The Sermon on the Mount (5)

A young teen had become increasingly rebellious, wore dark clothing, and ran around with the wrong crowd.  Then, her mother found a folder in her room with a label: “Leave this blankety-blank alone.  This is my life.”  When she opened it, she found the most disturbing letters that she had ever seen.  One note had blood smeared around the edges.  This teen had grown up going to church, but now she was involved in witchcraft.  Her parents decided to take swift action, and in 24 hours had flown her to live with an aunt for a few months.  Her wise aunt home-schooled her, helped her to become aware that witchcraft was a dead end street, and taught her a method for studying the Bible for herself.  She was gone from home for three months, but she returned to her parents a totally different person.  Her mother wrote to a friend who was a preacher, “Bob, encourage people to be obedient to God, even if it's embarrassing, even it it's drastic.  We are thankful we did” [adapted from Larson-Elshof]!  “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teachings, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”  This was the response of the crowd who heard Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.  We have been striving to listen to it as well.  After a quick review, we'll look at the closing of this great sermon.  For our review, you can either look on the screen or look at your bulletin where an outline has been provided as well.

In our previous lessons, we have seen that the broad context is that this sermon is one of several others in Matthew's Gospel.  Then we saw how Jesus’ audience had a very different concept of kingdom than what Jesus had; they were thinking military and physical strength, but Jesus was thinking spiritual and moral strength.

The introduction to the sermon stresses discipleship:
he character of Jesus' disciples—what we call “The Beatitudes” (5:1-10)
The persecution of Jesus' disciples—you're in good company (like the prophets) (5:11-12)
he influence of Jesus' disciples—you set the pace for the world (5:13-16)
The transition from the introduction to the body stresses three ideas:
     a clarification--Jesus' message is not designed to put down the Old Testament
an explanation--Jesus' disciples must continue to respect, obey, and teach the
           Old Testament (5:19).
an exhortation--Jesus' disciples must have a righteousness that surpasses that of
           the present Jewish religious leaders (5:20).  This statement would have
           really got the attention of Jesus' listeners.  So the body of the sermon is
           designed to spell out the righteousness from the inside out that He desires.

The body of the sermon explains what Jesus' righteousness looks like:

My righteousness properly interprets the Law—notice the intent, go beyond the action or deeper than just going through the motions, the Law was given to help us to draw closer to God (5:21-48):
Not only murder, but controlling anger and resolving conflicts (5:21-26)
Not only adultery, but controlling passions and desires (5:27-30)
Not only a certificate of divorce, buy loyalty to one’s vows (5:31-32)
Not only an oath, but loyalty to one’s word (5:33-37)
Not a retaliation mentality, but returning good for evil (5:38-42)
My righteousness puts God in the number one position (6:1-34).

The disciples’ aim is pleasing God (not men)—they give, pray, and fast in secret
The disciples’ treasure is serving God—they realize that earthly treasures are
      transitory, can obscure reality, and can stop our service to God (6:19-24).
The disciples’ priority is promoting God—they don’t focus on life’s necessities, but
      they give God’s kingdom priority, and realize their heavenly Father is in control
My righteousness gives relationships the number two position (7:1-12).
Disciples should not have a condemnatory spirit (like that in Luke 18:9-14; 7:1).
Disciples can overcome this condemnatory spirit:
by realizing that God treats them in the same way that they treat others (7:2).
by realizing that they have faults too, so they practice self-examination (7:3-5).
      by realizing the worth of their relationships (7:6).
by realizing that regular and specific prayer can help them understand one another
Disciples should demonstrate a benevolent spirit (7:12).

This brings us to the closing of the sermon where Jesus stresses obedience or putting into practice those things that He has taught.  Like James, He wants His audience to be doers of the His message, and not just hearers only.  Jesus then gives three warnings.

