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The Upside-Down Kingdom

Lust In The Eyes

Rev. Philip Miller | February 13, 2022

Selected highlights from this sermon

The more we try to pretend sex is nothing, the more damaged we become; the more we try to make sex out to be everything, the more disillusioned we become. In our cultural moment, sex has become a runaway train of over-amped desires careening off the rails. But what about lust? Jesus has something to say about that.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the topic lust, and it’s not what we think it is. As Pastor Miller explains, Jesus is talking about the predatory objectification and selfish engorgement of the “lustful look.” Lust shows us that we’re looking to human beings to meet the deep soul needs that only God can satisfy.

Our culture can’t make up its mind about sex. Have you noticed? On the one hand we’re told that sex is nothing. It’s just an appetite to be indulged. We’ve got to set it free from all the regressive moral constraints of bygone years, learn to hook up early and often. After all, it’s no big deal. And then on the other hand, sex is everything. It’s your identity. It’s your empowerment. It’s fulfillment. It’s meaning in life. It’s the way you’re going to go find yourself in the universe. It’s the pinnacle of human existence. It is the way to be fully alive. It’s everything! And so either we strip it down until it has no significance, or else we load it up with sky-high expectations. It’s nothing or everything. We can’t decide.

But that doesn’t stop the world from inundating us with sex, does it? We can’t turn on the TV or go to the movies, or read a novel, or get on social media, or even drive down a highway and not see a billboard or something full of alluring, steamy, and seductive advertisements. Try to take a walk down Michigan Avenue and tell me if we are not being bombarded by provocative images designed to anchor products to our aroused desire.

And because we’re saturated as a culture with this kind of eroticism, we walk around in one of two modes. Either we become hypersexualized, constantly overstimulated, wound up with nowhere to go, or we become desensitized—numb, and it takes more and more to move the needle. And we find our kicks in the darkest places.

So in our cultural moment, sex has become in many ways a runaway train of over-amped desires careening off the rails. That’s why we have alarming levels of pornography usage, and dark and twisted best-selling romance novels, devastating body image struggles (especially among our young girls), rampant marital infidelity, casual, meaningless hookup culture, disposable partners, insatiable appetites, tragic instances of sexual abuse, and widespread sexual addictions. See, the more we pretend sex is nothing, the more damaged we become, and the more we pretend sex is everything, the more disillusioned we become. This is how it is in the kingdom of Earth. But what if there is a better way, friends?

What if our disordered hearts could be set right? What if sex could be beautiful again? What if our hearts, so dominated by lust could become hearts that are dominated by love? What if Jesus can make us clean and set us free on the inside?

Grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in Matthew 5:21–27 this morning. Actually that’s not right—27 to 30. Matthew 5:27–30. This is on page 810 in the pew Bible there.

We’re going to see three things this morning:

  • The Monstrosity of Lust
  • The Severity of the Situation
  • The Heart of New Affections

Let’s read our text. We’ll pray and then dive in. Okay?

Matthew 5:27: (These are the words of Jesus.)

“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.”

Let’s bow our heads and pray together.

Father, we ask today that you would do heart surgery. We invite you in. We hold nothing back. Come change us and make us new. Give us a new heart we pray for Jesus’ sake, Amen. Amen.

First of all, The Monstrosity of Lust, the Monstrosity of Lust. Jesus is describing for us the kind of righteousness that God desires. That’s what He’s doing here in the Sermon on the Mount. The righteousness that, as Jesus says, must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if we are ever to enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s back in 5:20, Matthew 5:20. This righteousness is one that must be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. That’s Matthew 5:48. Those are the bookends of these passages we’re looking at, a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, which is perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. And in the middle we get illustrations of what this looks like.

