Friday, November 26, 2010

Can We Live the Sermon on the Mount?

Reading: Matthew 5-7  
The Sermon on the Mount holds up the most glorious picture of human relationships ever imagined. I don't think anyone, at least any reasonable person would argue that if everyone lived this way the world would be transformed for the good. Jesus comes on the scene, going about preaching, and right here, at the beginning of our New Testaments, we have the first and lengthiest sermon of Jesus recorded.
The scene is set, I believe, to remind us of Moses ascending the Mount to receive the Law. At that first scene, a barrier was put around the mountain to prevent the people from touching it. In this scene, Jesus' disciples came to Him. The first law was put into place to lead us to the Person who is now sharing the real purpose and intent of the law—the transformation of living which grows out of loving one's neighbor as much as we love ourselves. In fact, after an introduction which includes the Beatitudes, and ends with, In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” we have the body of this sermon. This “body” of the sermon begins with:
17Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them....20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17, 20)
And ends with:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
Here we see what might summarize not only the law, but the ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Often called the golden rule, this removes godly living from a cultural, ethnic context. The Law was never supposed to be about only living according to the rules it laid out, they were rather application of the heart issue. What was the heart issue in the law?
... love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)
More importantly, we see in the Sermon on the Mount exactly what Christ did in coming to save us. The central call of Biblical religion was seen in the command: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5) God had called His people to love Him, and they had failed. Now God has come and is loving His people with all His heart, soul, and strength in and through Jesus Christ as He lays down His life for us. Jesus is God doing unto us exactly what He has called us to do to Him. He loved us first.
So doing to others what you would have them do to you, and loving the Lord with all our heart, soul and strength is nothing more than being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. And being conformed to the image of Christ is never less than these.
Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount does apply to us today, we are called to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law, which are laid out here more clearly than anywhere. In fact, the closing of the sermon is all about the difference between the person who hears and does the sermon (house built on a rock), and the person who only hears but doesn't think he needs to do them (house built on sand).
But how? How in the world are we ever to live out this impossible task? I believe the answer to this question is found in the sermon itself. Found in what is at the very center of the sermon body and what is at the very end of the sermon body. At the center we are told:
9This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,  10your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  11Give us today our daily bread.  12Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'  (Matthew 6:9-13)
And then, after calling us to a level of righteousness that seriously exceeded that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, just before summarizing it with “do to others what you would have them do to you,” we read:
7Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)
How? How are we ever going to live this way? We aren't... at least in our own strength. We can only do so the same way the Son did—in complete dependence on the Father. Apart from Him we can do nothing; but abiding in Him and He in us we will bear much fruit.
This also gives us a sense of what we should be praying for.  In fact, many of Paul's prayers seem to be prayer that we would walk in a manner that matches our Lord and the Gospel we have believed, that we would grow in our love for one another and live out the love of Christ toward one another.  Ask, seek, knock for the kingdom of God and His righteousness!

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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