Tonight, I am going to simply quote a section of the book I previously told you about. The Greatest Story Ever Told: A Tale of the Greatest Life Ever Lived by Fulton Oursler. I believe it bears repeating to you, who read my words. It hit me powerfully this morning, when I was reading to myself while waiting for everyone to get up. I beg your indulgence. The words are indeed worthy of your attention and thought, even though it is terribly long as a post on WordPress.
“Chapter 33: The Second Step
“The time had come to make one speech to these Twelve that would sum up all His teachings, a complete and formal statement of His message, which the Apostles would learn by heart.
“For this purpose He led them away from the multitudes to a rocky shoulder here on one side of the mountain, an isolated spot where they could be alone.
“As the disciples sat on their heels in a ring around Him, He began to teach. There was never heard in this world, before that day of divine revelation, or since, a more concise or orderly statement of a universal philosophical system; nor has there ever been another such chart of human behavior. Here was all the soul needed to know of God and creation and daily life, of today and hereafter. Here, too, were the most audacious promises ever made to humanity: the good news of eternity according to Jesus Christ.
“He began by telling them how a human being could be happy in his life on this earth. There were only eight rules one had to follow and one would be blessed. Not that He promised them security against the misfortunes of the world; He had no guarantee for any against pain, loss, grief, or disgrace. No such thing lay in the teaching whose revelations those Twelve were to start reverberating in every land. All that Jesus had to offer was happiness. That was a state of mental well-being by which a man could remain tranquil and yet with an eager zest for life, no matter how poignant his loss, how deep his sorrow, how excruciating his pain. Here were eight rules to keep that man serene and capable in the midst of any disaster.
“The eight rules, which were to be called the Beatitudes, were simple and wise by admittedly difficult to fellow [sic]. The way to destruction was broad and inviting; The way to glory, straight and narrow. First of the rules was that a man must be poor in spirit; he must be gentle, practicing humility, not heady and proud and arrogant; if one had succeeded in some great task, he was not to sit and gloat and brag, but must go right on, planning another job, a harder and better one.
“In the second rule a man must be meek; that was not to be a cringing coward but to believe in the goodness of God and in the friendliness of the universe, even when the soul is suffering and can seek no reason why it should suffer; the rule meant acceptance of God’s will.
“To mourn, too, would be a third blessing, but happiness would come, not in feeling sorry for ourselves so much as in feeling compassion for others and trying to help them; a basic counsel implied in all the Master’s teachings.
“Again the dynamic follower of His message would hunger and thirst after justice and righteousness; not merely in a legal sense but in a desire to understand and follow the laws that govern life and that are part of the will of God.
“We must also be merciful; so will we earn money for ourselves. And who shall not need it?
“Those shall be happy, too, who are clean and pure of heart; Jesus promised them that they would see God. But He meant what He said in the fullest sense: purity meant more than just a lack of lust; it called for a goal, a purpose in life.
“Again, those who were persecuted for the sake of justice, for the teachings He gave them – they, too, would be happy, for theirs was the Kingdom of Heaven.
“‘And,‘ He finished with the last beatitude, ‘blessed are you when they shall revile you and persecute you and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven.‘
“As there could be happiness in this world by following the eight rules, so there would be unhappiness if they were not followed.
“‘Do not think,‘ He instantly answered their thoughts, ‘that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfill.‘
“And the fulfillment as He now described it to them was like a startling challenge, dazing to conventional old ways of thinking. He recalled to them the Ten Commandments, called the Law. For example, you must not kill. Ah, but that was not the end of the matter. ‘I say to you that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgement.‘
“To wish a man dead is murder then? More than that! If your friend and you have quarreled, there is no place for you in church. Leave the altar, feeling your gift, and find the man with whom you have disagreed. Make up with him; be reconciled to him – then, and not before, you are in a proper state of mind to kneel before the altar of God. Agree with your adversary quickly, before things go too far.
“And what of thoughts of lust? They are the same as acts of lust. ‘Whoever shall look on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.‘
“What is a man to do, then? He is to conquer himself at whatever the cost! If his right eye is rotten, tear it out. Better to lose an eye than infect the whole body and die.
“No way of ease and roses this! In a land where divorce could be obtained with communistic ease, Jesus now told them that there could be no divorce in the Christian life. He made his words plain; He said and meant that a man could have only one wife, and that to get rid of her, even if she made his life miserable or someone else beckoned him to voluptuous joy, was nevertheless to expose her to the danger of adultery.
“This revolutionary command against custom was followed up by one that seemed against nature itself. To the gasping Twelve Apostles, there to learn their immortal lesson, He told them they were not to resist evil. Now there was indeed a dazing idea. Not to resist evil? No, bewildered Twelve, and bewildered posterity, you are not to resist. When you learn that force is not the answer to force, peace will come to the world; never until then. As long as attack is answered by repulse, aggression by defense, wars will never end. That is true in your private lives as well; if a man punches you on the right cheek, don’t hit him back; turn the left cheek to his fist!
“Audible gasps from all Twelve! For months now they had heard His merciful ideas, but nothing so radical and shocking as this calm instruction. Did they remember the old Mosaic law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? Certainly, Master, we all remember that! But they had forgotten a potent fact: that once upon a time, and long ago, the law was not like that. Revenge was a man’s own business; break his tooth and he could have your eye in vengeance, if only he was strong enough to cut it from you. Later the Mosaic law put a limit on human fury. To repay an injury, you could take in kind, but no more than equal justice. So the law was hanged to put a curb on: an eye for an eye, but only a tooth for a tooth.
“Now came Jesus fulfilling the old law with a new and gracious expansion. Twelve listeners, get it straight and clear: if a man takes away your coat, give him your vest as well. And if, under the cruel and oppressive laws of this occupied land, a Roman soldier compels you to walk with him a mile, carrying his shield and sword in the hot sun, go with him another mile, freely given when you don’t have to.
“A light of understanding was shining on the faces of the listening Twelve. Thus a man could make himself free; the giving of more than required did that – the new, astonishing, wholly Christian doctrine of the law of surplus service.
“With a sense of increasing power and glory they heard Him go on to the golden rule that a man must do unto others as he would have others do unto him – an improvement over all similar statements because it was positive, dynamic like Jesus himself. They were to give, when asked to give; lend, when asked to lend; and whereas the old law allowed one to love his friend and hate his enemy: ‘I say to you that hear, love your enemies, do good to them that hurt you, and bless them that curse you, and pray for those that calumniate you.‘
“Was that humanly possible? For thousands of years afterward men were to debate that amazing command. How can you love your enemies? Unfortunately, in later years, the words, translated into many tongues, were to lose the precision with which Jesus spoke that day in His native Aramaic Chaldee dialect. Jesus used two words for affection – filius and agape. In our own texts, these words, widely different in meaning, were to be translated as one word – ‘love.’ So a great deal of confusion was to be caused by the injunction to love our enemies. Jesus often used love in the strong sense of the old Greek word – agape – a detached, impersonal, self-commanding sense of the Fathership of God which makes all people His children. Not that we are expected to feel caressing affection for our enemy, but we are to bless him, and pray for his salvation, and, forgiving his offense, leave his fate to God.
“This point, because of the precision with which Jesus invariably spoke, the Twelve thoroughly understood: ‘Be you merciful even as your Father in Heaven is merciful.‘
“With the same perfect clarity He went on to warn against being show-offs, especially of their good works. If they bragged of their fine deeds to excite the admiration of their fellows, then that ended it; their reward was that very admiration of their fellows and they should expect nothing further. The right hand must not know what the left hand does. Pray in secret too – in the darkness of a closed room, and not, like pharisaical exhibitionists, on the street corners, with make-up on their faces to give them a haggard look of having piously fasted for a long time. ‘I tell you – they have their reward!‘
“How to treat others, how to govern one’s own impulses, were, as they saw clearly, the urgent parts of His teaching. This was a way of life, a pattern of conduct for all to follow. We are not to judge another; nor to condemn. If we do judge, then we, too, shall be judged; when we condemn, we insure condemnation for ourselves. But if we forgive, we may also be sure of forgiveness. It is up to each one of us, individually; we can choose what to do; we have moral freedom.
“Carefully He explained all matters to them. A follower of Jesus would not criticize the small faults of others; he must be too busy correcting his own gross defects – the mote in your brother’s ye, beam in your own, springing up in this mountain sermon out of boyhood rabbinical teachings in the Nazareth synagogue. One must be careful not to waste the treasures of spiritual understanding on those unready for receiving it; pearls were not to be cast before swine. Careful, too, to recognize a false teacher, of which there would come many; wolves in sheep’s clothing. As a tree is known by its fruit, so is a man known by his acts. And the false teachers will unmask themselves by their deeds.
“All men were responsible for their deeds, their words, their very thoughts. Here was startling news for the twelve sobered listeners. A count was kept in eternity, a balance sheet would be ready for the final reckoning. He who did good deeds, said wise and kind words, and thought good thoughts was like a man who built his house on a rock. When storm and flood came, the house was unshaken. Those who did not follow this counsel lived in a house built on sand: ‘The ruin of that house was great.‘
“This message placed an immense obligation on each of the Twelve; He stressed that point and they must all try to be worthy of it. He had chosen them because they were the salt of the earth – but if salt loses its flavor, it is useless. They were the light of the world and they must let that light shine before men, ‘that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.‘
“What they had to teach was the fulfillment of the law: ‘Till heave and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law …‘
The whole design of a man’s life should be to accumulate the treasure, not of time but of eternity. To do this he should love God and serve Him and nothing else; there could be no divided loyalty; a man cannot serve two masters. It was a basic mistake to let the exigencies of the world center on moral decisions; if God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers of the field more richly than the glory of Solomon, His earthly children should have confidence that He will care for them as well.
“‘Oh, you of little faith!‘ exclaimed Jesus sadly, when He had reached this point. ‘You must seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you …‘
From the comfort of this great promise He passed on to others, even more audacious. To those whose lives were thus dedicated to righteousness there were these wonderful assurances:
“‘Ask and it shall be given you.‘
“‘Seek and you shall find.‘
“‘Knock and it shall be opened unto you.‘
“‘What man is there of you, who, if his son asked for bread, would give him a stone? If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in heaven give good things to them that ask Him? Therefore, all things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.‘
All these things and more Jesus explained to the Twelve as they sat around Him on the ledge of the mountain overlooking the distant lake. The sun vanished behind the waters, the gloaming came and deepened, and a little scimitar moon began to rise as He told them that only by prayers could a man find the strength to live a life like that. And how should a man pray? Not with the vain repetitions that had bored and disillusioned him in his childhood, but remembering always that God the Father already knew the needs of His children and the form of their prayer therefore should be:
“‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…‘
“That was the Sermon on the Mount.”
That chapter held so much of what I have been reading in my Bible lately. It’s a book written in 1949, yet it has so much that I have been reading and working to understand, these last few weeks. I hope you read the whole thing with me.
Thank you for listening,