The traditional church year is divided into two parts. The Festival half and the non-festival half.
The Festival Half starts with Advent and Christmas and continues through to Easter and Ascension. During this part of the church year our focus is on Jesus’ life.
The non-festival half of the church year begins with Pentecost and Trinity and ends around Thanksgiving. During this part of the church year we focus on the life of the saved. The non-festival half of the Church year is all about Christ’s followers growing in knowledge and in holy living.
In a nut shell: our church year is all about knowing how Jesus saved us from our sins, and learning how to live as His people.
Right now we’re in the non-festival half of the church year. The part that focuses on the Christian’s life. To help us grow as followers of Christ, we’re going to begin a sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Yesterday was Independence Day. We celebrate Independence Day on July fourth because that was on that day, in 1776, when the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. That document stated that the thirteen American colonies which were at war with Great Britain were now independent. They were no longer part of the British empire.
These colonies believed that Great Britain’s taxing and ruling over them from across the ocean had come to a point where it could no longer be tolerated. They also believed that a government gets it’s right to govern a people because its citizens voluntarily submit to their governing. At the beginning of the Declaration of Independence it says:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness” (The Declaration of Independence).
We’re starting a new sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount today. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was a declaration of independence also. With this sermon Jesus was freeing the people from false interpretations of God’s Word. These false interpretations had been hindering the people from experiencing life as God would have them live it.
Over and over in Jesus’ sermon we’re going to hear the words, “You have heard it said… but I tell you…”. This is one of the major reasons why Jesus was preaching this sermon. To correct common, but false, interpretations of God’s Word.
This sermon was preached early in Jesus’ ministry. From the side of a hill in Galilee. His audience was a huge crowd of people. We can be pretty sure that this crowd included people from all walks of life. Rich. Poor. Respected. Despised. Believers. Unbelievers. Church people. People who seldom set foot in the Temple courts.
But while all these people HEARD the sermon on the mount, much of this sermon was directed at the front row. To Jesus’ followers. That makes a big difference in how we understand some of the things Jesus says. If you have your own Bibles with you today, you can turn to Matthew 5. I’ll read verse 1-2.
“1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them, saying:” (Matthew 5:1-2 NIV).
And then Jesus goes on to teach His disciples what God’s Word really means.
One preacher I heard speak on the Sermon on the Mount said that many of the ideas that Jesus presented were shocking to the people of that day. Especially to those who thought they knew the Word of God. Especially to the “Church goers” who thought they were already living in line with god’s will. This preachers suggests that over and over it’s like God is grabbing the lapels of the listener and saying, “This is what matters to me.” During our study of Jesus’ sermon we’ll see that this is true. He calls all who hear to a deeper meaning of God’s commands.
Jesus didn’t just want to correct the false interpretations that were commonly held and taught, He also wanted to open up the commands of God and teach the God’s Law accurately. Only when God’s laws are understood thoroughly can a person know without a doubt how God wants us to live.
Now, some people shy away from the Sermon on the Mount because it doesn’t have a lot of Gospel in it. It’s true, this sermon of Jesus is mostly about what we call Law. Jesus is explaining what God’s commands really mean.
In this sermon Jesus isn’t explaining how He would live and die to take away our sins and open heaven to us. That much is absolutely true. Jesus is the only way a sinner can be forgiven and become a child of God. But here Jesus isn’t talking about that. Here Jesus is telling His followers how a believing child of God will then live his life. He’s teaching His disciples what they as His followers should do and not do. He’s illustrating the Christian way of life.
Again, if you have your Bibles handy, you can turn to Matthew 5 again, verse 17. There Jesus says:
“17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).
One of the reasons Jesus wanted to teach the correct keeping of the Law was so that the people would understand His future actions as KEEPING and not BREAKING God’s Law.
For example, Jesus once healed a man who had a deformed hand. He healed this man on the day of rest, the Sabbath day. This made some of the people upset. They believed that healing a person was WORK and should therefore not be done on the Sabbath.
Jesus had to explain that His healing of the man was actually a keeping of the Sabbath day. The Sabbath was for rest and worship. By healing the man of his deformed hand Jesus had given the man rest from his life-long burden of carrying this disability. He had also made it possible for this man to worship in the Temple again (People with a deformity were not permitted in the Temple grounds because their deformity was symbolic of sin).
By healing on the Sabbath Jesus was not breaking the true spirit of the Law concerning Sabbath rest and worship, He was keeping it in a most God-pleasing way!
