Christ's Ethical Teaching
“And He came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of His disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judea and Jerusalem and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear Him, and to be healed of their diseases; And they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch Him: for there went virtue out of Him, and healed them all. And He lifted up His eyes on His disciples and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye, shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:17-26).
In considering the Gospel of Luke we have come now to what answers to the similar sermon on the mount, which is given more thoroughly in the Gospel of Matthew. Luke gives us a brief account, whereas in Matthew’s Gospel there are three chapters of the sermon on the mount.
All down through the centuries right-minded people have recognized the fine moral tone and deep spirituality of the sermon on the mount. Generally speaking, that sermon has given us the highest ethical teaching in the world. It is the heart of Christ’s instruction. However, when you examine it carefully, you will find that it is not the Gospel at all, for the Gospel is the declaration of God concerning His blessed Son. In the sermon on the mount, we do not have any reference made to the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it is a message to the disciples from Christ as to how they who profess to know Him should behave. It gives us the principles that will ever characterize His kingdom.
That kingdom is to be set up here eventually. The sermon on the mount sets forth the principles that should control the disciples during the time of His absence, while still rejected by the world. It would be foolish to say that it only applies to the millennium, because it predicates conditions which will not prevail then. There will be no such circumstances in the millennium, as people being called upon to suffer for righteousness’ sake. Here, however, the Lord Jesus speaks of blessings which belong to them in a special way. In that day of triumph Christ’s authority will be recognized everywhere. This sermon gives the principles that should actuate and motivate the disciples while they are waiting for their Master to return in power and glory.
There are many who say that it does not apply at all to us today. But we need to realize that everything that is spiritual in any age applies to the people of God in this dispensation as well as in any other period. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” for our guidance as we go through this godless world, while waiting for our Lord’s return. Therefore, I cannot ignore any part of the Scripture if I want to be a well furnished man of God today, living to His glory. What about the law? Do we not recognize the fact that believers are delivered from the law and are under grace? Yes, the curse of the law is what we have been freed from. But the epistle to the Romans, which tells us that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made us free from the law of sin and death, also declares that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Everything of a righteous character which the law requires of man will be fulfilled in the lives of godly men and women today.
It is well to remember, as one has said, that “Some things are right because they are commanded; other things are commanded because they are right.” The law said, “Thou shalt not steal.” But it is always wrong to steal. It was just as wrong to steal in the days from Adam to Noah and from Noah to Moses, as after the law was given. Everything that was morally right in any age applies to us today. Therefore, when it comes to the ethical and spiritual instruction given in the sermon on the mount, we are not to ignore or seek to set it aside.
Now a word or two as to the circumstances under which this sermon was preached. In Matthew 5, we read that Jesus went up into a mountain, and sat down. But Luke tells us that “He came down with them and stood in the plain, and the company of His disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear Him, and to be healed of their diseases.” While standing in the plain, He gives this sermon on the mount. There have been some who have been quick to say that there is a discrepancy here. Matthew says “mountain” and Luke says “Plain.” A few years ago it was my privilege to stand with some members of my family at the foot of that mountain, near Capernaum. You can see a road ascending until it comes to a broad tableland and then goes up higher and higher until it reaches the peak. Our Lord went up first “into the mountain,” that is, to the very top. Then in the morning He came down to the plain. “And it came to pass in those days that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called unto Him His disciples; and of them He chose twelve, whom also He named apostles; And He came down with them and stood in the plain…” And turning to His disciples, while the multitude listened, He spoke to them. There is no contradiction here. The only trouble is that if one does not understand the circumstances he jumps at conclusions. One has well said that the more he studied the Word of God the more he came to the conclusion that no one knows enough to charge that Word with inconsistencies. This is just one such instance.
Now the Lord, having gathered His own about Him, “lifted up His eyes on His disciples and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.” This is not mere temporal poverty. He is not saying that men should just be content to be poor, but He is comforting those who are poor by telling them that though they may be poor in this world, they may be rich in faith. It is a remarkable fact that in some way or other the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are most always poor. Our Lord said that foxes had holes and birds had nests, but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head. The followers of the Lord Jesus, in a large measure, have been among the poor and lowly, but oh, how much the grace and love of Christ has meant to them. How many a lowly and humble home has been brightened by the fellowship of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not saying a word against rising up from poverty, but is encouraging those who are poor in purse and poor in spirit by assuring them of part in the kingdom of God. It is in Matthew’s account that we find Jesus emphasizes, not simply poverty as to material means, but says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” What does this mean? It is to be without spiritual assets. It is to acknowledge that in yourself you have absolutely nothing to satisfy God, but when you trust His grace then you can say that yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled.” Matthew says, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness.” If you feel a great yearning in your soul for something that you have not found in this world, you may take heart and turn to Him who supplies the living bread, which satisfies the hunger of all who put their trust in Him. “Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.” And oh, how many of God’s people have had to go through trial and distress! Savonarola said, “A Christian’s life consists in trial and distress, doing good and suffering evil.” As you try to follow your Lord in a world like this, many a tear will roll down your face. Your Saviour was a man of tears, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, but “for the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” All the suffering the people of God will ever know is right here on Earth, for they will have joy forever with Him in the world beyond. But those who seek to find their joy here without Christ will have sorrow and grief in the world beyond.
Then Jesus gives a word to those who are suffering for His name’s sake: “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.” You would not like to give up that beatitude, would you, Christians? You would not want to lose the good of it. Thank God, it is always true until Jesus establishes His kingdom and authority over all the world.
“Life with trials hard may press me,
Heaven will give me sweeter rest.”
This is the only world in which we can have that privilege of suffering for His name’s sake. Let our hearts cry out, “Beautiful cross, wonderful cross! I will embrace it.” Jesus said that “whosoever cometh after me, let him take up his cross and follow Me.”
And now we have the four woes. “Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.” Even as, on another occasion, the Lord speaks of the once rich man, suffering in Hades, who had received his good things in this life and now his day was past. When death comes, such are poorer than the poorest.
“Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger.” Those who gorge themselves with present worldly enjoyments, ignoring the more important spiritual realities, will find themselves left in a state of bitter disappointment and unsatisfied yearning when life’s short day is ended.
“Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.” To live for pleasure and seek after folly and carnal mirth in a scene where there is so much reason to be serious and soberminded, means to face an eternity of tears and mourning as one realizes the sadness of wasted talents and opportunities.
“Woe unto you, when all men shall speak of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” To be highly esteemed by worldlings indicates that one is just part of the world and the world loves its own; but Jesus said that if we will follow Him we need not wonder that the world will hate us, for they hated Him before they hated us. It is no evidence that a man is going on with God because he has the good-will of unspiritual and Christless people. The world delights in those of its own kind. We who are Christians have been called out from this world to the One whom they reject. God give us grace to enter more and more into fellowship with our blessed Lord, who is still in the outside place!