One of the great challenges when you read Jesus' sayings is that, in fact, they're very tough on people.
The common misconception - until you actually read what He has to say - is that Jesus is just a nice "peachy kind of guy" who preached that we all are loving at heart and just need to tweak our mindset so we reflect that warm and fuzzy a bit more.
You know, it's like the heroine professional woman from the city in the latest Hallmark Christmas movie, who needs to be more rural in her outlook when she meets the rough, but underneath kindly farmer-type blue collar dude who reveals his inner romantic.
From this point of view, God is also a kind of indulgent grandfather in the sky. In fact, He's probably a lot like Santa Claus, only without the reindeer, waiting to reward people for their good deeds and just keeping back the really nice presents until someone says "Sorry" for poking their tongue at their sister. Then it's no-holds-barred on the gifts filling your living room.
Or keeping with the Hallmark theme, He's the indulgent Dad who points out that happiness is waiting around the corner - in the form of the aforementioned love interest. You just have to be a little more "nice" and all will be well.
It's easy enough with this viewpoint to think that in the horrible kinds of events we see happening in the world around us, this Jesus guy and His God are irrelevant. "Turn your head, Jesus, while I deal with the harsh realities of the world."
But, in fact, Jesus' teachings were incredibly, radically, demanding and just made for times like this - made to make us squirm. Take for example, His teaching about murder: People think, "Surely, I'm a nice person if I don't murder someone else? That puts me on the 'nice' list, right?"
"But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca [you worthless trash],’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell [Gehenna]."
- Matthew 5:22, New International Version [NIV]
"Hold on! How can I do that in the real world? This is not a Hallmark movie! If that's the standard, then doesn't it make every one of us guilty? Because we've all done something like that at some point in our lives. We have to!"
Jesus was teaching something truly radical.
He was telling His disciples and the gathered crowds - "I say to you!" - that entry into the Kingdom of Heaven does not discard the righteousness of the Old Testament Scriptures, but embraces it to the fullest degree and beyond; far above the standards of any of the supposedly upright Scribes and the Pharisees and, let's face it, above the highest standards and mores of our societies today.
It applies to everyone in our day and age, from those who think they're righteous because they are great at keeping behavioural laws to those who have discarded them, thinking they are "above" those laws.
"For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
- Matthew 5:20, NIV
The disciples rightly discerned that Jesus was teaching standards that were impossible to meet. In fact, they objected to it.
But Jesus taught that, nevertheless, this is the requirement for those who would enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
It's a really hard saying!
At Living Waters Church of God, as we have been preaching and teaching through these hard sayings in the Sermon on the Mount, it's absolutely clear that Jesus was saying you can appear nice on the outside, but that even any hateful thought or look filled with lust for another or a word that is untrue or when you are filled with anxiety and fears; all of these things and more put you at risk for the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God.
It's abundantly clear that we, even as believers, cannot match up to the perfect standards Jesus describes. Just one thought out of place? You have to be kidding!
And many Christians and regular folks indeed are kidding themselves. They, like the ancient Scribes and Pharisees, end up filling up with rage, vengeance, deception and more when they see a situation they think justifies their response. You have only to look at world and political events on any given day to see this around you.
Perhaps, when you are honest enough, you see it in yourself, too.
Here's another hard saying: That's called being a sinner. We all are. That's bad news for us, because the end is not sharing a hot cocoa by a winter's fireplace. It's something far more destructive.
The Good News is, however, that Jesus also showed us the way to the kind of life He was teaching; the real way of happiness and joy for all time.
You see, the sinner's way - the one that has even an iota of hate or lust or envy or lies - is not the happy way. You know it. I know it. The happy way is the one that Jesus expounded in the Beatitudes: "Blessed - Happy! - are the poor in spirit!" That's what He taught - the way to true Happiness, not only now but in The Kingdom Of God that He brought in part and will bring to completion not just in Heaven, but also on earth.
All of the wars, the discord, the hatred, the violence, the humiliations, the oppressions and the using up of people will be taken away.
But Jesus will do it not through brute military action, although He promises to bring justice. He will do it not through policy, though His law is utmost. He will accomplish it not by workshopping our feelings and attributions. But He will accomplish it by working where it all starts - in each individual human heart.
That's the Good News! He will work with you and me to change our hearts, replacing those evil thoughts with ones that are like His and like our Father in Heaven. He showed us that our Father is not a Santa Claus, but in fact a great God with perfect and absolute standards of righteousness and justice AND is the great God of mercy and love, willing to do everything it takes to bring us to Him, if we will hear and answer Him.
Moreover, because Jesus demonstrated His ability to heal and to forgive as the Son of God, lived a perfect life (just ask anyone who knew Him), died as the sacrifice for our sins as the Messiah (The One Who Saves), and was resurrected to eternal life (witnessed by up to 500 people at the time), Jesus therefore showed us many irrefutable proofs that He will make it all possible.
Those who have answered that call from God know. God changes the human heart. We know what He continues to accomplish in us.
But first, we must hear. Then we must answer and turn to God as our Father. We must answer through the One who came to make it possible for us - Jesus Christ.
These are hard words from Jesus. They are uncompromising and resolute. There is no way to escape them.
Listen to the hard sayings. Take them in. Embrace them. And turn to the One who makes it possible for you to live them, asking forgiveness through the Son of God Jesus Christ and then seeking to be immersed - baptised - into His life.
Then He can make the Good News not just something you hear, but as the very Kingdom of Heaven radically changing you from the inside out. One Day, He promises, even your outside will be changed to be like Him as He now is.
If you will be Christian, you cannot escape the radical demands and commands of Jesus. Thankfully, you can turn to a loving God who said He will make all things possible, even living out these hard sayings from His Christ.
- Peter McLean
At Living Waters Church of God, we aim to live and to teach genuine Christianity that takes every Word of God seriously.
If you live local to us and are not committed to a church, we invite you to join us so that you can hear the Word of God honestly taught and preached, living in the fellowship of His disciples. Jesus and His apostles taught that it is in the context of the church that we are to be His followers. Doing it alone is not an option. Doing it together is part of the very nature of the Gospel.
Whether or not you can join us, visit our Sermon resources, this blog or subscribe to our YouTube channel where you can hear teaching on the Sermon on the Mount and more, as we systematically teach from the Bible.
Together, we can hear Jesus' hard sayings and follow them!