Too often we take our cues from social commentary. As soon as issues are brought to the fore by the media we scuttle to decide which party or group we identify with. Hashtags have become the slogans that assign purpose. They give people a cause to fight for and set sides sharply against one other. These social ‘narratives’ have become the stories from which we derive our meaning and direction. But Christian, you belong to Christ, not a hashtag. And Christ has explicitly taught and shown us how we ought to live.
Hashtags have become the slogans that assign purpose.
As Jesus begins his ministry he goes up a mountainside to teach the crowds. This scene is remarkably reminiscent of Israel gathering at Mount Sinai to receive God’s law. Except, when Jesus comes, he does not give us rules set in stone. Rules to read and reject. He gives us himself. Jesus teaches us not just with written words but physically as the incarnate Word. As the people gathered around Christ on the mountainside, they would have to make their decision, not to obey or reject a set of divine written rules, but to obey or reject God.
Jesus is Clear, Not Cryptic
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) leaves me with many questions. The words are neither difficult to understand nor cryptic. Their meaning is as obvious as the 10 commandments. What is difficult is carrying them out. Like immature children, finding ‘unique’ scenarios for loopholes to justifiably indulge their desires, we dance around the clear instruction with the excuse that ‘we’re not actually touching’ all the while getting as close as we possibly can.
Jesus does not give us rules set in stone. Rules to read and reject. He gives us himself
What is your response when you hear, “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” (Matthew 5:39, 40)? Do you begin by pondering the definition of a tunic or cloak? Are you confused about who ‘the one who is evil’ might be? We might know the law of God, but do we try to justify ourselves like the lawyer who came to test Jesus and asked, ‘and who is my neighbour?’ (Luke 10:29).
In a most brutally unique and difficult set of circumstances, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote on the Sermon on the Mount, “humanly speaking we could interpret the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways. Jesus knows only one possibility: simple surrender and obedience. Not interpreting it or applying it, but doing and obeying it. That is the only way to hear his word.” He does not mean that we should suspend our thinking or that theological study is trivial. What he means is that we have busied ourselves with these activities for so long that we have remained unmoved. “He really means for us to get on with it… Jesus has spoken. He is the Word. Ours the obedience.”
Jesus ‘Got On With It’
If there was ever a compelling reason to “get on with it” surely it is that Jesus did. As he fulfils every righteous requirement of the law he not only reveals to us his divine and righteous nature, but he presents to us the perfect human example. God’s people were to be holy because God is holy, and here the people could physically see what God required.
Our particular context today is not so unique that we might find ourselves excused from the call of Jesus
There is a surging current in today’s culture that calls us to fight for our rights. As with all movements, causes and hashtags there are varying degree of truth involved. For there are real problems, grievous hurts, gross injustice and abuse. However, our particular context today is not so unique that we might find ourselves excused from the call of Jesus.
Causes Do Not Nullify Jesus’ Call
We are not to dig in our heels, we are not to fight back. We are not to ‘teach them a lesson’. Why have we thought that these teachings of Jesus are limited to religious encounters or to a unique historical setting? The very nature of the examples reveal that these are practices we will need to exercise in business, in education and in our homes.
Christian, you belong to Christ, not a hashtag. And he has explicitly taught and shown us how we ought to live
The song of the West has been a tickling tune. For each one, individual rights have been so overinflated that we no longer see or consider God and neighbour. The thought that someone would turn the other cheek seems like suicide to our dignity and self-respect. But that is precisely what our Lord calls us to do. It is the easy yet difficult teaching of Jesus. Teaching which is only truly understood when it is done.
As long as we hear or even teach these words, but do not put them into practice, we reveal our disassociation, and our end has already been disclosed: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt 7:26-27).
Jesus Was Like Us
This message is so emphatic, simply in that it is the path Jesus took as well as the pattern he set. But what is more: this pattern is explicitly relatable. Consider your Saviour and the way in which he came to us. He was not impressive, sheltered, privileged or attractive. On the contrary, “he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2, 3).
Dallas Willard writes, “If he were to come today he could very well do what you do. He could very well live in your flat or house, hold down your job, have your education and life prospects, and live within your family, surrounding and time. None of this would be the least hindrance to the eternal kind of life that was his by nature and becomes available to us through him.” Perhaps you need a moment to ponder this.
Every excuse you could possibly give regarding your life, culture, privilege, class or education has been undone by the life of Jesus
Every excuse you could possibly give regarding your life, culture, privilege, class or education has been undone by the life of Jesus. It is not that those things are insignificant. Rather, they are no hinderance or obstacle to living out our divine calling. Christian, there is no excuse good enough for disobeying our Lord. Not even your gender or privilege.
Have This Mind Among Yourselves
As believers, our lives are bound up in Jesus’. As the first question of the New City Catechism says, “We are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Saviour Jesus Christ.” Your life is not your own to fight for. Your life belongs to Christ and must be directed toward his purposes. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Christian, there is no excuse good enough for disobeying our Lord
God forbid that you would feel a closer sisterhood to an atheist from a feminist cause, or that disunity in the church would be attributed to your affiliated hashtag. God forbid that we would determine someone’s morality by their political vote. Christ has already done away with our former cruel master, who enslaved us to the patterns of this world. Transform and renew your thinking (Ephesians 2:2; Romans 12:2). So what is our encouragement, Christian? Where is our comfort? Where do we find unity in a church that seems so divided? Paul leads us like children by the hand, to see again that our example is Christ.
“Complete my joy by being of the same mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves…Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:1-8). Christ our example in life and death. If we are his, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow (Matthew 16:24).