The radical demands of Christ before the Cross
I was saved in 2002 when I believed in my heart that Jesus died and forgave my sins.
I was filled with the joy of salvation and zeal for the things of God.
But in the years after my salvation, I tried to have a personal relationship with Christ through the teachings in the 3 synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
I took every word of Christ seriously in my heart.
- I would recite the Lord’s Prayer sincerely trying to forgive others to attain God’s forgiveness according to Christ’s commandment (Matthew 6:6-15). I was praying for 2 hours a day and still felt distant from Him, thinking He was not satisfied. I would spend most of my prayer time confessing my sins and begging God to make me more like Jesus.
- I tried to be perfect as Christ commanded by avoiding sins in my thoughts, words, deeds to make sure I didn’t go to hell. (Matthew 5:20-48, Matthew 7:1-5)
- I would constantly confess my sins to be forgiven on a daily and hourly basis (Mark 1:5, 1st John 1:9). I would confess even the smallest sins in my thoughts.
- I tried to do restitution for all my past sins (Luke 19:1-10)
- I tried to seek God’s kingdom and Righteousness by giving up all attachments to worldly things like music, sports, hobbies, etc. (Matthew 6:19-21).
- I tried to be a disciple of Christ by attempting to sell my possessions and forsake everything (Luke 12:29-34, Luke 14:25-35). But thankfully I failed to do so! I tried to carry the cross for Jesus by trying to stop sinning and preaching the gospel (Matthew 16:24-28, Mark 8:34-38). It was very hard trying to obey the Sermon on the Mount but I tried as best as I could. However, I always fell short being stuck in a constant cycle of confession and repentance.
- I tried to witness about Christ to others without denying His name so that He would not deny me in heaven (Mark 8:38, Matthew 10:32-33).
- I would attend Church religiously every Sunday and even go to midweek meetings, Church conventions, prayer meetings, fasting meetings, crusades, revival meetings, etc. I would listen to Christian sermons every day, in my car, even at work during breaks, etc.
But after doing this for many years, I ended up in depression and confusion in my failed attempts to please God according to those teachings. I was constantly falling short of the Biblical demands and was haunted by condemnation, self-introspection, fear, guilt, insecurity, etc. I felt distant from God with less assurance of salvation.
I was trying to carry the cross every day and I got burnt down.
Finally, after years of struggle, the Lord Jesus showed me that He already carried the cross for me. He had already fulfilled the radical demands for me.
My mistake was that I was trying to attain salvation through my works.
I learned that God is not a taskmaster/boss demanding my labor.
But He is our Daddy who is at rest because we believe in Christ (Hebrews 4:10 because Jesus alone perfectly obeyed the 613 commandments of the law on our behalf, so that we are righteous and forgiven by grace through faith in Him and not by works.
Christ’s most difficult commandment in the Gospels is to sell everything, carry the cross and literally follow Him (Luke 14:26-33, Matthew 19:21-34, Luke 12:31-34).
None of us are obeying this major commandment of Christ!
It’s much easier to try to go to Church and pray every day instead of selling everything! We choose the easier parts and ignore the radical demands of Christ.
We cannot water it down or spiritualize those words of Christ. We cannot condemn others by obeying a few commandments but ignoring the hardest one.
It’s because nobody obeys all of Christ’s commandments in the Gospels.
So then what is the solution?
The Lord finally showed me that I am saved by grace through faith without works.
I could not be righteous by my behavior, carrying the cross or selling everything.
Let us find out why Jesus Christ preached the radical demands in the 3 Gospels.
The Sermon on the Mount
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the Israelites to pray using the “Lord’s prayer”. The highlight of the prayer was about forgiving others to receive forgiveness from God! But if they failed to forgive others then God would not forgive them.
Matthew 6:12-14 “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.
Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.’
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
Personally, I struggled a lot with the Lord’s Prayer because it’s very hard to forgive even the greatest hurts in life. The Lord’s Prayer became a huge burden – because I thought that I would not be forgiven unless I forgave everyone in my life.
Why did Christ command that?
It was because Jesus was preaching the law before the cross. He was using the law to convict Israel of sin and show them that they could not be saved by their works.
Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven.”
Jesus commanded them that they had to forgive others all the time perfectly
(77 times – 7 is the number of completeness – they had to as forgiving as God)!
