Going Under the Knife

Going Under the Knife

May 26th, 1991 @ 8:15 AM

Mark 9:43-48

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Mark 9:43-48

5-26-91    8:15 a.m.


You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the senior pastor bringing the message, especially in view of Memorial Day tomorrow, and in keeping with our preaching through the Gospel of Mark.  We have come to the last part of chapter 9.  And the text reads in Mark 9, beginning at verse 43:

If thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into Gehenna, hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched:

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into Gehenna, hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

And if thy eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:

Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

[Mark 9:43-48]


There is a harshness in life into which we are born.  It is there before us, such as Memorial Day, which is dedicated to the memory of the dead.  We do not create darkness; turn off the light and there it is.  Nor do we create disease, and age, and death.  Despair and despondency, disappointment are attendant to human life.   All of us share in those great and sad tragedies.  God Himself must help us. 

How thankful I am for my two hands, but these hands can be used for murder and for violence.  I thank God for my two feet.  My two feet can carry me into places that are compromised.  I thank God for my tongue, but my tongue can be used to curse and denounce God.  Whatever is good can be used for evil and for bad.  That is why the necessity for the knife.  Personally, it would be a tragedy to keep from these who are thus afflicted, the truth, the terrible truth.  Cancer needs to be cut out, a tumor on an organ needs to be removed.  These things that are parts of life have to go under the knife and the society to which we belong is no different.  The penitentiary is a necessity, a separation.  The reform school, the insane asylum; these are the terrible facts of life going under the knife.

It is thus with the Christian faith.  It is inclusive; goodness, holiness, love, compassion, worship.  And in the family of God, anyone is welcomed, loved.  There is an inclusiveness in the Christian faith that is precious beyond description.  But the Christian faith is also exclusive; it is a one-eyed, and a one-armed, and a one-footed family of God.  The necessity for separation, for exclusion, is as vital a part of the Christian faith as the inclusiveness in the invitation to those who come and bow in the presence of our Lord.  Listen to the Word of the Lord:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  And what communion hath light with darkness?

And what concord hath Christ with Belial?  Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?  Ye are the temple of the living God . . .

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.  Touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you,

And be a Father unto you, then shall you be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

[2 Corinthians 6:14-18]


Under the knife, there is an exclusion; there is a separation of the Christian faith that is inevitable.  There is a sternness about the Lord Jesus that is amazing, uncompromising; He who was so tender and compassionate.  "A bruised reed He would not break.  A smoking flax He will not quench" [Isaiah 42:3].  And yet, there was a sternness in the ministry of our Lord that is appalling.

When Nicodemus came to Him, He said to that ruler of the Jews, "Except you be born again, you cannot enter into the kingdom of God" [John 4:3].  He placed the entire concourse of Pharisees, and Sadducees, and scribes outside of the kingdom of our Lord. 

One of the most amazing things to me in the life of Jesus is the rich young ruler.  "All of these commandments, all of the ways of God have I kept from my youth up.  What lack I yet?"  [Mark 10:17-20].

And the Lord said, "You love your possessions more than you love God.  Sell them; get rid of them.  Give them away, and come and follow Me and you will have life everlasting" [Mark 10:21].  And there was a tremendous struggle in the heart of the young man, and he turned away [Mark 10:22].  Why didn’t Jesus say, "Wait, young man.  Just give half of what you have away.  Wait young fellow, wait.  Just give a token of what you have away"?  Jesus never compromised, "Give it all away, and come and follow Me." 

Under the knife; I think of our hands and what they can do for God or for evil.  And God says cut them off!  Cut them off if they hinder your dedication and concentration to the work of the kingdom of God.  Dear me! 

