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The Kingdom of God and Sexual Desire

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Vision Moment

Since the beginning of this year the elders have met (with the exception of a couple of Sundays) to discuss the state of the church. We have learned so much about each other, about the church, and about God’s mission for the church. We have a few more weeks of work to do and then the deacons and elders will meet together to work on some steps that we can take to becoming a church that looks more like what Jesus had in mind.

Sermon Text

Matthew 5:27–30 ESV
“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. 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.


Father, we are here this morning because we believe in You. We have gathered to hear your Scriptures, to sing songs to you and about you, we have gathered to learn what you mean in this passage. So I know that we all need your help. We need your help to stay focused and not let our mind wander. I pray that you would fill me with your Spirit to be faithful to what you are saying and that your people would be filled with your Spirit to understand what you are saying. Please give us soft hearts to receive the Word and to be doers of it. I pray for the unbeliever, the skeptic, and the apathetic to see your love for them this morning. We thank you for Jesus.

To the Listener

This passage was preached to people who were just beginning to follow Jesus. They were the common and in most cases the people who were pushed to the fringes of society. It would be a mistake to assume that everyone in this crowd was “all in.”
There are at least three groups of people (as it pertains to a sermon) in any crowd, including today. There are those who are all in. They have a conversion story that they can point to as a major turning point in their life and they have made a committed to live as a Christian. Then there are those who are on the fence. Maybe they grew up in a home where their parents followed Christ, but they have more or less defaulted and are frankly not sure what they believe and have very little interest in following everything Christ has to say. And finally there are those who are in the crowd because they’ve been dragged in or because they find some benefit from the relationships. Whoever you are, Jesus is speaking .
A passage like the one we’re studying today serves as an invitation to be a part of the Kingdom (rule of Jesus) or as a portrayal of what the norm is to be for the people of the Kingdom.
And a teaching like the one we’re looking at today, there is a temptation to look in the world to judge and accuse. Our job is not to take this message and expect for people who have no desire to follow Jesus to hear and respond to. This is for us. Your job is to listen with a receptive heart and a discerning mind.

The Task of the Preacher

And just for the sake of those who have never heard this before, the job that the preacher has is to understand what Jesus is saying to the people He is saying it to, and then translate that message in a way that we (living in a completely different culture, nation, and era) can understand and then reprove, rebuke, and exhort you to obey Jesus in the power of the Spirit.
Let’s explore what Jesus is saying to the crowds about the Kingdom and Sexual Desire

The Greater Righteousness

Remember that this is the second of six different topics that Jesus talks about to explain what he meant when he said that, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees...”
And just like I said last week, Jesus did not come as some were beginning to think to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. In other words, everything that the law and the prophets said the Messiah would accomplish, he was going to accomplish.
Several of the prophets spoke of a day when God would dwell among the people, that he would be their God and they would be his people. They spoke of a day when God would rip the shepherding responsibilities back from the religious order that although he had established it, they had failed to do what God commanded them to do.
So here Jesus is, calling for people everywhere to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven (God’s rule and reign) was here. Jesus is fulfilling what those prophets had said would happen.
And the way he is ripping the authority away from the religious leaders is by exposing the heart of the religious leaders themselves.
The point and wisdom behind the command is that God created man to live in harmony with each other, therefore
the Kingdom ethic is that the people of God (with the new heart that Jesus brings) are people who care about the sanctity of all human life (no more throwing people away);
the Kingdom people also care about the dignity of human life (not even a degrading word about another human);
and the Kingdom people care about rightness of relationships (so seriously that we realize our worship is effected by them.)
The people of the Kingdom are reconciliation people. They work to make sure their relationships are reconciled and they help others reconcile to God and their fellowman.
In today’s passage Jesus exposes another condition; heart adultery