The Lord’s prayer was given before the Cross because the law was still in effect until the cross. It was a pre-cross prayer under the law and not part of the New Covenant.
The purpose of the law is to convict people of sin and bring them to Christ (Galatians 3:22-25). But once we believe in Christ, we are not condemned by the law.
The Lord’s prayer has no mention of the name of Jesus or the cross.
It was all about keeping the law.
Jesus commanded the Israelites to do radical things to show them that they could not be justified under the Law.
Jesus told the rich man to be saved (be perfect) by keeping the ten commandments and following Him by selling everything to the poor (Matthew 19:16-21).
Was Jesus saying that salvation was by keeping the law and selling everything?
Not at all. Jesus was magnifying the law to convict Israel of sin so that they would not trust in their works but believe in Him for salvation.
The Jews had to love God with all their heart, soul and strength to be saved according to the Law (Deuteronomy 6:5). This is why Jesus told the Jews that under the law they could either love God or money but not both!
He told them to sell everything if they wanted to be saved by keeping the law.
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon”
Matthew 19:23-26 “Jesus said to his disciples, “Most certainly I say to you, a rich man will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom.” When the disciples heard it, they were exceedingly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” Looking at them, Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
This is why it was impossible to be saved by the works of the law.
But with God all things were possible – if they stopped trusting in the law then they could be saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to show Israel that the law demanded moral perfection in heart, word and deed:
Matthew 5:17-20 “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever shall break one of these least commandments and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Jesus told the Israelites that He did not come to remove the law but fulfill it.
This means that the law demands perfect righteousness from those who trust in their works until the world ends. Jesus told them that under the law they had to have a righteousness that exceeded the Pharisees. The Jews had watered down the law and tried to attain salvation by circumcision and keeping the Ten Commandments superficially. They were self-righteous and thought they were going to heaven by superficially keeping the law. The truth is that nobody can be perfect by keeping the law. We are righteous and perfect only by faith in Christ and not by keeping the law.
Matthew 5:21-26 “You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not murder;’ and ‘Whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be in danger of the judgment. Whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ will be in danger of the council. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna. “If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you,leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly while you are with him on the way; lest perhaps the prosecutor deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. Most certainly I tell you, you shall by no means get out of there until you have paid the last penny. “
According to the Ten Commandments, people think that they are righteous if they don’t murder. But Jesus told them that anger was the same as murder.
If they got angry or even said a bad word to anyone, they were guilty of condemnation under the law as murderers. If they didn’t reconcile with their brother before offering the animal sacrifices in the Temple then they would be condemned under the law. (This has nothing to do with believers today because we are not under the law. We are not offering sacrifices in the temple. This has nothing to do with reconciling to people before taking the Lord’s Supper. It is because our sins have already been forgiven before we reconcile with others.)
Matthew 5:27-33 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I tell you that everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna. If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off, and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorce, but I tell you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of sexual immorality, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries her when she is put away commits adultery. “
Jesus then addressed the issue of marriage.
People think that they are righteous under the Ten Commandments by avoiding adultery. But Jesus said that a person was guilty of adultery even if they lusted after someone in their heart! He commanded people to cut off their body parts to avoid sinning. He was not joking or exaggerating. He told the Jews that if they trusted in the Law then they had to be sexually pure in heart, word and deed. He also said that they could not divorce and remarry unless their spouse was sexually immoral.
Jesus was showing the full extent of the law so that people would realize that we cannot save ourselves by works but we must come to Him for salvation by grace through faith.
Matthew 5:33-37 “Again you have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall perform to the Lord your vows’, I tell you, don’t swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God; nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shall you swear by your head, for you can’t make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’ Whatever is more than these is of the evil one. “
Jesus then addressed the issue of taking oaths.
He told them that if they wanted to be righteous by keeping the law then they could not make any oaths but had to be perfectly honest in everything they said.
Matthew 5:38-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone sues you to take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and don’t turn away him who desires to borrow from you. “
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? If you only greet your friends, what more do you do than others? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
The people thought they were righteous under the Ten Commandments by loving their neighbor but they hated their enemies. But Jesus showed them that they also had to love their enemies to be righteous under the law.
If someone beat them then they had to lie down and take more beatings.
