the Sermon on the Mount – anything but simply great advice

Great advice from one of history’s greatest moral teachers. The kind of thing that wins Jesus kudos and recognition from all around. Putting him up there with the Buddha and maybe one or two others.

That’s the essence of the Sermon on the Mount. Right?

Wrong.

I’m become increasingly convinced that there’s something much much more radical going on when Jesus gathers his rag-tag band of followers and sits down on the side of a hill to give them their marching orders.

More, it’s something that’s far from likely to win Jesus kudos and recognition. In fact, it’s more likely to stir up hostility and opposition. Leading people to question Jesus’ credentials (if not his sanity).

As I keep reading the Sermon on the Mount, it’s only confirming my initial impression that Jesus’ sense of his own utter decisiveness is the key to his message.

On the one hand, he presents himself as uniquely positioned to cut through the distortions and red tape that had grown up around God’s good law. His constant refrain — “You have heard it said… But truly I say to you…” — lays claim to an unprecedented authority: Jesus is claiming to give us privileged access to our truest and best humanity.

On the other hand, and as he does this, Jesus implicitly places himself in the kind of position a first century Jew would reserve for God alone.

Theologian Wolfhart Panneberg puts this into context in the story all four Gospels tell — climaxing in the resurrection (Jesus – God and Man, page 191):

“God’s divinity is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth insofar as the relationship to Jesus determines men’s ultimate destiny. It had been Jesus’ claim that survival or failure of the men who confronted him was decided on the basis of their relation to him … Through the resurrection this claim of Jesus was confirmed by God. Thus his relationship to Jesus reveals what a man is in God’s eyes. The ultimate unveiling in the coming judgment is decided in advance by the relationship of Jesus to men and their relationship to him.”

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