Sermon: “The Scandalous Savior”
LSB Series B; September 26, 2021
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 21
Gospel Reading: Mark 9:38-50
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Scandals. Scandals are everywhere and have been present throughout all time. From the perspective of the disciples, Judas’ betrayal was likely deemed a scandal. From perspective of the Roman Catholic Church, Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation was likely deemed a scandal. But those aren’t in our lifetime.
Here are some scandals from our day and age:
In the world of sports, Lance Armstrong was found guilty of a doping scandal, Pete Rose was found guilty of a gambling scandal. And then in another doping scandal through the use of performance enhancing drugs, there was Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa.
In the world of celebrities, we were overwhelmed with details about the college admissions scandal involving Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli. In the world of business, there was the Enron accounting scandal and Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme scandal. And in the world of politics, history will rightly never let us forget about the Watergate scandal.
Scandals are everywhere. They are everywhere, and they are often met with the question: “How dare you?” “How dare you?”
That is what the disciples were in essence asking as they witnessed someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name.
John said to him [Jesus], “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us” (Mark 9:38).
Representing the disciples, John made it clear that whoever this exorcist was that had used Jesus’ name to cast out a demon, was in fact, invading their proverbial turf. It was as if they were saying, “How dare you? Who do you think you are to invade our turf? We are Jesus’ posse. Not you! What you are doing is downright scandalous!”
Note that John and his fellow apostles gave no support for this fellow follower of Jesus, and there was no sympathy for this once-demon possessed individual. All John and the other disciples were interested in were themselves and protecting what they thought was their own. Jesus was their teacher, and any power He had was meant to rub off on their shoulders, not on anyone else’s.
But Jesus was quick to rebuke John and his fellow companions: Jesus said: “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. 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 (Mark 9:39-41).
This is much the same thing that was going on in the Old Testament lesson. A young man came up to Moses and complained that Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp. And Moses immediately responded: Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them! (Numbers 11:29).
What Moses and Jesus made clear was that it was in no way scandalous by any stretch of the imagination for others to do work in the name of the Lord. Rather, it would be wonderful if everyone were busy doing works of the Lord, even if that work is simply giving a cup of water to someone in need.
Instead, Jesus taught them that what is downright scandalous is if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin. That is downright scandalous. In fact, the Greek word for ‘causing someone to sin’ is skandalon, giving us none other than the word: scandalous.
If ever there is something that warrants the question: “How dare you?” it is leading someone astray from the faith. And Jesus gets downright serious here. If you lead someone astray from Him, then it would be better for that person to have a great millstone hung around their neck and be drowned into the sea.
When I looked up how much a millstone weighed in Bible times, the answer ranged from several hundred pounds to over three thousand pounds. The point Jesus is making is obvious. It is better for you to drown and die than to lead someone else away from Him.
But Jesus wasn’t done with His rather uncomfortable images. Hand causes to you sin? Cut it off. Foot causes you to sin? Cut it off. Eye causes you to sin? Tear it out.
Talk about scandalous! These sound like a lot of scandalous actions…and Jesus is the One seemingly advocating for them.
Or is He? Is Jesus advocating for hand and foot severing and eye gouging? Or is He getting at something a bit deeper? Is He inviting John, His other disciples, and us, who are so consumed with looking at and judging the lives of others, protecting our own turfs, and puffing up our own pride, to stop and consider our own actions first?
Because let’s cut to the chase here. Our sins not only impact us, which they do, but they also impact others. If we choose to sin, likely there are others who are watching us. If we choose to justify our sinful action, then others learn that sins are not that bad and don’t need to be confessed. We not only lead others astray from the faith, which is scandalous, but we also make a mockery of the sacrifice of the Son of God.
Nowhere is this seemingly more prevalent than when you are in the presence of a child. Children are like sponges. They rightly follow the line: “Monkey see, monkey do.” So, if an adult swears around them, what are they likely to do? If they hear adults gossiping about other adults, or they see their parents form cliques with other adults, what are they likely to do? If they see adults behave irresponsibly with regards to sexual promiscuity, alcohol, pornography, you name it, what lifestyle are they likely to lead for themselves?
The point again is: What we say and do matters, not only for ourselves, but also for the lives of others. And we ought not think that our influence is limited to kids. It is downright scandalous for Christians to put on a front here in church, but then go out and behave with reckless abandon the other six days of the week. It not only fails to honor what God has done for you, but it teaches others that being a Christian doesn’t matter when it comes to how you live your life. And we all know that is not true.
It does matter that as Christians who have been forgiven in Christ live our lives with uprightness and integrity. In no way are we perfect, and in no way are we holier than thou. Instead, we follow God’s commandments in love for Him and love for our neighbors. And when we fall to sin, we immediately repent so that we can be forgiven and so that others can see that we, too, need a Savior.
That is what Jesus is getting at when He ends our text with the topic of salt. Salt without flavor is no good. But we who have the salt of salvation alive and well within us have much to use to season this world with in speaking of the Savior Jesus Christ.
Because when we talk about scandals, there was none greater than what He endured. It was absolutely scandalous that God the Father in heaven would send His Son to earth for a bunch of losers like us who only deserved to be cast into hell. Yet, it was into hell’s unquenchable fires that Jesus went to save all of us who have gone astray again and again.
Now, no one in their right mind would ever send their Son to do such a thing? Such action would only be met with the question: “How dare you? How dare you send Your one and only Son to die? That is downright scandalous.” Yet, such is the love of our Savior. He is a Scandalous Savior. He defies all human reason and does the unthinkable…all to save you, and me too.
But, as you know all too well. He did not stop there. Though it wasn’t a millstone in front of the tomb, the stone was rolled away from the tomb nonetheless, and He is alive. Just like He told His disciples would happen in our text last week. Just like He promised us.
Though we are fraught with scandalous sins of our own, He met it all head on with a scandal that only could be His own. Crucified, dead, buried, and ascended, He has untied the millstone from our necks and raised us back to life.
The unquenchable fires of hell no longer await us. They have been quenched by the salvific work of our God. Quenched by the waters of our baptism where the scandal of the Son of God was made our own as we were made His own.
It is just as we have sung again and again this month: “There is nothing worth comparing, to this lifelong comfort sure! Open-eyed by grave is staring: even there I’ll sleep secure. Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising: I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise.”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.