As we continue our sermon series “From the Manger to the Cross”, looking at the story of Jesus’ life, we come to one of Jesus’ most famous speeches, maybe his most famous speech. The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus goes up onto a mountainside and talks to all the assembled people.
What we read today is not, technically, the Sermon on the Mount. That’s in Matthew. What we read is often called the sermon on the plain. The ideas and themes are very similar. Some people believe that Jesus probably gave similar messages more than once. Matthew set down the version from the mountain, Luke set down the one from the plain. We went with the version from Luke simply the version in Matthew runs for three chapters, and there would not have been time to read it all.
Also, we’re not going to discuss everything Jesus said in this message, because there’s just too much. That would be a good sermon series, actually, and we’ll probably do that sometime. For today, though, we’re going to do kind of an overview.
Jesus starts out with what are called the beatitudes. These are, as you heard, blessings for certain groups of people. And it’s obvious that the way Jesus looks at blessings is different from the way you and I usually look at them.
When you think of something that’s a blessing, what do you think of? Your children or grandchildren, maybe. Your spouse, if you have one. Enough to eat. Rain when we need it. Some of us consider ourselves blessed to live in this country, and to live in this beautiful part of it. Good friends can be a blessing.
In other words, when we think of blessings, we think of things that make us happy. We think of things that make our lives on earth go well. Those are what we think of as blessings.
That’s clearly not how Jesus looks at blessings. Look at the people Jesus calls blessed. The poor. The hungry. Those who weep. Those who are hated and rejected.
We would not consider those people blessed, would we? The people I’ve known who were poor, or hungry, or sad, or hated and rejected, do not seem to consider themselves blessed, either. So what is Jesus talking about?
And look at who Jesus says are not blessed. He says “woe” to the rich, to those who are well-fed, to those who laugh, to those who people speak well of.
Those are the people most of us would like to be more like, right? We may say we don’t want to be rich, but I doubt that there are very many of us who would turn down more money. A lot of us, definitely including me, eat more than we should. You know I love to laugh. And we all like people to speak well of us. Those are the people that most of us would consider to be blessed. And yet, Jesus has no blessing for them at all. In fact, in regard to those people, Jesus says “woe to you”.
Jesus gives a reason for it, too. He says that the people whom he says are blessed--the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated and rejected--will rejoice and receive their reward in heaven, because they’re being treated the way the prophets were. And he says the people he’s has proclaimed woe to--the rich, the well-fed, those who laugh, those who are spoken well of--will have all that turned around on them, and will find out what’s it’s like to have all that taken away, because they’re being treated on earth the way the false prophets were.
The beatitudes are probably one of the best-loved parts of the Bible. And yet, if we really look at them and think about what they say, they make us pretty uncomfortable. We wonder what we’re supposed to do with them. Are we supposed to try to become poor and hungry and sad and hated, just so we can have blessings in heaven? That does not make any sense to us. But what should we do? How should we react to this?
I think the key to it might be in the next phrase. Jesus says, “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” And then his next words are, “But to you who are listening, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
We always skip right to the “Love your enemies” part, and that’s obviously really important. But it’s the part right before that that I want to talk about right now. Jesus says that he is saying these things “to you who are listening”.
I think what Jesus is saying is that those people he pronounced woe to--the rich, the well-fed, those who laugh, those who are spoken well of--are most likely not listening to anything he says anyway. They don’t think they need to. They have everything they want and everything they need. And if they don’t, they think they know how to get it. They’re not paying attention to Jesus. They don’t think they need Jesus. They don’t think they need God. They think they can do it all themselves.
And on earth, maybe they can. But not in heaven. All this stuff they’ve accomplished on earth is not going to mean anything in heaven. That’s why Jesus proclaims woe to them. They think they have it all, and yet they’re missing the most important thing. They’re missing faith in Jesus. And because they’re missing that, they’re missing salvation. And the saddest thing of all is that they don’t even know they’re missing it.
The people Jesus gave blessings to--the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated--those are the ones who are listening to Jesus. In fact, they’re hanging on every word. Because they know they need him. They know they need what Jesus has to offer. They know they cannot get through life without it. They know they need unconditional love and salvation. And they know they need to get it from Jesus, because there’s absolutely no other place, at least on earth, that they can get it from.
So where does that leave you? And where does the leave me? Are we hanging on every word Jesus says? Do we know that we need what Jesus has to offer? Or do we think we can make it on our own, without any help?
Well, we’re all in church today. That’s a start. But it’s only a start. After all, in Jesus’ day, a lot of rich people who were well thought of went to the synagogue regularly. But they did not let anything said there impact their lives. They came, they stayed for an hour--or however long synagogue took back then--and they went home. They were there, but they were not listening to anything. They certainly were not going to let the words of God change their lives in any significant way.
We’re here. But are we listening? Are we letting the words said here impact our lives? And I don’t mean my words. I mean Jesus’ words. You can think whatever you like of my words. Jesus’ words are the ones we need to pay attention to.
We all heard Jesus’ words. We’ve heard them before. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. Do to others, not as they do to you, but as you would like them to do to you. Do not judge. Do not condemn. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. Don’t focus on a speck in someone else’s eye when there’s a plank in your own.
Most of us have heard those words before. But have we listened? Are we listening now? Are we doing what Jesus told us to do? If not, are we going to? Are we going to let the words of Jesus change our lives? Or are we just going to come here, stay for an hour, and go home?
As I said, we may love the beatitudes in theory. We may love the Sermon on the Mount in theory. But when we really think about what Jesus said, it makes us pretty uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable, too.
The easy thing to do will be for us to sit here until the end of the service, shake hands, and then leave and go on about our business. The easy thing to do will be to let Jesus’ words bounce off of us and keep living our lives the way we’ve been living them. It will be easy for me to do that, too. That will be the easy way. But it won’t be the way that leads to God’s blessings.
Jesus has a blessing for people who they know they need him. He has a blessing for people who know they need what Jesus has to offer. He has a blessing for people who know they cannot get through life without him. Jesus has a blessing for those who know they need unconditional love and salvation, and who know they need to get it from Jesus, because there’s absolutely no other place they can get it from.
If we are those people, Jesus will bless our lives. He may or may not give us what we normally think of as a blessing. But he will bless us with eternal life.