September 01, 2020 – Tuesday
Mark 9:42 NIV
42 If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.
Mark 9:42 ESV
42 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.
Jesus is quoted as saying the same words in Matthew 18:6. I wrote about it as well on August 19th only 13 days ago. You may read what I wrote then here. Today, I will repeat much of that, but want to see what else I might add to it as well. In the quotes from Matthew and Mark, the ESV uses the words to sin, but notes to stumble could be used as well. In August I used to stumble to make it more clearly align with the NIV quote. Today I did not change it.
Looking at the commentary of Peter Pett on this verse, he did something very interesting. He contrasted it with the prior verse. Let’s look at he two verses from the NIV and then Pett’s comments. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. 42 If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. Here Pett comments This may well have continued on from the previous words. Jesus was in Peter’s home and had sat down and at least one child had approached Him and had been taken up into His arms. Having answered John’s question He might well have turned back and indicated the child and continued in this vein. The act of causing a child, or any young believer, who believes in Christ to stumble is in deliberate contrast to the one who gives the cup of water to a follower of the Messiah. The one is a small act with great results in heaven, the other again seemingly a small act but with devastating results for the perpetrator. Emphasis added. Guzik comments in a like manner stating, If a small act of kindness towards others done in Jesus’ name will be eternally remembered, so will any cause for stumbling. And the punishment is severe.
How severe? The idea of a millstone around one’s neck is not hyperbole as one might think. Instead it turns out such a punishment did exist and according to Elllicott’s Commentary, while the punishment was not recognized in Jewish law, it was in occasional use among the Greeks and had been inflicted by Augustus in cases of special infamy. Jerome states (in a note on this passage) that such punishment was practiced in Galilee, and it is not improbable that the Romans had inflicted it upon some of the ringleaders of the insurrections headed by Judas of Galilee. Recall Jesus was in Galilee when He spoke in this manner, so such punishment would not be surprising to those who would hear Him. Further, while there were other forms of death much crueler (such as crucifixion) its chief horror, for Jews and Gentiles alike was that it denied the dead of any burial rites.
From my post on this verse in Matthew we need to recall “believing (pisteuo) comes as a result of faith (pistis). Causing one who believes to stumble is to damage or question their faith. To do so would be akin to stealing one of Jesus’ flock. In the American West that would be rustling which often resulted in a death sentence, hanging. Those who seek to drive a wedge between Jesus and members of His flock – and there are people who seek to do just that – put their eternal souls at great risk.”
And now I will conclude as I did then. “We have our own responsibility as well. Jesus and others in the New Testament as well as in the Old Testament (especially Proverbs) provide great advice on how to avoid falling into sin and those who would entice us into sin. Paul in Galatians 5:6b gives some of the best when he said, The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Daily question, How am I expressing my faith today? You?”