Adultery in the Heart

And just like the scribes and Pharisees (and all humanity) were guilty of murder in the heart, they were also guilty of adultery in the heart.
Matthew 5:27 ESV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
Jesus begins again by affirming the law, adultery is still sin. Adultery is a very specific sexual sin. Adultery is not just when two people have sex, it’s when at least one of those two people is in a covenant relationship and makes the choice to violate that covenant relationship by having sex with another person.
The word covenant has roots that go all the way back to the beginning. Covenants are greater than contracts. Contracts only have a two way relationship; covenants have a three way relationship. A couple that is covenanting together is also covenanting with God. Meaning they’re welcoming the accountability of God.
Matthew 5:28 ESV
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
The word covenant has roots that go all the way back to the beginning. Covenants are greater than contracts. Contracts only have a two way relationship; covenants have a three way relationship. A couple that is covenanting together is also covenanting with God. Meaning they’re welcoming the accountability of God.
Jesus immediately speaks to anyone who might believe that they’ve attained some sort of righteousness before God simply because they have never physically committed the act of adultery. Jesus is speaking about those who believe they’ve found a loophole in God’s law.
They have believed the lie that just because they were sleeping with a person outside of their covenant partner that they could lust and covet after another man’s wife/woman’s husband.
That word “with lustful intent” is also translated “Desire” in other places of Greek literature. It’s that longing in the eye because you’ve seen something that your brain is saying, “I must have.” This is different than seeing a person from the opposite sex as a beautiful or even attractive person. This goes beyond seeing the beauty of another person and creating a video in your mind of you and this other person being sexually intimate.
The people of Kingdom of God — those who are salt and light in the world — are people who have an inner righteousness or an inner transformation of character where they’re not only NOT sleeping with other people’s covenant partners, but they’re not starring and fantasizing about sleeping with them either.

The Seriousness of Sexual Sin

Now, in the last section Jesus illustrates the seriousness of human sanctity and dignity and right relationships with two parables, but Jesus doesn’t use parables in this section, what does Jesus use as a way of describing the seriousness of the people of the Kingdom of God having purity of heart?
Matthew 5:29–30 ESV
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.
Jesus uses a different literary technique to grab the attention of the people. Remember this is wisdom literature and Jesus is employing hyperbole to send a little jolt...
So, just what is Jesus saying here? That self-mutilation will prevent me from lusting another person? That lust is the unpardonable sin? This is very uncomfortable again.
Jesus uses this method of making a point in another section in Matthew.
The disciples of Jesus ask him who the greatest in the Kingdom is (you know, really critical stuff.) And Jesus, in very typical fashion looks around to teach a point that they would remember and he called a kid over and said, “come here, stand up here with me” and then to the crowd he says, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. So you will need to humble yourself (ding, ding, ding, pride was the stumbling block) this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me. But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me (target on scribes and Pharisees) it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea! So, if your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off and throw it away… and if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and throw it away.”
Jesus used this type of teaching on several occasions in order to bring a sense of shock. And it still works 2,000 years later because everyone who comes across that passage goes, “Wait, did I just read that right? Jesus told people to cut body parts off in order to come under the rule and reign of God?”
If Jesus were here today and we could have a Q and A, I’m almost positive someone would ask him that question and he’d probably ask like four return questions. It would be missing the point to think that Jesus was promoting self-mutilation in order to cure the problem of lust — if he was promoting that, he’s missing other body parts that are involved.
The point is (as it was in ) that sexual sin (as well as pride) is very serious. And if something tangible is causing a continual downfall, (even if it is the dominant or highest priority in life — right eye, hand, or foot) it would be better to take swift and severe action to prevent it and be under the reign of Christ, than to continually be defeated and under the rule and reign of lust.

