Sermon on February 14, 2021
Standards that challenge – The Sermon on the Mount
Correct use of God’s word
This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
Happy is how Jesus began his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, which we have been studying for two weeks.
He introduced a lifestyle and a character that is so different from much of what is lived in our world. Standards that challenge. Maybe even more than that Many perceive the Sermon on the Mount as an imposition, others as excessive demands. And because that is so, there are many different approaches to understanding the Sermon on the Mount. Some have tried to translate them literally and, because it is difficult, to withdraw from everything and everyone. Others have spoken of the unattainability and still others of the fact that the Sermon on the Mount was only valid for the people of Israel and no longer has any meaning for us. Today we want to look at the central Bible text for understanding the Sermon on the Mount, and that is also one of the central texts when it comes to the core of Jesus’ message and the lifestyle of a follower of Jesus.
Correct use of God’s word – law and gospel
Based on this text, which we will look at in a moment, Jesus will then use examples on the one hand to concretise what actually stands behind the commandments from the Old Testament and on the other hand, how we not only live piously on the surface but really live in God put the focus in order to then say that we should not judge one another too quickly, but should treat the neighbor as we want to be treated ourselves and that we take care of ourselves, that we choose the right path and that it is wise to do the To take the path of God.
That is a bit of the arc of the Sermon on the Mount, presented very briefly.
Are happy, these standards are so different It could also be that an event occurred before this speech by Jesus, which is described in Mark 2, namely that Jesus was out with his disciples on a Sabbath and then they tore off ears of corn in a field and ate the grains. And the Pharisees then confronted Jesus that that would be work and that on a Sabbath. And maybe some listeners got a picture of this new teacher who doesn’t take all of this very seriously, or who is coming now and finally abolishing all of these old traditions and commandments.
And then Jesus says this:
Mt. 5: 17-20 Do not think that I came to dissolve the law or the prophets; I did not come to dissolve, but to fulfill. For verily, I say to you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not even an iota (that is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet) or a line shall pass from the law, until everything is done. Anyone who dissolves one of these least of these commandments and teaches people in this way will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, if your righteousness is not better than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is talking about the law and the prophets here. By the law the Jews meant the 5 books of Moses, the Torah. And together with the prophetic books and scriptures, they made up what we know today as the Old Testament.
In linguistic usage at that time it was customary to speak of the law and the prophets and by that to mean everything. And now Jesus says, I have not come to dissolve that, to declare it invalid, but on the contrary: He who teaches this and lives according to it has a special value, and it will not go away until the end of this time.
1. Against arbitrariness
So Jesus turns against the arbitrariness in dealing with God’s Word, and since the New Testament did not yet exist at that time, especially in dealing with the Old Testament. And then he emphasizes the commandments again and then goes into individual examples after this passage, where it becomes clear that Jesus takes them even more precisely than the people of his time. I’ll come back to that later. But first of all the question arises how we deal with God’s word and with God’s speeches.
Paul writes to Timothy in
2 Timothy 3: 14-17: However, you should hold on to the teaching in which you were instructed and of whose credibility you were able to convince yourself. You know those who taught you and from childhood you have been familiar with the scriptures, from which you can get all the direction you need for salvation – for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Because everything that is written in the scriptures is inspired by God’s spirit, and accordingly the benefits of the scriptures are great: it teaches in the truth, reveals guilt, sets you on the right path and educates you to live according to God’s will. So he who belongs to God and serves him, with the help of Scripture, is able to meet all demands; through them he is equipped to do everything that is good and right.
Paul writes that everything that is in the Bible is believable, that it is inspired by God’s Spirit, that it gives us guidance for our life and our faith and that God speaks to us through it. So the Bible shows us in general God’s nature and his thoughts about us humans, but God also speaks specifically to us through his word. Perhaps you have already seen a word of God hit you particularly hard while reading the Bible or listening to a sermon.
So when Jesus says that the whole Bible is God’s word that we should take seriously, that challenges us too.
Just as people were challenged by the claims of the Old Testament and the commandments back then, we also experience today how what is in the Bible challenges people of our time and perhaps even ourselves, and how God’s very personal speech sometimes also challenges us challenges.
