Reach for God's Perfect Righteousness
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - April 23 2013
*When Randy Hawkins was in his 40's, he played softball on a team a lot of younger guys. During one game, Randy was playing third base when a line drive was hit right over his head. He jumped as high as he could, but couldn't quite get a glove on it.
*At the end of the inning, when everyone was heading to the dugout, the left fielder caught up with Randy. Randy's friend held up his thumb and first finger a couple of inches apart. And he said, "That much."
*The older third-baseman replied: "I know, I almost had it!" But his younger friend laughed and shot back, "No, I mean that's how far you got off the ground." (1)
*When it came to softball, Randy Hawkins needed to go higher. And when it comes to our spiritual lives, WE need to go higher. Here Jesus continues to call us up to God's highest standards in life.
1. First: Always be believable.
*The Lord set this standard for us in vs. 33-37, where Jesus said:
33. "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.'
34. But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne;
35. nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
36. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.
37. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one."
*Some people think that this is a prohibition against ever taking an oath. But Matthew Rogers gave some important background information on this subject. He pointed out that oaths were commonly abused in Jesus' day. So to protect God's name against oath-breaking, the Jews introduced other things by which to swear. "People's attention had gotten shifted away from the vow itself to the formula used when making it, so Jewish teachers had a tough job on their hands. When there was a dispute over keeping your word, it was up to them to determine which oaths were actually binding as allusions to God's name.
*The more closely an oath related to God's name, the more binding it was. You didn't have to be so particular about keeping vows in which God's name had not been used. Some people thought it was harmless to deceive if they swore oaths by something like their right hand. Swearing by heaven and earth was not binding, nor was swearing by Jerusalem. However, if you swore toward Jerusalem, then you had to keep your vow."
*Matthew Rogers also said: "Remember when we were kids and made a promise? Sometimes we would say, 'Cross my heart and hope to die; stick a needle in my eye.'" (2)
*Did anyone ever stick a needle in your eye? -- No, of course not, because we didn't really mean it. And most everybody knew that you didn't have to keep a promise if you had your fingers crossed. That's about how casual the adults were about oaths in Jesus' day.
*And the point of all of this is what Jesus said here in vs. 37: "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one." In other words, let your speech always be sincere. Live a life of integrity. Be consistent in your life and your language.
*That's a lesson our world desperately needs to learn today. One New York Times article reported that 91% of people regularly don't tell the truth. Twenty percent said they can't get through a single day without premeditated white lies. (2)
*It's getting worse. And this matters more that we can measure, because at the core, all relationships are based on trust. Truth also matters because dishonesty ruins our witness with outsiders. Robert Tamasy wrote about a Christian friend who was the general manager for a chain of newspapers.
*One of his responsibilities was setting advertising policies. And at one point he ordered that advertisers who used a Christian symbol or Bible verse on business cards or stationery would be required to pay cash in advance. That man wasn't trying to persecute Christians. He was a Christian. Why did he start that policy? -- Because the folks who used the Christian symbols were generally his worst paying accounts. (3)
*But God calls us to reach for the highest standards. Always be believable.
2. Also bend over backwards for other people.
*The Lord set this standard for us in vs. 38-42, where Jesus said:
38. "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
39. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
40. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.
41. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.
42. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
*The sky-high standards Jesus set here seem impossibly high out of our reach:
-Don't resist an evil person.
-Don't try to get even.
-Turn the other cheek.
-When you are sued, give more than they ask.
-Compelled to go a mile? -- Go two.
-Give to anyone who asks.
*One thing we must do when we try to live out these verses is measure them in the light of other Scriptures.
 For example, the command in vs. 39 is "not to resist an evil person."
*This cannot mean that we should never resist evil, because James 4:7 specifically says: "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." In Matthew 18, Jesus also gave us a process to use when we have been mistreated by another Christian. Listen to Matthew 18:15-17. There Jesus said:
15. "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
16. But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that `by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.'
17. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."
