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"Go and teach all nations to observe whatsoever things I have taught you..." Matthew 28:19-20
Why the Sermon on the Mount?
The Bible In Three Chapters
Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew’s gospel, The Sermon on the Mount, is the only recorded full sermon of Jesus. And full it is! It contains the essence of all His teaching. In fact, it contains the essence of all the teaching of the Bible. If you want to know the message of the Bible, it’s all concentrated in these three chapters. All the law and the prophets are fulfilled in this teaching on the mountain. Jesus quotes extensively from the Old Testament to show that He and His teaching didn’t destroy or contradict the law but fulfilled it. The teaching of the epistles only amplify what Jesus taught here in the Sermon on the Mount.
Parables and prophecy, types and shadows, need explanation. But this is clear, straightforward, easy to understand, practical teaching, from the lips of the Son of God. “He opened His mouth, and taught them”. As such it is very precious. Jesus said, “Many prophets and righteous men have desired to hear the things you hear, and have not heard them” (Matthew 17:17). We are obligated to give very careful attention to every word that Jesus spoke. As the letter to the Hebrews says, “Therefore we ought to give more heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Hebrews 2:1).
When we look at Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, we don’t find much about soul-winning or evangelism. Everything is about personal lifestyle and character. Neither do we find an emphasis on signs and wonders; rather we find warnings that not everybody who does signs and wonders is a true Christian. Why is this? Is evangelism wrong? Are signs and wonders wrong? Not at all. But if evangelism is our main emphasis, we are missing the point. If signs and wonders are our main emphasis, we are in great danger. Jesus has the right emphasis - on character, on lifestyle, on purity of motive, on humility.
History is littered with the sad records of evangelists with wonderful healing ministries, people genuinely anointed of God, who “forgot the weightier matters of the law” and neglected to attend to their own characters and lifestyle. They fell, they are still falling today, and they will continue to fall. Our emphasis must be right. Our priorities must be right. What are your priorities?
A Personal Testimony
My father founded a church on the miraculous power of God. His ministry was supernatural from the beginning. The church experienced mighty miracles, extraordinary signs and wonders. There was a time when, as the people raised their hands and hearts to God in worship, shiny droplets of fragrant oil would appear on their hands. The whole church would be filled with a beautiful perfume. Representatives from the Assemblies of God were sent to find out whether the amazing things they had heard were true. True they were! Miracles happened. There was dancing and laughter, excitement and tears, salvation, healing and deliverance. The church attracted world-wide attention.
But then there was a change. Every year the church used to hold an evangelistic outreach for a month. The emphasis was on soul-winning and signs and wonders. But this year my father decided something different was needed. He saw that the people in the church were not being built up. They were not growing in grace. They were sold out to excitement and miracles, but they weren’t growing more like Christ. My father realised a profound thing: you can’t build solid Christians on the miraculous. However genuine, however powerful, however anointed it is, the excitement of the supernatural will never build Christians into the image of Christ.
So instead of a miracle crusade, my father held teaching for the church members, every day for a month. And he chose the Sermon on the Mount to teach from. He wasn’t confident that he would be able to get through messages from three chapters to see him through a message for every day of the month; but to his amazement, when the end of the month came, he found he had hardly touched the surface of Jesus’ teaching! He taught from the Sermon on the Mount every Sunday for the next five years!
And that is why I am teaching it today. Not because I heard it and approved of it, or had it drummed into me, but because it personally changed me; changed not just my thinking but my lifestyle. It was a practical and radical change, and a change that has lasted, and been ongoing, ever since.
Now that we know why it’s so important to study the Sermon on the Mount, let’s take a brief overview of its contents. Jesus begins by describing our goal - the qualities of character which gain us acceptance into the kingdom (Matthew 5:1-12). Like the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, it is actually a description of Christ’s own character. The only way we can have more of this character is by having more of Christ in us, which means less of self.
Having set out the qualities we need, Jesus then shows us that we all fall hopelessly short of the mark! Keeping the letter of God’s commandments is not good enough - Jesus came to fulfill the law (not, as some think, to somehow “replace it by grace”) - and fulfilling the law means keeping not just the letter of the law but the spirit, the real meaning, of it as well (verses 17-20). Jesus then gives 6 examples (verses 21-48) of the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law, and each example exposes our secret inner lives, our thoughts and hidden motives, showing us that we are not godly at all, no matter how outwardly righteous we may appear.
Chapter 6 is concerned with “the secret life of the disciple”. The secret, inner motives of our hearts which Jesus exposed in chapter 5 can only be dealt with by another secret, inner means. So in verses 1-18, secret prayer, secret fasting and secret aims-giving are explained. The rest of the chapter continues to deal with our motives, values and attitudes to service of God and materialism.
Chapter 7 contains more practical instruction and examples: on judging others, on prayer, on discernment of false prophets. Jesus concludes the whole sermon with an illustration - the house built on rock and the house built on sand (verses 24-26).
A Misunderstood Illustration
Sometimes this is taken out of context and used as a gospel message, and the rock then becomes a symbol for Jesus; but this is not the true meaning. In fact, Jesus clearly explains the meaning Himself. He said that the house built on a rock is people who hear his words and do them, and the house built on sand is also people who hear his words - but don’t do them. This is a powerful warning. It is not enough to hear the Sermon on the Mount, to believe it, to accept it, to study it, or to preach it. Only doing it counts. We face the same danger as we embark on our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Will we believe it and study it and accept it - or will we start to do it? To only believe it is to reject it.
The people “were astonished at his doctrine” (verse 28). So are the church today! The Sermon on the Mount is too strong, too radical, too destructive to self. It’s too challenging to the church. So the great majority of the church don’t practice it. They may believe it, but they don’t do it. And that’s why our country is in a mess. That’s why the light has gone out of our nation, and the salt has become tasteless. Take it personally. The challenge is here for every one of us.
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