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About this series
What the World Needs Now
It's easy to identify things we wish were different when we look around and see what's happening in the world. The trouble is there are so many opinions, so many experts, and we're so divided - even within the Christian community - that it becomes frustrating, messy, and even dangerous. In this series, Chip calls a big timeout to find out what Jesus would say in the midst of our current circumstances. The first-century world was amazingly parallel to our issues and problems. So, Chip goes to Jesus' words, in the book of Matthew, to see how He would counsel us today. He gets very practical about what it means for us personally, and then how we can apply it, to genuinely make a difference, as followers of Jesus.More from this series
Salvation, relationship with God is a precious, supernatural gift of God. And as we step into that new relationship, He says, “The will of God for every, single follower is to say He is the sovereign ruler of the universe, and now, I want you to surrender all that you are and all that you have. You cannot be My disciple unless you deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.” At great cost. But with far greater reward.
Underneath that, it says, “Jesus makes clear that personal agendas and selfish ambition have to die for a supernatural life to expand His kingdom. Write the word under that: new authority. New authority.
The Sermon on the Mount is about a new relationship, a new allegiance, and there’s a new authority. And under that, write: His Word is life. Can you imagine a human being? He was fully God but He was fully man. He is teaching on a hillside. “You have heard it said,” and this is what Moses said all these years. And then He says, “He who hears My Word and believes on My Word and acts on My Word will spend eternity with Me and with the Father. And He who hears My Word,” do you hear the new authority?
The new standard isn’t anybody’s interpretation. It’s not a rabbi, it’s not a scribe, it’s not religion. It’s Jesus’ words.
Now, I don’t know about you, that’s different than what I grew up with. I learned a lot of verses that went like this: a Christian is a person who is a nicer person than more people and you try hard to be moral. A Christian is a person is help yourself because God helps those who help themselves. A Christian is a person that is just a little bit better or at least thinks they are than the average person and they go to, used to be at least, weekend services three or four times a month, try really hard. You’re supposed to give some money, read the Bible, and be good and God is usually mad at you most of the time.
And the revolutionary – these things – you know why they sound so hard? Are you ready? You can never be found until you get totally, thoroughly, and completely lost. And I believe American Christianity, much of it is a self-help mantra that the Jesus who died in your place and rose from the dead is going to make you a wonderfully happy person with a marriage that is off the charts, with all your kids if you have kids turning out right, that will make you upwardly mobile, wealthy and successful, and if that doesn’t happen you have permission to get mad at God.
Now, the fact of the matter is God is so kind and so generous and as we follow the truth of His principles, they so often come with blessing. But I believe we are living in a world where we are far more in love with the blessings of God than the blesser Himself.
And so, the Sermon on the Mount is about a radical change that happens inside my life and your life where I realize: I am poor in spirit. If exceeding the righteousness of people that live a lot better than me; if having a deep sense of my loss and where I don’t measure up; if being passionate to want to really see God; if being willing to say, “Yes! If persecution for Your name, that would be a badge of honor.” If that’s not my attitude, I’m not getting the message. How are you doing? I mean that.
This is one of those messages that some very good, moral, kind people who were sitting on a hillside heard this message, and they liked Jesus and He was so winsome and, man, He was an awesome preacher and the miracles were awesome and often you got lunch.
And when He got done with this, they were undone. They were completely undone. And the more religious and the more moral you are, the more undone you are, because we have this false notion that we need God’s help, but we are really doing pretty good. Because we so unconsciously and consciously compare ourselves to others.
You know the people that got really excited? Sinners. People that just knew, I am doing what is wrong, I don’t like me, I don’t think there is any hope for me.
And He’s saying, If you’re that kind of person, there is a kingdom awaiting. I want to forgive, but I want to invade your life. I don’t want to help you. I don’t want to put my arm around you; I want to invade your life. And I want to draw you close to Me and I want to give you a joy that circumstances can’t change. I want to give you a life and a love that no matter who does anything to you ever, can’t take away. And I want you to know that this little thing called “time” really is important, but you were made for eternity. This is the life you were made for. And the kingdom starts now when you receive and choose to follow Me and there will be ups and downs and struggles. And you will taste the kingdom and then you will be delivered into it forever and ever and ever. And whatever you suffer in this little thing called time for My sake will be greatly rewarded. Whoo.
So, I’d like you to think before I go on: where are you in the grand scheme of your relationship with God? Do you have a new relationship are confident that the Spirit of the Living God lives inside of you? Faith. Are you presently living in such a way that your, not your words, although those are helpful, your time, your pocketbook, your words, your priorities, and your passions align with: He is Lord. He has an agenda. I am here to fulfill His agenda. And whatever blessings happen to come, great.
