The constitution of the kingdom of God

No sermon has been so enduring as the Sermon on the Mount. Even after two thousand years, its teachings are still considered so important and right that they are applied to this day. In July the divine services of the New Apostolic Church will focus on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which is also referred to as the constitution of the kingdom of God.

The Sermon on the Mount is a pivotal speech of the Lord. It contains the well-known beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, the commandment to love one’s enemy, and the Golden Rule. Jesus conducted this sermon on a mountaintop on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and directed it to the people who had gathered to hear Him. It was full of symbolism, as is evident from the analogy to the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. For Matthew, who recorded the Sermon on the Mount in two chapters, it is of utmost significance.

Do not pay back in kind

It is a monumental work although it only takes up two chapters in Scripture. It is worth remembering the verses. For example, the admonishment to pay back evil with good. That is the core message, the nature of the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus admonishes His listeners to change completely, not outwardly, and not for others to see, but inwardly, in their soul—in their relationship to God, their hearts’ attitude, their relationship to their neighbour. The old Mosaic Law had established a completely different catalogue of rules. Jesus therefore started His precepts with, “You have heard that it was said …,” but continued with, “But I say to you …” Everything He said was completely new. It was no longer about an eye for an eye, but that man would get to know another image of God and another idea of man: not to return blow for blow, or to retrieve what someone else has taken, not to work out of compulsion or obligation, but with one’s heart and with love and commitment. What a difference! Not even a believing person is able to achieve this on his own. Such an attitude can only come about through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Loving one’s neighbour

In the end, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has a clear objective, now known as the Golden Rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” This precept found in Matthew 7: 12 puts into words what we expect of our neighbour, and at the time same it makes clear that our neighbour also has expectations of us. We are to treat our neighbour as we ourselves would like to be treated. This is an ethical and moral principle. Key questions for every Christian are: what do I expect from my neighbour, and how do I treat him in the process? Do we have true and sincere empathy when it comes to our neighbor? How big is my generosity and understanding for my neighbour? Am I prepared to help my neighbour when he finds himself in a predicament—even if is his own fault—and needs help? Am I prepared to help even if it is not convenient at the moment?

Just to make one thing clear: true love of the neighbour is not a show. It is nothing to applaud. It says, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6: 3), when it comes to alms, for example. A Christian is satisfied if the Lord knows about his good deeds. To give alms is good, but to expect applause is not!

Keyword: Golden Rule

Matthew 7: 12 is called the Golden Rule. It is a fundamental ethical principle and makes clear that one’s own existence must always been seen in connection with that of others. The Sermon on the Mount can therefore also be read from the aspect of the Golden Rule. This concept, by the way, is found in some form in almost every religion. It defines our human coexistence and is a common heritage of humankind.

Photo: Blazej Lyjak

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Peter Johanning
Divine service