Episode 76: Hard Sayings from Our Lord Jesus, Part 1

Peace to Live By Episode 76: Hard Sayings from Our Lord Jesus, Part 1 - Daniel Litton
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       Today I am starting a new series on hard sayings from our Lord Jesus, particularly hard sayings that come from the Book of Matthew. I’m sure many of you by now, as you’ve read through the Gospels, have come across things that Jesus has said that have seemed particularly hard to bear. These are the verses that seem to sting us when we read them. Sometimes we may even be surprised to read that Jesus said this or that. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to line up with the mental picture we have of Christ, and we may even tend to ignore or avoid these passages. But today, I want us to consider some of them head on.

       Now, we’re not going to cover every hard verse or passage, every difficult thing that Jesus said within the Gospel of Matthew. And it should be noted that some people may find one passage hard to bear, while others don't see the passage that way. I have chosen nine particular sections that I think will be beneficial for us to go over, to think about. So, we will work through these texts one-by-one, going in chronological order as they appear in the Gospel. The first four that I want to examine are found in the Sermon on the Mount, which of course is in Matthew chapters 5 through 7. The latter five I want to review are found in the rest of the Gospel. I do want to note quickly that we will not be covering the unpardonable sin found in Matthew 12 simply because I have already gone over that in length, particularly in the sermon I did on the believer’s eternal security sometime ago. Therefore, if you want to know more about that area of the Gospel please reference that sermon.

       I also want to state that my goal in going over these passages is so that we can really dig in to what is being said and hopefully not feel frightened or turned off anymore by some of these sayings. It certainly is true that not everything our Lord had to say during his earth ministry felt comfortable. And not everything may be clear to everyone at first glance. By considering these things we can better understand them so that we don’t feel like God is against us in some way or that he is expecting too much of us. We don’t want to have an overall perception that the Christian life is too difficult to live or that God is harsh toward us. I think that in giving an honest consideration of these things that we will actually see that God is on our sides, that he is not trying to make our lives difficult.

       Let's turn to Matthew 5 and starting going through these passages. So, the first one that I want to consider is found toward the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. If we go to verse 11, we read the following: "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11, 12, ESV).

       Thus, this is the first of our hard sayings from Jesus. Now, this is at the conclusion of the Beatitudes, the blessed, or happy sayings that Jesus has stated toward his followers, his disciples. And that includes us today. This passage is uncomfortable first because it indicates to us that not everyone in the world is going to like us—not everyone is going to be on our side. And this is hard for many to hear, particularly in our current day and age here in the United States. The goal of many folks is to be liked by everybody. I mean, that’s what Facebook is about for a lot of people, right? People want others to like them. A number of people want to be friends with everyone they come into contact with, those they meet in life. I personally know people who are like this in my own life. But Jesus says here, in pulling out the pin to pop the balloon, that not everyone is going to like us, as Christians.

       Now why is this the case, that not everyone will like us when we are a Christian? Well, it’s simply because we show people around us where they are wrong by how we act—or least, we should be. If we are conducting our lives, our attitudes, our words, our behaviors in a way that represents Christ, then some people aren’t going to feel comfortable with that. They want us to be acting like they act—full of fear, worry, animosity, immorality, sensuality, covetousness—whatever it is—and not have control of ourselves because when we do it shows they are in the wrong. Some folks, though, appreciate this, and want what we have. Many surely will in fact respect us for the good behavior they see in us. However, some are really bothered by it. And those who don’t like it will likely speak out against us, as Jesus said. They can persecute us, to use a strong word, by what they say or the actions they take against us. They can even make up things about us and tell other people because they don’t like us. This can happen to famous Christians, and it can happen to ordinary, everyday Christians. It happens in the media, or at school and the workplace.

       This can be particularly apparent and true when we have said things that certain people don’t like. Again, if we are followers of Jesus, we are going to be talking about Biblical things with people, sometimes on purpose or sometimes just through the natural flow of our Christian character. And if we talk about things that people don’t like, sometimes they are going to get upset. Usually, it has to do with sin. We may tell someone, who we are witnessing to, that the Bible says this or that about a particular thing. And the person may not like what the Bible says. And this can be true also for preachers and teachers of the Word of God, who stand before many and talk about a great number of things. There could be someone listening who doesn’t believe and doesn’t like what the preacher has said. They may come against the preacher personally, say face-to-face, or in the form of a letter, email, or Facebook message, or they may just speak bad about the person to others.

