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“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.”—Mark 9:42 (NIV)
As we work our way through Mark 9, we’ve encountered a number of different scenes that feel somewhat disjointed at first glance. Let’s review briefly before we explore today’s verse.
First, there was an argument that took place between the teachers of the law and the disciples, seemingly over their inability to heal a man’s son who was possessed by an evil spirit, whom Jesus promptly heals. Afterwards, Jesus asks His disciples about a disagreement they had with each other while on the road, which was met with silence because they were arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus takes a child into His lap to illustrate a point about humility and servitude being the path to greatness and accepting the most vulnerable ones among them.
In the next breath, Mark says the disciples told Jesus they rebuked a man for exorcising demons in His name. Jesus, in turn, corrects them and says that anyone who is not against them is for them. And then He offers a stern warning to His disciples about the dangers of leading “little ones” astray.
What’s happening here?
Biblical scholars agree the term “little ones” is not only referring to small children, but also to those who are less mature in the faith. And throughout this chapter, we see the disciples creating obstacles to the gospel for others—they argue with religious leaders, they fight with each other about who will be first in the kingdom, and they try to condemn a man who was trying to set an oppressed person free because he wasn’t “one of them.”
In other words, today’s verse isn’t just directed at outsiders, but to those closest to Christ as well—and that includes us. In her commentary on Mark 9, professor Amy G. Oden writes: “Sometimes, even our best intentions to reprove others can have unintended consequences for innocent bystanders. Indeed, great damage is done to the gospel when Christians are preoccupied with infighting and self-righteous proclamations about others. Jesus returns the focus back to our own behaviors, the ways we speak and live good news, and the ways we place obstacles in the way of that good news.”
Jesus’ warning in today’s verse is stern because those who look to us and follow our example can be hurt when we don’t embody the faith we claim. Let’s be careful not to cause anyone—young or old—to stumble by our carelessness, but let’s be the hands and feet of Jesus to a watching world.
Pause: Do you ever find yourself trying to argue about who’s right or wrong in some theological or political debate or determine who’s on your side and who’s not? What message do you think it sends to those around you?
Practice: Rather than draw lines in the proverbial sand over debatable issues, let’s be the kind of people Jesus describes in Mark 9:41 who give a cup of water to the thirsty and welcome the little ones in His name (Mark 9:37).
Pray: Father, help me to see the areas in my life where I may have caused someone else to stumble in their faith, and forgive me for getting in the way of the good news You offer them. Help me to repent and lead others to the life-giving, thirst-quenching hope of the gospel by my example. Amen.
Rob Nieminen is a seasoned writer and editor who has written devotionals for Calvary since 2015. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL. He serves in the Worship Ministry at Calvary Boynton Beach and is an avid reader, an erratic golfer, and an aspiring photographer who loves to cook and spend time with his family.