Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. ~ G.K. Chesterton
I was recently provided the opportunity to preach once again at my local congregation. We are currently going through the gospel of Matthew and I was tasked to provide an introduction and overview of the Sermon on the Mount.
Have you read this text? If not (or if it’s been a while), please read Matthew chapters 5-7.
At first glance, and even after your hundredth glance, you wonder if Jesus can really be serious with many of the things He says. They just seem crazy! Out of this world for sure.
To really help gain context for the longest sermon ever recorded in the scriptures, one must understand the concept of discipleship for this is who Jesus is speaking to. (see Mt. 5:1) This gospel itself provides a great insight to what being a “disciple” means throughout its pages. (Mt. 4:18-19; 10:24-25; 8:18-22; 16:24-26; 28:16-20)
A disciple is a student or follower who is adopting the lifestyle of his teacher/rabbi. Put simply, discipleship is learning to live our lives like Jesus would live them if He were us.
In this world, discipleship is costly! To follow and be like Jesus may involve homelessness, extreme focus to the exclusion of those around us, self-denial (of rights, not of worth), taking up our cross (symbol of death), and losing our lives so that we may find them.
This is the mission for every believer in Jesus Christ, to not only take on this way of life but to duplicate it in others.
The whole reason for this denial and “dying” stems from the perfect life, satisfactory death, and conquering resurrection of Jesus. Through these, an earth shattering project called the Kingdom of God/Heaven (depending on which gospel you’re reading) has been launched.
The term “kingdom” is a compound coming from the words “king” + “dome” (domain). This was the most discussed topic of Jesus’ and it simply means wherever God exercises His dominion and influence. (see Ps. 103:19; Lk. 17:21)
The craziness is that God, in His scandalous grace, chooses to use us flawed and finite people to accomplish His plans and purposes! Our hope, ushered in by a new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) that will bring forth a new recreation (Rev. 21:5), is being realized through this Kingdom building project with the aid and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
This is the reality Jesus brought and this is our purpose as His people – establish the rule and reign of God in our lives and multiply that through others until He returns.
So with this backdrop of God’s mission expressed through the faithful and perfect life of Jesus, let us return to the Sermon on the Mount.
I have a very basic question now that you have read or reread this text. It may seem so rhetorical that you would question my sincerity, but I assure you I am absolutely serious when I ask:
Did Jesus really mean what He said?
Seriously. Were these concepts just an expression of His feelings? Perhaps they were just some tips on how to live your best life now? Or what if they were an unwavering creed for which He came and by which His will would be done?
An easy way to conclude if Jesus meant what He said is to see if He did anything about what He said. Looking upon His life, we see that He was the light of the world and the salt of the earth. This is no more vividly seen than when He forgave and loved His enemies, even as they nailed Him to a cross.
He simply was the embodiment of this sermon.
So if Jesus really meant what He said here, does anyone care? Many believers listen, think, pray, and even sing about such declarations (see below), but where are His disciples today? Where is the Kingdom being built and who are its builders?
Ever since Jesus came on the scene the Kingdom has been on the move. Unfortunately, those who should know better (the religious) are the ones who are often the most uninvolved or even antagonistic to this Kingdom (see Party Like It’s Eternity).
In pledging allegiance to the kingdoms of this world, believers are often blind and bound to images made in their own likeness. They not only miss the activity of God but actually become so crooked that they declare righteousness as sin.
There is a well known saying that has been attributed to many and it challenges me as I contemplate Jesus’ words here: Preach Christ and use words if necessary.
Even though He used many words, Jesus doesn’t provide much of a how-to dialogue (aside from how to pray) on how to bring the rule and reign of God in our midst. He didn’t provide us a tract or give us logical arguments but admonished a lifestyle that would conquer the forces of darkness.
With that I want to ask you how you are “preaching” Christ?
Can I encourage you to examine your walk with the Lord currently? As you read the Sermon on the Mount, were you encouraged, humbled, intimidated, frustrated, etc.? Are you building the Kingdom? Do you see where God is working and ask how you can fit in? Do you consider the work of God your responsibility or look to subcontract that to others?
The Sermon on the Mount is an amazing text and insight into the heart and will of God. Imagine the Church ignited by an unquenchable, fiery passion to fulfill its challenge!? What would this world look like? Imagine.