Stumbling Blocks, Severed Limbs, and Living In Peace (Mark 9:38-50)

Hell is not a place created by God but by humanity.


“Whoever’s not against us is for us.”

It’s refreshing to hear these words from Jesus, especially when we so often hear the opposite from our culture.

The disciples try to stop someone from casting out demons because he isn’t an official disciple, but Jesus stops his disciples from stopping him. Is the goal to compete and gain followers to your “side,” or is it to actually cast out demons… that is, help people heal from their trauma? How often do we get caught up in rivalry when the very goals we claim to seek would be reached so much more efficiently and thoroughly if we work together? Jesus is telling his disciples that the work they do and the love they give is for the sake of the people they serve, and not to be in competition with anyone else. Whoever is not against us is for us. We would all do well to remember that.

Then Jesus goes on to more frightening language… at least at first. If your hand or foot or eye causes you to sin, cut it off… it is better to enter into life broken than to go intact to hell.


The word Jesus uses for “hell” is “Gehenna,” a literal garbage heap where, in generations past, children were sacrificed. In Jesus’s time, it was a garbage heap that was always aflame. Jesus is saying to harm someone is to create cycles of violence that continually rekindle themselves. That is what he means by hell. It is not a place created by God (look for it in Genesis and you won’t find it) but by humanity.

Do whatever it takes to avoid harming someone else. It is better to stop yourself from committing harm by any means necessary than to pass harm along to someone else.

How do we avoid harming others? By remembering that we don’t need to be over and against others. Back to the beginning, where we realize that whoever isn’t against us is for us.

We hear about fires that burn, but Jesus also speaks of fires that purify. Everyone — everyone– will be tested with fire, not for punishment, but for refinement. We’ll probably get ourselves into fires of conflict, fires of trial and tribulation. In spite of Jesus’s words, we will probably stumble or cause others to stumble? What then?

We keep going. We take a deep breath and breathe in the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Love. We remember that when the fire burns away all the mess that has accumulated in our lives, we are stripped back down to our core, which is Love. For we are made in Love’s image. So, “if you’re going through hell, keep going,” as Winston Churchill said and Rodney Atkins sang.

The Olive

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Adam and Lindsey further flesh out these ideas in this week’s episode of Jesus Unmasked. Our friends helped us through the fiery challenges of this passage to find the blessings, and we are grateful. And we invite you to ponder and pray with us not only on our podcast, but  every Wednesday, live, at 11 am CT/ 9 am PT on the Raven Foundation Facebook page.