Jesus, The Controversial TeacherErwin W. Lutzer | March 6, 2011
Selected highlights from this sermon
The Sermon on the Mount was preached to drive people to Jesus, for if we take an honest look at the Beatitudes, we realize we can’t achieve these things on our own.
In this brief message, Pastor Lutzer goes through the meaning behind many of the Beatitudes and shows us why God is more concerned about our inner selves than our outer appearance.
Today I have the privilege of preaching on the most famous sermon that has ever been preached. For two thousand years the Sermon on the Mount, preached by Jesus, has been written about, talked about, and argued about. It’s a sermon that has had the greatest influence that any sermon could possibly have and its influence continues. Jesus is speaking here and what he’s saying is controversial and revolutionary.
In order to understand Matthew 5 we have to set the context of the people who would be hearing it. You’ll remember that Palestine at that time was under Roman occupation. What happened was this. Pompeii came in about 63 B.C. Twelve thousand Jews were killed, but he overcame the resistance and Palestine became a Roman satellite, if I can put it that way. As a result of that, Rome gave the people of Palestine kings and governors such as Pontius Pilate, and the King Herod, and the people lived under that occupation. They had to pay taxes. They had to be in subjection to those who were ruling them, and they hated it.
Now along comes Jesus doing miracles. In fact, he is able to take bread and to multiply it, and the Bible says they wanted him to become a king. What a bitter disappointment Jesus was to these people because he comes proclaiming the kingdom of heaven and saying that the kingdom of heaven is here, and the people were thinking, “Surely he will be the Messiah to lead us out from under Rome’s heel and we’ll get on and we will have our independence back and we will be a strong nation again, and finally everything that is Jewish will be in its right place.”
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus continues that disappointment. Rather than speaking about political transformation and political deliverance, all that he does is talk about the human heart. Now there’s a place of course. We’re talking about the political situation and I’m sure that all of the talk in those days was casting off this Roman yoke that was getting heavier by the year, but Jesus avoids all of that. What he does is he begins to talk about the attitude of the people and their invisible relationship with God. I say invisible because I am talking about the heart. That’s what the Sermon on the Mount is all about.
Now there was that political pressure that Jesus avoided. The other thing that is not emphasized here is what we could call the spiritual ceremonies that the Jews loved only too well. This is what Jesus had to say about the people of his day. Now this is harsh. It applies to us but listen carefully.
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees and hypocrites, for you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and the plate that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you are like whitewashed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness, so you also outwardly appear righteous to others but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Ouch! That hurt.
Jesus despised rituals. He despised going into a temple and pretending that you were more holy than you really were. Why? It’s because God looks on the heart. And may I stop right here and talk about the relevance of what Jesus has to say to us. We all get dressed up on Sunday. At least I still do. Of course, there are those who would say that I’m out of step with what’s happening in the church. Most young pastors today preach in jeans and a tee shirt, but I’m of the old school and still get dressed up, and as I look at all of you, most of you do too.
What Jesus is saying is, “Isn’t it a tragedy to look okay on the outside but inwardly there is rot? There is greed. There is anger. There is immorality and it’s all hidden there, and that’s the only part that really matters to God,” and we see that most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount.
We are not going to look at all of the Beatitudes today. We will look at five or six depending on the time that we have and then we’ll ask ourselves the question, “Why should we be changed forever because we have been in the presence of Jesus, listening to what he had to say?”
Jesus went up into a mountain, and if you are in Israel today you know that the mount that is generally believed to be where Jesus preached this message is along the Sea of Galilee. It’s called the Mount of the Beatitudes. He sat down when he taught as most rabbis did, and then he opened his mouth, which is a way of simply saying he got the audience’s attention and then he began to speak. And then he said this. “Blessed are the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He’s not talking about physical poverty. After all, that isn’t always a blessing, but he’s talking about those who are poor in spirit. He’s talking about those who are humble, those who are broken before God, those who have nothing to defend, those who don’t always have to spin every situation to make themselves come out looking okay, because they are totally dependent and humble before God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” says Jesus, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They experience the rule and the reign of Jesus within their hearts. Blessed are the humble. Blessed are those who don’t put on airs, who don’t pretend that they are more spiritual than they are, who know themselves well enough to know who they are in God’s presence.
Then Jesus goes on to say, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,” and here he’s undoubtedly talking about mourning over their sins. James 4 for example says, “Cut out all the laughter. Weep and mourn for your sins.” You know there is a place where we recognize the gravity of what we’ve done, that it is serious against God because all sin is cosmic rebellion, and we finally see God and we see our sins and we say, “Oh God, I am of all people most wretched.” Like the Apostle Paul said in the book of Romans, “Oh wretched man that I am.” Blessed is the person who sees himself that way from time to time. Now we’re not talking about despair. Despair is seeing yourself without seeing God’s grace and God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness.
