Formations 09.12.2021: Deeper than the Surface

Matthew 5:21-26, 43-48

Jesus was a rebel. A radical. A revolutionary. Sometimes it’s hard to think of him that way, considering our artistic depictions of him as calm, glowing, and holy. The stained-glass windows. The illustrations in children’s Sunday school literature. The prints on our church walls. There were certainly times when Jesus was calm, glowing, and holy—times when he went off on his own to pray, when he spoke softly to someone who was scared or sick or dying, when he held a child in his lap. But there were many more times when he was doing something against the common expectations of his society: flipping tables, dining with outcasts and sinners, speaking with women as equals, and criticizing the religious authorities.

The common expectations of his society are clearly defined in the Old Testament law and easily summarized like this: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (see Lev 24:19-21). The rule was “do to others what they do to you.” Such surface-level vengeance seemed obvious enough.

Then Jesus came along and flipped the table. In Matthew 5:38-39, he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also….” In our lesson text, he elaborates on what his listeners have heard people say (vv. 21, 43). Then he follows that standard expectation with “But I say to you…” (vv. 22, 44). The new rule is “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Mt 7:12).

Jesus goes deeper than the surface. He looks past the surface-level vengeance to the motivations behind our actions. What we think and feel matters because it becomes what we say and do. What Jesus asks of us is actually harder than returning fire for fire. He asks us to struggle past our instincts and assess our hearts. To mind our anger and our tongues (v. 22). To be reconciled with our brother or sister (v. 24). To love and pray for our enemies (v. 44). To be perfect—or at least strive to be (v. 48).

Following Jesus takes us deeper toward our souls, the place that holds who we truly are. May we be willing to go beneath the surface with our rebel Savior and do the harder things.


• When you picture Jesus, what do you see? Is it a calm and holy image or a passionate and revolutionary one?
• Why do you think people were so focused on outward behavior as opposed to inner motivations? How is outward behavior still our main focus?
• What is difficult about going deeper than the surface when trying to understand why people do what they do?
• Why is it important to go deeper?
• How can Jesus help you understand what you think and feel before it becomes what you say and do?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.


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