Description / Transcription
O Father, we want to really mean the words that we have just sung, “Oh, when I come to die, give me Jesus.” Many in our congregation have known all too well in recent days, weeks, months, some just hours, what it is to see a loved one come to the end of their days. So we pray that when we come to the end of our days, whether that be soon or decades from now, that our cry will be, “Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus. You can have all this world, give me Jesus.” And so we pray now as we come to Your Word that You would give us more of Jesus, that You would prepare us in this moment and prepare us for that last moment when we breathe our last, that You would give to us more of Jesus. We ask in His name. Amen.
I have entitled our sermon tonight “The Most Famous Sermon Ever Preached.” Regretfully, that is not this particular sermon that you are here for, but the sermon that this sermon series is about, of course, the Sermon on the Mount.
Perhaps for some of you, maybe you’re new to the faith, maybe you’re just visiting church, and all of the Bible is very new to you. We’re glad that you’re here. You may be encountering this for the very first time. For a number of other people here, you’ve been around the church and the Bible for maybe your whole life so you’ve done studies and you’ve read books and you’ve heard many series on the Sermon on the Mount.
But let me encourage you that God has yet new things to teach to you and to me, whether this is your first time or the fiftieth time that you’ve looked at these passages. It’s justly the most famous sermon that has ever preached because God has so much to teach to us in it. I encourage if you’ve never read before, there’s lots of good books, I think Sinclair Ferguson has a book on the says one more thing, John Stott, lots of good commentaries. Probably my favorite is Martyn Lloyd-Jones Studies on the Sermon on the Mount. I think we have just one copy left at the book nook, so you can rush out of here later and get it. I think the cover looks different, but we’ll order more and have those here so you can get a copy. Great expositions. You can follow along over these weeks and months and read these sermons from the great Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones as we go through the series ourself.
I’m partial to it not only because I’ve learned so much from Lloyd-Jones over the years but because, as I was sharing with the new members’ class this morning, that when I met Trisha one of the, I’m not a charismatic, but one of the signs that I took that this was the right one for me, not only were we both at an orthodox Presbyterian church and she was there Sunday School and Sunday morning and Sunday evening, and that’s legit, but I learned that she was also reading Lloyd-Jones’ Studies on the Sermon on the Mount. I thought, “This is a keeper,” and indeed I was correct. So you could do worse than to try to find someone, single people, someone who’s into reading the Doctor.
I want to set the context tonight for the sermon series that will unfold over the weeks and months ahead. So that may seem a little anticlimactic but I think it will serve us well and will set our sights in the right direction so that we can hear and understand the entirety of this sermon and this series in the right way, because there are many wrong ways to approach the Sermon on the Mount.
So we’re going to read tonight leading in to the sermon itself, picking up at the end of chapter 4, Matthew, the first book in the New Testament, Matthew chapter 4, beginning at verse 23.
“And He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So His fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought Him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and He healed them. And great crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him.”
And that sets the stage for the sermon, which we will come back to next Sunday.
As famous as this sermon is, you would think that there would be more agreement about what the sermon actually teaches. John Stott said, “The sermon is probably the best known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood and certainly it is the least obeyed.” That’s true.
In my study I saw many, many different interpretations. I think I went through nine different books in working on this sermon, and they’re good books and thankfully they mostly agreed with each other, but many of the books detailed a host of other interpretations. Sometimes two, three, sometimes many more.
One scholar, Craig Blomberg, cites a recent survey with 36 different interpretations. D.A. Carson mentions eight wrong approaches before he gets to the right approaches.
I don’t want to give you eight, certainly don’t want to give you 36, but let’s just highlight at the outset what I think are four common misunderstandings about the Sermon on the Mount, four common misunderstandings.
All 4 approaches have an element of truth. There is something in this approach that is correct, but all 4 miss the mark as an overall interpretive scheme for the sermon.
Misunderstanding #1: Treating the sermon as a legalistic summons to obedience.
Treating the sermon as a legalistic summons to obedience. It says Jesus just hands to us Matthew 5, 6, and 7, here’s the Sermon on the Mount, go at it, do it perfectly, good luck.
