In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spends time clarifying the true intention behind some of the commandments that God had given to Moses when they met on the mountaintop following the exodus from Egypt. In the intervening centuries, Jewish rabbis had studied those commandments and interpreted them, adding their own clarifications as they taught them to succeeding generations. During that time, the people had gotten further away from what God had intended when He first gave those precious words to Moses for the people. As Jesus teaches, two things become clear: 1) our understanding of sin is different from God’s understanding of sin; and 2) we take sin far less seriously than God does.
The 6th Commandment states that we should not murder, and the 7th Commandment states that we should not commit adultery. The common understanding at the time had therefore been that if one did not kill someone else with malice aforethought, or have sex with someone who wasn’t their spouse, then they were well on the path towards righteousness. Yet Jesus taught that if someone was unwilling to seek reconciliation with another who might have something against them, then their heart suffered from the same condition as one who would commit murder. Jesus also taught that one who would even look upon another lustfully has already exhibited the same condition of the heart as one who actually commits adultery. Man had been satisfied with restraining our actions, while Jesus showed that our hearts were deceitful and wicked. Man wanted sin to be defined solely by the external, while Jesus showed that it was driven by the internal.
Jesus then went on to say that if your right eye causes you to sin, you should gouge it out and throw it away, for it is better to lose one part of your body than to have your entire body thrown into hell. To clarify, this is not a call to self-mutilation. The eye does not cause us to sin. It is our mind and our heart that causes us to convert what the eye sees into lustful intent, but we cannot cut those out of our bodies and continue to live. However, what Jesus is making very clear is that the sin that we have so easily and willingly undertaken in our own lives has significant and eternal consequences. The heart filled with lust for another, or the heart that is unwilling to love the neighbors, is not a heart worthy of inheriting God’s Kingdom.
We need to both know what sin is and how serious it is if we are to truly understand what Jesus did for us on the cross. We will not follow Jesus if we believe that we can get to heaven on our own efforts. We must give up the heart that lusts and hates so that it can be replaced with a heart that loves. The cost of following Jesus is steep, essentially an unconditional surrender of self whereby we give up everything to the Lord, for Him to do with as He sees fit. Following Jesus can cost us relationships with friends and family. Following Jesus can cost us material comforts and worldly prestige. Following Jesus can even cost us our lives. Those are not things that we would willingly give up unless we believed that the reward would be worth it and we knew that there was no other way to obtain it.
The words of Jesus are just as true today as they were when he spoke them 2,000 years ago, and they are even more applicable. We are bombarded with graphic sexual images in the name of advertising and entertainment while messages of division and segregation abound. I’m not sure that many people are still trying to honor God with their lips, but their hearts are clearly far from Him. The world around us may seem to be in a perilous situation, but our souls are in a far more dangerous spot. The only answer is complete and total surrender to Jesus, so that He might create in us a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within us. There is no other way, and there may be no other time.
Peace and blessings – Pastor Aaron