The People Have Seen A Great Light
Standard;Happy 9th anniversary Living Word! It was ten years ago, on December 5th that we held our first worship service in the basement of WEMI. In that time, I've have preached through several chapters from the Book of Acts, the entire Book of Revelation, and the entire Book of Romans.
I preached a series on “What makes a healthy church, and have sought to steadfastly proclaim God's opinions about the sanctity of life, the permanence of marriage, and the necessity of sexual purity.
I have always looked for opportunities to affirm the doctrine of infant baptism, and I have talked much about the blessings of tithing, and of children. I have taken some unpopular stands that have cost us members, but I am committed to continue to seek God's truth. I desire to be continually taught by Him, that I may by His grace teach others. And I think as we springboard into our tenth year here at Living Word, we need to start taking steps to insure that this work will continue.
One thing I've never done, is preach through the most famous of all of Jesus' sermons...the sermon on the Mount, and as I was doing my morning devotions this week, I found myself in Matthew 5, thinking....why not? Why not tackle these key words of Jesus about life in His Kingdom? This sermon covers it all from conversion to the final consummation of the marriage between the Christ and His bride....the church.
My prayer is that I will be up to the task. That the Holy Spirit will lead as we seek to learn vital kingdom principles, and that we not only learn them but put them into practice in our individual lives and in the life of this church.
The Lutheran commentator Lenski says this “sermon speaks of the works the disciples are to do in the power of the gospel and faith.” This is the Gospel that we are called to obey and as we get into it, we will realize that our only hope for obedience is in total reliance upon Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is my prayer that we will see how far short we fall from these kingdom expectations, and how much we need His forgiveness, but then to also see that there is hope and that as we learn to live by His power, that we will actually learn to do these things and “move on up that mountain.”
I don't believe it was by accident that Jesus delivered this sermon on a mountain. There was a reason He chose a mountain, and I hope that reason will be clear to you before we leave today.
Let's begin then in Matthew 5:1 “Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him.”
Jesus was feeling the press of the crowds and desired to find a little solitude, so He “moves on up the mountain.” This “moving up the mountain,” provides a natural thinning effect for the crowds. Picture a mountain with a sharply defined peak. If you were to draw it on paper, it would look like a triangle. Is there more room for people at the base of the triangle or at the top? The answer of course is at the base. So as Jesus moves up the mountain, there is less room and fewer people.
Sadly, this is the case for many in their spiritual walk. As Jesus calls us to obey His Gospel fewer and fewer people are willing to do what it takes to keep climbing the mountain. But only those who move on up the mountain with Jesus can hear and receive His teaching. And His teachings are life.
As Peter said later on in the Book of Matthew, “You have the words of eternal life.”
Please note who it was who climbed the mountain with Him.....it was His disciples, His students, those who had left everything to follow Him.
Even His teachings are designed to thin out the ranks. They are designed to separate the wheat from the chaff. It's just as the Baptist said in Mt 3:12, “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”
His winowing fork is His Word and with it He separates the wannabees from the really ares. The pretenders from the contenders for the faith. It's not easy climbing that mountain with Jesus. Crosses must be carried, the air is thin, if you've ever been in the mountains you know that sometimes it's hard to breathe, you're thirsty, hungry, but right off the bat in Mt 5:6 we have the promise from Jesus that those who hunger and thirst in the rareified air of of His Kingdom (the Kingdom of righteousness) shall be satisfied.
Many are called up the mountain, but few are chosen. It's not that He doesn't want to choose them, it's just that they were only willing to go so far up the mountain and no further. Yu can only go as far as you are willing to trust and obey.
There was a rich young ruler who came running up to Jesus wanting to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to give evidence that he was not covetous, “sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me.”
This man was not willing to deal with his sin of covetousness and Jesus would not allow Him to go any further up the mountain until he had dealt with that issue. It was only after He charged the rich man with taking care of his sin of covetousness that He invited Him to follow Him up the mountain.
It wasn't the man's covetousness that did him in, it was his unwillingness to recognize it as sin and to deal with it. This Kingdom life isn't so much about perfection as it is having a heart to keep seeking God's Kingdom. It's about picking yourself up off the ground as often as necessary in order to keep on the journey.
