk
about the sins of others, but Jesus is saying here it’s not the sins of others
so much–it’s our sins. It’s my sin.
And in verses 43 and 45 and 47, it’s my hand,
and my foot, and my eye that is the cause here. It’s sin that
lies within the hearts of disciples–of disciples of Jesus! Our sin can cause
others to sin, but Jesus wants us to see the underlying seriousness of our own
sin…of our own sin. “Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil
great….” I’m not asking if we are serious about other people’s sins. Jesus
says, ‘I am asking, ‘Are you serious about you own sin?’’
And we rush on in this passage, don’t we, in this
extended and somewhat severe hyperbole that Jesus is engaging in here about
plucking out eyes and severing limbs and so on? And Jesus is almost saying,
‘Wait a minute! Stop!’ I want you to ask the more fundamental question: Do you
see sin in the way that we’re considering this evening? To the very children of
the church, the consequences of sin…and I wonder, is that something we need to
have underlined in our own hearts once again?
That great statement of J. C. Ryle’s in the opening
of his magisterial volume on holiness: that “he who would make great strides in
holiness must first of all consider the weightiness of sin.”
And those famous words of Anselm, in Cur Deus
Homo (Why God Became Man), in the character of Bozo, who didn’t understand,
and who didn’t comprehend the necessity for the incarnation of Jesus: “You have
not yet considered the weightiness, the gravity, of sin.” Because if you had
understood the gravity of sin, you would understand the length to which God had
to go in order to redeem us from our sins.
This is a point of advance here, in discipleship of
these men, that Jesus is underlining for them the seriousness with which sin
must be considered. Imagine…imagine if you went to a doctor, and imagine if
he were to tell you after doing many extensive tests that there’s something
seriously wrong with you. And then he suddenly, as it were, gets up and opens
the window and he says, “Well, let’s forget all about that, because it’s a
beautiful day, isn’t it? And we’ll just ignore all that.” And you’d be saying,
“No! Let’s talk about this! I need to know about this. This is serious!” And
there are times when in God’s dealing with us, you and me, as we read the
Scriptures, as we attend the means of grace, as we fellowship with one another,
there are times when this, as it were, this reality that we are sinners comes
home to us. I think it came home to these disciples in this context, to be
rebuked by Jesus in this way: the reality that they had found themselves
discussing who would be the greatest; that something of the ugliness of one-up-manship
had manifested itself in the life of this group of disciples.
You know, sometimes when you think that sin is
dead and that it has gone away, those are the most dangerous times of all,
because at the times when we think that it is dead, it is very much alive,
because as you and I know all too well that it is often still water, rather
than running waters, that are in fact deep.
And if tonight, as you approach this passage as a
child of God to whom God has shown mercy, and He’s brought you to Jesus Christ,
and you’ve been adopted into His household and family, and He’s made you an
heir, and a joint heir with Jesus Christ, and His Spirit witnesses with your
spirit that you are the children of God, and yet at the same time He’s made you
aware of the consciousness of sin in the sense that Paul can sometimes speak of
it as he does in Romans 7, that “the good that I would, I do not; and the evil
that I would not, that I find I do. O wretched man that I am! Who shall
deliver me from the body of this death?”–that those are in fact growing times,
and discipling times, and Christ-shaping times in our lives.
So don’t, my dear friend, be put off by a passage
like this. Don’t turn the page and look for something more comforting, because
if God is going to shape you and shape me after the image of Jesus, if all of
those habits that we have adopted from our union with Adam are finally going to
be eradicated so that the pristine godliness of Jesus will be manifested in our
lives, these are the very things that God will say to us we need to deal with.
And so first of all, then, is this realization that The Where as far
as dealing with sin is concerned, The Where is in ourselves, in me as a
child of God.
II. The How
But then secondly, is The How.
If The Where is within me, the second thing that Jesus here seems to
deal with is The How. How is that sin of which Jesus has now made me
somewhat conscious and brought, as it were, to the forefront of my mind as
something which He detests and something which needs to be removed, and
something which ought not to be, how is that sin going to be dealt with?
And there are, it seems to me, at least two things
here that Jesus seems to be saying by way of response.
The first–and at first I think it’s
somewhat obvious, but perhaps it needs to be underlined for all of us–is that
sin takes physical dimensions. Sin takes physical dimensions. I’m saying
that because Jesus here specifically refers to hands and feet, and eyes.
