God’s Word for You
Mark 9:42 The millstone and the cross
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, April 9, 2020
Do Not Cause Little Ones to Fall Into Sin
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble into sin, it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around his neck.
This verse is describing three different people. First, and least obvious to many readers, it describes a Christian adult with a childlike faith. Anyone who causes a nascent or humble Christian adult to fall into a sin has committed a very great sin. Since Jesus develops this point more fully in Matthew’s Gospel, we will not pursue it here.
Second is the child, the little one. Since this is the literal meaning of the passage, we must take it as it stands and understand just what Jesus is saying about the faith of little children. Children are able to have faith and to trust in Jesus. Just how this is formed in their hearts we cannot say using our human reason. But this verse is one of the Bible’s proof passages for the faith of little children, along with Matthew 18:6 and Luke 18: “People were… bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’” (Luke 18:15-16).
The third person in the verse is the one who causes the child or the simple Christian to fall into sin. Jesus uses the word skandalizo, “cause to stumble into sin.” The word carries the idea of setting a trap, something which the child does not expect since a child trusts adults. The adult who breaks that trust and wrecks the child’s faith is the devil’s own servant; the devil’s own slave.
Why does Jesus say that “it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around his neck”? The large millstone Jesus describes is, in Greek, a mylos onikos, a ‘donkey stone,’ a stone so large it had to be turned by a donkey to grind grain. If it were tied to a man’s neck and then thrown into the sea, the man would die by drowning. But such a man, guilty of his own sin (whatever would give him a death sentence) would be better off than a man who was executed after leading a little child into unbelief. Such a scandalizing man will be punished in hell more severely than a man with only his own sins on his head.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus follows this with the warning: “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come” (Matthew 18:7). Mark does not include this verse, but I appreciate the brief comment by Professor Franzmann: “It is the very nature of the world, of all unconverted people, to set traps for us believers. The Christian is a fool to take unbelievers’ talk about ‘live and let live’ seriously. Men of the world bristle as they witness Christians confessing their faith by word and deed. Such a manifestly Christian life is a constant rebuke to their unbelief. Unbelievers are zealous ‘missionaries’ for their lifestyle. They find no greater pleasure than to win Christians over to their side. Therefore they are constantly setting traps for us believers. We now see what Jesus means: ‘Such things [entrapments] must come.’” (Bible History Commentary Volume I, NPH, p. 357).
This passage is a bright shining illustration of God’s promise, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). When it comes to protecting his people, big or small, he takes his bow out of its case and calls for “many arrows” (Habakkuk 3:9). He defends what is his, and he is furious when his sheep are attacked. This is the God who cares for you, who watches over you as a shepherd, and who laid his life down for you. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). The two horrible punishments—the millstone and the cross—stand on both sides of this passage. This is how Almighty God protects you and your faith. The millstone is the warning for anyone who might cause you to stumble, and the cross is the promise for each time you and I stumbled and fell. He has rescued us, and he will carry us home to everlasting life.
Pastor Timothy Smith