In the Old Testament we read in the prophet Jeremiah how a king deals with God’s words.
There is the prophet Jeremiah, to whom God gives important words for the king and all the people, but Jeremiah had been inconvenient in the past, so the king wanted to prevent him from stirring up the whole people and has forbidden him from entering the temple. What is Jeremiah doing? He writes down the words of God and gives them to his scribe to read in the temple. When Baruch, as the clerk was called, did that, the leaders who heard it confiscate the scroll and bring it to the king and read it to him. And now I’ll read what happens:
Jeremiah 36:23 The king had picked up a knife, as the scribes use to sharpen quills, and whenever Yehudi had read three or four columns the king cut it off the scroll with the knife and threw it into the flames until eventually the whole role was destroyed.
The comedian duo Superzwei, maybe one or the other still knows one or the other by the name “Take two”, they were really in my youth, they have carried it a little exaggerated into today’s time:
Don’t you think some of the statements in the Bible are out of date? And aren’t many passages completely unsuitable for their non-Christian friends? Then you need the new BiBaBo – the bible handicrafts sheet that makes reading the bible a pleasure again. The bible handicraft sheet is a bible with pre-perforated pages to easily cut out uncomfortable passages. Simply put together your own individual Bible.
We wouldn’t do that, would we?
No book in our time has been subjected to such violent attacks as the Bible. Statements are denied, bent, twisted, shortened, placed at random, declared invalid, sin justified with grace. And Paul also warns Christians that at some point they will only look for people who speak after them and no longer say what God actually thinks.
But did not Jesus speak in the Beatitudes of those who are happy when they make peace?
Yes, but not by just smearing the word of God around their mouths. Jesus himself confronted the pious of that time harshly because they twisted God’s word so much. But why is it so difficult for us to take the word of God seriously in all its fullness?
There are certainly many reasons for this:
a. There is one we may not even be aware of, I talked to someone last Sunday about the fact that we are all shaped. Through our culture, through our upbringing, through our environment, our community experience. And so we only perceive part of what God wants to tell us, as if through glasses. How good it is to exchange ideas with other Christians, for example in our home groups, but also to learn from other directions and from other cultures, so that we don’t just hear the word of God one-sided.
b. A second thing is that there are, of course, passages that are so difficult for us to understand, and as a pastor I do not ignore them either.
- At first, some things do not even fit into the image of God that we may have. And I would like to invite you not to make hasty judgments but to wrestle about them.
- Sören Kiergegaard makes us a suggestion. He says read the Bible like a love letter. If you are struggling with the language, culture, or other obstacles, consider this necessary groundwork in order to get through to the real message of someone who loves you. Put what you understand into action.
- And I would like to add, ask yourself, what was the culture like back then, for whom does what I am reading apply to, and if that is not for me but, as in OT, a lot for Israel, what can I learn from it?
- And if you don’t understand something, get help.
- Talk to people, talk about it in house groups, find a Bible commentary, there are many great resources.
c. Then it is certainly the case that some people have a problem with accepting an authority over themselves and therefore they do not want to accept the Bible as God’s good speech but understand it as outdated rules of an ancient time.
d. Another reason why we sometimes find it so difficult to accept the word of God: We read in Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is alive and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing to the separation of soul and spirit, both of the joints and of the marrow, and a judge of the thoughts and dispositions of the heart
God’s word hits us. It shows us who we are, whatever is wrong in our life in God’s eyes. And we don’t like that, we try to push that away from us. It’s not about God wanting to finish us off. Anyone who reads this passage from the Bible in the Letter to the Hebrews will very quickly meet Jesus, who stands up for us before God, who forgives our guilt and reveals things to us in order to make change possible, that we will also see afterwards.
e. A final reason why it is sometimes so difficult for us to take God and what he says seriously can also be his ground staff.
- People who are not as salt and light as Jesus imagined.
- Shapes that put you off.
And so we are with the Pharisees, the pious of those times.
They were the ones who kept the commandments exactly. Who even issued a bunch of extra commandments so that the actual commandments of God would not be violated. When Jesus said that he did not want to dissolve the law and the prophets and that they apply to the smallest detail, they probably thought: Yes, just like Jesus. And then suddenly Jesus speaks of a righteousness better than that of the Pharisees. Ouch.