Now here’s the truth. The truth is Jesus does expect His followers to be obedient to this vision of discipleship. We’ll come back to that in a moment because that gets at another wrong way of approaching the sermon.
So there is truth, Jesus does want us to be obedient. The problem is these demands are sometimes presented to us, and the fault is not with Jesus but with our own understanding or with the preacher or with the study, the demands are presented in a way that is graceless and forgets the whole point of Matthew’s Gospel. Remember, the birth of Jesus, Matthew chapter 1, “She will bear a son, you shall call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins.” There’s the over-arching theme, not “You shall call His name Jesus because He will save you if you are fully perfect and have no sins.” No, He will save you from your sins.
Sinclair Ferguson says some people view this sermon “as a message calculated to produce the greatest possible guilt in the fewest possible chapters.”
It can feel like that. “Here’s what Jesus says, now shape up.” And we look at it and we read it and we immediately conclude, “Who can really live this way? This is impossible.”
It’s like when a coach would give you a workout or a set of intervals and you realize, “I cannot humanly do this.” Sometimes during my lunch break I’ll go swim and it’s really like a swim class for old people and you’re in groups, one, two, three, or four. One’s the fastest, four is the slowest, I’m in group zero. No, I’m in group two, so sometimes though you get these, and if you’ve ever done swimming or had a kid do swimming, it’s you do 100, you do a 50, and gives you the interval, you have to leave on the minute and a half or the 2 minutes or whatever it is, and sometimes they will maybe put you with the ones when you’re a two or they’ll get confused and it’ll be a workout for yards and you’re swimming meters and meters are longer, or the coach was just having a bad day and put something there and everyone looks at each other and realizes, “We cannot possibly do this. I can’t swim there and back 50 times that fast,” and you just realize this is impossible. We need to change the standard.
Well, that’s what some people do when they look at the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a workout that a coach gives you and you cannot possibly fulfill it, so you figure, “Well, we just ought to change the standard for ourselves.” That’s not how we should read the Sermon on the Mount. It is not a legalistic summons to an impossible standard of obedience.
Misunderstanding #2: Treating the sermon solely as an exposition of law meant to crush us and lead us to the Gospel.
So only approaching the sermon as an exposition of the law meant to make us feel terrible, lead us to the Gospel. Again, there is truth here. That is one of the three uses of the law, the moral law of God. One of the uses is to show us our guilt. Here’s what the Word requires, we realize we can’t do it, I need a savior, we run to Christ. Paul often talks this way.
The problem with approaching the Sermon on the Mount in that way is that that’s not how Jesus preaches this message. It’s not the context for this message, and it’s not how the message fits with the rest of the Gospel. Yes, it’s always true that we see our sin and we ought to run to the cross, but Jesus does not lay out this sermon just to make the disciples feel really bad about themselves.
Misunderstanding #3: Treating the sermon as a blueprint for social progress and revolution.
Treating the sermon as a blueprint for social progress and revolution. Again, there’s truth here. It is true the more people live like the Sermon on the Mount, well, yes, the world would be a better place. Of course. As people are transformed by the Gospel, as they live like disciples of Jesus, it does make the world a better place.
The problem, however, is that this was a message for the disciples. In fact, seeing the crowds, verse 1, “He went up on the mountain and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him.” Now it’s true by the end of the sermon the crowds have sort of re-gathered, but intentionally Jesus is leaving the crowds, He wants to teach His disciples.
This was not a manifesto for world peace. This was not a declaration of how nations were to conduct themselves, as if Jesus in talking about loving your enemies was saying, “We ought not to have police officers or armies or jails.” People say, “If only we all followed the Sermon on the Mount.” Well, that’s true, and where are you going to find those angels who all follow the Sermon on the Mount?
Here’s the fourth misunderstanding: Treating the sermon as entirely about the future.
Again, an element of truth. You often hear theologians talk about “already” and “not yet” when it comes to the kingdom. There’s “already” the presence of the kingdom, “not yet” fully realized. So there is a “not yet” to this sermon. There are elements of this that we will not see fully realized in this life.
The problem is that Jesus clearly meant this sermon for the people right in front of Him. He wasn’t just giving an impossible standard to make us long for heaven. He was actually teaching disciples on the mountain to say, “If you’re My disciple, here’s how I want you to live.”
