I’ve preached some pretty bad sermons. When I think of some of the worst, I cringe in disbelief that anyone would even return the following Sunday. There have been moments during sermons when I silently prayed that the earth would open and swallow me up! Yeah, that bad. One thing that may be helpful to you, as a consumer of sermons, is to know that when you hear a bad one, the preacher already knows it. And he or she is probably as anxious as you are for it to end.
Jesus didn’t ever have a bad sermon. All we can do is marvel at his clarity. He spoke as no one had ever spoken before, and those who heard him either found resonance or dissonance with his words. In my opinion, the most influential words he spoke are found in the Sermon on the Mount.
Some will say the Sermon on the Mount constitutes the core of Jesus’ ethical teachings. A sort of manifesto for proper behavior in the new covenant. The problem of evaluating to Sermon on the basis of ethical practice is that we may be tempted to lean into some of the Sermon to the exclusion of other parts. One could easily pick and choose the parts that are most comfortable, or worse, the parts that defend their positions.
Others invest a lot of energy into broader interpretive models, such as viewing Jesus as the new Moses teaching the new Torah. Therefore the Sermon is the new moral vision for God’s new people. That works, but is not how I’m approaching this.
Considering Jesus first and ongoing message of, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17), I believe Jesus is using the Sermon to explain the present availability of God’s Kingdom and how we are to live in the present Kingdom. Is some of the Kingdom future? Yes, but not all of it. Much of the Sermon is present and should be understood in the present tense. Who is truly a good person? What does it mean to live the good life? Those are the kinds of questions Jesus answers.
So here are three thoughts about the Sermon on the Mount that I shared with my congregation last Sunday.
1. The Sermon on the Mount describes normative Christian behavior. Its not just for the spiritually elite, the Sermon represents a new normal. The Sermon on the Mount is a benchmark. A standard for those who submit to the loving and gracious rule of the King.
2. The expectation of Jesus is obedience. If you flip to the end of chapter 7, you’ll find Jesus’ conclusion to the Sermon. Those who listen to the words and obey them will find their lives built on solid rock, able to withstand the winds and floods of life. To disobey is to live in instability, like a house on sand, only to be destroyed by those same winds and floods.
3. You can’t do it on your own. The Holy Spirit enables and empowers us to put these attitudes and actions into practice. The Holy Spirit is both our comforter and disturber. He comforts us and encourages us in our appropriate application of these words, and disturbs us when we come a little too close to the guardrails.
Dallas Willard said that Jesus is the most intelligent person who ever lived. Therefore he assumes to have the best information on life and how to live it. He also assumes our obedience to his commands. By God’s grace, may we be both hearers and doers of the word, for the glory of God and the good of others.