If someone stole something from them, they had to let them take everything. If the Roman soldiers asked them to carry their luggage for 1 mile, then they had to go 2 miles. They could not rebel against their enemies (Rome) but pay their taxes to Caesar.
They had to be perfect like God and Jesus if they wanted to be righteous by the Law.
Jesus shattered Israel’s self-righteousness by showing them the true requirement of the law! It was impossible to be saved by the law because it demanded perfection and we know that no human being is perfect like God.
Jesus showed the Jews that they could not be saved by keeping the law and that’s why He gave them the radical demands of the Lord’s Prayer, selling everything and the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus was not spiritualizing or exaggerating. He meant what He said –
Under the law, the people have to be morally perfect to enter the kingdom.
But praise God that salvation is not by the law but by grace through faith in Christ.
I found my answer:
- The Sermon on the Mount and Christ’s radical demands were given to show people that they cannot be saved by their works.
- The New Covenant only began on the cross and not before that.
The New Covenant did not begin until Jesus died on the cross.
Matthew 26:28 NIV “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Therefore, a large portion of what Christ told the Jews was to convict them of sins using the law before He died on the cross.
The Sermon on the Mount was the fulfillment of the law.
When they realized that they were sinners then they were ready to believe in Him and enter the New Covenant. That is when He gave them the two commandments of the New Covenant just before He died on the cross. He washed their feet and told them to believe in Him and love one another just as He loved them:
1st John 3:23 “This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he commanded.”
John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also love one another. “
The Law of Israel was the amplified version of Adam’s tree of the knowledge of good & evil. The Sermon on the Mount was the full extent of the law.
The law was a strict schoolmaster to lead people to salvation by faith in Christ (Galatians 3:23-25). The Gentiles were never under the law and were outside the covenants separated from God until Christ came and died on the cross.
This is why Jesus rarely dealt with any Gentiles before the cross.
Ephesians 2:11-17 “Therefore remember that once you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “uncircumcision” by that which is called “circumcision” (in the flesh, made by hands), that you were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in his flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility through it. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near.”
The Gentiles had the moral law written on their hearts accusing them of sin (Romans 2:12-15). Therefore, the Jew and Gentile were both guilty under the law.
After Jesus died on the cross and made the New Covenant, the Jews and Gentiles can be saved by God directly through faith in Christ, apart from works.
This is why we do not see Paul giving these radical demands for salvation. Paul does not tell us to be saved by becoming perfect, selling everything or obey the Lord’s Prayer.
Paul does not tell us to forgive others to be forgiven by God. He tells us the opposite!
Ephesians 4:32 “And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ FORGAVE you.”
God has already forgiven the believer before we even forgive anyone!
It is because, on the Cross, Jesus died to fulfill the law and forgive all our sins by removing the condemnation of the law from the believer (Colossians 2:11-15).
We should forgive others because we are freely forgiven by God through faith in Christ’s death. We are not forgiven because of our works (forgiving others).
But we forgive others when we truly realize how much we are already forgiven.
Christ’s earthly ministry was only to Israel under the law before the cross.
Matthew 10:5-6 “Jesus sent these twelve out and commanded them, saying, “Don’t go among the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans. Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Romans 15:8,16 KJV “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision (Israel) for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers….That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.”
Jesus was preaching the full extent of the law before the cross to those under the law to bring them to salvation by faith in Him (Galatians 4:4-5).
After the cross, Paul was sent to the Gentiles and he never commanded anyone to be saved by obeying the law (Galatians 2:1-10). It is because the gospel of the Grace of God was revealed only after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Paul was not opposing Christ or creating his own religion.
We must correctly study the Bible between law and grace using the cross as the dividing line between the old and new covenant. The law cannot save anyone.
Jesus Christ preached the law before the cross.
Grace was revealed at the cross and preached after Christ’s resurrection.
The Apostles only preached the Gospel of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection after the law was fulfilled on the cross. Most of the things taught before the cross were part of the law that was used to convict people of sin. The time from Christ’s birth till the cross was still under the law. The New Covenant began only at the death of Christ.
Hebrews 9:15 “ For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, since a death has occurred for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, that those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
Jesus preached the law to bring people to their knees. But after the cross, He offered salvation by grace to those who were ready to receive it by faith.
