Our church here just finished a sermon series on The Sermon on the Mount. I had the distinct pleasure of giving the final message in the series. The way our church here handles the proclamation of the word is a little different than you might be used to. First, there is no paid pastor…we’re a bit small for that and our context makes it difficult. Second, we are in the Arab World, and our little community of faith comes from the corners of the world, a diversity of denominations, a diversity of theological leanings, ecclesiastic philosophies, etc. Third, as a result, those in the body that feel like they are gifted at or passionate about teaching the word are all scheduled to speak and we work through a book of the Bible typically one chapter per week.
So, I was on the roster to give the last message on the Sermon on the Mount (SotM). As I began to look over the passage assigned (Matt 7:13-29), a few thoughts popped into my head. First, this passage is way too long for a single sermon! Pushing aside that thought, the second was this: In this series, with someone different preaching each week, it would give the impression that there is little unity within the sermon, but that it is just precept after precept to be understood and applied. Third, because we chose to do the SotM instead of the whole book of Matthew, one gets the sense that the sermon could stand alone, but what if we need to understand Matthew in order to truly understand the SotM?
Fourth and where I’m going with this, each week the speaker has said something like, “Now, Jesus isn’t saying that we do all these things to earn our salvation.” It’s recognizable that the SotM is full of ethical and imperative statements. Jesus declares that the law will not be changed one iota until the heavens and earth fail. Yet, as Christians we struggle with how to situation the SotM into our Biblical Theology, our Biblical Worldview based on Salvation by Grace through Faith. It seems to me that the rest of Matthew holds the answer, starting with that wonderful, beautiful, breathtaking genealogy in Chapter 1. The genealogy sets up the rest of the book. We ask Who/What form the major sections of the genealogy because that will alert us to what will happen throughout his Gospel.*
1. Abraham – The one through whom the nation is birth, and the promises of God concerning a great people forever blessing all peoples are given.
2. David – The one through whom an everlasting Kingdom will come.
3. Exile – The situation out of which God promises final salvation, pieces of which are described by various Prophets, such as the coming the Messiah/Davidic King, the presence of God fully and finally dwelling with His people, the giving of the spirit and a new heart with the law inscribed on it, the dominion of God over all the nations and nations joining with the People of God, etc. etc. etc.
4. Jesus – To have Jesus here is the most blatant declaration that all the promises of God made to Abraham, David, and the Exiles are all coming to fruition in the person of Jesus, the Christ, son of Abraham, son of David!
And so throughout Matthew, you see the themes of People, Kingdom, and Salvation again and again and again. The Gospel, the Good News that God is keeping His promises to mankind in the person of Jesus (finally to be enacted through the death and resurrection), runs rampant throughout the entire book!
And so we come to the SotM and we wonder, “why does this feel so much like law?” Well, first, because it is law…it is imperative…it is expected of Kingdom citizens. But, second, and most important, it feels like burdensome law instead of glorious honey-on-our-lips law because we haven’t waded into and them plunged deeply into the Gospel river flowing through Matthew. The people on the mountainside who heard that message from Matthew 5-7 left astonished and amazed. The left, not worried so much about what was being asked of them, but utterly perplexed at WHO THIS MAN MIGHT BE!! This man who spoke with authority, this man who claimed to be the judge of mankind in the SotM, this man who said judgment will depend on how you respond to “these words of mine,” this man who had the audacity to claim, “What you’ve been waiting for, I now proclaim…the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Who could know that? If we’re not careful, this guy might start declaring that he has authority over the Sabbath and the authority to forgive sins!!!
In the context of Matthew, we come face to face with Jesus – the one through whom all the promises of God find their “Yes and Amen”! If that is true, if everything we’ve ever hoped for resides in HIM, then giving up our hateful, lustful, thieving, conniving, broad path, fruitless, built-on-sand lives of sin is very little to ask. In fact, we can do it with joy. If these things are true, then finding Jesus is like finding a treasure hidden in a field, and so joyfully, we sell everything to buy the field to have the treasure! That sounds familiar…oh yeah, it’s in Matthew!
You see, Matthew is ALL GOSPEL! And the SotM illustrates the life of someone who has become drunk on New Covenant People, Kingdom, and Salvation Wine! We’re so happy to be drinking with Abraham, David, and returned Exiles. The SotM is a portrayal of what it looks like to feast on Gospel realities that all find their fulfillment in Jesus, son of Abraham, son of David, Messiah!
(*Of course Matthew is also situated in the larger canon and so there is no doubt that he is also, following the writer of Chronicles, telling us where we find ourselves in the History of Redemption, but I believe that he does that through the lens of the major people/events founds in the genealogy.)