INSIGHTS FROM BONHOEFFER AND LEWIS ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Introduction to the Study:
Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount

. INTRODUCTION

Before looking at the Sermon itself, we need to ask why we would spend an "inordinate" amount of time studying just 3 chapters in Matthew. (I say "inordinate" because we will probably spend approximately 20+ weeks on this Sermon.)

First, we need to focus on this Sermon because we need to focus on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. One Monday after a terrible football game, Vince Lombardi, holding a football, came into the game room with the Green Bay Packers. After excoriating the team for a terrible performance the day before, Lombardi told his team it was time for the team to get back to fundamentals. He held out the football and said: "Number one, this is a football." (You can't get any more fundamental than that.)

Well, the people in our churches are constantly losing the game of life (when the divorce rate in the church is the same as that outside the church, something is wrong). We are dropping the ball, missing tackles, dropping passes, primarily because we have neglected the fundamentals of Christianity. We've got the "feel" down right for worship. Our buildings are spectacular. Everyone is scrubbed nice and clean, but lives are not transformed, divorces run rampant throughout the church, our kids are as bad off as they've ever been--even though everybody gets saved and is baptized. If there was ever a time for the church to concentrate on fundamentals, it is today. The teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, are critically important Christian fundamentals.

The teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (with the rest of Jesus' teachings in the Gospels) are like a fountain from which spring forth the rest of the teachings in the NT. After 2 graduate degrees from a theological institution and after teaching the Bible consistently over a period of 38 years, I feel confident in claiming that there are few if any teachings in the rest of the NT which do not have their source in the teachings of Jesus. Paul may expand upon certain teachings of Christ, but does he add anything really new? I would say not. In fact, Paul many times is insistent on informing us that he is passing down to us the tradition which was delivered to him, the tradition being the teachings of Jesus which He uttered while on earth. For example according to 1 Cor. 11:2, did these teachings in 1 Cor. 11 come originally from Paul?

Paul claims in that verse that he is only the "delivery man." According to 1 Cor. 15:3 what did Paul deliver to the Corinthians?

(See also 1 Cor. 7:10; 11:23.) (Be very careful in putting down "traditional" Christianity. The traditions you put down may actually be coming from Christ Himself.)

One mistake many fundamentalists make in their view of the Bible is to view it as a flat plane. Rather it is better to look at the Bible as a series of mountain peaks which progressively get higher and higher until you come to the teachings of Christ which are the Mt. Everest of the Bible. Or another way to look at the relationship of the teachings of Christ to the rest of the NT is that of the epicenter of an earthquake to its aftershocks. Christ's teachings form the epicenter of the earthquake; the teachings of the apostles which flow from Christ's teachings are the aftershocks. Those aftershocks are God's Word, but they are to be understood especially in light of what Jesus taught.

If we are going to understand fully what Paul is saying or what Peter is writing about, then it would probably be beneficial for us to take into account first the source of their teachings, the teachings of Christ Himself.


BONHOEFFER AND THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Why study Bonhoeffer's insights on the Sermon on the Mount? His insights are profound to be sure; however, Bonhoeffer's significance is greater than his insights on the specific verses in the Sermon. Bonhoeffer actually has the audacity to think that we should keep the Sermon on the Mount.

Now that might sound strange; however, when you realize what Protestantism (thru Martin Luther) has done to the Sermon, you will appreciate this audacity. Luther rightly taught us that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, and that as a result of that salvation experience, we are now made right with God. We don't have to do anything to become right; we just accept by faith the free gift God offers us in His Son Jesus.

No problem so far. The problem is that this is the point at which Protestants have not only started the Christian life, they have ended it there too. For most Protestants, the salvation experience has really been the only moment in their becoming like Christ. As a result, when Luther and his followers (including Baptists) came to the Sermon on the Mount and saw how difficult its injunctions are, we just breathed a sigh of relief and thanked God that we are saved by grace through faith...and not by works. Then we go on to something else (usually a study of the Second Coming) and totally fail to come to grips with what the Sermon is saying to us.

