Story 48: The Sermon on the Mount: AKA “Marching Orders”

Matthew 5-7

Stairway to heaven

The promises of Scripture do not tell of a perfect world in our lifetime or this era of human history. That can only happen when sin and death are utterly destroyed…at the return of Christ. But those who follow Christ are meant, in the power of His Spirit, to spread the goodness of the Kingdom of Heaven as far as possible in their lifetime through the transformation of new hearts given over to Him.  The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are beautiful and radical.  They speak of the radically different life that the disciples of Christ are called to…transformation that goes to the deepest places of the mind and heart.

There are few sections of the Bible that are read and celebrated as much as the Sermon on the Mount. It is found in chapters five through seven in the book of Matthew. It contains some of the most beautiful ideals ever written down by a human hand.

As Jesus was preaching and teaching along the edges of the Sea of Galilee and throughout the region, He spoke over and over again about the Kingdom of Heaven (or the Kingdom of God). When Matthew wrote his story about Jesus’ life, he brought together all the good things that Christ’s listeners were so amazed about and put them into one section for his readers. They answer the question: How are members of the Kingdom of Heaven supposed to live?

But why is this such a big deal? Why does humanity need anyone to teach us that?

Well, does anyone have to wonder if we are in trouble as a race? Consider the crimes of malice that go on every day across the globe: malicious threats, muggings, theft, greed, murder, lust, abuse.  The earth is a cursed world where men and woman and children live in sin and compromise. We don’t all commit every sin that is possible, but every one of us has sin mingled in with even the best things we do. The human race constantly rebels against the Lord.  We hurt ourselves and destroy each other, from the most common forms of gossip to the horrors of war and genocide.

By comparison, the words of the Sermon on the Mount are pure and bright. Jesus invaded the history of humanity on a game-changing rescue mission. He came to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  In Heaven, God’s will is followed perfectly. As followers of Christ obey the will of God on earth, they become a part of establishing His Kingdom here. They become an important part of God’s grand rescue.

Before the terrible curse ever happened, God knew it was coming.  He understood that His beloved people would fail, and He already had a plan to save them.

When Adam and Eve fell into sin, they handed the human race over to the power of Satan. Some people have a problem with the idea of Satan. He might seem like a crazy, outdated superstition. But the Old Testament and New Testament assert that Satan is a real personality, a fallen angel, who is the powerful, evil enemy of God. It is interesting that as the discoveries and inventions of science grew in society, a lot of people started to reject the idea of Satan or the demonic.  It is as if  he had be a part of the system of the natural human world to exist at all. Satan is part of supernatural existence, outside of the limitations of our natural universe. As scientist learn about new dimensions and whole aspects of our universe such as dark matter that they cannot explain even though they are part of the natural world, it might be necessary to reevaluate the authority science should have in telling the human race what is possible.  This is especially true about the supernatural which does not claim to follow the rules of nature.  We might begin to consider having a little bit of humility about what the spiritual systems of faith have said about what has been going on around us all along. According to the Bible, Satan is a real being with his own personality, and he is utterly evil. He seeks to destroy the human race.

When Adam and Eve sided with Satan in the Garden, they made a choice that separated them from their mighty Lord. But God was not going to let it end there. Over time, He raised up a nation through the children of Abraham. It was the early stages of His salvation plan for the world. They were to be a holy people, set apart from all the other nations to have the special, powerful presence of God among them. Through the leadership of Moses, God gave them the Law to help them understand the purifying, healing ways of God. It was meant to help the Israelite nation honor their holy, righteous, and loving Lord with devotion and obedience. It was meant to create a structure of healthy boundaries that supported the process of loving one another, bring protection and security for the poor and vulnerable, and prepare the way for their Messiah.

Now Jesus was going to show how high and pure and exalted that Law was always meant to be. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught how the clean, bright, holiness of God was meant to penetrate to the deepest thoughts and motives of the heart.

Jesus was preparing for the day when He would conquer the power of the curse. He knew that He was going to defeat death and sin through His own sacrifice, and that He was going to rise again. Death could not hold Him. He also knew He would ascend on high and take His seat at the right hand of God on the throne of Heaven.

As Jesus looked forward to God’s plan, He knew that once He was seated on the throne, He would send His Spirit to all those who put their faith in Him. The Holy Spirit would empower His disciples to be His wholehearted servants. They would spread the Good News of His Kingdom throughout the world.  They would live in devoted allegiance Christ as He ruled and reigned over them from Heaven. They would be called the Church, and the reign of Christ’s Kingdom would grow on earth through them. The Spirit would give them strength to overcome the Kingdom of Darkness. But Satan and his demonic host will continue to viciously fight until the time when Jesus returns and brings final, total defeat against all His enemies.

From the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the time we are in now, those who follow Jesus are living out the Kingdom of Christ in a cursed world. Sometimes it is called the time of the “now” and the “not yet.” Believers already have Christ as their King and Priest, and they already have His Holy Spirit within them.   But we are still waiting for the time of the “not yet.” That is when Jesus will return to utterly overpower His enemies and establish His Kingdom in fullness. We already have His life in us and are a part of His Kingdom, even as we wait for His Kingdom to come in fullness. The Sermon on the Mount tells how He wants his disciples to live on earth for His Kingdom in the mean time. They are marching orders.

Many of the things in Matthew’s sermon are also found scattered through the stories in the book of Luke as well. Jesus probably used similar stories over and over as He proclaimed God’s truth to His thousands of listeners across the nation of Israel.

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