38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In 1 Kings 18, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to call upon their god to bring fire to their sacrifices. He gave them every advantage, but no matter how much they cried out, there was no fire—only silence and shame. When it was his turn, after building an altar and preparing the bull, Elijah dug a trench around the altar. He then commanded attendees to fill four jars of water and pour it on the altar—not once or twice, but THREE TIMES, until water soaked the wood and stones and filled the trench. And when Elijah called on the name of the Lord, fire fell and consumed EVERYTHING.
In the well-known story of the faithfulness of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before the fury and the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar, they tell the king that whether they were rescued or incinerated, they would only bow before the One True God. And while the king of Babylon raged, don’t be mistaken—it was God who “ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated.” Just as it was God who met Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego amid the inferno and allowed them to walk out without harm, not even smelling of smoke.
And before His earthly ministry began, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, but not before fasting for FORTY DAYS!
Now, how are these three stories related? Well, at the risk of being inappropriate, each of these stories makes me smile. Not because of their content, but in the way God seemed to be putting on a demonstration. It was as if to say, “Not only are you going to witness a miracle, but I’m going to increase the degree of difficulty on such a dramatic and even absurd scale that not even the broken hearts of men can explain it away.”
And yet our broken hearts are so imprisoned in our SELF-confidence that we misunderstand the purpose of God’s perfect Law. We are often tempted to view His commands in light of what is possible through OUR faithfulness, even though our faithfulness fails us time and time again.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” With all due respect to Mr. Chesterton, the Christian ideal is not difficult—it’s impossible. And THAT’S the point.
The Sermon on the Mount, like the Law before it, is the standard of God’s righteousness. Jesus actually increased the degree of difficulty on a dramatic and even absurd scale in order to tear down our illusions and reveal our need. The Sermon on the Mount is not a To-Do list—it’s a Can’t-Do list.
Loving someone that loves you? Any fool can do that. But loving your enemies? And blessing those who persecute you?
The Good News is this: “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). The Christian life that pleases God is not one that strives to develop an external goodness. It is one that recognizes God’s grace and power in the face of our ineptness…and then leans into Him.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What is your initial response to the idea that the Christian life is impossible?
- Has focusing on your limitations kept you from experiencing God’s power?
- Has your self-salvation project come crashing down yet, or are you, as Chesterton once speculated, still desperately engineering smaller camels and manufacturing bigger needles?