Jesus Culture: Sermon on the Mount


Sermon or Surrealism on the Mount?

Sermon on the Mount. It’s better read than practiced. Reading it makes you marvel at the wonders of the Messiah. Studying it makes you re-consider your priorities. Preaching it makes people honor you. But seriously living it makes you look like an idiot.

I used to love reading the Beatitudes. I got fed up with it. Now I meditate it. I look into it, take in a passage, stop to see it in my mind, put myself there where it all happened, see how Jesus really meant what he said and actually lived it out and was crucified for it, then see how extremely crazy the teaching is. I see why no-one today—not even born again Christians or top church leaders I know—take it seriously. They just use it to bait people with—they offer the worm to catch men but none of them wants the worm. When they see you actually eating the worm, they think you’re nuts and call you a cult.

What if Pharisees Had Preached It?

It would’ve been easier to “believe” if Pharisees had preached it instead of my Jesus. People would've known it was all a joke, mere propaganda to make themselves look and sound good, but nothing taken seriously. Pharisees would have made a good outline of the sermon, developed a theologically correct basis for all points made, and delivered with the homiletics norms of the time. People would have applauded and gone straight to the front for altar calling. Then there would be some friendly handshakes after the service and pastor-I-was-blessed-by-the-message type of comments. Then everyone would go home, feel good about themselves, and later forget about everything.

Why this scenario? Well, first of all, they see Pharisees in their smart and formal religious attire and accessories (good image should go with the title and degree), their fondness for moneyed church members, and their socialite mannerism—and then hear them preach, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” It wouldn’t match up. They’d know that it was all for a show, and they’d love it that way, because it meant there was no need for any serious commitment. It was all talk. All they had to do was say, “Amen” to all that was being said, look solemn, and that was it. Everybody got away with their usual selves at the end of the service. If the message isn’t true in the life of the messenger, it’s harmless. Everyone’s happy and blessed.

But Not My Jesus

With my Jesus doing the preaching—while people see the fact that he owns absolutely nothing, not even a pillow to lay on, not even a cent in some bank account, no title or degree, even going hungry and hand-picking grains left by the harvesters (a sure sign of bankruptcy in those times)—then, when they hear him say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” they’d see that it is all for real. This guy is not just showing off. His message is his life, and vice versa. He is not just a challenge—he is a threat. They know a revolution of some kind is brewing in their midst, threatening the status quo, their comfort zones, the way things have conveniently been, and leaving them with only two options—join Him or be damned. Join the Jesus Culture or Satan’s culture.

When people are faced with that radical choice, they hate it. They’d listen, but they’d hate it. They may like it for a short season, but they’ll crucify it nonetheless. They always want to be included by grace, but not make radical decisions that would cost them. They’d always seek an easy way out. And then they’d formulate a redemption system that would accommodate their baggage. Hence, Jesus didn’t do any altar call after the Sermon. Altar calls just deaden your guilt without rectifying your entire life. You just feel good after “repenting” there. I’m sure Pharisees would have done an altar call—for fanfare and good reporting when annual meetings came. Jesus wanted radical life change, not altar callings, not inclusions. He insisted on the narrow road. Make every effort to enter through it, he said.

Just What is "Poor in Spirit"?

Blessed are the poor in spirit. This is being nice, right? But nice doesn’t get you crucified. Blessed are the meek. But Jesus never apologized for the hurts he caused the Pharisees and Law teachers—and Herod, the king. If he had merely said, “Blessed are the nice people who respect societal status” everyone would have come weeping and repenting at the altar if he had opened one. If he hadn’t opened one (and he didn’t), then multitudes, even Annas and Caiaphas and Herod among them, would’ve embraced his teachings.

No, there’s something more in poor in spirit and meek than meets the eye. Combine all the qualities my Jesus laid out in the Sermon and they all add up to persecution. Why be crucified if you’re a genuine Beatitudes guy? Doesn’t being Mr. Nice Guy make you loved by everyone? Well, it’s because the Sermon on the Mount DOESN’T make you a Mr. Nice Guy—it makes you go against all norms—even born again church norms—without meaning to. The Jesus LIFE makes you odious. The Jesus LIFE makes you demolish anything not of God.

