Rev. Sandy Johnson
February 25, 2018
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Our series on the Rebel Jesus continues this morning. We are just beginning to understand the radical nature of our savior. Not only was Jesus a rebel toward the Roman Empire, his preaching was contrary to the Jewish teachings and traditions; he took the lessons of the day and turned them upside down.
No wonder Christianity was banned the first three hundred years following Christ’s resurrection. Jesus teachings were counterintuitive. They really didn’t make sense at the time and they can be difficult to live by today. What Jesus calls us to do and be, is truly revolutionary. In Mark 1:22 we read that those listening to Jesus’ teachings “were astounded (at his teaching), for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
We need to understand that Jesus was not a scribe and he held no official authority, he wasn’t a Pharisee, nor a Sadducee. When he was teaching things like he did in Matthew 5, he basically said, the Law is good, but what I am teaching is better. “To the Jew the Law was absolutely holy and absolutely divine; it is impossible to exaggerate the place that the Law had in their reverence. The Rabbis said, “Those who deny that the Law is from heaven have no part in the world to come.”
At the beginning of worship services in the synagogue in Jesus time they paraded around the room, holding the scrolls of the Law high in the air, so that the worshippers could demonstrate reverence for them. Then you have Jesus quoting the Law, only to contradict it. Who is this man? Who is this Rebel?
Jesus spoke things they had never heard before and he claimed to have the right and the authority to correct what he felt was “wrong” with the Law, no wonder they got so upset with him, right? I mean, “No ordinary person would dare to claim to take and overturn that which up to his coming had been regarded as the eternal word of God.” Scandalous.
“Jesus took the highest wisdom of men and corrected it, because he was who he was.” Jesus took the standard and changed it, he raised the bar and let his followers know then that things were going to change. The lukewarm, milk toast faith they had been living was over, it was time to get serious.
Open your pew bible to Matthew 5:21, page 4 in the New Testament.
Concerning Anger, Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ We recognize this from Exodus 20:13. This was the Law. We are not to murder one another. Then Jesus says, that’s not good enough. “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.”
What?! I can’t even get angry? “Jesus condemns all selfish anger. The bible is clear that anger is forbidden. James 1:20 says, “The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” Paul orders his people in Colossians 3:8 to put off all “anger, wrath, malice, slander. Jesus forbids forever the anger which broods, the anger which will not forget, the anger which refuses to be pacified, the anger which seeks revenge. If we are to obey Jesus, all anger must be banished from life, especially that anger which lingers too long.”
So, if I think angry thoughts I’m liable to judgment?! That is some tough teaching. It is here that Jesus teaches us that our thoughts are as important as our actions. Knowing what I know about a positive mental attitude I can understand this teaching a bit better. What we think about we bring about. In his best-selling book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill said,” Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve. Thoughts are things!” And thoughts are both good and bad and Jesus is telling us to manage our thoughts, control our thoughts and our actions will follow.
Matthew 5:27 shows Jesus’ second example of this new standard. Jesus says, Concerning Adultery, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This goes both ways ladies. It’s not just the men who are at risk. Again, Jesus shares what is written in the Law, he quotes God’s words, then changes them. He raises the bar.
This astounds me. I mean, before Jesus came to planet earth, the people were a mess. As hard as they tried, they continued to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord. In what some may think was a last-ditch effort, God came to live among us. Part of me would have expected that God would have lowered the standards so that more people could follow them. He would change the expectations so that it would appear that His people were doing better; that they had learned and were following God more completely. But that’s not what Jesus did. He came to live among us and made things tougher! He raised the bar, the expectations are higher for Christians than they were for the Jews.
If we even look at someone with lust in our eyes, Jesus says we are to “tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
“It is the inevitable law of human nature that the more we say we don’t want to think about something, the more that something will present itself in our thoughts. There are only two ways to defeat the forbidden thoughts: The first way is by Christian action…we must do something, to fill life so full with Christian labor and Christian service that there is no time for these thoughts to enter in. The real cure for evil thoughts is good action. The second way is to fill the mind with good thoughts.” It is infinitely easier to think of something good, than try to NOT think of something bad. Make sense?
Finally, Jesus came to his teaching concerning retaliation: Matthew 5:38 – 42, 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”
An eye for an eye was known as the law of tit for tat and is one of the oldest laws in the world. It appears first in the Code of Hammurabi sometime between 2285 and 2242 B.C. This law became popular in the Old Testament, but it was not meant to deliver harsh punishments exactly, but it can be seen as the beginning of mercy. Many of the tribal traditions called for one tribe to revolt against another tribe when one member was hurt, inflicting greater harm and perpetuating a feud. This tit for tat law limited vengeance and gave individuals the opportunity to extract appropriate punishment that wasn’t more severe than their original offense.
Jesus teaching “abolishes the old law of limited vengeance and introduces the new spirit of non-resentment and of non-retaliation. He goes on to give three examples of the Christian spirit in operation.” First, if someone hits you, give him the other side and let them hit you again. There is more to this saying that what I mentioned last week. In Jesus day it was common that someone of higher socioeconomic class would hit with the back of their hand, someone who was of a lower class, to assert authority over them. “If the persecuted person “turns the other cheek,” the discipliner is faced with a dilemma: The left hand was used for unclean purposes, so a back-hand strike on the opposite cheek would not be performed. An alternative would be a slap with the open hand as a challenge or to punch the person, but this was seen as a statement of equality. So, by turning the other cheek, the persecuted was demanding equality.”
Jesus is saying that we are not to seek retaliation and vengeance. We are to rise above and instead offer forgiveness. Next Jesus says that if someone demands your coat you must give your cloak as well. The coat was an undergarment, also called a tunic which could be used as collateral, but never would a cloak be required to do so. A cloak is the heavy garment that is worn over the top of his coat, during the day and at nighttime serves as a blanket. A cloak could not be taken permanently from anyone.
If someone asks you to go one mile, you offer to go the second as well. I often think of this new way as “killing them with kindness.” This is a proven way to bring down the walls that sometime get erected between people, especially people who disagree about something. To make this work however, you must be authentic and sincerely desire to express kindness to someone.
There you have it. Jesus’ radical teachings that are new, innovative and daring. Through our Rebel Jesus we are encouraged to go the extra mile, to demonstrate love for our neighbor and to get serious about our faith. I can’t help but imagine what would happen in our world if more people practiced Jesus’ radical lessons and put others first, daring to demonstrate radical love for one another. Amen.
 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, Revised. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975. Page 134
 Ibid, 135
 Ibid, 138-39
 Matthew 5:29
 Barclay, 149
 Matthew 5:38 – 42
 Barclay, 166