Behavior Modification can’t Cure a Heart Condition

It’s important to note that Jesus isn’t teaching behavior modification. Just as cutting off limbs or eyeballs isn’t going to transform the heart, SO cutting off the internet, purchasing a dumb phone, or throwing away your TV isn’t going to prevent a person from lusting. But every person should be willing to get rid of all of that stuff if lust is enslaving. And I think we’re at a stage where the “I can manage it” crowd has nestled in to a little comfort zone. It might not be a bad idea to listen to the please of Jesus.
But, the way that some people deal with lust is a lot more like exchanging one sin for other sins:
One group of men pledged to live their life never looking at a woman (even sister or mother). These guys literally walked around town with their heads down and were the clumsiest and least helpful men in the community. Ignoring women is not the answer.
Other men try to deal with their heart condition by supressing women. They’ve convinced themselves that women are actually the problem. So they are incapable of carrying on a conversation with a women at all. One man told me that in the school his daughter attended, during the weekly chapel the pastor would have the boys of the school learn a chant that went like this: “Where do the women belong?” and their response “In the kitchen.”
And others deal with their heart issue by blaming women for the way they dress. If lust was a problem when women primarily wore robes that matched the color of the sheep their family owned, it’s going to be a problem in cultures where it’s becoming more acceptable in society to wear less clothing.
I would like to shepherd the ladies and teenage girls in the room for a moment: God has given each of you a gift, and he’s empowered you by his Spirit. And while it is unjust for a man to blame his lust on the way a women dresses and carries herself, please know that what you put on and how you put it on might be sending a message that you may have absolutely no desire to send out. Make the first rule of your attire not “Is it fashionable or cute” but “Is it loving?”
Jesus didn’t believe in behavior modification nor was he teaching that here. In another story from Matthew’s Gospel Jesus made a statement that offended the scribes and Pharisees as they were harping on the disciples for not washing their hands before eating. And even the disciples didn’t quite get the point Jesus was making, so Jesus explained it to them like this:
Matthew 15:
Matthew 15:18–20 ESV
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
A person is not holy because they follow a list of laws, holiness (wholeness of character) comes from being transformed on the inside.
So, what Jesus is communicating by suggesting going blind and being bloody stumps in the Kingdom is that sexual sin is not a joke, it’s not to be toyed around with and glossed over as “just something we all deal with.” No, you must go to battle to put the flesh to death. Walk in the Spirit, develop habits of grace, do what it takes to gain victory over lust.
This leaves us wondering a very important question and I believe Jesus packs the answer into a very dense sentence:
The question is this:

Why is Sexual Sin in the Kingdom Such a Big Deal?

If sexual sin is a heart issue why is it such a big deal? If I’m not physically hurting anyone, I’m not physically breaking up anyone’s marriage. I’m just tapping on images, I’m just watching other people have sex, I’m just creating a video in my mind that no one will ever see. Why is it such a big deal?
These are the thoughts that go through the minds of countless people who use others in order to fuel sexual desire in the heart.
We have to wonder, how does a person who is madly in love with another person to the point where they pay a large sum of money to have a ceremony where in front of God and all of their friends and family they take a vow to remain in covenant until death—how does that person end up in bed with another person?
It happens the same way you eat an elephant… one nasty little bite at a time.
No one expects that to happen to them. And while not everyone that lusts in their hearts commits adultery, everyone who commits adultery and all sexual sin has already committed it in numerous times in their heart.
Let’s read the verse that fleshes this out and see why a heart consumed with sexual sin is not at home in the Kingdom.
Matthew 5:28 ESV
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Jesus is Committed to the Father’s Vision of Sex and the Body

This is the reason we don’t get to make up whatever we want as it pertains to human sexuality. Because in the beginning, God created Adam for Eve and Eve for Adam to be life long covenant partners, providing mutual companionship and pleasure for each other and preserving procreation of human kind.
God looked at Adam and Eve as creatures who were at home in the Garden. They were naked and unashamed and he said, this is very good.
A lot of times the conversation about lust goes awry because we don’t get back to the moral vision of God, who said sex and the human body are very good. We turn sex into a dirty little action that God simply allows because humans “need it.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
God inspired and preserved an entire book of the Bible and dedicated it to the celebration of passion and desire that a man had for his lady.
Song of Solomon 8:6–7 ESV
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.
Sex is good, just like fire is good. Inside of the right environment fire can create ambiance, it can create warmth, it can be used to cook food, and light the way, but in the wrong environment, it can burn down an entire forest, it can destroy an entire city.
The question is not is sex good or bad. The question is, what is the right environment for sex to be good? That environment is between a husband and a wife who have covenanted together for life.
The second reason is:

