Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jesus and His Sermon on the Mount

The Enormous Exception was a 1986 publication by Word Publishers in Waco. Author Earl F. Palmer was a UC Berkeley/Princeton graduate; and pastor at the time of Berkeley 1st Presbyterian Church for sixteen years. Occupying a slot in my library for several decades, it has given me a fresh opportunity to meet the Jesus of the Law and the Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount.

Of special interest was the author’s assertion on the dust jacket suggesting, “The only way this sermon makes sense is if Jesus Christ himself, who spoke these words, is strong enough to make them really true … The good news in the profoundest sense in the Sermon on the Mount,” Palmer concluded, “is to be found in the one who is preaching the sermon” (p. 52).

I find in the author’s assertion a quintessential truth, a most perfect manifestation of the truth needed to properly interpret the sermon from Matthew 5-6-7. People from Anabaptist tradition stress a quite literal interpretation of the piety taught in Matthew 5-7. Others, including some pre-millenarians, distance themselves from it far enough to claim that Jesus merely suggested ideals to aim toward, rather than teaching a lifestyle one should practice.  Allow me to share a few insights from the author.

The Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12 describe the life of blessing, that being how life really works. There are multiple roads, or ways, but not every way works. The author would agree that the only way the Beatitudes work, or even make sense, is if the one speaking them—Jesus--is strong enough to make them really true.  Is Jesus as strong as he thinks he is?

Matthew 5:17-20 reveals Jesus as the Lord of the Law. Tracing the threads of Abraham, Moses, and David in an over simplified manner, we see the people of God called into covenant relationship as God’s very own people, marked by circumcision. Following Moses out of the Exodus brings identity of deliverance as God’s people celebrating a calendar of feast days that further instruct as to their identity, their deliverance, and the kingdom they seek. Palmer finds,
           “We can now appreciate St. Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill to the philosophers of Athens.
               He proclaimed to them that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the ancient search of the
               Philosophers of Greece just as he is the fulfillment of Israel’s quest for a king like David,
               a father like Abraham and a redeemer like Moses (44).                                                                                 
 Jesus offer a new way in Matthew 5:38-48; a new interpretation: you have heard it said … but I say … I liked Palmer’s analogy of the great arc of the Law (39). Think of it this way, he writes: “Jesus treats the Law as if it were a great arc. He next extends the line of the arc around to its fulfillment, the circle for which it was originally designed;” i.e., to be his very own people. Elsewhere, he writes:
            “It is Jesus of Nazareth who really completes our yearning for identity, so that we know who we are
               and to what end that ancient promise to Abraham was made, ‘by you all the families of the earth
               shall bless themselves.’” It Is Jesus who fulfills the righteous will of God shown at Mt. Sinai and he
               Is able to incarnate in himself the Way (Torah) for which the Law was given in the first place …”
               (p. 42).

               “Because of Jesus’ words we who trust in his Lordship over all of life including the Law must now
               Trust in the Law which has its completion in the Lord we trust … We may not have a Moses in our
               own story but we do have ‘exodus’ and ‘deliverance’ experiences …” (p. 43).   

There is a wide range of thought today about the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sermon on the Mount. There are issues of War and Peace, Capital Punishment, Love in a world of hatred, Forgiveness and punishment, ad infinitum. Jesus insisted the gospel is summed up in two statements: love God supremely and love your neighbor as yourself! In Matthew 7:12 he laid out the Golden Rule:  do unto others as you would have them do to you.

But, is that really gospel? It sounds so simplistic that some think it merely a diluted form of a warped Christianity that is utterly impractical. Hear Jesus again! “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” How much plainer could Jesus say the New Testament teachings of love complete, fulfill, fill up the Old Testament teachings of an eye for an eye, et al?

Did Jesus originate this idea of love? NO! He taught it in Matthew 22:37-40, but he referenced Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:5 as taught by the Law of Moses. Consider also Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14, where the Apostle Paul frames the same argument. In James 2:8, the brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem Church adds his support. These men should tell us something!

I have not adequately explored either Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or Palmer’s book, or given credence to the immense force of God’s love, but conclude with this word from Dr. Palmer:
            “When we dare to break the old expectations of terror for terror and rather introduce the new in-
               gredient of meaningful love (“bless”), the result is powerfully effective because we have invoked the         immense force of God’s love. In fact, Paul quotes Proverbs 25 (25:21-22) to prove his point. Love
               actually has the power to create a new reality … Paul’s use of the word bless points to a thoughtful,
               clearheaded, and tough love that is as wise as it is well intentioned …” (p. 55)

This small book (151 pages) evidences solid academic accreditation, supports thoughtful biblical exposition, and offers some solid word studies. From Warner’s World … I am              

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