I was reading about a college professor named Virginia Owens who teaches English at one of the large universities in Texas. In one of her classes she gave her students an unusual assignment. She had them read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that is found in Mathew 5,6, and 7. She was curious to see how they would respond to this famous teaching in the Bible.
It was not surprising that most of her students were flabbergasted. Many were shocked by Jesus’ teaching. For instance:
- A man commits adultery if he lusts after a woman in his heart. You have to be kidding.
- The thought of loving your enemies. This just seems crazy.
- When someone wrongs you, forgive them. Why not get revenge on them?
The student’s feelings obviously stemmed from the way it made them view themselves and how they were conducting their lives. They did not realize they were experiencing conviction over their sinfulness. St. Augustine said: “We love the truth when it enlightens us, we hate the truth when it convicts us.” These students did not like the conviction they were experiencing and therefore they were hostile toward the words of Jesus.
Think about what was happening. These students lived with the belief that, “I know what is right for me. I am going to do what is right in my own eyes.” Yet this is the same problem that God’s people experienced in the Old Testament. Once they reached the promised land, they were riddled with horrific acts, conflict, and human misery.
Whenever peace was restored, the Israelites would fall back into the same pattern. The cycle would be repeated over and over. The final words in the book of Judges explains why they experienced such hardships. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (21:25) In other words, they did what they thought was right and not what was right in the sight of God.
Jesus reveals to us what is right and what is true. Yet, Jesus confronts a crowd of Jews and asks them, “Why are you seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth…” (John 8:40)
Mankind in his depravity has a huge problem. Jesus explains it by referring to Himself as the true Light. He says … “the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds are evil.” No one likes to be told their life or lifestyle is wrong, but particularly that it is evil.
This reminds me of John the Baptist and the reason he was beheaded. Herod had John arrested and imprisoned because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Herod had taken Herodias from his brother and married her himself. John confronted the two of them publicly and told them this was unlawful in the sight of God. I am sure he accused them of being adulterers. Herodious hated John because of this, because John spoke the truth. His confrontation of them was truthful, but they loved the darkness, and therefore hated him.
When Moses gave the law to the people of Israel, one of the central truths he underscored was, “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes.” Moses was very clear, the idea that everyone should get to define for himself what is right and what is true is a recipe for chaos. It was true then and it is true today.