Mark 9:47-48 If your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out. It is better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the Gehenna of fire, ‘where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched.’ (WEB)
What do you do with a passage like that one? If you are a religiously deceived pursuer of fallen human justice then you might use that passage from a pulpit to scare the Hell out of people (or into people). If you are from the First Assembly of the WE ARE RIGHT denomination, then you use it to control your people and feel good that at least you aren’t like every other pile of poop destined for eternal torture at the hands of an angry bloodthirsty, child sacrificing g.o.d. Yep, if you are sitting in the pew of the self-proclaimed experts of all doctrine and tradition and dogma, then you use this to keep the riff raff off the clean carpet. But wait a moment…what is the very next verse?!?!?
Mark 9:49 For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. (KJV)
Oops….now what? Does everyone “go to hell?” Maybe we got the hell and fire thing wrong?
I say we take a look and see what Jesus is trying to show us.
Oh yeah remember Jesus told us the Kingdom is here and now in us so this passage is a “now” reference. The rest of Mark chapter 9 gives us the background before this passage. Jesus reminds them about His death. He tells them that mankind will kill Him and He will be raised from the dead. They don’t understand what Jesus is about to do is so contrary to anything they can imagine. Jesus is going to let mankind kill God on the cross so that God can forgive mankind in the process. Instead of bringing judgment, in the way mankind would, His judgment is no judgment. His judgment is to let us kill Him while He brings mercy. We come face to face with our judgment in His grace for us. Our judgment is our willingness to accept His finished work. Can we accept His grace? Can we “just let it go” with regard to our own definition of judgment? Can we accept a no-judgment verdict? Jesus truly turns the other cheek. He forgives us to death.
So that is what Jesus is thinking about in Mark 9. Now add in the rest of the argument.
The disciples start a discussion about “who is the greatest” and “who will be the greatest in the Kingdom?” Can you imagine your frustration if you were presented with the same discourse? If you were planning to die to save us all from ourselves, could you even tolerate a conversation that had nothing at all to do with what was about to happen? They are so far off track that it is like they are speaking two languages. So He tries with a demonstration. He takes a child who would be least, last and lost in their culture and props up the child as the greatest in the Kingdom. He goes as far as to say that whoever receives one of these receives Him and the Father. Now you can probably see the disciples with the jaw-dropping expressions on their faces.
Then there is this seemingly misplaced discussion about some people who were doing stuff in Jesus’ name but they weren’t recognized as part of the “in crowd.” Jesus makes it clear that those who aren’t against Him are for Him. Remember He is the stumbling block for those who just “can’t let it go.” He tells them they need to accept those who are not like them. He tells them that their kindness for each other in the name of Jesus is what makes them part of His “in crowd.”
Can you see what Jesus is up to? He is trying to show them how their “judger” needs to be junked. Remember these Jews were looking for a messiah who would make an Earthly change to their circumstance. They were ready for war and bloodshed. They were divisive by religion and exclusive by culture and separatist by tradition. That sounds a little like the western church, does it not? Anyway, the entire backdrop leads us to the passage in question.
In this passage (Mark 9:42-50) Jesus begins with the same child demonstration. He tells them that if they cause this child to stumble then it is really bad. What is the stumbling? This “innocent” child who is already the lowest on the totem pole is the greatest in the kingdom because he is free from judging. Just like in “Schism Within” we should see that this child is not in the judging business. Our fallen nature to judge is what Jesus came to set us free from. When we judge outward or inward we are “stumbling.” If we cause one of these children to “grow up” and begin their own judging routine, then we have caused them to stumble.
Jesus says it is better to get rid of the stuff that makes us stumble than to fall into a hellish existence in the manmade fires of Gehenna. Remember Gehenna was the trash dump where the fires burned day and night. The worms ate the garbage. The fire in Gehenna is providing a service. This fire would be awful for someone thrown out of the temple (religion). This fire was traditionally the way a “dead person” would be purified after their death (strange I know). This fire can be symbolic of our trials and sufferings in this world by a world that insists on judgment. That is what Peter was talking about here:
1 Peter 1:6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (ESV)
How do we respond in the manmade fires of Gehenna? How do we respond to pressure and trials and rejection and ridicule? Do we raise our hands in anger? Do we stomp on someone else’s toes to get even? Do we look in the world with a forbidden-fruit eye for a worldly solution? In Jesus we can be free from offense and anger and shame and condemnation and depression and exclusion and separation and division and so much more. All of that junk is a product of our good-bad trying to get our own form of justice. We are cast right into the fire by our insistence on judgment instead of living free in our adoption. Our selfish desire for “fairness” becomes a raging fire of bitterness.
You know that Jesus died so we would be forever free from that fallen-Adam judgment mechanism? Jesus uses a divine fire to “burn away” our attachment to judging:
Matt 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (ESV)
He brings the refiners fire to separate the dross from the pure gold. It isn’t that we are evil or some kind of duel-natured creature. No, we are just living in the darkness with the light trying to shine through. In the darkness we have embraced a bunch of lies about ourselves and who God is. The Holy Spirit illuminates our identity in Jesus. We then come into agreement with His objective truth which changes our subjective reality. We are participating in our adoption as His children while in union with Jesus who is showing us the Father. We are being “sculpted” and “molded” and “pottered” by the hands of our loving Father who is reveling our true nature from within.
He is still a stumbling block for so many:
Rom 9:32-33 How did they fail? Faith seemed just too good to be true. They were more familiar and felt more comfortable with their own futile efforts than what they did with faith. Their faith identity (reflected in Christ) was a stone of offense. The conclusion of the prophetic reference pointed towards the rock as the spirit identity of man. God placed his testimony of man’s identity in front of their eyes , in Zion, the centre of their religious focus, yet, blinded by their own efforts to justify themselves, they tripped over him. But those who recognized him by faith, as the Rock from which they were hewn are freed from the shame of their sense of failure and inferiority. (Mirror Bible)
I don’t know about you but I want to be refined and burned in the fire! I want to be free of obsession and compulsion and anger and condemnation and self-hatred and offenses and my stupid desire for human justice and my insistence on getting even and… all that chaff and hay. I want to be just like Jesus. I want to know what He knows and experience what He experiences. I want to love like He loves and have compassion like He has. I want to be so comfortable in my skin that I can be his glory for another. I want to be salted by fire, don’t you?