Sometimes dispensationalists have applied this exclusively to a future millennial kingdom, but they say this is such exalted morality that this is what we should expect in some earthly millennial kingdom when Jesus returns and sets up His kingdom on earth.
Now quite apart from a wrong view of the kingdom, and I would say a wrong view of the millennium, that interpretation is at odds with itself, because as we’ll see throughout this passage, there’s persecution of the Church. There’s the persecution of Christians and opponents and enemies. That doesn’t make sense of nigh unto utopian vision of the millennial reign. So this is not exclusively for the future, it’s for the here and now.
Those are four wrong approaches. Now let me with the reminder of this sermon give you a positive case for how we should listen to the Sermon on the Mount. So those were four wrong approaches, let me give you four guiding principles to keep in mind as we listen and learn from the Sermon on the Mount. These four guiding principles will help us understand what Jesus means to say, what He meant to say to the disciples, what He means to say to us.
So here’s the first point: We must keep in mind that the Sermon on the Mount is a part of a larger pattern in Matthew’s Gospel.
The Sermon on the Mount is special because it is such a large section of uninterrupted teaching from Jesus. It’s also special because Christians have given it such unique attention throughout the years and understandably so.
But in another sense, the Sermon on the Mount is simply one of many teaching discourses in Matthew’s Gospel. By one recollection, one scholar argues that it was only with Augustin that this was first called the Sermon on the Mount. It’s actually one of five distinct teaching discourses in Matthew. We call it the Sermon on the Mount and we think it’s set apart from everything else, but it actually follows a predictable pattern.
I hope you have your Bibles open. I want you to see this pattern here in Matthew’s Gospel. There’s a deliberate structure to Matthew’s Gospel, an over-arching storyline unfolds with each step.
So chapters 1 and 2 is the origin story. This is Jesus’ birth. Many familiar Christmas sections. Then we come to section 1, starting in chapter 3, and we have the introduction to the Gospel of the kingdom. The pattern that we’ll find in each section is narrative, teaching, transition. Narrative, teaching, transition.
So chapter 3 and 4 are the narrative, introducing the Gospel of the kingdom, then chapters 5, 6, and 7 are the teaching discourse, we call the Sermon on the Mount, and then look at the end of chapter 7, verse 28: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished, He was teaching them as one who had authority, not as their scribes.” Notice that phrase, “And when Jesus finished these sayings.” That’s the transition statement. Narrative about the kingdom, teaching about the kingdom, transition statement. That’s the first section.
Section 2 begins in chapter 8. The kingdom breaks in. We see it in chapter 8 through chapter 10, verse 4. You turn the page and then beginning in chapter 10, verse 5 we have a teaching section as He teaches the 12 apostles. He teaches about persecution to come, about peace, sword, fear, rewards. Look at chapter 11, verse 1: “When Jesus had finished instructing His 12 disciples, He went on from there.” Does that sound familiar? Jesus finished the teaching and He goes on to the next place. So we see the same pattern: Narrative, teaching, transition statement.
Section 3 begins in chapter 11. Now we have rising opposition to the preaching of the kingdom. We have the death of John the Baptist. Then in chapter 13 we have teaching, this long chapter with all of these various parables about the kingdom and sowers and seeds. Then look at the end of chapter 13, verse 53, and this language sounds familiar, “And when Jesus had finished these parables, He went on from there.” Same transition statement we had before.
We come to section 4. Here we find increasing polarization regarding the kingdom. People are divided whether they’re in or they’re out. What do they really think about Jesus? This goes for the reminder of chapter 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and again after this narrative about the kingdom, in chapter 18 now you find teaching. There’s teaching about who was the greatest, about your brother sinning against you, about the unforgiving servant, divorce, children, the rich young man. Then you come to chapter 19, so prior to that chapter 19, “Now when Jesus,” verse 1, “when Jesus had finished these sayings, He went away from Galilee.”
So there again we have this similar transition statement which then leads into the final section of Matthew’s Gospel, opposition and the final triumph of the kingdom. So again we have opposition and stories about the kingdom and then we have in chapter 24 and chapter 25 the Olivet discourse, there’s Jesus teaching, and then there is one last transition statement. If you look at chapter 26, verse 1, you’ll see these familiar words again: “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, He said to the disciples.” Then we come in finally to the crucifixion and the resurrection.