       Whether it is personal witness or preaching the Bible, there are going to be times we say things that people don’t approve of, and if you never find yourself caught in that type of situation, then perhaps you not being as bold or as forthcoming as you ought to be. Jesus said we are blessed as Christians “when” these things happen to us, not “if” they happen. Some preachers don’t want to say anything that offends, or very little and only when absolutely necessary to appease the more devoted folks. If we’re never saying anything that rocks the boat with some, then we’re not explaining God and the Scriptures in an honest way. Certainly, the truth will offend because it comes in opposition with Satan’s counterfeit truth. Unquestionable absolutes exist when it comes to things pertaining to what is right and what is wrong, what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are not, and this comes to us from God himself. It is what God thinks. And when we say we believe these things, and tell people what the Bible says, offense is surely to come. That doesn’t mean, though, we shouldn’t say them, or just keep them to ourselves. No, God’s truth encompasses everyone, believe it or not (no pun intended). God is going to judge everyone in world on what he has said to be right and wrong, and since he’s God, what he says is what really matters.

       See, a lot of people don’t understand this. Many people just think, “You keep your beliefs to yourself, and I’ll keep mine to myself.” And indeed, some folks live by this principle. They just want to live by the principles set forth, I guess, by American society, and if a person’s beliefs differs from that, they want people to keep those beliefs personal, to themselves. Of course, that doesn’t work for the Christian. For the reasons I already stated, and because we are supposed to share the Gospel, God’s truth with people, we cannot do that. To do so would not allow ourselves to shine our lights before others. It would be putting our lamps under our stands. And besides, a lot of people who don’t follow Christianity are spreading forth their own values, and they’re trying to get us to agree with them and believe on those things. The problem is that those anti-God positions they are proclaiming and fighting for actually come from our arch enemy, Satan himself. Lots of things may be done in the seeming spirit of freedom or acceptance, but they are actually things God hates and things of which he is going to rid the world of when the end of time comes.

       Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said something that supplements this persecution idea. He said: "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13, 14, ESV). We see here, then, that it’s easy to go along with the crowd, to just go along with whatever the latest forthcoming belief in American society is. You get the praise of your fellow people when you don’t go against anything anyone believes. Nevertheless, we must remember that there are absolute truths, and these truths come from God. When you are talking about morality, there is only one way to live, and that is what God says is right. If multiple gods exist, and multiple religions are good, then the God of the Christian Bible is a liar because he said he’s the only true God, and Jesus, whom the Bible says is God, said he’s the only way to God. Consequently, if there are multiple religions which are good, then Jesus is a liar. Some people say, “Why don’t you just accept all religions as good and let people be who they want to be.” But if we were to do that, we would be calling Jesus a liar and letting people go straight to Hell without giving them a chance to believe in the truth of reality.

       Before I wrap up this section, I want us to consider what Jesus told his twelve chief disciples when he was sending them out to share the Gospel in Israel. If we go over to Matthew 10, we read the following:

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:16-23, ESV)

Quickly, in considering this passage, note that people will do these things to certain disciples because they don’t like what they have to say—the don’t want to hear the truth. Jesus mentions that people can deliver us to courts, have us whipped or beaten, and even drag us before rulers. But he tells us that this is actually for God’s sake, so that he can witness to them of the truth. Jesus even states that family members will be against family members (more on this next week). And perhaps the key phrase in his whole saying here is, “and you will be hated by all for my name's sake.” Wow, what a dramatic and sobering statement. That’s because of Satan’s tremendous influence on this world in promoting his doctrines through people as the truth that should be followed in contrast to God’s truth.

       For are next hard saying, we don’t have to go very far. If we jump down in Matthew chapter 5 to verse 29, we read: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29, 30, ESV).

       At first glance, this passage of Scripture may seem scary to some. However, I want us to realize that really it isn’t scary it all. Surely, Jesus is being overdramatic here in order to get his point across. He is using right eyes and hands in order to represent many things. He is not actually telling people that they should actually tear out their eye, or cut off their hand. Remember, Jesus clearly taught that it is from the heart that sin comes. Let’s consider that passage quickly. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19, 20, ESV). In other words, mutilating the flesh will not fix anything for a person. If a person where to tear out his eye or cut off his hand, that person would still have evil on the inside. A person may look at his neighbor’s possessions to covet them, but that feeling of covetousness is not in the eye, but in the person’s mind. So, tearing out the eye isn’t going to do any good.