First of all, He says to beware of the “easy” righteousness that most want
(7:13-14)!  This is the righteousness that the Jewish religious leaders are promoting.  Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Imagine that big mix-master that you see when getting to the loop around Dallas.  All those cars in several lanes are like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day—they look the part and think that God is pretty lucky to have them on His team, but they also look for loopholes to get around certain commandments, seek men’s praise over God’s, and don’t give relationships much importance.  Now imagine a gravel road up on the mountains where two cars can barely pass; those following this road are those that Jesus described in His introduction, those disciples who admit their spiritual poverty, let God take control, hunger for true righteousness, practice mercy, show integrity, seek to bring about peace, and endure persecutions (Cope).  Now notice that Jesus doesn’t give us the luxury of any more options.  We must chose which route we will travel, which righteousness we will pursue.  While I worked in Italy, many people would say to me, “Well, we’re all climbing up the mountain on different roads [representing different religious groups], but we’ll all come out at the same destination in the end [meaning heaven].”  That’s a comforting metaphor to promote univeralism, the false idea that all men will be saved in the end.  But notice, that is NOT what Jesus says: “For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction.  Jesus let His listeners and us know very clearer that if we embrace the easy righteousness of most religious folks and follow that broad route, then the outcome will be ruin an misery.  Jesus could be referring to hell here, but I also wonder if the could mean that such destruction could begin to take place even in this lifetime (like the teen we saw earlier who was traveling towards to the evil consequences that a lifestyle devoted to witchcraft would bring).  Warning one: Beware of the “easy” righteousness that most want!

Then comes His second warning: Beware of your religious guides!  Let’s begin reading with verse 15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree gears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.”  The false prophets are again referring to the religious leaders in Jesus’ day.  Oh, they look good.  They’re not wearing a T-shirt saying: “I’m a false prophet.”  No, they look the part, and they walk around saying, “Hey, we’re sheep.  We’re with you.  We’re on you side.”  So what’s the heart of the problem?  Yes, the heart of the problem is their problem hearts—inwardly, they are ravenous wolves!  Have we seen any wolfish behaviors described in the sermon?  Doing religious acts to be seen of men, unwillingness to forgive, coveting earthly treasure, lusting to have an affair, displaying a condemnatory spirit.  John the Baptizer once described some religious teachers who came to him in these words in Matthew 3:8ff: “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves: ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore, every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Their superficial repentance and putting their trust in their heritage are condemned by John.  And did you notice that Jesus quotes John’s statement verbatim in verse 19?  The apostle Paul, about 30 years later, issues the same warning in Act 20:29-30: “For I know this, that after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves.”  So how can we recognize who are false religious teachers?  What fruit they produce is the ultimate test.  One commentator correctly noted, “Profession is easy and behavior may be counterfeited, but what a man really is will inevitably show by the way he lives.”  Brother and sisters, Jesus is talking about religious leaders, of which I profess to be one.  Now brothers and sisters, hold me accountable as a minister.  If you see wolfish behaviors in may life and if I ever speak perverse teachings to create a following, then help me to see the error of my ways!  I have been trying to preach the Sermon on the Mount, to help us understand it better.  But the real question for us all is: “Will we live it better?  Will we try to put its lofty ideals into practice in our everyday lives?”  As a minister, I don’t want Jesus to just inform you, I want Him, he Son of he Living God, to transform you!  Isn’t it wonderful that God has given us one another so that we can help each other to continue to travel on the narrow road that leads to abundant eternal life?  “Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.”  Warning two: Beware of your religious guides!
Jesus then gives a third warning: Beware of losing your real purpose!  Let’s read beginning with verse 21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”  What is to be our real purpose?  Jesus spells it out for us very clearly here: we are to do God’s will, we are to get to know Jesus, and we are to practice His righteousness.  Getting caught up in many spiritual activities doesn’t mean that we have arrived at spiritual maturity.  Remember, Martha was caught up in lots of activity, even for the Lord’s benefit, but Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the better part.   He again stresses the better part here.  “Obedience [DOING or LIVING OUT God’s will], and not empty claims, is the ultimate test of discipleship” (Lewis).  Knowing Jesus is more than just having a knowledge of Him.  The word “know” in this context means to have a close and intimate relationship with someone.  Can we get so caught up in doing religious things that we never really spend much time with our Lord so that He truly impacts and influences our lives?  We’ve probably known couples who put so much time in their careers that they’ve let the fires of their friendship die.  Are we respecting the Scriptures and putting God at the number one position and giving relationships the number two position—that’s Jesus’ righteousness inside out, and in comparison, all the other religious deeds are called “lawlessness” because they just don’t measure up.  In our community, do people see our congregation as one that is involved and DOING God’s will?  Do people tell others, “Oh, that church really knows Jesus and tries to imitate Him in their lives?”  Jesus shows us that we’d better pay close attention to what He has taught because “in that day”, on the Judgment Day, our eternal destiny will be determined by how we have lived out His teachings in this sermon!  Warning three: Beware of losing your real purpose!