This past summer when I was in Europe we were eating with someone who said, “I left the Church because all that I got was judgment and I was told that I was a sinner.” And I said to him, “That part of the message that you heard in church was right and good and true. Didn’t they also tell you about God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness, so that having analyzed the problem they gave the solution?” He said, “Well, if they did I didn’t hear it.” So I want you to hear it today, folks. Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted, and how does that comfort take place? It takes place by God’s forgiveness. There are times when we are in God’s presence and we sense our need that is so overwhelming and then we receive his grace and we are comforted and we are helped, but let’s move on.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Nietzsche, who died in the year 1899 and prepared the way for Hitler, said the most scathing things that have ever been said against Christianity. He hated the fact that Christianity was a religion for the meek, which he interpreted to be the weak, because he said, “What we need is a strong man,” and when Hitler arose, no wonder he kept copies of Nietzsche’s book at his bedside.
Well, meekness is not weakness. It’s not the kind of thing that you simply become (you know, a door mat) for somebody. It is strength and power, but it is under control. Blessed are the meek. Jesus is an excellent example, who when he was reviled, reviled not again. When he suffered he didn’t utter threats. He didn’t think he needed to even the score right at that time, even though he had the power to do so. He said, “I could call ten legions of angels and they would come and they would deliver me,” but he didn’t call them. That’s meekness. You don’t use your power except when you have to and when it is right. Meekness is strength that is under control. And so what Jesus is saying is, “You’ll inherit the earth.” That doesn’t mean that there are no more promises for Israel, like one Bible interpretation says. There is a man who wrote a book who basically says that because the meek inherit the earth all of the promises that God made to Israel are now cancelled. Some of us don’t believe that. We think that God still has a great future for Israel, for the Jewish people, as taught in the New Testament. What it means though is that the meek are the ones who are going to regain Paradise, both in this world and in the world to come.
Well, I’m only introducing you to these Beatitudes. We’re going to move on. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” You and I are born with an insatiable thirst for God. Augustine said on the first page of his confessions, “Oh God, thou hast created us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their all in thee.” But the problem is that by nature we don’t go looking for God to fill the thirst, so we have all of these other fountains out there. What do you thirst for today? Could I ask you that question? What is really the passion of your heart? What is it that occupies your mind, your time, and your priorities? What is it that you thirst for? Is it pleasure, money, self-satisfaction, or recognition? That is huge. Is that what you thirst for? Well, blessed are those who don’t thirst for those things, but they actually hunger and they thirst for righteousness. They are lovers of righteousness.
Now as we shall see, that love doesn’t come to us naturally. It’s not a love that we are born with. We are born with desires that mislead us, but Jesus is saying that, and where is it that people might go in order to find this righteousness, to find the answer to their thirst and their hunger? Jesus, you remember, offered himself. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger. He who believes in me shall never thirst.” Jesus also said, “Come unto me and drink,” because he is the living water. Jesus is both the bread and the water, and when we come and drink, and when we come to eat (spiritually speaking) we’ll discover that the extent to which we know God and are satisfied with him, and our desire for him actually increases and we discover that we have to go on drinking and we have to go on eating (spiritually speaking) because the sense of fulfillment only gives us an appetite for more. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst not after recognition, or after money or sensuality, but blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.”
Well, we go to the next Beatitude and we discover that Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Now many people interpret this in kind of a humanistic way. They say, “What this means is that if I am merciful to somebody, they’ll be merciful back. Treat people nicely and they will treat you nicely.” Well, that’s a wonderful platitude but you and I know that it just ain’t true. You’ve treated some people very nicely and what did they do? They tried to kick you in the face. They tried to stomp on you. They tried to cut off your neck. No matter how nice you treat them, you are not getting niceness back. What Jesus is talking about is not our relationship, or that if I’m merciful to you that you will be merciful to me, though oftentimes it does work out that way. But look at Jesus himself. He was merciful. He healed. He was able to help people. He created miracles of food, etc., and what did he get? He got the cross.
I think that what the text is saying is that if we are merciful to others God will be merciful to us. This is very important. James says, for example, in his book in chapter 2, verse 13; “Judgment will be merciless for those who have shown no mercy.” Even as a Christian standing at the judgment seat of Jesus Christ, if we have not been merciful to others, we will not experience mercy ourselves to the same degree. It will all be weighed out on God’s scale with meticulous accuracy and justice, but what the Scripture is saying is that as I am merciful to others, God becomes merciful to me. And aren’t you glad for the mercy of God? The Bible says in the book of Lamentations that it is because of his mercy that we are not consumed. His mercies are new every morning.