And, finally, are you living in a world where when you think about what is right, what is wrong, where is true north? What should I do with my life? His Word, His Word is your guide. And that you have an insatiable appetite for it. And that you are in it, not for, I call it “guilt relief and image management.” Man, I always feel a little bit better when I read three chapters, so, three is better than four. I can’t remember anything I’m singing.
I think God would be very pleased with three verses that ended with, Lord, what would You have me do with these? Sure. I’ll forgive my ex-mate. Sure, I’ll treat my supervisor that is so unfair with kindness today. Sure, I’ll apologize to my son the way I blew up last week.
And each time you take those little incremental responses to the authority of God’s Word, whoo, the Spirit of God changes you from the inside out, little, by little, by little, by little until your life becomes unexplainable.
Jesus’ life was unexplainable and the Early Church was unexplainable. If you would meet a Christian, you would scratch your head: “Why are these foolish people giving their money away?
Why do they care about these babies on the dump? Why would they be willing to walk into stadiums singing, arm-in-arm, about this invisible God who they say died and came back to life?” And just, all they had to do was say, “Just kidding. I don’t really believe that stuff.”
Now, I want to show you, He pushes the envelope. And the reason I wanted to go back through that is that these final things can be easily misunderstood. And what I mean by that is that we can get into where, Okay, I want to, each one of these little teachings I want to seek how to follow, and miss the point.
His final and most outrageous teaching, are you ready? The law of retribution. Probably the most misunderstood and misinterpreted, probably, of anything in the Sermon on the Mount.
Verse 38, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to the other cheek also. And if someone sues you and asks for your tunic, let him have your cloak,” outer garment, “as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
If you don’t know the context of this, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The interpretation is an allusion to, they are the same verse, Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:19 and 20. Leviticus is probably the cleaner, it says, “If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it to them, it shall be done unto him. Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, whatever injury he has given to a person, he shall receive.”
The purpose of this in the Old Testament was to limit retribution. Some of you that have children will get this and some of you that everything from the Hatfield and McCoys to tribal things is – right? One of your kids steals something from the other. And so, the other gets it back and then pushes him. The other comes back and not only pushes him, then punches him in the mouth. Then the other one punches him in the mouth and gets a bat and…
In other words, escalating retribution. And so, what these verses were were not a right, but it was: look, if someone does something to you that is a one category, then the law teaches that you can respond with the one category. If they get you with a three category then you can only respond with a three category. But the purpose was to say, “How do we limit retribution,” are you ready? Justice. What’s fair?
Because when we are hurt, we usually want a lot more back. The context is that in the Old Testament, it was in court. And so, in other words, if this happened, my eye or I injured or someone took one of my animals, I would go to the court and then the court would decide and this law is: this is how the court will decide what is fair.
The Pharisees of the day had misapplied it and taken it into private interactions with one another. So, to understand this, when Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘Eye for an eye, tooth for tooth,’” Old Testament, “I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.”
This is not being pacifistic like, “Oh, wow! You want to kill me? Well, here’s the whole family. Take us out.” He is saying, “Don’t take them to court.” See, as you look in your notes, what the Pharisees were saying, “What is the legal limits of payback and injustice?”
In other words, “How far can I go to exact revenge for my injury?” Do you hear the spirit? This is what Jesus is after. Do you hear the spirit? In other words, what does the law allow? How hard can I hit him? How much damage can I do? What is the box that I can…?
And Jesus’ new standard of righteousness, literally, is He gives us these four vignettes and culturally, they make a lot of sense but at first reading, it’s like, Every homeless person, am I supposed to give them all my money? Is that what this means? No.
First of all, it says, “Don’t resist the one who is evil.” His point is, “You don’t automatically have to take them to a court and a judge. Maybe there is a way to solve this, because here’s the question Jesus wants you to ask and answer. How can I respond to injustice with mercy in order to reveal God’s heart and expand His kingdom?
Illustration number one: if someone hits you on the right cheek, I forget, ninety-some percent of all the people in the world are right-handed. If you get hit on the right cheek with a right hand, it’s the back of the hand. In other words, in essence, it’s an insult. Someone slaps you and they have insulted you.
Or in our day, they cut you off in traffic. And as they cut you off in traffic, they look back in their mirror because you honk, and they raise their hand and they make a gesture with their hand, usually with one of their fingers that apparently means something to some people.
