The Greatest Teacher
May 14, 2017 Sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor
The Sermon on the Mount
In the present series, we are learning about Jesus as portrayed by Scripture: as human, as Deity, as Savior, and today as teacher. Jesus was the world’s greatest teacher in terms of the originality of His ideas, His presentation, and His influence on the world. Two balanced aspects of His teaching are found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5,6) describing His Kingdom:
- Jesus was a teacher of great compassion. (Mathew 5:1-10 – Beatitudes). The beatitudes are blessings for those who are hurting in spiritual poverty from the brokenness of this world, or those who are suffering as outsiders from society. Jesus offered them all compassion, even congratulating those who recognize their spiritual poverty, their sin (Matt.1:3).
- Jesus was a teacher of great conviction. Nobody in His time, or throughout history, had as much conviction as Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament, Jesus lays out incredibly demanding and absolutely true expectations of His followers, e.g.: standard on sex (Matt.5:27-30), on truthfulness (Matt.:5:33-37), and on giving (Matt.6:1-4).
- Jesus’ compassion and conviction come together most clearly in the Cross. As individuals and equally important as a church, we must have compassion… to invite and welcome even “outsiders” different from us; compassion to those who struggle spiritually, troubled by their sin, or perhaps are lost in sin and do not yet know it. Jesus also equally calls us to be people of conviction, a people of holiness who know the standard and are troubled by all sin.
With God’s help, we must be a church that reflects and balances both the compassion and conviction of Jesus, among ourselves and with the world. We need to get past our initial desire simply to live “safe” lives, and reach out in mercy to the hurting outsiders and those struggling spiritually. Furthermore, with the Spirit’s assistance, we want to be dead serious about holiness, showing us the importance of morality and the need for a solution to real sin. Only then can we and others know and experience the grace (compassion) and salvation (conviction) offered by Jesus in His death on the Cross.
- Is compassion outward and conviction inward?
- Are you quicker to compassion or conviction?
- Have you seen or experienced the blessing of any of the beatitudes? (See Matt.5:1-12)
- Are you bothered by any of Jesus’ demands on us in the Sermon on the Mount? (Matt.5-6)
- How is it possible to follow Jesus’ example of perfect balance between compassion and conviction?
- Have you recently been able to get past your own brokenness to reach out in compassion and conviction to others?
Happy Mother’s Day! Moms, we’re so glad you’re here today. I was thinking about Mother’s Day this week, and one thing about Moms – they are great teachers. You can learn so much from your mom. This week I found a website where someone had listed seven of the lessons that their mom had taught them. They also listed the sayings – or the quotes – that their moms used to teach them each lesson. See if any of these Mom sayings sound familiar to you:
- My mom taught me to appreciate a job well done: “If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished cleaning.”
- My mother taught me about logic. “Because I said so, that’s why.” (Every parent has used that!)
- My mom taught me about religion: “You’d better pray that comes out of the carpet.”
- My mother taught me about hypocrisy: “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times – don’t exaggerate!”
- My mother taught me about anticipation: “Wait until your father gets home!” (Big one around my house!)
- My mother taught me about irony: “Keep crying, and I’ll give you something to cry about.” (That was my Father, after he got home!)
- My mother taught me about justice: “One day you are going to have kids, and they will turn out just like you!”
Maybe you learned some of those from your Mom. Maybe you didn’t. I think about half of those things are probably illegal to say now. But either way, Moms are great teachers. To be a mom is to be a teacher!
Today I want to talk about the greatest teacher that every lived. Sorry Moms – even though it’s Mother’s Day – that’s not you. It’s Jesus!
Seriously, we are continuing today in our series called “the Real Jesus.” This is a series where we look at Jesus not as Hollywood or society portrays him – not as we want him to be – but as he is portrayed in Scripture. We have already looked at Jesus as a human – and divine – and as Savior. I want to encourage you to be here next week, because we are going to look at Jesus as Judge What we see will blow your mind in a good way. This week we are going to look at Jesus as Teacher.
If you listen to my preaching or even if you look at the history of my career, you can tell that I love teaching. I can say without reservation that Jesus was the greatest teacher that ever lived.
