Monday, July 4, 2011

Wise Men and Foolish Men – SOTM #24

There are actually very few complete sermons presented in the New Testament, perhaps none, really. But there are summaries that seem to give us a “complete” outline of a particular sermon. Such is the case with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, and those who heard him preach the Sermon on the Mount, expended considerable energy traveling from all over Israel and the surrounding regions to the site of the sermon. Since they labored up a mountain to find a topos, a place where it could be delivered, it is inconceivable that the sermon would last only the ten minutes or less that Matthew’s account would seem to indicate. Jesus “teaching” undoubtedly consumed much the day. If Matthew had recorded the full text of what he said, even fewer people would read it today than have read his short version over the years.

But Matthew’s account is complete enough to give us a clear picture of what Jesus taught about the kingdom of heaven in that sermon. And then Matthew gives us Jesus’ conclusion to the sermon: (emphases added)

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and winds blew and beat against that house, and if fell with a great crash.

In this brief conclusion, Jesus reveals his expectation of the “use” of the Sermon on the Mount. He emphasized the need for Orthopraxis, i.e. “right-doing.” The Pharisees, and the teachers of the Law were long on external practice, particularly public practice. The principles of the kingdom of heaven that Jesus has been expounding, if practiced, will have public (societal) implications and manifestations, but they are mostly “practices” of the heart. Jesus came to change the heart of man, knowing that a change of heart means a change of behavior. Someone has said that Orthodoxy (right-believing) leads to Orthopraxis.

However, it is not a given that right-believing will invariably lead to right-doing. A true change of heart still leaves one with choices to make – a life to live – a “house” to build. The house begun with enthusiasm and faith will not stand the wear and tear of storms and floods if it is not built upon a firm foundation. Jesus told his audience, “This – these words I’ve spoken to you – these principles of kingdom living – are the rock upon which you can build a house that will endure.”

Think of it; the things Jesus taught about the character of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven (the beatitudes), his or her mission in the world at large (salt and light), his or her relationship to God’s commandments (you have heard it said, but I say . . .), and his or her relationship to others in the kingdom (judge not) are all building blocks of a solid and lasting Christian life. They are the way that God intended mankind to live, and had he lived that way there would have been no “fall” and no need for a Savior. Sadly, however, fallen man, though he knows the way to live, finds he cannot consistently live that way. His best righteousness turns out to be inadequate to save him. God, in mercy, provided for that shortfall in righteousness through the redemptive death of Christ on the cross. That is the good news of the kingdom of God. All who place their faith in Christ can have the everlasting life that Adam jeopardized through his rebellion.

But the “bad news” of the kingdom of heaven is that we are still expected, despite the redemptive work of Christ on our behalf, to live by the principles of the kingdom of heaven taught in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. But the “good news” is – to continue the “bad news/good news” theme – that Jesus promised his disciples that he would send an ezer, a paraclete, a helper (the Holy Spirit) to remind them of the things he had taught them, and help them to be good citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

Only the foolish build on sand, yet there are those today who resist the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, which Jesus called the rock on which a lasting “house” can be built, viewing it as a dangerous path to a “bloodless” redemption – mere “works” – attempting to please God by being “nice people.” It is just as foolish, in my view, to believe that the house can be built without “right-doing” as it is to believe that “right-doing” alone can build it. Only those who have placed their whole faith in Christ’s redemptive life and death and resurrection will even begin to build the house. But those who imagine that having placed their faith in Christ’s redemptive work, exempts them from the need to build upon the rock of Jesus’ teachings, are building on sand – precious blood-stained sand for sure – but sand nonetheless, and Jesus said the storms will wash away what they have built.

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