We continue this week our walk through the Sermon on the Mount because it is Jesus’ first and most comprehensive explanation to the people of his day of the meaning of His Mission. And this is important for us because if God and His Son define believing in Jesus as the one prerequisite to be saved, to attain eternal life, then we have to understand what Jesus is asking us to believe.
2_1 Mission Possible
I think that the Sermon on the Mount laid it all out in a way that can be understood by all of us. You don’t have to be a theologian, you don’t have to be a genius, you certainly don’t have to be a holy and perfect person to understand what Jesus is saying. After all, how many of those were there in his audience? And if that is true then I also believe that you don’t have to be any of those exceptional people to take what Jesus is saying seriously. He is speaking in a language all of us can understand; and when he is asking us to act in a given way, I believe all of us can do it. Otherwise, why tell us?
Yes, there are times in the gospel when Jesus’ standard appears to be more than a man can bear; and I’d like to explore those in detail when we get to them. But I want to tell you in advance that even in those cases the disciples fully understood what He was requiring. They balked, not because it was truly impossible but because He seemed to be asking them to go way farther than anyone had ever told them was required. I am thinking in particular of the encounter with the rich young ruler.
The rich young ruler
This young man comes up to Jesus and asks him, “Good Teacher, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus’ reaction is: “Why do you call me good? You know there is only One who alone is good.” Then He says, “What does the Law say, how do you read it?” And the young man goes through the commandments. Then Jesus says, “OK, there you have it. Do this and you shall live.” And the young man says: “But I have kept all these commandments since I was a child… What am I missing?”
What a question! Have you ever felt that way? You know you are missing something but can’t quite put your finger on it. That’s what we call a teachable moment, isn’t it? And in the gospel of Mark it says that Jesus looked at this young man and loved him. And out of that love, Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, sell all you have, give to the poor, and follow me”.
If you have read the story you know the young man went away disappointed because he was very rich. And Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And the disciples are shocked, thinking, ‘well then who can be saved?’
You see their viewpoint? To them, the rich have the easy life. No stumbling blocks. No enemies to hold them back. No bad fortune. They have no reason to hold any grudges against God. They live happy lives. Therefore, accepting God should be easy. But, clearly, it’s not. Therefore, the disciples have gotten the picture wrong. It is from within that wrong worldview that they think, ‘it’s impossible!’ They are stuck in a box of their own making and they can’t think outside the box. So, Jesus agrees with them, tongue in cheek. He does this in other occasions. He agrees with them and even exaggerates their viewpoint in order to see if they can think their way out of their box. He says, “it’d be easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved.” And they frankly think it is impossible, and they say it out loud; so, Jesus tells them it is possible with God.
You see, they had indeed forgotten one factor in the whole discussion. One of the things that Jesus has come to teach us is that faith leads us to a relationship with God. If it is a relationship, then isn’t it possible that God would be willing to give us a hand? So, was it really impossible? Was it really impossible for that rich young man to give up everything to follow Jesus?
Before you answer, watch carefully what we are getting hung up on. Making the choice to do it or not do it was absolutely possible for that young man. Neither choice is harder than the other. Try it: Say ‘Yes’. Now say ‘No.’ What makes one choice harder is when we stop and think through all the consequences. IF I give it all up, I will no longer have my fancy house, all my fancy friends, all the free time to enjoy myself… It is not the choice that is difficult, it is living up to it that is difficult. BUT there’s where God comes in.
I don’t think it is God’s place to help me or force me to make the right choice. But when we make the right choice, for the right reason, we find that we have placed ourselves inside the Kingdom of God. And in there, within that Kingdom there is plenty of supernatural power to sustain us through whatever consequences are going to come our way.
Every step is a choice within our grasp
This is why Jesus started His whole message by declaring that he had brought the Kingdom of God down among us. The Kingdom of God is within our grasp. Yes, it is going to take Repentance – that is, changing the wrong ways we have been living – but it is still within our grasp. We get to choose. We can choose.
That’s the way I like to look at this Sermon on the Mount. The bottom line is, as he outlined with the beatitudes up front, which reality do you want to live in? Do you want to live in this world that eventually just sucks our life out of us OR do you want to live in the Kingdom of God now and for all eternity? Assuming we want the Kingdom, Jesus started by enumerating for us the requirements placed on us as children of the Kingdom.
Before laying any of those rules out, He said, ‘I am not here to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. What you have known is right and wrong since the very beginning, is still right and wrong now; and it will be so till the end of the age. In fact, if you want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven you have to be more righteous than the Pharisees.’ What does that requirement mean? The Pharisees – the religious leaders of the day – knew the Law forwards and backwards. But if you’ve read the story you know they didn’t really keep it, not in their hearts… So the first requirement Jesus puts on His listeners is this: ‘You can do better than that.’
Then He talked about how I am required to treat others. I am required to: (a) Live my life with the good and salvation of my neighbor in mind. That’s when He talked about the danger of anger. (b) Live my life in integrity: that means I do the right thing at all times, regardless of who is watching because God always is. That’s when He said that looking at a woman lustfully is as bad as adultery. And adultery is breaking a commitment I made to my wife. (c) And another way to look at integrity is this: It means keeping all commitments I make, even if I don’t feel like it. For this same reason He mentions divorce; another breaking of a commitment.
That took us through Matthew 5:37. Those are the choices that Jesus is telling me that I am required to make. Remember, they are not impossible to make. The consequences may be hard; but that’s why you make the choice: to land inside the Kingdom of Heaven where God IS.