Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church
July 15, 2018
We’re studying the Sermon on the Mount this summer. It’s found in Matthew 5-7. So far we looked at the Beatitudes and the images of Salt & Light for Christian discipleship and for the church. This next section contains some of the most unique and challenging teachings of Jesus.It’s quite long, so Tim and I are going to read excerpts from Matthew 5:17-48.
Excerpts from Matthew 5:17-48
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’
But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Remember that “perfect” means mature, fully grown.
Jesus is spelling out here what a fully grown Christian looks like, and it’s a tall order.
First, let’s think about the implications and the magnitude of this section of the Sermon on the Mount as it relates to Christ himself.
There are 5 statements Jesus makes that would have infuriated many who heard him.
21“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder’; but I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;
27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but I say to you, Do not swear at all . . . let your ‘Yes be Yes’ and your ‘No be No.”
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
In each of these, “You have heard that it was said” statements, what is Jesus referring to? What is he directly quoting? His Bible! The Hebrew Scriptures. The Law of God as given through Moses.
Three of the statements are directly from the 10 Commandments. The other two are also from the Books of Moses, from the Torah, the most important part of the Hebrew Scriptures.
It would be hard to overstate how much ancient Jews revered the Torah. They believed that it was directly given to Moses by God. Philo said, “Moses decrees are everlasting, unchangeable and unshakable, as signed by nature herself with a seal.”
And 5 times Jesus says, ‘You and I know what it says in the Torah? Let me tell you what God what really meant.”
Illustration. If I said to you today, “You have heard it said by Jesus, ‘Bless you enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ But truly, truly I say to you, only on Tuesdays. The rest of days feel free to insult them back.” You’d say to yourself, “Rich is crazy. He’s lost his mind. How could he ever put himself on par with Christ?”
That’s the same reaction some of Jesus’ listeners had regarding his words. As folks said to him more than once, “You, though only a human being, are making yourself God” (John 10:33). He put himself on par with God and The 10 Commandments.
This, of course, is clear evidence that Jesus saw himself as the Messiah, the Son of God.
This is partly where the “Lord, Liar or Lunatic?” concept comes from. Either Jesus is crazy, or he’s lying, or he is who he claims to be. The idea that he was just a great teacher and nothing more isn’t really an option, given the authority he claimed. He’s either the Lord, a Liar or a Lunatic.
But what we really need to wrestle with today is what a fully grown Christian looks like.
We sometimes think that Jesus made things easier for people, and easier for us. He wasn’t legalistic, and he confronted those who were. He welcomed sinners, forgave sinners, and shared meals with them.
But in many ways, Jesus made it harder, because he cares about the condition of our hearts. He cares about our inward motives, not just our outward appearance or actions.
You’ve probably heard the following saying. It’s been attributed to many people, but it’s what Jesus was saying 2000 years ago.
Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
So Jesus is saying, murder comes from the thoughts and feelings of hatred running rampant, assonating someone’s character first in one’s mind. So don’t give in to hatred. Don’t feed it. Don’t nurture it.
And adultery doesn’t start with the act itself. It starts with lust.
Illustration. There’s a story that comes from the Zen Buddhist tradition. It’s about two monks who were on a long journey together. On this journey they came across a river with a strong current producing dangerous rapids. And clinging to a rock in the middle of the river was a very beautiful woman.
The older monk carefully made it way out to her, picked her up and carried her to the other side of the river, and carefully put her down. And she was saved thanks to that monk.
Later, the younger monk said to his older mentor, “Master, I’m so surprised that you touched and held that beautiful woman. A holy man should not do such a thing.”
The older monk replied: “Son, when I got to the other side of the river, I sat her down. You did not.”
That’s what Jesus is saying. Various kinds of temptations are part of life. We can’t escape temptation, but we don’t have to invite it over for tea.
Our thoughts matter, because our actions come from those thoughts.
Jesus is saying that discipleship starts on the inside. And that’s harder, but it’s part of the path to being fully grown Christians.
The final thing we have to face in this passage is really the unique ethics of Christ. Many scholars believe this section is the essence of Christ’s teachings, the most central and unique teachings he ever gave.
- Turn the other cheek
- Go the extra mile
- Give to anyone who asks
- Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.
Does it get any harder than that?
- Don’t strike back when you’re attacked.
Don’t counter-punch – physically or verbally. Turn the other cheek.
- And give beyond what is reasonable.
- If someone asks for your shirt, give them your coat, too. (They probably don’t have one.)
- Care for people beyond what is reasonable and expected.
- If someone asks you to go one mile with them, go two miles. It shows that you truly want to help them.
- And don’t just be kind, courteous and loving towards your friends. Anyone can do that! Be kind, courteous and loving with your enemies, too. And make sure you pray for them . . . a lot.
I need to offer some quick help with this final section on loving your enemies.
If you’ve been in church for years, you’ve undoubtedly heard a sermon on the 4 Greek words for love used in the New Testament. (Every minister has this sermon in them!)
- There’s storge love – it’s the love between family members.
When Jesus said love your enemies he did not use the word, storge!
- There’s eros love – that’s romantic, sexual love.
Obviously, that’s not the word Jesus used here.
- There’s the love between friends – philia.
(It’s where we get “Philadelphia,” The City of Brotherly Love)
Philia is the affection between the closest of friends. That’s also not the word used here. We’re not expected to be close, affection friends with those who persecute us.
- The word used here is, agape!
It’s an unwavering good-will, regardless of how we’re treated. It’s unconditional benevolence, wishing only the best for someone, regardless of their actions towards us. It’s decision of one’s will to not allow bitterness or hatred to fester, but rather to pray through it and always act with good-will towards even those who are unkind to us.
Anyone can love their friends. Christ-followers are called to love even those who give us an incredibly hard time.
Because that’s how God loves us!
Christ went the extra mile for us.
Jesus loves us with a love that is beyond reasonable. He not only turned the other cheek for our benefit, he endured the agony of the Cross for our benefit.
And on that Cross Jesus prayed for his enemies, for those who put him there – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus’ teachings are as challenging as can be.
But he never asks us to do what he hasn’t already done himself.
And that’s good news for us; because it means that he can help us.
Lord Jesus, your demands upon us challenge us to core, for it’s at our core that you wish to dwell. By your Spirit, continue to grow us from the inside out, that we might love as you love. Thank you for your grace, for we fall short so often. But thank you for the hope that it found in your grace; that you are shaping us more and more into your image. Do your good work. Amen.