JJ Heller is one of my favorite artists, not simply because of the quality of her music, but because she has a way of giving honest voice to how messed up and broken this world is while point listeners to the hope of the gospel–the hope of Christ, the presence of God amid the mess, and the promise of his new creation when he will make everything right in the end.
PREPARING TO JOURNEY THROUGH THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
This Sunday our journey through the Gospel of Matthew brings us to the foot of the mountain from where Jesus gave the famous address recorded in Matthew 5–7. The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the best known portion of Jesus’ teaching, with its ethics of peace, love, and humility celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike. And yet so often we focus on the ethics of the kingdom without connecting them to the King who gives them out of his own authority and power. This can take several shapes.
For some, we celebrate the ethical vision, lamenting that if only everyone would live this way, all the world’s problems would disappear. But we fail to recognize that these are no mere principles for peaceful living, but a call to utter submission to the King of heaven and earth. In other words, we want many of values of the kingdom, but we don’t want the King. We make the Sermon on the Mount about us, hijacking its teaching and using it to advance our own vision for life, which invariably results in throwing out the ethics we don’t like. What we’re left with in the end neither resembles the sermon’s content nor respects the teacher’s authority.
For others, we shy away from this ethical teaching because we know we are utterly incapable of living up to it. In response, we might find ourselves softening the sharp edges, or even relegating the teaching to a different time and people so it no longer applies to us. But this is likewise to focus on the commands while neglecting the King who gave them—the King who is presently establishing his kingdom on earth (cf. 4:17) and whose kingdom work will climax in the cross, resurrection, and sending of his Spirit.
So before we can say anything about the message of Sermon on the Mount, we have to first reckon with the messenger—the King who speaks as God.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is portrayed to us as a new Moses, who comes out of the wilderness and ascends the mountain (5:1-2) to give God’s instruction. Jesus came not to relax or remove the Law, but to fulfill it (5:17-20).
And yet, Jesus is more than a new Moses, for he speaks with the authority of God himself (cf. 7:28-29). He is no mere prophet shouting, “Thus says the Lord.” Rather, Jesus says, “You have heard it said before . . . but I say to you” (e.g. 5:21-22). Throughout the sermon Jesus speaks on direct behalf of his Father in heaven (e.g. 5:45-48; 6:1-18; 7:7-10). He speaks as the divine law-giver and judge (7:21-23). And he speaks as the one in whose words we find wisdom and life (7:24-27).
Jesus is the King who speaks as God. Which means that there can be no real adherence to the Sermon on the Mount without first recognizing and humbly submitting to the authority of Jesus.
Join us at Westgate Church, beginning this Sunday (March 10), as we spend the next several months walking through Christ’s vision for life in his kingdom—life in joyful submission to the King of heaven and earth.
With our services at Westgate cancelled this morning due to winter storm Nemo, I thought I would share a few thoughts on how we might serve God this Lord’s Day even though we’re unable to gather for corporate worship. After all, worship is not what we do only when we gather, much less only when we sing; it is what we do with the whole of life (Rom. 12:1-2; see our Music Director Sarah Detweiler’s helpful comments).
1. Spend time as a family in God’s Word and in prayer. This doesn’t have to be complicated or replicate what we do at the church building. Pick a passage of Scripture to read (if your children are able, include them in the reading). Ask a few questions about what it’s saying and why it matters. Then spend a few minutes in prayer together as a family. You might even sing a hymn or praise song. In our home we often watch a children’s Bible story video as well (we really like the What’s In the Bible Series). If you and your family have a hard to spending time in God’s Word and prayer as a family, this is a great opportunity to get started.
2. Spend part of your day serving your neighbors. Do some of your neighbors still need help clearing their driveway, or digging their car out? Give them a hand. Or maybe bake some goodies with the family and deliver them to some neighbors this afternoon. Find a way to serve others and show the love of Christ in tangible ways.
