Drowning is better than ruining Jesus’ children. Mark 9:42
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.”
This is a powerful statement, and I’d have loved to see Jesus’ eyes when He made it. Jesus is a big brother of the first order here. Mess with one of His, and you’ll wish you hadn’t. This is a warning shot to false apostles, false teachers, lawmakers, and anyone who would feel so inclined, for whatever reason, to destroy the young faith of a believer.
I take the phrase “little ones who believe” to mean professing believers. The genuineness of faith is not, I think, in view here, only that it is professed. I take the word “stumble” to be used the same way it was used in Matt. 5:28-29, to speak of eyes and hands causing a person to stumble, meaning to cause that person to drown in sin and be lost for eternity.
Perhaps Jesus has in mind phrases like the description of King Nadab in 1 Kings 15:26, “He did evil in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the way of his father and in his sin which he made Israel sin.” That’s an interesting phrase, “made Israel sin.” Don’t we fault Adam for saying “the woman you gave me made me do it!”? How can it be said anyone “made” anyone else sin?
Jesus says something very similar in Luke 17:1-2, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” There’s the phrase again, “cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
Apparently, Jesus understands that some have sufficient position, power, and influence over other people (perhaps why he uses the phrase “little ones”) that they may in a real sense cause another to stumble. It’s tantamount, it seems to one person casting another into hell.
Now this is a warning, and it’s issued to the 12 disciples, of all people. I would have thought Jesus would say something like this to the wretched Pharisees, but to the 12? They had recently been arguing over who would be “the greatest” in the kingdom. Jesus then must see that the thirst for greatness can cause a person to make little ones stumble.
The quest for greatness then is a risky endeavor; cause a little one to stumble in your ambition, and rather than be greatest in the kingdom, you’d be better off to have a millstone tied around your neck and pitched off a bridge, because once Jesus gets his hands on you, you’ll wish you’d been executed before you could have done such an offense. It’s a graphic picture; a person arrives before Jesus certain that greatness is his reward, only to be confronted with judgment so severe he could have wished to have been ignominiously sent to a watery grave, which couldn’t have been in any way desirable or honorable to Jewish (think “not a people known for their love of the sea!”) ears.
It is better to be a nobody in the kingdom, than to incur the wrath of Jesus in the quest for personal greatness. Better to sit furthest from the head of the table, than to be forcefully tossed out the door and into the street. Better to nurture and protect the little ones who believe, than to use and abuse them on a perceived path to “the top.”
Turns out, Jesus cares far more for the state of his “little ones” than He cares about how great a position I’m going to have in the kingdom. Which means, I should probably care more about that too. Better to tie a giant stone wheel around my neck and pitch it in the ocean than cause one of His little ones to stumble in my mission for personal greatness.