- Greatest in terms of the originality of his ideas.
- Greatest in terms of his presentation.
- Greatest in terms of his influence on the world.
Jesus is the greatest, hands down! To know the real Jesus is to know the greatest teacher the world has ever seen.
There’s so much that we could look at in Jesus’ teaching – from his technique – to his depth – to his content. There’s so much that it would be an inexhaustible study.
Today, I just want to look at two aspects of Jesus’ teaching. Two aspects that we as individuals – that we as a church – that we as a society – struggle to hold in balance, but two aspects that Jesus balanced perfectly. Two aspects – and we tend to go to one of these or the other. It’s not that one of these is good and the other is bad. Rather, it’s that we as people struggle to hold these two elements in balance, but Jesus does it perfectly. Perfectly.
Today I want to talk to you about compassion and conviction. We’re going to see Jesus’ compassion and conviction today as we look at greatest lesson Jesus ever gave – a lesson called “the Sermon on the Mount.” Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Matthew 5. We won’t look at the whole Sermon on the Mount today. It’s three chapters long. We’re going to look at several verses where we see these two aspects of Jesus’ teaching. Here’s my prayer:
- That we would worship Jesus as we see him for more of who he truly is.
- That Perry Creek would be a church of both conviction and compassion.
Not just one or the other, but that with God’s help – we would hold both. We’re going to see Jesus’ compassion and conviction today. We’re going to do that by looking at the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is the greatest sermon ever preached. It was given by Jesus at the beginning of his ministry to those who wanted to follow him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out the lifestyle – the mindset – the ethic of the kingdom that he is building.
It’s brilliant. In it, Jesus re-interprets parts of the ten commandments, and corrects the traditions of the Jewish elders, and lays down new truths that are amazing. The truths that we are going to look at today you can find really in most of Jesus’ teaching, but we’re going to see them illustrated by the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus was a teacher of great compassion
The first thing we see in the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ compassion. The Sermon on the Mount starts with a famous section called “the Beatitudes.” It’s a section that many of you have heard before. It’s a section where Jesus blesses some unexpected people and where we see his compassion. Listen to the words of Matthew 5:1-10. This is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and really the beginning of Jesus’ teaching ministry:
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
– Matthew 5:1-10
Those are incredible words. Like the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes are a treasure. In a literary sense, they are brilliant. There are eight beatitudes proper. The first and last are in the present tense, and the other six are in the future tense showing us that God blesses us both in the here and now and in a greater way in the future. The first four beatitudes are alliterated in the Greek – the characteristics of those who are blessed all start with the letter P, which makes them easy to remember.
There is an ironic connection between the characteristic that is blessed and the blessing that the person receives. It is those who mourn – not the happy – that will be comfortable. It is the meek – not the war-like – who inherit the earth. It’s those who are hungry for righteousness – not the righteous – that will receive it. It’s the persecuted that are blessed. So there’s an irony here.
But most remarkable thing about the Beatitudes is that they are a blessing. The word makarios – the Greek word that is translated “blessed” here – doesn’t just mean to be “blessed” in the sense that Jesus is saying something nice about these people. It’s not like “bless your heart.” Rather, it means that these people are fortunate! It means that circumstances are going to work out well for them. It’s something you would say about someone who just landed a great job! It’s something you would say about a student who got accepted to a great school or to a fisherman who caught a big fish! The idea is that these people are to be congratulated.
When we look at the people that Jesus is congratulating here – when we look at his pronouncements of blessing – we see that Jesus had great compassion. These are not the beautiful people. These are not the movers and shakers of society. Think about the list. Jesus shows his compassion on three kinds of people:
1. First, he shows his compassion on those who are hurting. In verse 4, Jesus says “blessed are those who mourn – those who are in pain.” He shows his compassion for the hurting. Jesus didn’t just talk about it in the Sermon on the Mount. In his ministry, Jesus regularly showed compassion for those who were in pain. He healed the sick. He gave sight to the blind. He raised sons and daughters from the dead to comfort their parents. Just like he says here, Jesus comforted those who mourned. Do you know how many times Jesus is said to have cried – how many times he actually wept – in his ministry? Only two. Once was when he prophesied judgment on a disobedient city. The other was when he saw people who were mourning. He stood at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and saw Mary and Martha mourning for the death of their brother. John tells us that when Jesus saw the pain – the grief that death had caused to those people that he loved – he wept. Even though he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus wept. Why? Because Jesus had compassion on those who were in pain.