Now before we elaborate on that, I think it’s
important for us to say that that is not all that there is to dealing with sin,
and elsewhere in the teachings of Jesus, and particularly in The Sermon on The
Mount, and particularly when Jesus is encountering the Pharisees; and elsewhere
in the New Testament, especially in Paul in Romans 8 and in Colossians 3, for
example, other things come to the surface, too. And the importance of
motivating desires–because if the heart is wrong, everything else is wrong. If
the motive and desire and the inner impulses are wrong, then the outward
physical manifestations are also going to be wrong. And the corollary, that it’s
more than possible to deal with the outward, in the sense that the Pharisees
often dealt with the outward and the external without dealing with the real
internal issue; so don’t misunderstand Jesus here. But Jesus is here giving
expressed shape and form to the manner in which we are to deal with sin, and we
are to deal with it in its physical dimensions.
Isn’t it interesting that when Paul comes to write
what perhaps is the most important chapter in the New Testament–and that’s
saying something, I suppose–I’m referring to Romans 6, when Paul comes to deal
with the reality of what we are in Jesus Christ: that we are in union now not
with Adam, but with Jesus Christ; that we have been raised with Christ; that
we’ve been baptized not only into His death but also into His resurrection, so
that Paul can say elsewhere “we sit in heavenly places in Jesus Christ.” You
remember one of the things that Paul goes on to say in Romans 6: “Do not present
your members as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves
to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members–your
members to God as instruments for righteousness.”
And that little word instruments, it’s a very
interesting word. Paul is talking here about “the members”, and I think he’s
speaking specifically here about the physicality of our members: that our
holiness and godliness, and Christ-likeness, that our life in union with Jesus
Christ is to take shape in physical dimensions. And Paul is saying that we are
to use them as instruments. Actually, it’s a word that could be rendered
weapons. Instead of employing your bodies as weapons in the arsenal of
the evil one, instead employ your bodies, Paul is saying, as weapons in the
arsenal of Jesus Christ, and for the goal of godliness.
And doesn’t the apostle go on elsewhere in Romans,
in chapter 12, to appeal to those Roman Christians to “present their bodies a
living sacrifice unto God, which is your reasonable act of worship”? What Jesus
seems to be saying here to these disciples is that holiness, holiness takes very
physical dimensions. So that we need to ask ourselves questions of the like:
What is it that I am reading? What is it that I am watching? What is it that I
am looking at? What is it that I am holding? What is it that I’m allowing my
feet to take me to? What paths of unrighteousness and ungodliness and
disobedience am I engaging in with my physical body?
And perhaps if you’ll allow me to make an
application here at this point, as Reformed Christians who have a world and life
view, I think Jesus at the very least is saying to us, ‘You need to ask
yourself, ‘What is it that you are watching on television? What is it that you
are watching in the movies?’ And don’t think for one minute that other
Christians–you can sit there are watch it and be totally unaffected by it–that
the rest of your being is not also caught up. And Jesus is saying, ‘Sin, my
friends, takes on physical dimensions.’
But a second thing He seems to be saying is
this: that sin is something to which we should show no mercy. Sin is
something to which we should show no mercy. Now, to be sure, Jesus is implying
here severe hyperbole. He’s not suggesting for one moment (though some of the
early church fathers interpreted it that way, as though Jesus meant this
literally–that somehow or other this was some kind of recipe for
sadomasochism)–but rather, what Jesus is employing here is a graphic
illustration of what putting sin to death actually is; and what the Apostle Paul
elsewhere in Romans 8:13 and in Colossians 3:5 will refer to as “mortifying the
deeds of the flesh.” We are, you and I, to kill sin! That’s what Jesus is
saying. We are to put it to death. We are to show it no mercy. We are, in the
language (and somewhat graphic language) of John Owen, we are to ‘lay our hands
upon the throat of these things and not to let go until it has stopped
breathing.’ That’s what He says. And it is painful. It is extraordinarily
painful to deal with our sins in this way.
And, nor is Jesus suggesting here that we only have
to deal with particular sins once and they will disappear. Sadly, the reality is
that we will have to deal with our sins again and again and again–all the way,
in fact, to glory! And Brister and I were commenting as we were walking down to
the church sanctuary this evening that in our younger days we actually thought
that discipleship would get easier as we grew older and more mature; but the
reality is that it actually gets more difficult, because Satan has an
arsenal, the like of which we only glimpse in his ability to bring us down.
‘Lay your hands,’ Jesus is saying, ‘on this sin’s throat and don’t release the
pressure until it stops breathing.’ That’s The How. Put it to death. Sever
that right arm if necessary; pluck out that right eye if necessary; sever that
foot if necessary; because the most important thing of all, the most important
thing of all is walking in the pathway of godliness and holiness.
Whatever it costs, whatever you may have to deny
yourself, whatever you may have to say no to–and it’s all too easy for me now to
try and legislate for all of you what you can and cannot do, and I can’t do that
because it will be different for different people. But if God, in His
providence and through the reading of Scripture, makes it clear to you that this
is something you ought not to be doing, then make sure, my dear friend, make
absolutely sure that you don’t rebel against the voice of Jesus as He speaks to
you, even through the word and in providence.
