Skip to content

Mark 9:42-48 – The Seriousness of Sin

While traveling back from a business trip, I stopped for a break at an antique store. The building was filled with booths offering old coins, books, paintings, and just about anything you could think of. When I got to the back of the store, I was surprised to find a statue of peaceful Jesus with a clock where his chest should be. That was a bit odd to me. Why would someone do that?

I wonder if the person who made that clock knows about the real Jesus. While Jesus did love the world, forgive sinners, and eat with the outcasts, He also spoke very plainly about sin. Do you remember the time where Jesus drove the money changers from the temple with a whip? Do you remember the time where He called the religious leaders hypocrites, serpents, and children of the devil? In today’s message, we will look at Jesus’s view of sin. His words reveal just how serious He viewed sin and those who lead others to do it. My hope is that you will take sin just as seriously when we are done with our study.

  1. The seriousness of causing a child to sin (Mark 9:42)

    Previously, Jesus had used a child to illustrate a point about true greatness. He told them that those who wished to be great should focus on serving others including little children. Receiving them in Jesus’ name would be like receiving Jesus Himself and ultimately would be receiving God the Father. In this verse, He talks about children again.

    What does it say?

    Jesus said that anyone who caused a child who believed in Him to stumble would be better off thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck. In other words, if someone caused a child who believed in Jesus to be entrapped by sin, he would be considered as someone deserving to be drowned.

    What does it mean?

    Children can believe in Jesus.

    Jesus referred to “one of these little ones who believe in Me.” Who did He have in mind? Having just picked up a Iittle boy in verses 36-37 and used him as an illustration, it is more likely that He was referring to little children as opposed to the man mentioned in verses 38-41. But did you notice what He said about these little ones? He said that there were some little ones who believed in Him. This shows that children are able to understand and believe in Jesus. Later on, Jesus would have to explain this again to the disciples who were trying to send children away from their master (Mark 10:13-14). At that time, Jesus said that “of such is the kingdom of God.” Children have the ability to believe in Jesus and to become part of God’s kingdom.

    Children can be caused to stumble.

    Sadly, these children who can believe in Jesus can also be led into sin. The word translated “stumble” here comes from a verb which “basically means, ‘to entrap, ensnare’ and is commonly used to mean ‘to cause to sin, lead into sin’ (cf. 4:17), either by bad example or direct seduction. It denotes the causing of a moral fall resulting in serious damage.”4 With that in mind, we understand that children who are able to believe can also be entrapped by sin and led to do things that turn them away from Jesus.

    Jesus is extremely opposed to those who cause a child to stumble.

    There is no question as to what Jesus thought about anyone who caused a believing child to become entrapped in sin. He said it would be better for him to be cast into the sea with a large millstone around his neck. “The large millstone (mylos onikos, lit., ‘donkey millstone’) was a heavy, flat stone turned by a donkey when it was grinding grain; this differed from the small hand mill (mylos) used by women (Matt. 24:41).”1 This punishment is quite severe. It would be similar to hanging someone in public for all to see. “This stern, severe pronouncement from the lips of Jesus bears … testimony to the heinousness of leading weak and unstable believers into sin.”3

    How does it apply?

    We need to teach the truth to children.

    While the focus of the verse is about the seduction of children, shouldn’t we also consider the solution? If our children and grandchildren are not taught the truth from an early age, they will be more open to whatever they hear from others. Paul noted that Timothy had learned the gospel from a young age.

    2 Timothy 3:15 – “And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

    Someone had been teaching the Scriptures to Timothy during his childhood. Those Scriptures were able to give him an understanding about faith in Jesus. But we are left with a question. Who was it that taught him? It was probably his mother and grandmother as they had become believers before him (2 Tim. 1:5). All of this ought to motivate us to do what we can to point children to the Lord.

    We need to protect children from sin.

    But there is another side of teaching children. As we teach them the truth, we need to carefully shield them from the input of wicked people. Jesus wasn’t just talking about something that might happen. There have been many times when a wicked person has turned the heart of a child away from the Lord by false teaching and sinful pleasures. It is important then for us to warn children about these things and, if possible, keep them away from such influences. These evil influences can come from school teachers, counselors, neighbors, and even family members. So, we must, as much as is possible, guard our children from these influences.

    But there is another threat. We used to hear preachers talking about the evils of television and movies, but the internet has made temptation even more accessible. A child that has a smart phone can easily be tempted by advertisements, videos, and things written online. It would be wise for a parent or grandparent to limit a child’s access to these things. The harm done by access to the internet cannot be overstated. If you are able, it would be advisable to use blocking software to limit access to sinful temptations on your computer and on any phones or devices that can access the internet.

    Did you notice how Jesus said drowning would be better? He was comparing the millstone induced drowning as better than something, but what was it better than? Perhaps He was speaking of it being better than the man continuing to lead children into sin. That is true. But it may be that He was saying that the man’s drowning would be better than the judgment mentioned in our next section.

  2. The seriousness of sinful impulses (Mark 9:43-48)

    Jesus did not hold back in this next section. He continued pointing out the seriousness of sin, how it should be handled, and how it will be judged in the future. As we read His words, let us take them very seriously.

    What does it say?

