The Cause, The Tree, You, and Me: by Bryan Long

The Cause, The Tree, You and Me

We have been in a sermon series called Journey to Jerusalem. Last week in the Elective portion of the series we looked at Luke 17:1-6. Jesus is in Capernaum, the seaside town on the northwest side of the sea of Galilee, best known for its production of food processing tools like giant, heavy millstones.

A side note about the sea. The sea was not a happy place for Jews. For them, it was a metaphorical image for the hellish abyss. No one knew how deep it was and at night it was pitch dark chaos. The beginning of the world was watery chaos, a primeval sea, from which God brought order (Genesis 1) The flooding waters of the sea became a tool of God's judgment (Genesis 6-7; Exodus 14).  Jonah was thrown into the depths because he turned his back on God. (Jonah 1) The great sea beasts in Daniel and Revelation comes from the sea. (Daniel 7; Revelation 13, 17). The sea is where you go to die physically and spiritually.

So, while on the shores Jesus says: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come.” (v.1) In the sentence, the word for “cause to sin” is supposed to be the subject, but the NIV adds the word “things” to smooth out the translation. But literally it reads: “The causer of sin is bound to come.”

Who is this causer of sin?

It’s you. It’s me. We are the causers of our own sin.

James 1:13-15 says: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

We you add the word “things” it gives us permission to blame something else for our depravity. “Things” are bound to come. Something else is going to get you. Temptation becomes an outside force the coerces us into sin. The devil made me do it! But we are the “causers of sin.” And Jesus gives an even greater warning when we become the “causers of sin” to someone else: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” (v.2)

Millstones. Sea. Get the picture?

Then Jesus jumps into the topic of forgiveness, which seems a bit odd. But it’s not. Forgiveness becomes the primary spiritual discipline for self-realization. We are only able to forgive at the level we are able to admit our own causality of sin. Remember that parable about the man who is forgiven millions of dollars in debt, but refuses to forgive another who owes him a couple bucks? When we own our culpability, we can forgive others culpability as well.

His followers are completely overwhelmed by this idea and cry out “Increase our faith!” That seems about right. We have no way of dealing with the problem on our own. The “causer of sin” is bound to come. It’s inevitable. Surely, we will eventually become to causer of sin to someone else. Jesus tell us the cost...

Millstones. Sea. Death. Abyss. Underworld. Hell.

It is in this moment of crisis that Jesus declares the good news of the Gospel: “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea...” (v.6). All it takes is a small, measly, mustard-seed-size amount of faith. And we can send a tree into the abyss in our place. We deserve the millstone around our necks, but with the tiniest amount of faith, a tree goes instead. You know the end of the story...

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on at tree.’” Galatians 3:13

A Savior hanging on a tree to take our place for good.

Friends, this Lenten season; as we prepare ourselves for Easter; as we journey to Jerusalem...

May you own the fact the you are the causer of sin.
May you forgive others, because you have been forgiven.
And with a mustard-seed-sized faith, may you ask the Tree to take your place...

Pastor Bryan


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