Jesus is contrasting His own teaching with that of the Pharisees. The Pharisees taught that righteousness was all about what you do. Jesus is telling us that righteousness is about who we are. The Pharisees taught behavior modification, just kind of clean up the outside of your life, be moral and good. That’s what God really wants. And Jesus says it’s all about heart transformation, that God actually wants clean and new hearts on the inside. The Pharisees were all about changing from the outside in, and Jesus says, “You can’t change that way. You have to change on the inside out. That’s the kind of righteousness you need.”

So Jesus comes, not to make us nicer, but to make us new. Jesus comes, not to give us a whole new law to obey. He comes to give us a whole new heart that will obey, a heart that is full of the goodness of God Himself.

Last week we saw His first illustration of what that kind of heart looks like, a heart that is at home in the kingdom of heaven, is one that is not infected with anger—cultivated anger in the heart that desecrates the image of God in ourselves and others, but instead is overflowing with reconciling peace and love, just like our Father who is in heaven. This is the kind of heart that God intends to give us. It’s the kind of heart that is at home in the kingdom of heaven. It is the kind of heart that Jesus is offering to us if we will come and follow Him.

The second illustration of what this kind of righteous heart looks like is the one we come to today. This is a heart alive in the kingdom of heaven, a righteous heart like God Himself. Here’s the illustration.

Chapter 5, verse 27: “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.”

Jesus is referencing the seventh commandment here, riffing off of it, “You shall not commit adultery.” Now you’ll notice, just here as He did before in the previous passage on anger, He says not “You have heard that it was written,” but He says, “You have heard that it was said.” In other words, He’s engaging in the Pharisees’ teaching around the Law rather than the Law itself. Jesus is pitting Himself not against the Old Testament Law. He’s pitting Himself against the Pharisees’ teaching about that Law.

The Pharisees have said (you’ve heard them) that this commandment simply means, “Do not commit adultery,” period, end of story. So according to the Pharisees, what is the righteousness that God requires? Don’t commit adultery. So have you broken your marriage covenant by having an affair? No? Okay, good! Check! Move on! That’s all God means by this.

And Jesus says, “Wait a minute! Hold on! You’re missing the very point and substance of what God is after.” Of course you shouldn’t commit adultery. But that’s just surface level righteousness. You need a righteousness that goes deeper than that. You need a righteousness in your heart, a goodness like God Himself. You need a heart that won’t even let lust gain traction inside. “I tell you, if you even look with lustful intent you’ve already become unrighteous on the inside.”

Now, it’s not hard for us to see the harm of adultery, the sin of adultery, right?  The externals. If a person has stood up before God and man and has made vows to love and to cherish, to have and to hold, from this day on, and forsaking all others, to be faithful until death do they part, and then they go and they betray those vows, and those bows are broken, that trust is betrayed, that covenant is defiled, well, that’s obvious. Right? That’s obvious.

But just looking? Jesus, Really? Is that all that bad? I mean, just because I’m on a diet doesn’t mean I can’t look at the menu, right? What’s wrong with just letting my eyes linger a little bit? I’m not hurting anyone. It’s online. It’s harmless. Everybody’s doing it.

Now before we dismiss Jesus, let’s hear Him out. Notice what Jesus is not saying. He is not saying that sexual attraction is the problem. The problem isn’t noticing that someone is sexy. You’re biologically wired to notice certain anatomy.

It’s not the first look that Jesus is concerned with here. No, it’s the second look. It’s the deliberate look. It’s the look with the intention of lusting. It is the gawking, fantasizing, ravishing, feasting look. He’s talking about “the look.” You know the look! Right? You know the look. Some of you have received the look, and you know what it feels like. Jesus is saying that the look, even if we never act it out, is inherently monstrous. That’s what He’s saying, that it’s full of predatory objectification and selfish engorgement.

