Following a Radical Master
Human nature is fundamentally focused on self-interest. This self-interest often drives people to pursue power, prestige, possessions, and passion. People can become so single-mindedly focused on worldly pursuits that they will do whatever it takes to achieve them. This is as true today as it has been true throughout all of history.
Self-seeking mindsets were present during the time of the New Testament. This attitude was on full display in the teachings and actions of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and priesthood. In their desire for prestige and the praise of men, these “leaders” put on public shows of piety and false righteousness. They codified their own practices, elevated these traditions over the Law, and held the people accountable to these arbitrary standards while allowing themselves freedom from that which they taught.
Jesus was viewed by the religious establishment as a “radical.” His teachings and practices exposed the religious leaders’ hypocrisy. Jesus showed His disciples the need to deny their base instincts and to give full control of their lives to God. This point is fully illustrated in His sermon on the mount.
After pronouncing His blessings in the beatitudes, Jesus addresses the false righteousness of the Jewish leadership and gives warning to His disciples against following their example.
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus stated, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He then proceeded into a point, counter-point discussion contrasting the popular thinking of the day. He contrasted outward righteous actions with faithful submission to God and loving others – the true heart of the law.
Jesus began each thought with the phrase, “You have heard it said.” He then showed the truth of God’s Laws with the statement “but I say to you.” In this discourse He contrasted murder with anger; adultery with lust; divorce without grounds of sexual immorality; non-binding public oaths with simple honesty; mercy over justice; and, perhaps the most radical of all, loving and praying for your enemies instead of hating your enemies. Jesus’ life reflected His teachings. He showed love and mercy equally to all and it culminated on His death upon the cross.
Romans 5:6-10 tells us, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” We are often willfully sinful. Our sin not only separates us from God, but it makes us His enemy. In the ultimate example of self-less love, Jesus took the guilt of our sins upon Himself and bore the punishment of the cross. A punishment that we deserve.
In the conclusion to the sermon on the mount, Jesus called upon His disciples to be as radical as He is. In Matthew 7:12-14, He said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. 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.”
Jesus’ teachings were radical in His time and are just as radical today. He told us “the way is hard” but also that it “leads to life.” Let us all strive to be as radical as our Lord - to shun the worldly thinking of the day and to faithfully submit to His teachings of love and mercy.