Poor in spirit and meek, as Jesus meant them, were altogether different than most of us think of them today. Poor in spirit and meek are not meant to make us likeable to people. People always think the Beatitudes will earn us citations and recognitions for exemplary character, as the world perceives exemplary character to be. On the contrary, according to Jesus, “All men will hate you because of me.” That’s the natural result of the Jesus Culture.

In the world’s eyes, Jesus was arrogant. Bigheaded. He took so much pride in the Father and His Kingdom, nothing else, nothing more. All others were rotten to him—garbage, trash, vomit, zero, pfft! The disciples marveled at the temple buildings made by man “for God” and he simply shrugged them off, superiorly, and in effect said, “Oh that? That’s zero.” Genuine Christ-likeness is like that.

Mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers are all still okay. They’re still tolerable. Anyone could live with them. Just be a Mr. Nice Guy. Most folks will settle for that. But the list wouldn’t be Jesus’ Sermon without the cross—Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.

Persecution gets rid of all the rewards and citations and recognitions. When rewards system is taken out, people begin to think twice about doing something. If they didn’t give diplomas and degrees in seminaries I doubt if church leaders would still attend them. Fact, if there were no fans and big money in pro basketball and football, I doubt if there’d be superstars. What more if you’re insulted and people begin to say all kinds of evil against you? And that’s exactly what you get when you start seriously living the Beatitudes.

If you read the passage again, you’d see that the context says being salt of the world really means being persecuted by the world. Without persecution (because of Jesus) you lose your saltiness and people just trample on your life witness like they would tasteless salt. In short, people just see you as harmless Mr. Nice Guy. The number one enemy of God’s will and glory is Mr. Nice Guy.

Now, it’s an entirely different thing if people hate you because you’re a difficult person. Jesus wasn’t difficult; he was a Kingdom person. And being so made the world naturally hostile to him.

Do Not Store Up Treasures for Yourselves

It’s there each time we open the Gospel, but no-one pays attention. It sounds noble, but nobody really expects you to give up your bank account. If you did, they’d think you’ve taken it the wrong way, misinterpreted it, taken it out of context, or perhaps you’ve gone totally nuts—you’re a cult. They wouldn't say it's the right interpretation because it would mean they would have to do the same thing--surrender their bank accounts, and that wouldn't be comfy for the flesh. So, how do you interpret this passage correctly?

Simple. Just look how Jesus took it. He literally NEVER stored up earthly treasures for himself. The Acts church was rich—they gave to anyone who had need (and no one among them was in need)—because the disciples stored up treasures—NOT for themselves individually—but for the church. No one said anything was his or her personal use only [1 Cor. 7.30-31]. And the church never abused God's money by acting corrupt and building imposing, mega church buildings. They used the money to build lives, not buildings.

Thus, we have to give up everything. The Acts church volitionally gave up their properties for church use. All this is clear in Scriptures, yet they remain better read than practiced. And if you did this, you never know what those church leaders of yours might do with your surrendered wealth. They might suddenly buy and own brand new cars and mansions, take vacation trips, and send their kids to expensive schools. Why this apprehension?

You can’t blame some church people. First, they see some anointed preachers who have big-time ministries doing this today. They buy and buy stuff for themselves. They flaunt these as their blessings, just to prove they have God’s favor. Jesus never did that.

And second, it’s because no-one is serious about the Sermon on the Mount. Storing treasures for ourselves is very much alive in church.

I mean, why else would people go to their offices on a daily basis? Why do we want our kids to finish schooling? Why are some parents crazy about having their children on top of their classes? Why do we want job promotions? Why do we keep money in our banks? So we could give them up as they did in Acts?

“All man’s efforts are for his (own) mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied” [Ecc.6].

It's all for SELF consumption. We're happy with just giving God a measly 10 percent--which many others even withhold for themselves.

Nobody’s even seriously preaching about radical relinquishing of possessions. That’s for idiots to preach. Only idiots would take the Word seriously like that. That’s fanaticism. And giving up properties Acts-church style is not anymore required today, their apologists would say. Today, you can store up treasures on earth for yourselves, and God would understand. Just be faithful with your tithes and offering. And how about the moths and rusts that destroy on earth? They’d declare protection against them in Jesus’ Name! God would rebuke the devourer, they’d claim.

