Word for Your Week, "The Sermon on the Mount (Two Interpretations)"



The Sermon on the Mount (Two Interpretations)



The Greatest Sermon ever preached was done so by Jesus to His disciples, the crowds who gathered nearby, and ultimately for us all. What I would wager, however, is that a large amount of Christians do not realize or understand that there are two interpretations of this very important sermon. The difference in the interpretation has to do with which side of the cross we find ourselves to be. More on that later. To understand these two ways of interpreting the Sermon we need to first understand the ultimate purpose of the law and what Jesus Christ has done for us to fulfill it. Let’s start with the first point.

Paul in Galatians 3: 23-24 shows us that the law was a tutor to point us to our need for Christ and that that need would be fulfilled through faith. He shows us as well in Romans 5:20 that being under the law actually causes sin to increase (the dichotomy of being under the law under the flesh which is spoken of in Romans chapter 7). The bible teaches us that God gave us the law not believing that we could actually fulfill it, rather to show us our inability to free ourselves from the guilt and power of sin. In this light, part of Jesus’ fulfillment was to bring the law to its pinnacle purpose thus revealing that we in fact cannot attain to it's demands. He does this by taking an already impossible standard (the law) and elevating it at a heart level to such a degree that no one would be able to fulfill its standards. The harsh slap-in-the-face reality of the Sermon on the Mount is that absolutely no human being is able in and of themselves to accomplish it. This is the first interpretation of the Sermon that we must get - We simply cannot do it!

Consider when Jesus uses the strong language of saving ourselves from lust and hell by plucking out our eyes and chopping off our hands (Matthew 5: 27-30! That is quite a strategy for overcoming the flesh, just dismember yourself! Well, the reality is that if you want to depend upon yourself and your own strength to overcome the flesh and fulfill the law, it would seem to take doing just that; But, if you really stop to think about it, you’d have to take it even a step further! Remember, this Sermon points to the culprit of our lostness and disorder as being the sin-sick condition of our own hearts. So, even if we did dismember ourselves, as long as we are still alive we still have the core problem of sin - the sin nature. So, when we run this thread to its intended end there is only one clear message being presented by Jesus’ point: That in order for us to overcome the flesh and fulfill the law, we would ultimately have to die. And guess what? That is good news! See, Jesus came to fulfill the law and He did this in two ways: By elevating its ultimate purpose pointing to our need for Him and His Grace and by dying in our place to release us from it as well as from the guilt and power of our slavemaster sin. The good news is that He already has finished it (John 19:30)! So to clarify, interpretation number one is that this Sermon should bring us to the end of ourselves and to the blunt realization that we cannot save ourselves but rather we need a Savior.

This brings us to the second interpretation, the present-tense believers interpretation. The first is for unbelievers who need Jesus, the second is for born again believers who have now received Him. See, in receiving Christ two things have taken place: You have been forgiven all of your sins and you have died to sin and have been united to Christ with a brand new nature (heart and Spirit) that desires what is righteous. So, for us who have believed and have become what the bible calls new creations, we get to return to this Sermon with new spiritual eyes. Eyes that do not bring us under the law of self-performance, rather eyes that realize the gift of righteousness that Christ has given us and that Christ is producing within us. The Sermon interpreted in this light by Christians becomes a promise of who we are in Jesus and who Jesus in us is enabling us to be. We get to see it no longer through the window shopping glass of impossibility, but through the mirror reflection of a brand new identity in Him. This is the lens of grace required to understand Jesus’ teachings in light of His finished work and empowering presence in our lives.

So as you re-read through the Sermon on the Mount remember that for you this is no longer a list of do’s and don’ts, rather a mirror reflection of who you are in Christ and who He is empowering to be in Him. If we approach the Sermon as a list of what to do and try to do it in our own strength we fall back under the law and miss its intended purpose, but if we view it as who Christ is in us we abide and therefore find life. We of course are still transforming into who we are because we have a lot of thinking, feelings, and desires that are still in the process of being renewed even though we have been crucified and raised to newness of life in Jesus, but we now get to trust that it is no longer we who produce this new life, but Christ in us (Galatians 2:20) and that it is God who works in us to will and to work unto His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

I encourage you to ask Jesus to show you the second interpretation of this Sermon as we venture together with Pastor John through the Sermon on the Mount in Luke. May you be blessed as you do and find and experience life in His name!


- Pastor Shane