Well, it was more of a meat cleaver than a knife:
“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 (Matthew 5:29-30)
I don’t understand why there are so many Christians walking around with both eyes and both hands. Maybe I’m the only one who has struggled with sin. And I feel like Jesus makes himself pretty clear. So, this morning I brought an actual meat cleaver to the pulpit and offered to help us all grow in obedience to Jesus. Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? (name that show).
I preached this passage in the context of a sermon on Anger, Lust, and Divorce, and I know, you are wondering how I squeezed so much guilt into one sermon, but after a couple of hours of preaching I felt like I’d done a pretty good job. So often this section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-ff) is taught as though Jesus intends to make us as Christians feel guilty. You don’t murder? Well, are you angry, cuz that’s just as bad. You don’t commit adultery? Well, if you’ve lusted you deserve hell. You divorced your wife? Game over.
Is Jesus taking the position of King Rehoboam? Is he really saying, “And now, whereas [Moses] laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. [Moses] disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions!” (1 Kings 12:11)? But what about Matthew 11:28-30?
No. Jesus is contradicting the commonly held belief of his day that God desired heartless obedience. “If I can just obey God’s law perfectly, I will please him.” We wish that Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount was a “New Law”. Unfortunately, the message of this Sermon is not “Do this, don’t do that.” The message is: “You need Me.”
We all have a little Pharisee in us. We think it is easier to be God’s robots. If only Jesus’ sermon was the LAW 2.0 upgrade, then our lives would be complete. If only Jesus got up on the mountain and said, “Struggle with anger? There’s an app for that. Struggle with lust? There’s an app for that.” If only Jesus would just input the right command so that I will not sin, then I could be his robot. Unfortunately, Jesus is pointing out how foolish it is to try to come up with a law for every sin. Even if we could (which we can’t), and even if we could keep them all (which we can’t), the law would never generate anything in us other than cold obedience on its own. Is that what God wants?
We don’t cut out our eyes or lop off our hands because our eyes and hands don’t cause us to sin. Our wicked heart does. That’s the point. What we as Christians need to be doing, rather than feeling guilty all the time about getting angry, or trying to make up laws for our life that will please God, is to look at our struggle with sin and allow it to point us to Christ–“let us draw out greater love to Thee” (Arthur Bennett).
We need a meat cleaver, but not for cutting off hands. We all need the Holy Spirit to take a meat cleaver to our dark black, dead heart, and to replace it with a heart of flesh. God’s desire is not that we mindlessly obey his law (as if we ever could). His desire is to make us children with hearts that love him and love others. We don’t need a New Law. We need Jesus.