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“Take Sin Seriously!”
Mark 9:43-47


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost—October 4, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The next time you watch a television situation comedy or attend a comedy movie, pay attention to what the humor is all about.  I think you’ll find that often a large part of the humor comes from making jokes about various sinful activities.  It seems that’s what the very idea of sin has become in our society today—a big joke. 

But, in this morning’s Gospel Reading, Jesus makes clear that sin is a serious matter:  “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.”

These are some of the most debated and questioned verses in the Bible.  What does Jesus mean by these words?  If we take the Bible literally, as we say we do, should we actually cut off our hands and feet, or pluck out our eyes?  No, Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation.  He is using a figure of speech to make a point, a manner of speaking called hyperbole. 

We do the same thing all the time.  A busy man says, “I’ve got a million things to do today.”  But, does he really mean that he has one million things to do?  No, he is using hyperbole to make a point.  A teenager says, “My folks will kill me if I don’t get home on time.”  But, does he really mean that his parents will kill him?  No, he is using hyperbole to make a point.  A woman says, “I just died when I heard the news.”  But, does she really mean that she died?  No, she is using hyperbole to make a point.

With his graphic hyperbole in today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus is emphasizing to us two important points.  First, Jesus is emphasizing how totally impossible it is for you to save yourself.  Because, God demands nothing less than total perfection.  Jesus is say in order to save yourself, this is how far you would have to be prepared to go to achieve perfection.  Even to the point of cutting off your sinful hands and feet, and gouging out your sinful eyes. 

“But that’s IMPOSSIBLE!” you say.  “No one could do that!”  That’s exactly right, and that’s exactly the reaction this hyperbole is supposed to bring.  For, the perfection required for eternal life is beyond the capability of any mere human.

But, listen to how Isaiah describes the suffering of One who was not a mere human, but God in flesh:  “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. . . Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.  We observed him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” 

You see, because God takes sin seriously, he couldn’t simply ignore your sin, or write it off like a bad debt.  The cosmic books had to balance, the price for sin had to be paid.  And it was paid for you, with the sacrifice of his own Son.  By his suffering and death, God’s Son suffered in your place all the punishment your sins deserved.  He himself earned for you what you were unable to achieve. 

Today’s Epistle Reading from Hebrews puts it this way, “He suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”  Through his sacrifice on the cross you are redeemed, restored, forgiven.

Isaiah says in today’s Old Testament Reading, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Repent of your sin, believe the Gospel, have faith in Jesus as your Savior.  “For he will freely pardon.”

The second point Jesus is emphasizing with his hyperbole in today’s Gospel Reading is that nothing on earth is worth putting your soul in danger of damnation.  The temporary sinful satisfaction you receive will not make up for an eternity in hell.

“Take Sin Seriously!” in your life.  This does not mean you will actually cut off your hands and feet or pluck out your eyes.  But, it does mean that you will struggle by God’s grace to make the radical changes he desires in your life.  Cutting off and plucking out from your life sinful habits and wicked ways.

As Martin Luther comments on these passages, “What shall we say about the way Christ . . . commands us to pluck out our eye and cut off our hand if they offend us? Are we supposed to cripple ourselves, to make ourselves lame and blind? . . . All this is said in relation to spiritual life and spiritual affairs. Not outwardly, physically . . . but in your heart and in the presence of God—that is where you throw away your eye and your hand, deny yourself, and forsake all. . . Then you have really plucked it out.”

Amen.

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