2. Jesus shows his compassion here for the outsider. Here in the Beatitudes Jesus blesses the meek – the peacemaker – the persecuted. These are not positions of power. They are qualities that often put people on the outside of society, but Jesus had compassion on people like that. He loved the outsider. If you keep reading, the very next thing that happens after Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount is that a man with leprosy comes to him. Lepers were the ultimate outsiders. They couldn’t live among healthy people. They couldn’t touch anyone without making them ceremonially unclean. They couldn’t even approach a person without crying out “unclean – unclean.” But when this leper comes to Jesus, Jesus welcomes him, and touches him and heals him. Jesus had great compassion on the outsider. So there’s the hurting – and the outsider that Jesus blesses here.
3. The thing that I find most shocking about the Beatitudes – and maybe even the whole Sermon on the Mount- is the way it begins. Because Jesus begins by blessing those who struggle spiritually. He starts by blessing those who are not righteous – those who haven’t arrived – those who are still troubled by their sin. Look at verse 3 – Jesus opens the Sermon on the Mount with this statement:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
– Matthew 5:3
For years I wondered “What does that phrase ‘poor in spirit’ actually mean? Does it mean that they are physically poor but they are “in the spirit” so they are physically poor, but spiritually rich? It could mean that, but that’s a strange way to put it so I think it means something else.
In fact, I think Jesus sort of explains what he means, because he expresses a similar idea in verse 6. Look at what he says there:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
– Matthew 5:6
To hunger and thirst for something implies two things:
- You have a taste for it, so you know you need it.
- You don’t have it.
So if I say “I thirst for water” that means I know I need water and that I don’t have it. Jesus is talking about people who hunger and thirst for righteousness. they know they need righteousness, they know they need uprightness – blamelesness before God – and they know they don’t have it. That’s what Jesus is saying in verse 3 when he blesses the poor in Spirit. He’s saying “Blessed those who know their spiritual poverty. Blessed are those who know they haven’t arrived. Blessed are those who are troubled by their sin.”
Do you have any idea how extraordinary that is? How different that is from other religions that tell you to clean yourself up first and then come to God? Maybe you came in here today – and if you were honest – you would say “I’m just not the person I want to be at all.” “I have mistakes and regrets in my past and right now I just struggle with my sin. I’m not the person I want to be. I feel my spiritual poverty.”
Do you know what Jesus thinks about people like you? He blesses you. He opens the greatest sermon ever preached by encouraging – by blessing – by congratulating – those who know their spiritual poverty. Jesus has compassion on those who struggle spiritually.
We see this all throughout Jesus ministry. Matthew, the guy who wrote this gospel, started out as a tax collector. Tax Collectors were not righteous people. Don’t think IRS agent – think loan shark! They were ceremonially unclean. They were notoriously corrupt. They made their living by cheating and coercing people. When Jesus met Matthew and welcomed him, the Pharisees criticized him sharply. They said “Why does this Rabbi eat with sinners?”
People called Jesus a friend of sinners and prostitutes. They called him a drunkard, because he had compassion on those who struggled spiritually and befriended them. Jesus had a tax collector for a disciple. His body was anointed for burial by a prostitute. His first witness in Samaria was an adulterous woman, and his greatest Apostle was a murderer. Jesus had compassion on those who struggled spiritually. That should really catch our attention, because it means he has compassion on you and me.
Jesus was a teacher of great compassion. No one had greater compassion than Jesus. And church, we have to have that same compassion. We have to. That’s what it means to be like our Lord. We have to have compassion on those who are hurting. This church cannot be a place that is just for those who have their lives together. We have to show the compassion of Christ to our neighbors, and to our community, and to each other, when we are in pain. We have to have compassion on the outsider. This church cannot be a place that is just for the beautiful people. It cannot be just for people that are from one income bracket – from one education level – from one ethnicity. We have to have compassion for the outsider.
