“You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
An impossible command dangles off the end of Matthew 5 like a daunting challenge. Jesus calls us to the highest of standards, requiring us to be as perfect as our Father in Heaven. What an outrageous claim to make to frail humanity. Who could ever fulfill such an outlandish demand?
Standing within the hallowed corridors of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ most familiar discourse, this call to perfection is startling. We are forced to recognize that this requirement is as much beyond us as fingering the Milky Way. Of course, we strive to be meek and merciful, as the Beatitudes strongly suggest.
Naturally, in the verses leading up to this one, we attempt to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, or a brilliant city situated on a hill. But to measure up to God Almighty himself is altogether unfeasible.
Jesus would agree. Knowing we could not, he has gone ahead of us and done it all. Throughout the three chapters that make up the sermon, we understand that everything the Lord calls us to obey, he has accomplished first. Blessed are the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers, Jesus teaches. He puts the words in front of us but first fleshes them out with his life.
He illustrates meekness every time his supernatural strength is under control. Mercy run through his veins and gushes out on the lepers he touches, the widows he comforts, the lame who dance away from his presence. His entire mission on planet earth is to restore peace, reconciling God with flawed humanity.
His sermon asks us to do our good works primarily to bring glory to the Father, and he demonstrates this principle continuously before the crowds as “they glorified God who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8).
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” the Lord says. “Forgive others their trespasses,” he advises, going on to demonstrate these attributes as he hangs dying on the cross with his tormentors gambling for his garments close to his bloodied feet. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he prays, living out sacrificial love right before their eyes.
Hide away in secret when you pray, and do not practice your righteousness to receive man’s praise. What he has commanded, he has fulfilled. Our Lord steals away to the backside of mountaintops to pray, performs his miracles in obscure villages away from the maddening crowds, and begs most of those he heals to keep the miracle quiet.
Do not be anxious for any part of your life, Jesus challenges us, but seek God’s kingdom first. Christ wakes each morning fully aware of the crucifixion in store, but he never allows this oncoming freight train to distract him from his all-consuming mission of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. Just as he promises, Christ fulfills every single portion of the law (Matthew 5:17). Every command he lays out for us, he has first lived out for us. Knowing we could never fulfill the requirements of the law, he has accomplished what was impossible for us to obtain.
Christ takes on our sin and gives us his righteousness. In the Father’s eyes, we are perfect; the blameless Lamb of God has made that absolutely certain. May we never get over the perfect wonder of it all.