Back to Basics
Returning to the Roots of Authentic Religion, Belief, and Practice in the Sermon on the Mount
1. Getting Back To Basics
The Sermon on the Mount has been hailed by countless theologians as the greatest summary of Christ’s teachings. Saint Augustine, one of the great Church Fathers, said this about it:
“If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as we read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life: and this we do not rashly venture to promise, but gather it from the very words of the Lord Himself.”
On the Sermon on the Mount, I.1
This should come at no surprise, because of all the passages in the New Testament that we might highlight as being significant for orthodoxy and orthopraxis, the Sermon on the Mount must be highlighted first, because it is the ‘square one’ of what became Christianity. It is with this passage that we are going to go back to basics.
However, just because something is basic does not necessarily mean it’s easy. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged and critiqued the deepest aspects of what it means to be religious and spiritual. But that’s okay, right? This is why we follow Christ, because Christ is our river. He’s where we’ve chosen to be planted, so that we can grow.
Growth can be hard, and it can take a long time, but it’s possible because the Holy Spirit is working in us in a process called sanctification, so that we can become the best and most Christ-like version of ourselves. So if you feel like you’ve hit a plateau in life or you’re stuck in a rut or your faith is stagnant, then it’s probably because you’ve stopped growing in some capacity (which could be for any number of reasons). However, when it comes to the Christian walk, then it’s probably because you’ve lost focus on the basics. This can be a hard thing to admit, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, then we’ll probably realize there’s some truth to that.
If you care about your overall health and wellness, then making a habit of the basics is a great strategy. How is your prayer and devotional life going? When was the last time you had some quiet time with God? How are you loving and serving others? What is the time, talent, or treasure you’re using to build the Kingdom? —These are all basic things we should be focused on as Christians, and incidentally they’re all things in the Sermon on the Mount… so let’s get to it!
Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by making a series of statements called the Beatitudes. If you know your etymology, then you’ll know that the suffix of -tude means ‘the state or condition of being that something is in.’ The prefix of beati- is the Latin word for blessedness. Given that, the Beatitudes are expressions of ‘the state or condition of being blessed.’ By making these statements, Jesus is redefining for his followers what blessedness means.
In the ancient world, the Beatitudes were very controversial because the prevailing view was that if you had wealth, health, prestige, and power, then that meant you were being blessed by God (or the gods, depending on your religion). In terms of nations and geopolitics, many kings and emperors subscribed to a ‘might makes right’ philosophy, and that it was perfectly natural and fitting for the strong to dominate the weak, and to wage war for the sole purpose of bringing glory to your nation. These views are all deeply materialistic notions of blessedness, and the sad thing is, they never really went away.
To this day, we’re still wrestling with ideas about what it means to be blessed, and our society may have a different version of what ancient people wanted, but we’re still chasing after wealth, health, prestige, and power. Of course, it’s not inherently wrong to be wealthy, healthy, prestigious, and powerful, but it’s a mistake to think these things will make your life any more fulfilling and meaningful. Moreover, the greater point that Jesus was making is that none of those things get you closer to God or make you righteous. The true state or condition of blessedness is being a sinner who has been redeemed and made righteous by the grace of God, it is NOT being wealthy, healthy, prestigious, and powerful.
This is why each of the Beatitudes are targeting a very specific idea about what it means to be blessed, and how all of them describe what it’s like to live in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Kingdom is the central and unifying concept of what Jesus taught and preached about, but suffice to say — the Kingdom is not a place or an actual country or a form of government, rather it is a worldview and a way of life for every Christian. The borders of the Kingdom are spiritual, and the only way to enter it is by following Christ with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
When you enter the Kingdom, you’re leaving behind a worldview that is fixated on wealth, health, prestige, and power. You start slowly recognizing what really matters in life, and who really matters. This can be a difficult path to walk, because our culture is going to keep feeding you a narrative that going to church is a waste of time, that religion is a crutch, that God is just an imaginary friend, that the Resurrection is a myth, and that charity is a poor use of time and money. (In fact I think our culture has done a really good job making ‘charity’ into a dirty word, so much so that plenty of folks think it’s shameful to either give it or receive it or ask for it.) But not so in the Kingdom!