So that’s a quick overview of Matthew’s Gospel just so you can see that this isn’t something that a Bible commentary just made up. It’s clearly there. Now, yes, the narrative has teaching portions, the teaching portions sometimes have narrative, but there is a deliberate pattern that we have a narrative, we have Jesus teaching, and then a transition statement, “When He finished this teaching,” and then we move on to the next section. This happens five times.
The Sermon on the Mount, therefore, is part of the larger structure and progression in Matthew’s Gospel. Which means as we interpret the Sermon on the Mount we cannot make it about something other than what the whole book is about. It’s fairly simple to piece together the organizing principle in Matthew from that quick outline.
That leads to the second point: The Sermon on the Mount, like the book of Matthew, is about the kingdom. It’s about the kingdom.
Now go back to Matthew chapter 5 to the sermon itself. You see clearly that an organizing principle for the sermon is the kingdom, because Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount talking about the kingdom, chapter 5, verse 3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He ends by talking about the kingdom, chapter 7, verse 21: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” He goes on to talk about how you will enter the kingdom in verses 21, 22, and 23.
We will see this theme throughout.
Chapter 5, verse 10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for theirs is the kingdom.” We see it again in chapter 5:17 through 20, about those who are called great in the kingdom. Chapter 6, verse 10. Chapter 6:33.
It’s one of the clear organizing principles in Matthew’s Gospel and in the sermon is the kingdom. In fact, we are meant to see the Sermon on the Mount as the explication of what it means to repent and receive the Gospel of the kingdom.
Look back at chapter 4. Go up to verse 17. “From that time,” chapter 4:17, “from that time, Jesus began to preach, saying, ” now here’s one sentence. If you have to summarize Jesus’ itinerant preaching ministry. There’s lots of parables, lots of content. If you had to give it in one banner sentence, here it is: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
We see in verse 23: “And He went throughout all Galilee teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom.”
So what’s introduced in chapter 4 as the Gospel of the kingdom is then given fuller explanation in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ sermon is a manifesto not for nation-states in their international relations, but on the nature of life in the kingdom.
Notice, as you’ve heard me say before, the exhortation Jesus gives is not to build the kingdom, create the kingdom, or make the kingdom, but rather here’s how you receive the kingdom. Here’s how you enter the kingdom. Here, having received the kingdom, is how you live as those who are in obedience to the King.
So the exhortation is to live as if the kingdom has come in your life. To belong to the kingdom is to be the sort of person walking in faith and repentance in whom the reign of God has already begun.
Sometimes you watch movies and they’ll have as a plot trying to determine who the real hero is. There’s a good superhero, there’s a good Superman, and then there’s an imposter Superman. There’s the real Buzz Lightyear and then there’s the Buzz Lightyear in a box on the shelf. You have to try to determine, no, no, no, and the audience knows and you want to tell it to the people in the movie, “Don’t you know who the real hero is?”
Well, it’s like that way with the kingdom. To live according to the Sermon on the Mount is to show to the world that our true allegiance, our ultimate allegiance, is to King Jesus. That’s what it means to be a part of the kingdom, that we, though we inhabit earthly realms and we have an earthly nation and an earthly citizenship, our far greater citizenship is in heaven. We have traded allegiances from one that is earthbound to one that is heaven bound. We have said, “I want to put myself under this king and live by His rules.”
Have you ever had it, parents, that your child will ask you for one thing and you say no, and then they go to the next parent to ask for the very same thing. I don’t know, I mean, it hasn’t happened in our household, but I hear for some of you that sort of thing happens. Then usually when it comes back to the other parent, that parent will say, “Well, what did Mom say?” Usually, it’s, “Well, Mom said to ask you.” And you find out later what mom said is, “No, but you can go ask your father.” Or “Mom didn’t exactly say no,” or as my mother will remind me at one point when I was a child I did what she told me not to do and my explanation was, “Well, you said no, but your eyes said yes,” and believe it or not, that didn’t, that wasn’t convincing.
