February 21, 2021 Who Enters the Kingdom Part 7

Who Enters the Kingdom?

Part Seven

February 21, 2021

 

 

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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 into hell. 30 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. [1]

 

We have been considering our Lord’s famous Sermon on the Mount. In order to properly understand our Lord’s sermon we took note of a few things.

 

First, we saw that this sermon is for his disciples. It is not for the general crowd, although they will follow the disciples up the mountain and they will hear what he has to say. Because it is for his disciples, it is for us. Because we are also the Lord’s disciples. This first point is particularly germane to our passage this morning.

 

Second, we saw that the theme of the sermon is entering the kingdom. Our Lord’s great message is how we need to live and think in order to enter the kingdom.

 

Third, we learned that the “kingdom of heaven” is not heaven. Rather, it is the earthly kingdom that the Lord will establish when he returns to the earth.

 

Fourth, we learned that not all genuine Christians will enter the kingdom that is coming. Only those who live by God’s will as revealed in this sermon, will enter. (Those followers of the Lord who fail to live by Christ’s words will be excluded from the kingdom and must wait until the New Heavens and the New Earth to be united with the Lord.)

 

If we keep these four truths in mind, we will better understand this marvelous and glorious sermon of our Lord.

 

When Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said…” he refers to the seventh commandment. He is explaining the law of God. Remember, he had just finished teaching that he did not come to abolish the law and that the law would be binding upon us until heaven and earth pass away. Jesus explains the original intent of God’s law. It is not only to regulate our behavior. It is to regulate our minds! It is to change our thinking!

 

The first question to consider regarding this passage is: what is adultery? The English word “adultery” derives from the Latin word “adulteratus” which means “to mix” or “to alter.” Adultery has to do with the marriage covenant and the act of adultery corrupts or alters, may even break, the marriage covenant. However, the English meaning of the word is too general, at least in its etiology, and we must look to what the word meant as it is used in the Bible.

 

Even before we do this, however, it is important to understand that marriage is not man’s idea. It is God’s. God is the one who instituted marriage. It is a divine institution, not an institution of human origin. Man does not have the right to define it and neither does he have the right to dissolve it, except it be by divine permission. Because God created marriage only He can regulate it. When a society allows dissolution of a marriage for any cause, they do so in rebellion against God’s revealed will.

 

Because marriage is God’s idea it is something very good, something needful, and something to be encouraged.

 

Getting back to the definition of the word adultery: It is not just any act that corrupts or alters a marriage that is considered adultery. The Bible is more specific. Adultery has to do with sexual acts. It is sexual acts that are considered adultery in Scripture, with one exception. The words for “adultery” in Scripture refer primarily to sexual acts.

 

Most obviously, this commandment prohibits sexual acts with anyone other than our husband or wife. This commandment has primary application to the married. But, single people are also charged to keep themselves pure sexually by many passages of both the Old and New Testaments. That is to say, a single person must wait until marriage to engage in any sexual activity. To do otherwise is the sin of fornication. Fornication is a different sin than adultery, although it constitutes the sin of adultery when a marriage is involved. The two sins are related and we can say that the principles of the seventh commandment, and these words of our Lord here, reach the unmarried as well as the married.

 

We must flee adultery at all costs. Consider what Solomon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has said. After describing the seductive ways and words of a woman intent on committing adultery, he says in Proverbs 7:24-27,

 

And now, O sons, listen to me,

and be attentive to the words of my mouth.

 

Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;

do not stray into her paths,

 

for many a victim has she laid low,

and all her slain are a mighty throng.

 

Her house is the way to Sheol,

going down to the chambers of death.

 

Adultery leads to death. If it does not lead to our physical death, as it often does (one has only to read the newspaper or listen to the news to know that this is true), then it will lead to the death of your heart and your spirit.

 

As in the previous passage on anger, Jesus shows us that honoring the seventh commandment means having our hearts in compliance, not just our bodies.

 

As it is with each of the commandments, God is after our hearts. He is not just about regulating our behavior. The Lord desires that our hearts be pure with respect to sexual thoughts. Jesus is addressing those that are married here. But, look at verse 28. If Jesus were addressing the single person we could change just one word in this verse and it would be equally true. What word would that be? [Answer: changing the word “adultery” and replacing it with the word “fornication.”]

 

Of course, it goes without saying that these things apply to women as well as men.

This command, therefore, applies to both men and women and to both married and single.

