The Sermon on the Mount is the most powerful sermon ever preached. Preached to a few thousand lowly Galileans off the coast of the Sea of Gennesaret two thousand years ago, the sermon fundamentally shattered the paradigm of religiosity in Israel. To this day, the Sermon on the Mount is probably the most widely quoted sermon by Christians and non-Christians alike. The notion of “turning the other cheek” and “removing the plank from our eye” has been widely circulated as basic morality even in the secular world today!
But what was the main message for the sermon? On the surface it seems like the sermon is a vast collection of various moral lessons that Jesus wants us to learn. And while reflecting on specific lessons will prove to be beneficial to the reader, could there perhaps be a deeper underlying lesson?
Before Jesus launches into his anti-thesis statements, he says something very peculiar. He says, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matt 5:18 NIV) Then later on he says, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:20)
Um, sorry what? I thought Jesus came to preach grace! I thought the Christian walk was all about faith and not about works! How are we to exceed the righteousness of the most religious sect of Judaism (Pharisees)? If the sermon is read continuously, it seems that his statement of us needing to be righteous forms the thesis statement for the rest of the sermon. He launches into topics such as murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, etc. In each topic he actually increases the requirement for holding to these rules. That’s why he says that simply being angry is on par with committing murder. And that’s why looking at someone lustfully is on par with committing adultery. How in the world are we supposed to keep to these rules?
In the sermon series the Pastor David is preaching, he continually repeats one phrase, “it is a heart to have, not a rule to keep”. So what is the heart that Jesus is asking us to have? I believe the impossibility of the righteousness required was intentional and deliberate. These commandments are only obeyed by conforming to the person of Jesus, because He is the one who has fulfilled each and every one of these laws to the degree that he lays out.
Our righteousness is not determined by the commands that are kept, but instead by how they are kept. They are kept through Jesus, not our individual endeavors. I think that is the heart he’s asking us to have.
Near the end of the sermon, Jesus says, “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:13-14) The only gate that leads to life is Jesus. The only gate that leads to righteous living is Jesus. We can’t hope to keep any of these commandments because, frankly, they are impossible. But in trusting in Jesus, his righteousness is IMPUTED upon us… it is simply credited to us on account of His love.
We must remember that the sermon is about “a heart to have, not a rule to keep”. At the end of the day, that heart is simply a heart for Jesus.