What does Jesus mean by better righteousness? I call that:
2. Against legality
The Pharisees thought they could earn heaven by doing what they did.
So if they only did enough good deeds, if they were good enough, then God would have to acknowledge that, then they would have to be seen as righteous by him and that would give them access to heaven. The Old Testament commandments were not enough for them. They built further commandments around it, like a fence, so as not to violate the actual commandments. And then they put that on themselves and on the other people.
- Do we perhaps also have such rules, some unwritten laws for behavior as a devout Christian?
- Some forms of our faith, our worship services, but what isn’t in the Bible at all?
- Some unconscious teachings that God can only act like this, and we thereby restrict the work of his spirit?
- The Pharisees were strict towards themselves and others, whereby …
When you are on such a path, you may find yourself burying your head in the sand because you think you will never make it anyway and you realize that you cannot please God.
- Maybe you even get mad at such a god who demands all of this from you and robs you of any fun in life.
- This reminds me of the second son in the parable of the prodigal sons, and perhaps one or the other of us sometimes feels such thoughts within us.
- While some bury their heads in the sand or even leave their faith behind, others start, because they want to look good in front of others, to superficially build up a pious appearance, but inside or in their everyday life they are completely different.
Jesus calls this hypocrisy among the Pharisees. And if we are addressed like that, then we can get even more angry with God. Then we try and cramp up and are then referred to as hypocrites.
The Pharisees had left the core of the commandments through all their fences.
If, after our passage today, Jesus will say: But I tell you how the commandments are to be interpreted, then it becomes clear, that it is not about working through rules but about relationships.
- About love for God and for neighbor, and not about the mere letter.
- He says that not killing begins much earlier than literal killing, and he heals on the Sabbath because the Sabbath is there for people, should be good for people.
The Pharisees were known to have lost this aspect of the relationship.
They were tough on their fellow men, see the parable of the good Samaritan And tough on God. Yes, in some ways they had a relationship with God, but Paul later says that he lacked love for God. Keeping this rule works like a trade. We do, and then you give us. Just as today perhaps some prayers, some donations, some church attendance, some good deed serve to satisfy God, to relieve his own conscience.
On the other hand, the Pharisees tried to get as much as possible for themselves without jeopardizing their dealings with God.
There was a rule that you shouldn’t work on the Sabbath. And so the Pharisees defined what that meant exactly:
- Carrying 4 dates was work, 3 was still ok, so you wore 3 more often.
- Driving on the water wasn’t work because the wind did it. So they put a bag of water on a donkey and rode it the longer way.
- You shouldn’t move further than about 1km from your home, even then there were self-made lockdown rules, so the Pharisees declared the end of the road to their new home by setting up food for two meals there, and were able to travel on.
Do we sometimes have such tendencies that we see God’s commandments, but we find it difficult to trust God that they are good for our lives, and therefore try to find out what is possible for us?
Figuratively speaking, it seems like when we try to get as close as possible to the guardrails while driving, because they take away our freedom when driving.
Jesus speaks of a better righteousness.
At the end of his interpretation of the commandments, he summarizes his claim, which reflects God’s nature, as follows:
You are now to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Mt. 5.48
Perhaps we still remember Luther, who struggled to find out how he could be righteous in God’s eyes, and who despaired of it because he realized that he could not do it through his own actions.
And fooling God, keeping a pious appearance, that doesn’t work. So what to do?
And that brings us to the core.
3. Jesus fulfills the law and enables better justice
God sees our condition as humans and therefore knows that we cannot be perfect. But because it’s about justice, he doesn’t just say “Sponge over it”. We read in Galatians 3: 11-13: It is evident that where the law rules, no one can stand before God as righteous. Because it also says: “Whoever is considered righteous by faith before God will live.” The law, however, is not about faith and trust; of the law: “He who obeys his prescriptions will live by it.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse the law placed us under. Because he has taken the curse in our place. It is said in the Holy Scriptures: “He who hangs on the wood is cursed by God.”
Jesus says he came to fulfill the law and the prophets.
