We at Forest Hills Baptist Church have been journeying together through the Sermon on the Mount. The journey has been glorious so far, but difficult. The demands of the kingdom are steep. Martyn-Lloyd Jones has preached through the Sermon on the Mount and has been my companion as I have read through his sermons on the text to glean understanding, insight, and application. He writes this about the sermon on the mount:
Have we not felt that as we have been working our way through this Sermon? Is there anything known to us that is more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount? Take these passages from verse 17 to the end of this fifth chapter – these detailed illustrations given by our Lord as to how we are to live. Commandments, the ordinary moral standards of decency, are difficult enough; but look at these statements about not even looking with lys, about going the second mile and throwing in the cloak together with the coat, and so on. There is nothing more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount; it seems to throw us right out, and to damn our every effort before we have started. It seems utterly impossible. But at the same time do we know of anything more encouraging than the Sermon on the Mount? Do we know of anything that pays us a greater compliment? The very fact that we are commanded to do these things carries with it an implicit assertion that it is possible. This is what we are supposed to be doing; and there is a suggestion, therefore, that this is what we can do. It is discouraging and encouraging at the same time.
Lloyd-Jones would want me to be sure to remind you that the only hope we have for doing these things in the sermon on the mount is through the supernatural rebirth. The natural man is unable to love his enemy or turn the other check. Yet, for Christians although the Sermon on the Mount condemns us it provides us with a encouraging reminder that through the power of God's Spirit we can do these things through God's grace. Jesus is not giving us commands in these passages that we are unable to obey. Jesus not only gives his followers commands but the power to obey them. He is the one who gives us new hearts with new desires and affections. He is the one who empowers us to obey not only the letter of the Law but its Spirit.
If we are to understand this sermon rightly, we must read it in the tension of discouragement and encouragement. The sermon condemns us and yet reminds us of the empowering, transforming grace of God. The sermon brings the poor in Spirit to a posture of mourning, but they will be comforted and they will be filled with the righteousness of Christ.