Under Henry VIII, Thomas Cranmer was the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury.  Upon the death of Henry VIII, bloody Queen Mary ascended the throne.  And seeking to save his life, in an inadvertence, he signed an article of recantation.  She condemned him to death in the same place where Latimer and Ridley had been burned at the stake, just outside of Oxford.  And Cranmer was taken to that identical place where those men of God had been burned before him, and he was tied to the stake and the flames began to soar.  And that wonderful man of God took his right hand and placed it first in the fire and said, "Let the fire burn first this hand that signed the recantation."  And he held it there and saw his hand burned.  How easy it is for us to seize things of the world that separate us from God.

One of the funniest, craziest things I have ever read in my life: there was a little girl, a little bitty, tiny child, a little girl.  And she had thrust her arm and hand into a prized vase – an antique vase, a beautiful vase, expensive, worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars – and they couldn’t extricate her hand; they couldn’t pull her arm out of that vase. And finally, in desperation, they got a hammer and broke it to pieces in order to liberate her arm and hand from the vase.  And when they did so, when they broke it, there was the hand of the little girl in a fist, just like that.  And they pried open her hand and she was holding a penny.  How much is that a picture of human life, giving up the kingdom of God and the wonderful things of Christ for – and then name them: a business, a pleasure, a life of dissolution, a drink.  O Lord, how we desperately need this separation from the world to serve the great God and our Savior.

One of the poignant things that I so well remember is the days when you had revival meetings in great universities.  I was holding a revival in one of the great universities of America.  And in an invitation one night, there came forward one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen in my life, and weeping beyond any way that you could see a child weep.  And when I spoke to her, and knelt down to pray with her, she was facing the giving up of a young man in the university to whom she had given her heart in love, but he was not a Christian.  He was of the world and committed to the world, and would not accept Christ as his Savior.  And she was kneeling there, and bowing there, and weeping there, giving up that young man that she loved so well, so deeply, so preciously.  That is the Christian life.  The Christian life is a giving up – always at a cost.  Going under the knife – if your hand offends you, cut it off: it is better to enter eternal life with one hand, than having two hands to be cast into the Gehenna of hell [Mark 9:43].

And the Lord is so harsh in that avowal; three times does He name that.  For having two hands to go into hell where the fire is not quenched; having one foot to enter into heaven, than having two feet and be cast into hell.  If the eye offend thee, pluck it out!  It is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God one-eyed, than having two eyes to be cast into the fire of hell [Mark 9:43-48].  Great God, what an awesome decision every human life faces.

A battle to fight,

And a foeman strong,

And the bugles haughty cry,

A fight for the right,

Be it short or long,

Where a man must win or die.

[Author and work unknown]


It is one or the other: I either pay the price to follow Christ or if I choose to reject the mercies of God, I face an eternal damnation in Gehenna, hell.  One of the most amazing things to me in reading the gospel of Christ: He spoke far more about hell, about Gehenna, than He did about heaven.  There was some reason, vital and indescribably pertinent that drew our Lord down from God to die for us.  What is it?  What brought our Savior down from heaven to die on the cross for us?

Was it social amelioration that we might have a better order of society?  Was it ethical aspiration that we might have a better code of goodness and righteousness? Those things are a characteristic of humanity from the beginning.  Was it to establish another religion?  Man!  We’ve got more religions in this world, and cults, then you can name.  What is it that brought our Savior down from heaven to die for us?  It is because we are lost in sin [Hebrews 10:4-14; Luke 19:10].  We face the damnation of hellfire; we face Gehenna, the burning forever, and He came down to save us from so tragic a judgment [John 12:27].  And that is why the appeal, always, of the Christian faith: "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord. . .And I will be your Father, and you will be My son and My daughter" [2 Corinthians 6:17-18].

Come to the Lord.  The choice is so vital.  Hell, Gehenna, was not made for us.  Matthew 25:41; Our Lord declares it was made for the devil and his angels.  And if we go to hell, if we burn in the Gehenna of fire forever and ever, it is because we choose to go there.  Our first parents, Adam and Eve, failed because of a tragic choice [Genesis 3:1-6].  Lot pitched his tent towards Sodom and lost his family [Genesis 13:12, 19:26-38].  Saul disobeyed God and lost his kingdom [1 Samuel 15:26].  Judas sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver [Matthew 26:14-16].  The choice was made and the damnation of hell followed after it.  And you face that choice in your life.  You cannot escape it.  You are born into it. 

