Based on: Matthew 5:21-37
What are you thinking? You know, with all the internet technology we have today, you can share whatever you are thinking with people all over the world. You can create a blog, use Twitter, or share your life on Facebook! It’s all pretty amazing!
If you really want people to know what you are thinking, there are thousands of ways of doing it both on and off the internet. But what if you don’t want people to know what you are thinking? Imagine if modern science developed a device to continually scan your brain and send every thought you had to the internet for everyone to read? What would people find? Would they find a constant stream of good, wholesome thoughts or would they find sinful thoughts of which you would be ashamed? Of course God doesn’t need such a device. He already knows all your thoughts.
Today, in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus uses a few examples to make clear to us that our sinful thoughts deserve the punishment of hell just as much as our sinful actions. Be prepared for this! Jesus describes God’s Law in harsh detail. It is not intended to bring comfort. It is intended to open our eyes to the miserable condition of our human existence in the presence of God’s holy standard. For today we will look at the first two examples.
First is murder. Of course we know murder is wrong, but do you see how Jesus applies the 5th commandment even to our thoughts and attitudes? If you are angry with someone, watch out because the fires of hell are waiting for you. Jesus says, “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”
That is easy enough to understand, but difficult to accept. “Really, Jesus, my thoughts make me a murderer?” Yes, they do. So, you see the referee make a bad call during the game. “Get that ref off the field!” or something similar goes through your mind or comes out of your mouth. You are a murderer. Or you go to the grocery store and someone pulls into the parking spot you were heading for. You feel the blood pressure rise slightly as you think, “What is he doing? That was my spot.” You are a murderer. Perhaps your anger at times is expressed with words, “Oh, that was really dumb!” or something even stronger. You are a murderer.
Now you might say, “But pastor, at least the other person is still alive. My angry thoughts don’t actually kill them.” True, the consequences for that person here on earth are different, but on judgment day God will treat them the same. The consequences for you will be hell whether you are guilty of physical murder or just murder in thought. Then I ask, how have you sinned in thought or action against what Jesus says here?
Next, Jesus talks about adultery. In our world it is difficult enough to convince people that the act is wrong let alone the thought. If you tell people today that sex outside of marriage is wrong or living together before marriage is wrong, most will look at you as if you are crazy, a prude, or way behind the times.
Yet, this is clearly what Jesus teaches. He says to look at someone lustfully is a sin. We could also translate it “to look at someone with desire.” Not only does that include the whole realm of pornography, but couldn’t it also include a desiring look at a person who walks by you or even advertising that is designed to illicit that sinful desire to sell a product?
But it also includes any physical act that is the result of those thoughts. Any sex outside of marriage is going to begin with the sinful desire. Jesus is clearly condemning all of those things. And we know how serious he is about this because right after condemning these things he says that it would be better for you to be blind than for you to go to hell because of what you see.
“But pastor,” you might say, “times have changed.” Yes, times have changed. Before Jesus was crucified, people wanted to stone a woman to death who was caught in adultery. Yet, when Paul was in Corinth, living together and other sexual sins were not a problem. A few hundred years later, sex only within marriage would again be the norm. Yet, later in history times would change and those sins would again become acceptable. Throughout history opinion has changed back and forth. Do you see my point? The current ideas about sex are not new ones. Human beings are fickle. They go back and forth and people just blindly follow because its the thing to do or because they don’t stop to think about the consequences. They are not listening to the God who does not change and whose ways are always best.
To say it another way – do you really believe that human society is so enlightened now that we know better? Just look at the track record. By following the world’s ideas about what is right and wrong are we really better off? Has pain from broken relationships become less? Are children now being raised in safer, more loving, and less stressful homes? Are we really better off because people think it is OK to ignore what God says about sex and marriage? No, it is just the opposite.
Then I ask again, how have you sinned in thought or action against what Jesus says here?
Our natural reaction is to rebel against and to reject words like these, but that will not help us on judgment day. Instead, think about why Jesus says these words. As I said earlier, Jesus speaks this way to cause us pain. He intends to cut away our pride and cut away any false pretense that somehow we are good people. He does it for a good purpose. His words force us to our knees in the presence of God, to humble ourselves so that we rely on his mercy alone for our forgiveness. When we realize there is nothing good in us, then we get the point.
That is when Jesus comes to us in the rest of Scripture and invites us to turn our eyes away from ourselves and to him who is our Savior – Jesus. Jesus came to do what the law demands. He pushed back every evil thought so that even his thoughts were perfect. Can you begin to imagine what that would be like to never have an angry or lustful thought? Yet, because of Christ, that is exactly how God sees you. God has given you all of the perfect thoughts Jesus ever had. He now sees you as perfect. God also took all of your angry thoughts and your lustful thoughts and every other impure thought, word, or deed and he covered them with the blood of Christ. Every one of your sins was placed on Jesus and punished.
Through faith in Jesus, God has now made you his child. Through faith he has created in you the desire to live according to his will, the desire to serve him. Have you ever wondered how God wants you to serve him? Here it is. Take what Jesus has said and put it into practice in your life.
Don’t you know what Jesus was talking about when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”? (Matt. 6:24) This is it. This is the cross. To deny your sinful flesh and the desires of the sinful flesh, to struggle daily with the sin in your life, that is the cross. There will certainly be failures, but it is not success or failure that you should focus on. It is the struggle, because if you are not struggling against sin then you are not a disciple of Jesus.
And so, as we struggle, we try to avoid anger. We try to resolve problems that might exist in our relationships. We try to respect God’s gifts of sex and marriage in our thoughts and actions. We try because Jesus has asked us to carry this cross and with that cross he drives us back into his Word for strength and forgiveness.
Keep in mind that when you feel like you are being pulled in opposite directions between the desires of your sinful flesh and the desires of your savior, then you know that you are still following Christ.
So, what are you thinking? Can your thoughts kill you? Yes, they can destroy you in hell. But Jesus Christ has already won the victory over our thoughts. No matter how many battles you lose, Christ has won the victory for you.