The Cross, The Team, and Avoiding Hell

If you look at the titles up there, you’ll realize I stil have work to do to learn how to fix things up. Anyway, last Saturday night, I realized that I hadn’t posted. Sunday I was worn out from church activities (yes, even with most stuff online) and then, the week went downhill in a hurry! But I’m back today.

30. And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. 31. For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. 32. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.

When I first read verse 30, I thought what Jesus didn’t want men to know was the story of what had just happened. While that fits in with the idea that Jesus didn’t want people seeing Him as an exorcist or a miracle worker instead of hearing the message of the Kingdom of God, further study leads me to believe that He wanted to travel incognito so that He could spend some time teaching the disciples. People mobbed Jesus wherever He went, and I wonder if He was concerned that He wasn’t teaching the disciples like He wanted to teach them. If you’ve ever tried to accomplish a task, or spend a few minutes relaxing, and had people interrupt you constantly, you’ll understand how Jesus felt. Everything that Jesus did was good and necessary, but He needed to focus on the disciples. Not that this time did much good because as He revealed what would be happening, they were like the people described in Isaiah 6:9 – ever hearing, but not understanding; ever seeing, but not perceiving. Jesus taught them again and again that His near future held no throne, nor hope of overthrowing the Romans; His future was the Cross and the Resurrection. The disciples heard His words, but tried to spiritualize them instead of taking them at face value because the idea of the cross was too horrendous to imagine and the concept of resurrection was so outlandish that it didn’t make any sense. Jesus told them the unvarnished truth about His near future and it was so clear, that because it was so outlandish the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying.

33. And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? 34. But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

Once they got home, Jesus hit them with a question: “What were you arguing about along the way?” Here’s a hint: Jesus knew exactly what they were arguing about. If you’ve ever been around children, you know that kids will start arguing about silly things and that one way to stop them is to ask what they’re arguing about. You know what they’re arguing about, but they’re too ashamed to admit it. Jesus knew what they were arguing about and it must have particularly grieved Him because this argument happened immediately after Jesus taught them that He was destined for the cross and not the crown. I’ve got to admit that if I were in that situation, I might have exploded in anger. I would have shouted something like, “Do you mean to tell me you STILL don’t get it? Stop arguing about who’s the greatest and what seat you’ll get in the Kingdom because it’s not coming and if it were coming, you wouldn’t get to choose anyway!” They kept quiet, and Jesus proved why He is Messiah and people like me are not.

35. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. 36. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, 37. Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.

Instead of yelling, Jesus taught them in an amazingly calm manner. There is perhaps no greater tenet in the Christian Church than the understanding that greatness is found in service. Perhaps we should add that there is no more ignored tenet than this either. Like the disciples, we pride ourselves on our place in the Kingdom of God and begin to think of certain tasks as being beneath us. Jesus not only taught them that the Kingdom grew through service, He gave them an example by taking a child in His arms. In this culture, at this time, women and children were low on the social scale. Real men wouldn’t worry about children or women, instead, they’d focus on more “important” issues. Jesus noted that if you wanted to receive Him, you’d care for the children. In modern terms, we might say that if you want to receive Jesus, care for the homeless and the outcast. The result of that is growth in our relationship with God because when you receive Jesus, you receive and welcome the fullness of God.

38. And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. 39. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. 40. For he that is not against us is on our part. 41. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

John, as all good students have learned to do changed the subject to avoid the uncomfortable nature of the discussion. He did it by bragging on the group and their commitment to doctrinal purity. Apparently, someone who had either heard of or encountered Jesus recognized the power in His name and was going around casting out demons in an unauthorized manner, because he wasn’t a follower of the group. John was telling Jesus that even though they didn’t care for children, they were making sure to maintain the exclusive nature of the group by letting people know that only they could use the name of Jesus to cast out demons. We have a lot of denominations who seem to think that they’re the only right denomination and all the others are terrible people who shouldn’t even be called followers of Christ because of <insert reason here>. I believe that the different denominations have unique perspectives on some issues, but I don’t believe any denomination, especially the one my church belongs to, is perfect. I don’t need to try to stop those other denominations or make them conform to what I believe. Jesus made it clear that the battle we should be fighting is the battle against evil. This man, who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name was on their side in that battle and Jesus told the disciples that since he wasn’t against them, he was for them. It’s easy to forget what battle we’re fighting and the purpose of our fight if we start worrying too much about our place in the Kingdom of God rather than about our call to serve in the Kingdom of God. Our call is to battle evil. If someone’s working on our side, rather than rebuke them, we must work with them. Jesus also noted that anyone working miracles in His name, could not speak evil about Him. It wouldn’t make sense for someone to say something like, “I rebuke you demon in the name of that fraudulent teacher named Jesus.” If one is to use His name in the battle against evil, one must recognize who He is as Messiah, as God the Son. And in that final section, Jesus notes that even something as simple as a cup of water given because of the name of Jesus is worth a reward. Of course, giving a cup of water back then wasn’t as simple as it would be now. Now, we have all kinds of sources. We can go to the tap, or we can go to the store and buy bottled water. We can keep it cold or at room temperature. Back in Jesus’s day, water came from a well. The well would have to be uncovered and the person getting the water would have to drop a bucket into the water and then pull it back up just to have water to give. Sometimes we forget about the extent of sacrifice needed for some people to do what seems to be a simple act of ministry. Jesus noted that they would not lose their reward in heaven for that ministry. Ever think God misses the things you do to serve others? He doesn’t and you will not lose any rewards for serving Him.

42. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.

It’s important to remember that in these next few verses, Jesus is not offering a prescriptive punishment as a solution for the wrongdoing that might happen. He is instead pointing out the eternal consequences of earthly actions. He began this section by, once again, reminding us to care for and nurture children. So often, while their faith is innocent, there’s a profundity in the midst of their simplicity. When we think about not offending children, it’s easy to look at those people who lack any kind of faith and seek to keep others from having faith – those who would belittle any show of faith and embarrass children for having such faith. What’s more difficult to see is that we offend little ones when instead of taking their faith seriously, we patronize them by calling their faith statements cute without following up and encouraging them. When we don’t encourage our children in their faith, when we’re afraid to challenge them to grow in their faith, when we ourselves live in such a way that children can’t see how our faith has impacted our lives, we are offending their faith. While it’s not a prescriptive solution in that we need to tie a bunch of millstones around people’s necks and cast them into the sea, Jesus basically said that our lives weren’t worth living if we cause little ones to stumble and lose faith. Let’s face it, if Jesus were to have made this as a literal statement, we’d have a millstone shortage. If you’ve done this in the past, and I can guarantee that I have, there is hope in the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

43. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 44. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 45. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 46. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 47. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: 48. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Let’s face it: as Christians we don’t like to talk about hell and eternal punishment. We love to talk about redemption, forgiveness, grace, and the eternal joy of heaven. But the reality is that Jesus talked about hell. His teaching is that hell is so terrible that it would be better to be a one-eyed, one-handed, one-legged person in heaven than it would be to have a complete body in hell. The torment in hell is endless: the worm doesn’t die and the fire isn’t quenched. I don’t know how literal this discussion of hell is, because I believe Jesus is using hyperbole to make His point, otherwise, we’d have a lot of one-eyed, one-handed, one-legged people hopping around, and I would be one of them. What’s the point then? While some people would say that hell itself is part of the hyperbole and insist that it didn’t exist, I think that Jesus is telling us that hell is real and that we should do anything we can to avoid it for ourselves and others. Some use the phrase “Go to hell,” in a very flippant way, but if we understood the horrors of hell, we would do anything to avoid it ourselves AND we would do anything we could to help others avoid it. The only message by which men can be saved from the fires of hell and be saved from their own sin is found in the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus us commanded us to share the gospel and if love for others doesn’t compel us, fear of hell for others should cause us to proclaim His love and grace.

49. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. 50. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.

If you want to have fun, look at the commentaries talking about verse 49. There is a lot of confusion about the meaning of this verse. I believe, and am willing to be shown how wrong I am, that in verse 49 both salt and fire refer to the purifying process and preservation from corruption. Ultimately, the choice of how we’re purified comes down to the question of will we be purified by the baptism of the fire of the Holy Spirit or will we endure the endless purification in the fires of hell. Every sacrifice is accompanied with salt because salt purifies and protects from corruption. If hell is real, and I believe it is, then the fires of hell are meant less as punishment and more as purification. If that’s so, I wonder what people in hell are being purified for? Is there a second eternal chance? See how this verse can confuse. I don’t believe that hell purifies us for a second chance to enter into heaven, but this is one of those verses where I have to say that I trust that God will do what is right in His eyes and we will all praise Him for it. You can see how difficult it is to interpret the meaning, though. Then, we see a verse that shares a concept in other gospels. As good is, if salt loses its flavor, or saltiness, what good is it? There is no good to salt that has lost its saltiness. Jesus then said to have that salt, that purifying power that protects from corruption inside ourselves and have peace with each other. In today’s terminology, when we call someone “salty,” we tend to think that the person is abrasive and on the edge of civil behavior. When Jesus tells us to be salty, He’s talking about that sense of peace that comes from a pure life. When our lives and our hearts have been purified by God, we will live at peace with others.

About rockyfort

I am a retired Middle School Teacher. I share each day what God is teaching me from reading His word hoping that people can benefit from reading what God has taught me.
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