“Sexual Desire in God’s Kingdom”

Matthew 5:27-30

We are currently reading through the section of Matthew known as the Sermon on the Mount. A collection of Jesus’ teachings given to those who were following Him so they could have a better understanding of what the Kingdom of God was really like. Today’s message focuses on God’s view of sexual desire. As we unpack this passage I hope we are able to get a better understanding of Jesus’ vision of what human sexuality is and what it is for. We will focus on the possibilities and the pitfalls that Jesus presents for the sexual side of being human. 

We need to remember the big picture within which these four verses reside. Jesus has been announcing the arrival of the God’s Kingdom. If you recall, Jesus has started a new paradigm of what it means to be a follower of God. 

Humans have taken the Law, the Torah, that was given to Moses and have twisted it and molded it to benefit themselves.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is unpacking some of these distortions. Today’s topic has to do with sexual desire. 

Just like last week, Jesus is going to establish a new teaching of the Old Testament Law, one of the Ten Commandments, not as a rejection and not as a explanation, but as a new teaching that calls His disciples to something even more radical than the original command in order to reestablish its true meaning. By doing this, Jesus demonstrates the command will be fulfilled. Last week, Jesus dealt with anger and forgiveness, this week on sex and sexual desire, next week on marriage and divorce. 

Today’s Scripture begins with verse 27, 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.”

Jesus is going to return to the Old Testament Torah six times in His Sermon on the Mount, with “You have heard that it was said,” The people listening to Him were Jewish, they had memorized the Ten Commandments and had lived with the law their whole life. Obeying the Law was how they lived their spiritual lives. This time Jesus focuses on the commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” There’s the law. Jesus did not say the law wasn’t good, or outdated, He simply restates it. But notice again, Jesus places His teaching right next to it, verse 28, 

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Notice, Jesus doesn’t state He is explaining the law, instead He states, with authority, alongside the law, a statement He claims fulfills the law. Jesus was demonstrating to His followers that being part of the kingdom wasn’t just about doing the law by modifying your behavior and you can get religion. It was about letting Jesus himself begin to work on core root issues that had become part of lives and fractured relationships with God and with others. Deep issues that exist in our hearts that degrade not only others humanity but our own humanity. And what was Jesus’ teaching? 


“….anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

There we go again, for Jesus, the commandments are about one’s heart. 

When it comes to commandments dealing with humans, Jesus will return to the first two chapters of the Torah, that we know of as Genesis. He refers to how male and female reflect the image of God. In this context, when the two reflections come together and make a commitment to one another, out of that commitment comes something powerful and beautiful known as new life. This is God’s vision for humanity, which then creates families that become communities and so on. Jesus will elaborate on this in Matthew chapter 19. All this to say that Jesus sees the marriage covenant as sacred and so beautiful that anything that comes to threaten it, Jesus sees as a distortion to the human beings God made in His image. 

So, He cites the command not to commit adultery. In this case, don’t end up in bed with someone who is not your covenant partner. But for Jesus, this command doesn’t get near enough to the heart of the issue. Think about it. 

The act of adultery doesn’t just happen. Well, maybe there are some people who wake up in the morning and say, “Okay, today I am going to commit adultery.” Like deciding what to wear to work. Generally, it doesn’t happen like that. I think Jesus has His pulse on what really happens. Adultery is more of a slow simmering 0f heart issues. There are root issues going on in the heart of someone that comes to fruition by eventually ending up in bed with someone who is not your covenant partner. What Jesus does here is take the commandment and track it back to where the sin actually begins, rather than focus on the outward expression of something that started long before. 

Let’s look at verse 28 again, what exactly does Jesus say,

“….anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

What does Jesus mean by “looks” at a woman? Unfortunately the Greek word for this type of “look” is not easily translated into English.  The  NIV writes, “looks at a woman lustfully.” The NASB writes, “looks at a woman with lust for her.” I like how Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message

“You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those ogling looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt.”

It’s the ogling look Jesus is referring to in this passage. Jesus is not talking about looking at someone and noticing that they are attractive. That happens. 

There are beautiful people in the world, and they reflect God’s image and that is what it is. What Jesus is getting at here is the choice that occurs after you look at the attractive person. When you choose to leave your eyes on that person, with what the The English Standard Version of the Bible says, 

“..everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent.”

