Let’s begin by defining our terms. Most people have a concept of radical that may be hard to put into words. You could be a radical thinker in a good way that doesn’t involve overthrowing the government (but that’s one possibility). Miriam-Webster’s online dictionary gives 3 definitions, these are the two that apply to our discussion:
1) very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary
2) having extreme political or social views that are not shared by most people
Radical describes something new, different, or views that are not shared by most people. I contend that Jesus was radical from man’s point of view, but not from God’s.
When he was asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus says to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and also to love your neighbor as yourself. There are no thou shalt nots, rigorous commands or lists to check off. Love God and love others. It was radically different from what the religious leaders of his time were teaching. When Jesus taught and preached, people noticed that he spoke as one having authority and not as the scribes and Pharisees. To the people listening to Jesus, especially the Jewish leadership, he was radical.
But what Jesus said was not something new and different, or at least it shouldn’t have been. Jesus quoted from Leviticus and Deuteronomy. He hadn’t just made those commands up off the top of his head, they had been written down by Moses thousands of years earlier. He criticized the Pharisees for keeping the letter of the Law but missing the spirit of the Law. He said they tithed out of their spice racks while letting widows starve in the streets. The Pharisees did not bring the message to God’s people that he intended. The Old Testament prophets had been ignored, tortured or executed. Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1 and “the exact imprint of his nature” in Hebrews 1. Jesus was God in the flesh sent to his own chosen people but they did not recognize him. The Sermon on the Mount was mind blowing, earth moving stuff. But Jesus was simply setting things straight. Notice how many times he points out “you’ve heard it said.” He was correcting the error of their teachings, not bringing a new and different message from God.*
God has always done whatever it takes to be near his people. He remembered Noah and his family during the flood. He was with the Hebrews in Egypt, and he heard their cries when they called out to him. He led them through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud and fire, miraculously delivering them from their enemies and providing for their needs. Throughout the Bible, including the Old Testament, God is merciful, patient and long-suffering. What we needed was an all-sufficient sacrifice. God was willing to send his only Son… and Jesus the Son was willing to do his father’s will, which meant suffering and dying on the cross. For God the Father and Jesus his Son to love us, while we were still sinners, surpasses our level of understanding. It is radical and incomprehensible from our point of view. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:7-8 The love of Jesus is not radical when compared to how God loves, just compared to the way we love. We tend to love those who love us back, and if hurt or offended we can stop loving that other person.
Jesus was a radical teacher and leader in that his message had not been heard before, though perhaps it should have been. He spoke with authority and not as the religious leaders of his day. His love surpasses human understanding because he loves the way The Father loves. It’s a different sermon for a different day, but we as believers are commanded to be like that. Jesus wasn’t soft on sin by any means, and did not put up with double standards. But he did serve with humility and came to seek and save that which was lost. He was bold in his witness and radical in his thinking; compared to the warped thinking of society. And although we can never do so perfectly, we are called to be conformed to his image, having the same mind in us as Christ.
*The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 if you wish to look into it further. Considered radical at the time, he was merely sharing God’s truth in a direct manner with no selfish motivation. Which was pretty radical to people that had never heard it that way before.