Matthew 5. The Sermon on the Mount has been described as the greatest sermon ever preached. Amongst other things it cuts quickly through to our heart attitude to God and not just our behaviour, which may look correct and tick all the legal boxes. Jesus knew the frailty (pride/arrogance/deceitfulness) of the human heart and taught His disciples to live in a way that moved radically away from the Jewish culture of the day. The same radicalness away from contemporary culture is still called for today for those who name themselves Christians.
On the surface much of Jesus’s teaching appears implausible. ‘Be very glad when you are mocked, insulted, lied about and persecuted because you are my followers.’ (verse 12) ‘Do not resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.’ (verse 39) ‘Love your enemies.’ (verse 44) These instructions go against our very being, our self worth and all that our surrounding cultures assert. Is not ‘Stand up for yourself’ the pervading cry?
But that is to miss the whole point, isn’t it? The sermon opens with ‘God blesses those who are poor (in spirit) and realize their need for him, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.’ When we understand, by God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds, that we need Jesus to forgive our sins and to secure our place in heaven, we are given insight into a whole new world. We recognise our complete dependence on Jesus for forgiveness, but we also come to realise that if we are to live in the way that He teaches here, we need to be completely dependent on Him. We simply cannot do it ourselves. Left to ourselves we will not want to live this way, no matter how much we say we love Jesus. So how can we follow Jesus’s teaching?
John 15:4—5 clarifies it beautifully. ‘Remain in me and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing’. (NLT)
Prayer: Lord, help us to remain in You so that we can follow Your teaching, and be Your light in this fallen world.