Monday, April 11, 2016

Lesson 3: The Sermon on the Mount

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of Matthew

Lesson 3: The Sermon on the Mount

Jesus began His famous Sermon on the Mount with nine sure-cure prescriptions, each one beginning, "Happy are those who ..." (see Matthew 5:3-12, Good News Bible). Even though our lesson book (p. 22) says that "we ... must apply it [the sermon]," you may be surprised to note that not one of those nine "beatitudes" tells us what to do in order to be "happy," as though Jesus were a guru proposing a program of works. The emphasis in Jesus' message of Good News is not on doingsome good thing in order to be happy, but on believing some "Good News."
If happiness is contingent on our doing the right thing, we always run into the snag of realizing we can't do that thing just right. No matter how hard we try, there is always an element of failure or non-attainment. If God promises us something good on condition that we must first fulfill certain do-it-yourself prerequisites, His promises are bound to fall flat because we can't perform. God can promise us the sky, but it's a cruel trick if His promises are nullified by some impossible condition.
There long has been a question as to whom Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount—to His disciples or to the multitude. Some say that God is not the Father of "all humanity" but only of those who are converted. All the rest are children of the devil. But Matthew 5:1 says that when Jesus saw "the multitudes, He went up into a mountain" and preached, about "your Father which is in heaven," and "after this manner pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven," etc. (chapters 6, 7).
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us to "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44).
But no one knew what He meant. It went right over people's heads. No one really understood the true dimensions of "love" until the cross (cf. Eph. 3:18, 19). The word Jesus used for "love" was not the ordinary, day-to-day one that people used in the Greek or Latin world--it was agape. The idea was foggy; it couldn't be defined until the cross.
The world marvels at the miracle of Christ's resurrection after three days in the tomb; but the even greater miracle was the love He demonstrated. It was unearthly--it had never been seen since time began. Every crucifixion done by the Romans had been a demonstration of cursing, and raw hatred. Here was one where the Victim prayed for His murderers! It became talked about throughout the Empire. No advertising could have been purchased at any price that was more effective for proclaiming the gospel.
This love known as agape is in a different category than what we call love. Unlike the "natural" love we are born with that loves its own, or loves nice people, agape loves ugly people, mean people, unworthy people, yes, enemies. Unheard of! (Our lesson book on page 26 alludes to this idea when the author says, "the whole focus on this section [Matt. 5:43-48] deals with loving people, not just those whom anyone could love but those whom, by the world's standards, we would not generally love ..." However, the focus seems to be on our "love," not God's, and the word agape is not used.)
On the lips of the apostles, it became the word that "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). Its origin was unearthly. It had to be "poured into" emptied human hearts from an Outside source (Rom. 5:5). It couldn't be conveyed by lectures, and it can't be propagated by PowerPoint. It has to be communicated by a white hot flame burning in a human heart that has been deeply moved by the Holy Spirit.
Our lesson (p. 26) states: "Of all the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, this has to be one of the most amazing, the most 'extreme.' To be as perfect as 'your Father in heaven'? What does that mean?"
A. T. Jones, one of the 1888 "messengers," in his landmark book, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection [1], writes:
"Perfection in every respect is attained through the priesthood, the sacrifice, and the service of this our great High Priest at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens in His ministry in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. ...
"Perfection, perfection of character, is the Christian goal—perfection attained in human flesh in this world. Christ attained it in human flesh in this world, and thus made and consecrated a way by which, in Him, every believer can attain it. He, having attained it, has become our great High Priest, by His priestly ministry in the true sanctuary to enable us to attain it.
"Perfection is the Christian's goal; and the High Priesthood and ministry of Christ in the true sanctuary is the only way by which any soul can attain this true goal in this world. 'Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary' (Psalm 77:13)."
God cannot bring His people to attention by an unprecedented fear-motivated demand for holy living. The means the Lord will employ will be a quiet, heart-warming message of "the righteousness of saints," a message that woos the heart—"righteousness by faith."
When that last great angel comes down with the message that will "lighten the earth with glory" it will be a message to go to "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" with the powerful impact that Jesus' Sermon on the Mount had on the world two millennia ago, because it will be simple (Rev. 18:1-4; 14:6, 7). The Lord does not overburden you (Rev. 2:24). But do study!
—From the writings of Robert J. Wieland
[1] Alonzo T. Jones, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, pp. 87-89; Glad Tidings ed.