Jesus is Committed to the Father’s Vision for Humanity

We have already quoted this verse nearly every week in the series and we will probably quote this verse a lot more, but it’s because it’s such a key passage for understanding what Jesus is getting at in the sermon:
Matthew 22:34–40 ESV
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
God’s vision for humanity and what we went deeper in to last week is that we love our neighbor as ourself. That’s why we ought to be a loud voice for the sanctity and dignity of all human life. That’s why we ought to give of ourselves to make disciples. How else will the world know the love of Jesus if not through the body of Jesus?
We must understand this: Pornography (whether on screen or in the mind) is reductionistic. You reduce human life into an object, a toy, a game. No heart can be at home in a Kingdom where Jesus gave his very life blood for a person that you are sexually fantasizing about. You cannot be at home in that Kingdom if you devalue life.
This is why Paul wrote:
Ephesians 5:1–5 ESV
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
This is God’s vision for humanity. Do you see it? Imitate God or as we said last week, glorify God (reflect His character) what characteristic? Love. Who did it best? Jesus Christ. How? He gave up his own life. So how do we glorify the Father and imitate Christ? By putting to death sexual sins and walking in love.
And lastly, it’s so important to Jesus because:

The Kingdom Should Be the Safest Place for Women to Flourish

Matthew 5:28 ESV
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus isn’t having a men’s meeting. This was not an email or a book, this was an open air preaching with lots of men and women and probably some kids too. He focuses on the men because men are wired in such a way that lust is one of the most common side effects of a depraved heart.
By Jesus teaching in this way he does a couple of things:
First, he breaks the silence for the men. By setting the bar so high, Jesus actually encourages openness and honesty about sexual desire. It’s not that women don’t struggle with lust, but that it’s far more pervasive in men than women.
Men, it’s vitally important that we become a band of brothers who are committed to the vision that Jesus has for the Kingdom, committed to the preservation of our marriages, and our families.
In his book, The Rule of St. Augustine he recommends this:
24. So when you are together in church and anywhere else where persons of the other sex are present, exercise a mutual care over purity of life. Thus, by mutual vigilance over one another will God, who dwells in you, grant you his protection.
25. If you notice in any of your brothers or sisters this wantonness of the eye, of which I am speaking, admonish them at once so that the beginning of evil will not grow more serious, but will be promptly corrected.
Secondly, by teaching this way, Jesus invites women to join a movement where they won’t be objectified, but they will be encouraged and equipped to use their God given talents.
The #metoo movement has created a massive window to have real conversations with people who are sick of being abused and seeing women used and taken advantage of by film producers, politicians, and so-called preachers.
The people of the Kingdom are the salt and light. They stand out because they can function in a setting where women don’t feel like they’re being objectified. Women in the Kingdom are valued for their vital role as members of the body of Christ.

The Gospel

At this point, there are many in this room who are feeling the full weight of their sin. And that is not the worst thing that can happen to us on a Sunday morning. That is as long as we understand what to do next.
The point of a message like this is not “shame on you for being imperfect”, but “let’s not pretend that we’re okay, when we’re not okay. Let’s not assume that the goal in the law was ever merely outward adherence, but it was always that the Father wants us to come to him, broken over our sin and asking him to heal our sexual brokenness and then empower us to be salt and light in the world.
Jesus, he is amazing. Jesus had a prostitute poor out expensive perfume on his feet, use her hair to clean his feet, and kissed his feet… the disciples were uncomfortable. Jesus loved her, she was a prostitute, but Jesus loved her. That saltiness healed her soul and stung the Pharisees.
The goal is not now to focus on not lusting, actually that won’t do any good. But admitting there’s a problem, seeking for help from the Spirit and the community, and then walking in love toward’s one another… that’s the goal.
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