3 Harsh Teachings of Jesus, and Why He Wasn't Playing
Jamey Escamilla • November 12, 2020
Did you know that Jesus said some pretty harsh things during his ministry?
Things that would probably make today’s believers walk out of a church service.
For example, the Sermon on the Mount is probably the most popular teaching given by Jesus.
This is a sermon that Jesus gave in Matthew 5 that people love to talk about.
We love talking about the beatitudes and the model Jesus gave to pray.
But sometimes, I think that we treat Christianity like a buffet.
We go down the line and pick and choose what we like, leaving the rest.
If the Bible says something we don’t like, we either ignore it, or try to give a crazy, alternate explanation.
I’m all for studying out hard scriptures.
But I think it’s wrong to completely ignore hard scriptures or give some foolish interpretation based on what we feel the scripture is saying.
And this is the case with a part of the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus says some crazy things in this sermon that we don’t talk about too much.
So I’d like to talk about those scriptures real quick, so that you can have an explanation to give to others about them as well.
The harsh teachings of Jesus start in Matthew 5:17, so let’s start there:
“Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.
Now, I wanted to start here to give you some context.
He starts talking about the law, and how he didn’t come to destroy it, but fulfill it.
He says that the law wouldn’t pass away “until all things are accomplished.”
His blood being shed and his death occurring so that the New Covenant could come.
And of course, this happened on the cross:
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished… He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
But he goes on to say in Matthew 5 that this still hasn’t happened yet, so the Law of Moses is still in effect.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Since Jesus hadn’t died yet, they were all still under law.
So it was important for Jesus to clarify that he didn’t want them breaking any laws while it was still in effect.
However, Jesus goes on to say something about this that I’m sure stunned everyone listening.
He tells them what it’s REALLY like to keep the law perfectly.
He goes on to give a lot of examples of what truly keeping the law in God’s eyes looks like:
“You have heard it said, but I say to you…”
Which brings me to the first harsh teaching of Jesus:
If you think sin, you’re guilty of sin.
In Matthew 5:21-28, he raises the standard of the law by talking about our thoughts.
He says that we’ve all heard to not commit adultery.
Don’t cheat on your wife, bro.
It’s one of the 10 commandments.
But he makes this law even harder to keep by saying this in verse 28:
But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
So if you’re walking through the mall and see a sexy man or woman…
… and then your mind begins to wonder…
… you’ve committed adultery on your spouse.
He also says that it’s not enough to just NOT KILL someone.
If you HATE them, you will be judged!
The next harsh teaching happens in Matthew 5:29-30:
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
That’s the next harsh teaching: self-mutilation when we sin.
What if your pastor told you to pluck out your eye if you look at pornography?
What if Jesus was suggesting that we do what’s done in other countries, and cut off people’s hands when they steal?
You crazy, Jesus.
Jesus continues to raise the bar of the law in the rest of the chapter.
He says that they were taught that if they make oaths, they should keep them.
“But I say to you, don’t even make oaths.”
Maybe because we often don’t keep our word.
He says that the law tells them to give an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.
In the law, if you knocked someone’s tooth out, someone’s gotta knock yours out.
“But I say to you, turn the other cheek.”
In other words, if they do you wrong, continue to be kind to them.
Them doing you wrong doesn’t give you the right to do them wrong.
Then, he sums everything up about the law in verse 48 and gives his last harsh teaching:
So God’s REAL expectation for us under the law is to be perfect.
So here we go.
Those three harsh teachings again are:
If you think sin, you’re guilty of sin.
Self-mutilation when we sin.
So what is Jesus really saying with these harsh teachings?
How should we interpret them?
It’s important to understand what he’s saying here, and what he’s NOT saying.
There are three ways that we can interpret these harsh teachings:
1. Jesus was exaggerating
Some people believe that Jesus really didn’t mean what he said.
He was really just telling us to try our best.
“There’s no way that a loving God would expect perfection from imperfect people.”
“There’s no way he would REALLY expect us to chop off our limbs when we fail.”
It’s a possibility, I guess.
Jesus and the Bible DO use exaggerated language sometimes.
But was he exaggerating about THIS?
2. Reinterpret and sugar coat what Jesus was saying
Another approach we can take is to re-explain what Jesus was saying.
As if we go up to Jesus, take him by the hand, sit him down, and say,
“OK guys, let me tell you what he MEANT to say.”
