IF YOU THINK OF SIN BUT LIGHTLY…
- Realize the damage it can do to you
- Realize the damage it can do to others
Text: Matthew 5:27-32
Service Video (sermon starts at 38:15)
I realize that we are in the middle of Epiphany, but I spent a good chunk of last week making sure the season of Lent is ready to go here at St. Mark’s, so my mind is in “Lent planning mode.” Even with the extra services we offer during Lent, it seems like there are never enough services to get in all the good hymns for Lent. One of the hymns we’ll sing during one of the Wednesday night services this year is, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” (Christian Worship #127). Like many Lent hymns, that hymn pictures the agony and suffering Jesus endured for us as he died for our sins on the cross. One of the stanzas begins, “If you think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great, here you see its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.” To put that in plain English: If you think sin is no big deal—if you think of sin but lightly—then look at the hellish suffering Jesus endured to remove sin’s guilt from you; see how much your sin cost him!
That line came to mind as I prepared today’s sermon. Maybe that line came to mind because I was also in Lent planning mode, but in the Gospel for today, taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we have a very hard-hitting, soul-searching section that is bound to make you shift and squirm in your seat. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount gives us a very sober and serious examination of what sin does to a person’s heart and life. If you think of sin but lightly, Jesus warns us, then realize the damage it can do to you, and realize the damage it can do to others.
This is the second of three Sundays in a row where the Gospel comes from Matthew chapter five and Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus has a certain pattern he uses in this chapter as he moves from one matter to the next. Each section begins, “You have heard it said…but I say to you.” Jesus first quotes the Old Testament or the rabbis’ interpretation of the Old Testament, but then he goes on to explain the full force of the Old Testament’s laws and commands which the religious teachers of his day missed so often.
At the start of the section we are considering today, Jesus shows the full extent of what God intends with the Sixth Commandment. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Someone putting their own spin on the Sixth Commandment might assume that he has obeyed it because he hasn’t had an affair. But Jesus teaches that the sins against this commandment are not just the outward actions but even the inward thoughts of the heart. With Jesus’ authoritative teaching, who would dare to suggest that he has actually kept this commandment? Jesus treats lustful thoughts as actual sin, not just some possible evil. Sins of the heart are just as much “sin” as sins in words or actions.
And yet even God’s people are prone to treat sin lightly. And so Jesus goes on to explain the great lengths one should undergo to avoid sin’s deadly destructiveness. “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Jesus is speaking in hyperbole. He’s overstating his case to make a point. Gouging out eyes and chopping of limbs is not his goal. His goal is to get us to understand that anything and everything that leads us into sin must be removed from our lives! Read More…