43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—44 where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:43–44, NKJV).
Did you know more is recorded in the New Testament about hell from the mouth of Jesus than anyone else? The eternal fire of hell’s unending punishment is real and a substantial deterrent against evil. In today’s passage, Jesus used hyperbolic language (cut off the offending hand, foot, eye, Mark 9:43, 45, 47) to describe the urgent need to eliminate sin in our lives lest we fall under eternal condemnation. The fire of Jerusalem’s refuse dump (gehenna, “hell”) was a fitting figure of the “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and those who do not follow Christ’s will (Matt. 25:41, 46). We gain nothing when we choose not to repent of sin. In the final judgment, those who “do not obey the truth” will suffer the corruption, agony, and darkness of being removed from God’s blessings forever (Rom. 2:5-11). Better to surrender the sin that seems most important to us and do God’s will than to “go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:43). While the goodness of God leads us to repentance, so does the wrath of God (Rom. 2:4-5). So, “sing to me of heaven” and warn me of hell. Jesus spoke of both to persuade faithful, righteous living (John 14:1-6; Mark 9:43-48). Purged of sin and tried by fire, the sacrifices we make to live for Jesus will preserve us unto the day of eternal bliss (Mark 9:49).
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1, NKJV).
Sinners are “buried with Christ in baptism into death” when they are baptized into Christ and His death (Rom. 6:3-4). Thus “buried with Him in baptism,” they are “raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). Now saved in Christ, they are raised to walk in “newness of life,” having been “made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:13). Because we have been “raised with Christ,” the apostle teaches Christians how to live our new life with Christ in Colossians 3. (1) Seek things above (Col. 3:1). Our goals are spiritual and eternal, not fleshly and temporal (2 Cor. 4:16-18). (2) Set your mind on things above, not on the earth (Col. 3:2). Our commitment is now to lay up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19-20). “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). (3) Sustain a faithful life with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). Walk with God in the light by practicing His truth and be blessed by His fellowship (1 John 1:5-9). (4) Live in the hope of the eternal reward Christ will bring (Col. 3:4). To be received into His presence and to be like Him will be your crowning joy of righteousness (1 John 3:2-3; 2 Tim. 4:8). Living in Christ requires us to put sin to death (Col. 3:5-11), to put on a new heart (Col. 3:12-15), to let Christ’s word dwell in us with praise and grace (Col. 3:16), and to do everything in His name (by His authority) with thanksgiving (Col. 3:17). Our salvation in Christ changes everything about how we live (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:20-24).
4 So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:4–5, NKJV).
There was no discernible difference between rocks and dirt on “the mountain of God” and the rest of the wilderness in which Moses tended his father-in-law’s flock (Exod. 3:1). So why was this place “holy ground?” Because God was there. His presence consecrated the ground, demanding reverent respect and obeisance of God from Moses. Later, God called Israel a “holy nation,” foreshadowing the church of Christ (Exod. 19:5-6; 1 Pet. 2:9). The “Most Holy” place of the tabernacle and temple was reserved for the ark of the covenant and mercy seat, and a veil separated it from the “holy place” (Exod. 26:33-34). The hope that anchors our souls is “both sure and steadfast” and “enters the Presence behind the veil” because Jesus our High Priest is in the holiest place (heaven), ministering over the house of God, His church (Heb. 4:14-16; 6:19-20; 8:1-2). God called Israel to holy living because He is holy (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2). Under the law of Moses, this included distinguishing between what was clean and unclean, profane and holy (Lev. 20:7, 25-26). The gospel calls us to regard the presence and holiness of God our Father fearfully. As obedient children, we must be holy in all our conduct because our Father is holy (1 Pet. 1:13-17). Take off your sandals; The place you stand is holy ground (Eph. 2:21; 1 Pet. 2:5).
9 Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. 10 And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—that they might accuse Him (Matthew 12:9–10, NKJV).
The enemies of Jesus looked for opportunities to accuse Him and destroy His credibility. They carefully watched to see if He would be so bold as to heal on the Sabbath (Luke 6:7). With a disabled man before them, they confronted Jesus in the synagogue, asking whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath (implying that to do so would violate the Sabbath’s work prohibition, Exod. 20:8-10). Jesus explained the law allowed them to show mercy toward animals on the Sabbath; How much more so was it, therefore, “lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:11-12). With that, Jesus healed the man’s hand (Matt. 12:13). His accusers were enraged and left to plot His demise (Matt. 12:14; Luke 6:11). Consider these tips from the text: (1) Those faithless men could not heal the man. But, they could have shown him mercy. Instead, they saw him only as a tool for their devious design against Jesus. (2) Only a person sent from God could work such healing as this (John 3:2). They refused to be convinced by the power of God they saw. Like them, we must learn mercy and show it every day (Micah 6:8; Matt. 9:13). (3) Mercy and truth have met in the Son of God (cf. Ps. 85:10). The Lord of the Sabbath mercifully heals our souls from sin and gives us entrance into eternal rest when our work on earth is over (Matt. 11:28-30; Heb. 4:8-11).
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21–23, NKJV)!
