1. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ vision for living life right-side-up.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a fleshing out of the core message that Jesus preached as he began his ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17). When Jesus talks about the kingdom, he’s talking about a vision for the world that is right-side-up — the way things should be.
At the beginning of creation, human beings living in healthy, beautiful relationship with God, each other, themselves, and God’s good creation. Sin destroyed these relationships, turning us inward, selfish, and focused on having our own little kingdoms. The Sermon on the Mount describes life restored to its creational design. It imagines a life that is centered on communion with God that results in healed relationships with others.
Sinclair Ferguson argues that many misread the sermon, seeing it:
as a message calculated to produce the greatest possible guilt in the fewest possible chapters! … But the sermon is not aiming to produce a sense of hopelessness and despair in us; rather, it is intended to set before us a glorious vision of what the Lord intends our lives to become. The sermon is Jesus’ manifesto. It describes a regal lifestyle, the new behavior pattern for the new kingdom we have entered.
2. The Sermon on the Mount is the way the world perceives and measures Christianity.
It’s no secret that the surrounding world is evaluating the church. Why wouldn’t they? If we claim to be part of a new kingdom, it makes sense that they would scrutinize us and assess our claims. When they do, the Sermon on the Mount is, often, the criteria they use (whether they know it or not).
Because Jesus’ teaching has so famously influenced Western culture, many non-Christians have at least some familiarity with “what Jesus taught.” They’ve heard that Jesus thinks we should do unto others as we would have them do to us. They’ve heard that we should judge not, lest we be judged. They’ve heard that we should turn the other cheek. All these famous phrases come from the Sermon on the Mount.
When non-Christians evaluate whether Christians are “living out the teachings of Jesus,” they’re testing whether Christians have truly embraced the Sermon on the Mount.
3. The Sermon on the Mount is a good litmus-test of the authenticity of our faith.
As the description of life in Jesus’ kingdom, the Sermon on the Mount is a helpful gauge for how much we’re being shaped by kingdom values or worldly values.
In his excellent sermons-turned-book, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones makes the point that if we read the Sermon on the Mount and think it is too hard or harsh — or that it describes a life that isn’t very appealing — then it’s likely that we aren’t truly followers of Jesus. But on the other hand, if we find it beautiful, appealing, and worth pursuing — even if hard to live — then there’s a much better chance we have the new life of the kingdom flowing through us.
4. The Sermon on the Mount challenges mere religion and gets to the heart of following Jesus.
In the back half of Jesus’ sermon, he indicates that there are many religious people who aren’t truly part of his kingdom. These folks pray, fast, and give to the poor. They even do many mighty works in Jesus’ name, but Jesus says he doesn’t know them.
Get this! These are not people who just attend church on Sundays and live like hell the rest of the week. These are folks who are probably as good or better at appearing Christian as you or me. But they aren’t part of Jesus’ kingdom.
They have not embraced the heart of Jesus’ kingdom — poverty of spirit, truly hungering for God, going the second mile in love, living before an Audience of One, and following a narrow way. How easy it is to go through the motions, doing the right things with the wrong heart, and missing the life of Jesus’ kingdom.
We all need the Sermon on the Mount. It’s life right-side-up. It’s the life our world needs to see. It’s the life that gives us the confidence that we truly know God. And it’s the life that gets to the heart of following Jesus.
Invite a friend, and join us Sunday.