       Nonetheless, two different approaches are possible for this passage: one that has believers in view when considering it, and another that has unbelievers in view. And I think that both interpretations work to our advantage, and we can learn different things from each perspective. And in the similar passage in Matthew 18:7-9, it seems to fit believers better, while the passage here may fit unbelievers better. Therefore, for the believer in Jesus, we can note in the most basis sense that God wants us to avoid anything in our lives that causes us to sin. Sounds pretty simple right? Well, this may be simple on paper, but we can make it hard when applying it in our lives. Really, in reality, it is simple though. So, what are some things that might cause us to sin? Let’s think about some ways this passage might be applied for the believer. For some people, for instance, certain movies might be too much for them, and perhaps lead them to sin. Thus, a person might want to avoid certain movies. Another thing could be music. Or, let’s think a little outside the box. It could be that hanging out with certain groups of people causes you to sin. In that case, you’re going to have to avoid those people. Maybe going to certain stores, or even the mall, is a stumbling block for you because you tend to spend money you don’t have. Whatever it is, if it is a problem for us particularly, we need to avoid those things or people that can cause us to sin.

       The other way to look at this passage is with unbelievers in mind. In that case, it may be that a particular sin is causing someone from accepting Jesus and becoming a Christian. It could be that a person is involved in some type of sexual immorality, and doesn’t want to acknowledge that that way of life is in fact sin. He or she wants to keep that sin. Or, perhaps a person is involved in another religion, and was even raised in that religion, and accepting Jesus will mean that he or she has to give up that belief system. And, of course, that’s a big deal for the person. A person may not want to take that step of faith and believe he has been in the wrong all of his life. And, to complicate matters, a person would have to go against family members who still believe in the other religion. And the person feels he can’t do that. But Jesus encourages everyone today that they should take that big step in believing in him, and what he says is true, so that they can save their own lives, and accept the truth of the world. He says it’s not worth going to Hell for all of eternity because a person is unwilling to endure some discomfort in this life, like the loss of practicing a certain sin, or the loss of family members or friends who believe in a different religion. He is telling people that he is worth far more than those things.

       Now, for the third hard saying. Jesus says in Matthew 5:38-42 the following: ”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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak 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” (ESV).

       In the Old Testament, God had commanded the Israelites many things in how to live and conduct themselves as a nation. One of these things was that they were to repay back a wrong for a wrong committed. This is how their justice system worked. On the other hand, Israelites in one-on-one relationships were never to practice this law individually themselves, as if they were to carry out the force of law as a vigilante. When it came to one-on-one relationships, people were supposed to be kind to one another, and forgiving of each other. Apparently, by what Jesus tells us here, the Scribes and Pharisees had perverted the Jewish law by teaching that people individually should retaliate against each other when wrongs were committed. They had taught that people, on a one-on-one level, should take matters into their own hands. So, Jesus here goes completely against their teaching.

       We can conclude then that Jesus is talking about how unbelievers treat us, for he says, “Do not resist the one who is evil.” Wherefore, let’s look at the first example here from our Lord. He says that we are to turn the other check, as the expression goes. The slapping on the cheek by the person who is evil could be manifested in a variety of ways. Perhaps someone says something against us to our face, insults us, hurts our feelings, or even teases us in front of others. The point is that we are not to retaliate to the person at all. Not with an equal repayment, and not even with a lesser reaction. We are to forgive the person, even if we feel hurt. Turning the other check in response to the offense doesn’t mean we ask the person to hurt us more. It just means we don’t show any retaliation. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul told us we are to do good to others who hurt us, and by doing so we can actually make them feel bad for hurting us. When we do good to others who don’t like us or have hurt us, that can go a long way.

