Intro – A pastor was driving home from an appointment late one night when he fell asleep at the wheel. Fortunately, he awoke just as he sideswiped a guardrail damaging his car, but not himself. When he got home his anxious wife asked, “What happened? Were you sleepy when you started to drive?” He replied, “No, I was fine.” She persisted, “Then how did you fall asleep?” He replied, “I’m not sure. There I was, going over my sermon . . .!” Well, apparently not every sermon is spell-binding, right?
But I can tell you one preacher who never preached a boring sermon. The greatest preacher ever was Jesus of Nazareth. People were constantly astonished at His teaching. Remember how they said in Luke 4:31-32, “And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” He drew massive crowds everywhere He went. The people loved it, but the religious elite hated it because it was diametrically opposed to human thinking. It shattered popular worldviews then just like it does today. He made no attempt at political correctness and conventional wisdom. The Jesus of the gospels is certainly not the meek and mild milquetoast of liberal theology.
Don’t you wish you could have heard Him? Well, we have the next best thing -- a brief summary of one of His sermons (vv. 20-49). There is a longer one in Matthew 5-7 -- the Sermon on the Mount, preached on a hillside above Capernaum. Luke’s is sometimes called the Sermon on the Plain because of Luke 6:17, “And he came down with them and stood on a level place.” These are mere summaries, for Jesus often spoke past dinner time. These could be versions of the same sermon. Both start with Beatitudes. There is common teaching in the two and each ends with the parable of the man who built a house on a rock.
However, it is more likely that these sermons were given at different times. Luke ties his account to the time immediately after Jesus returns from the mountain having named His 12 apostles. In Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount comes in chapters 5-7 before the naming of the apostles in chapter 10. Jesus preached constantly in different places. He no doubt gave much the same sermon over and over. Either way, the truth is the same.
I. What the Sermon is Not Teaching
Ethics -- A bigger question is, how are we to take this sermon? Confusion abounds. The most prominent opinion is that Jesus is teaching a new kind of ethics. He is saying if you want to be happy; be ethical. Don’t judge others. Love your enemies. Be meek; be merciful; be pure in heart. This is a new radical path to happy living! This all sounds well and good; and if you refuse to believe in the deity of Christ and the atoning nature of His death, you might well conclude that He is a great ethical teacher and this is simply of a compilation of “The Greatest Teachings of Jesus.” But, Beloved, I promise you Jesus didn’t leave the glories of heaven to teach ethics! Living His way does bring happiness, but His preaching goes much deeper than that.
Way of Salvation -- Another popular position is that this Sermon represents a way to be saved. Do this and you will get that. Be poor, be hungry, weep, be hated and you will find the kingdom of God as your reward. Do X and you will get Y. But is that what Jesus is saying? That would be salvation by works. No consistent with the rest of the Bible. Eph 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” No one gets into God’s family by good works.
Now, some might say, “Well, that is under grace, but Jesus is still living under law. Different rules applied before the cross. They were saved by keeping the law.” But this is a huge misconception. Salvation was no different under law than under grace. It has always been by grace through faith. Paul makes this exact point with regard to OT Abraham in Rom 4:1, “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” How was Abraham justified? By believing God, just like we are. Paul makes this abundantly clear in Gal 3:10-11: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” The law shows people that they are sinners in need of salvation by faith in the Word of God. The OT prescribes people be circumcised in their hearts. People of every era are saved the same way – by faith. Jesus was not teaching salvation by works. He was teaching “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” – not “Keep the law for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
II. What the Sermon is teaching (characteristics of true believers)
So, if this sermon is not about ethics and it is not about being saved by works, what is it about? It is characterizing those who are saved. It is not about getting in; it is about what you are like if you are in. The Pharisees are saying, “Do this to become blessed.” Jesus is saying, “Since the moment you repented and accepted me, you already are blessed.” From the moment we quit trying to earn favor with God and begin to treasure Jesus above all things, we are blessed beyond measure. Note v. 20: “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples.” Out of all that great crowd Jesus targets His disciples. He will get to the others later, but He starts with His own. And what He is doing is very important. He is affirming that they are making the right decision to follow Him. He is telling them that tho they are low in the world’s eyes – tho they are poor, hungry, weeping and persecuted, yet they are BLESSED in God’s eyes. They must know that. That’s critical.
Mark Twain once said, “Heaven goes by grace. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” That is what Jesus is saying here. We are not blessed because of what we do for Him; we are blessed because of what He has done for us. It’s all grace. You can’t win God’s favor by your own merit, by religion; you can only repent. The repentant thief would have been condemned by religion. All he did for 40 years was sin. Imagine him before God. The books are opened – really thick books contained every deed and every idle word. And every work gets an “F.” His grades are all “F’s”. Throw Him out! But wait. There is a teeny file in the back. Read it out: “Heart was broken for his sin. Recognized Savior. Lovingly exhorted his comrade in evil. Asked Jesus for pardon. Asked Jesus for pardon.” And Jesus said, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” And the Father said, “He was real. He trusted my Son.” You can’t get any more blessed than that – even as he hung on a cross. Completely forgiven by grace, through faith. That is what this sermon is about. It is characterizing believers as opposed to those who are religious, but lost. Three reasons.
Cultural Background – Israel’s religious leadership adamantly opposed Jesus. His message of repentance and humility shocked and outraged the self-righteous rabbis and Pharisees. This is not what they expected from their Messiah. They imagined He would applaud their good deeds and welcome them into the kingdom. But in contrast to their self-righteousness, Jesus insists that it is poor, the hungry, the weeping and the outcasts who are saved. Make no mistake, this Sermon is assuring His followers that entrance into the kingdom of God is the way of faith that they have chosen rather than the way of religion that they had been taught by their religious leaders. John MacArthur writs, “The Pharisees’ legalistic system was in effect a steamroller paving the way for tragedy.” Paul said of the religionists in Israel in Rom 10:2-3, “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” They were religious but lost. Those who treasured Jesus were blessed even tho poor, hungry, outcast and persecuted.
Sermon Outline – The outline of the sermon also shows it to be a description of true believers. It gives a fourfold description of the attitudes that characterize a true believer:
I. Toward Circumstances (vv. 20-26). Look beyond them.
II. Toward Others (vv. 27-38). Love them, including enemies.
III. Toward Self (vv. 39-45). Be genuine. Not a hypocrite.
IV. Toward God (vv. 46-49). Obey Christ.
Now, these ideas were like bombshells in 1st century Palestine. To love one’s enemies was actually in violation of the rules of the Pharisees, and beyond normal human comprehension. Outward appearance was all that mattered to them. And to think of the poor, hungry, outcast and persecuted as blessed was preposterous. This sermon was loaded with violations of normal, human expectations of blessing. But God sees differently.
In Shrek 2, Shrek, the ogre, goes to the Fairy Godmother’s potion factory seeking help to restore happiness to Shrek and Fiona’s marriage. The Fairy Godmother begins to pull books from her library shelf. Cinderella – lived happily ever after, but – no ogres. Snow White – lived happily ever after, but no ogres. Sleeping Beauty, Thumbelina, Littler Mermaid, lived happily ever after – but no ogres. Finally, she stares Shrek straight in the eye and says, “You see, ogres don’t live happily ever after.” Neither do outwardly self-righteous, but inwardly dead men and women. They are not blessed, and they can never make themselves blessed. They are religious but lost.
Sermon Conclusion – The third thing that clues us to the meaning of the sermon is its conclusion in vv. 46-49. It tells of two men – one builds his house on a rock; the other of whom builds his house on the sand. Most often it is taught that the contrast is between those who are have religion vs those who do not. It is taught that there are two kinds of people in the world – those who have religion and those who do not, and that is what is being contrasted. But that is precisely wrong! Tim Keller does a masterful job of showing you won’t understand this sermon until you understand that there are three kinds of people in the world. Three kinds, not two. The three kinds are irreligion, religion and the gospel. Irreligious people want nothing to do with God or religion. They are either atheists or believe God to be irrelevant. The second kind of people are religious – trying to earn God’s favor. Third are Gospel people are those who have given up trying to make it on their own, repented their sins and by faith accepted Jesus’ death as penalty for their sins. Irreligious, Religious and Gospel people.
The first kind – the God-ignoring irreligious are not even seen in this sermon. This sermon is contrasting religion and gospel. It is contrasting human effort with God’s grace. It is contrasting those who are building on the rock of Christ vs those building on their own goodness. It contrasts the repentant character of true believers (who are actually in) with the self-righteous pride of those who think they are in, but aren’t! The Pharisees were sure that if anyone was inheriting the kingdom of God it was them. To Jesus, they were religious, but lost.
Keller says of the sermon, “It is not a contrast between people who pray and those who do not. It is not a contrast between people who give to the poor and those who do not. They all give to the poor, they all pray. The contrast is between the religious approach – I obey, therefore I am accepted; and the gospel approach – I am accepted in Jesus Christ, therefore I obey. Those are two utterly different approaches to life. They are two completely different motivational structures. Those are the two ways that Jesus is actually contrasting in the Sermon on the Mount.” It’s works vs. grace.
Conc – So, here is the primary question that Jesus’ Sermon poses. Are you merely religious, or do you know Jesus? Do you treasure your goodness or do you treasure Him? John Wesley was religious, but lost. For years he worked at his religion. He founded a great Bible study at Oxford University . He gave up teaching at Oxford to go as a missionary to Georgia. He was a diligent church worker who prayed six times a day. But he had no peace. He was not blessed. He had no rest, and he had no idea how wicked his efforts to win God’s approval were. But one night he was on a boat sailing back to England from America when a tremendous storm came up. Everyone, including the crew, believed that the ship was doomed and that they would all drown. But Wesley had met some Moravian missionaries on board. And he noticed that in the midst of all the mayhem they were at absolute peace. They had no fear of death. The prayed; they worked to help save the boat, but they were at peace. Wesley realized he did not know God like that and he began to see all his good efforts for the anchors they were. He found Heb 10:4, “for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” He realized his works were not bringing him to God, but keeping him from God. Attending a Moravian meeting back in London, he heard Luther’s preface to Romans read emphasizing that we are justified by faith alone and commented, “I felt my heart strangely warmed,” and John Wesley gave up religion for grace.
Is it possible that you are religious but lost this morning? Religion operates on the principle of “I obey – therefore I am accepted by God.” The gospel operates on the principle: “I am accepted by God through the work of Jesus Christ – therefore I obey.” That’s Jesus’ message in this sermon. Let’s pray.