The Sermon on the Mount and the Power of Self-Deception

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The sermon on the mount is one of the most powerful sermons ever preached. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned that one of Jesus’ longest sermons was only a few minutes long if we have the whole thing recorded. Sometimes less is more. But in these three chapters of Matthew (5-7) Jesus gives us a brief but in depth look into what life in the kingdom looks as well as life as a disciple of Jesus looks like.

When Jesus preached this sermon he ended it making sure that those who heard what he said would go away truly changed. This was no evangelistic sermon and yet Jesus was calling for conversion. He was calling for a conversion of the hearts and minds of those who heard his words.

The very last thing he said in the sermon specifically references the rest of the sermon – “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24). James said something very similar to this in James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James then doesn’t give us a parable of wise and foolish builders. James gives us a parable about someone who looks into a mirror and then immediately forgets what they look like being like a person who looks at the law of freedom and forgets what it says…but the one who looks at it and does what it says is not called wise but blessed. Blessing is how Jesus kicked off the sermon on the mount. But there is more.

James 1:22 has both components of Matthew 7:24 – hearing and doing. Tucked in between them in James 1:22 is self-deception. Interestingly enough if you look at how Jesus structures the conclusion of the sermon on the mount he discusses self-deception at length.

Here is how Jesus makes his closing arguments in the sermon on the mount.

7:13-14 – Two ways of living – the wide way that leads to death and the narrow way that leads to life

7:15-20 – The danger of others deceiving you and leading you astray.

7:21-23 – The danger of you deceiving yourself.

7:24-27 – Two ways of living – the one who is wise and the one who is foolish enough to deceive himself in how he “builds”.

Maintaining ourselves as disciples of Jesus will require us to listen and obey. We don’t need to confuse discipleship with salvation. We don’t earn our salvation through 100% perfect obedience but obedience is a necessary part of our discipleship post conversion. The one who deceives himself is the one who is a nominal Christian. Their life looks on the outside like a fully functioning house but in reality it is a death trap because it lack true foundation on Jesus.

The world tries to deceive us into thinking we can have it both ways. We can be a part of Jesus’ house and we can be worldly. We can listen to Jesus but not actually be a disciple. Listening doesn’t make a disciple. A disciple must be committed to following, listening, learning and doing. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking we can have the world and have Jesus. If Jesus is Lord then nothing else takes the top spot…nothing else even comes close. That is going to take some digging just as we hear Jesus say in his teaching this same parable out on the plain in Luke 6:48-49,

They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Those of us who are teachers need to be training people to dig. More than that…those of us who are teachers need to be digging right alongside those we teach. We need to make sure that all that we say is truly connected to the foundation of Jesus and his teaching. The world may tell us all foundations are the same or that foundations are unnecessary but we know better than that. The question is not if we know better than that. The question is are we living better than that?

One Response

  1. But it is in listening to others that we sometimes become aware of our arrogance and hypocrisy. They sometimes remind us when the mercy and compassion of Christ are missing from our “righteousness”. The fact is, the message often put forth is, “WE are the righteous ones, and it is OUR righteousness that defines truth and determines what is just”. However, It is when we, with tender mercies, respect the ability of others to see us as we are, that they believe it is worth their time and mind to listen.

    The irony is, Christians often say, “The world needs to listen to us”. Yet, when the message is put in a way that they do listen, then suddenly it is claimed the message has been lightened or watered down But few are going to give us permission to put a millstone around their necks. “Blessed are the meek and merciful” will always be the power that gives discipleship its depth.

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