I hope that you’ve had this experience too but oftentimes God throws some things my way just to remind me of the fact that he loves me and cares about me. Things work out much better than they really should. The people that I meet, the circumstances that I’m in, I would be satisfied with much less blessing (at least I think so) and God just comes along and does certain things, always reminding us that he is merciful. He’s slow to anger, as it says in Psalm 103, and plenteous in mercy.
But we must hurry on. We’ll do another one of the beatitudes before we ask ourselves about the transformation we need. And that is, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Blessed are the pure in heart. That would be a very good verse to put on your computer screen in some way so that when you open up your computer and you are tempted to go into pathways that lead to sensuality and evil, you see “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Repeat that verse four or five times before you begin to click on your mouse.
Blessed are the pure in heart. They are the ones that will see God. Does purity ever pay off? Is it worth it? Sometimes young people say to themselves, “You know I waited for the right person to come along, and all these years nothing has happened, and so I’m going to plunge into sensuality. I’m going to fulfill my own needs. I’m going to live a polluted life because I think that its joys are going to outweigh its sorrows.
Well here’s a verse that says there is a special reward for those who are pure in heart. They get to see God. Haven’t we all experienced pollution of heart? Most assuredly I have. And it’s during those times when the conscience is polluted that we really don’t see God. We are focused on our sin. We are focused on ourselves. There’s no enjoyment. There’s no freedom. There’s no looking up and saying, “God, I just want you to know I love you,” but it is the pure in heart that see God.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, where do I get this pure heart?” I’m so glad you asked that question. See, I’m always thinking of the questions that you either are asking or you should be asking. I can read your minds, you know. I’m just looking at you right now and I can see you. The Bible says that the pure heart comes through conversion, through conviction of sin, and through the fact that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s son, cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
I told you before about the woman that I spoke to many years ago on the telephone who called me because she was not sure of her salvation, and you can be sure, by the way, but she said this. “What do I do with my heart?” I love this phrase. She said, “I cannot take steel wool to my heart and scrub it.” Don’t you ever wish you could take some detergent, some steel wool, and scrub your heart, but you can’t? She was right. “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh (now notice), how much more shall the blood of Christ who through the eternal covenant offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” God can make your heart pure. That’s where we get the pure heart from and the blessing is that both now in this life and especially in the life to come, the pure in heart see God. We already begin to, don’t we? Some of you know what I am talking about.
Now that’s enough in terms of the Beatitudes. We could go on and we could talk about the others, but what I want to do is to ask the question, “What’s going on here in the text? What kind of a transformation is Jesus actually talking about?”
You look at all of these Beatitudes and you have to conclude that Jesus is teaching that who we are is much more important than the things that we do. Who we are! Here I’m talking about the inner life. I’m talking about being rather than doing. I already read to you what Jesus had to say about the scribes and the Pharisees who cleaned the plate outwardly but inwardly were full of greed and covetousness and all kinds of evil.
Who you are is really dependent on the inside of you. Man looks on the outward appearance, the Bible says, but the Lord looks on the heart. The way in which you are dressed this morning isn’t really critical to him at all. What is really happening on the inside is incredibly critical to him. You know there is a passage of Scripture I’ve often pondered and if it ever hits you, you just have to say “Wow!” Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us that “the word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, discerning between the soul and the spirit and is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart, and no creature is hidden from his sight.” And now please remember this. “All things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.” You are not what you think you are, but what you think, you are. The Scripture reminds us through the Sermon on the Mount that what we are on the inside (our being) is much more important than doing. The doing will take care of itself.
There’s a second lesson I think that we have to learn and that is that this becoming (if I can put it that way), the person we become is really very important, so being is a matter of becoming. Let me put it that way. Who you are is a matter of who you are becoming to be. Am I clear? It’s who it is that you are becoming to be. You know I am struck with that Beatitude that says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Have you ever really been hungry? I mean really seriously hungry. When you are hungry you are not saying, “Now, you know I want some food but also I’d really like to have a new set of clothes.” You are not thinking about the clothes. A hungry person wants to eat. That’s all you think about.
Have you ever been thirsty? When I was younger, back in 1968, and I realize that some of you weren’t born before 1968, I climbed to the top of Masada in Israel. Nowadays we as tourists go up in a cable car. They figured it out. But in about 110-degree heat we went up and up and up. We drank everything that we brought with us. I was so thirsty that as I remember it when I came down I drank fruit juice and water, and I almost had to drink for a couple of days just for my body to regain its proper equilibrium.
When I was going to the top of Masada I wasn’t saying to myself, “You know, I want something to drink but I also want a new flat screen TV. Obviously I wasn’t saying it back then because there were no such things back then. There were TV’s – probably black and white – but that’s not what I was thinking about. Oh for a drop of water!
