If your hand or your foot makes you lose your faith, cut it off and throw it away! It is better for you to enter life without a hand or a foot than to keep both hands and both feet and be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye makes you lose your faith, take it out and throw it away! It is better for you to enter life with only one eye than to keep both eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
See that you don’t despise any of these little ones. Their angels in heaven, I tell you, are always in the presence of my Father in heaven.
First, before I get the substance of this scripture, I can’t help but notice this reference to guardian angels. Jesus says that children have angels in heaven who are assigned to them, and that these angels are always in direct communication with God. Pretty awesome. I wonder if our angels stick with us throughout adulthood, or if we lose them when we grow up. Oh well. Back to the main subject of the scripture….
This is the second time that Jesus has said that you need to do whatever it takes to maintain a healthy relationship with God. In the first instance, on Day 28, Jesus says, ”So if your right eye causes you to sin, take it out and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose a part of your body than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose one of your limbs than to have your whole body go off to hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30).
There are two main difference between these similar scriptures. In the first instance, as part of the Sermon on the Mount, he is referring to sin and adultery. It the second instance he is talking about loss of faith and causing others to lose theirs. Both things, he says, must be avoided at all costs. The penalty for both, according to Jesus, is hell. As for what “hell” is, Biblical references are very sketchy. But whatever it is, it’s bad and it is surely something we want to avoid.
To hear some preachers talk you’d think that Jesus talked about hell all the time. I have often heard it said that if you don’t “confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior” that you will go to hell. I’ve also heard that if you are not a Roman Catholic you will go to hell. In reality Jesus doesn’t refer to hell very often so I think it’s important to pay attention when he says something will send you to hell. In addition to the scriptures I already quoted about cutting off your hands etc., these are the only other instances where Jesus refers to hell in the book of Matthew:
The first time Jesus refers to anger: “You have heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not commit murder; anyone who does will be brought to trial.’ But now I tell you: if you are angry with your brother you will be brought to trial, if you call your brother ‘You good-for-nothing!’ you will be brought before the Council, and if you call your brother a worthless fool you will be in danger of going to the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22).
The second reference is to living recklessly: “Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14).
The third reference is being disrespectful of God: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (Matthew 10:31).
The fourth reference is pride: “And as for you, Capernaum! Did you want to lift yourself up to heaven? You will be thrown down to hell! If the miracles which were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would still be in existence today! You can be sure that on the Judgment Day God will show more mercy to Sodom than to you!” (Matthew 11:21-24).
The fifth reference is false teaching: “How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You lock the door to the Kingdom of heaven in people’s faces, but you yourselves don’t go in, nor do you allow in those who are trying to enter! How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You sail the seas and cross whole countries to win one convert; and when you succeed, you make him twice as deserving of going to hell as you yourselves are!” (Matthew 23:13-15).
The sixth and final reference is to murder: “You snakes and children of snakes! How do you expect to escape from being condemned to hell? And so I tell you that I will send you prophets and wise men and teachers; you will kill some of them, crucify others, and whip others in the synagogues and chase them from town to town. As a result, the punishment for the murder of all innocent people will fall on you, from the murder of innocent Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar. I tell you indeed: the punishment for all these murders will fall on the people of this day!” (Matthew 23:33-36).
Summary: The 8 things Jesus specifically says (in that book of Matthew) that will land you in hell are:
- Adultery (See Day 27 – desiring or having sex with a married Jewish woman)
- Causing others to lose their faith (Today’s topic)
- Living recklessly
- Disrespecting God
- False teaching
There you have it. If you had other things floating around in your head you can erase them. These are the only things that Jesus says will send you to hell. Of course, we don’t really know what hell is all about. Jews have always held different opinions about whether hell is something you experience here on earth or whether it refers to the afterlife, but in either case it isn’t that important to them. The Jews figure that if you live your life to the best of your ability, the afterlife will take care of itself. They also know that if you are disobedient to God your life will be miserable. Whatever hell is about, it’s bad. Jesus only uses this admonition about winding up in hell only when he is very passionate about a particular teaching.
In this case, Jesus is warning people about losing their faith and passing it on the children. It’s an extension of yesterday’s scripture on Day 159 where I describe how I, myself, lost faith because of what I saw going around me as a child. Jesus wants to emphasize in the strongest possible terms how important it is to help children feel safe, secure, and hopeful. We don’t want to pass on our evil thoughts (See Day 73).
What comes to mind is that song from the old musical South Pacific “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught:
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate, You’ve got to be carefully taught!
So if we want to avoid hell, we need to be sure that we don’t teach this kind of stuff – either directly or indirectly. Oh, and by the way, this song wasn’t written by a Christian. It was written by a Jew – Richard Rogers. Remember that one of the Laws that the Jews are required to observe is to “show love for those foreigners, because you were once foreigners in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Jews are required to show love to everyone. Everyone. Not just other Jews. Even the Gentiles. Even the Samaritans. Everyone.
Richard Rogers and Jesus were definitely on the same page when it comes to understanding the heart of God. The teaching they received was apparently a lot better than that offered to a lot of Christian children based on a lot of the hate speech I hear coming from Christian adults. I’m referring to mean spirited angry comments about everyone from the president to welfare recipients to illegal aliens to rich people to Muslims and so on. And there is of course the insidious racism that continues to permeate our society in so many ways. Yes, Christians have a long way to go before they catch up with Jesus when it comes to raising up children in the way they should go. More love talk, less hate talk. Less whining, more gratitude. Less pessimism, more optimism. So they won’t give up. So they won’t lose faith. And so we won’t end up in hell. Whatever or wherever it is.
What does this scripture say to you?