Posts Tagged ‘Sermon on the Mount’

The most frightening words Wesley ever preached

February 18, 2017

wesley01In my sermon tomorrow, I’m preaching on forgiveness—namely the petition from the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” and Jesus’ commentary on it in vv. 14-15: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” And no sermon on these words would be complete without at least glancing over to the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:23-35.

I feel like tomorrow’s sermon needs to be a do-over. While I’ve preached on forgiveness before, I’ve never felt the weight of Jesus’ plain words: If we are unwilling or unable to forgive others, our souls are in jeopardy. The connection between the forgiveness we give and the forgiveness we receive is unmistakable.

Could it be clearer?

Yes, I know that we interpret scripture with scripture—and believe me, I want to flee to Romans and Galatians to find reassuring words about justification by faith alone. But Jesus’ words in the gospels are hardly less inspired than Paul’s! (While I sympathize with our Dispensationalist brothers and sisters who teach that the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t really apply to the time in which we currently live, I know they’re wrong.)

But if I can’t find refuge in Paul, maybe my commentaries will offer me wiggle room? No luck. Modern commentaries only underscore how difficult Jesus’ words are. Worse, in one of John Wesley’s “Thirteen Discourses on the Sermon on the Mount,” I may have found the most frightening words he ever wrote or preached:

“As we forgive them that trespass against us.” In these words our Lord clearly declares both on what condition, and in what degree or manner, we may look to be forgiven of God. All our trespasses and sins are forgiven us, if we forgive, and as we forgive, others. First, God forgives us if we forgive others. This is a point of the utmost importance. And our blessed Lord is so jealous lest at any time we should let it slip out of our thoughts, that he not only inserts it in the body of his prayer, but presently after repeats it twice over. “If,” saith he, “ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14, 15.) Secondly, God forgives us as we forgive others. So that if any malice or bitterness, if any taint of unkindness or anger remains, if we do not clearly, fully, and from the heart, forgive all men their trespasses, we far cut short the forgiveness of our own: God cannot clearly and fully forgive us: He may show us some degree of mercy; but we will not suffer him to blot out all our sins, and forgive all our iniquities.

In the mean time, while we do not from our hearts forgive our neighbour his trespasses, what manner of prayer are we offering to God whenever we utter these words? We are indeed setting God at open defiance: we are daring him to do his worst. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us!” That is, in plain terms, “Do not thou forgive us at all; we desire no favour at thy hands. We pray that thou wilt keep our sins in remembrance, and that thy wrath may abide upon us.” But can you seriously offer such a prayer to God? And hath he not yet cast you quick into hell? O tempt him no longer! Now, even now, by his grace, forgive as you would be forgiven! Now have compassion on thy fellow-servant, as God hath had and will have pity on thee!

What do we make of this challenge? How do we reconcile it with the doctrine of justification by faith alone?

[†] John Wesley, Thirteen Discourses on the Sermon on the Mount (Franklin, TN: Seedbed, 2014), 129-30.

Loving our enemies means liking them, too

February 16, 2017

brunerAs I said in my sermon on Sunday (which I’ll post soon), when Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, talks about loving our enemies, he isn’t mostly talking about the Russians, the Chinese, or Islamic terrorists; he’s talking about the “enemy” who passes you on the street (or in the church hallway). As he implies in Matthew 5:47, our enemy is the one whom we “greet” (or fail to do so). Our enemy is someone we know personally, someone with whom we interact.

With this in mind, theologian Frederick Dale Bruner objects to a distinction that we Christians often make: that we can love enemies without liking them.

A frequent dodge must be noted. It is sometimes said that the agapē love commanded by Jesus is not erōs love; that agapē means “to wish well to” but it does not mean (as erōs does) “to feel affection for.” By this distinction some disciples allow themselves to continue heartily to dislike their enemies, to feel no affection for them at all, and yet by a kind of steel-cool Stoicism to believe that they are keeping Jesus’ Command.

While agapē is more than erōs, it is nothing less. For it is not true that erōs is a hot thing and agapē cold. We are not to be satisfied that we have kept Jesus agapē Command when we treat our enemies with semi-civility. We are to pray, and to pray some more, until we feel something of God’s love for problem people. (And before the holiness of God, are not all of us, even the best disciples, really problem people?) Granted, a miracle is required for agapē to happen, but God is good at miracles. Therefore, we must even beware of the sometimes good counsel that “you can love without liking,” if this should mean that we should block any liking or any natural affection at all. Disciples will permit God’s own powerful agapē so to forgive and affect them that they will actually find themselves with warm feelings, and not just steel wills, when they deal with enemies.[1]

Bruner goes on to say that agapē doesn’t mean we love “the enemies’ character or deeds or teachings or anything else about them; we are asked only to love the enemies themselves.[2]

But I like this a lot: We should have “warm feelings, and not just steel wills.” Notice also he refers to “feeling God’s love” for problem people.

Did you catch that? God feels love for problem people—including sinners like you and me. Are we sometimes tempted to imagine that God’s love for us is a matter of “steel will” rather than affection? What does it mean that God not only loves us (as if that’s what God were supposed to do, however reluctantly), but that God also likes us?

I could benefit from telling myself, “God likes you, Brent, in spite of your sin, in spite of your failures, in spite of your weaknesses.”

What about you?

As for loving our enemies, here’s a possible rule of thumb: we are not loving our enemies sufficiently until we have warm feelings for them. These warm feelings may take a miracle on God’s part, but as Bruner says, God is good at miracles. Start with prayer.

1. Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook: Matthew 1-12, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 271-2.

2. Ibid., 272.

Sermon 08-11-13: “Back to School, Part 1: Being Happy”

August 15, 2013
The mountain on which Jesus delivered his most famous sermon.

The mountain on which Jesus delivered his most famous sermon.

It’s hard for many of us to imagine that God wants us to be happy. We often think of God as giving us rules to prevent us from being happy. We even have a hard time imagining that Jesus was happy—what with his overturning the money-changers’ tables, sweating drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, and often saying, “Woe unto you.”

Obviously, these few episodes from Jesus’ life don’t tell most of the story. In fact, since the only true happiness that exists in the universe comes from God, we should as easily imagine that Jesus was the happiest person who ever lived!

Regardless, Jesus describes in today’s scripture the lives of people who are truly happy—although the Greek word usually gets translated as “blessed.” Biblically speaking, to be blessed is to possess a happiness that goes much deeper than the happiness for which we usually strive.

Do you want to be happy? The Sermon on the Mount tells us how.

Sermon Text: Luke 6:17-26

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Have you heard the latest about “Johnny Football”? Johnny Football is the nickname of Johnny Manziel, the quarterback at Texas A&M who won college football’s highest honor last year—the Heisman Trophy. Since Manziel won the Heisman, he has been in the news a lot—but not for doing this thing he’s so good at. Instead, he’s been in the news for his off-the-field behavior—mostly, for being an out-of-control party animal. And last week, things got worse: turns out, the NCAA is investigating allegations that he sold autographed merchandise—for a lot of money. And as both Georgia and Georgia Tech fans know, it doesn’t even take a lot of money to get into big trouble with the NCAA!    Read the rest of this entry »