19th Sunday after Pentecost – B LSB #’s 902, 568, 923
Text – Mark 9:42
And if anyone causes one of the least of God’s children to stumble in their faith, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck & to be thrown into the sea.
A HEAVY BURDEN
Prior to moving to the seminary, I spent about nine years on the local volunteer fire department. Being in a rural area we didn’t have a lot of fires but when we did, I remember thinking how terrible it must be for the families who had to go through this.
First of all, the fires usually occurred at night, so the family routine was seriously disrupted. Being woken up in the middle of the night, to find your house burning, must be a terrifying experience, no matter the extent of the fire. Having to stand there & watch as it burns, with all your valued possessions inside, must be a particularly helpless feeling.
Along with the fire damage, the process of putting it out also creates a lot of damage. The firemen come in with thousands of gallons of water & spray it over every possible nook & cranny that might be harboring the flames. Often, the walls & ceilings are ripped open to expose any possible source of the fire, or any hot spots that might cause the fire to restart.
When fully dressed for fighting the fire, we had on as much as 50 pounds of equipment. After several hours of wearing the air packs, you thought you’d never be able to use your shoulders, for anything useful, ever again.
And once the hoses had been pressurized & put into use, we usually moved them around while they were still full of water & very heavy. It could take several men to drag just one hose only ten or twenty feet.
Nevertheless, in spite of how exhausted I might have been after several hours of fire fighting, as I walked past the family members who were watching the material aspect of their lives being utterly destroyed, I clearly remember thinking, “What a heavy burden they have to bear.” PAUSE
Many of the burdens that we bear in life seem to fall on us out of the blue. There’s often no apparent connection between our actions & the burdens that we carry. However, some of those burdens are of our own making.
I’m thinking of one of my uncles who retired about 35 years ago. He was the 1st person in our area to have one of those large satellite dishes in his yard & since he had no active hobbies he spent much of his time watching television.
Though he was in relatively good health for those years, & well off financially, he frequently complained about having nothing to do. Especially the winter nights, they are sooo long. We heard that refrain for years, yet he never volunteered to use his time for helping anyone besides himself.
There’re an endless # of opportunities available to someone whom God has blessed, like my uncle. Still, he wouldn’t be part of anything that serves someone else’s interests. He was always concerned with looking out for number one, but in the end, number one was still losing. His heavy burden for those years was boredom, but it was largely one of his own making.
The sermon text also contains a heavy burden to bear. Jesus is describing someone as being better off with a large millstone hung around his neck while being thrown into the sea. Most of the English translations use the word large, but the original language is more graphic. It describes the millstone as that of a donkey.
The stone was large enough that it had to be turned by a donkey, because it was too large to be turned by a man. This stone could easily have been six feet in diameter. Imagine being tossed into the sea wearing one of those. It creates a stark picture of what a heavy burden is like. No matter how much you struggle you could never escape that burden, alive. Have any of your burdens ever felt that heavy? I know that some of mine have seemed to be.
Other times, part of the burden is wondering if it is of your own making. I won’t forget the day that my former neighbors lost their three-year-old son to a drowning accident. They were eating supper & he left to play out in the yard.
They had an above ground pool, with a fence around it, so they thought he was safe. Somehow he managed to get inside. After only 15 minutes they went to look for him, but he was already gone. For the next several weeks, I couldn’t help but think what a heavy & endless burden those parents would have to bear.
Even I was left wondering, if only I had been home, working in the back yard, or something… I could only imagine what his parents were going through… And still, our Savior said that drowning would be better for a man than to have caused even one of the least of God’s children to stumble in their faith.
Wearing that millstone to the bottom of the sea would be a heavy burden to bear, yet it is less of a burden than that of hell. Jesus uses an extreme example, in order to paint a vivid picture for the disciples, of the seriousness of causing someone to stumble in their faith.
At verse 48 Jesus describes hell as the place where the fire is never quenched & the worm never dies. That’s the kind of graphic language that the Gospel of Mark is known for. In the verses just preceding that He says it would be better to cut off your own hands or feet, than to go to hell. And the history behind the Greek word, used for hell, is even more graphic.
