The Sermon on the Mount is highly criticized as unreal, extreme, and not applicable to the current age. In recent history, Gandhi criticized Christians for not being conformed to a moral standard, such as the Sermon on the Mount. Even Barack Obama, then Illinois senator, made light of it in a speech saying that it was too radical. The average theologian can take many postures on its application to our generation. These range from a postmillennial application to a far-stretched updated Ten Commandments for the New Testament. One thing is sure today: Christianity is an indefinable term if it is merely defined by those we see and recognize within our society. There are Christians whose political affiliation defines them more than their moral or external beliefs and actions.
During the time of the book of Daniel, we hear of four Hebrews who were very influential in this pagan society; they were influential, primarily by upholding their beliefs and their pious acts in the midst of a foreign culture and kingdom. Though there were thousands of Hebrews exiled into the Babylonian empire, we have no information about those who did or did not abide by Nebuchadnezzar’s laws besides the four distinctly mentioned. It does not mean that there were not others, but it does reveal a world of difference in the four Hebrews’ highly regarded reputation. For instance, the moment when all were called to bow down to the image that Nebuchadnezzar had forged, we only hear of three that were not willing. Daniel is not mentioned in that moment, though he was later punished by being placed in the lion’s den for praying to his God. It does make us wonder: Did all the other Hebrew people willingly bow down to the image at the sound of the horn? How does that define their beliefs? How did they feel when they saw the miracle of the fiery furnace?
We must take a moment and honestly reflect on our influence on those around us. It is important that we determine whether we are an influential person by our beliefs and actions, or if we’re part of the group that assimilates so much to culture that we are disguised within it. It does not mean that we must wear a cross, carry a Bible, or wear Christian messages on our shirts and vehicles. The theme of assimilation speaks directly to our lifestyle, speech, reputation, values, beliefs, and character. When we choose not to assimilate to the cultural standards around us, we can be assured that the words of Jesus become highly relevant. He said the world does not love or accept us because we are chosen out of the world. We are in the world but not of it. We do not have the same standards, ideals, or perceptions of the world.
Persecution is simply a clash of two belief systems. If our belief system is hidden, perhaps the world would love and accept us as its own. That statement in itself should cause us to profoundly meditate on our image before God. Are we a son, a believer, a disciple, or are we just along for the ride?
The Sermon on the Mount deals with most of the ethical issues that we confront today. If we are active in life, with our family, work, and society, we will be tested in these areas. We have prepared a year of discipleship themes found within the context of the Sermon on the Mount. Our hope is that we can comprehend what is intended by Jesus, confront our own thoughts and beliefs on these subjects, and make a decision to apply what Jesus said to our own lives. Our decision should not be because a pastor, teacher, or church says so, but because Jesus Christ taught this to his disciples. His disciples and the early church mainly taught the Sermon Mount to the new converts.
If we have a life dependent upon the Holy Spirit, an open relationship with the Lord, we can live out the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount. It must first begin with our beliefs; our beliefs must be personally valued beliefs, which eventually will be seen in our actions. Welcome to the Sermon on the Mount, a real culture in itself that goes against any other standard. Its teachings are timeless; and as the beatitudes exhort, we can partake of a prosperous life now and soon to come in eternity.
John Z Garza