In this chapter Jesus teaches us about life in the community of believers. Some of the things he focuses on are greatness, temptation, sin, correction and forgiveness.
Jesus was never light on sin. While infinitely gracious, compassionate and kind toward flawed and fallen people like ourselves, he understood the depth of our affliction. He absolutely refused to minimize it. As he saw it, both the tempter and the tempted put themselves at the most serious risk of judgment.
7 “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!8 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. 9 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 (ESV).
No solution for sin and its effects is too radical for Jesus. Cut off the guilty body part and throw it away. But here the depth of the problem is revealed. We might imagine ourselves amputating till there was almost nothing left and still struggling against sin. The source of our guilt cannot be found in the hand or the eye, or anything else that is removable. Sin thrives in the lowest recesses of the heart.
David grasped this when he prayed in Psalm 51:10,
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
And this is what God promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27,
26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
This is what we need – a heart that desires to please God. We don’t need one less limb or useful organ. We need to become new people. Receiving new life in Christ accomplishes this. If we don’t have it, then that is what we need. If we do have it, we need to learn to walk in it. This is clearly summed up in the words of Paul.
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Sin is severe – and probably more awful than we can understand, since our very perception of it is distorted by, well, sin! Jesus took it so seriously he paid for it on the cross. A new heart, a whole new self, is now available to us in Christ.