Technically this means you are using them to foster and fuel a sexually desire that is deep down inside of you. That is what the word lust means. If you’re a woman, and you have been a victim of this stare, you know exactly what Jesus is talking about. If you’re a man and you have been a victim or have been a perpetrator of this stare you know exactly what Jesus is talking about. 

Jesus has cut to the core of this issue and reveals that the act of being in bed with someone other than your covenant partner is just a symptom of something deeper, just as the stare is also a symptom of a deeper issue of the heart. 

What Jesus is really getting at is there is something going on inside of us that no one sees. There is a movie that plays in our minds that we choose to generate. No one knows. It is a deeply private matter. Jesus says the issue is there. Not with the noticing but with what you choose to do with that noticing afterwards. 

Martin Luther put it like this, 

“You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” 

It’s about the choice and letting it take root and you fueling it. And notice, this isn’t something someone else can police, or know, it is something that is rooted in one’s heart. One can look at this command and think, 

“What a high bar Jesus has set!” 

“Why is Jesus so extreme about this?” 

“If you think about it, if it is private, what difference does it make if one doesn’t act on it?” 

“It’s just a movie in my head, why is it such a big deal?” 

I am sure that is what people in our society would ask. 

For Jesus it is a big deal. We would say, ending up in bed, or the awkward stare, that is the action, this was just a thought. But Jesus says, “No.” He calls the lustful thought a deed you do towards someone else. We can see that Jesus takes this deed seriously because in the next two verses He recommends body mutilation as a response. 

Why is sex such a big deal for Jesus and for the kingdom?

Contrary to historical church teaching, Jesus was not being a prude. God had actually created sex. You can go back to the first pages of the Bible and read Genesis 1:27-28

“So God created man in His own image, 

in the image of God He created him; 

male and female He created them. 

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…”

Later on in verse 31 it reads, 

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

Human bodies are good. 

Sex is good. 

Sexual desire is good. God called it “very good.” 

Not only that, but Jesus’ Scriptures and ours, has an entire book devoted to celebrate and explore the goodness of sexual desire and sex as the consumation of two lovers moving towards convenant commitment. The Book of Songs is about sexual patterns.  In Jewish tradition, it would have been read, in synagogue, annually during the time of Passover. Jesus would have grown up listening to this love poetry Scripture. 

Let me read a poem from chapter 8,

“For love is as strong as death,

Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;

Its flames are flames of fire,

The flame of the Lord.

Many waters cannot quench love,

Nor will rivers flood over it;

If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,

It would be utterly despised.”

Romantics take heart. Far better than Shakespeare.

It’s a beautiful reflection of the power of sexual passion of desire and it is good. But like anything that is in essence “good,” it has the potential to be used not for good. Take the metaphor used in this poem. 

Its flames are flames of fire,

Now is fire good? When kept in its correct context, yes. But like sex, it has the potential to be used in not so good ways, with devastating results. You get the picture. 

Asking whether it is good or not good, is the wrong question. 

What is really significant is to recognize that it is a power and a great complex good. It’s not just about standing up in front of a group of witnesses during a marriage ceremony and saying vows, or signing a piece of paper or the marriage certificate. It’s about the unifying binding of heart, mind and body and out of that passion comes new life. That is the vision of Genesis one. 

But take this out of that protective environment of the covenant, and what you have is a potential of a powerful deep scarring on humans. The remorse and regret of bad sexual decisions. 

Jesus wasn’t a prude. Jesus had a beautiful sacred view of sex and sexual desire. It’s our culture that treats our body as selfish genes, something less, as our nature or instinct. But for Jesus, He sees it as a distortion of what it could be as good. 

Remember, Jesus is teaching about God’s kingdom that is near. This upside down kingdom that Jesus wants His followers to understand. The Kingdom whose first and utmost command is, 

 “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 

And whose second commandment is,

‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

In God’s kingdom, 

“Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Back in Genesis we are told humans are the image of God. C.S. Lewis put it like this, “The closest you will ever be to the likeness of God, is the person sitting next to you on the bus.” So to love God is to love those who reflect His image. 

The love ethic is the core of the kingdom. Restoring our relationship on all levels of human relationships. 

