Why Jesus Raises the Bar
by Petey Crowder, Executive Pastor
This winter we will jump into a new section of the Sermon on the Mount. After Jesus teaches the crowds the Beatitudes, which describe the kinds of people that God’s heart beats for and with, He then turns to “the Law.” Better known as the Torah, or the first five books of the Old Testament, the Law describes how God’s Old Testament people were supposed to live in right relationship with their redeeming God.
However, as often happens when adhering to a set of rules, people started to forget the heart of the Law and focused more on being good at following rules. And then there were some that just said “this is too hard,” and they simply gave up trying. So in one case, you had people who were super legalistic about the Law, and then you had others who just felt tired and helpless.
Jesus calls this out, and rather than affirming either the legalistic or the apathetic, He instead raises the bar on what it means to be in a relationship with God. He raises the bar and exposes all the ways we have never and can never measure up to the Law, much less the heart behind the Law. And He shows us that it was never about following laws, never about attaining some written standard of perfection, but about growing in our relationship of love with God and with others. What we see is that the really good rule followers get stuck following the letters of the law to the neglect of actual relationships, and those who have given up trying get lost in a fog of helplessness.
Jesus doesn’t eliminate the rules—He doubles down on them. He said He didn’t come to diminish the rules, He came to raise the bar. God doesn’t simply expect you to follow rules, He desires your heart! In the next section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays bare the heart of the Law with a series of “you’ve heard it said, but I say to you” sayings. It’s possible to follow all the rules and still miss the point, to still love self over God. Jesus invites us to be oriented properly toward Scripture so that Jesus can disciple us in the ways of grace and mercy. Jesus raises the bar not so you can jump higher, but so that you can see your need for Him and recognize the magnitude of the grace and love He bestows on us.