The Beatitudes tell us that it doesn’t matter if you’re helpless and needy, or if you’re in a season of mourning or suffering, or if you feel like you are powerless and voiceless, or if or if your faith is in a rut, or if you’re persecuted because of it, or if you’ve hit rock bottom and don’t know what else to do or who-what-where to turn to. The citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven help the helpless, protect the weak, speak for the voiceless, grieve alongside others, show mercy to the guilty, make peace with their enemies, and in everything else seek the righteousness of God. All of that brings about real blessedness.
When we are living out the Kingdom of Heaven and being a blessing to others, that’s how we become salt to the Earth and a light to the world. When it comes to salt specifically, this was one of the most valuable commodities in the ancient world. Today we mainly use it to season or preserve food, but during the time of Jesus the Romans also used it extensively in their construction projects to strengthen their mortar and concrete. And as much as I think Jesus was tapping into these ideas when it came to salting the Earth, there’s more to the picture than we might realize. Consider the significance of salt in the following Bible verses (with emphasis mine):
“Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you [the priesthood] and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.” ~ Numbers 18:19 (NIV)
Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings. ~ Leviticus 2:13 (NIV)
Don’t you know that the Lord, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt? ~ 2 Chronicles 13:5 (NIV)
This phrase ‘covenant of salt’ has connotations with both the priesthood and the Davidic dynasty, which I think is perfectly expressed in 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (NKJV). So as the salt of the Earth, we’re not called to simply be a blessing to others, we’re being called into duty, as a priesthood we need to consecrate our lives for the Lord; and as royalty we need to conduct ourselves as ambassadors for the Kingdom, knowing that the eyes of the world are upon us, and so we need to set the example of what living the good life looks like. Once people see that we are a force for good in this world, they’ll see how good Jesus is, and then we’ll have more and more opportunities to invite others into his Kingdom, and share the blessing that is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
2. Walk The Line
When I play out the Sermon on the Mount in my head, I often imagine Jesus being in dialogue with the people around him as he is preaching. I can picture someone questioning Jesus along the way, maybe being a little snarky too. Given how controversial the Beatitudes were, I bet somebody was like ‘oh this Jesus guy is telling us poor people and peacemakers are blessed, next thing you know he’s going to tell us that the Law and the Prophets don’t matter.’ And maybe Jesus overheard something like that as people around him were murmuring, and so he delivers this really significant line of “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (5:17).
Now a lot of theologians have debated the meaning of this statement. One interpretation, which is supported by reading the Book of Hebrews, is that Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Law by living a sinless life, and in doing so satisfied the requirements placed on the Israelites and the Levitical priesthood. This is why as Christians we are not bound to keep a Kosher diet, nor only wear clothing of single fabrics; nor are we required to offer up sacrifices whenever we sin. Jesus offered himself to God the Father on the cross, and became the all-sufficient sacrifice to completely and eternally atone for our sins. But this invites an important question to ask: what about the rest of the Mosaic Law that doesn’t involve sacrifices and offerings? Are Christians still obligated to celebrate Passover, or other feast days? Or anything else for that matter?
Now some Christians will say, “no, of course not.” The argument for this is found in Paul’s writings, because he makes it clear that we’re under the Law of Grace (Romans 6:14) and that “…we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6, NIV). This position is known as Antinomianism, and was greatly debated during the early years of the Reformation. But it was also debated in the early years of Christianity too.
One of the outcomes from the Council of Jerusalem (which took place around 50 AD) as recorded in Acts 15, was that Peter and Paul came to an agreement that new Gentile converts did NOT need to become Jews first and enter into the Old Covenant in order to be saved. So that settles it right? If the first converts to Christianity didn’t have to follow the Law, then why do we? Well… an issue with this interpretation is that it kinda sounds like the Law is being abolished, but Jesus clearly said he did not come to do that. So what do we do?
The thing is, we need to remember that the Mosaic Law was established through the covenant that God made with the ancient Israelites, with the stipulation that a temple would be built so that God’s grace and forgiveness could be dispensed in conjunction with priests who would offer sacrifices to atone for the people’s sins.
