Wednesday, April 13, 2016

"The Sermon on the Mount"

INSIGHT #3 APRIL 16, 2016
Second Quarter 2016 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"The Sermon on the Mount"
April 16, 2016

The Jewish church of Christ's day was in some respects like churches today: formal on the outside, hollow on the inside.

"The rabbis counted their righteousness a passport to heaven; but Jesus declared it to be insufficient and unworthy. External ceremonies and a theoretical knowledge of truth constituted Pharisaical righteousness. The rabbis claimed to be holy through their own efforts in keeping the law; but their works had divorced righteousness from religion. While they were punctilious in ritual observances, their lives were immoral and debased. Their so-called righteousness could never enter the kingdom of heaven" DA 309

People had come to assume that spiritual leaders were those who wore important-looking clothes, attended church services regularly, kept themselves away from defiling sinners, judged others to be worse than themselves, and were scrupulous about observing rituals.

But when Jesus came along, something different drew them to Him.

"Multitudes who were not interested in the harangues of the rabbis were attracted by His teaching. They could understand His words, and their hearts were warmed and comforted. He spoke of God, not as an avenging judge, but as a tender father, and He revealed the image of God as mirrored in Himself. His words were like balm to the wounded spirit. Both by His words and by His works of mercy He was breaking the oppressive power of the old traditions and man-made commandments, and presenting the love of God in its exhaustless fullness" DA 204.

In response to Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount, "The people were astonished at His teaching" Matthew 7:29.

What was it that attracted people to Jesus? Was it His money? His lovely home? His fashionable clothes? Was it His position? His good looks? Did He move in the right circles? These are all things the unconverted heart seeks after. But Jesus, though infinite in wealth, power, and position, had set these things aside to come to earth "as a root out of dry ground." He  had "no form or comeliness" and when we saw Him there was "no beauty that we should desire Him" (Isaiah 53, excerpts).

So why were people drawn to Jesus? Why did thousands gather on the grassy mountainside overlooking the Sea of Galilee that day to hear Jesus unfold the true principles of His law? Because of His love! They could see it. They could feel it.

He revealed the truth that the law reaches beyond mere externals to the deepest motives: Anger cloaks murder. Adultery hides in lustful desire. Self-aggrandizement motivates apparent good deeds. Worry for temporal needs (food, shelter, clothing) masks a lack of trust. An unforgiving spirit divides brothers and friends.

Have you ever considered which of Jesus' sayings that day was the hardest to bear? I think it might have been this:

"I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

"For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? . . . And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?" (Matthew 5:44-47, excerpts).

In this passage Jesus revealed the universal nature of His love for man. He didn't come to help only the good people, the clean people, or the respectable people. He came to bring life, hope, and blessing to all men. More than that, He made it possible for His image of love to be restored in man.

"The greatest deception of the human mind in Christ's day was that a mere assent to the truth constitutes righteousness. In all human experience a theoretical knowledge of the truth has been proved to be insufficient for the saving of the soul. It does not bring forth the fruits of righteousness. A jealous regard for what is termed theological truth often accompanies a hatred of genuine truth as made manifest in life." DA 309

The truth is, it isn't natural to love or bless our enemies. It's always easier to the natural heart to discuss the gospel than to live it. I experienced this heart-head struggle myself last week when a church member brought a homeless young woman to prayer meeting. Her hair was matted, her clothes torn and stained. A ring dangled from her nose. She smelled of filth and marijuana. During the meeting I had conflicting thoughts in mind. Should I offer to take her home? Might someone else provide for her needs? Was she armed? But superseding these questions was the realization that this girl could be my daughter. I thought of how much Jesus loved her and how He had left heaven to save her.

So after the service ended I invited her to come home with me and stay the night. She accepted the invitation. We loaded her 60 lb. backpack and beautiful collie dog into my van and headed home. That evening after she showered and while I washed all her clothes and sleeping bag, we sat in the living room by the fire and she told her story. It was a sad story indeed, and my heart yearned for her to know Jesus. She explained the reason she smokes pot is to fill an emotional need. I told her that the only One who can really satisfy the longing in her heart is Jesus. I told her how much He loves her. The next morning at breakfast she said she wanted to be dropped off at the park to meet a friend. She has been homeless for three years now and the lifestyle is a familiar one and the friendships she has made in this circle run deep.

How many millions of people are out there like this young lady, searching for love, for hope, for freedom? Truly the gospel needs to do a deeper work in our hearts. Am I willing to be inconvenienced for Christ to win a soul for Him (or at least try)? When I think of what Jesus did in leaving heaven to come to this world, He definitely went out of His comfort zone not because He enjoyed living in this world of sin -- it was torture to Him -- but because of love for those whom He came to save -- Pharisees, sinners, the wealthy and the poor in spirit.

~Patti Guthrie