“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” -Matthew 18:7-9
Year after year, Easter is a thrilling, joyful day of celebration at the beginning of spring. The coming of the season introduces warm weather, budding trees, brilliant colors in blooming flowers, baby chicks and bunnies, egg painting and hunts, and delight in new life! All this is the result of who and what Easter is all about: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the empty tomb, breakfast with close friends beside the lake in Galilee, an afternoon walk to Emmaus accompanied by an eye-opening meal.
All this celebration is immediately preceded by the preparatory season of Lent – a time to focus on the fact of sin and the necessity of the cross. We can’t have one without the other to remedy sin’s disaster.
The cross comes before resurrection. Dealing with sin and its consequences precedes the joy of pardon. Matthew 18 is primarily about temptation and sin; it features Jesus’ own words concerning the seriousness of evil and the necessity of punishing it out of existence. Jesus talks to His disciples and through them to you about the ravages of sin and its purpose of destroying everything good.
The question must be asked: Does Jesus use hyperbole to convey the utter depravity of sin? What else can explain this horrifying encouragement to self-mutilation? Amputating a hand or foot, gouging out an eye? Is this really Jesus’ prescribed remedy of combating temptation and sin in your life? Jesus is communicating how thoroughly serious this matter of sin is. You ignore His dire warning to your own peril.
Matthew does not alone capture Jesus’ words. Mark uses the same warning of Jesus in taking these drastic steps to the preserving of your soul for eternal life, rather than eternal fire. But Mark links it in his passage to the sin of following mental lusts into actual adultery and the like. It all has to do with resisting the temptation to sin, for temptation is the constant battlefield promised in this life – temptation fueled by Satan and your appetites. It is fierce, cunning, persistent.
Why do we have to live our entire lives with constant temptations? Couldn’t God have chosen an easier path for all those created in His image? Possibly this deepens your appreciation for the truly monstrous sin of our first parents, thrusting all of us into a sea of sin by rejecting their Creator.
This is the world and its conflict with sin in which God, by His wisdom and plan, has placed us. Job answered this question by saying, “But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” God places us in this crucible so He might clothe us with the character of His Son.
It is expected that if you swim in sin, you will swallow some of it. We do sin because we are sinners with a proclivity to it. Sin is in our nature, that is, until we are reborn by the grace of God and the faith energized in us. Reborn people still sin, but now righteousness becomes their greater desire, and sanctification is growing in them.
When you are tempted to sin, the explicit warning of Jesus needs to flash before the eyes of your heart. In Jesus’ view, giving in to temptation warrants taking the terrible step of removing your eye, cutting off your hand, or amputating your foot to stop it. Of course, Jesus does not expect you to literally resort to such measures, but the utter seriousness of this real possibility needs to be impressed on mind and emotions.
It is actually better to do such to yourself if it prevents your caving to the temptation that is ravaging your own body, mind, and appetite. Jesus could just as well have mentioned the sexual organs along with eye, hand, or foot. But He gets His point across very well without it.
In any case, if such violence keeps you from condemnation, think more wisely and fiercely of what you do or do not do. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).
This is not a life for patsies, it is a commitment of faith to do serious combat to win the kingdom of heaven. Jesus does not mince words, and neither should we minimize them. Take it to heart! For “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
“When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be your supply. The flame shall not hurt you; I only design your dross to consume and your gold to refine.”
(Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, “How Firm a Foundation,” 1787)
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