*On top of that, Romans 13:4 tells us that God established government to protect us and punish people who do wrong. This verse in the New Living Translation says: "The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong."
*There are certainly times when evil must be resisted. So we have to understand these verses from the Sermon on the Mount in the light of other Scriptures. But these are still sky-high standards for us. Again in vs. 39, Jesus said: "I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also."
*What does this mean for us? Well, when a right-handed man slaps another man on the right cheek, that's a back-handed slap. And one of the main ideas here is that we don't try to take revenge when someone tries to insult or humiliate us. (4)
*In 1945, Branch Rickey was the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was also a devoted Christian. That year Rickey made the decision that he was going to integrate major league baseball. But he needed a special man. Branch Rickey needed a man who was not only an outstanding athlete, but was also an outstanding human being.
*He found that man in world-class college athlete Jackie Robinson. Robinson was the first student at UCLA to win varsity letters in four sports: football, basketball, baseball and track. Jackie Robinson was also a devoted Christian.
*They met for the first time on August 28, 1945. Rickey explained his purpose and the extensive search he had made for the right man. Then, for the next three hours, Rickey began to harass Jackie Robinson the way he was going to be harassed as a player. Rickey acted out the parts of the hostile teammate, the abusive opponent, the insulting fan, and more. He challenged the black man with racial slurs and ugly confrontations.
*Robinson later wrote, "His acting was so convincing that I found myself chain-gripping my fingers behind my back." But Branch Rickey also read Matthew 5:39 to Jackie Robinson: "If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."
*Jackie finally responded, "Mr. Rickey, do you want a ballplayer who's afraid to fight back?" Branch Rickey answered, "I want a player with guts enough not to fight back." -- Church: That is the heart of Matthew 5:39. (5)
 Next in vs. 40, we see the greedy spiteful person who sues you.
*There Jesus said: "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also." The tunic was worn closest to the skin. But the cloak was the outer garment that doubled at night as a blanket.
*To fully understand this, we have to know that Exodus 22 gave every person an absolute right to his cloak, because it was vital to live. And if you took another's cloak as collateral, Mosaic Law required you to give it back before nightfall.
*Jesus is telling us here that we should not demand our rights all the time. Thinking about this, Chuck Swindoll gave the example of 4 rights we often demand:
-"My right to dignity. -- To be treated without insult.
-My right to comfort. -- To cling to what pleases me.
-My right to privacy. -- To do only what I prefer.
-And my right to possessions. -- To keep all I wish."
*Jesus is saying here that we shouldn't focus so much on our rights, but on our responsibilities in His Kingdom. (4)
*I like the way the Message puts vs. 40: "If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back. Gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it."
 Next in vs. 41, Jesus said: "Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two."
*Many of us know that the Roman Empire had a law that gave their soldiers the right to force civilians to carry their equipment. But the limit was a mile. Again Jesus is telling us to bend over backwards to do the right thing.
 Next in vs. 42, Jesus said: "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away."
*This is another case where we need to understand the context, because God's Word also instructs us not to give to an able-bodied person who refuses to work. As Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat."
*Here in vs. 42, Jesus is reminding us that every good thing we have was given to us by God, that we can't out-give God, and that it IS more blessed to give than to receive. Jesus is also reminding us that we can trust what He says to us in Luke 6:38, "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.''
*In all of these verses, Jesus is telling us to bend over backwards for other people. Go out of your way. Do everything you can do to let Jesus shine through you.
*Amazing things happen when we bend over backwards. Bill Bouknight told the story of a San Diego police officer named Les Brown. One day he was driving down a new section of interstate and heard an emergency call that someone was dying.
*The address was pretty close so he rushed to take it. Then Les noticed that the off-ramp he needed was closed for construction. Les saw a worker on a bulldozer, drove up close, jumped out of his car, and yelled that he needed the ramp for an emergency. The dozer operator instantly scooped up a huge load of dirt and made a way to exit.
