“Do not worry”, says Jesus in the sermon on the mount (verse reference, Matthew 6:25-34).
So we worry, (or at least, I do). We worry to start with, because that’s who we are. And then we read this verse … and worry MORE, because we’re disobeying God. Telling us not to do something only shows us how impossible it is to obey. Like telling ourselves to “be purple”. No amount of willpower makes it better.
So what do we do, when we can’t do the thing to be done?
Well, let’s think about the sermon on the mount as a whole.
The sermon on the mount is Jesus’ description of the good life – a life without hypocrisy or greed or lust or anger or worry. Sounds like perfection! And it is. Matthew 5 ends with Jesus challenging us to “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” But who’s perfect like that? At the end of the day only one person!
Jesus is the truly Righteous One. He is without hypocrisy, greed, lust, anger and worry. In a deep sense only He is free of those things. So as we hear the sermon on the mount, we think;
1. Wow, sounds like perfection!
2. Hmmm, doesn’t sound like me!
3. But it does sound like Jesus.
4. Lord, help!
Funnily enough that’s how the sermon on the mount ends. Having preached perfection, we’re shown how to respond. In Matthew 8 a leper immediately runs to Jesus and asks to be cleansed. Full of compassion, Jesus cleanses him. That’s what the sermon on the mount is meant to do to us. It preaches the good life, it makes us realise our uncleanness and so we run to Jesus and He gives us His kind of life.
Jesus didn’t ascend back to heaven after giving the sermon on the mount. His work was not done, having given us clear instructions. He knew He needed to live out the perfection of the sermon, to die for the imperfection of its hearers, and to rise again to give us that new life.
So we should never divorce the sermon on the mount from the rest of the Gospel. It gives us a true and glorious picture of the good life – but we need Jesus’ death, resurrection and gift of the Spirit to truly frame its teaching.
“Do not worry” says Jesus. And in response we say: “That’s the life! That’s true flourishing. But Lord it’s not my life. It’s not the way I’ve been living this week. Help. If you are willing, you can make me clean.” And right there we find cleansing for our sin and a touch of mercy that meets our deepest need. The kindness of the Lord shines into our dark and anxious hearts. And suddenly – by grace alone, through Christ alone – faith replaces fear. He does it – and we are in Him.