    Jesus said that you should cut off your hand if it causes you to sin. It would be better to be maimed and enter into life than to have two hands and be thrown into hell where the worm doesn’t die and the fire is not quenched. You should cut off your foot if it causes you to sin. It would be better to be lame and enter into life than to have two feet and be thrown into hell where the worm doesn’t die and the fire is not quenched. You should pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin. It would be better to enter God’s kingdom with one eye rather than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell fire where the worm doesn’t die and the fire is not quenched.

    What does it mean?

    You may have noticed that Jesus repeated a phrase three times in this section and that the words are a quotation. When He said, “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,” Jesus was quoting from Isaiah.

    Isaiah 66:24 – “And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

    In Isaiah’s prophecy, God was showing the Israelites the difference between how He would treat His people and those who had rejected Him. Knowing that Jesus was quoting from Isaiah should help us to understand what He meant here.

    One more thought.

    Note that the word translated as “sin” in verses 43, 45, and 47 comes from the same word translated as “offend” in verse 42. It is the word σκανδαλίζῃ which means “to cause to sin, cause to fall (into sin), offend; to fall away (from the faith), go astray; to take offense.”2 As Jesus was earlier talking about someone causing a believing child to sin, it makes sense that He is saying the same thing here. Sin or a rebellion against God’s commands is what Jesus is addressing here.

    The handling of sin should be taken seriously.

    Jesus makes it clear that sin should not be taken lightly. He talks about amputating a hand, foot, or eye if they are leading someone to continue in sin. Was Jesus being literal in His suggestions? Did He really recommend these extreme measures to avoid sinning against God? I don’t think so. I believe that Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point. Hyperbole is a literary device which exaggerates a statement to get your attention and make a point.

    Instead of calling for amputation of the hand, foot, or eye, “Jesus meant a disciple should take prompt, decisive action against whatever would draw him away.”1 Could someone’s eye tempt him to sin? Yes. Would cutting out his eye stop the temptation? Not necessarily. Evil comes from the heart and will still be a problem for a blind man. The same can be said about hands and feet.

    The consequences of sin are serious.

    Jesus said that it would be better for someone to enter into life (eternal life through faith in Jesus) as an amputee than to allow sin to send him to the eternal torments of Hell. There the worm would not die and the fire would never be quenched. It was a place of eternal torment.

    Something you won’t see in the English translation is that Jesus used the Greek word γέεννα instead of Hell. Gehenna was “Jerusalem’s refuse dump where fires burned continually to consume regular deposits of worm-infested garbage.”1 When people brought things to Gehenna, they would be pretty nasty. Some of the items would be decomposing with worms crawling about. But the people would light fires to consume the garbage and get rid of the smell. These fires were constantly burning to take care of the garbage.

    The disciples would have understood the picture Jesus was painting. Those who allowed sin to keep them from repentance from sin and faith in Jesus would be eternally tormented in a place like Gehenna. “The worm (internal torment) and the unquenchable fire (external torment) … vividly portray the unending, conscious punishment that awaits all who refuse God’s salvation.”1 With such a terrible place reserved for sinners, it would be better to lose an eye, hand, or foot than be tempted to turn away from God and never find the eternal life offered by Jesus.

    How does it apply?

    After reading these verses, I have two questions.

    What is holding you back from eternal life?

    There are some people who balk at leaving their sin because they enjoy it so much. Some have asked whether they would have to stop drinking to be saved. Some have asked whether they would have to leave a sinful relationship. Whatever that temptation or sin is, you must ask yourself if its value is more than eternal life. Jesus said it would be better to cut off a foot than to miss life and spend eternity in Hell. Are you allowing some pet sin to keep you from receiving the eternal life offered by God through faith in Jesus? Whatever it may be… are you willing to give it up for Jesus?

    What is sending you to Hell?

    This is the other side of the same question. Not only will your sin keep you from having eternal life, it will also send you to Hell. The Bible tells us that the final judgment is the lake of fire. It is a terrible place into which Satan and his helpers will be cast just before the Great White Throne judgment. At that judgment all unbelievers will stand before God and be judged by their sinful works. In the end, all will receive the judgment talked about by Jesus in this passage.

    Rev. 20:15 – “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

    My question for you today is this. What is sending you to Hell? Is that sin so wonderful that you would hold on to it knowing that you will be judged by God and kept tormented in the lake of fire forever. Nothing is worth going through that. But there are many who do not believe that this is true. They think that it is a scare tactic to keep people from enjoying life. But is that why Jesus mentioned it here? I don’t think so. He was concerned that people would be led astray and would miss eternal life and receive eternal torment simply because they would not repent and would not believe.

    If you have yet to repent of your sin and place your faith in Jesus, this would be the time to do so. Nothing is important enough to spend eternity in Hell for it. And nothing is so important to miss out on the eternal life with God offered through faith in Jesus. Will you leave your sin and trust Him today?

Conclusion

Is there any doubt in your mind as to what Jesus thinks about sin? In this passage He talked about someone being drowned with a millstone around his neck for causing little children to sin. He also talked about the eternal torment of Hell which is reserved for the enemies of God and those who refuse to repent of their sin and believe in Him. These are serious topics and not something to be quickly forgotten. I hope that you will consider what Jesus said about sin and that you will respond appropriately to His words.

Footnotes

1 Grassmick 147.
2 σκανδαλίζω as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/skandalizo on 3/23/2024.
3 Hiebert 267.
4 Hiebert 266.

Bibliography

Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: BJU Press, 1994.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.