Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

by Phillip A. Ross
First Edition, 325 pages.

From the Introduction

What difference does Jesus make? Did His teaching and ministry change everything? Or did Jesus’ teaching simply uphold the Old Testament law without changing a jot or a tittle, as He is sometimes understood to have said in Matthew 5:18? Do the Ten Commandments still stand today? Or did Jesus change them? The question is so huge and important that there must be a clear biblical answer. If you know of a clear answer about this, please point me to it. Read more»

Leave a Reply

Rock Mountain Creed

Price: $14.50
ISBN: 978-0-9820385-8-1
Publisher: Pilgrim Platform
Copyright: ©2011

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

by Phillip A. Ross
First Edition, 325 pages.

From the Introduction

What difference does Jesus make? Did His teaching and ministry change everything? Or did Jesus’ teaching simply uphold the Old Testament law without changing a jot or a tittle, as He is sometimes understood to have said in Matthew 5:18? Do the Ten Commandments still stand today? Or did Jesus change them? The question is so huge and important that there must be a clear biblical answer. If you know of a clear answer about this, please point me to it.

Most Christians believe that the Ten Commandments are still in force, as do I. And yet, if they are still in force why do Christians not worship on Saturday, the Sabbath?

“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:9-11).

The seventh day is Saturday. But does a change of day mean that the Fourth Commandment is no longer in effect? Not at all! But it does mean that something has changed, that Christ brought a very important change to God’s law, at least to part of it.

My intention here is not to answer the Sabbath question in full, but to simply use it as an example that points out that the birth, life, ministry, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has brought an important change to the world—the whole world. Suffice it to say here as a way to tickle your curiosity that Christians worship on the Eighth Day.¹

If you are not familiar with the Eighth Day or with God’s eternal Sabbath, your own lack of familiarity should suggest to you that something in your life, in your Christian education and your church is amiss. If God said that the Ten Commandments are eternal, and He did, and if Jesus Christ changed something so fundamental and essential as the day of worship, which He did, then Christians everywhere should understand and be able to explain it. But in my experience, this is not the case. I doubt that one in a thousand Christians could provide a rational explanation about the change of Sabbath worship.

But I don’t want to get stuck on the Sabbath. There is much more to this issue than the Sabbath. What about the First Commandment and religious toleration? What about the Second Commandment and icons? Does that include the various trinkets that can be found in Christian bookstores? What about the Third Commandment and movies, television, CDs and DVDs? Should Christians expose themselves and their children to the trash that passes for entertainment today? Where do children learn to honor their parents today? At school? Think again! What about adultery, theft, bearing false witness, not to mention covetousness? Not a recent high school graduate in ten thousand will have any idea about what I’m talking about.

Providing real answers for these questions may mean the difference between survival and destruction. Have I overstated the issue? I don’t think so. And yet, my intention here is not to answer all of these questions. A lot of people write books in order to provide answers because readers like to have answers. Questions are harder. Questions make people think. Questions make people uncomfortable.

After thirty years in Christian ministry I’m convinced that the Bible itself does not simply provide answers. The Bible asks questions that confound us and our most qualified scholars, who spend lifetimes trying to untie the intellectual knots provided by other scholars so that they can tie their knots in different and noteworthy ways. But, God did not simply give the Bible to scholars. He has given it to His church, to His people, to those who are inhabited by His Holy Spirit. And in fact it is the Holy Spirit through regeneration who answers the questions that the Bible asks.

The power and presence of the Holy Spirit through personal regeneration is absolutely essential to the correct, orthodox understanding of Scripture. The whole point of the Bible is to invite or in some cases drive people to the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is the foundation of Christian faith. God Himself must—and will—answer the questions He poses in His Word. My answers cannot satisfy you, nor will yours satisfy me. We must each hear directly from God Himself. Have I overstated the case? I don’t think so, but I do think that hearing from God is nothing like what people imagine it to be. It is not magical or mystical, but is actually quite ordinary. At least God intends it to be quite ordinary.

It is, however, a lot of work. God needs it to be that way because there is a lot to understand. The world is not as simple as our ancestors thought. I’m not suggesting that previous generations of Christians were wrong. They were not! But their answers are not our answers, and inasmuch as we try to rely on their answers to the deep biblical questions, we will continue to find those answers to be inadequate to the complexities of our contemporary world. It has always been this way. Every person and every generation needs, not to reinvent Christianity, but to understand it for themselves.

Today we find that the ineffectiveness of the church in our world is tied to our own regurgitation of old answers. The answers themselves don’t change, but our languages and circumstances change all the time—and faster every year! It is not that we need new Christian answers, but that we need renewed hearts and minds to engage God’s answers through regeneration.

All this having been said, we must also understand that God does not forbid nor discount scholarship. In fact, it can be a great help. But scholarship is not a substitute for regeneration. However, it is a relatively common understanding among Christians that God’s enemies will often attempt to substitute scholarship for regeneration, especially among church leaders. Indeed, seminary students are all too often easily coaxed to do exactly this. I know because I was one. Seminaries are too often more faithful to academics than they are to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I say this with great fear and trepidation because no seminary staff person would ever suggest such a thing of their seminary, though they might of others. The point of this observation is not to devolve into name calling and mud slinging, but to call all Christians to a renewed self-evaluation in the light of Christ by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and according to Scripture. The healing and unity that Christ offers is not something that we find, it is something that we give.

