So I’ve been working on a series of lessons on the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM), and after writing about 8 or 9 of them, I realized I hadn’t yet really explained what’s most important. So I asked myself, if I only had one 1/2 hour lesson to teach on the SOTM, what would I say? I mean, the Sermon is just so big and the commentaries are so vast. Is it possible to boil it down to something easily expressed and understood? I think so.
We have to start with some metaphors.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a nation created in the midst of other nations. The other nations are under oppressive rule by illegitimate, even demonic powers.
Think of France and the Low Countries just before D-Day. They were ruled by the Nazi regime, and some living there were happy with their German overlords. After all, some came into power by serving their oppressors. Others had grown up in other oppressive regimes, and to them, one oppressor was much like another.
On D-Day, the Allies crossed the sea and established a beachhead — a small area of land controlled by Allied forces, supplied from across the sea, and the barest beginning of what would soon be, not Allied territory, but an oasis of freedom. And at great cost and with unspeakable difficulty, the beachhead would slowly expand to eventually fill Western Europe, and even the gates of Berlin would not prevail against it.
Take a snapshot just after the Allies established the beachhead and you’d see a pitiably small location in a vast continent. Compared to Berlin and the other great cities of Europe, the beachhead would be nothing. No art. No symphonies. No great universities. Just sandbags, machine guns, and grenades. No culture by any definition. But the beachhead would soon be the salvation of Europe.
The church is the Kingdom’s beachhead, built on the sacrifices of martyrs, and holding out hope for freedom, proving that the Kingdom wins when it counts the most.
The Roman colony
Ancient Rome avoided drafting conscripts into the army. Rather, soldiers were recruited with the promise of a decent pay, a pension, and a piece of land when they retired. When the men had finished their careers, the Romans settled the soldiers and their families in the midst of non-Roman territories — often territories that were none too loyal to Rome.
Years before Jesus, Rome had leveled Corinth to the ground because it dared to oppose Roman annexation of Greece. Corinth was an object lesson taught in forced slavery and confiscated estates.
Much later, though, the emperor settled retired soldiers there, to give Rome an intensely loyal presence in the midst of Greece. Generous pensions, hard working retired soldiers, and a location on two ports soon made Corinth one of the wealthiest cities in Greece — and a nation that worshiped the Roman gods and honored Caesar without question. And the Empire was covered with such cities — small areas of Roman culture and loyalty, sprinkled across the Empire in hopes that the entire Empire would learn from them to joys of being loyal to Rome.
Of course, when the colony was first planted, there was nothing there but some worn out soldiers, deeds to the land, and the opportunity to build a city from scratch. It would not have been very impressive — at first.
The church is a colony of heaven on earth. Our citizenship is in heaven, not here. And our loyalties are to Jesus, not the government and not a political party. Christian culture is not American or Asian or whatever. Our culture is from heaven. A Christian colony should look as different from, say, an American city as a Roman colony would have looked in India or Egypt.
The kingdom of heaven
In Matthew, “heaven” is a euphemism for God. The Jews so revered the name of YHWH that they often said “heaven” instead — just as we might say “Heaven, help us!” when we are in fact asked for God’s help. The “kingdom of heaven” is the kingdom of God.
Kingdoms have a king, boundaries, and subjects. The king of the Kingdom is Jesus Messiah. The subjects are Christians. The boundary is faith in/faithfulness to Jesus.
This Kingdom also has a purpose, being to invite the entire world in to become subjects of the King, to enjoy his truly just rule, peace, and freedom. And this Kingdom only grows voluntarily as people declare their loyalty to the King.
Therefore, the purpose of the subjects of the King is to be as filled with justice, peace, and freedom as the King himself, because the world can best see this King through his subjects. And what point would there be in serving a just King in a Kingdom filled with people who are not just, peaceable, or free?
Life in the Beachhead/Colony
The Sermon on the Mount is a manual on how to live in the beachhead/colony that is the church. And although it speaks of ethics and morality, it’s far more about how to be a beachhead or a colony. The instructions aren’t given so that you’ll be good or so you’ll be happy. They are given so that the beachhead will become all of Europe, so that the colony will become the Empire, so that the world will become the kingdom.
The way the church expands its borders is, first and foremost, by being the church, that is, by living the Sermon on the Mount and showing the world a better way of living. You see, the way the army of the beachhead conquers the rest of the enemy’s territory is by living in freedom and demonstrating a better way to live. The way the colony brings the surrounding territory to be loyal to the King is by showing a better way of life as subjects of the King.
The church shows the world the beauty and joy of life lived under the Sermon on the Mount. And this make the church so attractive that those who see the church understand why the gospel is the Pearl of Great Price.
The church therefore has to point beyond itself toward Jesus and the Second Coming. After all, perfection will not be found in this age. But the church can’t just point toward Jesus and his return. It has to presently reflect the beauty and love of Jesus, or else the life it lives undermines the gospel — just as though the beachhead were ruled by Nazis or a Roman colony chose to adopt local customs and loyalties.
The Sermon on the Mount
(Mat 5:13-16 ESV) “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
“You [plural] are the light of the world.” Why? Because the world will see God’s light to the extent we display his light.
So we’re, what? Marketing? Selling? Yes! And it’s about time we understood that. Our sales methods aren’t like the world’s methods, but when we became the light of the world, we became marketers. And this much applies in both the commercial and Christian contexts: you can’t sell what you aren’t willing to use yourself. You can’t sell Jesus unless you live the Sermon on the Mount.
(Mat 6:10 ESV) 10 “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.“
Jesus teaches us to pray this prayer, but we shouldn’t pray it unless we are willing to live it. For God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, the church must live the Sermon on the Mount. And if we don’t, we prove ourselves hypocrites.
But if the church will do this — imperfectly, of course, and not to earn salvation but because this is what it means to be faithful to Jesus and because, like Jesus, we want to see the world saved — if the church will do this, it will begin to look a lot like its King. It will be the Kingdom it was meant to be. And church growth will be easy because anyone can understand the benefit of being a part of something that great.
The conclusion of it all
The message of the Sermon on the Mount to the church is simple: Get along. Get along by doing the things the Sermon teaches in church. Really do it. And if you really do it, just as a brightly lit city on a hill can be seen for miles, the church will become a beacon for Jesus, drawing the lost toward the cross — because the world will see what living the cross is like and they’ll want to be part of it.
There is no other plan. All else is futility.