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15 September 2019

Sobering Conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount

Synopsis:  The Sermon on the Mount is a guide for how the disciples of Jesus must live regardless of the expectations of society. One ignores its words at his or her own peril - Matthew 7:21-28. 

The Sermon on the Mount is often written off as unrealistic, an idealist’s dream that simply does not work in real life. Such attitudes stem from a misunderstanding of the purpose of the Sermon - It is not a program or agenda for reforming or preserving the existing world order. But the sobering words of Jesus at the end of it serve to warn us not to discount the importance of the Sermon's commandments.

Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount with an ominous warning:

(Matthew 7:21-28) - “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord! Lord! shall enter into the kingdom of the heavens—but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in the heavens. Many will say unto me in that day, Lord! Lord! did we not in thy name prophesy, and in thy name cast demons out—and in thy name many works of power perform? And, then, will I confess unto them, Never have I acknowledged you—Depart from me, ye workers of lawlessness! Every one, therefore, who heareth [these] my words and doeth them shall be likened to a prudent man, who built his house upon the rock; And the rain descended, and the streams came, and the winds blew, and rushed against that house, and it fell not; for it had been founded upon the rock. And every one who heareth these my words and doeth them not shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; And the rain descended, and the streams came, and the winds blew, and dashed against that house, and it fell; and the fall thereof was great. And it came to pass, when Jesus ended these words, with astonishment were the multitudes being struck at his teaching.” - (The Emphasized Bible).

Why will some men and women who perform miracles and great works in the name of Jesus be rejected? They are not depicted here as pagans or egregious sinners. They called Christ “Lord” and acknowledge his elevated position. They prophesy and cast out demons in his name. They do many mighty works based on his authority, and the emphasis in this text is on the word “many.”
Jesus does not declare their exorcisms and miracles to be counterfeits. The problem, it seems, is something deeper than just doing good works or mighty miracles in the name of the Lord. 

According to Jesus, “everyone who hears my words and does them shall be likened to a prudent man who built his house upon the rock”; whereas, “everyone who hears these my words and does them not shall be likened to a foolish man who built his house upon the sand.” Herein is the key: Those who wish to enter the kingdom must hear and do the words of Jesus. But which words?

At the outset of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned all who listened:

(Matthew 5:17-20), “Do not think that I came to pull down the law or the prophets—I came not to pull down, but to fulfil. For, verily, I say unto you, until the heaven and the earth shall pass away, one least letter or one point may in nowise pass away from the law, till all be accomplished. Whosoever, therefore, shall relax one of these commandments, the least, and teach men so shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whosoever shall do and teach, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. For I say unto you, that unless your righteousness exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, in nowise, may ye enter into the kingdom of the heavens.” - (The Emphasized Bible).

The Pharisees were renowned for their scrupulous observation of the Mosaic Law or Torah, going well beyond its minimum requirements. But that was insufficient for entrance into God’s kingdom. Jesus came to fulfill all the law AND the prophets; he had not come just to reiterate or renew the Torah with its purity regulations, sacrifices and offerings. Something more was required.

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In the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the words that must be heeded to avoid rejection on the day of judgment are the very words of Jesus recorded in the body of the Sermon. Anyone who desires to follow Jesus is called to live a life characterized by humility, hunger for righteousness, mercy to others, pure hearts, avoidance of retaliation, peacemaking, honest communications, and a willingness to endure unjust suffering for the sake of the kingdom (Matthew 5:3-12).

Disciples must be lights in a darkened world. Not only are they forbidden to kill, they must not harbor any anger toward a brother. They are to make reconciliation with offended parties a priority (Matthew 5:13-26).

A disciple must not lust after someone who is not his or her spouse. Instead, he or she is to uphold a lifelong commitment to his or her own spouse. Rather than swear oaths, a believer must speak plain and true words and, thus, let his “Yea be yea, and nay, nay” (Matthew 5:27-37).

The man who wishes to inherit the kingdom of God must eschew retaliation and violence. Instead, he or she is even required to love and pray for enemies. In doing good and showing mercy to one’s enemies, the believer emulates the heavenly Father on the earth and, thus, becomes “perfect” or “complete.”

Contrary to one popular interpretation, Jesus did not distinguish between “private” vengeance and collective retaliation. Nowhere did he include exception clauses for violence or retaliation carried out at the behest of the State or society. His disciples are called to something higher than the world’s way of doing things. The mind that seeks or creates loopholes in the words of Jesus is not the mind of a disciple (Matthew 5:38-48).

Believers must not do their works of righteousness in order to be seen by men or for the applause of others. Hypocrisy is to be avoided. A disciple of Jesus is to focus like a laser beam on the kingdom of God, to lay up treasures in heaven rather than on the earth. Heirs of the kingdom cannot effectively serve two masters (Matthew 6:1-24).

A disciple need not be anxious about his or her daily needs. God will provide all that is necessary. Instead of seeking the things that the world values, the follower of Christ is to “seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness” (Matthew 6:25-34).

A disciple of Jesus is admonished not to judge or condemn others. Judgment is the prerogative of God alone. He or she is to continually seek after the things of God. Treating others as we wish to be treated is how we fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:1-6).

The follower of Christ is to stay on the narrow path and not to travel on the popular and the broad ways of this age. At all times, the believer is to beware of false prophets who can be discerned by their fruits (Matthew 7:7-20).
Much is at stake in how we respond to the words of Jesus. Those who do not hear and do them will be cast off by him “on that day.” Presumably, they will not enter the kingdom of God. Considering such a dire potential fate, it would be unwise to ignore the teachings of Jesus or to pick and choose which ones we obey or not, let alone sledgehammer loopholes into them.

Instead, the Sermon on the Mount is a guide for how the disciple of Jesus must live in a lost world, regardless of the values, demands, and expectations of the surrounding society. Loyalty to God’s kingdom must take precedence over all other allegiances, even loyalty to friends, family, society, or the State.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus conformed his life to this very pattern in his ministry and, above all, through his trial and execution, a pattern of self-sacrificial service all Christians are called to emulate.

When Jesus claimed that only the disciple “who hears these words of mine and does them” will enter the Kingdom of his Father, he vested his words with ultimate authority. We ignore and modify them at our everlasting peril.

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