What is lust? For Jesus, it tells of what you think other humans exist for. What that action shows is that other people exist for me to play a role in my story of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. So I can gain pleasure from their body parts. 

A degradation of humanity. 

Jesus sees it as dehumanizing both you and the other person. In Jesus’ mind it is a violation of the greatest ethic of the kingdom. Because God’s love elevates others, protects others, honors them, and seeks their well being as even more important than my own. When the mind treats others as just a body or object it degrades their humanity and it ticks Jesus off. Whether it’s anger or sex, Jesus has a zero tolerance for behavior that fractures relationships and degrades other human beings. 

Because love is what we are made for, it is the center of the kingdom. 

The last thing that makes it such a big deal for Jesus focuses on to whom Jesus was directing this command. Look at verse 28 again, 

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

Jesus is actually talking to what gender? 


The men who are part of the crowd of sick hurting people who have come to learn about the Kingdom. There is nothing in what is written that would make us think this was just a crowd of men. In fact, it was most likely the opposite. We know from Luke, many women followed Jesus and were His disciples. 

Why does Jesus address the men? 

Does He think that women never have inappropriate sexual desires? 

Doubt it. 

What is He doing? 

Because, for men, the movie that they play in their heads, when they perpetuate the gaze or the stare, for some, stays right there. But in the history of the human race, which gender has turned sexual desire into a tool of violent, subjugation and oppression of the other gender?

Remember, Jesus is launching the kingdom, a new reality, where God’s love is paramount, and it’s at this point Jesus challenges the men who live in the kingdom. If we really want to follow Jesus, we need to let Jesus work on this area of our hearts so that the kingdom of God is a place where women feel safe. 

In this kingdom, women need to feel safe, from being victims of the gaze and being treated less than what they really are, image bearing human beings. 

What is Jesus’ response? Verses 29 & 30

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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 stumble, 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.”

That should make things better, right?

This response is typical of Jesus. He will use shocking imagery to get us to open our eyes and think. It’s His way of saying, you think this is serious, you don’t even know how serious this really is. 

Is Jesus really commending self mutilation as the answer to the issue? 


Remember, the real issue wasn’t what one could see on the outside. For Jesus, the real problem was with the heart. The eye, the hand, and the foot, in Psalms and Proverbs are used as images as to how you see the world, how you act in the world, and how you walk in the world. 

If there is something that seems indispensable to you, but is ruining you, then get rid of that thing. Get rid of it. It is a monster that will consume your life. Sexual desire is not bad, but when it is not in the safe environment that gives and generates life, it is a monster that will consume you whole. It will ruin all of your relationships. 

In modern western culture, we don’t even see it anymore. We live in the first culture that has made a huge, huge percentage of our nation’s economy sexual desire. 

There is a multi, multi, billion dollar industry whose sole purpose is to lure human beings into degrading the humanity of themselves and millions of others involved in the production of such material known as porn. They may not think they are degrading their humanity, but they are. America has taken it to unbelievable proportions in our society. Many choose not to think about it or to think that it is just what people do. It’s a trap. 

Jesus comes to call people to His kingdom. He looks out at the crowd and loves every single one of them. Jesus knows the potential of life when lived like that of His Kingdom. He doesn’t mince words but comes directly to the heart of the matter. Jesus wants people to see lust for what it really is, a monster that will eat you alive. Porn is known to rewire the brain in a way that creates an addiction that can never be fed. It’s not just a natural bodily appetite. It is not just a private matter. 

Others are involved. And as I have noted in my Pastor’s Pondering, don’t think it is somewhere else, like the big cities, New York, LA. It’s happening right here. Our young people are surrounded by it constantly. They are bombarded with it on their Iphones and from the internet.  

What is meant to be a well spring of life becomes  misdirected sexually desire and turns into a black hole. Which is why Jesus uses such powerful language as hell. He is not saying this is an unforgivable sin, but He is saying that if it goes unchecked, and doesn’t come to Jesus, and find a way forward, it will consume you. 

Jesus wants us to remember, we are more than just the movies in people’s heads. He loves us, He is committed to us, He died for us. 

Like those who were listening to this for the first time, we need to turn to Jesus and be validated as humans with His love. Then we need to turn to those around us and validate them. 

Let’s pray.