- This means that he is the answer to the many prophecies in the Old Testament. He fulfills them.
- This also means that he fills the commandments with their real meaning, just as God intended them to be.
- And it means that he is the only one who has ever lived as a person who has fully complied with the requirements of the law.
- As a sinless person, he took on our guilt on our behalf and died on the cross. And so he ransomed us from the consequences of the law:
Rom 3: 23-24 for all have sinned and there is no longer any expression of God’s glory in their lives, and their being declared righteous is due to his grace. It is his free gift through the redemption of Jesus Christ.
This is gospel, the good news that the Bible makes clear. That we have salvation, relationship with God, eternal life in his presence, better justice than man-made justice, because God gives it to us, to those who believe in him. So short, so good this news, and yet it took so long for a Martin Luther to rediscover it because it had been lost over thousands of years. And even today that is the best news in the world that has unfortunately been lost to many.
What does that mean for us today? How can we live now and what is the position of the law?
4. What is the significance of the law and the gospel today?
Romans 10.4: For the end of the law is Christ to righteousness for every believer.
And at the same time what Jesus said applies: Until heaven and earth pass away, not even an iota or a line shall pass from the law.
How do you get that together?
- The word of God is valid today in all its fullness.
- The commandments are not canceled and the standard is perfection.
- But for those believers who have accepted Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and reconciliation and are in a relationship with him, that means faith, for them the law is no longer the way to salvation.
- They are righteous in God’s eyes by what Jesus did for them.
- For all others, however, it is still important to meet the standard of the law if they want to spend eternity in God’s presence.
But we know that is not possible.
And that’s why I would like to invite you if you are still on this path: Let Jesus give you this better righteousness. Paul writes that the law is a disciplinarian towards Christ. Gal. 3.24. So it should bring us to Jesus because we cannot fulfill it ourselves.
Many of the commandments in the Old Testament applied to the people of Israel. They were something like the legislation of their country.
- Jesus fulfilled the precepts for sacrifice by becoming the perfect sacrifice himself.
- Jesus fulfilled the rules of worship by becoming the high priest who interceded for us before God.
We no longer need to adhere to special rules. Our whole life should be a worship service and do God glory. We can draw near to God without special purity rituals, because guilt has been washed away from us, which we also make clear in the image of baptism. In any case, Jesus says that what makes us unclean does not come from without but from within. Happy are those who have a pure heart, for they will see God, is the name of one of the Beatitudes. We can let Jesus give us this pure heart.
And so the commandments continue to show us God’s nature and God’s standard for our lives.
- They are like a mirror that shows us where something is still wrong. But then not to condemn us, but so that we can go to Jesus with it and ask him for help.
- They are like guard rails that should protect us and provide orientation.
- To enable successful relationships. Who do not restrict us, but on the contrary want to give us freedom to lead a successful life.
- Jesus says: Those who love me will follow my word. John 14:23
- Not, we have to keep the commandments to please God in order that He will love us.
- But God loves us, he gives us his righteousness, we can be called daughters and sons of the living God, friends of Jesus.
And if we trust him and if what he says is important to us, and that is a sign of love for him, then we will follow his word. Then we will listen to his talk.
This is also how the Sermon on the Mount is to be understood.
- We see God’s standard and God’s nature.
- But we cannot fulfill it.
- That is what Jesus did for us.
- And so this standard may be a new standard, not to redeem us, but to give us orientation.
- So it is not a compulsion to tense up, but the principle of love for God and fellow human beings, what drives us and may help us to decide how we should behave.
- And so it is not arbitrary whether or not to take God’s speeches to us seriously.
- We can ask Jesus for his help with the implementation and with the correct understanding, where we are challenged and where we recognize that God’s word meets us and we are not yet and do not yet act as God wants it to be.
- His Holy Spirit wants to help us and above all wants to change us from within, so that we not only have to appear pious or despair, but more and more reflect God’s being himself through and through.
And maybe you notice at one point or another that you dealt with God’s talk one way or another.
Then God invites you this morning to come to him, ask him for help, take his talk seriously and ask him to help you implement it in your life and to change you through his spirit.
Boldly I Approach, we want to sing that now, and it is an invitation to do the same internally and to talk to God.