Watch the YouTube video of this and other sermons here.
“Great Is Your Reward”
I heard about a man who was desperate for a car but didn’t have much money. He went to a Used Car Lot and explained his dilemma to the manager. The manager said, “I have just the car for you and it will only cost you $500.00.” He had the car brought around front to the office and the guy couldn’t believe his eyes. It was an older model, but it ran, and it didn’t look all that bad. He said to the manager, “What’s the catch?” The manager said, “The transmission doesn’t have a reverse gear in it.” And the guy said, “That’s okay, I don’t plan on coming back anyway.”
Sometimes in preaching, to make a point or to help folks understand the text we need to read backwards just a bit. So, this morning, I’d like to look backwards a bit to see how we got to this point, and I’d like to go back to where we were a few weeks ago, beside the Jordon River as Jesus was baptized.
You may remember, or if you know the story, Jesus came up out of the water and everyone heard the voice of God, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” This would have been the first time we would experience the Trinity: Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit in the form of the dove, and the voice of God.
We aren’t sure just how many people witnessed this event. No matter the number you would expect them to be impressed. You might even expect them to throw a party or to organize a parade. This was the Messiah come to deliver them from the hand of the Romans. But what happened next probably shocked many—Jesus went to the wilderness—from the mountaintop to the valley—from the penthouse to the outhouse.
Isn’t that how life works though? It seems to be for me. I can’t tell you the number of times after attending a conference or even a worship service where I’ve felt on top of the world only to be brought back down to earth by a conversation, phone call, text or e-mail. But it’s in the valley where we grow. It’s in the valley that we work towards getting back to the mountaintop. It was in the wilderness where Jesus was prepared for ministry.
Following His time in the wilderness Matthew tells us that Jesus began to preach—He called His disciples—He healed the sick—and word started to get out. Granted, this was well before moving print, the internet, social media and the evening news. But because the word was getting out crowds were starting to form wherever Jesus showed up. Once again, when we read crowds, we have no idea how many people this would have been: 1 to 50, 100 to 1000, 1000 to 10,000, no one really knows.
You know, Jesus wasn’t much of a “crowds” kind of person. It’s recorded often in the Scriptures how he went off to be alone to pray and spend time with His Father. He hung out with twelve ordinary guys. He lived most of His life in the “one-horse” town called Nazareth. And when He began His ministry it was mostly based in Capernaum, a town of around 1500 people at the time.
We might think that since Jesus didn’t immediately drive the Romans into the sea there were some, maybe many, who were disappointed in Him so it would have taken a little while for people to warm to Him, for extraordinary sized crowds to form. But that’s what’s going on this morning, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach.”
Just like His baptism, we aren’t sure exactly where this teaching took place. My Discipleship Band Brother, Bob, from Texas, was recently in the Holy Land and said that everyplace where they think something important happened in the life and ministry of Jesus, they have built a church. He sent me these pictures of the church built on the possible sight of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Basically, we’re talking about a hillside somewhere near Capernaum.
Chapter 5 – 7 of Matthew’s Gospel comprise what is commonly known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Its keynote is true righteousness and has sometimes been referred to as the “Constitution of the Kingdom of Heaven.” We’ll be spending the next couple of weeks in the first portion of this famous sermon before we hit Transfiguration Sunday and then Ash Wednesday, which begins the of the Season of Lent (40 days excluding Sunday).
The crowd Jesus preached to would have represented a cross section of humanity. Rich and poor—young and old—various races—those successful in business and those not so successful. This crowd could have been the world, as it existed then, in miniature.
Jesus understood, despite their differences, they were all on the same quest. They were all after the same thing. They all wanted happiness. Our text this morning from Matthew 5 represents what are known as the Beatitudes, a sort of title page to the teachings of Jesus. They set forth the true nature of the subjects of the Kingdom. Jesus exalted a new type of ethic. He proclaimed a startlingly different set of values. He put the highest premium on the things of the spirit.
The blessings that Jesus speaks of don’t match what we, in the year of 2023, would consider blessings. We struggle with the true meaning of happiness because our happiness deals with our outer circumstances. We think that the truly happy man has achieved outer success. Our Beatitudes would go like this:
- Blessed is the man who makes a fortune.
- Blessed is he who makes six figures.
- Happy is the man who has a palace in the city and a summer home in the mountains.
4.Blessed is he who has won the applause of his peers.
- Blessed is the woman who is recognized as a darling of society.
Not quite the blessings that Jesus prescribes in our Scripture this morning. To help you better understand what Jesus is saying allow me to read our text from Eugene Peterson’s translation from his Message Bible. My good friend and fellow missionary Rev. Bobby Gale shared a quote on social media this week: “A rich man without God is simply a poor man with money.”
Jesus began His sermon with words that seem to contradict each other. But God’s way of living usually contradicts the world’s way. Jesus’ life certainly contradicted the status quo and normal way of living in the first century. When the Pharisees questioned as to why Jesus hung out with the crowd that He did His response was, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
If you want to live for God, you must be ready to say and do what seems strange to the world, what other people may not understand or accept. You must be willing to give when others take, to love when others hate, to help when others abuse. By setting aside your own rights in order to serve others, you will one day receive everything God has in store for you.
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
Because of our faith in Jesus and His words and actions our promised reward in heaven will be worth all the time that we spend in our own wilderness in this world!
Thanks be to God!