“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:27-30 (NIV)
In the book of First Samuel we read the divinely inspired account of God’s sending Samuel to Bethlehem to make known which of Jesse’s sons He had chosen to serve as Israel’s new king.
The selection process went as follows. When Samuel arrived at Bethlehem, he invited Jesse and his sons to participate in a sacrifice to the Lord. When he saw Jesse’s oldest son—a tall, good-looking young man named Eliab—he thought to himself: “Surely, this one must be the Lord’s choice.” But the Lord, in effect, told Samuel: “Don’t consider the physical attributes of Jesse’s boys. People judge by outward appearance. I look at the heart”
(see 1 Samuel 16:7).
It turned out that neither Eliab nor any of Jesse’s next six sons was the Lord’s selection. The one chosen to be Israel’s new king was Jesse’s eighth and youngest, a shepherd boy named David.
What did the Lord see in David that made him His choice? David had been blessed by God with a heart that looked to Him in humble, childlike trust as his Savior from sin, death, and hell. Later, when David committed the sins of murder and adultery, he was led to sorrowfully confess his sins and repent. Psalm 51, authored by David, helps us see why the Bible describes him
as a man after God’s own heart (See 1 Samuel 13:14).
In the portion of the Sermon on the Mount before us, Jesus teaches the same heavenly truth. He reminds that what He is looking for in His disciples’ daily walk of faith is not mere outward compliance to the precepts of His law but rather inward, spiritual obedience of the heart which flows from faith and love for Him, the Savior. He reveals the broad scope of the sixth commandment and its depth of meaning. In effect, He says, “When I died on the cross to redeem sinners, I atoned for all sins of breaking God’s Law, including outward acts of adultery and all sinful lusting of the heart.”
Crucify the Sinful Nature
Jesus is not advocating the practice of bodily mutilation. Rather, He is impressing upon His disciples that all sins against the majesty of God (whether of thought, word, or deed) are equally harmful to the soul and potentially damning. He is reminding God’s believing children of the great need to crucify the sinful nature through daily contrition (accepting the truth that our sins deserve God’s punishment) and repentance (believing He has forgiven us for Jesus’ sake).
He is counseling us (as St. Paul says) to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Left to ourselves and our own strength, it would be impossible to combat the sins of hand, tongue, and heart. Thankfully, the Savior has placed a powerful means at our disposal: the Holy Spirit that empowers His Word. As we make that Word our daily delight (Psalm 1), taking it as a lamp for our feet along our heavenward way (Psalm 119:105), and wielding it as a weapon against the enemy’s attacks (Ephesians 6:17), He graciously enables us to ward off temptation.
And when in weakness we stumble, He uses the same Word to lead us to repentance, to help us find refuge in His forgiving love, and to preserve us in faith so that (as Luther puts it in the Sixth Petition in the Catechism) “we win in the end and keep the victory.”
As blood-bought children of God who know the love showed us in His giving His Son to die on the cross, we will make the prayer of David, the man after God’s own heart, our own: “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:13-14, NIV).