Great Speaker—Now, What Was It He Said?
Reading: Matthew 5-7
The Sermon on the Mount would probably not score high marks in a Homiletics class. It has more than three points, no particular central theme, no clever “hook” to draw its audience in, and seems to end quite abruptly. Granted, we don’t have the whole sermon recorded for us and I’d bet the farm, if I had one, that it took Jesus a lot longer than 30 minutes to preach it!
One thing the longest recorded teaching of Jesus can’t be accused of is being comfortable. The Beatitudes (5:3-12) remind us that believers need to be totally counter-culture if they expect blessings from heaven. The Ten Commandments, which we thought were difficult enough, are made even more difficult (5:17-48), and prayer is more about God than it is about being admired for our eloquence or George’s lack of employment (6:1-18).
Heaven is to be our focus rather than earth (6:19-23). Worry is a no-no even when the wolf is at the door and the knees are out of your pants (6:24-34), which means trust is in and independence from God is out.
Judgment begins with me rather than with everyone else (7:1-5) and “do others before they do it unto you” is not on the agenda (7:12).
The road to heaven is hard to find since we don’t generally choose the road that leads to a cross. And despite popular opinion there won’t be a traffic jam getting there (7:13-14). You’ll know the religious fakes eventually—no one can pretend forever (7:13-20) and even the few that manage to fool us won’t fool God (7:21-23).
The right foundation will make all the difference in the world (7:24-27) and the disaster that results from the wrong one won’t be covered by insurance.
No, this sermon wouldn’t be too popular if it were preached from behind many of our pulpits today. It lacks a certain panache, and makes far too many demands. But though the audience might not have been impressed by the words, they were impressed by the One who spoke them. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (7:28, 29, NIV).
From that statement arises a troublesome thought. The crowd was amazed because Jesus sounded like He knew what He was talking about—and so He did. And for a while they followed Him. He was the hottest preacher in town. But when Christ challenged them to make a decision about what they personally needed to do with what He was saying, the majority turned and walked away.
After more than two thousand years not much has changed. A twelve lane highway to hell still seems much more attractive that a rocky footpath that leads to a cross.