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Gospel Priorities: Limping on to Glory Together Sermon Recap | Mark 9:41-50

This past Sunday, we had the privilege of hosting Dr. Irwyn Ince in our pulpit. Preaching from Mark 9:41-50, Dr. Ince provided us with a biblical understanding of wisdom as well as pointed applications.

For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And 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; For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” —Mark 9:41-50

Even though she is a world-class athlete and has won 17 Olympic medals, chances are you have never heard of Tatyana McFadden, Ince says. The reason you have probably never heard of her is because she is a Paralympian. Her event is the wheelchair marathon. McFadden was born with spina bifida that paralyzed her from the waist down. For the first six years of her life, she did not have access to a wheelchair, so she walked on her hands, likely contributing to the strength that enabled her to win the wheelchair grand slam four years in a row from 2013-2016. Winning a grand slam means winning the Boston, London, Chicago, and New York marathons all in the same calendar year. She did it four times in a row.[1]

Having spoken with McFadden’s pastor, however, Dr. Ince learned that she does not see herself as a disabled athlete. She simply sees herself and her fellow competitors as “different” athletes. This is understandable, Ince says, because having a disability can place a certain stigma on people, and labeling one as a disabled athlete simply points to the fact that something is broken or not the way that it should be, causing people to think of them differently.

It is very clear, however, that those who were disabled – blind, paralytics, lepers, etc. – were just the kind of people Jesus went to heal. He did preach but he also healed, Ince says. Those individuals Jesus healed would have also been thought of differently. But “Jesus comes and heals what is broken.”

There is a different kind of disability at play in this text, Ince says, one we do not generally think of. In one sense, living as a Christian is living with a disability... If you want to follow me, Jesus said, you might end up “walking with a limp.” In case it is not clear, Jesus is not calling anyone to literally pluck out an eye or cut off a limb in this passage. “The point Jesus is driving home is how seriously the issue of sin in our own hearts needs to be taken.” In fact, “the way to wisdom is to deal honestly with our sin, so we can pursue peace with one another.”

Water (41-42)

The first thing Jesus causes us to examine in our hearts, Dr. Ince says, are our assumptions about the difficulty the Christian life entails. In a similar way that people treat those with disabilities differently, people will treat you differently when they learn that you are a Christian. In other words, some folks are going to give you a cup of water and some folks are going to wish they were drowned in the water...people are not going to be indifferent towards those who follow [Jesus]. “Jesus is letting us know that living as light that engages the darkness is costly and disruptive and messy.” Nevertheless, he makes it clear in this passage that it matters to him how Christians are treated.

Warning (43-48)

While this passage shines a light on the problems that exist between Christians and those who oppose them, Jesus also turns the light inward on our own hearts to show us the seriousness of our own sin as well. You have probably heard the story of Aron Ralston. He was trapped by his right arm by a boulder during a canyoneering excursion, left with only a couple bottles of water and next to no food. Ralston has said that once he realized that his right forearm was the only thing keeping him from going free, he began to see it as his enemy. His situation was so desperate that he used his body weight to break his own arm and then proceeded to amputate it with his pocket knife.

This is indicative, Ince says, of the seriousness with which we must treat our sin. The value of life in the kingdom of God is such that we must be willing to live with a limp in order to be free. In fact, Jesus himself proves the value of the kingdom and how much he values us by allowing himself to be killed so that we could be free.

Wisdom (49-50)

Living in response to this reality is the way to wisdom, Ince says. Salt is equated with wisdom in this passage. In other words, to be wise is to be as serious about our sin as Aron Ralston was about being free from that boulder, such that we are willing to go to any lengths to root it out from our lives.

This has implications not only for ourselves but for the community of which we are a part. This is why Jesus says, “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” In fact, “not dealing with our own sin is to wreak havoc on the church,” Ince says. Personal sin has communal consequences. However, when we are serious about dealing honestly with our sin and thus living at peace with one another, we limp on to glory together.

Questions for Discussion/Reflection

1. What false assumptions about the Christian life might this passage expose in your own heart? What comfort does Jesus give us amid the difficulties we will face?

2. Are you willing to deal honestly with your own sin before God?
a. Some questions to ask yourself to discern this might be:
i. Do I dread the time of confession at church or do I use it to honestly think about ways I have sinned in the past week and confess them to God?
ii. How often am I willing to admit my fault?
iii. How often am I willing to apologize, even if the other person has fault in the matter as well?
b. The good news: how does Jesus' sacrifice enable us to freely confess? (If you are not sure, ask a trusted Christian friend)

3. How might your sin affect your relationships, or lack thereof, with people in your church community? How would dealing honestly with it restore or create relationships?

[1]All illustrations and quotations are from Dr. Irwyn Ince, unless otherwise noted.