The Greatest Sermon Ever
Time Magazine put together a list of the 100 Most Significant People in Human History, factoring in artists, inventors, authors, presidents, and other influential figures. They used statistical analyses, studies, opinion pieces, and more. The number one most significant person in human history is… Jesus. Jesus had more influence than any other person did in history.
If that is true, then everyone ought to study Jesus, his teachings, his actions, and his life. Further, if you are a Christian, this ought to be the most important thing to you.
We are beginning a 4-month series to do just that. This series, The Way of Jesus, is centered on one specific teaching in Matthew 5-7. Often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, this is considered one of the most important and greatest sermons ever. The goal of this sermon series is to listen to Jesus. Listening is not the human default. In fact, we are often hard of hearing, especially when it comes to teachings that challenge our comforts and habits.
“The history of Christianity is the history of Christians trying to evade the Sermon on the Mount and avoid living according to its plain meaning” – Unknown Jewish Rabbi
Before we dive deep into the Sermon on the Mount, we need to prepare our hearts and minds to really hear what Jesus is saying and prompting us to do. If you are going to plant something new, first you have to prepare the soil. Consider this week preparation for us to grow spiritually through Jesus’s teaching.
Three Reasons Why It Is Hard to Listen to Jesus:
We think it is not for us.
Who is the Sermon on the Mount for? This is not a universally agreed upon subject. Jesus’s first audience of this sermon was the Jewish people in the context of the arrival of Jesus as the Messiah. The Jewish people rejected Jesus, and the grace of God extended to gentiles. Some argue that The Sermon on the Mount is only for the Jewish people.
Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus intended us to teach new disciples to obey his teachings. Some say that The Sermon on the Mount is for unbelievers. It is thought that this sermon is either laying out the demands that must be met for salvation or that it is exposing our sins and inability to earn salvation. We know that the first cannot be true because the New Testament shows us that our salvation is not at stake here. The second is true in that the Sermon on the Mount will expose our hearts, but only if we listen.
While unbelievers were present at His teaching, Jesus’s main audience was the disciples. Not the twelve disciples that form as a group later on, but the students of His word. The Greek word for disciple used here translates to “learner.” The Sermon on the Mount is for anyone who wanted to learn from Jesus then and anyone who wants to learn from Jesus today. Jesus invited people to learn from Him before inviting them to believe and behave differently than they had before.
We determine what is right and wrong.
Studies have shown that previously, Western culture operated by a perspective of external authority, but now we operate by internal authenticity. We often design our beliefs and actions by personal desires and intuitions. Then we add the caveat “as long as it doesn’t harm anyone” to justify whatever we have decided. However, this relies on a universal definition of “harm” which we do not have in today’s society. So, each of us determines our own version of right and wrong. Desire, authenticity, and intuition are not bad and should not be ignored, but self-determined freedom is becoming the new idol that we have all been shaped by.
Matthew 7:28 “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching.”
The word “amazed” in this context translates to overwhelmed or stunned. Why would the crowd be so stunned?
Matthew 7:29 “because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
The Romans did not kill Jesus for giving really good advice. He spoke with authority that extends from that crowd, through all of time, to us today. Over and over again in the Bible, Jesus claims and demonstrates His authority over nature, sickness, man, sin, death, everything.
If Jesus is God and you are not, then He will say things that deeply challenge and offend you. That is how you know He really is God. Are you sure that is the real deal if your god never disagrees with your choices and values? Or did you reduce God to a size you can control?
His words will be disruptive, compelling, and life-giving.
We confuse hearing with listening.
Unlike a report card, you do not get the grade just for knowing the stuff.
Matthew 7:24-27 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
You do not get credit just for showing up and agreeing. You have to do something with what you have heard. The Greek word used for obey translates to “listen under.” This means that in the New Testament, there is no category for listening without obeying.
To hear this sermon is to do this sermon. We have not truly heard this sermon if we do not do it. This does not result in earning or losing salvation. That has been and can only be given by grace and through faith. This puts that faith into action.
Maturity is not measured by what we know but by what we do and how we love.
This is what changed the world in Jesus’s time. No one was trying only to accumulate knowledge or prove the amount of knowledge about His teachings. They were living out each and every day by the teachings of Christ.
Many Millennials and now Gen Z are walking away from the church because they are seeing churches prioritize the words of Jesus without prioritizing the way of Jesus. If we are known more for our political views or doctrine but not being transformed by Jesus and loving the people around us, the next generation will continue to walk away.
Matthew 7:26-27 “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Reflect on these three questions as you prepare your heart and mind to dive deeper in and really listen to the Sermon on the Mount:
- Do I believe that these words of Jesus are for me?
- Do I see myself as being under the authority of Jesus?
- Am I willing to follow Jesus by doing what He says to do in the Sermon on the Mount?
Over the next week, pray this every day: “Jesus, show me what it looks like to follow you.”