"When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that He was living everything He was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard."
Matthew 7:28-29 (The Message)
We have been studying the Sermon on the Mount since the beginning of March. Not only have we read the daily reflections, but also a group has met every Wednesday to read, listen, comment, and pray about the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5-7.
What have we learned? Was there a teaching that made you think, a reflection which opened a wider understanding of a specific passage? Is this sermon presenting an unattainable ideal for us, Christians living in the 21st Century? Does it mean that we are going to be lost if we don’t live exactly as the sermon teaches?
As a child, I was terrified about not being ready for the Second Coming. I prayed to Jesus to let me fall from a very tall building to have time to ask forgiveness for my sins before dying. A repeated dream in those days had to do with Jesus coming. Since I lived on an island, I was always at the beach. Suddenly an angel would appear by my side, and I would just then notice a hen there, too. (What was a hen doing at the beach?!) The angel would look at me, furrowing his brow and tell me: “Do you see that hen? It’s going to be saved and you are not!”
If you search for “The Sermon on the Mount.” Amazon will give you 2,375 results for books. Some of those books qualify the sermon as “God’s Character and the Believer’s Conduct” (Oswald Chambers), “The Character of a Disciple” (Daniel M. Doriani), “A Deeper Look at the Sermon on the Mount: Living Out the Way of Jesus” (John Stott and Dale Larse), “Characterization of the Ideal Disciple” (A. B. Lawrence), and so on!
We find, however, controversy regarding the meaning of Jesus’ teachings in this sermon. Harvey K. McArthur, in his book Understanding the Sermon on the Mount, states:
The sermon has been widely accepted and quoted within the Christian tradition. … Some from without have truly admired the sermon (Ghandi and Jewish scholar G. C. Montefiore), while others have trashed it along with the rest of Scripture (cf. Nietzsche) and attacked it for its ‘love thy neighbor ethic’ (Robinson Jeffers). A third group has arisen which (most notably the German Fr. Naumann) says that the ethic taught in the sermon is itself impossible to be lived out in a capitalistic society like we have. Martin Luther found the sermon difficult to fathom and often mishandled.
Pastor Vadim shared with us thoughts from the book Living the Sermon on the Mount, written by Dr. Glen H. Stassen one of his professors at Fuller Seminary. When I started to read the book, I could see the golden cord of God’s love running through this sermon. Dr. Stassen says:
Let us not interpret the Sermon on the Mount as it has been interpreted so often: part of the story of Greek idealism, human effort to make ourselves perfect and live up to what seems like impossibly high ideals. Matthew show us clearly that the Sermon on the Mount needs to be interpreted as the good news of God becoming present to us in Jesus, doing something new; as God’s delivering justice breaking through in Jesus; as disciples receiving the gracious call to become followers of Jesus.
Dr. Stassen emphasizes that the Beatitudes do not promise distant well-being and success; they celebrate the reality that God is already acting to deliver us. They are based not on the perfection of the disciples but on the coming of God’s grace, already experienced in Jesus. In other words, we can love God and love others because He loved us first!
After the Beatitudes and the section about the salt and light, the main body of the sermon starts with Jesus saying, “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). He ends this section saying: ”Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets” (7:12).
Matthew comes again to the Law and the Prophets in chapter 22, when he registers Jesus’ response about the greatest commandment: ”He replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands’” (22:37-40).
The Sermon of the Mount is about God’s amazing love! The Scripture Jesus quoted (the Law and the Prophets) states that truth, as well as the New Testament. No wonder, as Eugene Peterson says in the Message Bible: ”When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause.”
How about us?