Now we're turning again in our New Testaments, to Matthew's gospel and chapter 5, to the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew chapter 5, and we're looking this morning specifically at verses 29 and 30. Matthew 5 verses 29 and 30, and we'll read from verse 27 to get the train of thought. The message this morning is entitled: 'Cut It Out'.
"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell".
Last week we saw, and the week before, how the Lord defines sin for us in a new way that the law, the ten commandments, did not do. How He goes behind the letter of the law to the spirit, how He delves with His x-ray eyes right into the very depths of where sin originates in the heart. He doesn't just look at the deeds, if you like, the execution of our sin, but the Lord Jesus in this great sermon goes to the very root of our sin and beyond it to the very seed, the beginnings of sin. So, the Lord has been defining for us the sin of murder. He tells us it is not simply the act of bloodshed, but it is the very thought, the very word of hate. We looked last week at the sin of adultery, and the Lord Jesus says it is not simply that physical act outside of marriage, but it is more than that: it is the very thought, it is the second look at a woman to lust after her, and indeed a man.
But the Lord in this sermon does not just define sin for us. It would be an awful thing if He defined our sin, and He left us in our sin. But we see in these verses, specifically verses 29 and 30, that the Lord tells us how to deal with our sin. As you read these verses you can't help but see that the Lord wants us to absolutely abhor our sin, He wants us to forsake it to such an extent that it causes us to leave it. Now the question that comes to me, and is obvious from all of these verses within the sermon is: 'How can I get victory?'. It seems to be asking so much of us, not to even think a bad thought about another person; not to utter, even in private, a word that they cannot hear, but a word of hate or a word of rebuke. It seems impossible for young men and young women to not have in their minds lustful thoughts in a world that is filled, and is absolutely bombarded with lust on every hand. The cry goes out from my heart, and I'm sure from yours: how can I get victory? How can I conquer sin?
Perhaps you have said, as I have said many times: 'I cannot conquer it! It conquers me! I have prayed, I have covenanted, I have sought help, I have fasted, I have sought this blessing, that blessing, the other blessing. I have re-dedicated my life through crises experiences. I have read this book, the other book. I have tried this secret to the Christian life, this formula of biblical success - but perhaps at this very moment I am still in the snare of my sin'. Perhaps even this very week, or in the last 24 hours, we have lain in the mire of habitual iniquity and we just feel like a dog going back to its vomit, like a pig rolling in the mire, that we cannot escape it, that we cannot conquer it. I know from talking to enough people that many Christians live in that limbo of despair and spiritual frustration, and their hearts cry is: 'I want freedom from my sin!'. Well, the good news of the Gospel is this: that Christ is the Saviour from sin! Hallelujah! He is not simply the Saviour from the penalty of sin, but He is the Saviour from the practice of sin. In other words, God can say to us today: 'Sin shall no longer have dominion over you'.
That is the good news, but the bad news is that if you're looking for a quick fix, or pain-free easy cure or exorcism of your sin, you need not come to the Lord Jesus Christ. You can see that in the strong language He uses in verses 29 and 30. It's strong, symbolic, indeed oriental language - and we'll see that in a moment - but as we read it it seems that He is being very strong, perhaps a bit too strong, but as you analyse and weigh up the statements of the Lord, you will find that He is not being too strong at all. If I asked you if it came to a choice for you between plucking out your eye and death, I'm sure that you would pluck up the courage to pluck out your eye in order to escape death. Is that not the case? It's not a nice thing to have to do, but if it meant the difference between life and death I'm sure that you would find the courage to do it. Everyday hospital patients across our land submit themselves to gruesome operations in order to save their lives, to relieve intolerable sufferings for them. I heard a man recently say, concerning one such operation: 'There's no choice when it comes to such a decision - you've no choice'.
