The Greatest Sermon in History Part 1
Once Upon a Hill
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 11, 2004

 

Main Passage: Matthew 5-7 (NLT)

 

What are some things that determine what movies you go to?

PARTICIPATION
(Genre, length, show time, language, rating, who going with, etc.)

 

For me, if there’s a movie that I’m interested in seeing, I will often get on the Internet and go to filmratings.com to find out what the rating is and why. I want to know what to expect if I go, and I want to know if it’s the kind of movie I should be at in the first place. The rating system isn’t always flawless, but it’s a good starting point.

A man by the name of Wilbur Reese once suggested that sermons should also be given a rating system. That way you’d know what you were in for. For example, a sermon could be rated “G”. A “G” rating would mean that the sermon would be generally acceptable to everyone… nothing to challenging, nothing to demanding, nothing to uncomfortable. It’d be the kind of sermon that would tell you, “Go into all the world and smile.” Or maybe something along the lines of, “What the world needs is peace, motherhood, and lower taxes.” Nothing that’s going to upset anyone… just a sermon that sounds nice. The kind of sermon that would leave people saying, “Wasn’t that marvellous? How wonderful!” Everyone loves a good “G” rated sermon. Nobody is ever offended by them. Some people won’t listen to anything but a “G” rated sermon.


Then you’d have the “PG” sermons. These would be for the more mature congregations. In a “PG” sermon, the preacher might be free to make some mild suggestions for change, but he’d keep those suggestions pretty abstract and disguised so that if someone was actually offended by it, he’d be able to back-peddle and smooth things over. Perhaps a “PG” sermon would be wrapped up in intellectual/theological language… “The either/or of the existential situation provides a plethora of alternatives, both specific and non-specific. When one examines the eschatological aspect of incarnational Christology, one discovers political overtones and residences which can’t be fathomed at the present time, but needs the distance of the future so you can truly understand and appreciate the viscosity of that quagmire.” Something like that can sound really impressive and leave people shaking their heads, saying, “Wow! That was so deep and thought-provoking!” Of course, nobody really knows what was said, but nobody’s going to admit that.


Step up to the “R” rated sermon. This is the kind of sermon where the preacher tells it as it is. Chances are, any preacher who gives an “R” rated sermon has a pretty good self-esteem and is isn’t dependent on the church as his only means of income. An “R” rated sermon isn’t for everyone… only those who who want to be challenge to go deeper in their spiritual walk. A person who listens to an “R” rated sermon may comment that it was “Disturbing” or “Controversial”.


And then there’s one more category… the “X” rated sermon. These sermons would contain explosive ideas… the kinds of ideas that got the prophet Amos run out of town and John the Baptist beheaded. The kinds of ideas that got the Apostle John exiled and Stephen stoned (with rocks, not drugs). When you preach an “X” rated sermon, you want to make sure your bags are packed and the moving van is out front and running. I recently found out about somebody I know who preached one of these sermons and the church people came to their place that afternoon and helped them pack. An “X” rated sermon may leave people saying that it was “Shocking” or “Disgraceful” or “In bad taste”.

 

This morning we’re starting a new series of messages here focusing on “The Greatest Sermon in History”. And it happens to have been an “X” rated sermon. I’m talking about the words of Jesus found in Matthew 5-7 which we commonly refer to as “The Sermon On the Mount”. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Now hold on! I’ve read through the Sermon on the Mount… there’s nothing offensive or objectionable there. There’s nothing shocking in those words.” Well, perhaps you’ve never read them the way Jesus meant them.

Because the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount caused many to be offended and insulted… others thought Jesus was going too far… others would have focused on the political implications and controversies create by what He was saying… still others would have dismissed Him as a radical fanatic who needed to be silenced. It was teaching like that found in the Sermon on the Mount that got Jesus nailed to the cross.

But that was 2000 years ago. Surely the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t apply today. Not with today’s political, economic and social realities. I mean, how do you love your enemies when you’re dealing with al Qaida and suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Iraq? How do you give to someone in need when everybody seems to be in need? TV Evangelists and telemarketers alone would tap you dry. And how do you keep from lusting? I’m sure it was easier to not lust after women when they were fully covered from neck to toe with robes, but how is it possible today blouses cut way too low and skirts cut way too high, and belly shirts, and images bombarding us through our televisions, the Internet and in our Emails?

