I think it would be good for you to hear what D.A. Carson has to say to this important question. Most christians struggle with this issue theologically (what they believe to be true about God) and therefore pastorally (in terms of how they support fellow christians and respond to non christian inquiries and needs.)
For the longest time, after conversion to Christ, I thought that generally speaking, Jesus in his teaching was saying things that were making life more easy. He was moving us ( us being all people who come across his teaching) away from the entirety of the Jewish law – so filled with obligations. In a complicated sense, I thought he was telling us or more precisely asking us (he is so nice) to just love God with everything we have and to just love our neighbours as self. Just love. We gentiles and the entire West love ideas about Love. We think we are good at it. That’s how we evaluate everything. We are so often mistaken. But it is a reflex at work within so many of us.
In those former years, I naively thought: Old Covenant Law = hard times for Jews where as Jesus’ teaching = easier times for Jews and Gentiles. There is a very real sense in which this couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus in his use of the ‘Love Law’ – Love God – Love People was not laying on us some kind of easy hippy vibe, like love was the easiest thing in the world. Jesus was driving us to a place of hopelessness not comfort. Actually he was, among many things, driving us to the knowledge of how hopeless our situation actually is. He was taking us to a desolate hopeless place where surpisingly hope would be waiting to ambush us. But you only get there by journeying on the road of the knowledge of hopelessness and despair.
Instead of making things easier he just kept increasing the demands. His ‘Love Law’ was the most beautiful of the beautiful and the highest of the high. All true. Our sense of (self) righteousness and our memory of life before the rupture in Edens grassy meadows attracts us to this Love Law – the rightness of it, the very warmth of it. This is partly because in the west we fail to see the devasting truth and impossibility of the Love law. We have been softened by the ‘Jesus demands very little’ mantra – ‘do him a favour – just follow him’ whispers. But Jesus in his extraordinary distillation of the entire law of God expands its claim on us and drives us forcefully off a high ledge we never could have stayed standing on. Never could but foolishly we thought we just might. So Jesus perhaps confusingly teaches a harder law with a grace never before encountered. There is something about the grace that conceals or blurs that line between hope and despair. You hang out with Jesus as he beigns to invade your life – he is a king, kings invade – you will feel despair and hope. If you are on a journey twoards Jesus and you feel both of these things – rejoice – the kingdom of God is not far from you.
The hope eminates from him to you because although he is never less than the Judge, he is so much more. The despair eminates from you toward him because the life of after the rupture in Eden courses relentlessly through your veins. Jesus is nearby, speaking an impossible law to sinners, a lost people, homeless and refugees; a long way from Eden. Although he says his burden is light his beautiful Love law lights up the sky while darkening the ground of men.
He touches our necrosing hearts, deceitful above all things, with demands that will illuminate our true situation – despair and hopelessness. He knows how to speak the language of the flesh. Adultery is a weapon of choice. Hard demands for frail humans about old fashioned adultery (the flesh and sweat kind) get transformed and appropriated for ‘mind adultery’ – where everyone keeps their clothes on but all are found guilty. He is ramping things up and we are all in trouble.
the only way is up – baby
Because of the glaze that infects the eyes you can miss Jesus bringing this heavier law – yes more ethically beautiful but so deadly on the back. Somehow I missed for years so much of this deadliness, this call to all hearers towards impossible holiness. Looking back I can now see that his sermon on the mount is equal parts beautiful and deadly. Saw some of this but certainly missed the whole. I thought his Law was the easy one not the impossible one. By easy I mean achievable. Just love the Lord your God completely and just love your neighbour as you already love yourself. Somehow that seemed refreshingly easy.Do-able.
Crazy? I know. But, wonderfully, the arrival of Jesus also brings more light, more warmth and more hope than ever seen or felt before. Light, heat and hope are only useful and savored by those in the dark, in the cold and in despair. His arrival ultimately is not to condemn. He makes that plain. But the condemnation was already in place. That’s why he has come. You only hear about the cancer treatment after you hear about the cancer diagnosis. But in his coming and in his teaching he is escalating everything. Maybe the letter of the law gets flexed (we like that) but the spirit of the law goes stratosphheric in its expectations (we miss this).
Condemnation is the polluted water we swim in, the polluted air we breathe and the polluted life we live. Jesus enters into our polluted water, air and life to save us. When the lifeguard grabs you in the ocean, pulls you close to himself and secures you to his frame you can be sure you were drowning. Jesus is the greater life guard. Jesus is the padre who has come to visit a condemned man – rightly convicted, guilty, awaiting certain punishment and death. But the condemned man recognises the Padre – he looks a lot like the Judge. How can the Judge be the Padre? What is he doing now? – Crazy padre! He is swapping his robe for that of the condemned man and goes to the gallows in his stead.
How shocking is that? Very. So Jesus and the agenda of God in the gospel is ramped. Brim-filled with impossible Law, condemnation, wrath, judgement, fierce holiness and love, grace, hope and rescue. In the gospel, through Jesus breathing his last on calvarys polluted hill, the holy love of the holy God is wonderfully holding back punishment from those who deserve punishment (that’s mercy) and providing love, forgiveness and adoption for those who don’t deserve it (that’s grace).
This song of worship from some years back captures that shocking meeting of wrath and mercy. Shocking but so wonderful in providing a way where there was no way. Come & see. Come and see that the LORD is good.