Around 4,000 years ago, Moses, who was called by God to lead the descendants of Israel out of Egypt, came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, written from the Finger of God. From this foundation a nation was built of citizens who were to be known as the chosen people of God.
Almost 2,000 years later the Messiah, of whom Moses and other prophets after him foretold, appeared to this same nation. Both He and His forerunner, John the Baptist, began by announcing great and wonderful news. This good news was of the nearness of the Kingdom of God. Those who responded to His call for repentance were then called to follow His teachings concerning this heavenly kingdom.
Like Moses, Jesus would spend many hours alone with God on a mountain. As Moses revealed the Holiness of God to his people and gave His message from the mountain, Jesus would lead His disciples up a mountain to lay the foundation for a greater, higher way of life. The result was to be a community of people over whom and through whom God would establish His kingdom on the earth.
His series of teachings in Matthew chapters 5 through 7 and Luke 6:20-49 are commonly known under the title of the Sermon on the Mount. While the 10 Commandments and the other laws given by God through Moses might seem by some to be focused on external behavior, the Words of Jesus went deeper. To Him, adultery and murder could be committed in the heart, and were just as sinful in the eyes of God.
Even the disciples of Jesus where troubled by this high standard. They even doubted that anyone could be saved! The answer came from Jesus: with men this standard is impossible, but with God all things are possible! He challenged them to follow Him. He challenges us to do the same today! His followers would gradually begin to understand just how God would empower them to live this impossible standard from the heart. First, they were given the privilege of observing Him every day. They saw not only His love, mercy and power revealed toward those in need, they also observed His perfect character.
Ultimately they saw Him allow Himself to be offered up for our sins, and to be raised from the grave for our victory! Before returning to heaven He announced that all authority was given to Him in heaven and in earth. In turn He authorized them to disciple all people, to teach them His ways, His principles as He had discipled them.
Then came the final piece of puzzle that had confused them earlier. They were to gather together and wait in Jerusalem for another great miracle. They had heard many things from Jesus which they had stored up in their hearts. Soon the promise of the Holy Spirit would come to them in power. He would bring the Words of Jesus to their minds with the correct understanding. They would be given the power to live up to this glorious high calling to love as he loved, give as He gave, sacrifice as He sacrificed, and lift up others as he had done!
The first generation of believers in Christ famously answered His call. It was even the testimony of their enemies that they turned the world upside down!
That energy and enthusiasm eventually began to wane, even as the New Testament was being written. Jude, a half brother of Jesus, wrote a letter urging the churches to “contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” In the book of Revelation, Christ rebuked the Ephesian church for leaving their first love. It cannot be certain exactly what happened and how things began to change. At the same time, we do know that many of these early believers and their leaders gave their lives for Christ.
Some information can be gathered from the records of their writings and from secular history. It appears that false teachers began to mix the Gospel with other religions of that day. This pressed Christian leaders to answer with clarifications concerning the doctrines of what the true church believed. One of the earliest statements of faith is traditionally known as the Apostles Creed, which most churches acknowledge today. After that even more statements were written to deal with the controversies of each generation.
Because some were denying the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, the crucifixion and the resurrection, the true believers needed to stand for these truths and confess them openly. However, the supernatural life of Christ in His church was becoming less and less evident. True, we need to confess all the foundational truths of the Bible and prevent doctrinal error from destroying the faith. Certainly the apostles would approve of this diligent effort, but these simple fishermen, tax collectors, and revolutionaries also knew that only faith IN, trust IN, the person of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit to live out His words could save the church from its enemies!
His sermon on the mount was the foundation of the Kingdom community that he was building, but it has been all but forgotten in the minds of many. Where in the great creeds do we find anything about holy love, holy forgiveness, holy righteousness? Where in the creeds are we urged to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus? Perhaps these things are to be assumed. We are not saved by our good works, but by faith. But is that the same thing as simply believing things about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
Have we forgotten the simple and potent power of God’s Word? The Sermon on the Mount and the other sayings of Jesus are not like the words of men. His words are transformative! We can be “born again” by the power of His Words! Our motives and attitudes can be changed so that we can spontaneously fulfill the law as we love God and our neighbors as ourselves! My hope is that we can learn to treasure all of Christ’s words, letting them abide in us deeply. They can play a powerful part in bringing us into a deeper relationship with Him, transforming us into His image for His glory!