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An Astonishing Sermon

George F. Burns verbalized what many people think about sermons. He said, "The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending, and to have the two as close together as possible." That reminds me of the young preacher who moved to his first located work. In a planning session, the beginner asked the elders what they suggested he preach about. One of them spoke up and said, "About Heaven, and fifteen minutes." In this electronic age of thirty-second attention spans one of the greatest sins a preacher can commit is to preach "too long." And no doubt some preachers (your's truly included!) occasionally continue to pump after the well is dry! However preachers or people in the pews feel about sermons, Jesus Christ proved two thousand years ago sermons need not be overly-long to be effective. Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7 contain what the world has long known as the "Sermon on the Mount," a title taken, no doubt, from the fact that Jesus "went up on a mountain" near Capernaum in Galilee and preached it (5:1-3). The three chapters are divided into 111 verses (New King James Version) and the entire sermon can be read in less than fifteen minutes. The subjects addressed in it include some of the Lord's most familiar teachings:

    * the "beatitudes" (5:3-12)
    * a terse and sobering statement about divorce and remarriage (5:31-32)
    * salt and light of the world metaphors (5:14-16) * show-time religion (6:lff)
    * the "Lord's prayer" (6:9-13)
    * laying up treasure in heaven and not on earth (6:19-21)
    * make God your master and not mammon or money (6:24)
    * do not worry about food and drink and clothing to the point those and other physical things become the consuming priority in life, but "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" and trust God to give us the things we need (6:25-33)
    * the speck and plank in the eye illustration about hypercritical judging (7:1-5)
    * the few who enter the narrow gate and difficult way that leads to life versus the many who travel by the wide gate and broad way that leads to destruction (7:13-14)
    * warning about false prophets in sheep's clothing (7:15)
    * and ending up with the warning that calling Jesus "Lord, Lord" won't gain God's approval unless there is a corresponding obedience to the will of the Father in heaven (7:21-23)
    * and, of course, the famous illustration of the "wise man who built his house on the rock" by hearing and doing the teachings of Jesus versus the foolish man who "built his house on the sand" because, although he heard Jesus' teaching, did not do them (7:24-28).

Sermons are sometimes met with a yawn in our secular, digital, over-stimulated age. But Matthew tells us, "when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished (amazed, mist)) at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (7:28-29). Sermons rarely "astonish" and amaze people these days. Do se ons ever 'astonish" you — not because of the power and personality of the preacher, but because the soul-searching and conscience capturing words and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ get inside your heart and mind and cause a stir? When Jesus and His apostles preached, the sermon always left people mad, sad, or glad — but it never left them the same. The most astonishing thing about Jesus' sayings these days is how rarely they astonish those who hear them.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