Cut Off What?!!
When Surgery is Better
- Tuesday, September 13, 2016
In the Gospel of Mark Jesus says "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43-47; see also Matthew 5:29-30). What is that all about?!! I've heard many-a-sermon on the horrors of hell from this passage. Normally it goes something like, "Hell is so hot and the worms are so hungry that it's better to go to heaven blind with a stump than it is to go to hell with your whole body." It is true, hell is horrible, and if given a choice between amputation and heaven or no amputation and hell, you should go ahead and start chopping. But is this the choice that Jesus is offering in this text?
Jesus is not encouraging self-mutilation, rather, he is describing the severity of sin and its effects. Think about it, for what reason does a person go through an amputation? The only reason for amputation is to prevent the death of the person. For instance, if someone's foot is infected and the infection is spreading and not responding to treatment, the wise thing to do is remove the foot to preserve the rest of the body. The foot is removed because it is the source of the infection. The infection in the foot is a threat to the life of the person.
While some may think that Jesus is saying, "If your hand, foot, or eye is guilty of sin then it should be cut off," he is not. In his example the hand, foot, and eye are not guilty of sin, per se, instead, they are infected by sin. In order to preserve the body they ought to be removed. Jesus is instructing his listeners to identify the source of sin in their life and to cut it off to preserve themselves from hell. The only way to treat the infection of sin in our lives is amputation.
Before we breathe a big sigh of relief, what are the implications if this interpretation is correct. If Jesus is saying that we must identify the source of our sin and cut it off, then what part of me needs surgery? Jesus's listeners would have known that the foot, hand, or eye do not cause a person to sin. A man is not controlled by his appendages. A man may sin with his hands but he cannot blame his hands for his sin. To cut off the cause of sin, a person must look much deeper.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" According to Jeremiah, then, the location of our infection is not our hands, feet, or eyes, but our heart. What is required to preserve us from eternal separation from God is not amputation, but heart transplant. A person cannot simply cut off the deadly infection of sin from his life, his sinful heart must be replaced with another. In Jeremiah 17:14, Jeremiah prays "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
God heals. In fact, for those who believe, he replaces their sinful heart with a new heart. The heart that was once infected by sin which leads to death becomes infected by the Spirit of God which breathes life. In Ezekiel 11:19-20 God says, "And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people and I will be their God."