But with this approach, we’re simply trying to find a way to make these harsh teachings fit our preconceived theology.
We say things like, “In my mind, I can’t understand why Jesus would tell me to be perfect. And God knows that I can’t be perfect in my actions and thoughts. So “perfect” has to mean something else in this scripture.”
They then go to the Greek language and try to redefine the word “perfect”.
I’ve even heard this:
“Yes, Jesus WAS teaching that we can sin in our thoughts. But ONLY if it’s lust! We can look at a woman and think she’s beautiful, but if it reaches that point of lust, THEN we’ve sinned.”
OK, look. Yes, that’s true. That is what he said.
But I think we’re looking into what he’s saying too much and missing the real point.
Why are we trying to make his statements doable? Why are we trying to prove to God and others that we can perfectly obey the law?
Are you saying that you are so holy that you can control every single thought you have?
If this applies to adultery in the law, wouldn’t it apply to the other laws, like coveting and honoring our parents?
Do you always, completely honor your parents in your mind? Do you ever get jealous in your mind?
You see, we try to reinvent what Jesus was saying so that we can still keep the law for holy living.
Because we know that deep down, if we don’t patty cake, reinvent, and re-explain what Jesus was saying, we really can’t do it.
I’m sorry if that sounds a little harsh.
I know that we’re only trying to correctly interpret Matthew 5, live for God, and do good.
But I think there’s something else going on in Matthew 5, which brings me to the next approach we can take:
3. Jesus meant what he said
This might shock you, but I think that Jesus was serious about ALL of these harsh teachings.
Again, he begins by telling them that they were still under law.
He then says, “Yes, we’re under law. But let me show you what the law is really like.”
In the end, it demands perfection.
I think that’s what Jesus is saying with Matthew 5.
He’s raising the standard of the law to show them that they really CAN’T do it, and need to depend on Jesus for their righteousness.
In the days of Jesus, the Jews had tons of side laws to explain the Law of Moses and make it more doable.
For example, they were not allowed to work on the Sabbath.
But what exactly does that mean? What exactly can we do and not do?
So they invented a side, explanatory law saying that you COULD walk, but only so many steps.
I’ve heard that there was even a side law forbidding bowel movements on the Sabbath, because this was considered work.
I guess sometimes it can be. LOL
But what’s crazy is that this is what people do today.
We try to make the laws and commands doable, because we think that living holy KEEPS us saved.
But I think Jesus meant exactly what he said.
If your hand causes you to sin, guess what? CUT IT OFF!
“Wait a minute. That’s harsh. I can’t do that! I wouldn’t have any body parts left!”
So what’s the solution?
Focus on Jesus, and the right living will fall into place.
Thinking you can live more holy than others based on your actions is really blasphemy.
In doing so, you’re saying that YOU can make yourself more holy than others in your own self-effort.
But that diminishes what Jesus did, and tramples his blood.
So that’s how we should interpret Jesus’ harsh teachings.
He meant what he said, but he said it to show us that we can never live the law perfectly.
So we need a savior and his blood.
The only way God will see us as “perfect” is if He sees us in Jesus.
Here are some quick passages of scripture to prove why I believe this:
1. Mark 10:17-27
Jesus told the rich young ruler to obey the commandments to be saved (they were still under law).
The rich young ruler says he does.
But Jesus tells him that he STILL lacks one thing.
And when Jesus told him to sell EVERYTHING he had and follow him, he couldn’t.
So even if you think you CAN live holy, you’ll always lack one thing.
2. Luke 18:9-14
A religious person and a sinner were praying.
The religious person told God that he was holy because of his works.
The sinner told God to have mercy on him, because he was a sinner.
The sinner went away blessed, not the religious person.
And this passage begins by saying that Jesus spoke this parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous”.
3. Romans 3:23-24
ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
So God wants us to try, even though we can’t?
If we’ve been doing good lately based on what we think the Bible is teaching to be good, we’re good?
Or, does he want us to sit at his feet and trust in his grace, which teaches us to live morally?
4. Acts 15:10-11
Nobody could keep the law… not even the apostles.
But WE can?
“Yes brother, by God’s Holy Spirit living inside of us, we can.”
So God gives us the Spirit, only to lead us back to the law so we can now keep it?
I can only respond with Galatians 3:2-3 with that:
This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
While Jesus taught some pretty harsh things, I think he wanted us to see the real point:
We need him.
Focus on the grace of God today, and everything’s going to be alright!