But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
The main theme of this section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, comprised of the second half of Matthew chapter 5, is that of righteousness. Jesus introduces this theme in verses 17-20 where He proclaims that He has fulfilled the Law of Moses so that only a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees will qualify one for the kingdom of heaven. Jesus continues by illustrating what this righteousness looks like by following the general formula of: (1) Stating the Old Testament commandment; (2) Declaring His authoritative intensification of the commandment; and (3) Giving applicatory steps to obey the commandment. This week we will examine the second and third of these six commands where Jesus deals quite forcefully with adultery and divorce.
Jesus follows His explanation on the sixth commandment against murder, which protects life, with an exposition on the seventh commandment against adultery, which protects marriage. The Bible exalts marriage. God ordained marriage soon after He created life; He called it good, and He hates that which would defy marriage. The Bible refers to human marriage as a mystery which God uses to illustrate the most magnificent eternal truths. And here in our text, Jesus protects the sanctity of marriage by authoritatively intensifying the commandment against adultery and divorce.
For many men in particular, this is the most difficult of all of Jesus’ commands. The purity that Jesus is calling for here is nothing short of impossible. Few would argue with what psychologists report about the universal experience of uncontrollable sexual impulses. The impossibility of this command, along with the increasing influence of secularism, has been a temptation for many commentators to relax the intensity of this command. On the other hand, there has been no less a temptation to tighten Jesus’ command, thinking that tighter “hedges” around the law will enable one to better keep it. However, the law’s impossibility was never meant to be a path to its denial or lightening; rather this command levels! Luther wrote, “The chief function or power of the law is to make original sin manifest and show man to what utter depths his nature has fallen and how corrupt he has become.” Psychological studies confirm this truth about mankind, but seek to excuse him. This command, like all of Jesus’ commands, condemns, but it also evangelizes. Every inclination of our heart to lust is a fresh reminder of our need for a greater Savior!