When your child is playing off one against another, it is a conflict of kingdoms. You’re saying, “Okay, I went to this king, or queen, I don’t like the rules that you’re giving me. Can I get another king? Another monarch? Whose rules I like.”
Sometimes we do that with Jesus, because as we go through the Sermon on the Mount, we’re going to find that these are hard things. Jesus, there’s grace, but Jesus is giving us a hard word and asking obedience. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re often like those children. “Uh. Okay, Jesus, just on this one, can I just hold, pause right there. I’m going to go ask somebody else.” You know what? We’d love to find someone else, a friend, a neighbor, somebody who will tell us what we want to hear about how we can live our life.
We’re not that different than kids trying to find another parent, another God, another king, another monarch, another ruler, to tell us and give us the rules we want to live by.
When you have truly entered the kingdom, you live as if Jesus is the king.
John Stott argued that the over-arching theme of the Sermon on the Mount can be summed up in two words: Christian counter-culture. You see in Matthew 6, verse 8, Jesus says explicitly, they are thinking about prayers, but He says “Do not be like them.” The sermon is what it means to repent, to turn, and embrace the kingdom. We must be prepared to have a Christian counter-culture.
Now this has always been the case, but actually I hope you, though we don’t welcome the demise of Christian influence in our world, it is nevertheless true that the more darkness there is, the brighter that light shines. We must be prepared as a church, and you must be prepared in the workplace, and kids and teenagers and young people and college students, you must be prepared. There are going to be times where you say no to things and yes to things and everyone around you says, “You are absolutely crazy.” And worse than that. They won’t just say you’re crazy, they’ll say you’re a bigot, you’re hateful. They’ll disdain you.
We must be prepared that Jesus is giving us a Christian counter-culture, that the way He wants us to live is not the normal way of the world.
Third. So this sermon is a part of the larger pattern in Matthew’s Gospel. Second, it’s about the kingdom. Third, it’s about discipleship.
We already saw that, verse 1, chapter 5: “Seeing the crowds, He went up the mountain. When He sat down, His disciples came to Him.” Notice the reverse of our culture, where the teacher stands and you all sit? He sat down, they all stood. He was deliberately meaning to instruct the disciples. Again, by the end the group has grown to include the crowds, but this teaching is explicitly for Christ’s disciples.
These chapters are undoubtedly a summary of what Jesus taught on the mountainside, that He said these words but very likely He said more words than this. This was teaching that may have taken hours, maybe even transpired over days. It would take us about 10, 12, 15 minutes to read these three chapters. This is likely a condensed version of the teaching that was spread out over a longer period of time.
When you hear that He was teaching His disciples, do not restrict that just to the 12, which actually hasn’t been mentioned yet, until chapter 10, but just think those who are following Him, interested in Him, and are in the literal sense of the word following Him around where He goes. So don’t over theologize this word “disciple” and think, well, these are Christians, there regenerate, they’re justified believers. No, at this point, you know, that’s what disciples should be and will be, but at this point these are the people who are simply very interested, curious. They’re following Him around. What sort of man are you? What would it look like for us to really follow you?
The Sermon on the Mount, therefore, is a message about discipleship. What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus?
Maybe you’re a new Christian. Maybe you’re investigating the claims of Christ. Maybe you’ve been doing this a long time and you just need a fresh reminder. Okay, I believe this stuff. I’m going to church. I’m singing the songs. What does it really mean for me to follow Jesus?
Well, Jesus is going to give us, in three chapters, a robust summary. You want to know what you do now? You live like this. You live this way according to the kingdom.
Which is why I said earlier we should not approach the Sermon on the Mount mainly as a means by which we see our sinfulness. Now that’s always true and we will certainly have many occasions here to realize who far we fall short, and yet we must take the Sermon on the Mount on its own terms. We should not set up this false dichotomy that, well, if you’re really into the Gospel then you don’t care about obedience. If you’re really a grace person, then you won’t really talk about discipleship. As if Jesus gives this whole sermon just to conclude, “Well, you know what? Eh, you’ll all fail, but, eh, I love ya.” That’s not how Jesus preaches this message.