How do you respond? Vengeance! “I’ll get him! You know what? I’m going to get up on his bumper and I’ll tell you what, he takes that exit, I’ll…” You’ve seen it, right? On the freeway, and you see these two cars chasing each other. He said, “Let it go.”
The second one is someone sues you. According to the law, they couldn’t take your outer garment. That was your possession, no matter how poor you were. And Jesus’ hyperbole, He is making the point, “If they want your undergarment, the tunic, they want that, give them the coat too.”
And they would be going, “Whoa, what?” See, they would be scratching, “What? I did the injustice and you’re treating me like that?”
The third was government. The Roman law was, at any time, Romans would have their baggage, they could be in a city, and they could stop in a city, “Hey, you, right here!” And the legal law demanded that if a Roman soldier said, “Carry my bag,” you had to carry it for exactly a mile. It’s kind of like taxes today.
There are certain things that you feel like: this is unjust, this is not fair. This is how to respond from the heart to reveal God’s mercy instead of: my rights! And so, you can imagine a Roman soldier. And everyone has had a bad attitude and they are rolling their eyes and they are cussing him out in, probably, Hebrew if he doesn’t understand it. And then he meets this Christ follower and they get to one mile and he looks at the soldier and says, “You look very tired. Could I carry it another mile?”
Do you understand what He’s saying? A Christian’s life should be completely unexplainable. Mercy triumphs over justice.
Finally, according to Jewish law, if a relative or someone came and wanted a loan, Jews were commanded to give interest-free loans to one another. And so, someone wants a loan, the goal is, like, how much? And what is the limits? And I don’t want to give too much.
And Jesus is saying, “What if you replaced that with a heart of generosity?” What if you said something like, “Wow, it seems like,” you would vet it, “but this seems like a really difficult time and you said you needed a hundred dollars. Here’s two hundred. Let me help you on your way.” And they go…
You understand, the Early Church multiplied and took the world, literally, and made it upside down because of these kind of behaviors? Jesus, in essence, was saying, “Stop demanding your personal rights and live for a different kingdom with a different set of values the way I respond.”
It’s not that you’re a mattress or a doormat or you enable people. There are plenty of verses and plenty of truth about, “If he,” Paul says, “if he doesn’t work, don’t feed him.” This isn’t giving another bottle to an alcoholic. But this is in situations saying, “Instead of my rights and what does the law allow me to pay back?” What might I do that would extend mercy?
It goes against every human tendency in our being. And it displays God’s greatness and His mercy.
The final thing is the law of love, and He makes this very, very clear. When it comes to retribution, He says, “Don’t ask inside the box, ‘What can I do to pay people back?’” I want to live outside the box. What would it look like to extend mercy in this situation so they could actually see God’s heart?
Notice, verse 43, “You have heard it said to 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 sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes the sun to shine on the evil and the good and He sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect,” you might circle that, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It means whole.
It’s translated sometimes mature. It means, like your heavenly Father goes beyond the legal limits and He is kind and just and fair.
The interpretation of the day was: just love the people in your circle. And notice there is an omission. They leave out: “love them as yourself.”
And then there is an addition. You’ll never find in the Old Testament, “Hate those outside your circle.” But in the rabbinic teachings it was, “Well, if you’re supposed to love one another,” their mindset was, That means we probably should hate our enemies. And Jesus’ new standard of righteousness is: “Love those in My circle and love and pray for My enemies and persecutors.”
It’s very, very interesting, this radical, radical life that can only be lived with Him living inside you is when it comes to retribution, live outside the box. When it comes to love, love outside your circle and the people that are comfortable. And I would ask you: who would you see as enemies and persecutors? Who makes your blood boil? Who has hurt you in the past? Who is your political enemy? Who are people that hold things that make you crazy? Who are people in your neighborhood that just make you nuts? What would it look like for you to pray for them, to do good to them?
Not enable, not put yourself in any kind of danger, but to live in a way that they would scratch their head and go, “I’ve been treating this person like this and, oh, good is more powerful than evil.” Lord, these are not hard words, they are not even difficult words, they are absolutely impossible. And only when we come to see that we are desperately in need, and that we fall so much shorter than we think we fall and we are in desperate need of You. Lord, we don’t need remodeled, we don’t need a little help, we need a brand-new relationship for those that have never trusted Christ. Lord, for some of us, we need to stop allowing other things to be our god and surrender to Jesus as Lord. And, Father, we would confess that apart from Your Word, and the power that it brings by Your Spirit, we are hopeless and helpless to be the men and women that cause Your kingdom to come and Your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.