It’s more like the Surrealism on the Mount. Surrealistic paintings are good to look at, but you know they aren’t for real—and never will be. They’re irrational, incongruous, a dream, to borrow Webster’s words. Unless we seriously take Jesus’ teachings as the Spirit and Jesus’ LIFE reveal them, the church will remain powerless. And soon, God will be dumping powerless churches (though mega and moneyed) that water down His Word and be raising up new breed radical enough to do as He says, like never storing up treasures for themselves.

Do Not Worry About Life

Here’s another surrealistic Sermon point—do not worry about life. Do you actually believe that? I’m sure you’d say yes. Anyway, he was then talking to Jews who were under the oppressive Herod regime which was corrupt and abusive under the greedy Roman Empire. And he told them—don’t you worry.

Good preachers today tell us that these words are soothing balms to those who are near death, or those at the end of their ropes. And people get blessed with that and go to the altar and then later shake hands with the preacher after service. But when they go back to the real world they worry about life—they and the preacher. They don’t give up anything; instead, they join the anxiety bandwagon, the crazy rat race. I’ve seen too many churches today compete in the rat race for the mega-est church out of anxiety, and call it obedience to the Great Commission. Liars!

Why are sermons like that powerless? It’s because both church people and preacher see the Beatitudes as Surrealism on the Mount. They never take the teaching seriously. It’s good for making people feel good, period. It’s what they term “devotional”—a 10 to 15-minute Word session. Do you call a husband “devoted” because he is so only for 10 to 15 minutes?

When my Jesus said, “Don’t worry about life,” people actually saw how Jesus didn’t worry about life—I mean literally. All of them got up early for work—catching fish, farming, or doing carpentry works—riding the anxiety bandwagon—but Jesus would go to remote places, mountainsides and hills, wasting time with the Father. He never worried about life. He and his disciples even picked up grains left by the harvesters for the poor. He never worried being seen as poor—something all of us, even the church, so terribly dread about. Churches are ashamed to death when reporting low incomes. And that’s also why you see decent profile pictures in blogs and social networks looking like they’re well off. You see this especially among “Reverends” and “Bishops.” They make sure they don’t look below average or poor.

When I stop to really consider it—don’t worry about your life—I see how only idiots like me will get the idea. Worrying makes you look responsible to people. When Jesus took 2 days more before going to Lazarus, Martha saw it as irresponsible. “You should’ve been here!” she said to that effect. Remember the story? Jesus intentionally delayed himself to teach his disciples not to worry about life—even in life or death situations. “Lazarus is dead—and I’m glad I wasn’t there, for your sake, so you’d believe.” He was glad! It was an extreme, silly, and cultic way not to worry about life. You get that extreme and people condemn you for being foolishly and immaturely negligent. You’d lose your church members. Or, they’d fire you pronto if you were their pastor. No wonder “all men will hate you because of me.”

We think that not worrying about life means we keep a smile on our face amid problems. There’s that Mr. Nice Guy image in our minds whenever we hear Jesus’ Sermon. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s more than being Mr. Nice Guy. It’s to the extreme. It is radical. It turns the world upside down. It’s living like birds and lilies that don’t care a hoot about what’s going on around them, and being terribly hated for it.

(Continued in Jesus Culture Part 2: Birds and Lilies)

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Comments 3 comments

Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 6 years ago from South East Asia

Thank you. Interesting take. You might like to read:

lowlycook profile image

lowlycook 5 years ago from Deep Asia

You just detonated a bomb! I like more! How about a nuclear warhead?

Michael 5 years ago

I liked this until I hit the part about Jesus being Jesus wa arrogant, bigheaded and so forth. That's so missing the point. Jesus didn't say blessed are the poor in spirit because he wanted everybody to be poor in spirit. In fact, I think he later told the Pharisees that the reason he focused his ministry on the poor, meek, poor in spirit and even sinners is because those are the people who especially need help. The Pharisees were doing just fine, thank you, and he need not spend time helping them when there more important things at hand. I think he said it as a way of saying that ALL people are blessed. ALL people are worthy. ALL people are inherently dignified.

Perhaps Christians who have power should take the sermon on the mount as a lesson in where they should focus their energy and how they should stop looking down on others. Next time a Christian sees a gay person, or a non-believer, or a prostitute, maybe they should give Jesus approach a try. Stop practicing the ways of the Pharisees and think about what Jesus would do. He would say "blessed are they" and then they would treat the others as truly blessed and not as sinners not to touch.

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