Summary: A Palm Sunday sermon built from Jesus' teachings at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.
We have spent the last several weeks, through our Lenten journey, listening to Jesus’ words as he preaches the Sermon on the Mount. This morning, as we observe Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we come to the final portion of his great sermon. So as we hear these closing remarks from Jesus this morning, our task is to figure out how this all fits together; how Jesus’ preaching on the mountainside relates to his final march to the cross, and where we stand in the midst of this great kingdom which Jesus established through his life, death, and resurrection.
As we have studied Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount over the past several weeks, we’ve heard Jesus advising us on the ways of the kingdom. We’ve talked about what it truly means to be blessed and to share that blessedness as we live as salt and light in the world. We’ve considered the call to perfection and the radical love that requires, and the humble practices that keep us focused on the Lord of our lives. Then, last week, we spent some time considering what it would mean to put our full faith in God and let go of the worry that so often governs our lives. Today, we come to the sweeping conclusion of Jesus’ sermon. And there’s a lot going on here; warnings against judging others, more instruction on how we should pray and seek God in our lives, and a challenge about the true nature of faith, which extends beyond just empty words calling upon the Lord.
Indeed, this is a lot to take in, and as we consider the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I want to do so in light of events that happened on this week roughly 1,980 years ago. It was on this very day so long ago, that the gospels tell us Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. This was the beginning of the end of his ministry. For three years, he had traveled all over the Galilean countryside. He had devoted himself to teaching about God’s Kingdom and offering a glimpse of it through healing, forgiving, and serving. He had touched people with the good news of God’s love, and had given them renewed hope that God was yet upholding his promises. And now those people are praising Jesus, the Son of David. As he entered Jerusalem, he was hailed as King and treated as royalty, with people spreading palm branches, and even their own clothes, before him.
But this is where Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount become so crucial. Those people who had watched Jesus’ ministry unfold, some of whom may have even heard him as he preached on the mountainside; those people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with great fanfare…these are the same people who in just a few days will be judging Jesus. But they don’t just judge him, they also condemn him! And yet, here in the ending of his great sermon, Jesus could not be clearer, “Do not judge.” he says. “Don’t worry about the speck in your neighbor’s eye until you have taken care of the plank in your own eye.”
I think Jesus understood that humans would judge one another. He saw how we set ourselves up as moral guardians and critics of one another. When Jesus tells us not to judge, I don’t think he means that we shouldn’t have high standards of behavior for ourselves and our world, but that the temptation to look down on others for their moral failings is itself a temptation to play god, and thus to lose touch with the true Lord of our lives. And I also think Jesus knew he would fall victim to human judgment in the vilest way. But therein lies both the mystery and the greatness of what happened on this week so long ago; Jesus takes human sin and self-righteousness, he exposes them for what they are, he deals with them in a violent death on the cross, and yet allows mercy to triumph over all! But that mercy is empty if we continue to act like we are the supreme judge, if we refuse to acknowledge God for who he is, the merciful judge of all. And how different would our lives be if we lived without rendering judgment on others and instead made our sole focus bearing witness to God’s mercy?
Ultimately, that’s what this whole sermon has been about; the transformation that occurs in our lives because we follow Jesus, because we imitate his love and his mercy, because we bear witness to all that he is and does. Being a disciple, being a Christian means far more than simply affirming that Jesus is a great prophet or teacher. Being a believer means that we do more than just call Jesus “Lord.” Being a Christian means that Jesus really is the Lord of our lives!