Summary: What did Jesus mean when He spoke the words of the Sermon on the Mount? He obviously had something in mind because His words show us that it is simply impossible to live the life He commanded us to live!
One of the hardest things for us to do is to reconcile some of the more difficult passages of the bible. Anybody who reads this great sermon will be bemused as they seek to establish a doctrine of salvation by faith alone when they see so much instruction concerning right living. If Paul could say that salvation was so easily acquired how is it that Jesus, here, makes it so difficult.
Firstly, we have to contextualize this message. Jesus was teaching this to His disciples three and a half years before the cross. The people of God were still under law and therefore had to keep the law in order to maintain any sort of fellowship with God. At that time there was no being born-again.
Secondly, we need to see the difference between what would get a person saved by their own righteousness, and what gets us saved when we trust in the righteousness of Jesus. For a person to earn his way to heaven he would have to have lived an exemplary life. He would never have looked at a woman with lust, never have considered an ill-thought towards his brother, forgiven all his enemies, never told a lie and so on and so forth!
Jesus, Himself, said it in Matt 5:18 “For truly I say to you, Till the heaven and the earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall in any way pass from the Law until all is fulfilled.” So, for the believer of that period perfection was required. But Jesus also said, Matt 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill.”
My salvation has absolutely nothing to do with my behaviour – good or bad! My bad behaviour got me into trouble in the first place; my good behaviour is as dirty rags. But, you may say, surely that means that I can do all kinds of wrong things and still get to heaven. Well, isn’t that the case anyway? Look at the kind of person the Lord saved and used throughout the scripture. There is barely a half-decent one among them.
Noah – a drunkard.
Abraham – a liar.
Isaac – also a liar.
Jacob – oh, dear… what a liar!
Judah – incestuous adulterer.
Moses - murderer.
David – adulterer, liar, couldn’t control his kids, murderer.
Saul of Tarsus – self-righteous, pompous prig who persecuted God’s church; the chief of sinners.
But what else were these men?
Noah – saviour of mankind who found grace!
Abraham – the Father of the faithful.
Isaac – God chose to call himself The God of Abraham and Isaac.
Jacob – Israel.
Judah – the tribal chief from which the Messiah was born.
Moses – The Servant of God.
David – A man after God’s own heart.
Paul – the Apostle to the Gentiles and writer of the bulk of the New Testament.
It is almost hysterical how we constantly pick on Peter because of his weakness and cowardice. He was guilty of talking too much and assuming that when push came to shove he would have the strength to pull through. Of course, he failed abysmally. However, Peter was a decent man compared to many of the people God chose to use to bring salvation into the world. But, of course, sin is sin, and Peter was an abject failure as all of us are. As Paul would say, “There is none righteous, no, not one:” (Rom 3:10)
But, we know we need a Saviour, because we were all born in sin. It is what happens after we are saved which seems to worry so many of us. And so many of us will take our understanding of this from the Sermon on the Mount because it is the actual words of Jesus. However, we all seem to take “pick and mix” from it. We are happy to say we must not do certain things, but I have never found a half-sensible person who honestly believes everything in the Sermon. If they did they would be preaching very differently. Let me give you some examples:
Jesus said, Matt 7:19 “Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” This proves to them that a person who got saved, but is then unfruitful, or sins on a habitual basis, is going to hell. But Jesus also said, Matt 5:29 “And if your right eye offends you, pluck it out and throw it from you. For it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be thrown into hell.” He also talked of cutting off hands. No sane Christian preaches this. But surely if Jesus meant one thing He also meant the other. It’s baffling to some of us that when Jesus was being figurative – the tree- we are to take it literally, but when he was speaking literally – the eye, the hand – we are to take it figuratively. Surely, Jesus was stricter than any Ayatollah! Although, he did say that these injuries were to be self inflicted rather than judicially administered.