What kind of personality do you think Jesus had while He was on Earth? It is interesting to see the way that people portray Him in movies and such. Sometimes I think they make Him out to be more one-dimensional than He really was. Yes, He was peaceful and loving. He protected the woman caught in adultery from being stoned. (John 8:3-7) He healed many. He spent time with people that others would have ignored or judged unfairly. But Jesus wasn’t wishy-washy. He overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. (Matthew 21:12) He called the Pharisees hypocrites. (Matthew 23:13-29) He didn’t back down from a debate. He must have been an excellent public speaker because crowds would follow Him and go without food just to listen to His words. (Matthew 14:13-21) He didn’t always speak in simple declarative sentences either. He spoke in parables and used other literary devices such as hyperbole.
One example of Jesus’ use of hyperbole is found in Mark 9:43-48. He is speaking to the twelve disciples, those who would be charged with the task of spreading the gospel to the rest of the world. Just before this passage, Jesus had rebuked them for arguing about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:33-35) He then went on to explain what was really important. In these verses He tells them that it would be better for them to cut off an arm or a leg, or pluck out an eye, if it caused them to sin. I assure you He didn’t mean that literally. If He had, we would all be hopping around on one foot, balancing with one arm and going in circles because we could only see out of one side of our head. For we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) No, Jesus most certainly believed in the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14, Luke 1:76-77, Matthew 6:14-15) Not long before this, He had also explained that sin comes not from outside a person, (Mark 7:15) but from the heart. (Mark 7:21-23) The answer to changing your heart is to allow Jesus to transform you.
So, why did Jesus suggest cutting off limbs? By this time Jesus was used to boiling things down to the basics for His disciples, but He still wanted to emphasize the seriousness of His point. And His point was that eternal life with Christ was so much more valuable than any temporal pleasure we could be lured into. We have a choice to make between what we see as valuable or enjoyable on this Earth and following Jesus. He wanted His disciples, and us, to know, that whatever suffering we have to endure for His sake now is temporary, and it will be worth it. In Mark 8:35, Jesus told the disciples, along with the crowd, that they must deny themselves in order to follow Him—that if they are willing to forfeit their life for His sake, they would save it. If we are not willing to deny ourselves and our earthly desires for His sake, if we choose the world instead of Him, we will be exchanging those small pleasures for eternal suffering. That’s important news, and it is worth a little hyperbole.