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To the Pain ... and More

September 30, 2018
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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To the Pain ... and More
Mark 9:38-50

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel reading, specifically where Jesus tells His disciples, “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.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

I’ve probably referenced the movie before, but for those of you who have seen The Princess Bride, you will remember a scene toward the end of the movie where Cary Elwes’s character Westley is in the process of rescuing Princess Buttercup from the evil prince that’s trying to marry her. Problem is, he’s unable to move, as he’s still recovering from being “almost dead.” This makes for a bit of suspense when the evil prince charges into the room and draws his sword, challenging Westley to a fight “to the death.” Instead of cowering in terror, Westley, still lying on the bed and unable to move, confidently retorts, “No! To the pain!” Unfamiliar with the phrase, the prince asks him what he means by “to the pain.” Westley explains, “To the pain means the first thing you’ll lose are your feet below the ankles, then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose. The next thing you’ll lose is your left eye, followed by your right!” The prince impatiently quips, “And then my ears! I understand, let’s get on with it!” Westley roars, “WRONG! Your ears you keep, and I’ll tell you why: so that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, ‘Dear God, what is that thing?!’ will echo in your perfect ears. THAT is what to the pain means; it means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.”

I thought of this scene quite a bit as I read through our Gospel reading—perhaps a bit odd of a thing to think about, but you can probably see why. Jesus’s words about the temptations to sin seem as gruesome, if not more so, than Westley’s description of “To the pain!” Hear Jesus’s words again:

“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.’”

That’s pretty graphic, and we might be tempted to think that this was an exaggeration, that Jesus couldn’t possibly have meant that! If He meant it, then that would mean that sin is pretty serious. If He meant it, then we’re in some serious trouble here. After all, Paul tells us in his letter to the Roman Christians that “the wages of sin is death.” Make no mistake, Paul wasn’t speaking in hyperbole. Jesus wasn’t joking. Sin is that serious. It’s serious enough that, if one of your body parts leads you into sinning, that body part should be removed! That man or woman who’s not your spouse that you were gazing at lustfully? That’s an eyeball. The gossip that you spread last Tuesday? Say good-bye to your tongue. The mental gymnastics you do to make yourself look innocent? Well, I guess it’s time for a lobotomy. The hate you feel toward someone, hoping that they would die and burn in hell forever? Better find a cardiologist who’s willing to remove your heart without putting a new one in. Yes, sin is that serious, and when we look at our lives and the sins we commit, our thoughts, words, and deeds in what we’ve done and left undone, it wouldn’t take long before we had no body parts left to remove. We are, all of us, so wholly corrupted, so completely tainted with sin, that there’s not a body part that would remain!

Over the past few weeks, as we’ve been going through Mark, Jesus’s words have been pointing us to our wholly corrupted nature and thus our truly despondent situation. The truth is, we cannot keep ourselves from sinning, much less keep the perfect mandates and requirements of God’s perfect Law. Any breaking of the law, regardless of the type or scope, is an iniquity which is rightly damning; as we heard a few weeks ago from James, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” By ourselves, we are abjectly without hope, without redemption, without salvation. We deserve to be, as Westley described, left in “anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.”

That’s what we deserve. But before you run off to IU or St. E to ask for a bone-saw or a rib-splitter, stop and think. Yes, it is what you and I deserve, but we no longer have that punishment spoken over us. Why not? Because Someone took it for us. Someone did fight to the pain for us—Isaiah wrote that “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind.” He was made to wallow in misery, but more than that, He was put to death, an agonizing, prolonged, horrific death on a cross. No sacrificed body parts of ours could ever atone for the evil that we commit on a daily basis. Only the death of a sinless one, taking sin into and upon Himself, could do this.

This is the truth of it. We deserve to be maimed and put to death; but Jesus was marred and killed in our place! We deserve the freakish misery described in The Princess Bride, and worse, but Jesus takes it for you and gives you His righteousness instead! It was done for you; it was done for me. We look at what He did, and we are confronted by, not only the just penalty for our sin, but also the love of a God who cared so much for us, that He was willing to endure this -- the pain, the sorrow, the sin, and the death. How can we help but marvel and ask, “What wondrous love is this, o my soul?”

The Princess Bride does have a happily ever after, but it does not compare with the one that awaits us! It doesn’t always seem that way -- the world is still broken, our loved ones still die, and we still sin -- but we have the promise from Jesus Himself that He will return to set everything aright! He proved it when He Himself rose from the grave and gave His Word that the same would happen to His children on the Last Day! So we wait, we pray, we live a life of repentance and forgiveness! He who fought to the pain and fought to the death for us is faithful, and His promise will be kept!

+ In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. + Amen.