Greatest Sermon in History Part 1
Once Upon a Hill
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 11, 2004
Matthew 5-7 (NLT)
What are some things
that determine what movies you go to?
(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
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
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
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
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:
authority, and money are not important in Jesus’ Kingdom—what matters
is faithful obedience from the heart.
(from the NLT Life Application notes)
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…
His death and
How we are justified
The Work of the Holy
The definition and
purpose of the Church
The importance of
The significance of
the Lord’s Supper
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
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
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?
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.
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: