The Sermon on the Mount: A Kingdom Ethic for A Kingdom People

The Sermon on the Mount remains one of the most unique texts in the Bible. Though Jesus’s sermon simmers with deep theological truth that militates against the secular conscience, those living well outside the confines of the established church still find the treatise to be a wonderful source of inspiration and insight. After all, most souls who have languished under bad bosses, corrupt political systems, and cruel neighbors long for a world defined by love, peace, and justice. For example, both those who pray for hours in a state of heightened spirituality and those who stumble about the streets for hours in a state of inebriation can resonate with the golden rule found in Matthew 12:7: “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”

The fact that both atheists such as Richard Dawkins and that pastors such as John Stott can find much to praise in the Sermon on the Mount raises an important question: “Who is the Sermon on the Mount for?” In other words, can atheist live out Jesus’s message or is it a unique message for Jesus’s followers?

A Kingdom Ethic For A Kingdom People

According to Jesus and to the New Testament authors, the Sermon on the Mount is a Kingdom ethic for a Kingdom people.  Both Matthew 5 and its sister passage in Luke 6 affirm that the Sermon was delivered to by Jesus to his disciples. Jesus’s message is not for the crowds of this world. It is for those who are willing to sit at the feet of Jesus to hear his words. To achieve the ethic of the kingdom, men and women must willingly submit to the full teaching of Jesus which stretches across all 66 books of the Bible. Jesus came to fulfill the law.

Listen to the Law

The Law, the spoken words of God, prove essential to our understanding of the kingdom of God. Humanity’s failure to heed God’s teaching necessitated Jesus’s famed sermon. He preaches it and seeks to reconstitute the kingdom of God because Adam and Eve had destroyed the kingdom of God thousands of years ago. In Genesis 3:1-7, the first royal couple eats the fruit of the tree “that is in the midst of the garden (3).” The first expression of pride comes about because Adam ceased to listen to the words of God, preferring the insights of his bride Eve to the wisdom from above. The failure to heed the voice of God led to humanities expulsion from the kingdom of God. To regain the kingdom of God, men and women must once again heed the voice of God. Jesus explicitly states this idea in Matthew 5:19: “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Kingdom power resides in the words of God.

Jesus Says, “You Can’t Do It Alone”

Those who reject Jesus’s words cannot hope to live out the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus does not applaud us for maintaining the generic level of goodness that society can attain at times. For example, in Matthew 7:27-30, Jesus does not pat husbands on the back because they had the self-control not to sleep with their secretary or a prostitute. The Son of God looks past external goodness. He says the law must control the hidden depths of the heart. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Instead of applauding the man for keeping his pants on, Jesus takes issues with all the times the man has looked at a woman other than his wife and thought about bedding her. As a coworker once noted, this standard of goodness is “impossible.” The liberal theologian Richard Niebuhr concurs writing that Jesus, “does not direct attention away from this world to another but from all worlds…to the one who creates all worlds, who is the other of all worlds (29).”  No man or women in his or her own strength can live out the Sermon on the Mount. No one can reach the ethic of the kingdom apart for the ruler of that God for it is other worldly.  The kingdom ethic is for a kingdom people.

The Hope

Though humanity’s inability to live out the kingdom ethic should cast a shadow of despair over those who have refused to sit down with Jesus’s disciples atop the mountain, hope has not been vanquished. The path to hope runs through that despair. When men and women give up their aspirations of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth through human effort, then and only then will they be able to finally see the beauty of the cross and the empty tomb. They can finally realize that Jesus has done for them what they could never do for themselves. This poverty of spirit and mourning over sin leads the soul into the kingdom of heaven and to everlasting comfort. The kingdom ethic is for a kingdom people, a people who value the words of God. Stop working. Come sit at the feet of Jesus.

Memo: April’s No Good, Very Bad Week – May 2021.2

To borrow from one of April’s favorite children’s books, this last week has been a series of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. On Mother’s day evening, April’s pain and nausea which had receded the week before stormed back with a vengeance. She found herself once again bedridden, surviving off a diet of prescription pain pills and nausea pills. With her symptoms growing in intensity, her Inova team in cooperation with April’s UVA team concluded that April should no longer wait for the experimental LY drug to tackle her breast cancer tumors. On Tuesday May 4, 2021, April exited the EMBER study to begin phase 3 treatments at UVA. Sadly, the first round of chemotherapy went poorly. As the first drops of the Taxol drug touched April’s blood stream, she shot up in her chair with an allergic reaction that warranted the attention of her oncologist, a pharmacist, and four nurses. With her heart calmed and her breathing restored, April returned home Thursday night to once again battle nausea and pain. Her latest trip to the large orange chair situated between IV polls and blood pressure cuffs went much better. April assumed the second chemotherapy drug, Abraxane, without a major incident. However, she still had a significant battle with pain. Seemingly, the weekend has been content to stop at horrible, dispensing with the need for the other adjectives.

This week has borne an eerie resemblance to one of those adventure films where the heroine finds herself in a rickety, old minecart careening down the track towards a washed-out bridge. Though April has tried pretty much everything one could think of, enduring a lifetime of pokes, pricks, and side effects, the wobbly minecart has continued to move with such speed that the switch tracks, rail bumpers, and emergency breaks of the medical world have failed. She has flown through most of phase 2 treatment options and some of her phase 3 treatment options in the span of five days. By comparison, her phase 1 treatment plan lasted 22 months. Thankfully, the Abraxane promises to lock the wheels of this horrid minecart, sparking some flames of hope.

What’s Next

Over the next three weeks, the Abraxane chemotherapy drug should bring April’s free-falling descent to a stop. She should then be able to start inching her way back towards health over the next six to nine months. If all goes extremely well, she may even be able to reintegrate some of the phase 2 treatments options back into her regime. Though the outcome of this treatment will not be known for weeks, its side effects which include hair loss, a racing heart rate, and more nausea and fatigue have already begun to make themselves known. Until she starts that climb back to health, we will need round-the-clock help.

Though this week has been hard and more hard days lie ahead, we still remain hopeful that April’s treatment plan will once again offer us some nice, pleasant, quite good, and very excellent days.

How Are We Doing?

As April and I have rumbled through the last few days, we have shed many tears, grieving everything from the threat of hair loss to her increasing pain levels to the uncertainty of tomorrow. The days have been long and cruel. But our hope remains for our God remains on high.

Though we do not know why our sweet April suffers, we know these storms of affliction do not prove God’s displeasure or weakness. If anything, they prove the opposite. Steven, one of the original deacons, was stoned to death. The apostle Paul suffered through stonings, shipwreck, and imprisonment before being executed in Rome. The apostle Peter was crucified upside down. Thousands of early Christians were burned as garden torches and fed to lions in the Coliseum. Blessed are those who suffer for righteousness sake.

While April will not know the dangers of typhoid fever nor the threats of cannibalistic tribes, her sufferings still make up what is lacking in Christ’s affliction (Col. 1:24). She battles breast cancer today for the purpose of evangelizing and training her children, encouraging her husband, and building up her earthly and local church families. Though she is confined to the ordinary grass lots of suburbia, she is still very much fulfilling the extraordinary calling of being a wife, mother, and sister in Christ. She has endured a lifetime of a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad days for Christ.

Though we wish April’s cancer gone 1000 times over and still plead with God for such an outcome, we know her pain and our pains have a divine purpose and legacy. It is this: “that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing (James 1:4).” Jesus overcame sin and death through suffering. Hardships do not disprove God’s love for us but rather reveal us to be at the center of it. Through sorrow, we find the joy of salvation and dispensations of even greater grace, love, and mercy. In time, these horrible, terrible, no good very bad days will reveal paths of gold. God has deemed us worthy to suffer. Oh, how precious is my dear, beloved April.

Thank You!

Thank you for the constant outpouring of prayer and support. We long ago lost track of all the well-deserved thank you notes that should have been sent. Thank you for extending us grace. We are forever thankful for our family, ABC church family, and friends.

Prayer Request

Please continue to pray for us and our family. Though God has been faithful this last week, we have been ever so weak.

Pray that God will bless this new line of treatment. Pray for God to alleviate April’s pain and nausea. Pray for me and April as we continue to assess and think through medical, parenting, and lifestyle options. Pray for God to use our suffering to advance our faith, to save our children, to care for our families, and to advance our Amissville Baptist Church family. Pray for all of us to know the comfort of our heavenly Father. Pray that we may be perfect and complete and lacking in nothing. Pray.

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You Don’t Have Heed Those Impulses

We don’t have to do it. When our flesh demands that we vent all our frustrations like a foghorn, we don’t have to give in. When we feel the impulse to fulfill our sexual urges, we don’t have to give in. And, when we feel like hope resides at the bottom of that ice cream tub, we don’t have to eat through it. The Christian does not have to surrender to the flesh when it makes demands upon his or her soul.

Such a resistance comes not from asceticism, wearing simple clothes, or minimalistic living. As one of the first monks, St. Antony, discovered, temptation and Satan can hound the soul who resides in a desert cave just as easily as they can torment the man living on the fourth floor of an apartment building in Paris. We cannot resist temptation in our own strength. Rather, we gain the ability to resist temptation when we repent of our sins and trust in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for salvation.

Why Jesus Was Tempted Part 1

In Matthew 4:1-11, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert so that Satan can tempt the Messiah to sin. This temptation has two purposes. First, it reveals that Jesus fully understands what it is to be human. Like you and me, he got tired and hungry. He faced real temptation. He gets us. Hebrews 4:15 declares, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has in every respect been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Because Jesus is one of us, he can empathize with us and save us. Thus, when we mess up and surrender to temptation, we do not have to fear that God will strip us of our salvation. Jesus who is the guarantee of our salvation has already fulfilled all righteousness. The moment we come back to our senses, we can ask for forgiveness, knowing He will grant it. Jesus gets that we are weak. That is why he came. But that is not all.

Why Jesus Was Tempted Part 2

Jesus’s temptation also reveals that Jesus has defeated the devil. Satan called Jesus to turn the stones into bread. Though his stomach had growled more than a million times during his 40 day fast, Jesus does not surrender to the lust of the flesh as Adam and the nation of Israel had done before him. Jesus resists the Devil. He declares, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4).” In other words, spiritual life does not come through listening to one’s-self, through giving expression to what we feel, or through living out the Nike motto which calls us to “Just do it.” Life comes through the Word of God. Psalm 19:7-9 reminds us:

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.

Because Jesus delights in the Word and not in his physical needs, his children can do the same. This is not some ideal beyond our reach reserved for those in a perfect world. Jesus felt urges that did not align with the commands of God. Despite the intensity of the temptations, Jesus still successfully resisted sin in a fallen world. His children can do the same. In Ephesians 3:17, Paul says, Christ dwells “in your hearts through faith.” The God who resisted Satan resides in us. Through faith, we can resist the Devil. We no longer must fall to temptation.

Temptation vs. Sin

Temptation itself is not evil. To encounter the thought, “I desire sex” does not make one sexually immoral. But to act on idea by cultivating private fantasies or by swinging over to your girlfriend’s house to give to that desire is sin. Like us, Jesus was tempted, but he did not turn the stones to bread. He obeyed God. Though our temptations may be intense, we too can obey God.

What If I Always Fall?

The failure to find victory over temptation reveals that we do not know Christ. Admittedly, Christians always remain vulnerable to sin for they are not Christ and do stumble at times. Noah got drunk, Abraham lied, and Peter showed favoritism, refusing to eat with Gentiles. Perfection will allude us. But if we lean into Christ through faith, making use of the Word, prayer, and the church, we will stand far more than we fall. Through Christ, we will resist the Devil and watch him flee from us.

However, if we only fall, regroup, and then fall again when hit by the impulses of the body, we reveal that we do not know God. Thankfully, God remains forever compassionate and forgiving. If we will but repent and believe, Jesus will forgive us, breaking the chains of sin and death.

Conclusion

Friend, I don’t know what temptations have surrounded you today. But this I do know; you do not have to surrender to Satan’s demands. We are children of the new Adam and the new Israel. By the power of Christ we can resists the lusts of the flesh. Expect Victory