And church, we have to have compassion for those who struggle spiritually. This church cannot be just a place for perfect Christians. It cannot just be a place for those who used to struggle with sin. It has to be a place where we invite and welcome imperfect disciples, and people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and people who are troubled by their sin, and people who are lost in sin and don’t even know it yet. It has to be that.
The first thing we see in the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus was a teacher of great compassion. Many people recognize and appreciate Jesus’ compassion. It’s what many people love most about Jesus. For many, his compassion is no problem. Here’s what’s truly unique about the teaching of Jesus: He was not just a teacher of great compassion –
Jesus was a teacher of great conviction
Here’s the thing that’s amazing about Jesus: His ability to minister to people in pain – to people on the outside – to people who struggled with sin – did not come because he had abandoned his sense of right and wrong. On the contrary, Jesus had a stronger sense of right and wrong than any of the religious authorities of his day and – to be honest – a greater sense of right and wrong than any religious authority that ever existed. Nobody had as much conviction as Jesus.
Many people don’t realize this about Jesus. It is not the way people typically think of him. I think most people think of the God of the Old Testament as morally demanding and of Jesus as much less severe. But that’s not what we see in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus lays out here what he expects of his people. I have to say it will put the fear of God into you, because what Jesus has to say is incredibly demanding but it’s also absolutely true.
Let me just give you three quick examples from the next chapter and a half, and I’ll show you what I mean. Jesus shares his conviction his standard on sex:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ (That’s the 7th commandment from the 10 commandments). But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell .
– Matthew 5:27-30
Jesus shares his conviction. His standard on sex. Wow! That’s kind of harsh! Now I want you to notice that what Jesus is saying here it not that lust and adultery are exactly the same thing in every way. They aren’t. Rather, what he’s saying is that the wrong – the sin in the situation – starts with the heart. It starts when we lust. So Jesus is saying that the 7th commandment doesn’t just forbid the fruit of adultery (the actual deed). It also forbids the root of adultery – the heart condition that brings it about. Now that’s far more demanding than saying “Don’t commit adultery.” That has direct implications for what we look at – and what we think about – and for things we do that are not legally, technically adultery. It’s demanding. But can you also see that it’s true? That really is where the wrong starts!
Let me give you another one. Jesus gives us his standard for truthfulness:
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all…Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
– Matthew 5:33-3
This time Jesus is commenting on the 3rd commandment: “Do not take the name of the Lord your God – in an oath – in vain.” The religious authorities of Jesus’ day had agreed: You should never take an oath – never swear to do something – that you don’t intend to do. They said “keep your oaths”. And that seems pretty good.
But Jesus introduces a new standard. He says “You shouldn’t swear at all”. Again, Jesus isn’t actually forbidding the taking of an oath. This is not about not saying the pledge of allegiance or not swearing yourself in a courtroom. People take oaths in the New Testament.
Rather, Jesus is going much deeper than that. What Jesus is saying is this: “If you were honest, you wouldn’t need oaths in the first place. People would know that when you said ‘yes’ it meant ‘yes’ and when you said ‘no’ it meant ‘no.’” So he’s saying “Just be the kind of people that don’t need an oath to be believed.”
Now can you see again that’s a much more demanding standard than just “don’t swear falsely. ” To be 100% believable, 24/7, every time you open your mouth is just about impossible. But it’s true. That’s really what it would mean to be an honest person.
Jesus had great conviction. And in the Sermon on the Mount, he addresses everything from anger – to divorce – to vengeance – to loving your enemies. It’s hard, but it’s right.
Let me give you one more: In the first half of chapter 6, Jesus goes beyond addressing the bad things we shouldn’t do and talks about the good things we should do. Every Jew believed that you should practice acts of righteousness: giving – and praying – and fasting – as a regular part of your life. So Jesus gives us his standard of giving in 6:1-4
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
– Matthew 6:1-4
Here Jesus talks about giving, but he says the same thing about fasting and praying in this chapter. What he says is this: If you want to be righteous – if you really want to live your life the way God intended – it’s not enough just to give. You have to give in such a way that you are not motivated by the praise of men. If you’re doing it to be seen, then once you are seen you have your reward. So don’t do it that way, do it for God and God alone.
