Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount Makes Today’s Rioters Look Amateurish

Jun 4, 2020 by David Fowler

This week I read in the mainstream media a column by a popular, evangelical minister setting forth his solution to racism and the on-going rioting. It sounded great. I would have agreed with it in the past. But I now find his diagnosis incomplete and, consequently, his suggested remedy ineffective. If the rioters really want to start riots that will change the world, then Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount provides the blueprint.

Disclosing the author’s name would distract from the substance of what was said, but here is heart of it, and I’m quoting: 
How much sadness would evaporate if every person simply chose to believe this:  I was made for God’s glory and am being made into his image.
Would you let this truth find its way into your heart?
What is God’s solution to angry racism that gives birth to violence and bloodshed? Government programs might help. Lectures might enlighten. But, in the end, God’s plan is the only plan: see every person on the planet as God’s idea.

That sounds so good. Many Christians might even ask, “What’s wrong with it? Aren’t we made in God’s image, and shouldn’t we see other people as made in the image of God?”

The First Problem with This Solution

The writer’s goal is worthy, but as I thought about what he said the words of theologian Grant Macaskill came to mind: “The problem with it is not so much that it is wrong, but that it isn’t right enough (which is generally the issue with problematic theologies: they often affirm the right things, but not enough of the right things, so that what they affirm rightly is bent out of shape by its lack of context or its skewed emphases).”[i]

Look back at the words I italicized in the author’s statement. It would appear to assume (though I hope not) that you and I were born with a nature willing and able to see all people as made in the image of God and love them for that.

But my real nature is the one Jesus described with these words in the Sermon on the Mount, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:46)

That is my nature . . . love those who love me. And those who do not love me, well, by nature I can be cordial, but at worst, my heart toward them can be murderous.

The Second Problem: Jesus’ ‘Love Standard’ Is Impossible

Sound extreme? No, not according to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment’” (Matthew 5:21). I am safe there. But then Jesus equates the judgment for murder with me being “angry with [my] brother without cause” (v. 22). 

Thankfully, I can always find “cause” to justify my hateful attitudes and actions. But then Jesus shuts the door to that self-deception with these words:
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44).
If that is what makes me truly a child of God, then I am forever the prodigal child. I can’t go home and look my Heavenly Father in the face if that is the standard.

Why is loving those who hate me like taking on the personality of “my Father in heaven?” Because “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v. 45). The Father is love if only we could just see that. Sadly, my natural reaction to those who hate me would be to withhold from them the sun and the rain.

Here’s What’s ‘Crazy’ About Jesus’s Standard of Love: It’s Depressing

Here is the crazy part. I used to think that by saying we should do this, Jesus thought I was capable of doing it. But I had missed the whole point of God’s law—the purity and comprehensiveness of God’s law and His standard of righteousness is beyond my natural or native ability.

The writer I quoted today got the goal of seeing others as God’s image bearers right. But, the important point for a preacher (or any Christian) would be what comes next . . . We can’t measure up!

Now that is a depressing message, and it’s probably why we don’t hear it much, at least not publicly. But long-term, it is the message we all need to hear. Trying to do what, by nature, one cannot do will eventually lead to despair or hypocrisy.

The point of the gospel that the writer left out or maybe just didn’t get to is that without a wholly new nature, I can’t measure up to the writer’s standard, let alone God’s more comprehensive standards.

The Real Problem is Something I Don’t Want to Hear or Believe

In His Sermon on the Mount,  Jesus nailed down the reason I need a new nature:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
Easy to say and gloss right over, but if I’m honest with myself, I know I was born wanting to be and trying my best to be my own master.

So, if Jesus is right, then my natural, native born disposition toward God, from His perspective, is that I hate and despise Him. Of course, no one would want to say that to another person, let alone himself or herself, which is why it is important that Jesus said it first, not me.

What’s the Only Real Solution?

So, how in the world can we be naturally inclined to want to see, let alone actually see, the image of a God (whom Jesus says we hate and despise) in someone that does not already love us first?

It starts with admitting that we are not God. We have to admit that we are not like our Heavenly Father even in this one thing—loving those who hate us.

In this posture the ears of our hearts and minds will be receptive to God’s call to believe that He, in the God-Man, Jesus, has done for us what we could not do (Romans 8:3). And, by being joined to Him by the Holy Spirit, we will have the nature we did not have, one that is capable of being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29 ), who is the image of the God, (2 Corinthians 4: 4) and that is what can enable us to see the image of God in those we don't naturally want to love.

If Christianity is not a supernatural religion, then it is a man-made one like all the others.

Why Jesus Was the Ultimate Riot Maker

I know some will say to me, as I would have once said, “But look at all I’ve done for God and in the name of God? I’ve done X, Y, and Z. They are all good things. They are all consistent with the 10 Commandments. I know God!”

And, Jesus will say to them what I finally heard Him saying to me in the Sermon on the Mount: “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:23).

With such words, it is no wonder Jesus caused dissention and ‘riots’ among the righteous people of His day (John 7:30; 8:59; 10:19, 31; 11:48)

But the riots He caused really did bring about hope and change.

His words still will . . .  if we are willing to say them.

[i]Living in Union with Christ—Paul’s Gospel and Christian Moral Identity

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

Subscribe to Email Updates


Donate to FACT

Make a Donation