“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38 NIV)
At the start of the twentieth century, a man from India – a lawyer who lived in South Africa – picked up the New Testament and started reading. The lawyer’s homeland was plagued by discriminatory laws enforced under British rule. The lawyer searched for an effective way by which he would resist the tyranny of the ‘Raj’, and he found it when he read the Sermon on the Mount. At one time, during one of his speeches, the lawyer simply stood up and recited the Sermon on the Mount and told the gathered to follow it. He would say, “Christ’s Sermon on the Mount fills me with bliss even today. Its sweet verses have even today the power to quench my agony of soul.” In a way, I think it is safe to say that India owes its independence to Christ.
Before Mahatma Gandhi, was the Christ. At the dawn of the first century, the Jews eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Messiah. The Jewish mindset of that time envisioned the Messiah as one who would fight the Roman Empire, claim the throne of King David, and liberate the Jewish people from foreign rule. Little did they know that the coming Messiah, who would indeed be the Liberator – but of a different sense, would also challenge the very core of human society.
When Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount He set off a chain reaction that continues to polarize the world today. Before Christ there was Rome, Babylon and Egypt, powers that ruled the weak with an iron fist. When Christ arrived He gave a sword to the weak, the sword of love and peace. That sword scared the living daylights out of the ruling party of Jesus’ time, and it continues to scare the powers-that-be today.
Christ took centre-stage and told the masses to ‘turn the cheek’ and not retaliate. He commanded his people to ‘love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them’. By hearing this, the crowd was dumbfounded. Certainly, they had expected, the Messiah would urge them to take up arms against Caesar. They altogether missed the point that the real enemy was not Caesar; the real enemy was Satan who controlled Caesar.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 NASB)
Today, Christians think that Christ established a new religion – set of beliefs or a code of conduct – but in reality what Christ initiated was something revolutionary in that it stood contrary to the pattern of the world (Romans 12:2).
Christ was often at odds with the establishment of society.
Society favors the rich and the strong but Christ champions the poor and the weak.
Society glorifies evil but Christ rebukes it.
Society is self-preserving but Christ denies self-preservation.
Society spreads sin but Christ cleanses the sinner.
Society kills its opposition but Christ Himself died to save us.
The radical message of Christ today continues in the form of Christ’s church. The church is the Body of Christ and therefore we must not conform to the pattern of the world but to the pattern of Christ. It is up to the Body of Christ to challenge the sinful actions of society by means of Christ-like living.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16 NIV)
A friend of mine once asked me, ‘How can you spread the message of non-violence all by yourself?’ So many times we make the message all about ourselves, but it was never about us. Christ is that message pure and simple, like Shane Claiborne says: “We’re just the jackasses that get to bring Jesus into our community.”
Let’s have confidence that we are not alone.
"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b NIV)