Now I chose disgusting words on purpose. We need to feel the putrescence of lust, predatory objectification. To be lusting, gawking, ravishing, fantasizing is inherently predatory. It is to see other people as the objects of our own gratification. We must reduce them to their bodies. Everyone who receives the look knows how degrading, defiling, and demeaning it is. The look values a person only for the sum total of their body parts. It reduces them to the utility of their function. It devalues and desecrates the image of God. No longer do we we see the other person as someone made in the image of God, bearing His likeness, as a precious son or daughter of heaven, a person with a family and friends, and hopes and dreams and heartaches, and a real soul. No! In order to lust, we must strip them down of all intrinsic value so that we might use them for ourselves. To lust is to exploit and defile one another. And it leads to a selfish engorgement. Our lust is inflamed with self-centeredness and engorges our desires beyond their proper size. Our appetites become swollen out of proportion and out of control and come to dominate our hearts, and we become slaves to our own appetites, ever devouring, never satisfied, constantly needing more and deeper and darker, and more twisted things. And like Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings,” we love and hate our lust as we love and hate ourselves.

When we look with lustful intent, friends, it’s just the opposite of how God designed our sexuality to work. God gave us this beautiful gift of sex as an act of radical self-donation and self-giving. It is the giving of oneself for the enjoyment of another within the security of covenantal love and faithfulness. Sex is designed to forge deep covenant bonds in self-giving love for life. But in lust, we twist it, distort it, and it turns inward upon ourselves so that it becomes all about us.

Friends, our sexuality and lust is caving in upon us. Whether it’s at the beach, or reading a romance novel, or in private mode on your cellphone, cultivating lust in our hearts caves our souls in upon themselves. And Jesus says, “To cultivate lust in the heart like this is monstrous to you, to them, to everyone.”

Back in November, the Sunday Times ran an interview with the supermodel and social media influencer, Emily Ratajkowski. The headline caught my attention. She said, “I had succeeded by commodifying my body. So why was I so unhappy?” It’s a great question. She has it all. Everyone, everywhere admires her, Googles her. “Why am I so unhappy?”

She writes, “Being a sex symbol at first felt empowering, but then I realized I didn’t have as much say over my body, whom it belongs to, and how it can be used as I thought. It had never occurred to me that the women who gained their power from beauty were indebted to the men whose desire granted them that power in the first place. Those men were the ones in control, not the women the world fawned over. I’ve had to face the reality of the dynamics at play, admitting how limited my power really is, how limited any woman’s power is when she survives and even succeeds in the world as a thing to be looked at.”

Friends, even on the other side of the camera lens, she can feel the ravaging dehumanizing desecration of looks that she can’t even see. The sultry smiles she paints on her face are all façades. Underneath she’s crying for help.

Jesus wants us to see the severity of the situation.

Verse 29: “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 in 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.”

What is He saying here? He’s saying, “If your eye causes you to sin, if you are fantasizing with your eye, why don’t you just tear it out and throw it away? You’re better off blind than in hell.” That makes some degree of sense.

And then He gets even more graphic. “Is your hand the problem? Are you using your hand to gratify yourself in lust?” Jesus is getting real here, guys. “Cut it off, throw it away. You are better off maimed than in hell.”

What is Jesus doing? He’s using the most drastic, graphic, horrifying language to help us see that lust in our hearts is a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of life and death. He’s not really telling us actually to hack off body parts. He’s trying to shock us. He wants to get our attention. He wants us to see the severity of the situation in our hearts. You only amputate if it’s a life and death matter, right? You only amputate if survival is at stake. Jesus is saying that our eternal survival is at stake. It’s on the line depending on what we do with lust in our hearts. We cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. We need to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. And even if you never go out and sleep around, if our hearts are full of cultivated lust, Jesus is saying we’ll never enter into the kingdom of heaven. There will be hell to pay unless Jesus can rescue us, unless Jesus can cleanse us on the inside, unless Jesus can give us a new heart.

