Summary: In Matthew 5 Jesus gives us some steps we can take to root out sin in our life
Thomas Costain’s history, The Three Edwards, describes the life of Raynald III, a fourteenth-century duke in what is now Belgium. Grossly overweight, Raynald was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means "fat." After a violent quarrel, Raynald’s younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him. Edward captured Raynald but did not kill him. Instead, he built a room around Raynald in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room. This would not have been difficult for most people since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size, and none was locked or barred. The problem was Raynald’s size he couldn’t fit through the door. To regain his freedom, he needed to lose weight. But Edward knew his older brother, and each day he sent a variety of delicious foods. Everyday he wheeled before Raynald on a cart, the tastiest foods. But instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter from the food. When Duke Edward was accused of cruelty, he had a ready answer: "My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills." Raynald stayed in that room for ten years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined he died within a year, a prisoner of his own appetite.
There are many of us who are like Raynald, trapped by our own sinful desires. We wish we didn’t have these desires but often the delicious temptations that are wheeled before us are too hard for our flesh to resist. We each have an appetite for a certain sinful pleasure that whenever we are tempted with it we give in. And it is a cycle of feast and famine. Pleasure than guilt. Perhaps that temptation is gossip, or pornography. Maybe alcohol or drugs. Maybe your irresistible temptation is fatty foods or overspending on your credit card. But whatever it is, you know you lack the willpower to overcome it. The temptation is just too strong.
Well in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus addresses the issue of sin, temptation and how to battle it. It is Jesus’ hope that we learn how to tackle temptation and sin. And so in Matthew 5 Jesus talks about the root causes of sin. In this passage Jesus speaks candidly about the issue of adultery. By studying these four verses we can learn some general lessons about how to battle the sinful desires we all have. If you have your Bibles please open them to Matthew chapter 5 starting with verse 27. Matthew 5:27. And here we will see what Jesus says is the root cause of sin.
Matt. 5:27 “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 in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27). Jesus is referring here to the Old Testament command in Exodus 20:14. One of the ten commandments it forbids the sin of adultery. Adultery is extramarital sex that willfully and maliciously interferes with marriage relations. Adultery is cheating on your spouse. Leviticus 20:10 stated the punishment for committing adultery, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife--with the wife of his neighbor--both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” (Lev. 20:10). God had set a harsh penalty aside for the persons who were engaged in destroying the holy union of marriage. And Jesus brings to mind this OT image of condemnation when he says, “You have heard it said, “Don’t commit adultery.”
Adultery was a huge problem even in Jesus’ day. Roman men were especially notorious for having mistresses. Demosthenes a Roman wrote about the widespread sin of adultery in those times. He wrote, "Men kept prostitutes for pleasure; men kept mistresses for the day to day needs of the body; men kept wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guardianship of their homes. So long as a man supports his wife and family there is no shame whatsoever in extra- marital affairs." That was the prevailing sentiment in those days about cheating on your wife. Adultery was no big deal. And so Jesus mentions that it is still a grave sin in God’s eyes. It doesn’t matter what your culture says about adultery God still hates it, Jesus says.
But in this verse Jesus is dealing with a deeper issue than just the act of adultery. His aim is to get at the root of adultery and frankly the root of all sin, which is the spiritual condition of one’s heart or mind. He says, “if anyone looks at a woman lustfully he has already committed adultery in his heart.” A lustful wicked heart is the real sin, Jesus says, not just the physical act of adultery itself. The word lustful here simply means “deep desire.” And throughout the Bible lust not only refers to sexual desire but to any insatiable hunger for pleasure, profit, power, or prestige. Lust is a desire for anything God forbids.