In years past I’ve taught the Sermon on the Mount as part of an applied Christianity course at a small Baptist college. My class of twenty students prayed, read, and talked about what these words mean for us today. Was Jesus serious? Did he really mean everything he said? During the course I asked my young friends, “How many of you think it’s possible to fulfill Jesus’s teaching in your everyday lives?” Only one person out of twenty raised a hand. One.
Does this strike you as a problem?
Why would 19 out of 20 students invest a semester studying a sermon they had no hope of fulfilling? One student suggested, "He taught the Sermon on the Mount so that we would know we were sinners--we can't live up to it?" Really? The greatest Teacher in the history of the world shared his greatest sermon--just to show us that we're pathetic losers?
The Sermon on the Mount has been regarded as the essence of the Lord’s teaching. It’s been called the constitution of the Kingdom of God. But like many famous Bible passages, or much like our worship, we honor the ideal and then return to the “real world.” We leave His words behind. Granted, these are challenging words from Jesus. Here's just a small sampling, all from Matthew 5, 6, and 7--the Sermon on the Mount:
- Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (5:19)
- I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. (5:22)
- Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (5:48)
- Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. (6:25)
- For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks find; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (7:8)
- Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (7:21)
Why would Jesus teach the impossible?
The Sermon on the Mount brings this question into sharp focus, but it applies to everything he said and did--why would Jesus ask the impossible of us? If he is the Master of Living, would he demand of us what we cannot give? It’s hard to imagine Jesus is the kind of person who would say “be warm and filled” to a beggar without helping the poor man. Would he do the same thing to those who love and follow him? Why would we think of Jesus as commanding the impossible of his disciples? As students of Jesus, our answer makes all the difference.
I invite you to share your answer in the comments section--I'm eager to read your opinion.