 

God is after our heart! He desires that our hearts be pure. This means that our thought-life is under the control of our spirit. Yet, there are practical steps that we can take that will keep our hearts free from adultery and fornication.

 

Do not look at things that incite lustful thoughts, whether photos, movies, or live people. When a thought does enter your mind, do not dwell upon it, but rather expel it. Your thoughts are under the control of your will. Martin Luther once said, “I cannot keep the birds from flying over my head, but I can prevent them from building a nest in my hair.”

 

Above all, call on the name of the Lord! His name is powerful. Calling on the name of Jesus out loud will subdue any temptation. Not just praying. Praying may be silent. Calling is verbal and audible. Call upon his name to be delivered from ungodly thoughts!

 

In the modern era, God’s people have a problem. The problem is that many do not take sin seriously enough. There are some sins, like gluttony and gossip, that some barely see as sins at all. (There are others that most do take very seriously, such as the actual act of adultery or drug abuse.) Other sins are recognized as sins, but people fail to see them in the same light as the Lord sees them. In other words, the Lord considers some sins far more grievously than we do. Adultery of the heart or, for single persons, fornication in the heart, are in this category. Christians do recognize them as sins, but they do not realize the awful consequences of falling prey to them. What did Jesus say?

 

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 into hell. 30 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. [2]

 

Many have a simplistic idea of heaven and hell. They think that all Christians go to heaven and all the unsaved go to hell. The Lord’s teaching on the destiny of his own people, and those that reject him, is more nuanced than that.

 

Remember to whom Jesus is speaking. He is teaching his own disciples. He is warning his own disciples that there is a danger of them going to hell. When most people hear the word, “hell,” they think of the lake of fire that we read about in Revelation as the final destiny of the rebellious. It is a permanent place. That is, once you enter, you will never leave. That fact alone makes it ultimately terrifying! But this is not the place he warns about in this passage.

 

The English word “hell” is quite imprecise and in some translations it is used to translate four different words or phrases in Greek. However, each of these words or phrases describe a different place. Here, the word is Gehenna, a Greek word which transliterates the Hebrew phrase ge Hinnom, “the valley of Hinnom.” This was a place just outside of Jerusalem where refuse was burned. In modern parlance: a garbage dump where the fires continually burned. This is the picture that Jesus wanted people to have in their minds. It was a place where the unwanted things went and were purged from Jerusalem.

 

It is a terrible place to go! But it is not the same place as the “lake of fire” after the final judgment, the judgment at the end of all things, the judgment that determines eternal destiny. Let me repeat, Gehenna is not the same place as the lake of fire. The lake of fire (what we more often think of when we hear the word “hell”) is eternal, never-ending. Gehenna is temporary.

 

Jesus is saying that adultery, even that of the heart alone, if not overcome in this life by his own people, will result in them entering Gehenna after they die! Do you see that sin is serious? Even the sins of our minds!

 

Gehenna will be awful. As awful as it is, it is for our good. It is so that we will not remain corrupted and polluted. Gehenna will be a place of purging. Just as the physical Gehenna purged the unwanted trash out of Jerusalem, so the spiritual Gehenna will be the place for God’s people to learn to deny and mortify sin – if they have not done so in this life. It is where we will learn to hate sin more than we do. You see, do you not, how important it is to mortify sin now in our lives? We must pursue sanctification now. Otherwise, we will pay the price later. And, it will be a much higher price to pay.

 

It is better to pay the price now. Even if that price is gouging out our eye or cutting off our hand! I do not believe that Jesus meant this literally. He is not expecting us to gauge out our eyes or cut off our hands. I believe he is using hyperbole to impress upon us how important it is to deal with our sins! Jesus is saying that Gehenna is worse than having an eye gouged out or a hand cut off!

 

Who will enter the kingdom? Only those who have learned to control their thoughts of lustful intent. “Wow, Pastor! That is a high standard! Who can do it?” These are not my words! These are the words of Jesus! If you have a problem with them, take them up with him. This teaching of our Lord matches perfectly with what he said at the very beginning of his sermon:

 

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [3]

 

Who will enter the kingdom? Only those whose hearts are pure with respect to sexual thoughts.

 

31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.[4]

 

What do these words of Jesus tell us? They show us that marriage is more important to God than it is to most Christians. Why? Because Christians get divorced also. When Jesus quotes a statement in verse 31, he addresses the regulation for divorce given by Moses in Deuteronomy (24:1-4). Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, whenever Jesus addresses the law of God, he teaches God’s original intent of the law and corrects man’s misuse of it.

