In Matthew chapter 4, immediately after Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and the calling of His first disciples, we read the following words in verses 23-25: “Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. Then the news about Him spread throughout Syria. So they brought to Him all those who were afflicted, those suffering from various diseases and intense pains, the demon-possessed, the epileptics, and the paralytics. And He healed them. Large crowds followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.”
The very next verse begins chapter 5: “When He saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them…” (Matt. 5:1) And thus begins the Sermon on the Mount. So think with me for just a moment about who is hearing this sermon. It is the multitude of people who have been hearing the good news about the kingdom and then have seen the power of that kingdom demonstrated in their very lives. He proclaimed the right-here-right-now-ness of the kingdom, showed them the power of that kingdom, and then, in the sermon on the mount, He told them more about what they had just seen. And in this context of people whose lives are being radically altered by the anointing of this Anointed One, as they are immersed in this atmosphere of Heaven and getting a glimpse into the not too distant future that Jesus would be creating for them on the cross, Jesus boldly and without hesitation paints a picture for them of the unimaginable life that awaits them. In this sermon, He gives them five mind-blowing, life-shaking examples of the kind of transformation that this kingdom brings. They have already been impacted by the healing, delivering, revelatory power of the kingdom, but Jesus says, “Wait! There’s more!”
He then proceeds to give them five illustrations of this new kingdom life that begin with “You have heard it said,” and end with “But I tell you…” And the last of the five in Matthew 5 represents one of the most unthinkable, incomprehensible, brain-scrambling statements that any of them have ever heard: “You have heard that it was said, Love your friends and hate your enemies. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matt. 5:43) Jesus might as well have said, “Okay everybody, as you can see, the kingdom of God is here, so I want all of you to make yourselves grow three feet taller by this time next week.” That would have been no less shocking for them to hear. The difference, though, is that He wasn’t telling them to do something impossible. He was telling them that He was going to do something impossible in them. Jesus didn’t die to set us free from a law that we couldn’t keep, just to give us another law that we couldn’t keep. Again, unlike the Pharisees, who tied heavy loads on the people that they couldn’t carry, and wouldn’t lift a finger to help them, Jesus would take our entire burden of the requirements of the law on His own shoulders, and carry it to the cross. So if he wasn’t giving them a commandment that they couldn’t obey, how were they ever supposed to live that kind of love? Jesus knew. They would be able to live it, and even want to live it, by way of a new heart, put into them through a new covenant, having been transformed by the resurrection life of Jesus in the person and presence of the soon-arriving Holy Spirit. Jesus wasn’t giving them unachievable good advice, He was announcing the good news of what was about to be a reality for them.
One of my favorite preachers from many years ago was Roy Hession, who used to say, “I have heard many sermons in my life. Most of them have been good advice. Not many have been good news.” The gospel is good news, not just good advice. It is the unbreakable promise from the very heart of God that “since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17) It is the irrefutable, rooftop-worthy news that we, “being buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection.” (Romans 6:4-5)
Resurrectional transformation is not only possible for those who have received the kingdom, it is to be confidently expected. The good news that the kingdom has come, forgiveness is final, and there is now on the earth a new kind of people, brings a hope, an excitement– an enthusiastic anticipation of a supernatural re-formation of the sin-marred devastation, into a Heaven-branded new creation. The gospel is not wishful thinking. The gospel is not “your life can be a little better if you are strong enough to make some changes.” It is the unequivocal truth that what is wrong in you is made right in Jesus. What was lost has been found. What was orphaned is now a son. What was dead is suddenly alive. Now that is transformation.