The Olympic motto is three Latin words: Citius – Altius – Fortius. In English, they mean faster, higher, stronger. According to the International Olympic Committee’s website, they are not just referencing athletic ability but also moral and educational growth. Our next series of articles will look at six passages of Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus encourages us to run faster, to adopt a higher standard, and to increase the strength of our convictions. In a word, Jesus commands more.
In part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He laid out a series of “you have heard it said but I say” statements. In some cases, Jesus is expanding or clarifying his hearer’s understanding of the law. In other cases, He is correcting other assumptions His hearers possess. In each statement, Jesus offered a “you have heard it said” and then raised to bar to a higher standard. They are found in Matthew 5:21-48. The next six articles will explore each of Jesus’ commands in turn.
The primary goal of Jesus’ commands is found in the last verse, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, NASB95) You could say that Jesus set the bar impossibly high. Considering our human experience and possibilities that would be a fair assessment. In our own strength and ability, it is impossible to leap the bar Jesus is setting.
Consider for a moment the lowly caterpillar. He actually has a pretty good life with only one desire – to eat as much as he can. Well, perhaps two desires – the other is to avoid being squished as a pest or eaten by a bird. But all in all, not a bad life. Then God comes along, hangs a bar from a cloud and tells the caterpillar that he is supposed to fly over it. “Yeah, right,” the caterpillar thinks while munching on a leaf. But a few days later, the caterpillar being completely full decides to make a cocoon and take a nap. Transformation happens and after a time a butterfly emerges from the cocoon. You could say the caterpillar has been born again, remade into an entirely new creature. Before long the butterfly takes to the sky and easily flies over the bar God set in the clouds.
The Bible says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, NASB95) and “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB95) We cannot hope to leap the bar Jesus set in our humanness, it is too high and too hard. But the new creation that has been birthed in our spirits by Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit can, should, and must accomplish what Jesus has commanded.
One day Jesus considered the difficulty those who are wealthy have in entering the Kingdom of God. “And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:23–25, NASB95) The disciples were astonished and asked, “who then can be saved?” Jesus responded, “Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27, NASB95) The things we are going to explore in the next six articles may very well seem impossible, and in a sense they are. But what seems impossible to us is possible to God.
As we explore Jesus’ six statements we are going to concentrate on the more that enables us to fly closer to the bar Jesus has placed for us. For example, the first command deals with anger, the “more” that allows us to fly nearer to Jesus’ standard is forgiveness.