Eye, hand, and heart

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body should be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

Jesus tells us to get rid of anything that might tempt us into sin. Anything that keeps us from being pure in heart should be removed from our lives. After all, the sacrifice of something valuable—even part of the body, an eye or a hand—is worth the price of heaven. Does your favorite television program tempt you to sin? Do not watch it anymore. Is there a magazine or book that tempts you to sin? Get rid of it. What about a site on the Internet that tempts you to sin? Stop visiting it. Is a friend tempting you to sin? If you cannot persuade your friend to stop tempting you, then end the friendship. It is better to lose the friendship now and still have eternal life than it is to preserve the friendship and risk eternal punishment.

Elsewhere, Jesus challenges his followers to hate their parents, spouses, children, friends, jobs, and even their own selves. We must love Jesus more than any of these. Anything that comes between us and Jesus is a threat to our salvation. Anything that might make us willing to break the commands of Jesus is a danger that should be avoided.

To place ourselves entirely out of danger, we might have to lock ourselves in a church building and never enter the world. But people have tried that in the past, and it didn’t work. Even in the church building we still sin. Moreover, locked in the church building, we neglect many of the commands of God that tell us to love and to serve our neighbors. We will find it better to stay in the world and to learn self-control. Maybe we can teach our eyes and our hands not to sin. If we were to remove both eyes and cut off both hands, though, our hearts and our minds would still be sinful. Jesus recommends radical surgery, but removal of eyes and hands does not go far enough to meet his standards. We need new minds, new hearts, and new spirits.

Jesus promises to bless us by making us new from the inside out. His life and death and resurrection make us brand new. As King David prayed in Psalm 51, and as the prophet Ezekiel promised in Ezekiel 36:26, Jesus gives us new hearts and new spirits. Jesus makes us pure in heart, and being made pure in heart rescues our eyes and our hands as well.

We still live in a sin-polluted world. From time to time, we will be tempted to sin. Our sins are forgiven through Christ and the cross, and Christ is always blessing us with new lives. Every day we are born again by his power. The mistakes of the past are washed away and already forgotten. The future is guaranteed to us by his promises. J.

Adultery and lustful intent

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

For the second of six times, Jesus quotes from God’s commandments and explains the meaning of that commandment. In this case, the commandment prohibits adultery. Generally, adultery is defined as consenting sexual relations between two adults who are not married to each other. Some people would further add that, if neither of them is married, the sin is called fornication rather than adultery.

Jesus is not interested in quibbling over definitions. He quickly explains that more is involved in adultery than the act. Even the luring look is already a sin. When Jesus speaks of “lustful intent,” he distinguishes the temptation that might occur in one’s mind when one notices an attractive woman and the mind that seeks to be tempted, the mind that decides to look and remember the temptation.

Being tempted is no sin. Even Jesus was tempted. Every time he was tempted, Jesus said, “no.” Saying “yes” to temptation is a sin. Enjoying temptation, searching for temptation, clinging to temptation: these are sins.

To look at a woman—or a man, or a child; or a photograph, a movie, or a web site containing tempting images—for the purpose of lust is sin. Nothing loving exists in lust. Lust is the opposite of love. Love cares about another person and wants what is best for that person. Lust merely wants to be satisfied. Lust changes a person into an object, especially when that person is already captured in a photograph or movie or web site. Sadly, we have become accustomed to viewing people as objects for our entertainment—so much so that people in public places often gaze at strangers as if those strangers were there to provide entertainment.

We should control our minds. When we find ourselves tempted to use the image of a person for our private entertainment, we should say, “no.” Jesus saw every person, even strangers, as people to love, people to serve, people who had needs he was able to meet. When we imitate Jesus, we will also regard people as persons to love, never as objects to use.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we want to succeed, we cannot make ourselves pure. We need Christ’s forgiveness for our inappropriate thoughts and imaginings. We already possess this gift. With forgiveness comes the promise that we will see God. Because we will see God with our own eyes, we want to keep our eyes pure today. Because we will see God, we want to love and serve our neighbors rather than using our neighbors for our own purposes. J.

The pure in heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Being pure in heart is not easy. Every day we are surrounded by temptations to be impure, to think and say and do things which go against God’s plan for our lives. Marriage and family are under attack. Honesty and courtesy are becoming obsolete. Thoughts about God are pushed to the side—they still have their place, people say, but that place is not first on the list, higher than everything else.

When we confess our sins to God, we describe the wrong things we have done. That is a good start, but it is not enough. The wrong things we planned to do and never got around to doing are also sins, even if something prevented us from accomplishing our plans. Being tempted is not sinful—even Jesus was tempted—but enjoying the temptation is a sin. Spending hours considering what it would be like to do those things we know are wrong is a sin. Our thoughts and minds and hearts are not pure when we use them to live in a world of sin, a world which we do not have the courage (or the opportunity) to enter with our bodies.

We are going to see God! That vision is his blessing, his promise to us, in spite of our sins. Even though our thoughts and plans have not been pure, even though those thoughts and plans have resulted in sinful lives, Jesus has lived and died for us to take away our sins and to promise us eternal life in a new creation. We are going to see God! We will spend eternity with him. These same eyes that have seen the tragedy of sin and evil will also see a world without evil of any kind.

Because we will see God, we want to keep our hearts pure today. We want this, not to earn the blessing (because blessings cannot be earned); we want to keep our hearts pure because of the joy of the blessing. Because we will see God, our lives are different today. Jesus in this sermon will suggest that we would willingly cut off a hand or gouge out an eye if that was the price we needed to pay to keep the blessing of one day seeing God.

We do not need to pay that price. The price has already been paid. Jesus gave his life on the cross so we can see God. But we still sin every day. Our hearts are still impure. Our minds still travel paths that are not acceptable to God. Therefore, we pray the prayer of King David, written in Psalm 51: “Create in me a new heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Every day we sin. Every day we need to be purified and remade. By the power of Christ’s blessing, we have new hearts—pure hearts—and right spirits every day we spend in this sin-polluted world. J.