Sunday, June 10, 2018

On the Mount (34)

How firm is your foundation? For many Christians, that question is largely theoretical.

See, it’s when the rain falls, and the floods come, and the wind blows and beats on the house that its owner discovers the true value of the foundation on which he has built. Stack Western believers up alongside the apostles, the martyrs and the heroes of the faith over the last two millennia, and it’s a fair bet most of us have never seen more than a few dark clouds in the sky and the occasional bit of spatter.

Which accounts for a fair bit.

Factors Within and Beyond Our Control

Now, I’m not really criticizing modern evangelicals, you understand. You don’t get to choose the era into which you are born, the political climate in which you grow up, or the level of social acceptance your faith receives. On the other hand, you DO get to choose the level of intensity and frequency with which you share the gospel, and where you choose to share it. You definitely get to choose how and to what extent you contend for the faith when its foundational principles are attacked from within Christendom, as they have been many times over in the last century. That much at least is in our hands.

So while some of the comparative ease with which our generation has walked the Christian walk has been due to factors beyond our control, a significant portion boils down to the choices we make in the service of Christ. Those who opt to hand out tracts at a Pride parade or outside a mosque, for instance, may discover quickly how offensive the gospel can be in certain quarters, and what the price is for obedience to the Great Commission.

Typhoon-Like Levels of Hostility

But the Great Commission had not been given when the Lord told the parable of the house on the rock to the crowds. At the interpretive level at least, then, the rain, floods and winds can hardly be said to represent the world’s reaction to the offense of the Christian gospel, though we may certainly see how, within only a three-year period, identifying as a follower of Christ — merely accepting his gracious touch — could bring on typhoon-like levels of hostility from the religious establishment.

All the same, a man who put his trust in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ could worship authentically despite having only just been excommunicated.

That’s what you call a rock-solid house, even if it appears to have been built on only a handful of words from Christ.

The Fractured State of First Century Judaism

The house of first century Judaism, on the other hand, was built on a much flimsier foundation. It was constructed atop the Law of Moses, much like the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, but in this case it was the Law in name only. On closer inspection, the foundation reveals itself to have been all but pulverized. Where the Lord reaffirms the Law in the Sermon, first century religious Jews denied it in practice:
There was nothing wrong with the Law as a starting point, provided it was the Law as interpreted by God himself, not by the shifting sands of human opinion. Who could build a house on that foundation and expect it not to collapse in the storm? “Great was the fall of it” indeed.

How Do You Read It?

The teachings of Christ as summed up in the Sermon provide an unimpeachable foundation for the building of one’s life or any legitimate institution, but just as first-century perversions of Judaism provided no security against the coming storm led by Titus against Jerusalem in AD70, false or distorted interpretations of the Lord’s teaching in the Sermon will not adequately support a “house” of any sort.

Correctly understanding anything taught by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 5-7 requires considering it both in the context of the Old Testament Law, Psalms and Prophets which were given by the same Spirit, and in the context of the applications and further doctrine built on it by the apostles and writers of the New Testament, again in the same Spirit. The teaching in the Sermon is opposed to neither: it supports the latter and sums up the former.

Thus any reconstruction of the words of Christ in these chapters that sets them against the rest of the Spirit’s revelation throughout the word of God turns them into a foundation of sand, notwithstanding their source. When considering the Sermon, “How do you read it?” is as important a question for us today as it was for the lawyer who once thought to put Jesus to the test.

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