It’s fair to say what is often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount has not always captured my imagination.
Indeed I got a bit bored with people taking snippets from it and having them as poster campaigns for their own agendas. Like the ‘Judge not lest ye be judged’ mob that defiantly went about telling others they couldn’t be judged as only God could judge them. Or the ‘golden rule’ crew who just went about thinking it was a decent ethos to go about saying do to others as you’d have done to you. I was brought up in a church was a bit of a stickler for getting the Word right.
Not that we got the Word right ourselves, after all our church hardly grew out, in, up or down – that’s not a slight, more of a general fact. In any case as a stickler for the Word it wasn’t always cool seeing people nick these bits and pieces without getting the whole thing. Not that I ever thought about getting the whole thing myself.
That changed in 2006 though. I’ve yet to write about how significant a year that was in my own spiritual development but it was a renaissance period for me in a number of ways. One of those ways was to go back to basics again checking what it was to love God – for who He revealed Himself to be in His Word rather than the faith of my father or the doctrine of the church in which I was brought/dragged up.
One of those fundamental building blocks was an appreciation all over again of the Beatitudes. You’ll know it’s something when I committed them all to memory and let it soak in me especially the fourth one that focussed on hungering and thirsting after righteousness. I got in major deep into that section of scripture and realised just how much I had to start from the beginning in cultivating a living relationship with God through His Son. As you can imagine it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. More on that in a future blog I hope.
That as you may have calculated was three years ago and since then I’ve had my fancy taken with other scriptures and theological concepts. In the background however has always been especially that Beatitude and the issues that spring from that, for example a definition of righteousness that doesn’t capitulate to having right this or right that – a bit too tautological for my liking.
Anyway along life’s journey since then I’ve come across a book or two on what I prefer to refer to as the Teaching on the Mount. (After all at the start it says he taught and at the end people were amazed at what he taught, it occurred to me that perhaps calling it a teaching might be a tad more accurate. Having said that it’s obviously later scholars who referred to it as a sermon just as some bright spark referred to the first part as Beatitudes.) As this year has proceeded I was drawn again to the theme of this tremendous teaching.
A friend of mine came across a dude who majored on the piece of scripture and that caught my interest and I began to be a lot more interested in seeing the Beatitude in its context. As love would have it then just as I was skirting round the edges the whole topic became the subject of our recent 13-week study. So now I get the chance to mix life, business and pleasure and share what I love about it as I study it and reflect on how I put it in practice and how it convicts of the areas that still are in need of better practice.
On reading it as regularly as I am at the moment the thing that catches my eye about this brilliant monologue is how Jesus is not just outlining and clarifying how the law was fulfilled when it was a part of our hearts turning us into the character of our Father, but how He Himself typifies all that we talk of. The point of worship is to show love for God and that is first expressed in the profession of faith in Jesus and here He outlines what that faith means for our heart’s attitude to God and to others.
Also as I read it, the thing becomes ever clearer to me in terms of how it should be read as one. Not just a collection of random thoughts by Jesus as to what would Kingdom life be like, but one coherent piece pointing people not just to the Kingdom or Kingdom living, but to the King Himself and how He stands as an example for us to follow. I’m drawn by the counter-intuitive and counter-cultural quality of this teaching. I’m drawn to how it challenges me to be light and salt not by conforming but by being distinctive and a clear beacon to others of who God is. I’m excited by the power of the secret life of prayer, fasting and giving and how that helps us to get priorities straight in not worrying about temporal worldly stuff, but getting caught up with the things that matter.
I love the areas that remain a bit mysterious – what the pearls and swine bit all about really? I’m sobered up pretty quickly by the definition of a hard way through a narrow gate. I’m particularly made sharp by the reality of professing Christians being called workers of lawlessness because Jesus does not know them as evident particularly from their fruits. I don’t just read, I envisage Jesus teaching it whilst using word imagery to get people’s heads grasping what He’s saying. I get caught up with the flow of the piece and am brought to a sombre yet stimulating close by the house analogy. I can easily see why people get carried away with it, it is a brilliant piece of work. As I explore further I hope to share some of the things that come to me and let it settle with you.
For His Name's Sake