Warning: The Stakes Are High - Mark 9:42-45

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As the time of His crucifixion draws closer Jesus invests more and more time in helping His disciples know what it means to be true followers of His. In particular He helps them to understand the high cost and call of discipleship.

In the preceding paragraphs we have seen once again the shortcomings of the disciples, especially their pride. And while they are slow to learn Jesus continues to teach them. As we come to Mark 9:42-50 we come to a section marked by warning. Jesus is offering warnings that drive home what is really at stake when it comes to sin and the consequences of sin. To follow Jesus is a high calling and a costly calling, but for those who reject Him and remain in their sin the cost is much higher. 

Context – A Unique Section

This passage is unique compared to other parts of Mark: it’s a collection of teachings from Jesus rather than one teaching, given at a particular time. Each of the Gospel writers do this occasionally, bringing together different sayings of Jesus thematically to emphasize a particular teaching of Jesus. In this section the unifying theme is the cost of discipleship and warnings of the failure to follow: the stakes are high. 

Warning One: A Warning about our Relationships with Others (9:42)

  • Little ones – In 9:37 Jesus picked up a child in order to teach the disciples about the importance of caring for those who are lowly and often overlooked. In 9:42 Jesus returns the focus to this group of people, those who may be young in the faith or easily led astray.
  • A serious offense – Jesus issues a severe warning for anyone who causes another brother or sister to stumble or fall away. Using vivid imagery He explains that the punishment for causing another person to live in disobedience or lose faith is dreadful.
  • The positive command– While Jesus is giving a warning, we can infer a positive command. The call of this verse is to care well for and to guard those who could be led astray.

Warning Two: A Warning about our Relationship with Sin (9:43-48) 

  • The eternal consequences of sin – Like the first, the second warning draws attention to the consequences of sin. Three times Jesus calls for radical efforts to avoid sin because the consequence of sin is Hell.
  • The reality of Hell – No one in the Bible has more to say about Hell than Jesus. He teaches that Hell is a real place of punishment and suffering for those who die in their sin. In Hell sinners receive the just penalty for their sins, the eternal pouring out of the wrath of God.
  • The call to fight against sin - A call to radical amputation – While Jesus is not literally calling for self-mutilation, the point is clear. Those who remain in their sin will go to Hell. With that much at stake it stands to reason that there’s no measure that’s too extreme if it means you can be freed from your slavery to sin. Even the things we value supremely are not worth keeping if they lead us to Hell. There is no pleasure in this life that’s worth putting yourself in opposition to God.
  • The hope of eternal life– While the emphasis is the warning, Jesus does mention the alternative to eternal punishment: eternal life in the kingdom of God. This is available to all who repent and trust in Jesus.
  • Textual Note – Verses 44 and 46 are not found in the earliest and best manuscripts and are repetitions of verse 48, most likely scribal additions meant to preserve the parallelism.

Other Sayings of Jesus on the Call and Cost of Discipleship (9:49-50)

  • Salted by fire – Following Jesus means offering yourself as a sacrifice – The combination of salt and fire are reminiscent of OT sacrifices of purification where the sacrifice was sprinkled with salt and offered on a fire. This is a reminder of the call to a sacrificial life and the purifying fires of sanctification (Romans 12:1-2; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
  • Salt for others – Following Jesus means being faithful and obedient witnesses in the world – Salt is a preservative and in ancient cultures was used to keep food from spoiling. As followers of Jesus we are to be salt to a world that needs to be saved, however we often live as salt that has become useless. The call is to live and speak as witnesses of the salvation of Jesus. With the foregoing emphasis on Hell we should recognize how much is at stake.
  • Unified in the mission – Following Jesus means living at peace with one another– If we are going to be the kind of disciples and witnesses that God has called us to be, we must live in unity with one another.We must live together in a way that shows the world the power of the Gospel.