the words of jesus set a bar that is entirely unattainable. he even says midway through the sermon, after telling us that we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, that we just need to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. (5:48)
talk about impossible. but that’s just the point. the religious leaders of that day…especially the pharisees…had created an elaborate system of rules and requirements that people needed to keep in order to be right with god. sort of a self-guided path to righteousness.
earlier in the sermon, though, jesus even blew that plan out of the water with these words: for I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (5:20)
now here’s the humbling part. my righteousness will never exceed that of the pharisees. they were too good at it. their law-keeping was impeccable. their religiosity was stellar. their spirituality was superior. geez. i probably commit more “sins” before noon most days, than a rank and file pharisee committed in a month.
but what i lack in religious behavior is made up for in grace.
i cannot make myself right with god by my own rule-keeping. i cannot account for my own sin by doing things that god will notice. i cannot make god love me more by jumping through spiritual hoops and saying, “daddy, watch me! daddy, watch me!”
i cannot balance the scales with god by fulfilling the commands of the sermon on the mount. that can only be done by faith…by trusting that jesus’ death on the cross, alone, is sufficient to make me right with god.
here’s the terrifying part: the words of jesus in the sermon on the mount are not mere religious ideas. he did not speak these words and expect them to fall on deaf ears. i don’t think his intent was to go through an empty exercise of laying out a lifestyle of total surrender to the kingdom…only to have his followers “spiritualize” the teaching or write it off as “unrealistic”.
are you ready to face your fear?