But we also know that the Jerusalem Church sold all their possessions even after the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:45-46, Acts 4:32-5:13).
But we don’t see any of the Gentile Churches doing so. In fact, the Gentile Churches financially helped the Jewish believers in Jerusalem who were poor (Romans 15:26).
Why did the Israelite Church sell everything even after the Cross?
Israel was under greater demands because they were under God’s covenant for 1500 years.
Romans 9:4-5 “who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service, and the promises; of whom are the fathers, and from whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen”
Romans 3:1-2 “Then what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Because first of all, they were entrusted with the revelations of God.”
The Israelites had witnessed God’s power in Egypt, the wilderness and were under the Law, Priesthood, Prophets, and Temple for many centuries.
After that, they had witnessed Christ and all His miracles for 3 ½ years.
The 12 Apostles were Israelites and not Gentiles.
The Israelites were chosen to be full-time Gospel ministers to the world in that 1st Century and they had to forsake everything to leave the Old Covenant and usher in the system of the New Covenant to the world.
But the Gentiles were never under God’s covenant and had not even seen Christ or the 12 Apostles. That is why Christ commanded all those things to Israel alone and not the Gentiles. The Jewish church in Jerusalem sold all their possessions in obedience to Christ (Luke 12:31-33, Matthew 19:16-30, Acts 2:44-47) because He told them that their nation was going to be destroyed within their lifetime. If they had retained their possessions then they would have been tempted to stay back and perish in the Jewish-Roman wars of AD66-136. They had to forsake everything and be ready to flee Jerusalem at the Day of the Lord that came like a thief in the night through the Roman wars.
Luke 17:22-36 “He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will tell you, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Don’t go away or follow after them, for as the lightning, when it flashes out of one part under the sky, shines to another part under the sky; so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first, he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. As it was in the days of Noah, even so it will also be in the days of the Son of Man. They ate, they drank, they married, and they were given in marriage until the day that Noah entered into the ship, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, even as it was in the days of Lot: they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from the sky and destroyed them all. It will be the same way in the day that the Son of Man is revealed. In that day, he who will be on the housetop and his goods in the house, let him not go down to take them away. Let him who is in the field likewise not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever seeks to save his life loses it, but whoever loses his life preserves it. I tell you, in that night there will be two people in one bed. One will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two grinding grain together. One will be taken and the other will be left.”
The Jewish Church sold everything and preached the Gospel to the Jews in the nations. They were the “Levites” of the New Testament who didn’t have possessions but were supported by other believers (Numbers 18:20-24, Deuteronomy 14:22-23, Romans 15:26, Acts 24:17).
Matthew 28:19-20 “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe ALL THINGS that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”
Jesus commanded the 12 Apostles to preach to the Jews in all nations teaching them all of these commandments making them disciples (followers of Christ). Those Jewish disciples sold everything and followed Jesus as we saw in the book of Acts.
Chapter 6 of my book will show that the “end of the age” was the destruction of the Jewish Temple and Jerusalem in the 1stCentury (Hebrews 8:13).
We also know that the 12 Apostles only preached to the Jews but Paul went to the Gentiles as recorded in Galatians 2:1-10.
There are some who believe in Lordship Salvation – they say that it’s not enough to believe in Jesus but that you have to make Him Lord of your entire life, to be saved.
Many believers say that we make Jesus Lord by all His commandments.
Luke 14:25-27,33 “Now great multitudes were going with him. He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me, and doesn’t disregard his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he can’t be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t bear his own cross, and come after me, can’t be my disciple…. So therefore whoever of you who doesn’t renounce ALL that he has, he cannot be my disciple.”
Discipleship was not simply about joining Church and serving in Sunday School or administrative work, even if those are highly admirable deeds.
It was about forsaking everything and carrying the cross as martyrs.
This shows that none of us are doing the “works” of the law commanded by Jesus to Israel. So then how do we really make Jesus the Lord? It is not by anything we do.
Jesus is already Lord and God. He is the creator of all things.
He does not need your works to become Lord. He created you and is God already.
This is how we accept Jesus as Lord – that you believe that Jesus is Lord and God who died for your sins and rose from the dead!
Romans 10:9-10 ”that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes resulting in righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made resulting in salvation.”
John 20:28 “Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!””