During the time of His ministry, whenever Jesus interacted with the religious leaders, His disciples, or the people, His message was consistently a call to a higher standard of conduct. From Jesus’ perspective, it was not enough to be like everybody else. Those who would commit to following Him were expected to be different in character, attitudes, and conduct; they were expected to be like Him.
The teachings of Jesus were not always easy, often times going against the accepted norm. The book of Matthew records several instances of Him saying, “You have heard it said …. but I say to you…” as He time and time again raised the bar for God-honouring conduct (see Matthew 5). Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you; forgive seventy times seven in a day; be merciful in order to obtain mercy; do not break your promises; if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles; all of this and more just so “that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45a, NIV). It is no wonder in one instance after another teaching, that “many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ . . . As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:60, 66, NASB). It was easier for these disciples to quit following Jesus than it was to accept and embrace the higher standard He taught.
Because the teachings of Jesus transcend time, place, and culture, we are faced with the same challenge. What He said to them then, He says to us today: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16, NIV). In order to not descend into irrelevance, in order to maintain our effectiveness, to be that shining light in a dark world, we must be different.
Jesus dares us to be different because He was different. The prophet Isaiah said of Him, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.” So when He said “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also,” He showed Himself as the standard for us to follow. The disciple must become as the Master. You and I are called to become just like Christ. It is a high calling like no other. Just as He meant it to be. We must resolve to walk worthily and faithfully in it.