But if The Where is in us, and if The
How is by systematic killing of sin, there is a third question it seems to
me that Jesus is addressing here, and it’s The Why.
III. The Why.
Why is sin something which Jesus tells us
that we need to deal with? Why is that? Why is that?
And Jesus is underlining for these disciples a view
of salvation that says at the heart of it that the way you can be assured that
you truly are a child of God is not because you have experienced
something in the dim and distant past, important as that may be. The way
to assurance that you truly are a child of God is that
you continue to walk in the pathway of godliness and obedience. We
have absolutely no right to think that Jesus says to us that having experienced
something of His grace that we can therefore “sin that grace may abound.” We
cannot allow ourselves to think that way! “Pursue after holiness,” the New
“without which no man shall see the Lord.”
That’s why the Apostle Paul can say in another
context, “I discipline my body…”–and he’s using a metaphor that comes from the
arena of boxing. “I discipline my body and keep it under control.” Why, Paul?
Why? “Lest after preaching to others I myself should be a castaway.” Imagine!
The Apostle Paul is saying that! That the only reassurance of his salvation is
that he continues to walk in obedience to Jesus; that having tasted grace in
forgiveness, he gives his life away in obedience to the Lord as His disciple.
But there is, of course, here also a second
motivation and a second answer to the question “Why should sin be something that
needs to be dealt with?” And that is because of the repeated phrase (and it’s
repeated in some of your versions more than others, reflecting some manuscript
issues that we need not go into here), but the allusion of Jesus…the allusion
of Jesus here to the fires of hell–to the fires of hell, where “their worm does
not die and the fire is not quenched.”
And isn’t that interesting and alarming at the same
time? That Jesus is speaking to His disciples–to His disciples–and He’s
saying to His disciples, the motivation…the motivation for pursuing holiness
of life is that if you don’t–if you don’t–you will end up in hell!
That’s what Jesus says. Those aren’t my words; those are the words of Jesus.
And isn’t it interesting that the motivation that
Jesus is employing here is not simply motivation of grace? It’s the motivation
that if you don’t, you have no right to entertain an assurance that grace has
been manifested in your life. Just as the Apostle Paul in another context can
say (II Cor. 4), ‘The reason why I preach the gospel is that the love of Christ
constrains me.’ But he can say in the very same passage–in the very same
passage he can go on to say, ‘We must all be before the judgment seat of
Not only is the love of Christ a motivation, but the
fact that one day we must appear before the all-seeing eye of God on the Day of
Judgment. And that’s what Jesus is saying here to the disciples. The reality
of hell for those who are not walking along this pathway of obedience, having
tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
Oh, my friends, it would be all too easy now to
engage in something of a negative assessment of what Jesus is saying here, and I
imagine that many of us find it difficult to respond to these words of Jesus,
because I think it’s almost instinctive with us that the very language of a
place that burns with fire that does not quench is almost instinctively
distasteful to us, and that not in part because grace has transformed us so that
we long for that eternal city where joy abounds and the presence of Christ
But there may be some here this evening, and your
problem may be not so much the fear of hell, because you are perhaps surrounded
by the fear of hell; and maybe that’s all that you see, and maybe what you need
to see this evening instead of looking down and raking in the muck that is below
you, you need, as Bunyan portrays in that second part of Pilgrim’s Progress,
you need to look up, my friend! You need to look up and see that crown of gold
that hangs above your head, and to see that the fires of judgment have been
quenched in the person of Jesus Christ as He was nailed to that cross at
You see, my friends, as we look at this passage all
too simply this evening, how serious the issue of indwelling sin is, and sins
like pride. Sins like pride…and that’s why Jesus says at the close of this
passage, “Have salt within yourselves,” alluding in fact to something in Old
Testament with regard to sacrifices where salt was in fact used. “Have salt
within yourselves”– let it have its preserving feature about yourself as you
walk now the pathway of obedience, and be at peace with one another!
And do you see what Jesus may well have been
alluding to? That one of the very sins that had manifested itself in the lives
of these disciples was the pettiness of one-up-manship–the pettiness of one-up-manship,
thinking one higher and better than another–and be rid of the sin for the good
of the fellowship, and for the peace of Jerusalem, and for the assurance of your
own soul as you walk in union and communion with Jesus Christ all the way to
Well, let’s pray together.
Our God and our Father, we thank You now for Your
word, solemn as it is. We ask for Your blessing. Hide it in our hearts, and
give us grace of holy obedience for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand and receive the Lord’s benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and
the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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