In this same complete way Jesus would keep all the commandments of God. Because of His perfect keeping of God’s Law Jesus could later offer Himself as a sinless Sacrifice in our place, wiping all our sins away.
One of the benefits of studying the Sermon on the Mount is that it helps us to more fully appreciate Jesus’ perfect life by showing us how deeply Jesus understood and fulfilled the will of God.
As we move forward into the Sermon on the Mount, remember that it is primarily Law. But also remember that doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. I think we have the tendency to short-change the Law because we know that the Law doesn’t take sins away. We know that trying to keep the Ten Commandments doesn’t get us any forgiveness.
But, the Law is an expression of God’s good and holy will. Therefore, we cannot cast it aside as if it had no value. It has great value for our personal lives. In fact, Jesus says that if we ignore these words of His, our lives will be huge failures. I’ll get to that in a minute. One more thing about the Law and what effect it has on people.
The mixed crowd that Jesus preached to would have been effected in three different ways when they heard this sermon.
Some would have been uneasy, or even a little afraid of God. If there were any career criminals in that crowd whose consciences weren’t completely hardened, they would have been uneasy about stealing their next wallet.
Others would have come to understood that according to this interpretation of God’s Law, they were in trouble. Especially when Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NIV). God’s Law shows us that we are sinners who need help.
The disciples would have been effected in both these ways. Their sinful nature inside would have been a little fearful of God’s judgment on their sins. Perhaps the next time they were tempted to sin in one way or another they would have stopped short.
They would have also seen that they were sinners. But they would have been effected in another way also.
They believed that Jesus was the Savior. And when the Law of God is heard by the Christian’s ears, it shows him exactly what matters to God. The Law and explained by Jesus is not about rules and outward and grudgingly kept rules and regulations. The Law explained by Jesus reveals the inner, spiritual truth of what God seeks in our hearts. The Law of God guides His followers to stay on His way.
You might have noticed that these three ways that Jesus sermon would have effected the crowds are the same three effects that Martin Luther explained said the Law has. It acts as curb, keeping sinners from sinning in more flagrant ways. It works as a mirror showing people their sins and their need of a Savior. It works as a guide for the Christ-follower, since our sin tainted conscience cannot always be trusted.
Jesus says that if we ignore the teachings contained in the Sermon on the Mount, our lives will be huge failures. We might become rich. But we’ll be failures. We might be well liked. But in the end our lives will mean nothing. Let’s hear it from His own mouth.
If you have your Bibles open, you can turn to Matthew 7:24-29. This is also printed in your bulletin as the sermon text. I’ll bet you were wondering if we were ever gonna get to the sermon text.
To begin our series on the Sermon on the Mount we’re going to hear the last words of that sermon. After Jesus had taught about what a Christian’s character should be like, and after Jesus had taught the true meaning of the Ten Commandments, and after Jesus had taught about giving and praying and fasting and greed and worry and judging others and false prophets, then He said,
“24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV).
I’m not going to dissect this parable. It stands alone. Doesn’t really need much explanation does it?
If you hear and do what Jesus has just taught, your life will be stable and strong and you will succeed.
If you hear and don’t do what Jesus has just taught, your life will ultimately be a failure. Even if you make it to heaven by the Grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, your life on earth will be a forgotten house washed away by the storm. If you hear and ignore the teaching of Christ.
Now that’s speaking with authority. Verse 28-29 says:
28When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29 NIV).
And where did His authority come from? The Father. It came from God the Father. Jesus is speaking His Father’s Words. God’s Words. Jesus isn’t re-interpreting the commandments He’s declaring the original meaning from the Father Himself! That’s why He speaks with confidence and with absolutely no doubt.
If you have your Bible’s handy, turn to John 12, verse 44.
“44Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
47“As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:44-50 NIV).
Our forefathers believed that governments get their authority to rule from the consent of the people to be ruled. But Jesus’ teaching receives it’s authority from a much greater source.
Jesus’ teaching is authoritative because it is God’s teaching. The same loving God who sent Jesus to give His life so that we could be forgiven and life forever, that same God also sent Jesus to preach the words of the Sermon on the Mount. May that same God bless our hearing of those words so that we consider them God’s Words, holy and precious, to be believed and cherished, studied with care and kept.
Then, confidently trusting in Christ Jesus for our salvation we will build a life grounded firmly on Him. A life which has meaning and purpose. A life commissioned by God and constructed according to His good and magnificent plan.
The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.