*Les rushed 3 more blocks to the house and saw a woman on a front porch with a child in her arms. The little boy had turned as blue as the sky. Les grabbed the boy, placed him across his knees, and popped him sharply across the back. A button flew out of the boy's mouth and life flowed back in.
*The next morning Les was on the same stretch of interstate. He saw that same bulldozer up ahead and decided to thank the operator for being so helpful the day before. But as soon as that dozer operator saw the police car, he jumped down and started running to the car. When the man got close, he blurted out, "Officer, that baby you saved yesterday was my son." (6)
*Amazing things happen when we bend over backwards. And God calls us to reach the highest standards, so bend over backwards for other people.
3. And make sure you belong to the Father's family.
*Verses 43-48 show us why. Here in the KJV, Jesus said:
43. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.
44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47. And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
48. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
*Jesus summed this passage up by saying, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Please know that the original word here does not mean "sinless perfection," even though our Heavenly Father is perfectly sinless. But Jesus knew that as long as we are in this world, we will fall short.
*Ray Scott explained that there is a Greek word that means sinless perfection. It's the word that Jesus used in John 8:7, when he said: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." That was a different word than the "perfect" we see here. This "perfect" means "full-grown, mature, complete, working well, fully instructed, reaching your goal." (7)
*But even this standard of perfection is impossibly high for human strength. Jesus is telling us that we must be like our Heavenly Father, and we will never reach that standard on our own strength.
*Jesus Christ is the only person who has ever reached that standard. Michael Luke described it this way: "He was arrested, roughed up, insulted by the police. The authorities spat on Him, blindfolded Him, and slapped Him in the face. Then the Roman soldiers mocked Him by crowning Him with thorns and putting a purple robe on Him, and a weak reed in His hand as a make-believe scepter. They jeered at Him, 'Hail King of the Jews!' Then they scourged Him.
*Jesus had the power to strike them blind, to paralyze their hands, to choke them on their own spit, to condemn them to hell. But, with the divine dignity, He held His peace.
*1 Peter 2:23 tells us that 'when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.' Jesus prayed, 'Father forgive them.' -- He did not return evil for evil, but silently turned the other cheek. Jesus did all of that for us. (4)
*And then He died on the cross for our sins.
-So that our sins could be washed away by His blood.
-So that we could be righteous in His sight.
-So that we could live righteously as part of the family of God.
*And you will, if you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.
*Trust in the Lord and He will put you into the Family of God. Then you can really begin to live like He tells us to here.
*Jesus Christ calls us up to God's highest standards in life, and we need to go higher. Let's pray about that tonight as we go to God in prayer.
(1) "Reader's Digest" - September, 1998 - p. 85 - Source: "In Other Words" - Summer, 1999 - p. 24 - produced by Dr. Raymond McHenry - 6130 Barrington - Beaumont, Texas 77706 (409) 866-2111 - www.iows.net
(2) SermonCentral sermon "Simple Truth Telling" by Matthew Rogers - Matthew 5:33-37
(3) SermonCentral sermon "You Can't Fool God" by David Holwick - Acts 5:1-11
(4) Adapted from SermonCentral sermon "Love Your Enemies" by Michael Luke - Matthew 5:38-48
Sermonsearch.com sermon "David, Real Restraint" by Steve Jones - II Samuel 16
"Turn in the Road" by Dr. Joanne Whitt - April 14, 2013 - Acts 9:1-22 - http://www.togetherweserve.org/turn-in-the-road/#_ednref10
"Jackie Robinson Breaks Baseball's Color Barrier, 1945," Eyewitness to History, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/robinson.htm.
Branch Rickey's account appears in: Mann, Arthur, Branch Rickey, American in Action (1957); Rampersad, Arnold, Jackie Robinson, a Biography (1997).
(6) Sermon.com sermon "A Personal God in an Impersonal World" by Bill Bouknight - Luke 2:1-14 & 15-20
(7) Adapted from SermonCentral sermon "Words of Distinction: Perfect" by Ray Scott - Matthew 5:48