3. Catch up a sermon you missed. All our past sermons back to May 2011 are available online here. Or you take the opportunity to listen to a different pastor online this morning (here are a few of my favorites: Kent Hughes, Tim Keller, John Piper, Jay Thomas, Jeff Vanderstelt).
Just over one year ago, we adopted a new vision at Westgate Church: to be a gospel-centered community living each day on mission for Christ. We spent the last month taking a fresh look at that vision and asking what it will take for us to move closer toward it. Or in other words, what will it take for our experience of ‘church’ to be less like something we go to and more like something we are—a family of missionary servants empowered by God’s Spirit to make disciples for Christ?
I’ve summarized the January sermon series below, both as a reminder and for the sake of any who missed part of it (audio and notes are also available). We also had two incredibly helpful congregation-wide discussions. We’ll share a summary of what we learned from those in the days ahead.
For February, I want to ask our congregation to devote this month to prayer for our vision moving ahead. God is the one who must do the work; we have nothing apart from him. Our efforts must always be bathed in prayer, but let us commit all the more so during February (and the upcoming Lenten season in particular) to asking God to bear much fruit among us through this vision.
Moving Toward Our Vision: Series Summary
1. The Gospel as Center (Jan. 6) | audio and notes
Everything we are and do flows out of the gospel and points back to the gospel—the good news of what God has done to establish his kingdom and deal with our sin through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. Gospel Identity (Jan. 13) | audio and notes
In Christ we are a family of worshipers, learners, servants, and missionaries, in whom God dwells and through whom he displays his glory.
3. Gospel Mission (Jan. 20) | audio and notes
Our mission is to make disciples of all nations; the means God has given us is his transforming Word and our transparent lives; and the method we follow is to evangelize non-believers, establish new or young believers, and equip growing believers for gospel ministry.
4. Gospel Rhythms (Jan. 27) | audio and notes
Making disciples requires an intentionality that brings the gospel to bear on all of life for all people amid life’s natural rhythms: celebrate, listen, eat, work, rest, bless, and suffer.
Kevin DeYoung writes:
Your pastors and elders need your help to live out the calling of Acts 6:4: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Because everything seems more important and seems more urgent than being in the word and prayer. Everything.
What happens if all the lights are burnt out and the heat doesn’t work and the pews are upside down and the sound is off? People will notice. People will say something. People will be upset.
But what if your elders didn’t pray more than five minutes at their meeting last month? Would you know? No on would, not right away. What if your pastor hasn’t prayed for weeks? What if the elders are not deep into the word? With almost everything else in the church someone will says, “What’s going on? Why didn’t you show up? What’s the problem? Why didn’t this get done?” But who knows when the pastors and the elders forget Acts 6:4?
This is an urgent reminder not just for congregations to pray, but for pastors and elders to focus their shepherding efforts on the ministry of the Word and prayer. (Which means training and empowering deacons for their own role in executing, administrating, or supporting the vision and ministries of the church–the very thing taking place in Acts 6.)
Without an emphasis on the ministry of the word and prayer, we elders and pastors quickly lose focus. Read more…
I’ve been participating in the Charles Simeon Trust’s Workshop on Biblical Exposition for several years. I can’t tell you how valuable they’ve been for my preaching ministry.
The Boston workshop is February 13-15, featuring Jeramie Rinne and David Camera, and hosted by South Shore Baptist Church. For those of you who regularly give yourself to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, I highly encourage you to sign up.
As a young lead pastor in the relatively hard ministry soil of New England, I am blessed to have an associate pastor to work with. More specifically, I’m blessed to have Bruce Daggett as my associate pastor, not merely for giving me a regular break from the pulpit, but for his wisdom, experience, constant encouragement, and faithful partnership in gospel ministry.
I was particularly encouraged by Bruce’s exhortation from the pulpit this past Sunday. We’re preparing as a congregation to spend January taking a fresh look at the vision we adopted one year ago, and asking hard questions about what it will take to move closer to that vision. To prepare our hearts for this, Bruce led us in reflecting on Paul’s doxology from Ephesians 3:20-21: Read more…