I was reading in 1 Jn 1 this week and found some of the wording there quite interesting. Beginning at verse 5 John says that Jesus declared this truth to His disciples. “God is light.” The Greek word is “phos,” from which we get the word “phosphorous”
If something is phosphorescent,” it glows in the dark. I remember getting a phosphorescent cross as a Sunday School gift when I was a child. I was enthralled with it and would put the blankets over my head at night and have this light in the midst of total darkness. It gives new meaning to the rest of 1 Jn 1:5, ' “in Him is no darkness at all.”
There was no darkness in this phosphorescent cross, made with the hands of men, how much more the lack of darkness in a holy God!
Then John says, “if we say we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie.” Here's where it gets interesting, because the word darkness here carries with it the idea of stopping. The idea being that when one is traveling and overcome by the night he is forced to stop..
So to rephrase this passage, if we walk or live our lives in stopping, we kid ourselves about our fellowship with God. God didn't call us so we could stop. He called us to keep moving on up the mountain. He called us to “press on.” He called us to keep seeking to conquer.
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus addresses the seven churches, listen carefully to His final instructions to all of them.
To the church at Ephesus: “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.”
To the church in Smyrna: “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”
The church at Pergamum: To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.
The church at Thyatira: The one who conquers and who keeps My works until the end, to him I will give authority over nations....and I will give him the morning star.
The church at Sardis: “The one who conquers will be thus clothed in white garments, and they will walk with Me in white for they are worthy.
The church at Philadelphia: The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.
The church at Laodicea: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne.
One does not conquer by stopping, by sitting still. Later on in Revelation we are told that we conquer by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, not loving our lives even unto death.” And as we go through these words of the sermon on the mount, we will see a continuous thread of laying down our lives, giving up our own agenda for the sake of His.
The rich young ruler stopped, not willing to go any farther and he went away sorrowful. The Israelites got up to the very edge of the Promised Land but refused to go any farther. It was a huge problem for the Jews in the day of Jesus, because they too had stalled out. They had stopped, gone just as far as their comfortable religious system would allow them to go They were in “darkness.”
In Mt 4:16 the exact same word is used for darkness, “”the people dwelling in darkness,( the people had come to a screeching halt spiritually,) have seen a great light.... a great piece of phosphor in the form of Jesus Christ, and He was bidding them to come to the light.
One of the beautiful things about the Sermon on the Mount is that it challenges us even today to get out of the rut of comfortable religion. I like what John Stott says about this sermon: “The followers of Jesus are to be different. Different from the NOMINAL CHURCH and the secular world....The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere in the New Testament of the Christian counter culture. Here is a Christian value system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, lifestyle and network of relationships, all of which are totally at variance with those in the non-Christian world.” ,
The sermon on the mount calls us to be different, to stand above the crowd. It is a constant theme for God's people. In the Old Testament we kept hearing God's refrain to His chosen people, “ You shall not do as as they do.” You can see that same theme develop in the sermon on the Mount. Mt 6:8 says, “Do not be like them.”
Jesus is about to move up the mountain. The Light is even now shining among us and calling us to follow Him up the rough terrain. Are you ready to break camp and follow Him? I warn you ahead of time. There will be hard sayings, you will be tempted at times to say, “this is nuts,” and join the rich young ruler in his descent away from Jesus and the kingdom.
You will look at these sayings of Jesus as the Israelites looked at the occupants of the Promised Land.....giants too big to be overcome, and you will want to hot foot it back to Egypt..
You will be greatly tempted to stay right where you are in your religious comfort zone as the Jews of Jesus day did..
But Jesus is calling. He has the words of eternal life, will you and I press on up the mountain to get within earshot? Will we allow His words to penetrate our hearts and move us to action?
There is one more thing you need to know about the mountain. It is on the mountain that Jesus fed the 5,000. It is on the mountain that Jesus fed the 4000.
What did the disciples want to do? They wanted to send them away, but that's the last thing Jesus wants to do. People may decide to leave, to go back down the mountain, but Jesus wants them to stay. This is so key for you and I, because we need to know that as we follow Jesus up the mountain, as we are challenged with His teachings designed to reform our lives, and make us a stark contrast to the world and the nominal church we need not shrink back for lack of provision.
He will provide more than we need to step out of the darkness and get moving toward the light. Believe it brother, believe it sister, and as we begin our 11th year here at Living Word, let the words of this song be a source of encouragement for us all as we Press On.