Maybe Jesus’ words aren’t for today. Maybe they were for 2000 years ago. Or maybe they’re for an ideal future. Maybe the Sermon on the Mount is just a cosmic preview of what’s to come.

Well, I’ve got to tell you that I believe the words of Jesus are for us today. Yes, times have changed. But people haven’t. We face the same temptations, the same pressures, the same impulses… and the words of Jesus are just as applicable for us today as they were for the original Middle-eastern audience. Any rationalization or justification that denies that, I think, are just ways to take the sting out of Jesus’ words and soothe our guilty consciences for not living up to His words.

Mark Twain was once asked if he found the Bible hard to understand. This is his response:

It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.
~ Mark Twain

I think we try to dismiss Jesus’ words because they bother us. We recognize that we don’t live up to them. But Jesus didn’t say these words in the Sermon on the Mount for His health. In fact, words like this proved to be detrimental to His health. They got Him killed. But Jesus believed that what He was saying was worth it. His words were that important.

Do I always apply His words without fail? No. I mess up more times than I want to tell you about. But I know that the Sermon on the Mount was meant for me and it’s meant for you. And together we can strive to apply His words to our lives.

So let’s talk about The Greatest Sermon in History… the Sermon on the Mount. You should know first of all that Jesus gave this talk early on in His ministry on earth. Jesus began His public ministry when He was 30 and was executed by the state when He was 33. It was a relatively short period of time that Jesus traveled around as a Rabbi telling people about the Kingdom of Heaven, and this Sermon on the Mount is right near the beginning.

Up until this point, Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist, He had endured a period of temptation in the desert which He came through with flying colours, He had called His first disciples to follow Him, and he had started to travel around preaching and healing.

The Sermon on the Mount starts in Matthew 5, so let’s take a look at the last part of Matthew 4:

Matthew 4:23-25 (NLT)
Jesus traveled throughout Galilee teaching in the synagogues, preaching everywhere the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed people who had every kind of sickness and disease. News about him spread far beyond the borders of Galilee so that the sick were soon coming to be healed from as far away as Syria. And whatever their illness and pain, or if they were possessed by demons, or were epileptics, or were paralyzed--he healed them all. Large crowds followed him wherever he went--people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River.

Jesus had just started His ministry, and He was an overnight celebrity. People came from all over to see Him. He was like a Rock star with groupies following His every move. He was the talk of the town… crowds showed up wherever He went. They wanted to see this miracle-working Rabbi. They wanted to see this man who could heal diseases and cast out demons. They wanted to meet this Galilean who had the power to make the blind see and the paralyzed walk.

On Sunday mornings we gather here for our Worship Celebration. On a typical week, I show up here early in the morning to set up, I participate on the worship team, and then I share a message with you from the Bible. And I enjoy it… it’s what I live for. But I’ve got to tell you, by the time I get home most Sundays I am exhausted and I need to crash for a few hours in the Lazy-boy or on the couch. Preaching and teaching can take a lot out of you.

Jesus found himself constantly surrounded by crowds making all kinds of demands on Him. And one of the things you discover about Jesus as you read through the Gospels is that He would sometimes withdraw from the crowds. Because He needed time to rejuvenate, too. Sometimes he would get away and spend some time alone in prayer. Other times, He would spend some time with his friends… His disciples. Matthew 5:1 tells us…

Matthew 5:1 (NLT)
One day as the crowds were gathering, Jesus went up the mountainside with his disciples and sat down to teach them.

We call this passage The Sermon on the Mount, and when we say those words we (at least, I) picture Jesus walking through the crowds, speaking and sharing these incredible insights with everyone. But the truth is, Jesus was isolated with only His disciples around Him as He sat there and taught them.

[Note: The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount indicates that Jesus was with His disciples. At the end of the Sermon, we're told that the crowds were amazed at his teachings. At some point, the crowds must have become part of the audience. Another sermon is that the Sermon on the Mount is a collection of various teaching times. I'm not sure that the context of the passage allows for this interpretation.]

Over the next several weeks we’re going to look at what Jesus taught them one section at a time. And when all is said and done, we will have had the opportunity to examine the words of Jesus in depth and see what they mean for us today. But this morning, for the time we have remaining, what I want to do is this:

I want to give you the basic theme that you’ll find throughout the Sermon on the Mount, I want to identify three facts about the Sermon on the Mount, and then I want to read through it all once in its entirety. Okay? Let’s go.

Fist of all, let me give you the theme:

 

Basic Theme of the Sermon on the Mount:

Position, authority, and money are not important in Jesus’ Kingdom—what matters is faithful obedience from the heart.
(from the NLT Life Application notes)

Throughout these chapters, Jesus takes a lot of shots at the people who thought they were important. He even criticizes the religious elite. And he reveals that entrance into His Kingdom is not dependent on social status or material wealth or accomplishment… His Kingdom is available to all who will seriously accept His call on their lives. Beginning next Sunday, we’re going to see this theme pop up in the Beatitudes.

 

Three Facts about the Sermon on the Mount:

 

1. The Sermon on the Mount does not contain everything that Jesus taught.

The Sermon on the Mount contains a significant portion of the teachings of Jesus, but it is in no way all-inclusive of what Jesus thought was important. There are several things that He talked about at other times that didn’t even get a mention in The Sermon on the Mount.

In fact, in the Book of Matthew alone, there are five major discourses of Jesus… five major talks that He gave. This is just the first. In The Sermon on the Mount, He doesn’t address…
 

  • The Greatest Commandment

  • His death and Resurrection

  • How we are justified by faith

  • The Work of the Holy Spirit

  • The definition and purpose of the Church

  • The importance of Baptism

  • The significance of the Lord’s Supper

  • Etc.


None of these things show up on the radar in the Sermon on the Mount, but they are all obviously important. You can’t use The Sermon on the Mount alone and expect to get a complete picture of the Christian life and the teachings of Christ.

Kind of like when we talk about the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament. We’re referring to ten specific commandments, but there were all kinds of other commandments that God gave in the Old Testament, as well.

 

2. The Sermon on the Mount Contains Practical Instruction for the Christian Life.

The Sermon on the Mount is not meant to be a full-blown theology of Christ. It’s not intended to describe complex doctrine. It’s meant to be applied. It’s meant to be put into practice.

The Sermon on the Mount contains real-life lessons for the fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

“Those who dare to take the message of the Sermon on the Mount seriously will change the world.”
~ Denn Guptill

 

3. The Sermon on the Mount is Not a System of Laws for Getting into the Kingdom of God.

The religious leaders of the day… the Pharisees… lived their lives by a very strict set of laws. Many of the laws could be found in the Old Testament, and many of the laws were ones they had made up themselves to show how holy they were. So what you ended up with was a whole community of people who elevated themselves by living according to a high level of religion which was virtually unattainable for most of the people in the society.

Let me try to illustrate it this way. It was as if the Pharisees had created a ladder with the Kingdom of God at the top. Each rung on the ladders was another rule or regulation or ritual. And in order to climb your way into the Kingdom you had to follow these rules and regulations and rituals “religiously”. If you slipped up, you were out of luck.

And what Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount was telling the Pharisees, “You’ve got it all wrong! The Kingdom of God isn’t way up there and you don’t have to climb any ladder to qualify. The Kingdom of God is right here right now. And nothing you can do can earn it. It’s yours for free. All you have to do is believe.

The Apostle Paul explained this really well when he wrote…

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)
God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

You can’t earn your way into the Kingdom by doing good things. It’s a gift, and you don’t earn a gift. The Sermon on the Mount is not a system of laws for getting into the Kingdom. But if that’s true, what is the Sermon on the Mount for?

Well, to answer that, let’s take another look at who He was talking to. Who was He talking to?

PARTICIPATION
(the disciples)

The disciples. The disciples were already in the Kingdom. They were already following Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount was for them.

The Sermon on the Mount: Not rules to follow to get into the Kingdom of God, but guidelines to follow after you’re in.

Entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is free. It’s a gift. But that does not mean that you have no obligation whatsoever.

Accepting salvation means accepting a new way of life, new goals, new objectives, and a new power to move toward them.

Following Jesus means following His teachings. It means that we strive to put His words into action in our lives. It doesn’t meant hat we’re flawless, it doesn’t mean that we never mess up. But it means that we sincerely desire and strive to live the way He wants us to live.

 

Now, as I mentioned, we’re going to be going through these three chapters one section at a time. We’re going to be able to examine these teachings of Jesus in depth. But before we do that, I think it’d be good for us to take the entire Sermon on the Mount as a whole and hear it that way before we examine the individual components. So you can put your notes away and just listen. I’m going to read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) for you. And since we’re going to be reading from the NLT in future weeks, I thought I’d read from the NIV this morning.



READ THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Matthew 5-7 (NLT)
 



 

 

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