Semi-retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford
I suppose when you get to be “our age” (whatever that is, eh, Dr. Becker?), it is possible to think “we’ve arrived” and we DON’T need to be taught anything new! They have words for people like that: “stagnant”! It’s kind of like having a really bad smell coming from the kitchen. After hours of tracking down that foul odor, to much surprise is found a very dead dormouse (or, to paraphrase O Henry, “how can a dormouse be dead?”). That description would be terrible if it happens to someone – like you or me – who says they love the Lord Jesus as Savior but are struggling to see Him afresh in one’s life.
Enter the “Sermon on the Mount”. I was a relatively young pastor in 1992 when I preached through this sermon series for my first and only time. As I’ve looked over my notes for the first time in almost 30 years, I am amazed at how scholarly I was back then. My fear is that such scholarship was probably a form of plagiarism – I found a good quote, wrote it town, and the people in the pew wouldn’t know the worse.
Which leads us to today! This series, now in 2021, could possibly be entitled, “A NEW LOOK AT AN OLD LOOK”. Catchy, huh? But maybe that’s what you and I need! A new look at an old look! We need to look in a real way at some most familiar words proclaimed over 2000 years ago, designed to show the world that Jesus Himself hungers to be REAL in those who proclaim Him as Savior. Lord willing, for the next number of weeks we will be making that “new look” together!
Let’s begin with Matthew 4:13, “And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali…”. Leaving Nazareth. For Jesus, HOMETOWN! A place of familiarity. A place where everyone knows Him as “the carpenter’s son”. In Matthew 13:55, a crowd most surprised by His teaching questioned, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?”. They KNEW who He was. They KNEW His beginnings – they were there! But now, after not seeing Him for who knows how many years, His public ministry – designed initially to point Israel to its true Messiah – was a shock to their familiar intellectual surroundings. Mark 6:3 dissects that the people of Nazareth “were offended at Him.” A friend once told me that meant, “they didn’t like the way He did things.”
So He moved on, to Capernaum [pronounced, properly, “CAP-ER-NAAAAAM” – kind of like a southern Texas drawl], which town would become His new “headquarters” as well as His disciples and His place of retreat. Do YOU have a “place of retreat”? It may be only the recliner in the living room! By the way, I saw a cartoon yesterday in which the doctor tells his visibly overweight patient, “no, you can’t count the recliner bar as a form of exercise”. Perhaps your place of retreat is the golf course, or digging into a good book, or a weekend away to a new scene. In any case, Jesus will be with you – you are NOT retreating from Jesus!
And His disciples were with Him! And so were the multitudes (verse 25)! God’s people are NOT to be isolationists! We may need to be recharged from time to time. But people – PEOPLE! – are not an interruption to ministry. People ARE ministry! Our Savior knew that, and the Scriptures teach that! Remember Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [my emphasis!]. See also Acts 7:59-8:1, where after the stoning of Stephen, the writer declares, “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” [again, MY emphasis!]. What’s the point? The Savior is preparing people to be purposely placed where HE needs a witness, a voice, an encourager, a challenger, a testimony. He needs HIS Word proclaimed! Evangelist D. L. Moody wisely said, “Preach the Gospel at all costs! And if necessary, use words.” Our lives and our words are to be used by the Savior to make an eternal impact wherever He wisely gives us HIS assignment! What is YOUR place of assignment today?
Finally, God’s people are to be taught, Matthew 5:2, “Then He opened His mouth and taught them…”. But wait, there is MORE! God’s people are to be taught BECAUSE they are God’s people! How about some familiar verses put together in one spot? Proverbs 22:6a, “Train up a child in the way he should go…”. Ephesians 6:4, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” [MY emphasis]. 2 Timothy 4:16a, 17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable… that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
And God does look AT THE HEART! Remember when Samuel was called of God to choose out from all the males in Israel the “man after God’s own HEART” to be the next king of Israel? Jesse was sure that his oldest son – tall, dark, and handsome Eliab – would be a PERFECT candidate for the next king of Israel! What did God say to Samuel? 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Shortly afterwards, Eli anoints none other than Jesse’s youngest, “a boy named David.”
And with all this…enters the “Sermon on the Mount”. The Savior is training God’s people to be His instruments where He has wisely placed each one, so that each one can represent HIM and HIS heart!
My favorite song of all time, without question, is J.S. Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.” A man may play the song accurately. He may play all the notes mechanically perfectly. And yet, he may not really have played it accurately at all. WHY? Because he has missed Bach’s INTENT – that the mood of the music is to reflect the centrality of CHRIST in the desire of man.
Hence, the Sermon on the Mount is the Savior’s instruction to His people to do WHAT? To create the mood of the music of our lives to reflect the centrality of CHRIST in the desire and lives of His children.
How about YOU? Are you ready for the Savior’s challenge – to sit at His feet and learn of Him?