You know I’m thinking to myself of the man in Luke 16 who was in Hades. Remember he said to Lazarus, “Dip you finger in water and put it on my tongue because I am tormented in this flame.” That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about thirst. And when Jesus says that we should hunger and thirst after righteousness, we should hunger and we should thirst after God with that kind of intensity and that kind of single-mindedness where everything else doesn’t matter that much. There will be time to do the other things, but blessed is the person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness.
I think of Augustine, that great theologian and philosopher. He said, “Oh Lord, it is said that no man can see thee and live. May I die that I might behold thy face?” As the deer pants after the water brook so pants my soul after thee, oh God. Being is more important than doing. Being is a matter of becoming and being begins with admitting. We have to admit certain things. We have to admit who we are. We have to finally recognize that the game that we are playing is a game that has to end at some point and we have to see our need. And you have all these people who have fame and fortune. Charlie Sheen isn’t the only person who has fame and fortune and yet is a mess inside. There are plenty of people like that. We don’t hear about them on the news but I am speaking to some right now, and you would say, “Pastor Lutzer, internally there is guilt, there is shame, there is hopelessness. Where do I turn?”
It is a matter of admitting first of all who you are. Could I invite you today to give up the game and the lies that we love to tell ourselves? We love to tell ourselves lies – lies about our own goodness, lies about what we’ve done, lies that enable us to somehow deaden the conscience when God says the real answer is to admit that you are as bad you seem to be or think you might be in your honest moments.
Whenever I am gone from the church I always listen to the sermons that have been preached from his pulpit, just to make sure that everybody is on track, so I listened to the message that Pastor Hutz Hertzberg preached two weeks ago when he said that all of us are closer to Hitler than we are to Jesus. And I thought, “How true!” I’ve written a book or two about Hitler. I’ve studied him and the thing that shocks you is that in some areas he was so normal. He was a part of the human race. He was a little further down the continuum than you and me but we’re all really awful desperate sinners. And if you don’t admit that, you cannot go to the next part, and that is to admit not only the truth about you but the truth about Jesus and the fact that he actually died not just so that we might be forgiven, as blessed that that is, but he died so that our desires would be changed. You can’t wake up in the morning and say, “Today I’m going to hunger and thirst after righteousness.” You don’t have that power. You are driven by these other desires. Just like a tiger can’t wake up in the morning and say, “Today I am going to love straw. I’m just going to make up my mind.” No, you can’t do that. When our desires are changed, they must be changed by God. “If any many be in Christ he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. All things become new.” That’s called the new birth. That’s called conversion. It’s called regeneration and without that you can never, never see God. (applause)
I want to talk to you personally. This message is almost over, but I want you to pretend that you and I are sitting down for a cup of tea together and we are eyeball to eyeball. Have you been converted by God, or only reformed by good behavior? There’s a huge difference.
The year is 1977. All of New York is fearful because a man by the name of Son of Sam is murdering people, and the police can’t find him. Finally they arrest a 24-year old postal worker and they discover David Berkowitz is the one who has been doing these terrible things, and he is imprisoned for life. Word comes to Pastor Jim Cymbala of New York that Berkowitz has been converted, so he connects with him in prison - first of all through phone calls and then through direct contact. Let me read to you what David Berkowitz said about himself. Would you for a moment realize that he too was a human being, despicable things though he did? He did come to Christ and this is what he said. He was into Satanism. What a terrible thing. I’m speaking to people today and some of you may be into Satanism.
He said, “Nothing could control me. I was like the tormented Gadarene demoniac, anguished, inflicting pain on myself and driven to dark and lonely places,” but a fellow prisoner shared the good news of the Gospel with him and bottom line, today he is an assistant chaplain leading Bible studies in a New York prison. (applause)
“If any man be in Christ he is a new creation.” Now the Sermon on the Mount was preached to drive people to Jesus. You can’t live up to this. You can’t change your heart and suddenly love righteousness and suddenly wake up and be merciful. I mean you can do it outwardly but the inward desires are changed, and that’s conversion, and if you are not born again you will not enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus basically preached so that we would realize this and we’d say, “This is hopeless,” and he says, “Yes, I got through. Rush to me for forgiveness and for a transformation of a heart.” And even as we gather together today to remember his death, the blood that was shed, the body that was broken, it was done so that you and I could be forgiven and transformed.
Would you join me as we pray?
Father, for those who have never come to Christ, may they do that even now. I am thinking of people who could bow their heads right now and say, “Jesus, I receive you as my Savior because I am in great need. I am a sinner. You are a savior that matches my need.” Would you cause them to say that we pray? And as we remember your death may we be very mindful of the preciousness of what you did for us sinners who didn’t deserve such grace? In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.