How many years do most Christians go to church services, listen to Christian radio and attend Christian events? During that time, how many sermons has the average Christian heard? How much of what they heard can they remember? How much of what they heard preached contradicts other stuff they heard preached by different preachers on various points of doctrine? What if they could isolate one particular sermon that stood out above all other sermons? What if there was one sermon that truly had the mark of God on it that they could really focus on and believe in? What if Jesus preached a sermon? Wouldn’t that be great?
He did. Matthew chapters 5-7 contain the sermon of all sermons, what is commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. In it lie the keys to all that we need to know about how we should live the Christian life and what it should look like. Three relatively short chapters. One incredibly succinct sermon from Jesus, the very Son of God. Surely this sermon would set the tone for sermons everywhere for all eternity. It would be the model sermon found in Preaching 101 textbooks that preachers young and old would refer to as they inquired as to what and how they should preach. But sadly, there are perhaps more sermons today trying to blatantly explain away and excuse the Sermon on the Mount than there are those which would seem to support and agree with it. So what does it say?
It brings out the heart of the law and tells me it’s not good enough to just not kill anyone or commit adultery, I must not hate or lust either. It tells me that motives are extremely important, that it’s possible to give or pray or fast for all the wrong reasons. It makes love paramount, I am to love my enemies and treat others like I want to be treated. It says I should be non-violent, that I should not resist an evil doer and that if someone hits me on one cheek I should let them hit me on the other cheek too. It says I should not only put up with inconvenience, I should go above and beyond what people ask me to do for them. It says I should not worry about food or clothing or anything, that pagans do that but that God will take care of me. It says I should not store up treasures on this earth, that money and possessions are not to be accumulated but dispersed. It says I am not to judge people, that I have far too much wrong with myself to be pointing out the flaws of others. It says all these and many other things. Then towards the end, as all sermons do, it culminates into a grand finale—it draws to a final conclusion.
After turning all human tendency and wisdom and all religious pomp and ceremony on its head, Jesus makes a rather fantastic statement. He says that the way to the Christian life is quite difficult not only to find, but to walk in. He says there are only a few who will find it. He warns against the broad way to destruction and against false prophets who would lead you astray. He even goes so far as to say there will be many people at the end of time who will call Him Lord who will have done many great things in His name like preaching and teaching and healing and all sorts of ministry. He says He will say to them, “Depart from Me, I never knew you!” Why? Because they were law breakers and He never knew them. How can this be?
Jesus ends the sermon, His complete thought, by explaining everything. He says there are those who will listen to His teaching and do all these things and they will be like someone who builds their house on a rock. They will stand and survive and even thrive in their Christianity. But He says there are those who will listen to His teaching and do none of these things and they will be like someone who builds their house on the sand. They will fall, they will not survive and their Christianity will come crashing down. The problem is that it’s all counter-intuitive, counter-religious, counter-worldly, counter-cultural, counter-popular Christianity even. This is surely why He said it was the narrow way. Dear Christian, do you believe what Jesus preached?