But there’s the rub, because the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans, and the modern state of Israel has no king, nor priesthood that God ordained and installed. So the conditions and stipulations of the Old Covenant no longer exist, which means it’s impossible to uphold our end of that covenant. Not that any of that matters really, because even if we had all those things in place, we still wouldn’t be able to completely obey the Mosaic Law.
This just goes to show that every single commandment, from the first to the last, is a road sign pointing us to Christ. All 613 commandments reveal in us our own inadequacy to obey them perfectly, and it reveals why we need Jesus as our covenant proxy and Mediator to stand in our place. And because Jesus could stand in our place, and was perfectly obedient during His earthly life, He got to create a new covenant for us to enter into, which fits with what Jeremiah said concerning a prophecy of what Christ would do:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” ~ Jeremiah 31:31–33 (NIV)
This shift from an external written law to an internal spiritual law that we will be able to know with our minds and hearts is in my opinion what Jesus was getting at when he said that he was coming to fulfill but not abolish the Law. And so to some extent I would agree with the Antinomian position in the sense that we aren’t bound to the letter of the law, BUT we are still bound to the spirit of the law. The interpretation of several commands in Matthew 5 that Jesus offers shows us that it’s not merely our actions that can be sinful, but it’s also the attitudes and intentions behind them. In truth this actually raises the standard of the Mosaic Law, because what Jesus is teaching us is that every sin begins within. Not only that, but we need to start taking our sin very seriously.
Now I hate to say this, but there’s a lot of Christians these days that don’t take sin seriously at all. They treat it like it’s some piece of junk that’s hanging out in their garage that they don’t need to clean up because ‘we’re covered by grace.’ No! Get rid of it! Cut it off. Cast it into the fire! Yes, we need to take extreme actions because sin is extreme.
When Jesus was teaching about murder, adultery, divorce, keeping oaths, taking revenge, and hating enemies — he raised the bar in terms of what the Mosaic Law previously required from us. That’s because the true purpose of the Mosaic Law was to help us see that sin is tearing this world apart, and that if we want to have a better relationship with God and our neighbors, then we have to do better than merely obey the Law, we have to invite Jesus into our lives and get to work on changing ourselves. As Christ followers, that is our line to walk in life.
Jesus does give us grace, yes, absolutely. But he does not give us room or permission to keep sin in our life. He says “go and sin no more.” Let me put it this way: Jesus went to the cross to take that sin upon himself, so why on Earth would you want to hold onto it? (Don’t be like Isildur!)
Now the thing is, the line you walk may look different from the line someone else walks. Some folks really struggle with alcohol and drugs, others don’t. It’s between you and the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit to figure out what your line is and how you can walk it. But let me give two examples:
(1) A lot of folks know about Billy Graham, because he lived a long and very successful life in ministry, but he had this code of conduct that he kept in which he refused to be in any situation alone with a woman who was not his wife. For Billy Graham, the purpose of that code of conduct was to be above reproach when it came to dealing with women. And boy did he get criticized for it. They called this code misogynistic, sexist, and patriarchal. But I think Billy is to be commended for it because clearly he knew that his sinful orientation towards women in general was something that could have gotten him into a lot of trouble. And as radical as that code of conduct might be, for Billy it was simply a matter of prudence and necessity. Because why? Billy took his sin seriously, and so he set up a boundary to protect himself against it.
(2) Perhaps you’ve seen the movie Hacksaw Ridge or you know about the story of Desmond Doss. During WWII, Doss wanted to serve as a combat medic in the Army but refused to carry a weapon because he was a pacifist who opposed all forms of violence. And as crazy as it sounds he actually went into battle without a gun! The Army found that they could not compel Doss to carry or use a weapon because that would violate his First Amendment rights as a conscientious objector on religious grounds. And yes, Doss could’ve taken the easy way out by carrying an unloaded gun into battle, but he chose the more radical path of no gun whatsoever. For Doss, that was the line he chose to walk.
