ERASING THE LINES OF RELIGIOUS(osity) – SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Do you remember as a kid going to a restaurant with your parents, the waitress brings your food to the table, sets it in front of you and says, “Be careful, don’t touch the plate it is really hot.”  If you are like me, what did you do?  Touch the plate of course.  But why?  To see if it was really hot?  To see how hot it was?  To prove your independence?  After all she can’t tell me what to do.

Pencil erasing a mistake

It is funny, now that I am on the other side as a parent, I watch my kids testing the same boundaries.  The line is drawn and it is our human nature is to see how close we can get to the line or even if we are capable of crossing over the line without any consequences.

On Sinai God lays out the law for the people of Israel for their good.  The lines are drawn.  For centuries, and even still today, questions still arise, games are played.  Questions of how close can I get?  People trying to police the lines and blow the whistle on anyone who getting to close to the line.  People who want to sneak across the line and sneak back, hoping they are not seen by anyone else.  Make sense?  Let me clarify, God says, 13 “You shall not murder. Exodus 20:13 NIV  There is the line.  However, there is a lot you can do to someone without killing them, stopping just short of death.  Correct?  Or for instance, 14 “You shall not commit adultery.  Exodus 20:14 NIV  Then the question becomes what constitutes adultery?  How far can I go?  Where is the line?  How close can I get to it without crossing the line?  Can I cross the line without anyone else knowing?

For the centuries following Sinai, there is a constant testing of the lines, moving of the lines and times of flat out ignoring of the lines.  The Pharisees were great at this.  Not only did they test the lines, they made the lines even more demanding for everyone else.  They wanted everyone to see their piety and live in envy of how spiritually focused they were.  Now remember, it is in the context of this religious system, Jesus is calling disciples to follow him, who are not the “religious elite” of the society.

20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NIV

Understand, Jesus says, the Pharisees look really pristine on the outside, but they are really messed up on the inside.  They follow “all” the commands, Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself (Taken from Matthew 19).   These are the lines and we have never gone over them.  We may have gotten pretty close, we may have made our own definition but in our eyes and hopefully, everyone else’s, we have never actually crossed the lines.

I have always been taught, Jesus comes along and raises the bar, draws new more difficult lines.  Calls people to a higher standard and he does.  But I wonder if we have missed Jesus point?  Take just a minute and read through the remainder of chapter 5…

Matthew 5:21-48 NIV

If we read those verses the same way we always have, what is one of the first questions we will most likely ask?  What constitutes anger?  What about when it is righteous anger?  Then am I okay?  We immediately hear these words and begin searching for the new line.  Why?  So we know where we stand.  So we know where others stand.  So we have a means to judge.  So I want to pose a few questions and thoughts for you to reflect on.

  1. What if Jesus intent is not to say here is a line, a new higher standard?  One that you cannot even live up to.  Don’t get angry, EVER?  Really?  Never lust?  Ever?  What if the intent is to simply say sin is sin and we all sin.  Whether you murder or you just fly off the handle and lose your temper.  You cannot possibly live good enough to earn salvation by your own righteousness.  What if his intent is not to create a new line to measure our self and everyone else with?  Maybe Jesus intent is to erase the lines, to get us to stop asking am I doing well enough.
  2. Either way you read it, grace becomes essential.  We all sin and the only hope we have is the redeeming love of Christ to cover our life.  The old system is based on the question of how close can I get?  Erasing the lines.  Stop trying to figure out where the line is and start trying to figure out how to get closer to Jesus.  How you can be more like Him.  Stop asking can I do this and start asking would he do this.  Allow His love to transform your heart.
  3. If it is simply about not crossing the line, it is about head knowledge and will power.  The knowledge to know and figure out where the line is and the will power to control yourself, making sure you do not cross the line.  Following Jesus is more about the heart than it is the head.  Lots of people know about Jesus, not as many have surrender their heart to Him.
  4. Whether or not there is a line, there will always be people who feel they need to police everyone else.  There will always be a tendency to compare yourself to everyone else.  To see how you measure up.  The most difficult thing about compassion, you are comparing what you know about you, with what you don’t know about someone else.  Everyone saw the Pharisees as the measuring stick of religious devotion.  Jesus says, they are not the measuring stick, I AM!  You don’t measure up by yourself, but I measure up for you.  It is about you and Jesus not you and everyone else!

Share with me your thoughts.  As you step back and look at the Sermon on the Mount, what is Jesus doing?

P.S.  As I am finishing this post my son who is 4 grabs the potato peeler and is playing with it.  We tell him to stop so he does cut himself.  He says he won’t.  You can’t cut yourself with “this” and proceeds to try to touch the blade to show us it is not sharp…  haha

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