Now if you were to do what the Lord does, and substitute death for the word 'hell' in this passage, you would see that the choice is not a choice at all. Isn't that right? You would very swiftly and definitely choose the lesser evil rather than the greater. You would choose the plucking out of your eye or the cutting off of your hand in order to escape death, but how much more would you do it in order to escape hell? I wonder is the reason why we are appalled and even shocked at these words of the Lord Jesus - it seems so violent, so extreme - perhaps the reason why we are shocked is that today too often sin is thought of as something that we cannot avoid. Isn't that right? We think of it as a disease that must be pitied, or an illness or a condition that must be treated, but whenever we see it condemned, whenever we see the command that it be repented of, it seems too strong! I remember reading Charles Grandison Finney, the revivalist in North America, who said - instructing men to preach the Gospel: 'Never ever call a sinner a poor sinner'. He said: 'A sinner is not to be pitied for sinning'. But today, perhaps, we have imbibed this idea in psychological circles that we are not to repress sin in the young people, we're not to repress it in our own lives. You can see this going right down into primary school education - you've got to let the children express themselves, and it doesn't matter what they're expressing, you've got to let them do it.
I don't agree with repression either, and indeed the Lord Jesus didn't agree with it at all - He purported amputation. Now let's look at these words about cutting it out. The first point I want to leave with you is: cutting it out. That's what the Lord says: cutting it out - cut out your sin! Verse 29: 'If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out', verse 30, 'If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off'. If you think of it in the context of verses 27 and 28, concerning lusting after a woman, the act of adultery in the mind and in the heart, the eye is the one that has looked and the thing that has lusted. Indeed, the reason why He says chop off your hand is because the hand is often the sign of theft - we steal with our hands. When we lust after a woman in our heart with our eyes, we steal another man's wife - and that's why we don't just commit the commandment against adultery, but we commit the commandment of coveting: 'Covet not thy neighbours husband or wife'.
So that is the reason why the Lord speaks of the eye and the hand. Now here's the big question as we look at these verses: is the Lord meaning us to literally pluck out our eye, and cut off our hand? This is important, because we're the people that keep shouting about how we have to interpret the word of God literally. Can I say it is not always correct to interpret the word of God literally. A few misguided Christians in church history whose zeal greatly exceeded their wisdom have taken the Lord Jesus in these verses literally, and mutilated themselves. Perhaps the best-known example is the third century scholar, Origen of Alexandria, and he went to the extremes of asceticism - in other words, renouncing all his possessions, renouncing food and even sleep. He took an over literal interpretation of this passage and of Matthew 19:12. Matthew 19:12 reads this: 'For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it'. So he made himself a eunuch, literally he made himself a eunuch! The church had to step in in AD 325 at the Council of Nicea to stop such barbaric practices as this, because it was clearly not in keeping with the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching of the rest of the apostles in the epistles, where we're told that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit! We're not to mutilate it!
Now if that is the case, what does the Lord mean? Surely He means what He said? He means pluck your eye out, He means cut your hand off - but if you take that literally, I would say to you that you miss the entire point! Because if you gouge out your right eye and throw it away, what are you left with? You're left with the left eye. It's no good just plucking out your right eye! Or if you cut off your right hand, you're left with the left hand. In other words, you can blind yourself in some way, you can even take both eyes out, but you can still in your own mind lust after a woman if you're blind!
This is not what the Lord is saying. What does He mean? I'll tell you what He means - this is the primary teaching of these two verses: that we are to deal drastically with our sin. Deal drastically with it! Don't pamper it, don't flirt with it, don't enjoying nibbling a little of it around the edges, but we are to hate it, we are to crush it, we are to search it out, dig it out and get rid of it! That's what Paul said in Colossians chapter 3 verse 5, listen to what he says: 'Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature; sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry', and Paul adds in verse 6, 'Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon men'. This is the reason why God is going to judge the world, and if that is the case - because the Sermon on the Mount is to believers - the Lord Jesus is saying: 'If this is the reason God is going to judge the world you should have nothing to do with these sins'. Deal with them drastically. You've no business harbouring these things, but you're to grip it on the threshold of your mind in a vice of blood and allow it no more sway with you.
What the Lord is advocating is not literal, physical self-mutilation and maiming, but what He is advocating is a ruthless, moral self-denial. Not mutilation, but mortification! This is what the Lord is teaching, this is what the apostle Paul, and Peter, and all God's men in history taught. It's this: that the path to holiness is mortification. In the great statement of the Lord Jesus Christ: 'Take up your cross and follow me'. A cross is an instrument and element of mutilation and mortification. The Lord says you're to die to your sin, you're to put your sins to death. Now what does that involve in practical terms? How do we practice this? This is what the Lord is meaning, look at the verse: if your eye causes you to sin, because temptation comes to you through your eye - in other words through the objects that you see - then pluck out your eyes. In other words, don't look at it! Don't look at the things that cause you to sin, don't use your eyes as organs of iniquity - behave as if you had your eyes plucked out and had flung them away, and you're now blind and so could not see the objects which previously caused you to sin. Again, verse 30, if your hand or your foot causes you to sin because temptation comes to you through your hands - things you do, things you touch - or through your feet, places you visit and go, then cut them off! In other words, don't do the thing, don't go to that place - behave as if you were crippled, as if you couldn't do it!
That's mortification of sin. These are the surgical demands of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words He is saying, not literally do these things, but whatever causes you to sin, whatever seduces you into iniquity, you've got to completely and utterly cut it out of your life! He says: 'If thy right eye offend thee...if thy right hand offend thee' - that Greek word 'offend' is the word for 'stumbling block'. In Greek it is 'scandalon' (sp?), it's the word that we get our English word 'scandal' from. If your right eye causes you a scandal as a Christian, if your right hand causes you a scandal - in other words, it's speaking of a trap. Literally it comes from the word 'a bait stick', as you hold a carrot out to a donkey by the stick - well, the 'scandalon' is the stick that tempts the donkey. The Lord is talking here about anything that causes you to fall, anything that is a trap and causes your destruction.
There are two pictures for this Greek word. The first is of a hidden stone on a path against which a man walking down the pathway crigs his toe, falls over and stumbles - that's the picture. Another picture is of a cord, a thin cord across a path deliberately set to trip up a man. Another picture is of a pit dug in the ground in a forest, deceptively covered over with a thin layer of branches or turf, and so arranged that a man may walk into the forest unwittingly and put one foot in front of another and fall headlong into the pit. That's the word! If thy right eye causes thee to scandalon, or thy right hand causes thee to scandalon - in other words, if your eyes or your hands are the gates by which you are caused to sin, you've got to cut off the inlet!
In the Ancient Near East, in Palestinian days, as we read the New Testament, there is more of a meaning in the right hand and the right eye - because in their language, and in their contemporary vernacular if you like, it would have expressed something - an idiom. In other words it had a greater meaning than what we read, we only think of our right eye and our right hand, but in their day it communicated something more. It communicated a part of you that was greatly prized and that you did not want to lose. The right eye was thought to be the best eye, the right hand was thought to be the best hand. I believe the Lord was saying more than simply cut out your sin, I believe the Lord was going further and saying that there are some things in life that are not necessarily bad things. There are some things that you hold dear, that you prize, like your right eye and your right hand, your best eye, your best hand - and the Lord may require us to give up the things that are best to us in order that we follow Him, why? Because the best things about us can be the very things that hinder us.
You know as well as I do that what we are good at, at times can be the very thing that hinders us. Isn't it? Indeed, what we are good at can be the thing that hinders us being best for the Master. The eye is given to see with and the hand is given to work with, and both are innocent in themselves, there's nothing wrong with them. Let me say this: the body is not evil, and the reason the body was created neither is evil - but the point is this: your right eye and your right hand were created to be servants of the soul, servants of God. The Lord Jesus says: 'Even if you do something good with your right hand or your right eye, if it is not in service and glory to Me it is wrong and you must cut out!'. You might find it difficult to believe that the Lord is meaning that, well let me point you to a verse in Luke chapter 14. You don't need to turn to it, I'll read it to you - Luke 14 and verse 26, this is a very difficult verse for me to understand: 'If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple'. Now what does that mean? I'll tell you what it means, it means exactly what the Lord is saying here: if anything comes between you and the Saviour, legitimate or illegitimate, it is to be hated. If we misuse anything, good or bad, if we put anything in a wrong position it is to be cut off and cast away from us. As one man said: 'If my faculties, propensities and abilities do lead me to sin, then I must cut them out'.
These are hard sayings, aren't they? Cutting out first of all, then secondly in these verses there is throwing out. You pluck the right eye out and cut the right hand off, and then He says: 'Throw out, throw it out of your life'. Look at the verse: 'Cast it from thee'. This is painful, the Lord is speaking figuratively of painful loss. He is implying that once you carry out the act and pull out the eye, or cut off the hand, that there's this indignant promptness in the way that you throw it away. You're not looking at it and saying: 'Well, I love that eye. I remember the things, even the good things I did with that hand'. You don't even think about it, the minute you do it there's this promptness, a heedlessness of whatever the cost to feeling or the act of pain is - you throw it away! The Lord is saying: 'I want you, my child, to strike at the root of every unholy thing in your life. It may be painful, but it will be a profitable loss'.