 

How can it be that God, through Moses, allowed divorce but Jesus forbids it? The explanation is found in the “sister” passage to this in chapter 19, where Jesus is teaching on the same subject, marriage and divorce, but does so in greater detail.

 

When the Pharisees ask him if it is lawful to divorce one’s wife “for any cause,” they were trying to get him to settle a dispute about the passage in Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, we read that if the husband “has found some indecency in her” he writes a certificate of divorce. A controversy had arisen regarding what constituted “an indecency.”

 

One position, known as the Shammai position (named after the rabbi who expounded it), taught that “the indecency” was only fornication (sexual immorality in ESV). No other grounds were justified. The other position was known as the Hillel position. Hillel taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason that he deemed indecent. In practice, this proved to turn the word indecency into the phrase, anything I don’t like. Indeed, reasons like spoiling a meal and finding a better mate were used.[5]

 

Implicitly, Jesus holds Shammai right and Hillel wrong. But this is not his intent – to take a position. He is not directly addressing the controversy. Rather, he is teaching the original intent of God’s marriage covenant, both here and in Matthew 19. In the process, he reveals that God’s law on divorce was not his perfect will for mankind. It was a law regulating what follows after God’s principles for marriage have already been violated.

 

Who will enter the kingdom? Only those who have remained faithful to the marriage vows and remain married (the exception being fornication for the innocent party).

 

As with our thought life, some may be thinking that there won’t be many people in the kingdom. The standard is high! It is high! Whether or not there will be many from out of God’s own people in the kingdom I do not know. I believe the Scriptures teach that there will be. Nevertheless, God’s people fail him. We fail ourselves, don’t we? No one goes into a marriage thinking it will fail. But many do. If we are divorced does this mean that we have no hope of inheriting the kingdom? The answer is that even if we have failed the Lord and failed ourselves, God has still made a way for us. That way is repentance. Repentance is a wonderful thing. For any sin, except blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, if we repent then we receive forgiveness and the door to the kingdom is still open to us.

 

I am going to say some hard words now. They will seem hard because we are accustomed, especially in the West, to getting what we want. But, I can do nothing else but teach what our Lord taught. I do not have the liberty to lighten God’s law. Therefore, I am going to preach what Jesus preached and what the apostle taught. Those who don’t like it can continue not to like it. But, I am not going to water it down.

 

Repentance is the way to be received into the kingdom. However, our repentance must be genuine. True repentance always includes restitution.[6] Without restitution, repentance becomes nothing more than words without meaning. Jesus addresses two sins in the passages that we read this morning. He speaks of adultery and he speaks of divorce without God’s sanction. What constitutes repentance with respect to each?

 

For adultery of the heart, we must ensure that our thoughts are loyal and faithful to our husband or wife. We can have victory if we renew our vows and walk in the spirit.

 

If we are guilty of the act of adultery (fornication while married), then we must confess our sin to both God and our spouse. We are at the mercy of our spouse. According to Scripture, they may receive us or reject us. If they receive us, then we reaffirm our love and commitment to them and we live faithfully to them. If they reject us there is a high price to be paid. We must remain celibate the rest of our days. Our only hope will be for them to have a change of heart and receive us one day. For the guilty one, remarriage to another is not permitted.

 

If we are guilty of divorce without divine sanction then we must, too, confess our sin to both God and our spouse. Restitution means reuniting with our husband or wife if this is possible (i.e., if they have not remarried another). If they have remarried another then marrying someone else is not an option. This is what Jesus plainly taught. He said that marrying another is adultery.

 

Who will enter the kingdom? Only those who honor God in their marriage will enter. We see, then, that God honors marriage more than many Christians. Do you wish to enter the kingdom? If so, then hold your marriage up and make it something good, honorable, and full of love. It’s not too late.

 

Do you wish to enter the kingdom? Then, if you are single, keep your thought life pure. Seek a husband or wife. He who finds a wife finds a good thing and receives favor from the Lord. She who finds a godly husband finds a good thing and receives favor from the Lord.

 

Marriage then is a measuring stick of our own faithfulness to the Lord and our worthiness for the kingdom. Have done with lesser things. Give yourself to the Lord more fully and give yourself to your spouse more fully. If you do, then the door will open wide to the great and glorious kingdom that is soon to come!

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:27–30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:29–30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Mt 5:31–32). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[5] R T France, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, (Eerdman’s Publishing Co.) 207.

[6] See http://nsbcwinfield.com/november_3_2019_what_is_repentance