Bonhoeffer, a thorough-going Lutheran, had the audacity, though, to claim that Jesus actually expects us to keep the injunctions in the Sermon on the Mount. The purpose of the Sermon is not to make us feel guilty and thank God we are saved by grace through faith; its purpose is to instruct us how to live the Christian life, instructions which help us truly live like sons and daughters of God.

Before Bonhoeffer launches into the Sermon on the Mount, he prefaces it with some of the most challenging Christian writings written since the time of the apostles. In the first two chapters of The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer rails against the cheap grace offered by the Protestant church, the concept of grace mentioned above. This cheap grace is belief without repentance. As Bonhoeffer points out though, this grace cost God the death of His Son. Anything costly to God should not be cheap to us. If grace is not transforming a person into the image of Christ, then it is not NT grace; it is the cheap grace which the world offers. It may be what the world calls grace; however, it is not grace which comes from God. And if that grace does not come from God, then it does not save. Either it transforms a person into the image of Christ or it is not from God. It is that simple.

Two things:

  1. One passage we love to quote as Protestants is Eph. 2:8, 9"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God. Not as a result of works that no man should boast." That is a wonderful passage. However, we shouldn't stop at verse 9. Eph. 2:10 continues the thought: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good ___________ which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (walking being a metaphor for the way we live our lives DAILY. In other words, good works should characterize our daily lifestyle.)

  2. If you are going to stop at verse 9 (which is unwise), at least remember who wrote Eph. 2:8, 9. The apostle Paul. What were some of the hardships this apostle of grace experienced according to 2 Cor. 11:23-27?

    Eph. 2:8,9 sounds a lot different coming from his lips than they do coming from our lips. Let us remember who penned these words before we cheapen their meaning in order to excuse our lack of commitment to the Christian life.

If that is not enough, Lewis too claims that Christians are obliged to keep not only the simplest of these injunctions but even the most difficult of all (Matt. 5:48). If you are not willing to attempt to keep these injunctions, you probably shouldn't study the Sermon.

    A side note on Bonhoeffer. As was stated earlier, Bonhoeffer is a thorough-going Lutheran. He has great respect for Luther and his thought, especially Luther's Theology of the Cross. What is meant by Theology of the Cross? It deals with more than just the idea that Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins. It actually impacts the way we look at Christianity: we too are to live a crucified life.

    When Luther was railing against Roman Catholicism, one of the dominant themes of the RCC was the Theology of Glory. According to this view, we look upon Jesus primarily as being seated in glory at the right hand of God. The RCC then would love Eph. 2:6, 7"and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus in order that in the ages to come, He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

    Although there is merit to such a view, it was used by some in the Catholic Church of Luther's day to promote a triumphant Church with its massive glorious cathedrals, especially the Basilica of St. Peter's in Rome (the Vatican). For this reason, you will see the priests resplendent in fine garments. The altars in the local Catholic parish churches are ladened with gold. No idea of poverty here.

    Luther, in rejecting this theology, focused on the humility and lowliness of Christ, especially seen in His death on the cross. Some favorite verses of his then would be "Who although He existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of bondservant and being made in the likeness of man. And being found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:7-8). Bonhoeffer, being a committed Lutheran, is going to emphasize the Theology of the Cross. For this reason, you will read so much negative in The Cost of Discipleship. By negative, I mean that Bonhoeffer is going to stress the death of the Christian almost to the exclusion of the Christian's new life.

    The truth is that both Luther and the RCC have tapped into part of the truth. For example, although Luther loves Phil. 2:7-8, verses 9-11 follow. What does Paul tell us about Jesus in these verses (Phil. 2:7-11)?

    For this reason, we will try to keep the death and the new life of the Christian in balance. The truth is that until the Christian dies, he cannot live the resurrected life; moreover, he cannot live the resurrected life without dying. Why? Because the only life Christ gives is resurrected life. A person cannot be resurrected until he dies. Lewis will help us provide that balance.