I previously shared with you why Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7 is relevant for the Church.
Now, I am writing to share with you why the Sermon on the Mount was a revolutionary message for Jesus’s disciples to hear and put into practice in their lives. It can inspire us to take action.
Most revolutions are fueled by a deep discontent for the status quo in a society. In Jesus’s culture, the religious status quo was maintained by the Jewish leaders: the scribes and Pharisees. In 1st century Judea, these influential “holy men” interpreted the Law of God so to publicly shame and exclude the poor, disabled, and sick from their worship. Jesus’s stinging rebuke to his robed rivals says it all in Matthew 23:13, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.” He called out their ugly hypocrisy. In his preaching, Jesus made God’s Law accessible and understandable for those who were shut out from the synagogues. He helped them move beyond merely knowing the “letter of the law”, toward a deeper understanding of the moral character and intent of the Law Giver.
The Sermon on the Mount also has had a revolutionary impact through generations in Church history. For instance, St. Augustine taught: “If anyone will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as we read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life.” I agree with him, the Sermon on the Mount is a moral compass that points us to Christ.
Christian pacifism emerged in response to Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” This lex talionis or “law of retaliation” impacted the 16th century Anabaptists, to break away from the state sponsored Protestant churches of the Reformation. The Anabaptists tradition interprets Matthew 5-7 literally; they refuse to: bear a sword or any arms, resist evil acts with violence, swear any oaths, or hold any public office. Perhaps you know them today as the Amish, Hutterites, or Mennonites.
Last month, we explored what Jesus meant by telling his disciples, “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” We also heard Jesus’ challenge to practice our acts of piety (i.e. almsgiving, prayer, fasting) in secret for God’s glory, to receive heavenly rewards. This August, as we continue our journey together, Jesus is going to talk tough with us about hazards to our faith: materialism, worrying, and hypocrisy. I pray the Holy Spirit will transform how we think and act.
The late Keith Green captured the tension of faithfully serving Jesus in this world when he sang: “I want to take Your Word and shine it all around, but first help me just to live it Lord! And when I’m doing well, help me to never seek a crown. For my reward is giving glory to You.” He’s right.
If you can relate to his struggle for faithfulness (I sure do), then I encourage you to call a friend and invite them to join you for worship this Sunday (on site or online via Facebook Live).
“Christ transforms our lives so our community can thrive!” Pastor Zack