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"Cut Off--for Us"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 30, 2018
By Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr., Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Mark 9:38-50

Have you ever seen a post on Facebook and said to yourself, "Oh, that's not smart"?

One of the challenges that can confront people today as they enter the job market is their digital footprint. Posts on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites follow people into the application process and even into personal interviews. Folks are sometimes surprised to find that prospective employers have searched their online postings as a part of the hiring process. What was posted in fun can have serious effects on a person's employment!

Why would a prospective employer go to the trouble of investigating materials that have nothing directly to do with the potential employee? Plain and simple--it's about character.

Putting aside questions of privacy and fairness, employers are concerned with the character of their future employees. Questions of seriousness and reliability are central to the employment relationship. And all too often social media postings show far too much about the personal lives of those seeking a job. Sometimes such posts may suggest that the applicant would be a liability to the company.

While the public character of social media posts is a recent reality, the human actions behind them are not. Today's Gospel tells us to take character seriously. In the first place, it tells us to be serious in dealing with children: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea" (Mark 9:42). Then it tells us to take sin seriously. If something causes you to sin, "cut it off" (Mark 9:45). Indeed, so serious are these matters, says Jesus, that they have eternal implications.

That's why Jesus is so extreme in what He tells His hearers--including you and me. Cut off your hands and feet and pluck out your eyes. Wow, Jesus! Isn't this a little over the top?

Part of the reason that Jesus speaks in this way is to get His point across to His audience. People consistently misunderstand Him, and chief among the offenders are His own disciples! In fact, they often seem to be the worst at understanding Him.

In some ways, the Gospels are a record of embarrassing social media posts that should disqualify Jesus's closest followers from work in His kingdom. Why would Jesus hire these guys? They keep missing the point. They fail in their efforts to imitate Him. They lash out at one another and even at the children at times. Worst of all, they really don't seem to get what Jesus is really about, namely His selfless service for others. Instead, they are concerned about power--their power. Behind all of Jesus's words today is an effort to disabuse the disciples of the notion that they are better than others. Jesus is trying to lead them to control their irresponsible thoughts, words, and deeds-and to stop continually doing so in public!

Jesus is trying to show them that kingdom work is really about Jesus and His work for us. Mark 9 contains the prediction of our Lord's death and resurrection, followed by a short discourse on what greatness in the kingdom means. Jesus tells His disciples: "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise" (Mark 9:31).

What is more, He uses the occasion to teach the disciples once again what the kingdom of God is really about. While they argue among themselves about who is going to be first in Christ's kingdom, He steers them back to the focus of work in His kingdom: "And He sat down and called the twelve. And He said to them, 'If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all'" (Mark 9:35). Then Jesus takes a child into His arms and says that whoever receives this child receives Him, and whoever receives Him receives His Father, the One who had sent Jesus. Then Jesus goes on to say: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea" (Mark 9:42). This is serious stuff for the Twelve!

And it is also serious for you and for me. Have you ever caused one of Christ's little ones--youthful or otherwise--to sin? Indeed, you have, whether you realize it or not--and I have, too. Thus, if you really take Jesus' words seriously, you and I are next in line for a pair of cement shoes and an all-too-brief swim in the harbor.

Let's be honest with one another--and with God: how seriously do we really take our caring for others? Do we really put others first, or do we serve ourselves, just like the power-hungry disciples?

At Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, where I serve as president, our mission statement is simple and straightforward: "Concordia Theological Seminary exists to form servants in Jesus Christ who teach the faithful, reach the lost, and care for all." That's what we do, we form servants who teach, reach, and care.

But in all honesty, while the first two are pretty straightforward: that is, communicate the faith of the church as taught by the Bible and confessed by the Lutheran Confessions; and share that with people who do not know Jesus both here in the United States and throughout the world, it is the latter where we find the challenge. Where we--where I-- struggle, is in caring for all. This is a basic human challenge--and often it degenerates into sin. For either we fail to care for those in need or, worse, actually harm them by our words and deeds. In so doing we show we disregard God's commands for us, refusing to share even "a cup of water to drink" with those in need and, as a result, we should "lose (our) reward."

"Losing our reward" is a terrifying prospect. Much more than a foolish social media post, your sinfulness and mine cuts us off from God by destroying our relationship with Him. Further, it disrupts all our relationships with family and friends. And it threatens to leave us eternally separated from God. This is indeed serious, serious stuff!