I’ve given this distinction before, but it’s really important when we think about obedience to God. It is possible to be truly obedient without being perfectly obedient. Perfect obedience, everything about my attitude is right, I nailed this 100% of the time. Of course none of us do that this side of heaven. But let us not equate perfect obedience with true obedience. That is genuine, heartfelt obedience.
Wouldn’t almost all of you be able to look at someone in your life, your spouse, a mother, a father, someone who’s gone to be with the Lord, someone you look up, and you would say, “Yes, by God’s grace, this brother or sister lives this kind of life.”
Now you don’t mean they’re living a life of sinless perfection, but you mean they’re an example, and their life is largely marked by an obedient spirit to Christ. Paul will sometimes say that in his letters. He said about the Romans, “Your obedience is known to all.”
So to be grace-filled, gospel-centered does not mean that obedience somehow becomes a 4-letter word for the Christian. I guess obey is a 4-letter word, but it’s not a bad word. What does Jesus say at the end of Matthew’s Gospel in the Great Commission: “And teach them to obey.” And there’s no little asterisk there, ha ha ha, I know you can’t actually obey anything, but just teach it anyway.
No. Christ is not demanding of us sinless perfection, but He is saying if you are My disciples and the kingdom has come in your life, this is what it looks like.
Lloyd-Jones, in the book I mentioned earlier, says this: “Is it not true to say of many of us that in actual practice our view of the doctrine of grace is such that we scarcely ever take the plain teaching of Jesus seriously. We have so emphasized the teaching that all is of grace and we ought not to try to imitate His example in order to make ourselves Christians that we are virtually in the position of ignoring His teaching altogether, and of saying that it has nothing to do with us because we are under grace. Now I wonder how seriously we take the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The best way of concentrating on the question is to face the Sermon on the Mount.”
Lloyd-Jones says yes, we realize instinctively the gospel message is not “be more like Jesus and then you go to heaven.” That’s works righteousness. We can’t make it. Whitfield said you could sooner make to heaven on a rope of sand as you can by your works.
But with that good necessary emphasis on grace, let us not recoil so far in the other direction that we don’t take Jesus on His own terms, that He’s laying out for us what He wants His Church to look like. What He wants you, what He wants me, to look like.
We must face this sermon square in the face. Christianity is certainly more than trying to imitate Christ, but being born again it is not less than that. We are His disciples, and surely we will want to show God’s reign and rule in our life.
Now you may say at this point and throughout this sermon, “Well, but this is an impossible standard.” Well, but in the sermon itself Jesus gives us the mechanism for sin and repentance. Doesn’t He teach us in the Lord’s Prayer “forgive us our debts”? The Spirit is going to enable us to make great strides even as we are bound to fail along the way and part of living as a disciple is to come to Jesus and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t live like it today. I didn’t live like it in that moment with my children. I didn’t live like it in the way I talked to my parents. Would you forgive me?” That’s what disciples do.
Finally, then, fourth and most important theme, guardrail to keep in mind, this sermon is about Jesus. Now in most sermons the preacher should fade to the background. I am not preaching as I ought if the overwhelming sense you get after each sermon is, “Oh, I want to go home, I want to talk about the preacher.” No, you ought to forget whose teaching you are sitting under. The preacher is but an instrument, and this preacher is a weak vessel, a jar of clay. The point is not the jar, but the treasure that is inside, so normally that’s true. Do not focus on the preacher. The preacher is not the point.
But of course that’s different when Jesus is your preacher. The Sermon on the Mount compels us to ask over and over again, “Who preaches like this?” The very end of Matthew 7, “and they were astonished because He taught as one who had authority, not as the scribes.”
That’s what marked Jesus out and that’s important in an age that is very suspicious of authority. They were not overwhelmed by His humor, by His illustrations, by his cunning, by His cleverness, by His intellect. The overwhelming sense they had, “This man sounds different.” He spoke with authority.
And if they were paying attention, they would notice that time and again the focus of this sermon was upon Jesus Himself. Chapter 5, verse 11: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.” Who talks like that?
