I’m working through a preaching series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And so I have read it more than a few times over the past few months. And nearly every time I go through it I am blown away. Pick it up, read it through. Matthew 5-7. It’ll only take a few minutes.
Wild, eh? It’s so clear and simple and sharp. Its scandalous ethic embodies love to such a perfect measure that I have never heard a sermon that referenced it without trying to weaken it.
Yes, Jesus said we shouldn’t go to church if we know we have relationship problems that need fixing, but since our bodies are the gifts we lay at the altar, that doesn’t really apply to us.
Yes, Jesus said that we should turn the other cheek, but since he mentioned being slapped on the right cheek [insert poorly researched and irrelevant cultural info], he didn’t really mean it.
Yes, Jesus said to give to whoever asks of us, but since one of his allegorical parables involved people taking care of money, we don’t actually need to do it.
On and on it goes. I’m no theologian, but it almost seems like an attack on the direct and simple teachings of Jesus, eh?
The neat thing is what he said near the end, and I’ve already alluded to it on this blog. False prophets and fruit.
Picture this: Jesus has just finished unpacking and defining his ethic in the simplest, plainest language possible. The only way to screw this up is to have serious vested interests. He anticipates, I think, that others will hear the sermon and spread / explain it (as if it needed any explaining!). And so he gives us this criteria by which we can tell if someone is really on board with him or not. Fruit. Outworkings. The stuff you see.
Apply that to the sermon and what do we have?
A man claiming to speak for God is a liar if his ethic does not match up with Jesus’.
I’m not suggesting, of course, that if we’re not perfect we’re false prophets. I’m suggesting that when we explain away and neuter the direct, simple and honest ethics of Jesus, we are false prophets. Wolves. Diseased. Blood-thirsty. Very very bad.
Is that scary? I think so. It’s scary because it’s so very subtle.
The wolves are dressed like sheep! You can tell if someone is off-base instantly if his off-based-ness is due to a wild and incorrect philosophy. But when the philosophy and doctrine is right but the ethic is off you can hardly ever tell.