See, our problem is not in our eyes, is it? Our problem is not in our hands. Jesus is counting on us realizing that it doesn’t matter how many body parts we hack off, we will never get to the heart of the matter. He’s pressing the outside-in of a strategy of the Pharisees to its extreme. He says, “Look, if you try to change from the outside in, you’ll never get to the heart of the matter. If you keep hacking parts of your body off until you’re a mutilated stump of a human being, you will still have a monstrous heart if I don’t so something for you.” The spiritual rot goes all the way to the core. You need a different heart to survive in the kingdom of heaven.

What’s the implication if amputation is the solution? (It’s not really.) The only way you could deal with it is to amputate your own heart, and then you die. But what if Jesus can give you a heart transplant? What if Jesus can change you from the inside out? Jesus is saying, “Come at your sin drastically. Recognize the disease, the amputation that is necessary in the very core of your being. You’re going to have to crucify your flesh. You’re going to have to die to your sin. You’ve got to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Come, follow Me. Turn away from all the way you are living, related to this whole issue of sexuality. You need a whole new way, a whole new life. Come to Me by grace through faith in Me. I can give you a heart of new affections, a heart of new affections.”

Remember Jesus said, “For unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He said, “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The righteousness that you and I need is a goodness of heart like God Himself, full of loving, self-giving and covenant faithfulness that honors our brothers and sisters as those who bear the image of God. But our hearts are not like that. Our hearts are a mess. Our hearts are chock full of sin, drowning in lust. They’re filled with predatory impulses and insatiable desire, which is why, friends, Jesus is our only hope. (applause)

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” “It is on offer in Myself,” Jesus said. “Come to Me, believe in Me, follow Me, and I will lead you into the abundant life of the kingdom of heaven because I’m here to establish the new covenant of the Spirit.” I’m here to establish the new covenant of the Spirit.

Remember when King David, in the Old Testament, was found out for all of his sexual sin and abuse? Remember that? He confessed his sin in a document we now have. It’s Psalm 51, and he cried out to God. He said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” He realized that his physical sins were just the tip of the iceberg. Lust, murderous lust, had contaminated the depths of his heart. He was selfish to the core, and he needed cleansing, not just on the outside but on the inside. He needed more than just clean behavior and right actions. He needed a clean heart and a right spirit, the very same thing that the people of Israel needed.

In the history of the Bible, time and time again, the Israelite people’s hearts continued to wander away from God, and they cheated on Him with foreign idols. They were unfaithful to Him time and time again, and the problem lay deeper in their hearts than just in their behavior.

Adding more laws will never help us deal with the deepest flaw that we have in our hearts, and that is that we are wicked on the inside. Our hearts are monstrous, full of unfaithful love. That is our problem. Which is why God in Ezekiel 36:25–27, makes this promise to the people of Israel: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

Friends, don’t you see? When Jesus comes and offers us the abundant life of the kingdom of heaven, He is inviting us, by grace through faith, into the New Covenant of the Spirit, which He will establish through His substitutionary and atoning death on the cross; that when we come to Jesus and admit that we are sinners far from God, yet when we believe that Jesus has done everything to make us right with Him, and commit our lives to Him, and say, “Be my Savior, be my Lord, be my everything,” He comes and cleanses our hearts from all unrighteousness. He forgives us of all of our iniquities. He gives us a new heart and a new spirit. He makes us tender and willing to obey Him. He fills us with His Holy Spirit, who now leads and guides us in the paths of righteousness, so that we bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives from the inside out. He is teaching us to live not as orphans, but as children of God.

Friends, we are not orphans. We are children of God. Orphans go through life fending for themselves, making sure all their needs are met because they don’t have anyone looking out for them. And in the heart of an orphan, cultivated lust is natural because “no one’s looking out for me and so I have to make sure my deep needs are met. I need to feel secure in the universe, I want to feel significant and valued, I want to feel satisfied and happy, and if I have to use other people to get what I need I’ll do it. I’ll cultivate lust. I’m on my own after all.” The heart of an orphan, you see.

