The Sermon on the Mount

September 15, 2008 at 12:36 pm | Posted in Theology | Leave a comment

Matthew 5, 6, 7.  This passage, known as the Sermon on the Mount, contains some of the most famous sayings of Jesus:  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” and all the other Beatitudes; “Love your enemies;” “pearls before swine;” the Lord’s Prayer; the wise and the foolish builders; and numerous others.  However, it also contains some of the most difficult sayings of Jesus: the speck in your neighbor’s eye and the log in your own; looking lustfully is the same as committing adultery; anger is the same as murder.  Who of us is not guilty of all those things?

Many try to write this sermon off in some way or other to demonstrate that these hard sayings are not written for us.  The Dispensationalists will say that Jesus was talking to the Jews of his day only and not to us, or, in some cases, to those who will live in the Millennial kingdom.  However, this would indicate that God’s standard changes.  God’s standard of righteousness is based on his unchanging character, so it never changes.  If anger was equivalent to murder in the past, or will be in the future, it always has been.  Some theologians have proposed that Jesus presents an ‘interim ethic’ which only applied to the early Christians, but this too results in a changing standard of God.  Socialists see this sermon as the presentation of the perfect society, if we could only obey it literally.  But such a view ignores the difficult sayings like, “if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out; if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”  Obeying that one literally, and honestly, would certainly not make for a very healthy society!  Besides, who of us can honestly read this Sermon and not feel the conviction of those difficult passages?

It seems that the only sensible solution is to understand this sermon as a presentation of God’s incredible standard of perfection.  God is so holy, and we are so not, that his standard is way beyond us.  No matter how we try, we simply fall short.  The key verse of the entire message is 5:19, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  The Pharisees had a catalogue of all God’s laws and a reputation of obeying them.  But even if we appear to be obeying God’s standard outwardly, we fail in our attitudes and thoughts.

The good news is that Jesus fulfills God’s unchanging standard for us (5:17-18).  He lived a perfect life, and his perfection can be credited to our account.  When the only One who could keep God’s standard was killed, he became the perfect sacrifice and substitute for those who cannot keep that standard and deserve to die because they can’t.

The Sermon on the Mount should help us understand God’s holy perfection and motivate us to live it out in out in our lives, but it should also remind us that we all fall short of God’s perfection and need his grace to be accounted righteous in his sight.

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