How many times in chapter 5 does Jesus recall the traditions from the law, or the traditions about the law, and then say, “But I tell you. You have heard that it was said of old, but I say to you. You have heard that it was said, but I say to you.” Now He’s not subverting the Old Testament, but He’s re-interpreting, He’s finding its fulfillment, and at times He’s overturning the traditions of their elders. I mean even you good Presbyterians, if that’s the way I preach, “You have heard that Calvin said, but let me tell you what you should really think.” Yeah, you get away with that once in a while, but if I just did a string of those, you’d say, “Okay, who do you think that you are?” “You have heard that the Westminster Confession of Faith says, but now listen to me.”
Jesus dares to preach with this authority. Or most striking of all, at the end of the sermon, in chapter 7, “Many, many will say ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me.’”
That’s amazing. Jesus is saying that on the day of final judgment what will matter most is whether you really knew Me. No earthly preacher should say that to you. “Here’s the secret when you get to the pearly gates, just tell ’em Kevin sent ya.” Nope, not going to get you far. Even though my middle name is Lee and Kevin Lee rhymes with heavenly, it won’t get you very far when you get up there.
And not only does Jesus say it’s based on whether you knew Him, He says, “Depart from Me” so the final judgment, condemnation is described as being cast away from Jesus. So if you’ve ever thought, “You know what? I’m,” or you have a friend who thinks this, “You know what? I don’t know. The church with all of its dogma and its doctrines and all of its, you know, Jesus fully God, fully man…. I don’t know. I don’t want to mess around with all that. You know what I want though? I love the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. If I could just get the Sermon on the Mount with its great ethical teachings. If the world could just listen to the Sermon on the Mount, you know, turn the other cheek and don’t lust in your heart. What a great world it would be.”
Listen, you cannot get the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount without getting Jesus who is the very point of the Sermon on the Mount. He tells the sermon with reference to Himself. This is one sermon where your focus is to be on the preacher. The relentless subplot to the entire sermon comes in the form of this question that Jesus asks: Are you with Me? Are you really with Me?
Submitting to this sermon means finally and fully submitting to Jesus, and remember what Jesus will say just a few chapters later in Matthew chapter 11: Take My yoke upon you, and that yoke is easy, that burden is light. There will be times in this series studying you’ll say, “Jesus, I don’t know, Your yoke does not feel easy. Your burden does not feel light. This is a heavy burden.”
But Jesus says, “Not when I’m with you. Not when I love you. Not when I forgive you. Not when I have My Spirit to transform you. No, this actually is light and easy compared to the lies that the world will give you.”
You want to talk to somebody who is in the pits of hell, trapped in addiction? No, no, no. What Jesus gives us is light. That burden is good. That yoke is easy.
So as we move, Lord willing, through this sermon over these weeks and months, two things to remind yourself, two commitments to make. One, take a good look at yourself. That is to say, don’t be quick to listen for someone else. We all do that. And that’s okay, you may want to send them to someone else and wish someone else could hear it, but listen first for yourself. It’s too easy to think, “Wow, that was a message about anger. Boy, they really could use that.” No, if you are honest with yourself, and I am honest with myself, this sermon is going to probe every area of your life; your character, your self-control, your piety, your ambition, your relationships. It may be, as you’re honest with yourself, you conclude, “I don’t know that I’m really a Christian. I need to be born again. I need a Savior. I’ve never really come to that conclusion.”
Or you may conclude, “I am a Christian, I am born again, and Jesus, I need Your help more than I thought I knew.”
Stott says if you keep in mind the necessity of new birth and the possibility of new birth, the sermon will keep you from foolish optimism on the one hand and hopeless despair on the other.
So take a good look at yourself.
Second, throughout this series, take a good look at Jesus. Every bit of this sermon is a reflection of Jesus, what matters to Jesus, what Jesus is like. Remember what He has done. See what He is like. Trust in what He can do. Whether you are encountering this sermon for the first time or you’ve done a dozen studies already, surely God has more to teach you, more to teach me, help you to grow as a disciple, and above all else more to show you about Jesus.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we pray that You would do a surprising work in our hearts, in our lives, in our church. May we get done with this series and not just have endured another teaching series, but we would really be more shaped in Your image. We would not just individually, but our families would more resemble little kingdoms, that this church would have more of an imprint of Christ and His kingdom, and that Your reign would be more evident among us. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.