But the Spirit teaches us to cry out “Abba, Father.” He reminds us that we are sons and daughters of the Most High God. We are children of God. We’re not on our own. We don’t have to fend for ourselves. We have a good Father who delights in us and loves us, and loves to give good gifts to His children. And He knows everything we need even before we ask Him. And the Spirit is teaching us to look to our Father for the security we deeply long for, that He will never leave us or forsake us. For the significance we need, He has crowned us with glory and honor in Jesus Christ. We are sons and daughters forever, for the satisfaction we most desperately ache for because in His presence there is fullness of joy and, at His right hand, are pleasures forevermore.

Friends, don’t you see, as a child of God, I can drink deeply of the spiritual resources that are available in relationship with my Father, so that I now am full of the love that God has for me, and so I go into the world to pour myself out in love and selfless self-giving and faithfulness for others. It’s just the opposite of an orphan heart. An orphan heart goes into the world empty, starving for its deep spiritual needs to be met. And lust is one of the ways we try to meet those needs, to quench that thirst. That’s why the character Father Smith in Bruce Marshall’s 1945 novel, “The World, the Flesh and Father Smith,” says this: “The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”

I’ve heard this attributed to G. K. Chesterton. He never said this. It’s from here. Listen to this again. “The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” A deep need under the need is spiritual. That’s what Blaise Pascal meant when he wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum at the heart of every person.” It’s what St. Augustine was referring to in his Confessions when he wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Friends, do you realize what this means? It means that lust shows me my heart. Lust shows me my heart. When I live in lust, I’m living as an orphan, looking to other human beings to meet the deep soul needs that only God can satisfy. But in the same way, love shows me my heart too, that when I live as a child of God, I look to Him to fulfill my deep soul needs so that I can then give myself away in love and faithfulness as well, and live a life of purity. See, my heart shows me what’s real. I can have all the right theology in the world, this is what matters, you see?

And so we pray like David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Friends, maybe this morning you realize you need a clean heart. All your religious efforts have fallen short. All of your outside-in strategies have never changed your heart. And you’re ready in this moment to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Jesus is enough, friends. If you will admit you’re a sinner, believe that Jesus has done everything to make you right with God, and commit your life to Him, to be my Savior, be my Lord, be my everything. Come give me a new heart. He can change you. This can be your moment of freedom.

Or maybe this morning you are a follower of Jesus Christ, but you realize you’ve been living as an orphan. For far too long you’ve been quenching the Spirit, allowing lust to hold you captive, looking for security, significance, and satisfaction in all the wrong places. Won’t you come home? Won’t you run to the Father?

A few years ago, I read a story of a family from the Midwest. I think it was like Nebraska. And a daughter and the parents had a falling out, and she ran away from home, and to survive she had to sell her body to pay the bills. And one day, she was in a bar and she looked know how they have pictures sometimes of different celebrities on the walls?...She looked up and saw her own picture. It barely looked like her. It was from years ago. She was younger then, but her picture was on the wall, and there was a note written. Her father had gone all over town and hung up these pictures. She went and she took down the picture and she read, “Whatever you’ve done, whoever you’ve become, all is forgiven. Please come home.”

Friends, that’s your Father. He loves you and if you realize you are in the pigpen of your life, full of misery, if you come to yourself, just get up and go home. He’ll meet you before you even get there. He won’t even let you finish apologizing, but wrap His arms around you. He’ll give you a ring and a robe and filet mignon. Friends, blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

Let’s pray.

Father, our sin runs so deep into our hearts. This isn’t theoretical stuff. Forgive us for our deep brokenness, for our selfishness, for using people, for destroying ourselves. Forgive us for neglecting you, running after cheap idols that can never satisfy; broken cisterns, when you are the living water our souls desperately need. We want to come home. We want to come to you. Create in us a new heart, oh God. Renew a right spirit within us.

Remove this heart of stone, and give me a heart of tenderness, ready to obey. Work your righteousness by your spirit through your grace deep in my soul, in our souls. Change us even today. Make us new. We run to You in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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