From the outside looking in, both of these gentlemen were exhibiting radical behavior. But from the inside looking out, it was entirely proportional. So if you truly thirst and hunger for righteousness and want to live in the Kingdom of Heaven, then I would encourage you to take your sin seriously and find your own line to walk. Don’t worry, Jesus will be with you every step of the way.
3. Why Be Religious?
Whenever I watch a ball game, I’m always fascinated by the little rituals that players often do. Baseball players are probably the worst, especially when it comes to pitchers and batters. You got some guys out there that do all sorts of movements, or tongue licks, or bat kicks, all for what? Every single one of them will tell you that it’s supposed to help them ‘get in the zone’ as though there is some mystical aspect to their ritual.
But we all have rituals right? You have to have your morning coffee just so, a spoonful of sugar, three taps of the spoon after stirring counterclockwise four times. We human beings are very ritualistic, especially when it comes to our spiritual lives. When you bundle up a bunch of rituals and other practices, what you get is a religion.
Something that’s a bit concerning to me is that in our country, there is this phenomenon known as the rise of the nones. Over the last decade or so, polling and research groups have noticed that less and less people are self-identifying as religious and belonging to a particular faith tradition, and that more people are becoming non-religious (hence ‘none’). But what’s curious about this is that roughly 2/3rds of all nones still report that they believe in God or some other Higher Power. So it isn’t so much that these people are walking away from God, rather they’re walking away from the Church. Perhaps you know somebody like this. They’re happy to pray with you, and they’re happy to talk about God and faith, but at the same time they hesitate when it comes to attending a church or joining one. They want to keep this whole religion thing at an arm’s length.
So why be religious? The short answer is that religion is good for you. *Hundreds of published scientific research papers all cite a positive correlation between religiosity and well-being. Every aspect of life is made better for individuals who engage in religious and spiritual activities.* But I think we all kind of knew that, right?
I remember a conversation I had about this with a Navy buddy a long time ago, and what was surprising is that he agreed with all the research and knew in his heart and mind that going to church would probably help him feel better about life. But, he kept hitting a mental block because he couldn’t bring himself to make that decision.
I pressed the issue a little bit, and he confessed that the pressure to commit to going to church was just too much for him. After talking some more, I suspected that there was a mixture of social anxiety (of having to sit with strangers and meet new people) and some performance anxiety (of having to sing hymns and say prayers), but also there would be a loss of freedom in terms of having to give up his Sunday mornings. Now I can respect that, because we’ve all been there in life. But for me, it becomes easier to make that decision once you realize how simple and natural it already is.
In fact the question of ‘why be religious?’ is actually a trick question, because EVERYONE ALREADY IS RELIGIOUS! That’s right. If there is a set of behaviors you routinely, habitually, and ritually employ in a specific domain, then you my friend are religious.
This is why I love talking to folks who say ‘oh I’m spiritual, but not religious’ or ‘for me Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship’ because to me those statements are oxymoronic. You can’t be spiritual or have a relationship with Christ if you’re not religious!!! Think about your marriage as a kind of religion; or a friendship too. If either of these relationships had no routines, habits, or rituals, then I would begin to doubt whether there was a relationship at all.
As it turns out, religion is just something we human beings are just hard-wired for. We can’t help it. The problem is that we just need to find the right way to become more religious when it comes to our faith and our relationship with God.
A good place to start is to simply go along with what your community is already doing. I came across a Pew Research study that dealt with what Christians say are the essential religious behaviors. We all might have different answers, but out of the polling options presented, 86% of the respondents said believing in God is essential; 71% said being grateful for what you have; 69% said forgiving those who have wronged you; 67% said being honest at all times; 63% said praying regularly; 52% said working to help poor and needy; and 42% said reading the Bible.
Now it’s entirely possible to be a devout believer, who is grateful, merciful, honest, prayerful, generous, and who studies the Bible all by yourself. You can be religious all on your own, but why would you? It’s simply easier, more enjoyable, and more rewarding when you’re doing all those things with friends and neighbors in a community.
