I’ve been reading through Randy Harris’s latest book Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount (with Greg Taylor). The book is an easy-to-read book designed to equip the reader, presumably a person interested in following Jesus, to live out the teachings of the Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (SoM). To that end, the book wisely avoids critical exegesis, reading instead like a set of sermons for each chapter (like the author preaching, if you’ve ever heard Harris preach) with discussion questions and suggestive practices at the end of each chapter to help the reader put each teaching of Jesus into practice.
Following Jesus involves living like Jesus. That sounds obvious but as simple as it sounds, it sure isn’t so easy. The same is for the teaching in the SoM. It is fairly easy to understand but more difficult to live.
Some within Christian history have approached the SoM as though the teachings are impossible to do, as though the only point is to reveal to us how much of a sinner we really are. Nonsense! Jesus offered this teaching because he fully expected God’s people to live by it. So Harris reminds us, that the question to ask is not whether we can do the teaching of the SoM but whether we will try (p. 14).
Yes we will! We must, if we are to follow Jesus.
However, I also maintain that for us to live like Jesus we must know the beliefs and values Jesus lived his life by because actual living is always based on a set of beliefs and values. So by learning the beliefs and values Jesus lived his life by, we can make them the beliefs and values we live our lives by. And the SoM is good as any place to begin this pursuit.
What the SoM does, if we will strive to live by these teachings, is keep us in the world but distinct from the world. Thus we will live into the reality of the “salt” and “light” that Jesus says his disciples are (cf. Matt 5:13-16). So as Harris writes:
We are followers of Jesus, not just for ourselves but for the sake of the world, and the Sermon on the Mount is a call to Christians to live for the sake of the world. The world needs light. The world needs salt. It doesn’t need a bunch of Christians crawling into their Christian storm shelter and never coming out because it’s not safe out there, nor do we need a bunch of Christians who look so much like the world that they can’t see the light (p. 40).
May we hear Jesus’ call to follow, hear his teaching, and live as Jesus lives!