There was a devout Christian girl, a precious, beautiful girl, a lovely child of the family of God; she loved the Lord and the church.  Like so many that I have seen in my life do that tragic thing of marrying an unchristian boy; the days passed and the little baby girl was born into the arms of that precious mother.  And being a devout Christian, she brought up the little girl in the church, Sunday school, and the family of God; beautiful, precious mother. 

But the father had contempt for religion and looked upon it with scorn and dislike.  While the little girl was small, the mother took the little child to Sunday school and to church.  But when the days passed and the little girl began to grow up, the father began to do all that he could to wean her away from the Lord.  And he took a sarcastic and despicable delight in seeing that the child didn’t attend the services of God.  And as the little girl continued to grow up and became a teenager, he did everything possible to keep her out late on Saturday night on dates, and on parties, and on trips, and on journeys.  And the next Sunday morning, when her mother would say, "Sweet, it is time to go to Sunday school and church."  The girl would reply, "Oh, Mother, I was so late last night.  I was so late last night.  I am so sleepy.  I am going to stay in bed and sleep."

And when she would say that to the mother, the father would rejoice on the inside.  Oh, he liked what he was doing and succeeding in weaning that child away from God.  Then, the inevitable happened; it always happens.  In a furious car, racing back into the city, a tragic accident; and the girl, the child, was taken to the hospital to die.  And the father rushing to the hospital; there that girl, so broken up.  He took her by the hand and sat down by her side.  And the girl said, "Daddy, Daddy, all through the years, Mother has said to me, ‘Sweet child, you must ask Jesus to come into your heart.  You must ask Jesus to forgive your sins.  And if you have a home in heaven, you must trust in the Lord Jesus.’  My mother, all of my life, has said I must trust in the Lord Jesus if I am to go to heaven when I die.  But Daddy, you have said it’s an old wives’ tale.  You have made fun and have scorned Mother’s faith and Mother’s religion.  Daddy, I am dying.  Tell me.  Shall I take your way, or Mother’s way?"  And falling on his face and on his knees and grasping the hand of the child  anew, he said, "Oh, sweet child!  Take Mother’s way, take Mother’s way!"  And while he cried, her hand went limp in his, and she was gone. 

After the memorial service, after the funeral, down the aisle at  the church came that father.  And before the congregation, he told the people what had happened: of the faith of his sweet wife, and of his own rejection of the grace and mercy of God; and of the rearing of that precious girl.  And told of that dying scene, and closed, saying, "I’d give my life – I’d give my life if only I could know in that moment of time she took Mother’s way."

All of us face that ultimate decision in our lives.  Will it be Christ and His promise of heaven?  Or will it be the world with its empty reward?  O God in heaven, take Mother’s way!  Take the Jesus way, take God’s way: live in the faith, and forgiveness, and love of our Savior.  And I will meet you in heaven some glorious and triumphant day.


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Mark 9:43-48



I.          The harsh facts of life

A.  Born into it, cannot escape it

B.  We do not create darkness

C.  Good, bad heaped together


II.         The knife a necessity

A.  Providences where it is cruel to hide the terrible truth

      1.  Cancer on the body

B.  Even in society


III.        The Christian life

A.  Inclusive, yet a necessity for exclusion (2 Corinthians 6:14-19)

B.  The severity of Jesus (Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20, John 3:2-4, Matthew 19:16-23)

C.  The teaching of the text

      1.  Thomas Cranmer

      2.  Little girl with arm stuck in vase

      3.  Revival in a university city


IV.       The inevitable choice

A.  Heaven or hell before us

B.  Christ spoke more about hell than about heaven

C.  The urgency of the gospel (Matthew 25:41)

      1. "Take mother’s way!"