We can—and must—help one another find biblical answers for our world’s problems. That’s how God’s Holy Spirit works. He doesn’t simply give you and me answers privately. He gives them publicly. God interacts with Himself through our engagement of His Word (the Bible) by the power of the Holy Spirit and in the light of Jesus Christ. Christ’s church is a corporate thing, and necessarily so. But the goal is not to have a grand systematic or biblical theology that defeats all comers. The goal is discussion in the midst of relationship, first with Christ and then with one another.

God’s intent in Scripture is to change our minds, and to continue that change all our lives. God intends for us to outgrow our childish and immature beliefs and ways. And that growth, that sanctification, does not end in this life, which means that we are always growing, always learning and always changing. But the changes that we are to undergo are not a kind of flip-flopping about what we believe. Rather, Christian growth is always a matter of growing deeper in faithfulness. Indeed, Peter assures us that the revelation of God in Christ is progressive, that it will continue to unfold in both depth and breadth over time—eternally. The revelation of God in Christ will continue to develop over time and in history because Christians will continue to grow and mature, and that growth and maturity will continue to unfold the depth and richness of God’s blessings spiritually, personally, corporately, scientifically and technologically.²

In the following pages I have endeavored to provide a faithful description of the vision provided by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew for His followers. Much of the change in perspective regarding God’s law has come from the biblical implications regarding the reality of Jesus’ fulfillment of the law that was necessary for the integrity of His self-sacrifice on the cross has come from Paul’s letters. Paul understood the implications well because he had spent a lifetime immersed in Old Testament theology as a Pharisee himself. And those implications are well-attested in Christian theology and history, and are not the subject of these pages.

Here, we will examine Jesus’ understanding of how the human manifestation of His Sonship, and His (at the point He gave the Sermon on the Mount) impending sacrifice and how its propitiation for sin effected God’s moral law. Jesus understood and accepted His role in the trinitarian Godhead. How could He not since it was His reality? This also means that He understood the complex character of human identity as having both individual and corporate poles, as well. Remember, He was both fully divine and fully human, both at the same time without mixing or confusing His divinity with His humanity. This is the orthodox, historic, inherited Christian and universally accepted teaching. Indeed, belief in the doctrine of the Trinity is essential for Christian identity.

My presumption in these pages, garnered from Scripture and confirmed by my own regeneration, is that the image in which humanity has been created is in some way trinitarian. When God created Man (Adam), God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). God used a plural referent to Himself. The next verse also indicates the plural character of Man. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The fact of the two sexes of Man confirm that we are necessarily social beings who have a corporate element to our individual identities.

Why take this as an axiom of human character? Because God’s trinitarian character is the most unique thing about God. It is the one thing that identifies God as completely and ultimately unique. God’s trinitarian character is in a sense the one thing that makes God God. It is the image that should come to mind when we think of God. And it is the necessity of the corporate character of human identity that gives rise to human morality.

And human morality is an essential element of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus will say about human morality is that it issues from the reality of our simultaneous individual and corporate character. And that this simultaneity itself issues from the fact of our creation in God’s likeness. Humanity was created to be a kind of reflection of God’s character, both as individuals and socially or corporately. And this is why Jesus focused on right worship, which issues out of the positional relationship with Jesus Christ held by the born-again (twice-born or regenerate), and the moral relationships between and among Christ’s people.

These are the topics that Jesus addressed in this Sermon. Yet, there is an additional issue or problem presented by the Sermon on the Mount. In order to understand what Jesus was talking about requires, in contemporary parlance, an understanding of the context and the subtext of Jesus’ words. In order to understand what Jesus was talking about (or what anyone talks about for that matter), we must share to a convincing degree Jesus’ perspective. We must have some understanding of where He was coming from in order to understand what He means by His words. In order to understand Jesus we must stand under Him. We must account ourselves to be His people, both individually and corporately.

You and I must belong to Jesus Christ personally, which means everything that the orthodox, historic idea of being personally and individually saved, born-again and/or regenerated by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit means. And at the same time we must belong to the corporate body of Christ, the church. We must find and establish our identity as individuals in Jesus Christ and as a people in His church. To fail in this regard is to stand outside of Jesus Christ, not under Him. To fail in this regard is to not have access to Jesus’ context, subtext and/or perspective, which will preclude people from seeing God’s kingdom or even God Himself, as Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:3, 5).

Therefore, I pray that you, my reader, will already have this perspective. And if you don’t or if you aren’t sure, I pray that what follows will help you stand under the Lord of the Universe who is manifest in the human flesh of Jesus Christ, and who lives and reigns forever. And I pray for your patience with me as I delve into issues that are far more complex than our ancestors ever imagined. Just as medical science has revealed the dizzying complexity of the human body, so God in Christ is still revealing the astonishingly simple faith that unlocks the infinite complexity of God in Christ. To this God Jesus prayed (and Jesus’ prayers are efficacious),

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me (John 17:18-23).

Leave a Reply