In nature the lizard, I'm led to believe, if you grasp its tail and it suspects that you're going to harm it, it will leave its tail in your hand and run away! When there's a greater danger in view it will leave its tail, although it's a painful loss to it. He says to himself: 'It's better to lose my tail than to lose my life!'. The lobster does the same - if you grab hold of its claw, it will drop the claw just down to the ground and will scuttle away in the hope of safety. Maybe you've played chess at some time in your life - well, if you're a keen chess player you'll know what a 'gambit' is. A gambit is the sacrificing of a pawn or another piece on the chessboard for the sake of the game. In other words, you may lose even your Queen - one of the highest pieces on the board - but it will be worth the loss of the Queen to win the game!
C.T. Studd was a rich man. He inherited a great fortune from his family, and he was a great cricket player as well. But he left all of his riches and went to the mission field, and do you know what he said? Listen to this, he could say it because he did it: 'If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him'. Jim Elliot who left a wife and a child and went to minister to the Auca Indians and never came back because he was martyred for Christ in his twenties, he said: 'He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose'. Your stumbling block mightn't be mine, my stumbling block mightn't be yours - and I know that there are matters that are strictly sinful, and clearly doubtful, and many things that we really need to ponder and think about, but there are also things that can cause us to sin that are not sins in themselves, and wouldn't cause you to sin or wouldn't cause me to sin. But that's the point of what the Lord is saying: whatever causes you to sin, whether it's a blatant sin or not, if it becomes a scandalon, if it becomes a trap, cut it off, throw it out!
The great theologian Cecil (sp?) was a fine violinist, and I have read recently that he found that his musical talents lured him into unhelpful and undesirable company. So do you know what he did? He took his violin and he smashed it, and he never played it again - lest through the Ear-gate and through the company he could become endangered and entrapped again! You know as well as I do that all musicians don't need to smash their instruments up - in fact the opposite could be the case, that their instrument could the very thing that they use to bring glory to God. People read about the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 and think that everybody has to give away all their riches in order to be saved, that's not the point of that message at all. The point is this: that was the very thing that was coming between him and Christ, and it had to go! It had to be cast away violently in order that his soul would be saved.
Well, you might sit here and think: 'Well, what's that got to do with me? I know that, I did that when I was converted'. My friend, this is the Lord speaking to His disciples! He is telling His children: 'Cut it out! Throw it out!'. The reason being then you'll get out! Getting out is the third thing He talks about. He says you'll only get out of trouble if you do this. Look at the verses, both of them say: 'it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell'. It's a solemn warning from the Master. Again He uses the word 'hell', as He did in verse 22 - and its again an allusion to Gehenna, that actual place, the rubbish dump at the outskirts of Jerusalem where they tipped all the rubbish and burned the corpses. It was literally a figurative sign of hell fire. The Lord never ever was ambiguous, can I say that again? Do you see the Sermon on the Mount? I don't claim to understand everything about it, but I'll tell you this much: the Lord was never ever ambiguous. When the Lord says 'hell', He means hell! I only seek to say what He said, I don't attempt to soften to blow, I just want to give to you this morning what the Saviour says. He effectively said this, this is what He said: 'It is better to be maimed than to be damned'. It's better to be maimed than to be damned! As one author said: 'It is better to enter into life lame in man's sight, and lovely in God's sight, than to be lovely in man's sight and lame in God's'.
I believe what the Lord is saying is, He is following through one of the principles in this whole sermon that is shockingly visible here, but we often miss it. Do you know what it is? The only basis of spiritual growth is the sacrifice of the natural. The only basis of spiritual growth is the sacrifice of the natural. Listen to what Oswald Chambers says about that very thing: 'If you are going to be spiritual, you must martyr the natural. Sacrifice it! If you say 'I do not want to sacrifice the natural for the spiritual', then Jesus says to you 'You must martyr the spiritual for the natural'. This is not a punishment, but an eternal principle'. Now, what is the Lord saying to His disciples? Let's clear this up: is He saying, as He has done about calling your brother a fool, that your literally going to get hell and go to eternal damnation in the lake of fire, as a Christian, because you do these things? That is not what He is saying, but what He is saying is that the sin that you commit is guilty of that punishment. We would have gone to hell because of our sin, is that not the case, because of our sin? The Lord says, even when we are saved and Christians, when we continue in those sins we are still committing sins that are worthy of hell - even though, by grace, we escape hell. Do you see it?