Self-identifying as a Christian does not make it so. The identifying mark of one who enters the kingdom of heaven is doing the will of God the Father who is in heaven. Self-identifying as a prophet of Christ does not make it so. Jesus has just warned of false prophets whose fruit is against the word of God (Matt. 7:15-20). Self-identifying as a miracle worker does not make it so. The incident of the sons of Sceva reminds us that only Christ’s apostles and prophets worked miracles (Mark 16:17-20; Acts 19:11-16; Heb. 2:3-4). Self-identifying as a wonderworker does not make it so. Simon amazed many Samaritans with his sorcery until Philip worked miracles by the power of God (Acts 8:5-13). Jesus does not receive those who “practice lawlessness” (iniquity). We do the will of the Father by looking into and living by His law, the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:23-25). Let us carefully do God’s word and not be among those who identify with Jesus but do not obey God’s word (James 1:23-24). Only sadness and sorrow await those who practice lawlessness and hear Christ say, “Depart from Me!”
13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13–14, NKJV).
We look for ways to make our lives easier, more convenient. Innovations in industry, transportation, technology, and communication produce greater efficiency for countless lives. However, striving for convenience can also have unintended consequences. It can lead to neglect and unrealistic expectations. A harmful entitlement mentality may develop, expecting and demanding comfort and convenience. Jesus uses the simple desire for things to be easy to teach a crucial spiritual truth. The broad path is easy, convenient, and desirable but leads to ruin and loss. Sin is easy, and its outcome is eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Many people walk this spiritual path. All of us have entered the wide gate at some point, for we have all sinned (Rom. 3:23). But we can choose a different path. The narrow gate opens to a path that is “difficult” (confined, like the walls of a narrow canyon) yet leads to life. Turning from sin, seeking, finding, and following Jesus is possible for all, but few choose this path (Matt. 11:28-30; Luke 13:23-24). Following Christ demands self-denial (Luke 9:23). The road to heaven is not lined with the pleasures of sin (1 John 2:15-17). Trials will come when we choose to follow Jesus. Convenience is not the motto of Christians. Faith is refined by trials, strengthening us as we live for heaven (1 Pet. 1:6-9).
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21, NKJV).
Jesus makes a strong contrast being material and spiritual things. We do not achieve spiritual fulfillment by material means. For example, while important, caring for one’s body is not the same as caring for one’s soul; That requires exercising ourselves toward godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-8). The earth and its goods are transitory, temporary, and tenuous. To invest one’s heart and life in these things is to miss the greater treasure that is enduring and eternal. We will fix our hearts on one or the other. Christians focus their hearts on spiritual wealth. The previous teachings of Christ in this sermon illuminate heavenly treasures. In the Beatitudes, Jesus explains the spiritual fortune of kingdom citizens (Matt. 5:1-12). Choosing righteous conduct reflects a heart that values heaven more than earthly vindication and pleasure (Matt. 5:17-48). Seeking God’s favor in our service and prayers shows a heart dedicated to treasures men cannot spoil (Matt. 6:1-18). Money is not evil, but loving it is (1 Tim. 6:9-10). Loving heavenly things equips us to use material goods to serve others and honor God while laying hold of eternal life (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name’” (Matthew 6:9, NASB95).
Meditate with me today about “our Father who is in heaven.” Unfortunately, many do not think of God at all. Others consider him to be a grandfatherly figure who nods approvingly toward whatever we do. Some do not believe in a personal God at all, but being pantheists believe “that reality is identical with divinity, or that all-things compose an all-encompassing, immanent god (Wikipedia). The words of Jesus are clear, concise, and consistent with the nature of God revealed in the inspired writings of the Bible. Jesus identified God as (1) Our Father. As our Creator, God is the Father of us all (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 8:6). He also created our spirits and is the “Father of spirits,” in whose image we are made (Heb. 12:9). Christians are children of God by faith and have an intimate fellowship with our Father (Gal. 4:5-7). (2) Personal. Our Father is not “like gold or silver or stone” shaped by artistic expression (Acts 17:29). He knows us and calls us through the gospel to come to Him (Acts 17:27; 2:21, 39). (3) In heaven. God is Spirit and not defined by or confined to material things (John 4:24). Physical constraints do not limit God (Acts 7:48-50; 2 Pet. 3:8). (4) Holy. Hallowed means “to sanctify” or set apart as holy in our minds and lives. We fail to revere His name when defining God by our will, ways, and expectations (Rom. 1:20-23). Jesus held His heavenly Father in the highest regard, and so must we (John 10:29; 14:28). (5) The One to whom we pray. We pray to God our Father, assured that He hears and answers us according to His will, which is always best for us (Matt. 7:11; 26:39-44; 1 John 5:14-15). Think on these things.
4 And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Luke 12:4–7, NKJV).
Friends tell us what we need to know because they care for us; they look out for us. Jesus is our truest friend who tells us not to be afraid of those who can kill us. They have no power over our immortal soul. God has the power to judge and punish our sins in hell. That is where we ought to place our fear. God is not a terrorist who threatens us. He cares for us and tells us of the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23). He loved us and sent His Son to save us from our sins (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10; Rom. 6:23). Fearing God is an act of faith, not terror. God does not forget the sparrows, and He will not forget you. He knows you better than you know yourself. (Quick, how many hairs are on your head? God knows, even though you do not.) Your value is far greater than sparrows. So, do not fear people who threaten you because of your faith. Confident faith leads us to confess Jesus instead of being afraid (Lk. 12:8-9).