I thought I'd take my first blogging opportunity in months to provide a sneak peak into the sermon series I'm starting in a couple weeks called Distinctively Different: A study of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.
Change is inevitable in our world. Recent technological advances and instant global communication have accelerated those changes, for better or worse, at an ever-increasing rate. As I recently heard someone say, even nostalgia isn’t want it used to be. The question before us is what do these changes mean for us as followers of Jesus?
We, as Christians in America, are about to experience something that is completely foreign to us. As J. Dwight Pentecost points out:
“Because we live in what has been called a Christian nation, after 2,000 years of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have been deceived into thinking the attitude of the world toward a believer has changed. That is a lie of the devil. It has not been changed at all. The world can only hate a believer. We have somehow been duped into believing we can change the attitude of the world toward Christ and toward Christians. We have tried to live before the world so as to change their thinking. We have tried to make ourselves acceptable. We are trying to do the impossible. We might as well try to take off for the moon with only our own two feet to get us there.”1As biblical truth collides head-on with our pagan world, we will see a clarifying distinction between true followers of Jesus and those who are just hanging around the church because it is the popular or cultural thing to do. While this may be a new experience for us, it is certainly nothing new to Christianity.
Christians have long wrestled with the tension between our involvement with the world and our separation from it. The apostle Paul himself reveals the tension as he said he became “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22) yet also said not to “conform to the pattern of this world.” (Romans 12:2) Rather than wrestling with the tension or seeking biblical clarification many Christians have simply opted for inaction. C.S. Lewis challenges us against such a move:
“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”2As we stare in the face of our lost world we cannot stand idly by as ordinary, decent eggs. We must be changed, “hatched” for the glory of God and the proclamation of His Word or we risk going bad. We have been called to represent God and His Kingdom as ambassadors in this world. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20) How then shall we live?
Near the beginning of His earthly ministry Jesus gave the greatest sermon ever preached; a sermon we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. The focus of His message was correcting some misunderstandings of Old Testament teachings and giving clear, practical guidance for how people of the kingdom of God ought to live. As one Bible commentator wrote,
“The sermon showed how a person who is in right relationship with God should conduct his life.“3About midway through his sermon in Matthew 6:8 Jesus said, “do not be like them;” the “them” was referring to the unbelievers in the world. What we see through the teaching of Jesus is that the life of a Christ follower is to be distinctively different from, not similar to, the world. That’s what being “Christian” is all about: we are distinctively different from the world.
Jesus’ sermon created quite a stir as it confronted some long-standing teachings of the religious leaders. Matthew’s gospel tells us that “when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matthew 7:28-29) My prayer is that through this series you, too, will be astonished by the life-transforming words of Jesus and challenged to live a distinctively different life – for the glory God.
1. Pentecost, J. D. (1999). Design for living: lessons in holiness from the Sermon on the mount (p. 75). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
2. Lewis, C.S. (1958). Mere Christianity (New York: The Macmillan Company), (p. 198-199).
3. Barbieri, L. A., Jr. (1985). Matthew. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 28). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.