I had mentioned some time ago that, after reading a good post from Joe Carter on how to be mastered by the Bible, I had begun reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Carter commended a method of repetition where you read the same passage of Scripture twenty times. I tried that with Jesus’ sermon.
It was a rich experience and I found that Jesus’ most famous talk continued to yield insights and challenges reading after reading. I got the sense I could have profitably read it twenty more times. Reading it over and over again helped me – if this makes sense to you – to break through my familiarity with the text and to drive down deeper into it. It helped me to transcend, “Yes, yes, I know that; I’ve heard it all my life.”
Here are some of the things that struck me:
- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (5:6)This sentence has provided no end of comfort for me. It is an understatement to say that I am not righteous, but Jesus’ comment here provides the assurance that the desire for righteousness will find its fulfillment. I am hungry and Jesus says I shall be satisfied. I find this encouraging.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” (5:13a)
A friend of mine has been struck by the emphasis in the Old and New Testaments on “forty days.” Accordingly 17 days ago he began a 40 day journey of diligently and daily recording his thoughts in his journal. I feel that I have lost some of my saltiness – that I have gotten better at religious stuff than at being a Christian – a Jesus’ follower. I want more of Him and to be more Christocentric. I am tired of superficialities and I feel that there are too many superficial thoughts and moments in my life.
And so I asked my friend if I might join him for the rest of his forty day journey and then continue when he’s done. I also asked Beth if she would do the same and she agreed.
I’m looking for more saltiness and all that really means is that I am looking for more knowledge (propositional and transpropositional) of Him.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (5:14-16)
I find the emphasis on good deeds here instructive. I am just now listening to the audio of Tim Keller‘s talks at the recent EMA Conference in Great Britain. There he talks about how social relief work and evangelism go hand-in-hand. Jesus seems to command these kinds of good deeds here.
“Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (emphasis mine, 5:19, 20).
I don’t think that you can say that this righteousness is our positional legal righteousness in Christ. The context here reminds me of Heb 12:14 which reads “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14, ESV, emphasis mine) where it seems clear from the context that holiness is experiential holiness.This is what God wants. He has called us to this. Our own good works cannot save us; He has done that by Christ’s blood but he wants us to be holy. I know this is an unfashionable way to talk but that doesn’t vitiate the truth of what God desires.
I’ll post more on Christ’s sermon later.