It’s been said that Jesus was a renegade outlaw, a “Sanctified Troublemaker” who rebelled against His culture. He lived by a different set of rules, denounced the moral and spiritual authorities of His day, and started a revolution. Even though His revolution took place over 2,000 years ago, it is still being carried out today. Wars have been fought, nations have been built, and generations have been changed by what Jesus did during His three decades on Earth.
But over the course of time, the church and, thereby the world, has lost focus of what Christ was rebelling against and what He was fighting for. This is not a modern phenomenon; it has happened throughout history. Many times we Christians have spent far more energy exemplifying what we are against rather than showing what we are for.
When Christ advocated the dismissal of one principal, He always upheld the moral acceptance of another, thus giving reason for His dismissal, and showing the alternative framework we should be following. By doing this, Christ was able to effectively remove the dissonance between rebellion and acceptance.
Having the attention of an audience of people, Jesus publically began what is arguably the most controversial recorded message of His time. It is now known as the Sermon on the Mount. One commentator notes, “[The Sermon on the Mount] contains three types of material: beatitudes, i.e. declarations of blessedness (Matthew 5:1-12); ethical admonitions (Matthew 5:13-20; 6:1-7:23); and contrast between Jesus’ ethical teaching and Jewish legalistic traditions (Matthew 5:21-48). The Sermon ends with a short parable stressing the importance of practicing what has just been taught (Matthew 7:24-27) and an expression of amazement by the crowds at the authority with which Jesus spoke (Matthew 7:28-29).”
One of the most revered, morally invigorating, and controversial teachings from this series has to do with love and hatred. During this section, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:43-47). Christ effectively set the example for how we should, one might say, “rebel” against the cultural teachings of our time.
Rather than coming out and condemning maltreatment and hatred for others, Jesus offers an alternative: love. But He does not stop there. He goes so far as to tell us what it means to love others and how we should do it. He gives logical bearings for it, furthering the base for His teachings. This works in two ways.
Culturally, we know what He is against. Morally, we know what He is in support of and why. The examples of this are not limited to these few chapters in Matthew, and its significance is not limited to His time.
It is a valuable asset to understand the effective means to oppose amoral teachings. The world should not only understand what Christians are against, but also what Christianity is for. And as followers, we can better understand not just that we oppose something, but why and what we support in its place.
Just because we can effectively express ourselves and our beliefs does not guarantee the world will listen, or even agree. Jesus died because of His teachings. He died as a “Sanctified Troublemaker,” and the trouble He caused spread beyond the Jewish authorities of His time. The Roman government stepped in and held court placing Christ, not His teachings, on trial. The result was a gruesome death. But it did not stop there. Most of His followers were mauled as rebels as well, fully believing not just what Christ was against, but what He was for.
Even so, before Jesus rebelled against the culture, the culture rebelled against Christ. Jesus did not come to a world with no moral revelation from God. Even the Jews who advocated His crucifixion accepted that. The world was the original rebel, not Christ.
There is a time, and even a place, to rebel against amoral cultural precepts. But we should always follow our dissonance with biblical advocations of what we are for. As one musician pinned, “Christ rebelled by shunning the culture.” We need to stand for what we know is true, and diligently explain God’s reasons for it. Christ’s rebellion was a revolution, a revolution of love (not tolerance) which gives hope to humanity and establishes an absolute standard of morality. He expects His followers to faithfully proclaim His truth and challenges us to love those with opposing morals.