“You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire….You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart….Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil….You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (excerpts from Matthew 5:21-45, ESV)
Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is arguably the best sermon ever preached—my good friend refers to it as Jesus’s magnum opus. One of the reasons it is so powerful is because while Jesus was teaching, he clearly and gently brought all of their misconceptions to the surface and he addressed them. One of the things you’ll notice in these passages (and many others not included in this selection) is the repeated phrase “You have heard that it was said….but I say to you….” It’s an interesting choice of words. At first glance, it appears that Jesus is telling them that everything they had been taught from the scriptures was wrong—a direct slap in the face to all of the teachers and scribes of the time, but that isn’t the case at all. Jesus wasn’t saying the teaching was bad, he was exposing our box-checking hypocrisy.
Let’s briefly examine the section on lust. Jesus says “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He is saying that it’s not enough to simply not commit adultery—if you are looking at someone with lust in your heart and you are committing the act in your mind, if you are making that person an object for your own personal pleasure, the only thing missing is the opportunity.
In order for Jesus to say that, he had to believe with every fiber of his being that there was another way possible—and there was. He demonstrated that way in his own life and not only with regard to lust. He also taught us how to love our enemies, deal with anger, honor our commitments, and more. The point of this passage is to show us how intimately Jesus knows our hearts. He knows and he is not satisfied to let us check boxes—he is after our transformation. Jesus’s willingness to challenge our hypocrisy in order to take us to a place where our hearts and minds can be transformed gives us hope.
We had the scriptures before Jesus came and we still have them today. The incarnation brought God, in the person of Jesus, into focus. He showed us a life that is possible in the kingdom of God and invited us to follow him. As Christians, our witness to the world is important. We cannot be angry that the world considers Christians hypocrites when we are not willing to deal with our own hypocrisy. The hope Jesus offers through the incarnation is the hope of an abundant life—one filled with genuine love, grace, hope, and continual growth. If we already did these things perfectly there would have been no reason for Jesus to come. As you allow Jesus to do the hard work of transformation in your own heart, you are exclaiming to the people around you—the people who are watching—that you are willing to deal with your own hypocrisy, your own sin, and your own struggles. In a world filled with hypocrisy, Jesus offers hope for a better, more abundant life through him. When we choose that life, others witness that hope.
A Prayer: God thank you for loving me exactly as I am and casting a vision for me of abundant life with you—free from my own sin and hypocrisy. Thank you that you don’t simply show me what is possible, but that you are by my side, guiding my steps. I am so grateful that you sent Jesus to this earth to show us the path. Lord, help me to have an open heart and mind to receive your correction and transformation. It is hard to recognize the hypocrisy and sin in my own life—thank you for being gentle and loving with me through this process. I love you, Lord. I pray these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.