Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: No Greater Love, Part 2 (the Sermon on the Mount)

Jesus ministered in the area of Capernaum and Korazin, an area where Jews and Gentiles were mingled, and along the Via Maris — which would allow his teaching to be spread throughout the world.

(Mat 4:13-25)  Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali– 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles– 16 the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” …

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

 The geography is important. “The way to the sea” is the Via Maris, a major trade route leading through this part of the country, connecting Egypt with Syria and Mesopotamia. By teaching in that area, word of Jesus’ teachings and miracles would have spread to many other nations in the Roman Empire. As Matthew reports, he drew people from several other Roman provinces.

Vander Laan says,

When God established the covenant with his people, Moses climbed a mountain to receive the covenant law. Jesus, who came to fulfill that covenant, gave the new covenant guidelines on a mountain as well. But instead of the wilderness mountain at Sinai, Jesus taught on a hill near Korazin.

Jesus’ ministry began with his Sermon on the Mount. The nation of Israel had found its identity in the Torah. Matthew, however, redefined our identity through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. 

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ battleplan. It shows us how to change the world.

As Jesus’ brides, we should demonstrate his love to a hurting world. Jesus encouraged his followers to develop compassion, humility, and mercy. These virtues will serve as our weapons for confronting evil and bringing healing to our world.

Fortunately, we are not alone in this effort. As Christians, we are part of the kingdom of God, which Jesus described as a close-knit insula family. In our own communities — families, churches, businesses, and friends — we should live the kingdom lifestyle, challenging and encouraging each other along life’s journey.

In a culture that prizes individualism and “rights,” the unity and grace of God’s family should stand out. As they watch us, nonbelievers will see Jesus’ deep love and sacrifice come to life.

Finally, Vander Laan encourages his listeners to be certain their children follow their parents’ faith — reflecting on how proud the motion of James and John was that they’d been selected to follow Jesus.

Further thoughts

Vander Laan spends only a little time on the Sermon on the Mount, and we need to be careful how we interpret what he says. The Sermon on the Mount is not a new body of law that replaces the Law of Moses with a new Law of Jesus. Jesus wasn’t legislating. The parallel is meaningful but imperfect. In fact, Jesus himself says he is not doing away with the Torah.

Rather, the Sermon on the Mount tells us how to live the Law — how God’s will should be understood.

(Mat 5:17-18)  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

This passage is controversial (what part of this Sermon isn’t?), but we have to wrestle with this one in particular before we take on the rest. How does the Sermon on the Mount relate to the Law of Moses? More precisely, what does Jesus mean by saying he intends to “fulfill” the Law and the prophets?

This much is clear: he is speaking of much more than fulfilling prophecy. The Sermon is not about fulfilling prophecy at all. It’s not remotely in the context.

I think it’s best to let Jesus speak for himself —

(Mat 5:20-24)  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Pharisees were scrupulous about keeping the letter of the Law — even beyond it’s literal words, insisting on building a fence around the Law to be certain the Law was kept. What’s wrong with that?

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Now the Jews of the First Century understood the importance of a heart religion, too. But Jesus is going beyond even that, saying that heart is more important than the ritual. Even where the ritual is commanded, he says, having our hearts right is of greater importance. Indeed, getting our relationships right is more important than getting our rituals right.

(Mat 5:27-28)  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Now, in teen classes, we tend to parse this down to the millisecond when noticing that a girl is pretty becomes “lust” and so becomes sin. Good, but we need to do better. Jesus is speaking foremost, not to teens, but to married men. Only they can commit adultery!

His point is that a married man can’t be true to the Ten Commandments while entertaining lustful thoughts about women other than his wife. Adultery begins in the eye, and the sin begins when we first contemplate the sin, not when we finally do the sin. You see, Jesus’ own hermeneutic is much about the heart than the letter of the law. We can obey the letter and fantasize and even flirt with other women. We could do anything short of actual adultery. And, obviously enough, this is not the point of the Law. 

Now, with this view of “Law” in mind, we can go back and consider the Beatitudes, as Vander Laan suggests. The Beatitudes largely come from the Psalms and the Prophets. Jesus’ audience would have recognized much of what Jesus said as coming from Isaiah and David. This was not revolutionary teaching. Rather, the revolution was that Jesus actually expected his disciples to do it, that is, he centered his teachings on such things rather than sacrifice, ritual, and pattern keeping.

Remember, he taught during an age when revolution against Rome was in the air. The Messiah was supposed to be a king who’d overthrow Roman rule. And yet this Messiah taught meekness, humility, poverty of spirit, turning the other cheek, and walking the extra mile with Roman soldiers!

It remains a very hard lesson because we’d like a religion that lets us fight, to look down on others, to be proud and arrogant, but Jesus would have none of it.

God didn’t change his mind between the Psalms, Isaiah, and Jesus. The lesson was the same. Rather, the difference was that Jesus would show us how to do it.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: No Greater Love, Part 2 (the Sermon on the Mount)

  1. Jack Exum Jr says:

    Well what can I say about this Sermon which Jesus spoke ? It is a beautiful thing, and Jesus (in my opinion) is trying to get people to go beyond what has been written in stone and show that His disciples need to see that it is what is in and comes from the heart that defiles a person. Growing in grace is so much more refreshing. Actually I was going to say "fun". However, I think that in Christ we are to keep His commandments obviously, and all the while understand that we are also to be aware of our responsibility to apply His words to our lives and our circumstanses. The other day, my sweet wife thought
    I was upset with her, so she asked me, "Are you upset?" Well, I said "no". Then she said something that has stuck with me. "Yeah, but I think you're upset in your heart." So, I think Jesus is trying to get us to see it is whats in the heart and how He longs for His people to avoid like the plague the practise of outwardly performing while inwardly being something different. Wash the inside of the cup as well as the outside. Grow in His grace.
    In Him,

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