God's Word challenges us to take sin seriously by showing us the grave consequences that it has. And it demands that we address it with absolute earnestness: "And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 'where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched'" (Mark 9:43-48). If we really took these verses literally, every one of us would be affected. For our hands rarely help others; our feet move slowly for the Lord's service; and our eyes too often serve as an opening for all kinds of uncleanness to come into us.

So, what should we do? Jesus simply says, "cut it off, pluck it out." Take sin seriously to the point where you cut off your hand--pluck out your eye--cut off your foot.

While that may sound a little extreme at first hearing, if you think about it, it actually makes sense. If you had cancer in your hand, eye, or foot, and it was likely to spread to the rest of your body, I suspect you have the affected part removed. I certainly would! It is better to live with one hand or eye or foot than to die with both. Sin has to be treated the same way. Unaddressed, sin will destroy not only the body, but also the soul. For sin destroys our relationship with God.

So, I ask again, what should we do--begin the amputations? Even if we were truly willing to cut off the parts of our lives that offend God and separate us from Him--which, honestly, we're not--even that radical action would not save us. The problem is far deeper. In truth, you could mutilate your whole body--your entire self--and still you would not--could not--address the real problem!

The depth of sin's effects demands far more radical surgery than the mere removal of eye, hand, or foot. It demands perfection in the place of imperfection. And thus, God the Father sent His Son into the world to accomplish what is impossible for us. God took sin so seriously that He sent His Son to pay for it once and for all.

Put simply, Jesus was cut off from God in our place. He did this so that you and I would not have to go through this life maimed by our own failed efforts, so that you would not have to live in fear of the punishment of your sin. In His mercy God sent His Son to take the punishment we deserve. God knew that sin must be cut off for our sins to be forgiven.

So, Jesus was cut off for us. "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin ..." (2 Corinthians 5:21). And as sin, Jesus was cut off as the Father looked away from Him while He hung on the cross: "... He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people" (Isaiah 53:8). God the Father cut off His only-begotten Son so that our sinful hands, feet, eyes, and hearts would be restored to Him. In Jesus, God did all the cutting off that is needed. In Jesus our sinful bodies and lives--our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds--are completely cut off once and for all, even as Jesus cried out on the cross: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34)

But the abandonment He suffered was complete and full. And so, His final word was "It is finished" (John 19:30). The payment for sin is perfectly complete. The sacrifice has been made. He has suffered the punishment that we all deserved, and by His resurrection He has conquered death. In Christ you have the promise that because He was cut off the promise of everlasting life is yours. Because He was cut off you will live.

Yes, God takes sin seriously. He took it so seriously that He sent His Son to pay for all of our sins. But because of His perfect life, His suffering, His death, and His glorious resurrection, you and I are no longer cut off from God. We enjoy His love and favor.

Foolish postings on social media can have serious effects on those seeking employment. Past and present actions threaten to "cut off" future opportunities. Thanks be to God that our foolish sinful thoughts, words, and deeds have all been paid for by Christ who was cut off in our place. Because of His work for us, we can be sure that we will not lose our reward but are welcomed into a relationship with God because of the work of Jesus Christ for us.

Reflections for September 30, 2018

Title: Cut Off--for Us

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and that was Dr. Lawrence Rast, president of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Dr. Rast, thank you for being our guest speaker today.

Lawrence Rast: You're welcome Mark. Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today and with all of your listeners.

Mark Eischer: Could you tell our listeners a little bit about Concordia Theological Seminary and what's happening there?

Lawrence Rast: Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, is one of the two seminaries of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. We were founded in 1846 and after moving about a bit we landed back here in our home in Fort Wayne in the year 1976. Since that time, we've continued our mission of preparing servants for Christ who serve in a variety of ministries: pastors, deaconesses, lay leaders, missionaries, who serve here in the United States and throughout the world. It really is a blessing to be a part of this community and it is always an exciting endeavor to be preparing these future servants as they look forward to serving Jesus.

Mark Eischer: What's new?

Lawrence Rast: One of the things that is particularly exciting at the present time is our ability to guarantee 100 percent of the tuition cost for all of our residential students. This is a new thing. We were concerned about student debt becoming burdensome for people in their first areas of service and so through the generosity of God's people and through some intentional strategic planning, we've been able to get to the point now where we can make that guarantee for all of our residential students. It truly is a blessing.

Mark Eischer: That's great!

Lawrence Rast: Further, we've been able to expand our Doctor of Philosophy in theological studies degree. This invites students from the United States and from around the world to hone their theological skills in service to the church. People study in the area of Bible, of Christian dogmatics, that is, doctrine and the like, and do so in such a way always as to serve the church and its mission, particularly in the area of pastoral care. It's truly, truly a great blessing to be a part of this endeavor.