fter these three warnings, Jesus finishes with a final admonition: “Therefore whoever hears these things of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.  But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell.  And great was its fall.”  You know, externally, you probably couldn’t tell much difference between a house built upon sand and a house built upon rock.  And there was little difference when the weather was nice; they both sat there looking secure.  But then come the storms with their rains and winds.  Now the situations become very different, don’t they?  I wonder if Jesus had seen the ruins of a house that had been crushed by some storm.  When the storms hit, it’s the foundation or what’s down deep that makes the difference, isn’t it?  You see, if you follow the religious leaders’ righteousness, it’s like building on sand.  That righteousness lacks punch, that righteousness keeps only enough rules to stay out of trouble while never really wanting to follow God’s will in the first place.  Follow that righteousness, and when the storms of life hit, notice not IF but WHEN, then your house will collapse.  But if you take My righteousness and put it into practice, then when life’s storms hit, your house will hold, it will remain, it will endure.  Jesus again gives us only two options, but He also gives us great assurance that His way will hold!  We must choose what kind of righteousness we will build on.  Jesus is making a high claim for His teaching, and He is giving us a serious admonition that we should not take lightly (Lewis; France).  “Practice My righteousness—it will hold in life’s storms!”

What more can we see in this great sermon?  Here are six quick closing observations.  First of all, we see that this sermon is really an extended explanation of Jesus’ two great commands—to love God to love our neighbor, to put God in the number one position to give relationships the number two position.  Secondly, this sermon is a challenge to live under God’s control, to do His will, and put Jesus’ righteousness into practice in our lives.  Thirdly, this sermon is a call to live counter-culturally.  We must set the pace for the world, and we must often go against the grain of our own culture.  Fourthly, this sermon is an assurance that evil will not break us.  My righteousness will hold in life’s storms.  Fifthly, the sermon is the revelation of a loving Heavenly Father.  If we know how to give good gifts, will not our Heavenly Father give more and will He not provide and care for His children?  He is still in control.  Lastly, this sermon is a reminder that God has lofty expectations for His children.  “Be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete.”  This is the high standard for which we must always shoot!

Here’s a modern day parable that comes from Denmark.  There were some ducks which waddled one Sunday to their duck church.  They nested in their duck pews, sang from their duck hymnals, and listened to their duck preacher, whose lesson was probably recorded on duck tape.  The duck preacher passionately exclaimed: “Beloved ducks, you don’t have to waddle any longer.  God made you with wings like those of the eagle!  You can fly, beloved!  Don’t keep your feet on the ground all the time!  Fly, ducks, fly!  Soar, ducks, soar!”  The ducks excitedly said, “Amen!  Amen!  Great sermon!”  And after the service was over, they all left the building, and all of them waddled back to their homes and never tried to spread their wings (Cope).  The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ flight instructions.  But we must make the choice if we will put into practice His righteousness so that we might soar.  Remember what the mother wrote to her preacher: “Be obedient to God, even if it’s embarrassing, even if it’s drastic.  We are thankful that we did!”  Have you been building on the sand of externals or the rock of His righteousness—which transforms us from the inside out!  Please make Jesus your Lord and give yourself totally to following His flight instructions or rededicate yourself to the practice of His righteousness!