But maybe that’s not even the issue for somebody you know, maybe they’re getting caught up on religion itself, maybe they think this is all fake and we’re just duping ourselves. If so, I would remind them that we are created in God’s image, and as His image-bearers there is a part of us that is going to feel incomplete until we have a relationship with God. In Ecclesiastes 3:11, Solomon writes that God “has set eternity in our hearts,” and the Psalmist says that “deep calls unto deep” (42:7). The way I read these verses is that there is something deep inside of us that can only be known once we engage in some deep introspective examination and meditation. Two questions worth asking here: what do you want and why do you want it? And you keep asking those questions until you hit the bedrock of your soul.
My guess is that our deepest desire in life and the reason why we desire it is something that will be obtained once we start to worship and glorify God. But how? Well, one of the major themes of the whole Bible addresses this fundamental question of how we’re supposed to be religious. As we read the Word, we repeatedly find — from the beginning to the end — that God wants nothing more than our authenticity when it comes to being in a relationship with Him. We start by bringing God ourselves as we truly are.
All the prophets preached a very similar message when it came to the authenticity of the religious behaviors of the people of Israel. They got called out for their lack of faith, their disobedience, their hypocrisy. It was the same thing when it came to Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees, because he called them out all the time for their hypocrisy.
God’s desire for our authenticity is so central in fact, that it would be a critical mistake to miss it in the Sermon on the Mount. Just by way of review, when Jesus taught about charity, he warned against making a scene and calling attention to yourself, and said to do your giving in secret. When Jesus taught about prayer, he warned against vain and empty mantras that you repeat just so others think you’re holy. Instead, use prayer in conjunction with some alone time, so that there’s nothing between you and God. When it comes to fasting, again the idea is for it to be a private thing. The basic idea that I think Jesus is trying to get across is that your religious behaviors wind up in one of two categories: you’re either glorifying God, or you’re glorifying the self.
When Jesus spoke about the things we treasure, what we choose to perceive with our eyes, and warning us against serving two masters, this theme of either glorifying God or glorifying yourself is made much clearer, because it goes beyond behaviors we’d normally associate with religion or church. There’s a whole lot outside church and every other day of the week that speaks volumes about who and what we’re glorifying. We got to get more religious.
Later in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30, NKJV). This religion we call Christianity is not a performance art or sport. We don’t hand out awards and trophies for who donates the most money, or says the best prayers, or works the most hours, or sings the best songs, or any of that. That’s what the rest of the world does, and that’s why they’re so restless. We don’t do that here. Struggle and stumble as we might, Church is where we come to worship and glorify God together. We seek the Kingdom first, and let God sort out everything else for us.
4. Brilliant On The Basics
In the movie Bull Durham (which I like to think of as the first film in ‘the Kevin Costner baseball movie trilogy’) we get this iconic line, said by an angry coach. He says “baseball is a simple game: you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.” And the truth is a lot of things in life are as simple as baseball, especially when you break them down to their fundamentals and basics. This is especially true if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Yes, the Bible is very complicated, theology is very complicated, but you can have a rich and fulfilling faith just by being brilliant on the basics.
Jesus wraps up the Sermon on the Mount with a handful of sayings that on first reading might seem a little scattered, but on closer inspection I think Jesus is giving us the process of what discipleship under Him will look like. The word disciple itself comes from the Greek word mathetes (μαθητης), and if you’re thinking that sounds an awful lot like mathematics, you’re right! Both of these words shared a common root, manthano (μανθάνω) which means ‘to think things through.’ Thus, a disciple, or pupil, or any kind of learner is somebody who thinks things through. And what Jesus offers us in the Sermon on the Mount is a lot to think through, for sure, but Matthew 7 gives us an insight into how we’re supposed to do that.
The first step in Christian discipleship, and really the first step in learning anything at all is to ask a question, to seek after knowledge, to be curious. Later in Matthew 18 Jesus said we need to have “faith like a child” — and I think it’s fairly obvious as to why he said that — because children are the least self-conscious people around. They don’t care what they look like, or how they come across, and they don’t have any preconceived notions about anything. Now sometimes that is to their own detriment — or rather to the embarrassment of their parents — but children are natural learners and explorers, and unlike adults who might feel like idiots for asking certain questions, or ashamed for asking for help, children just go for it! In verse 7:11, Jesus is telling us that we can go to our heavenly Father the same way our kids come to us, and God is more than willing to teach us what is good.
