I used to hear people say, ‘As long as you live by the Sermon on the Mount you’ll be OK.’ I suspect that people who said that had not read the sermon on the mount carefully – Jesus’ teaching was shocking to his listeners, and may be shocking in different ways to readers today.
Jesus’ first listeners would have been shocked by two things: the extremism of his teaching, and the authority Jesus assumed as he taught. His extremism took the law far beyond the literal meaning to the spirit behind it. The command against murder, for example, is shown to be not only against taking physical life, but also against wrong attitudes to fellow human beings. If we are angry with, insulting or despising someone we think less of them than we ought, and that is a form of dehumanising that is unacceptable to God their maker. (Ephesians 4:26 says anger against sinful actions is allowed for a short time. We should hate the sin but love the sinner.) Jesus tells us to do all we can to bring reconciliation. That is a greater priority than worship, for our relationship with God depends on our attitude to our neighbours. Shocking!
Jesus also shocked people by the authority with which he spoke. He quoted the rabbis, and even the Old Testament, and then said, ‘But I say to you…’ He was putting his word above that of all others. Who did he think he was?
Readers of the sermon on the mount today may well be shocked by the same things. But we are more likely than his first listeners to be shocked by his warnings. Jesus talked about hell and punishment more than anyone else in the Bible. His message was not, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be OK’, but, ‘Get real, your destiny depends on your choices in this life, don’t make easy assumptions.’ When he says such things he is not being unloving. If someone is in real danger it is not loving to leave them alone and reassure them that they’ll be all right. Jesus wants people to be saved and to have eternal life, but if they think the danger is exaggerated they won’t allow him to rescue them. Jesus had to be blunt. The relationship with God that he died to make possible is not an optional extra if we want eternal life.
Is this shocking to us?
1) Why was Jesus’ teaching so challenging? How do we react to it?
2) Can we live by the sermon on the mount?