The primary purpose of our Lord is to show us the seriousness of sin - and let me say this, that although the believer will escape hell fire in the lake of fire, there is a future fire even for you! Do you know that? I'm not talking about purgatory, I'm talking about what Paul talks of in 1 Corinthians 3:13 where he says this: 'the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is'. That's what Paul says, and the awful tragedy is that it may be that for many Christians everything in their own lives will be burnt up, yet they themselves will be saved. That's what Paul says. Dr Stuart Holden spoke of the possibility of - and this is wonderful - having a saved soul, but a lost life. That's what the Lord is talking about. The Lord is urging us, and I would urge us all today, to get our eternal welfare in view in this lifetime. He wants men to consider their eternity, He wants them to give more time to their eternity, then souls would be converted, then saints would be consecrated if men and women thought of their eternity. The Lord wants us to put eternity in view, to put it in the depths of our heart and in the very recesses of our mind, that our consciences, our behaviour, our actions, our thoughts, our feelings and emotions would all be regulated by eternity! That is why Paul says: 'Judge yourselves, lest ye be judged'.
Why does the Lord use such shocking language in these two verses? It's very simple: He wants us to see the awesome seriousness of our sin. He doesn't just tell it, but if you go to the final chapters of this book you will see that He lives it. Why is He climbing Mount Calvary? Why is He being nailed to a cross? Why is the wrath of God abiding on Him? Why is He dismissing His Spirit, even as the immortal Son of God He dies? Why is He buried as an ordinary man would be buried? Why is it that they mourn over the Son of God? Why? Sin! And the greatest way for us to realise the awesomeness and awfulness of our sin is to think of it in relation to our Saviour, and to think of what it did to Him! One of the most direct roads to holiness is always to consider Him, to consider His suffering and His agony. There's nowhere, no place on earth, that the nature of sin can be displayed in such terrible awful colours as the death of the blessed Son of God at Calvary's cross. What a price He paid for sin! Our sin! That is why Isaac Watt says because of the price He paid for our sin, we ought to pay a price too - pluck out your eye, throw it; cut off your hand, throw it away - for such love demands my soul, my life, my all!
Can I echo a word of warning as we close? If you try to do that on your own, you will fail. You need the Holy Spirit, and Paul said in Romans: 'If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live' - through the Spirit. He says: 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure'. If you, my friend, today decide upon the authority of God's word that you are going to mortify the flesh, you're going to pluck out that eye of sin and cut off that hand of iniquity - I believe that if you come to God as a poor-spirited sinner and plead the power of the Holy Spirit, He will give you the power to do it! If you don't go to the Holy Spirit, you'll make the mistake of the Pharisees and the Scribes, and you'll become a legalist. Listen to the word of Paul: 'Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof'. Make no provision for the flesh, and - just as the engineer will tunnel through mountains, will blow up huge rocks, will bridge the wide chasms to carry his road to its final destination - we, as the believers in Christ, are to be sure that there is no hindrance at all blocking our course to our eternal prize and destination.
You often hear: 'Let go and let God' - oh, that it was as simple as that. It is: 'Let God', but it is this - listen as we close - let God, but mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth. We need to mortify by the Spirit the deeds of the body.
Let us pray. It may be that you're in this gathering and this verse applies to you if you're not converted, for in repentance you have to cut that sin from you and flee from the wrath to come. Christ, at Calvary, is where you can see what your sin costs. Believer, we're all struggling with sin, aren't we? Some struggling more than others, because we're not struggling at all, we're letting it happen. The only way to be free is to cut that thing from us, whatever is causing us to sin, whatever we're watching, wherever we're going, whatever we're partaking of - sins of the heart, thoughts that we're allowing to linger - we must be ruthless with them and cast them out, for the prize is the price.
Father, help us we pray. We long to be what Christ has asked us to be in this great sermon. We know that that of ourselves is impossible, but we pray that by the Spirit we would mortify the deeds of the flesh, that we would be done with the works of the flesh and put on the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the seventh tape in his 'Sermon On The Mount' series, titled "Cut It Out" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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