Following Jesus is easiest when it’s nice and neat. We wrap up our theological convictions with a nice little bow, we clearly determine the behaviour that is acceptable and not acceptable, we put a spiritual routine into place that allows us to live out our faith in a predictable and manageable way, and if we’re being honest, we often quickly move to define who’s “in” and who’s “out.”
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But when we read the Gospels, it turns out that Jesus is a real problem for those of us who want things perfectly ordered and orderly. He constantly challenges people’s perceptions of God and Scripture, He rewrites theological convictions, He redefines what the acceptable behaviour is, He shakes up routines and rituals, and He turns the idea of who God favours upside down.
The Jesus of the Gospels is disruptive, and there is no way around it. If we are not ourselves being disrupted, challenged, reoriented, and renewed in our own ongoing spiritual journey with Him, then there is a good chance that we are not truly encountering the Jesus of the Gospels.
If we seek to look with fresh eyes, we are reminded of just how jarring the teaching of Jesus is. If we’ve been around it long enough, it can easily become comfortable and lose its impact, so we must seek to refresh ourselves in just how reorienting it is. I won’t cover every verse here, but here are some challenging examples from the Sermon on the Mount alone:
- Although it may appear obvious that God’s blessing rests on the rich, the strong, the conqueror, etc., it turns out God’s blessing actually rests on the seemingly poor, the weak, the peacemakers, etc. (Mt 5.3-10)
- When we’re attacked for our faith, our standard reaction should not be defensiveness, anger, retaliation, or victimhood, but rather joy (5.11-12)
- Everyone in the world around us should know we belong to Jesus because of the good deeds of our lives (5.13-16)
- That being said, just because you look righteous doesn’t mean you are righteous (5.20)
- Don’t elevate yourself over other “sinners” just because you manage to avoid certain sins and they don’t; sin starts in the heart, and we are guilty there just as much as we are in our actions (5.21-28)
- We must radically cut off anything in our lives that lead us into sin (5.29-30)
- Retaliation and revenge is simply not possible for the Christ-follower; rather, we seek to redeem and win over our opponents with acts of sacrificial love (5.38-42)
- You get no credit for loving your loved ones, as anyone can do that; what makes the Christ-follower holy is that we are the ones who love even our enemies (5.43-47)
- The goal is perfection. We are seeking to live perfectly before God (5.48)
- We are not to be showoffs, letting everyone see our religious activities, but rather do these things secretly, avoiding attention (6.1-6). Try this in the age of social media.
- Prayer should be short, sweet, and to the point; it takes very little to cover an awful lot (6.7-13)
- Holding grudges means your own sins won’t be forgiven by God (6.14-15). This should be an alarming thought.
- Money can be incredibly dangerous, and is not nearly as important as focusing on eternity (6.19-24).
- We are commanded not to worry in this life, because God is not worried and is more than able to meet all of our needs (6.25-34)
- God’s kingdom and His righteousness are to be way more of a priority than any earthly thing (6.33)
- The way that we judge others will be the way that God judges us (7.1-2)
- We hypocritically focus on others’ sins instead of our own, and the opposite needs to be true (7.3-5)
- He is not far away – God invites us to ask Him and seek Him, and amazingly promises to provide for us when we do (7.7-11)
- However we want to be treated ourselves is the way we must treat other people, and this idea sums up the entire Old Testament teaching (7.12)
- Most people are not going to make it to eternal life (7.13-14)
- The easiest way to tell if someone is truly walking with God or not is by examining the fruit of their lives (7.15-20). True character always comes out eventually, good or bad. This is true for all of us.
- Not everyone who says that Jesus is Lord or who did good things in His Name is going to make it into heaven; truly knowing Him and obeying Him matter (7.21-23)
- Ignoring Jesus’ teaching has massive consequences (7.24-27)
This is just three chapters worth of Jesus’ teaching!
This is not easy stuff. The challenge for those of us who have walked with Jesus for a while is that we need to allow ourselves to be re-challenged by these words, words that we might be quite familiar with and perhaps feel that we have already mastered.
But if we truly believe that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13.8), then this means that the disruptive ways of His earthly teaching must be something that He is still doing!
We need to be willing to let Jesus continue His ongoing ministry of disrupting and rewriting our bad theology, our false assumptions, our incorrect perceptions of God and Scripture, our imperfect love of both neighbour and enemy.
So we pray for fresh eyes and fresh ears as we engage with the words of the Son of God, and we ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to let us see and hear exactly what we need to, that we may continue to grow in the ways of Jesus, as He does His work in us.