Recently I had an interesting conversation with a pastor from a very liberal denomination. He was a very kind gentleman. I enjoyed talking to him, but our theological differences are doubtless very great. Many liberal denominations seem ready to dispense with the gospel. They want to keep Jesus as a teacher of good things, but they want to avoid subjects like the deity of Christ, eternal judgement or the exclusive claims of the Gospel. The sermon on the Mount is something that liberals will say they believe in. They especially love to apply Jesus admonitions to take care of the poor to the civil sphere. At one point in the conversation I think I stunned him. I told him that I think the sermon on the Mount is a very condemning sermon. He asked for me to elaborate on the subject. He seemed very inquisitive. Today's reading included the sermon on the plain in Luke 6. This sermon has much of the same content as Matthew's recorded, "Sermon on the Mount." The following verses illustrate what I mean.
Lu 6:43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.
45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
Some read these words and find in them an admonition to try harder, to do better, or to be more spiritual. I find in them words of rebuke. Jesus just rebuked me for every foul thing that has ever come out of my mouth. I cannot comfort myself by saying, "Well...God knows my heart." Yes. God does know my heart. He says that my words and conduct are evidence that my heart is corrupt. I have not been merciful as I ought. I have not forgiven or loved my enemies as I ought. I have not cared for the poor as I ought. I have not been as pure as I ought. I have not kept his law. I have called him Lord, but I have demonstrated a stubborn, autonomous will by living as I please. The sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain are the Law expounded. Jesus does not allow us to water it down or sweeten it up. The law is there to humble the proud. It is very foolish to think we can do a little better and satisfy the righteousness of God. The reason we have gone astray is because our heart has been at war with God.
The Good news is that the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain are not the "Good News." This sermon does not contain the gospel. Matthew and Luke put their exposition of the law sermons relatively close to the beginning of their books. They are expecting the reader to look into the mirror of God's law and see their need: to see their poverty of spirit. If the reader continues to read, they will read of the lamb of God dying for their sins. They will read of his burial. They will read of his resurrection. They will read of his ascension to the right hand of God where he remains as our advocate to intercede on our behalf.
So let the sting of God's law sink in. To the degree you comprehend your sin, to that degree you will appreciate grace. Forgiving others becomes so much easier once you comprehend the debt you have been forgiven. A response of loving God comes naturally to the child of God. And if you love him, you will keep his commandments.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:8-10