The second step is to ‘hit the books’ by reading the Law and the Prophets. I think Jesus is being very deliberate here because if we’re truly asking God to teach us what is good, then it makes perfect sense to start with what God has already revealed to us with the Law and the Prophets.
Now the point in reading the Law and the Prophets (and the Old Testament in general) isn’t to try and become Jewish and satisfy the requirements of the Law, as we’ve already established that Christ has fulfilled those requirements. Rather the point is to learn about our origins as human beings, who created us, why we’re here, why the world has fallen, and what God has done and is continuing to do in order to redeem and reconcile the world back to Him.
The Law and the Prophets also tell us about who God is, and what he desires from us. As the prophet Micah says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8, NIV). It’s not the law itself that we’re supposed to follow, but rather the law-giver. Now in 7:12, Jesus offers a simplification of the Law and the Prophets with the Golden Rule. Of course later on in Matthew, Jesus offers a different simplification of the Law and Prophets when he says what the greatest commandments are, and in that passage he cites Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, love God, and love your neighbor. And the thing is, if you’re doing those two things then you’re already putting the Golden Rule into practice.
The next step in the discipleship process is to commit. This is a big one. Jesus says enter through the narrow gate, but few do. Why is that? Well commitment is hard! Lord knows how many diets or budgets we’ve all committed to and dropped when it became hard to stick with them. And so if you’re thinking about Christian discipleship in similar terms, as though it were some program or gym membership, then there’s only so much you can get out of that program or membership by sitting on the sidelines. Likewise, there’s only so much you can learn from the Bible just by reading it. At some point you’re going to have to enter through the narrow gate, and start being a doer of the Word, and not just a listener.
But after you do make that commitment and you do start being a doer of the Word, there are some guideposts that you need to pay attention to. The first of those Jesus talks about in 7:15–19, and here we are given a clear warning to avoid bad teachers. “Beware false prophets!” we are told. And you might ask: well how do we know a good teacher from a bad one? Easy: we look at their track record. If they have good roots, then the fruit of their labor will also be good.
Another way to think about the fruit test is using the Fruits of the Spirit as a checklist. Does your teacher, leader, mentor, or preacher conduct themselves in a way that reflects love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Do their students, friends, parishioners, and colleagues exhibit those traits as well? If not, run!
Another warning that Jesus gives us is that there are going to be people who are card-carrying members of His Church, and by all counts look the look and talk the talk, but on closer inspection these same people may not be walking the walk. Nonetheless, it can be unsettling to think about 7:21–23 because this is the first passage in the New Testament where Jesus refers to Hell, and in this specific context it’s being thought of as a place outside of God’s presence. As unsettling as that might be, I think C.S. Lewis said it best in his book The Great Divorce when he said that in the end there’s only going to be two kinds of people: those who say ‘thy will be done’ and those who say ‘my will be done.’ This notion of choosing God’s will over our own is how Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount, for in the last five verses he reckons that those who listen and act on his teaching are building a strong foundation for their lives.
There’s another character in the movie Bull Durham that expands on the quote I shared before. He says “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” For me this quote resonates a lot with the views offered in Ecclesiastes, that there is a time and season for everything under the sun, that it rains and shines on the unjust and just alike, and that the race does not always go to the swift or the battle to the strong. But God sees everything and brings everything into judgment, and putting your faith in Christ will get you through the ups and the downs that will surely come.
So to wrap everything up —whether you’re a younger disciple of Jesus or an older one, it’s never too late to go back to the basics of practicing your faith, and if you’re up for it — to try and be brilliant on the basics. The Sermon on the Mount gives us a chance to reevaluate where we’re at in our walk with Christ. Jesus has granted citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, and with that a shift in our worldview in terms of what it means to be blessed and to be a blessing for others; Jesus has shown us a new line to walk in terms of our righteousness, and that we need to take our sin very seriously; Jesus has also reminded us that we need to be authentic when it comes to our religious practices, and that glorifying God should be our focus; and to be His disciple by thinking things through and learning from Him in a deliberate, committed way.