This fall at LAC we will hear together the first third of the Book of Matthew (we’ve only gotten so far to chapter 5 but have no fear - we’ll return to the rest) of what I consider to be the most important sermon ever preached, i.e., Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Why do I say this?
- When Jesus says that we are to make disciples from among people of all nations "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded" in Mt. 28:18-20, this sermon contains the teaching central to those commands. All who will be Jesus’ disciples are to hear and obey what he teaches here.
- This is the main section of Scripture that has guided God’s people to live wisely both in good times and especially in tough times. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked how to live for Jesus in the face of mounting Nazism in Germany, he found this sermon directed him. It became the basis for his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship. After World War II, as German church people tried to figure out how to live in the humiliation and failure so evident from their nation’s support of Hitler, Pastor Helmut Thielicke courageously proclaimed that people need to have someone different ruling their lives, that we must follow the kingdom of God rather than of anyone or anything in the world. For three years (1946-48), Thielicke took his people week after week to Matthew 5-7, at St. Mark’s Church in Stuttgart. The repentance called for, and the new life in Christ offered in Pastor Thielicke’s sermons, are recorded in part in his book, Life Can Begin Again.
- Even those who do not follow Jesus can read this sermon and see something very different from the world’s self-aggrandizing values. Mahatma Gandhi came to see the beauty of Jesus through reading the sermon though, sadly, he felt that he had never seen the way of life Jesus calls for being lived out through those who claim to follow Jesus.
- In this one section of Scripture, we find Jesus addressing the biggest and most practical issues we face in life: our inner character, the way to influence the world, the authority of Scripture, hatred and reconciliation, marital faithfulness, sexual purity, honesty, anger and revenge, and dealing with enemies.
I want to warn us all at the outset that, in the sermon, Jesus demands that our lives must change if we follow him. You may ask, "What must change? Jesus will answer, "Everything." I say this as a warning because people sometimes say, "Pastor Greg, you’ll be preaching on the Sermon on the Mount? I love the Sermon on the Mount.” My experience is that people love the Sermon on the Mount until we actually read it. When we read it, we see we are given a choice: Will we surrender to the rule of God in our lives or try to maintain control ourselves? We will be brought back into the age-old conflict of who is in charge, that started in Genesis 3.
The key to it all is the phrase that expresses the heart of Jesus’ ministry, i.e., the kingdom of God (or, the "kingdom of heaven” as Jewish people like Matthew who did not like to use Jehovah’s name in public settings would express it). Jesus used the phrase at the beginning of the sermon (Matthew 5:3,10) and in his summary at the end (Matthew 7:21). In between, Jesus tells us what life must be like when God is ruling. We will be looking at what our lives should become when we follow the King of kings and Lord of lords - according to Jesus.
To His Glory,
Dr. Greg Waybright