Mark Eischer: This is taking place within a changing religious environment. What significant trends and challenges are you facing?

Lawrence Rast: We are doing this within the context of some really significant challenges. Everyone is familiar with the reality of the decline of Christianity in the United States. Despite the fact that we continue to be a highly religious culture, particularly in the Western setting. In our own Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, we've seen significant declines, and the forecast is for continuing declines in our church body over the next number of years. What that has resulted in at both seminaries of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is static enrollment in respect to our basic work, which is training pastors.

Mark Eischer: What about the future?

Lawrence Rast: These challenges I believe will continue, and I look forward to really facing them in some direct ways. We're able to have great optimism regarding the future of not only our seminaries, not only our Synod, but of the church in general because of the promise of Christ. He said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against My church," and we will take Him at His Word.

Mark Eischer: And how are the Fort Wayne and St. Louis seminaries working together to meet these challenges?

Lawrence Rast: We truly are blessed in our Synod to have two outstanding seminaries. We are both working hard to do the best we possibly can in forming servants for Christ's work. To that end, we're working together to address this issue of flat student bodies in the pastoral formation programs. We're working together to recruit excellent students and to hold up the office of pastor, encouraging young men and older men as well, to consider following this particular vocation, this particular service, as a way of serving Christ and neighbor. We are able to emphasize this because both seminaries are also financially healthy. It's always a challenge given the fact that Synod is not able to provide the same level of funding that it once did. Nevertheless, God's people are generous in sharing their resources to provide education and pastor formation for future servants of Christ's church. To that end, we look forward to a vigorous and healthy future.

Mark Eischer: Dr. Rast, describe the relationship between faculty and students, and how it's changing to better prepare our future pastors.

Lawrence Rast: One of the areas where we have been working with some true intentionality is moving the understanding of seminary from that of primarily an academic enterprise to one that is pastoral in character, from the beginning.

Mark Eischer: Okay.

Lawrence Rast: To that end, our faculty are acting primarily as pastors, pastoral models, for our students. Years ago, we had what we called "academic advisors."

Mark Eischer: Right.

Lawrence Rast: That seems very, very cold and impersonal. Given the nature of our curriculum, there isn't all that much advising in the academic sphere that needs to be done. However, there are marvelous opportunities for our faculty to model what pastoral ministry is about, and they have taken to this with great, great joy and are looking forward and looking always for new ways to engage the students with real pastoral care, helping them understand the role of the pastor in a local congregation, helping them look for opportunities to share the Gospel in their neighborhoods and in other places around the world, and simply providing that hands-on personal pastoral character that is so important for all of us, as we trek through this challenging life that is what the Lord has placed before us. Seminary one might think would be an easy time, but it's often very, very demanding. Students have all kinds of assignments; many of them also have family responsibilities. All of them have to be involved in a local congregation to get some boots on the ground kind of training. So, with all of these demands that are placed upon them, our professors work very diligently to help them keep things framed in the end in a way that their primary purpose always is held up foremost, and that is to be a faithful servant of Jesus Christ.

Mark Eischer: And what other significant activities are on your agenda for this year?

Lawrence Rast: One of the really big things on our agenda for this year is preparation and execution of an upcoming accreditation process. We're in the midst of it right now, and the actual visit will occur in the spring of 2020 with our two accrediting agencies.

Mark Eischer: Okay.

Lawrence Rast: So, that will cause an awful lot of work on our part over this coming year and into the next, but in the end when folks ask me, "Do you really think it's worth it?" My response always is, "Yes. It really is a benefit to us because it helps us keep our finger on our own pulse" so that we know where we're working well, where we're working exceptionally, and areas that there are for improvement. And any human endeavor, which is what a seminary is, even though it's engaged with the Word of God, there still is that element of human beings coming together. So, there is always opportunity for increasing our excellence and being more effective in carrying out our mission.

Mark Eischer: Very good.

Lawrence Rast: All in all, it's pretty demanding to be the president of a seminary, but beyond that in the end it is all about the joy of service in the Name of Christ and to have the opportunity to work together with future pastors, deaconesses, lay leaders, and missionaries, is truly, truly a privilege, and I'm deeply thankful to our Lord each and every day.

Mark Eischer: We've been talking with Dr. Lawrence Rast, president of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Dr. Rast, thanks again for your message today, and may God bless you and the seminary community.

Lawrence Rast: Thank you, Mark. It's really been a pleasure chatting with you, and I look forward to serving alongside of you into the future. God bless Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Triune God, Be Thou Our Stay" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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