In the days of OT Israel, when the nation had gone completely astray from God, they used to sacrifice their own children to their false gods. They did this in the Valley of Hinnom, & in Jesus’ day, hundreds of years later, this valley was still considered unclean. As a result, it was used as a garbage dump. The trash was kept burning 24 hours a day, throughout the year. The name of this filthy, foul smelling, & fire-covered valley, had finally become symbolic of the unquenchable fires of eternal punishment. PAUSE
Have you felt bad for causing someone to stumble in their faith? How about offending or disappointing someone? Have you spoken words that you came to regret later on? Maybe you’ve even hit something or someone & later regretted it. Maybe you feel that you’ve been negligent, in the upbringing of your children, or in living up to a marriage commitment.
The pain of our own regrets can cut deeply into our soul. And the devil wants to use those regrets to convince us that we’re no good, which is an easy thing to believe. After all, who knows the sin of our own hearts better than we ourselves! After years of living, the burden of guilt can be as heavy as any millstone that has ever sunk to the bottom of the sea.
The millstone of our guilt can grind us down to a very pitiful, wretched, & God forsaken state. Alcoholism & drug abuse can be the result of unbearable guilt. One of my seminary professors thought it likely that up to 90% of all psychological disorders are the result of unresolved guilt.
Apparently, no matter how much we might try to deny it, deep inside us we always know that it’s there. It appears that keeping our guilt inside, & unforgiven, is the heaviest burden of all. There, it drives us further & further away from our sinless & holy God, who created us to be holy as well. We were not created to be sinful & we are not capable of dealing with it.
So God sent His own Son to deal with the burden of our sin & our guilt. This Son,
God & Man, came to bear the heaviest possible burden that we might have. He came to have the millstone of our sins placed around His neck, & to be cast into the sea in our place.
Looking back at the last several months of Gospel lessons, we find Mark showing us that
Jesus is easily powerful enough for the job. Mark wants you to be certain that Jesus has carried the burden of your sin for you, no matter how heavy you think that burden is.
We’ve heard about the calming of the sea. With waves swelling over the top of the boat & the disciples fearing for their lives, they awoke Jesus. He then rebuked the wind & told the sea, “Be still.” The wind stopped & the sea calmed. Mark has shown us that Jesus controls the weather.
Later, we heard the story of a man possessed by a legion of demons. When chained up he would tear the chains to pieces & there was no one who could subdue him. Yet when he saw Jesus, he ran up to Him & bowed down before Him. The demons knew the power of the Son of God, & Jesus cast them out of the man. Jesus is powerful enough to cast out a legion of demons.
Another miracle involved the hemorrhaging woman. For 12 years she suffered & when she heard about Jesus she knew that if she simply touched Him, she would be healed. She touched Jesus & instantly her bleeding stopped. Jesus is in complete control of illness.
Finally, Mark records the healing of the daughter of Jairus, & some healing it was, because she was dead. While Jairus was with Jesus, members of his household came to tell him that his daughter had died. Overhearing this Christ tells Jairus not to be afraid, only believe.
So Jesus went into the room & said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” Immediately, she arose & walked. The mourners were astounded. They knew the girl was dead, but Christ spoke & she was alive. Our Savior has command even over death!
Jesus is God & Man. He has authority over nature, demons, illness & death. He lived & walked on this earth to bear the burden of the law, because we could not. He was nailed to the cross & shed His blood, in order to bear the burden of our sin, because we could not. Three days later He rose from the dead, proving that He had conquered our sinful nature, the power of death & the legions of the Devil, all because we could not. God only asks that you believe. Believe that He loves you & has paid for your sins, Himself. Whatever burdens you might be carrying today, leave them here. Leave them in the tomb from which our Savior arose on Easter morning.
Leave them behind in the waters of your baptism which cleansed you from all the sins you’ll ever commit. You may have heard of people that are unable to forgive themselves. But Scripture never tells us to forgive ourselves. Only God is able to remove our sin. Keeping our guilt inside is nothing more than unbelief. It says that we don’t trust God to forgive us.
It’s the Devil that wants you to NOT trust God. Unbelief is the ultimate, unbearable burden for man. Satan would love to destroy you with it. But God says that you can leave even that behind this morning. Christ has carried the burden of the sin of unbelief as well.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall NOT perish, but have everlasting life. Amen.
But now we find sweet peace & rest, despair no more reigns over us. No more are we by sin opprest, for Christ has borne sin for us. Upon the cross for us He died that reconciled we might abide with Thee our God forever. Amen. LSB 568:2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet