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.

Caring For Sick Christians: Jude’s Spiritual Triage

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The church should stand at the ready to confront sin and error. Jude warned Christians that doctrinal viruses would sweep into local churches, destroying the healthy bodies who host them. To handle spiritual pandemics well, the local church should readily quarantine the fake Christians, flushing out false doctrine. If the wicked refuse to repent, the church should then force them out of the body, following the steps laid out in Matthew 18. But even the best prevention methods can fail. False teachers can infect health believers while the church awaits the surgical processes of church discipline. When the viruses of error begin to infect true believers, the local church must stand at the ready to care for those spiritually ill. Jude writes,

And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (22-23)

Jude calls his readers to rescue three types of Christians, the doubting, the almost destroyed, and the filthy.

When men and women stumble into church exhausted by sin and the unstable messages of culture, they need mercy instead of rebuke. The woman whose homosexual desire that causes her to doubt the convictions of her faith should be meet with softly spoken spiritual truth. The man who questions the humanity of Christ should be welcomed into his pastor’s office. And the teenager who comes to church wrestling with the truthfulness of the Bible should be invited to voice his questions so that he can find biblical answers. The soul who doubts should not be criticized for doubting but shown mercy. Christ continual forgives us when we wonder from the foundations of our faith. Can we refuse to extend to others what God has given to us?

Secondly, we need to be ready to snatch some from the fire. Some brothers and sisters move from questioning the commands of God to leaving the commands of God. When a friend calls to say they will leave their spouse in the morning to pursue their one true love, we should run to their home and plead with them to forsake their sin. When a nephew tells us they have decided to undergo gender reassignment surgery, we should ardently call them back the joy of Christ. And when our college friend tells us they are going to join the Mormon church, we should contend with them, calling them to return to sound doctrine. If we do not warn them, these men and women will ingest sin into their souls and will experience the firers of hell. When we see or hear of brothers or sisters about to step in front of the bus of destruction, we should snatch them from the fires doom.

Lastly, we need to have mercy with fear. Some go behind doubting and preparing for sin. They become infected by sin refusing to follow the quarantine guidelines of truth. We will come across men and women who have welcomed sin into their soul and deemed it to be a sign of grace. To such Christians, we are to show mercy with fear. We are to remind our immoral friends that sexual immorality in all of its forms ends in judgment. When a friend slaps the coexist bumper sticker onto his car and proclaims that all ways road lead to heaven, we are to rebuke him. And when a women proclaims that gossip can cohabit with the gospel, we must clearly denounce her as a fraud. Jude says such people wear stained garments. The expression means, these Christians have stained underwear. To welcome those who have wet the spiritual bed into our churches is to welcome all kinds of worldly filth into the kingdom of God. Instead of embracing their sin, Jude calls us to hate it. We are to unequivocally call those infected by sin to repentance. If they will not repent, we must remove them according to the procedures laid out by Matthew 18. If love filth, our churches will become the filth. We must show mercy with fear.

Spiritual virus will come. Are we ready to care for the sick, rescuing the doubting, snatching others from hell, and confronting those stained by the world? Are you ready?

Don’t Box Up Baby Jesus…Just Yet

blog boxing up baby JesusAs the last round of Christmas trees are marched to the curb in preparation for their impending doom, the ceramic baby Jesus perched atop the mantel is squeezed back into his Styrofoam sarcophaguses in preparation for his impending banishment to the top of self of basement closet. Until the Easter lilies return, most souls forget about the savior encased in his protective covering. The child whom the shepherds celebrated thousands of years ago seems to offer little hope to the souls tormented by pornography, credit card debt, bullying, and mental illness.

Indeed if Jesus transformed himself from a baby into a full grown man in the spawn of the months that separate Christmas from Easter, he would have little encouragement to offer to weary and worn souls. But Jesus did not skip through life in the span of four months. He lived with us.

Instead of returning Jesus to the basement of irrelevance, men and women should place the Christ child in center of their imagination and watch him mature into the man who went to the cross.

Because Jesus was fully human, he can fully sympathize with our predicament. Jesus did not suspend reality while on earth. He suffered under it, feeling the pain of circumcision, the discomfort of hunger, and the agony of the cross. He also knows the tempting power of lust, covetousness, and depression. He can speak to the suffering soul with authority for he experienced the predicaments of those he came to save from sin and sorrow. Jesus remains relevant to the human soul because he was fully human.

But Jesus is simply a human, pontificating about life as he bounced about the hillside of Palestine. He is also fully God. While Jesus came to live amongst the broken so that he could sympathize with humanity, he also came to deliver the men and women who suffered alongside of him. Jesus did not mature into a full-grown man in a matter of minutes because he wanted to live the life sinners were supposed to live. Galatians 4:4-5 states, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Jesus did not get circumcised because he lacked affiliation with God. Jesus who created the universe in conjunction with God the father and God the Holy Spirit had his foreskin removed to fulfill the law for his children. The Son of God had to walk about this earth in perfect harmony with the law of God so that the Son of God could exchange his holiness for the sins of his children on the cross and thereby transfer children of darkness into the kingdom of his light. Jesus can redeem sinful men and women through his death, burial, and resurrection because he fulfilled the law for us.

The imagination fixed upon the growing Jesus will sustain the weary soul. When the couple believes their marriage has twisted into sins that Jesus could never address, they should recall that Jesus experienced all of our temptations and defeated them. When the woman is tempted to assume that her past sins are beyond fixing, she should look and see Jesus offering her his unstained past. When the man fears that his latest sin will remove him from paradise, he need only to remember that he carries not the faults of his life about his shoulders but the glory of Christ’s spotless life. And when the youth afflicted with unspeakable hardship doubts that God will see him or her through to the next day (much lest to the next year), he should meditate on the tears his savior shed before cross, recalling that the power of God over death. The imagination captivated by the story line of Jesus cannot help but concluded:

“15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16:

Baby Jesus offers relevant hope to the modern soul because he grew into a man, died on the cross, and rose again. Will you embrace this hope? Will you leave Jesus up in your soul this year?