2006-02-19_Prepare To Be Amazed_Sermon On The Mount Intro 1_Matthew 5-7
Prepare To Be Amazed
Matthew 5-7 | Shaun LePage | February 19, 2006
A. A few years ago, I went to Montana with two friends. We went backpacking up into the Gallatin National Forest near Bozeman, Montana. We spent the first day and a half hiking up to a lake about 9,000 feet up. Of course, everything was beautiful—the lake, the streams, the trees, the mountain peaks. We camped there and fished and did nothing for a couple days. Then we decided to hike around and explore the area. At one point, we picked a ridge and decided to climb up and see the view from the top of that ridge. That climb took us all morning. About 200 yards from the top, I got a burst of energy and pushed up in front ahead of my two friends. When I reached the top, I could not believe my eyes. It was one of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. It was a clear day and we could see for miles and miles. One particular range of mountains was decorated with crystal clear lakes at various levels with streams and waterfalls connecting them. It was amazing. I had never seen anything like it. Every time I’ve tried to describe what I saw that day, I’ve come up short. It was truly one of those things you had to see for yourself to appreciate. Even the pictures can’t come close to the amazing experience of being there and seeing it for yourself.
B. Isn’t that the way “amazing” things are? A report or a description or a snapshot can’t do it justice. If it’s truly “amazing,” you have to see it for yourself to appreciate it. You have to make the climb yourself to understand what others have tried to describe.
C. The Sermon on the Mount was one such event. Matthew 5:1 says Jesus “went up on the mountain” just before He delivered this sermon that we now call Sermon on the Mount. That’s why it’s called Sermon on the Mount because Jesus’ sanctuary that day—His pulpit—was one of the beautiful green mountains that rose up from the Sea of Galilee [ppt].
D. Not only did Matthew record that magnificent sermon for us, but he also recorded the effect of the sermon on those who made the climb that day. Matthew 7:28 tells us the reaction of Jesus’ first audience: “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching…” Those who made the effort to be near Jesus that day got to experience something that in one sense, we can only imagine. We can only dream about how amazing it must have been. But in another sense, we can experience the Sermon on the Mount in a way that is just as amazing—just as life-changing as hearing it from Jesus Himself.
E. This sermon is another part of Matthew’s presentation of the person of Jesus Christ. He’s answering the question, “Who is this Jesus?” and here he demonstrates Jesus to be One with “authority”. Jesus taught like no one else. He taught as the God-Man. In a word, Jesus was “different.” Radically different than anyone they’d ever seen or heard.
A. But we must “prepare to be amazed”. I feel compelled to lay some groundwork before we dive into this magnificent section of the Bible. There are significant interpretation issues that need to be addressed first. The way we answer these interpretation issues will make an enormous impact on our application of the Sermon on the Mount.
1. R. H. Mounce wrote: “The Sermon on the Mount has had a long and varied history of interpretation. For Augustine…it was the ‘perfect rule or pattern of Christian life—a new law in contrast with the old. Monastic orders interpreted it as a ‘counsel of perfection’ designed not for the populace but for the chosen few. The Reformers held it to be the ‘uncompromising expression of divine righteousness directed towards all’. Tolstoy, the Russian novelist…resolved it into five commandments (suppression of all anger, chastity, no oaths, nonresistance, unreserved love of enemies), which if literally obeyed would do away with the existing evils and usher in a Utopian kingdom. Weiss and Schweitzer held that the demands were too radical for all times, and thus declared them ‘interim ethics’ for the early Christians, who believed that the end of all things was at hand. Still others, making great allowance for figurative language, understood the Sermon as the expression of a noble way of thinking—teaching which dealt with what man should be rather than with what he should do.” (New Bible Dictionary)
2. There are two important questions we need to ask about the Sermon on the Mount:
a) The first question is: 1. Who is supposed to live out the Sermon on the Mount? This is a fundamental question to answer because some have distorted the gospel by not answering this question correctly.
(i) The Social Gospel View is the belief that the Sermon on the Mount is all that matters in the New Testament.
(a) All we have to do is apply the Sermon on the Mount. We can thereby produce the kingdom of God on earth. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones says this view has become “out-moded.” “Two world wars have shaken that view to its very foundation,” writes Dr. Lloyd-Jones.
(b) If we look at the Beatitudes alone, it becomes obvious that no man can live the Sermon on the Mount in and of himself. Those who try to say that the Sermon on the Mount is “the gospel”—the good news of Jesus Christ—completely misunderstand the definition of “the gospel” in the greater context of the New Testament.
(c) Once again, R. H. Mounce writes, “Canon Liddon, in his Bampton Lectures, refers to the Sermon as ‘that original draught of essential Christianity’. If this be interpreted to mean that the Sermon on the Mount is Christianity’s message to the pagan world, we must counter with the reminder that it is manifestly didachē (teaching), not kerygma (proclamation). By no stretch of the imagination can it be considered ‘good news’ to one depending upon fulfilment of its demands for entrance into the kingdom. (Imagine a man outside of Christ, without the empowering aid of the Holy Spirit, trying to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.)” (New Bible Dictionary)
(ii) Dispensationalists—among whom I consider myself—have traditionally interpreted the Sermon on the Mount as being primarily addressed to those who will populate the earth in the 1,000 year reign of Christ following His return. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount was delivered as Jesus was offering Himself to the nation of Israel as the King of the Jews. When the Jews rejected their King, they—in essence—postponed the Davidic reign of Christ on earth.
(a) Dr. C. I. Scofield popularized this view in his very popular study Bible—the Scofield Study Bible—when he wrote that the Sermon on the Mount “in its primary application gives neither the privilege nor the duty of the Church.” But, Dr. Scofield was quick to explain that “there is a beautiful moral application to the Christian” as well. And, “these principles fundamentally reappear in the teaching of the Epistles.”
(b) This is—as I understand it—the same view held by Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Chafer wrote, “In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) moral principles relating to the (future) kingdom are detailed with some application to the present” (Chafer Systematic Theology-Abridged, Vol. 2, pgs. 324-5).
(c) This view has a lot of credibility—in my opinion—and has been misrepresented at times to say that the Sermon on the Mount “has nothing whatsoever to do with modern Christians.” I think this is overstated. I just quoted two of the most famous dispensationalists of the past century and they both say that the Sermon on the Mount has application for the modern Christian. At least two other significant dispensationalists—J. Dwight Pentecost and Charles R. Swindoll—have written excellent books presenting the present-day application of the Sermon on the Mount.
(d) The fundamental issue is in how one defines “the kingdom of God.” When Jesus spoke of the kingdom, was He only referring to His future millennial reign?
1. Dr. Lloyd-Jones put it this way: “I agree, of course, that the kingdom of God in one sense has not been established on the earth yet. It is a kingdom which is to come; yes. But it is also a kingdom which has come…Christ is reigning today in every true Christian. He reigns in the Church when she acknowledges Him truly. The kingdom has come, the kingdom is coming, the kingdom is yet to come.” (Sermon on the Mount, p. 16)
2. Dr. Craig Blaising—himself a Dispensationalist—agrees: “Whereas Jesus advances the tradition of the Old Testament prophets by predicting the coming of the eschatological (future) kingdom with Himself as Messiah, there are some occasions in the Gospels when He speaks of the kingdom as being present in His own day.” (Progressive Dispensationalism, p.248)
3. I’m just scratching the surface here of what is a hotly debated theological issue. Whether it interests you or bores you, it is important because the Sermon on the Mount is a very high standard. Some would say it is an impossible standard. Does that mean we shouldn’t even try? Or, is there a way to live up to this high standard? Obviously, it wouldn’t be included in the Bible if we weren’t expected to live it.
4. Please write this down under #1: The Sermon on the Mount is for the disciples of Jesus Christ. Look at Matthew 5:1. Who was Jesus teaching? “His disciples.” I don’t want to put too much stock in that one word, but I do think it is significant—I think it is the best answer. Hopefully this will make more sense as we ask and answer the next question.
b) This leads to a second question: 2. How are we supposed to live out the Sermon on the Mount? The answer is two-fold: Please write these two answers down: a. By being strong in the grace of Christ and b. By walking in the Spirit. These are the most basic characteristics of one who is following Christ.
(i) Let me be very clear about this: A disciple is a person who has trusted Christ for salvation and then chooses to follow Christ. I’m making a distinction between a Christian and a disciple. Getting saved does not make one a disciple. All disciples are Christians, but not all Christians are disciples. A true Christian has received grace and the Holy Spirit. But, that does not necessarily mean that he is strong in grace and walking in the Spirit. That’s a disciple, not just a Christian.
(ii) So, the Sermon on the Mount—again—is for the disciples of Jesus Christ. The unsaved man or woman cannot live up to this standard. The Christian must be strong in grace and walk in the Spirit in order to live up to this standard. He must follow Christ. He must be a disciple. He must be follow Christ up the mountain. He must make the climb and abide with Christ or he will never live up to this standard.
3. Over the next few weeks, I want to further explain the meaning of “walking in the Spirit.” We will take a fresh look at the Holy Spirit and His work and I don’t think you want to miss it. I’m looking forward to this personally, for my own refreshment, but I can say with the greatest conviction that what you and I need is a refresher course on the greatness and the sufficiency and the absolute necessity of the Holy Spirit. Today, however, I’d like to explain what it means to be “strong in the grace of Christ.”
a) The Sermon on the Mount is law—but not just any old law. It is an even higher standard than the Old Testament laws.
(i) J. Vernon McGee puts it well: “The Sermon on the Mount is Law lifted to the nth degree.” (Matthew, Vol. 1, p.61)
(ii) But wait—we’re not under law are we? Romans 6:14 says exactly that: “…you are not under law but under grace.” This is an enormous issue for us to understand. Few topics have received more extensive treatment by the Apostle Paul than the place of the law in the life of the Christian.
b) 3. The relationship between grace and law.
(i) a. Salvation has always been by grace and not by law.
(a) Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4 both declare that God desired “circumcised hearts”—faith!
(b) Jesus said the foremost commandment was complete love for God!
(c) Paul said Abraham’s salvation by faith, not by works of the law (Galatians 3:6).
(d) Over time, the Jews misinterpreted this and began to teach that justification and righteousness were given only to those who were obedient to the Law.
(ii) b. The Law is good because it teaches us the need for grace.
(a) The New Testament treats the Law as good and holy (Romans 7:12).
(b) It is impossible to live out the law because to be righteous, one must obey it entirely. See Galatians 3:10 and 5:3.
(c) The purpose of the law was to teach us what sin is. Galatians 3:19-24.
(iii) c. Living under grace means we can fulfill the law.
(a) Jesus said—in the Sermon on the Mount (5:17)—that He came “not to abolish (the Law) but to fulfill.” His death on the cross did exactly that. Read Romans 8:1-4.
(b) We are not saved by works, and we do not maintain our salvation by works—keeping the specifics of the law. But, we are to consider God’s laws as an expression of God’s will for our lives. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” and “You are My friends if you do what I command you” (John 14:15, 15:14). To reject His commands is an abuse of our liberty in Christ. We must let the law of God serve as a guide for our lives remembering that apart from the grace of Christ, we cannot do anything that pleases God.
(iv) d. Therefore, the grace of Christ provides the strength we need to live out the Sermon on the Mount.
(a) Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” We are to be strengthened by the grace of Christ. The same Christ who saved us by grace—apart from our ability to earn His favor—receives as worship our imperfect attempts to live up to His perfect standards. Be strengthened by the fact that no matter how many times you try and fail, Jesus will continually offer you His grace, His forgiveness.
(b) R. H. Mounce: “The Sermon is not a program for the direct improvement of the world, but is directed to those who have denied the world in order to enter the kingdom. It is neither an impractical ideal nor a fully attainable possibility. In the words of S. M. Gilmour, it is ‘the ethic of that transcendental order which broke into history in Jesus Christ, has built itself into history in the church, but whose full realization lies beyond history when God will be ‘all in all’’ (Journal of Religion 21, 1941, p. 263).
A. Jesus was different. Very different. As different as light and darkness. And that’s His main point throughout the Sermon on the Mount. As we seek to live up to His high and holy standards, we will be different as well.
B. John Stott: “The Sermon on the Mount…describes what human life and human community look like when they come under the gracious rule of God. And what do they look like? Different! Jesus emphasized that his true followers, the citizen’s of God’s kingdom, were to be entirely different from others. They were not to take their cue from the people around them, but from Him, and so prove to be genuine children of their heavenly Father…the followers of Jesus are to be different—different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere in the New Testament of the Christian counter-culture.” (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, pgs. 18,19)
C. If I could rent a bus and take every one of you to Montana and hike you up into the Gallatin National Forest and take you up to that ridge on a clear, sunny day, I know—without a doubt—that you would be amazed at the view. But then we would drive back and in a year or two, your life would not be one bit different than before.
D. But, if we will climb together—with Jesus—up the mountain above the Sea of Galilee. If we will hike up to the peaks of this amazing Sermon on the Mount and see the world from the perspective of the One who gave it to us, we will not only be amazed at what we find. We will be changed. We will be different as a result of making this climb. Prepare to be amazed.