An Explosion on the Mount
In my opinion, describing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, Chapters 5-7 as the “Sermon on the Mount” doesn’t do it justice at all. That implies some staid, dull ‘same old, same old” sermonette for Christianettes. Jesus’ download from heaven in this discourse was more like a bomb going off; a revolutionary battle-cry … insurrection talk … a clarion call to a new way of living. A Kingdom uprising. (Take the time to position it in its historical, geopolitical context and you’ll have your mind blown and eye-lids singed!) And it is as appropriately subversive today as it was back then!
After teaching that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20) and that we must love perfectly as God is perfect (Matthew 5:48)—which should cause an instant meltdown of my mental and emotional capacities if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve become numb to the Bible¹—Jesus then begins to unwrap the human condition and explain God’s radical makeover of all we thought we knew. He zeroes in on two issues of the human soul which was evidently the crucible of the matter in the first century just as it is today in the twenty-first (which just goes to show that the human condition remains much the same as it was; except we tend to think we’re a whole lot smarter now).
First target: our obsession in seeking man’s approval and affirmation. Jesus exhorted us to not live “before men, to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1), but to live for our Father’s affirmation and approval “in the secret place” (vv. 4, 6, 18). This does not mean that faith is to be privatised; as in “my faith is just between me and God”. No, Jesus had already established the importance of a public faith manifested in “good works” that “glorify our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Rather Jesus addresses the septic motives of the human heart that seduces us to perform for the applause of others. In contrast, our good works—those done to serve others and upgrade our planet—ought to be done from a heart seeking the applause of God alone.
Second target: our fixation with the pursuit of happiness and money that we’re convinced will buy it. Jesus then pokes at the core of our dependence on money and its disturbing, life-sapping consequences (Matthew 6:19-34). It is simply astounding that He positions money—“Mammon”—as the core rival to our allegiance to God (v. 24). But then again, even a casual glance at what makes the world go around confirms His diagnosis.
Before revealing how we can resign from this rat-race and follow His higher, New Way; Jesus shares the inevitable outcomes of such a lifestyle: life-throttling anxiety and soul-destroying stress (Matthew 6:25-34). Jesus compares the care-free, untroubled birds and flowers to the obsessive, fixated “pagans” who “run after all these things” (v. 32 NIV)—literally, making their personal needs their primary pursuit. (Can you get a better description of the consumerist society of our day?).
Jesus’ antidote? Instead of pursuing our personal needs as the essence of life, we ought to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). We are to position the King at the centre of our being and define life around that Divine Centre. He is our one and only Priority; all of life must find its orbit around Him. (That is, if we truly want to resign from the rat-race). Unless we make Him our central focus, life will be consistently out of focus. What holds this manifesto for life in place? Trust! Jesus explained: “your heavenly Father knows what you need” (v. 32). Resting in this knowledge, we are to live for the smile of God alone; knowing this will encourage more smiles in the world around us.
¹Yes, I realise these statements thrust us into a revelation of our need for His enabling; and in so doing, we find the astonishing power of the Spirit to live a new way of life. That is, they’re not intended to drive us into a striving, works-mentality. Sadly though, I do have to work hard at shaking the familiarity-rust from statements like these. How about you? Only when we come as a child do we unpack Kingdom truth.