The Sermon on the Mount was no ordinary sermon; its contents were not ordinary; its speaker was not ordinary; its purposes were not ordinary; its implications were not ordinary. About the only thing ordinary about the Sermon on the Mount were the issues with which the hearers were dealing. These were as old as time; they have not changed since then by any appreciable amount. The names are different, the customs are different, but the struggles are the same. The Sermon on the Mount is a timeless message aimed directly at the heart of humanity.
While men of lesser minds and lower purposes argued over the insignificant, Jesus spoke to the heart of man's relationships - relationships with each other and relationships with God! The principle lessons of the Sermon on the Mount involve the heart of man. Somehow the Pharisees and scribes had omitted this all important dimension of religion. Outward displays and other trivia had supplanted the essence of spirituality. And as if that were not enough, they had become a self-help group to encourage others to be just like them in their heartless, Godless religion. They were willing to compass land and sea to make one disciple and when that was accomplished this, their converts were two-fold more children of hell than they were themselves (see Matthew 23.15).
Jesus' teachings regarding the heart were not new. The Old Testament had from the beginning demanded that man's heart maintain an allegiance to God. The “heartectomy” that the Pharisees and other religious leaders had performed upon the carcass of religion was without God's approval. In fact, God had delivered similar messages to His children in ages past; they just hadn't heard; neither had the scribes and Pharisees. But the Christian religion could not be established without replanting the heart into the midst of all things. What would the faith of Christ be without the Father's love extended to humanity through the death of His only begotten Son? When one takes “God so loved the world that He gave…” out of equation, the gospel becomes old news; in fact, it ceases to be news at all. Indeed, what would man's response be were it not for our desire to respond to the Father in kind for His unconditional love?
This remarkable sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, must serve as the model for all time; its primary lessons must never be lost on any generation. When the critical dimension that Jesus so succinctly identified as being essential to spirituality is forgotten, spirituality becomes merely religion and the living body which He desires to inhabit becomes a putrefying carcass. This was the tree that John saw when the axe was laid to its root (Matthew 3.10) and this was the righteousness of the Pharisees that had to be exceeded if man was to attain to a real relationship with Creator God (Matthew 5.20).
Jesus knows that the specks must be removed, but not unless the planks are addressed first (Matthew 7.6). Jesus knows that the outside of the cup ought to be clean, but He is not willing to sacrifice internal purity to attain outward cleanliness (Matthew 23.25-26) Simply put, Jesus was and is not willing to major in minors; He majors in majors and minors in minors. The Sermon on the Mount was and is intended to provide this type of guidance to us as human beings. Jesus demands that we, each and every one of us, take inventory of our own heart before condemning others. In fact, one who is unwilling to honestly and penitently look inside his own heart cannot be a disciple of Jesus!
Balance was and is of fundamental importance to the Christian religion. Jesus refused to ignore the essential by obsessive demands regarding the trivial! Jesus talked about matters that matter!
1. What was the “heartectomy” that the scribes and Pharisees had performed on religion? What effect did it have on them? On others? On God?
2. What was meant by the figure John used of the axe being laid to the root of the tree?
3. Is it wrong to strain out a “gnat”? Can it become wrong? When and how (see Matthew 23.24)?
4. How did Jesus seek to bring balance to the Christian faith? What is our responsibility in maintaining that balance?
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