       Next, Jesus said, “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” I believe the idea here, in what Jesus is saying, is that if we have done an unbeliever wrong, that is, we have sinned against the person, and the person takes us to court for it, we are not to try to weasel our way out of the suit or even to fight against it. It is exactly the opposite that Jesus wants. He wants us to be willing to make the wrong right. During the times of Jesus, in a Jewish court the judge would take whatever possessions a person had to give to the person who sued. If the person had no possessions of value, then the person who sued was out of business. However, a person could offer his outer garment, his coat as we would call it, as payment to the individual. And Jesus is telling us to do that. Even if we don’t have anything to give, we are to give what we possibly can to show we are sorry for doing the person wrong. This shows a good, Christian attitude.

       Thirdly, Jesus said, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” I think for us to best understand this sentence, it is almost certain that Jesus was referring to here the fact that, during the Roman Empire, a Roman solider could, by law, require someone to carry his gear for approximately one mile. This was the law of the day during the time of Jesus. Here, then, Jesus is telling his followers that if a Roman soldier pointed them out and said they needed to help him carry his gear of a mile, that he should say, “Hey, I can carry it for two miles if you would like.” We are to be generous to those who need it, but even when they may be demanding it of us in a way that, inside, we don’t particularly like. I know, this one is hard. I wonder how many times Jesus carried the gear of Roman soldiers during his day? He most likely did multiple times.

       Finally, Jesus says, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” I think this saying from Jesus is pretty self-explanatory. I would say, however, that I think our Lord here is talking about people with real needs, and not a person who just wants to mooch off of us or take what we have. We should use wisdom and common sense here. We shouldn’t be unwise in our lending to others. I think most of us, because of the way American society is, will be pretty responsive at this one. Even unbelievers here in America may be good at this. We as Americans generally like to help people, especially if the need is real and the person or people are begging us for it. And the same then would be true for a person who wants to borrow from us. If we see the person really has a need, and they want to borrow from us, we should let them borrow. And I think a lot of us will let people borrow from us even when they just want to, and there really isn’t a demanding need.

       Sometime ago one day when I was working with a coworker at my workplace, we started discussing the Superman movies—the original ones which starred Christopher Reeve. I had mentioned that I had the complete set on DVD because I liked them that much. And he said he hadn’t seen parts one and four, and asked me if he could borrow them. I said “Sure,” and brought them in for him the next day. Anyway, time passed and he never returned the movies to me. Now, I remembered what Jesus had taught about us letting people borrow our stuff, and I never asked for the movies back. Well, this occurred during the springtime I believe. The following Christmas, one the presents my mother gave me was a complete set of the original Superman movies. I had never told her about the fact that I had let someone borrow a couple of them, and she would have had no idea. So, God decided to reward me in this life for being faithful in something small. It may not seem like this kind of situation would matter much to some, but it definitely matters to God. So, my point is that we need to remember that God will reward us even in the small things, sometimes in this life and definitely in the next. That can provide motivation for being obedient in these areas.

       In closing today, it could be that you’ve been listening to what I’ve been talking about and perhaps what I’ve said has been foreign to you, and you don’t know Jesus. It is true that real life is found only Jesus. One doesn’t find the best life in just trying to be good—or trying to be pleasing to everyone—not trying to offend anyone. One finds real life in the living of life through the Spirit of God—though the Words of Jesus. The Apostle Paul noted in Romans, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (8:6, ESV). For anyone who doesn’t feel they have real life, I’ve got good news for you. You can have real fulfilling life by recognizing a new identity in Christ. If you will turn from the things that offend God and give yourself over to him, he promises you an inheritance, one that includes both benefits now and even many more in the future. And God indwells each believer who gives him or herself to him, giving the person a new reason to live.

       God wants to be your God. He wants everyone to believe in him, no exceptions. No matter what you’ve done in your life—how far you’ve strayed away from God, he wants you to come to him in brokenness and humbleness. God is in the business of saving lives and giving people new lives, and that includes you today, if you will believe in Him. Recognize that your current way of living isn’t giving you the true fulfillment that you are desperately seeking, and realize that God wants you to be fulfilled in Him.

       If you want to accept Jesus Christ today as your personal Lord, and your personal Savior from all your sins—if you want to accept Jesus today, then follow my lead in this prayer:

God, I realize today that I don’t have life inside me. The life I have been living isn’t right, and today I want to turn from this life and have a new life in you. I give myself over to you. Please forgive me of my sins from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and resurrection, and make me to live in a new way. Give me life through Jesus, one that he has created. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton