A License to Lust? (Matthew 5:27-30)
A License to Lust?
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
November 11th, 2018
I. Guilt and Guidance
As we return to the words of Jesus this morning, I think it would be good remember the exclamation of the temple officers after they encountered Jesus in John chapter 7. This what they said about him: “No one ever spoke like this man.” (John 7:46). Do you also recognize this morning that there is no one like Jesus...that no other teacher, no other leader, no other person past or present, that no one has spoken as Jesus spoke? How could they? Only Jesus was God in human flesh.
Thus it's not surprising that in John 6, when asked about following someone else, Peter responded this way to Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). It's those very words we've been studying together in Matthew chapter 5. As we've talked about, Matthew chapters 5-7 contain one long teaching block that we've referred to as Jesus' 'mountain message'.
Now, just last week we began to think about the main section of the message, which began in 5:21. Jesus told his disciples (and the crowds) in 5:20, “...unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” It is precisely this exceeding righteousness that Jesus is unpacking, starting in 5:21.
It's important to see that Jesus is doing two things in chapter 5. First, he is helping his listeners understand that all of them are guilty before God. They may have been patting themselves on the back because they had not done something really bad, like murder someone. But in 5:22, Jesus pointed them (and us) back to the anger-poisoned heart from which murder springs, and told us that such a heart is enough to condemn us. Which of us is not guilty if God looks at the heart as well?
But second, at the same time, Jesus is also helping his listeners by providing them with guidance in terms of true righteousness. Clearly, he is pointing them (and us) to our hearts. He is calling us to pay attention to our hearts; to deal with our hearts; to care about and cultivate what is happening inside.
Guilt and guidance. Keep those in mind as we continue this morning through Matthew chapter 5. Turn there if you haven't already.
II. The Passage: "With Lustful Intent" (5:27-30)
As we talked about, Jesus began his teaching on the exceeding righteousness of 5:20 by focusing in 5:21 on the sixth commandment of the Ten Commandments. In the next section, 5:27-30, Jesus returns to the Ten Commandments, this time to number seven. Verse 27...
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
Stop there for a minute. I want you to see that Jesus begins, just as he did in verse 21, with simply pointing his listeners back to the Ten Commandments. But unlike the sixth commandment, which dealt with murder, this one deals with adultery. But as we'll see, what Jesus really wants us to think about the kind of heart that inspires adultery. That's why we could say the first verse of this section, verse 27, is focused on...
1. Lust and Your External Life (v. 27)
Just as the anger-poisoned heart leads to murder, the lust-corrupted heart stands behind adultery. In almost every case, the husband or wife who breaks their marriage vows, the husband or wife who betrays their spouse, is carried along by their own sexual desires. Yes, other factors are often influential, but misinformed, misdirected, sexual desire is what drives the illicit sexual behavior. The same is true for the single man or woman who gets involved with someone who is married.
Even the Ten Commandments themselves point us back to the heart of adultery. Remember the last commandment, number ten? It starts with this prohibition: you shall not covet (that is, jealously desire) your neighbor's wife. That has to do with the heart, doesn't it?
As with murder, I think our society, in general, still sees adultery as a moral transgression; at least in the sense that it's a painful betrayal. Yes, in some cases, maybe in books or movies, adultery is glamorized as exciting and passionate; as some kind of guilty pleasure. But I don't believe most people, in most cases, think about it in those terms.
Certainly in the time of Jesus, adultery was rightly considered immoral. It was rightly viewed as a violation of God's commands. And for that reason, many of those who had not committed adultery could have been tempted to believe they were, therefore, more righteous than others. But this is precisely why Jesus takes his listeners back to the heart, just as he did in verse 22, when talking about murder. So as we move forward, to verse 28, we see that Jesus is speaking there about...
2. Lust and Your Internal Life (v. 28)
The Law given by God through Moses prohibited adultery...[verse 28]...
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Misdirected sexual desire, illicit sexual desire, unhealthy sexual desire is a problem on the inside as well as on the outside. Will God condemned the unremorseful, unrepentant adulterer? Absolutely. But He will also judge the lust-corrupted heart. Notice how Jesus talks about lust in even more severe terms than anger? He didn't say anger was murder in the heart (at least not explicitly). But here, since most of Jesus' adult listeners were probably married, he does say lust is adultery in the heart.
But to many today, this must sound very bizarre. You see, our society wants you to believe that each person has a license to lust; that, in general, lust is healthy and natural; that each person should feel free to entertain whatever sexual thoughts are stimulating to them... just as long as no one else gets harassed or hurt.
How do I know this about our society? Because we are constantly bombarded by temptations to lust: models saying, “desire me”; outfits saying, “take another look” or “show a little skin”; television shows saying, “be like this”; celebrities saying, “be like us”, peers saying, “everyone's doing it”, pornographic websites saying, “indulge yourself” and “no one will know” and “who's it going to hurt”. And those are just a few of the countless examples we could find in our hyper-sexualized culture.
It's true that God created sexual desire. But he made the physical union and the relational union to go hand in hand. This is why Paul writes what he writes to those in a society just like ours: I Corinthians 7:2...But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The physical connection of sex was created for the relational connection of marriage.
Thus, sexual desire directed anywhere else is misdirected. It's that simple.
Again, this idea is totally alien to our culture. Some might ask, but if it's internal, if it's private, if not hurting anyone else, if it's all in my head, what's the harm? Well, I think there are several ways the lust-corrupted heart harms me and others in my life. First, it trains me to prefer fantasy over reality, lies over the truth. Second, it drives me back to the me-centered prison from which Jesus wants to set me free. C.S. Lewis poignantly and powerfully brings this first and second idea together when he writes...
For me the real evil of [lust] would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use [that is, in marriage], leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself...
A third danger of lust is that it distorts my perception of others. It reduces people to sexual objects; to just bodies and body parts. It ignores the image of God in them. It flattens fully formed people; it misses their inner beauty; it minimizes their hopes and dreams; it robs them of their identity as a daughter or son, as a sister or brother, as a husband or wife; it is indifferent to that person's unique gifts, expreriences, and voice, and instead, demands that person serve it's own agenda. The other is eclipsed by the self.
Now, fourth, in light of that, in light of those first three points, if taken all together, just think about the damage all of it can do to a marriage and/or to people's perception of marriage. If I feed that desire to prefer fantasy over reality, if I turn more and more inward, strengthening that me-centered prison, if more and more I see people as just sexual objects...
...what will that do to my relationships? How that will affect a huband's view of his wife, or a wife's view of her husband? How will that affect a young man or young woman's resolve to wait for marriage, or to select a spouse? Do you see why lust is so dangerous for both you and the people around you? Do you understand why Jesus condemns lust? Why he gives us this difficult, counter-cultural rebuke of the lust-corrupted heart?
The man or woman who wants to please God, who wants to live in the fullness of God's good design, will take lust seriously. He or she will seek to root it out and cast it away; to disavow it; to avoid it; to hate it. Disciples of Jesus cannot minimize or rationalize or coddle lust. They will fight it tooth and nail, becuase their Teacher has revealed its destructive power.
And it's that spirit, that resolve, about which Jesus speaks when he addresses...
3. Lust and Your Eternal Life (vs. 29, 30)
Look at what Christ tells us in verses 29 and 30...
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 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.
If the four dangers of lust I mentioned before were not enough to sober you or persuade you, then consider a fifth danger: your whole body being thrown into hell. Jesus points us to that danger, not once, but twice, at the end of both verse 29 and verse 30. None of us wants our life in eternity to be defined by, to be dominated by God's justice against lust. But God will judge every distortion of his good design. He will judge our me-centeredness. He will judge the way our imaginations turn people into objects.
So what can we do? What does it look like to take Jesus' word about lust seriously? Well, it looks like something drastic, doesn't it? Extremely drastic. Let's be clear, Jesus is not recommending you literally pluck out your eye. We know that because lust is not born in the eye. It flows from a lust-corrupted heart. Blind people still struggle with lust.
Okay. So what is Jesus saying? Jesus, using this kind of exaggerated, get-your-attention kind of language, is asking his listeners, “Are you willing, with ferocity, to take drastic measures to restrain and re-train your lust-corrupted heart? Are you willing to lose, to cut out, to cut off, things that you think you need in order to guard your heart?”
I've known people who've traded their smartphone in for a flip phone, because the web access was just too tempting. I've known people who've quit their job because of temptations from coworkers. I've known people who have driven the long way round, commuting twice the distance, to avoid tempting locations, billboards, etc. If Jesus is calling you to a path of inner purity, then are you willing to go the distance, to do whatever it takes, to guard your heart and allow him to guide your steps?
As with anger, Jesus is calling us to take seriously the distorting and destructive power of lust, to take seriously the ugliness of lust in God's eyes, and to take seriously the battle against it.
III. How We See Others
Guilt and guidance. Remember those words? Has God, through the words of Jesus, helped you this morning in both those ways? Do you understand how your lust (along with other things, of course) condemns you before the High Court of heaven? In the same way, do you understand the path that Jesus has laid out, a path of inward, as well as outward sexual purity? Guilt and guidance.
But if we stopped at this point this morning, I'm afraid we would be left dangerously close to the edge of one of two drop-offs. Either we would be left saying, “I just have to do better”, or “There's no hope for someone like me.” But we need to see this morning, as we need to see every morning, that the teaching of Jesus here should not only bring us to guilt and guidance, but ultimately, through those, to the gospel.
Brothers and sisters, friends, there is good news for those suffering with, struggling with, a lust-corrupted heart. Shockingly, but wonderfully, the Jesus who condemns my lust-corrupted heart is the same Jesus who was condemned for my lust-corrupted heart. On the cross, he took my condemnation; He took upon himself the hell I deserve in order to give me an eternity I don't deserve, an eternity in his presence; in the Father's presence.
And on top of that, His resurrection means new life for me, for you, in this life. It means a new heart; a new spirit. How can we pursue the purity Jesus describes here in Matthew 5:27-30? Not through our own power. We do so through a new power inside us, power that comes from God's Spirit. Jesus has made all this possible. Forgiveness for a life of impurity and power for a new life of purity. Isn't that great news?
And guess what? That new heart, that new power within us, that transformation, it helps us to see others with new eyes... with the eyes of Christ. In Luke 7, Jesus is in the home of Simon, a Pharisee who has invited him for a meal. But in verse 37 of that chapter we read that a
...a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment,  and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
Simon was disgusted by this behavior and shocked that Jesus allowed her to do this, since, if he were a prophet, Simon reasoned, “he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” (v. 39) But after sharing a short parable about forgiveness and the gratefulness it should produce, we read in verse 44... Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?” (2x) I think Jesus, in asking that question, was asking about more than just recognizing her physical presence. I suspect men in that city, when they looked at her, looked at her with either desire or disgust. But Jesus saw her differently, didn't he? And he wanted Simon to see her differently.
The word in Luke 7:44 for “see” is the same word in Matthew 5:28 for “looks at”. So it begs the question: how do you want to look at others? Through the eyes of sin and self, or through the eyes of Christ? Oh, that we would long to see as Jesus sees. And be seen by others with those same eyes. Let's pray together for that very thing this morning.