Follow the Red Letters


There is a movement afoot to prioritize the words of Jesus over the rest of the Scriptures. That is not what we are talking about here in our Red Letter Review. We’re not talking about the words of Jesus to the exclusion of everything else. The Bible claims that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness …” (2 Timothy 3:16). (In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter refers to Paul’s letters as “Scripture,” so we know that even the early church considered these epistles Scripture, and all of Scripture is necessary.)

Having said that, however, I also must say that I don’t think you can focus too much on the words of Jesus. Jesus is the focal point of all of Scripture and His words are unique and unlike the words of anyone else in all of history. It’s why the people always said that no one spoke like He spoke. He spoke with authority and not like the other teachers who spoke in cliches and borrowed phrases. They sounded like each other. Jesus sounded like no one else.

The reason we need to focus on the words of Jesus is because we know so little about them. How many preachers do you know who preach from the Sermon on the Mount often? I bet not many. We avoid Matthew 5-7 like the plague. That’s because we don’t understand it. Jesus’ words are not only counter-cultural, they are counter-intuitive. They are opposite, or at least sideways, to the way we think and the way we typically learn things. When it comes to the red letters, we are all biblically dyslexic. We read them, and then we just keep on reading, hoping that it’s going to make more sense further down the road, but then we find ourselves further down the road and further away from the real meaning than we were when we got off.

How often, when Matthew 5-7 is taught, do you hear the phrase, “now what He’s really saying is …”? You can usually discredit what comes after that as watering down the truth. No, don’t say “What He’s really saying is …”, say “What He says  means what it says. And we have to do that, if we truly want to follow Him.”

It’s like following the bouncing ball. Follow the red letters.

Jesus said “do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:39-44)!

So what is He really saying here?

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10 Responses to Follow the Red Letters

  1. Mark D Seguin says:

    I think Jesus means to be kind to one another… As Ellen DeGeners ends her show saying.

  2. Mark D Seguin says:

    On second thought Jesus might be expressing here to lean on the Holy Spirit a lot more simply because for me turning the other cheek isn’t easily done…

  3. John A Fagliano says:

    Jesus is saying we should be like His Father. “You are to be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”. The whole sermon is centered around that. God is kind to the unjust and unkind. God gives what is asked of Him and doesn’t expect anything in return. He understands our inability to reciprocate His divine Love. God doesn’t do good to show off. God does good even when He gets no attention. God does good because He loves us. The whole sermon is a description of God. We are to be like Him.

  4. Sandie says:

    “Love your enemies…pray for them.” First, we have to define the kind of love Jesus was talking about – not the sappy, let them get away with murder (too many times literally) that is touted as love today. To love as God does, you have to have the utmost respect for all individuals; that they are created in God’s image and that He loves them so much He died for them; He loves them so much the Age of Grace continues and the way to salvation is still wide-open. You have to love someone enough to say “no: and mean it. To discipline and mete justice without favoring anyone. To notice a need and meet it, again without favoritism. To point out wrong without condescension.
    Over the years, I am still working on having that kind of consideration for others, especially those I don’t see eye-to-eye with, or vice-versa. Society has lost the ability to “agree to disagree.” Even the church is losing it. Everyone is a potential enemy or threat, instead of a possible friend and ally. Mutual respect can cover a lot of negatives with a mantle of dignity….a mutual-admiration society…not so much.

  5. poebiz says:

    How many people would literally ask a mugger or mentally unstable attacker to hit them 50% more? Surely some form of contexualization and interpretation has to take place. Also, it’s important to know who Jesus was speaking to. The Sermon the Mount was delivered specifically to these who were already his disciples. These are not promises to people in general.

    • Sandie says:

      “All scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…” ( 2 Timothy 3:16 )
      Jesus’ disciples were commanded to bring His teaching to the world. This Word was spread by mouth, then by publication through the years…until it reached us.
      Thank God for His grace, and The Holy Spirit, who leads and teaches us as we grow in Christ!

      • Sandie says:

        Also, believers are not expected to check their common sense at the door – we are told to “count the cost.” Not that we would not endeavor, but that, when we do, we have the resources at hand to be successful.

  6. “I have spoken these things to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

  7. Thomas Branscom says:

    I have to admit, I’ve never read the Sermon on the Mount as a collection of bumper sticker quotes to be pulled out on demand to self-righteously bash those bad Christians who aren’t like us. Rather, I’ve always seen it as instruction into how I should live. And it does seem to be counter to the prevailing culture.
    What if Jesus really was a great teacher, and the Sermon on the Mount was his logical, ordered presentation of what living in the Kingdom of God meant? Wouldn’t someone desiring to be his apprentice want to study that lesson, from beginning to end? Continuously?
    In yesterday’s Catch, “Love One Another”, you said “How many preachers do you know who preach from the Sermon on the Mount often? I bet not many. We avoid Matthew 5-7 like the plague. That’s because we don’t understand it.” I have to reject the idea that Jesus would have thousands of disciples ready to listen, and the greatest teacher spent the time telling them things they couldn’t understand, or do.
    With thousands of people in your church, hanging on your every word, perhaps it would be good to get real red-letter, and teach the Jesus lessons from all of Matthew 5-7.

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