Now, again, do you see how demanding that is? Do you see how right it is? My point is this: Jesus was a teacher of great conviction. He was the most demanding moral teacher this planet has ever seen.
And listen church – like Jesus, we should be people of great conviction. We have to be people that are dead serious about sin. We have to be people of personal holiness. If we’re going to be followers of Jesus, we have to be that.
I know that society says express your sexuality however you want – define it however you want – look at whatever you want. But Jesus says “Keep all of your body – and all of your affections – for your marriage.”
Society says “It’s nice to be honest, but don’t get carried away – everyone lies.” Jesus says “Let your yes be yes – 24/7.”That’s the standard.”
Society says “Self-promote – put yourself out there – show everyone how great you are!” Jesus says “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
Jesus calls us to be people of conviction. People of holiness. People who know the standard and are troubled by their sin.
Let me say we have to be that not just as individuals, but as a church. We have to be a church that has both compassion and conviction. Let me tell you something: That is a real trick. It’s just about impossible.
We as a church could focus exclusively on reflecting Jesus’ compassion. We could show Jesus’ compassion on the hurting, and the outsider and on those who struggle spiritually. We could give to the poor generously, and help immigrants, and do a wonderful job of welcoming those who are struggling with sin. But if we’re not careful, we could give up Jesus’ conviction. We might see how difficult it is to hold both conviction and compassion and decide that it’s easier to welcome people if we just don’t talk about right and wrong, or sin, or God’s judgment, and so we could lose Jesus’ conviction.
Or we as a church might choose to become very good at conviction. We could dissect all the commands of the Bible and have a zeal to do what’s right. We could know their Bibles like the back of their hand and know all of things that Christians should and should not do. I’ve served in churches like that, where there is a strong sense of conviction. But if we’re not careful, we can become a place where there’s no compassion.
It’s messy to reach out to the hurting – to the outsider – and it’s very messy to reach out to those who struggle spiritually. If we do that, we might be called a friend of sinners or even a drunkard. I’ve seen churches that really give up Jesus’ compassion. The next thing you know the church is full of people who dress the same, who talk the same, who are afraid to show their weakness. People live very safe, very non-messy lives, but they touch very few people for Jesus.
It’s very difficult. Like I said, it’s just about impossible to be a church that reflects both the compassion and conviction of Jesus, but that’s what Jesus has called us to be. God help us – that’s what he wants his church to be. We have to reflect both the compassion and the conviction of Jesus. So with God’s help, we are going to be a church that is dead serious about holiness – a church that takes an honest, deep look at what God says about morality – a church that is troubled by our sin. We are going to be a church that shows the love of Jesus to those that are hurting, to those that are on the outside, and to those that struggle with sin. We are going to welcome them into our midst. We are going to show them the love of Christ. We are going to give them grace and give grace to one another.
Now I have to say one more thing before we stop today and it’s this:
Jesus’ compassion and conviction come together most clearly in the cross
If we’re honest, none of us lives up to the standard Jesus sets in the Sermon on the Mount. I say that starting with your Pastor. I don’t show the compassion that Jesus shows in the Sermon on the Mount and in his ministry. I don’t show the conviction that Jesus shows in the Sermon on the Mount and in his ministry. I just don’t. I fall short. As soon as I make progress on one, it seems like I’m falling behind on the other.
Here’s the beautiful thing: Conviction and compassion come together perfectly at the cross. It was Jesus’ compassion that led him to go to the cross and die for sinners like you and me. At the cross, we see conviction as Jesus pays the full price for every sin – for every shortcoming – every failing that we have. So that as our conviction over our sin drives us to the cross, we find compassion, we find forgiveness – and grace – and a new beginning.
We see that only through the cross does the first line of the Sermon on the Mount make sense: Blessed are the poor in spirit – those who know their spiritual poverty – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was a teacher of great compassion. Jesus was a teacher of great conviction. We see these come together, and we find mercy in the cross.