The Sermon on the Mount

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The major teaching event in the ministry of Jesus was the Sermon on the Mount. According to the scriptures, this was the largest gathering that Jesus addressed during His ministry. Given this opportunity, He did not bring people out of the audience and cure their illnesses; He did not ask for donations; He did not ask the people to worship Him; He did not say that He was going to die for their sins. What He did do, was to teach the following lesson:

Matt 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.

Matt 5:5

Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.

Matt 5:6

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.

Matt 5:7

Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.

Matt 5:8

Blessed are the pure in heart,
 For they shall see God.

Matt 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.

Matt 5:10

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Be righteous, be meek, be pure of heart, be a peacemaker, be merciful; when given the chance to instruct a great number of people, this is what Jesus felt to be important. Should it not be expected that all people who wish to follow Jesus, should also agree with Him that these ideas are the most important part of the religion of Jesus?

While I would like to believe that the teaching’s of Jesus should form the backbone of any religion that claims Jesus as its head, it seems that this view is not universally held. Those who have held with Paul’s view that it is faith and not works that lead to salvation have found it necessary to denigrate the value of Jesus’ teaching. They claim that since Jesus’ teachings about moral action are impossible for anyone (other than Jesus) to comply with perfectly, that His teachings are nothing more than an example meant to show us how imperfect we all are and how salvation for such imperfect beings is impossible except through the saving grace of faith.

An example of this can be found in the following quotations from the theologian, Carl Stange:

"Fellowship with God is not achieved through ethical performance. From an ethical standpoint, it is a derogation of the idea of the good to seek its realization by imitating Jesus. The teaching about the ideal.... only serves to make plain the reprehensibility of the human condition... The meaning of the moral demand is not that it gives us the power for the good but rather that it shows us our impotence for the good."

(Bauman, Clarence, The Sermon on the Mount, The Modern Quest for its Meaning, p.177.)

or this from Karl Bornhauser:

"The fulfillment of these demands are expected only from Jesus’ disciples."

(Bauman, Clarence, The Sermon on the Mount, The Modern Quest for its Meaning, p.153.)

Stange and Bornhauser are quite representative of those who back Paul’s view of faith over works. There are, however, many Theologians and Scholars who share my view that Jesus was an excellent teacher and that He meant both what He said and what He taught.

Here are some examples:

"Stange’s central axiom is derived not from Jesus but from Paul and reflects not the content of the Sermon on the Mount but the influence of Reformation dogma."

"Stange made claims about the Sermon on the Mount which its content does not validate. He read into it theories and experiences foreign to its sphere. Stange’s misinterpretation of the Sermon on the Mount exemplifies the characteristically Lutheran hermeneutical incongruity of superimposing upon the teaching of Jesus the theology of Paul."

(Bauman, Clarence, The Sermon on the Mount, The Modern Quest for its Meaning, p.185.)


"Once it has been firmly ingrained in the human psyche that one can do no good work and that original sin is the all- pervading ontological reality of human being, then all ethics has been eliminated on principle as an expression of that original sinfulness on account of which man is caught up in the cosmic drama of supernatural redemption. Supernaturalistic explanations for why Jesus died and how his death saves us, however, largely evade the historical implications of messiahship and discipleship along the via dolorosas of life. ...The emphasis has been not on the didache Of Jesus but on the kerygma About Christ. Jesus’ teaching of the Way of the Cross has been replaced by Paul’s proclamation of the Word of the Cross with the effect that the offense of the Cross has been transferred from the existential to the epistemological plane so that the authoritative command to Follow Jesus has become an intellectual problem of Believing in Christ. That following Jesus is presumptuous and unnecessary is implicit in the logic of most atonement theories. "

(Bauman, Clarence, The Sermon on the Mount, The Modern Quest for its Meaning, p.421.)

or this from Leo Tolstoy:

"I accepted the fact that Christ meant exactly what he said. The least that can be required of those who judge another man’s teaching is, that they should take the teacher’s words in the exact sense in which he uses them. Christ did not consider his teaching as some high ideal of what mankind should be, but cannot attain to, nor does he consider it as a chimerical, poetical fancy, fit only to captivate the simple-minded inhabitant of Galilee; he considers his teaching as work, a work which is to save mankind. His suffering on the cross was no dream; he groaned in agony and died for his teaching."

(Bauman, Clarence, The Sermon on the Mount, The Modern Quest for its Meaning, p.11.)

or this strong statement from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945, professor University of Berlin [interrupted by Hitler], pastor Confessing Church in Pomerania):

"We Lutherans have gathered like eagles around the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ. The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works."

(Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 44)

Thus the lines are drawn between those who place emphasis on the teaching's of Jesus and those who accept the interpretations of Paul and his followers. As for myself, having taught a wide variety of subjects over the last 37 years, I find it highly insulting to Jesus to assume that His teachings were anything other than what He presented them to be: a direction on how best to live one’s life. All teachers present the best information they can on how to perfectly accomplish what is being taught. Teachers realize that their students are not going to learn to perfectly accomplish what is being taught, but they teach it with the idea that the student should do their best. I believe that this idea is excellently put forth by the original apostles in the Didache (or Rule of the Twelve):

"If you can bear the whole yoke of the Lord (i.e. the Law), you will be perfect; but if you cannot, do what you can."

(Didache 6:2-3)

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