John Stott: The Choice We All Must Make

For those who are not familiar with him, Dr. John Stott is one of Anglicanism’s premier evangelical scholars. I have profited greatly from his faithfulness and insights. One aspect of his ministry is to provide daily email commentary on various books of the NT. Below is an example in which he has been commenting on the Sermon on the Mount. If you are interested in receiving his daily thought and daily bible study, click here. In the meantime, I encourage you to take seriously Stott’s observations about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.  Or the Christian counter-culture.

A Commentary by John Stott.

Matthew 7:21-27 A Christian’s commitment: the radical choice.

Thus the Sermon ends on the same note of radical choice of which we have been aware throughout. Jesus does not set before his followers a string of easy ethical rules, so much as a set of values and ideals which is entirely distinctive from the way of the world. He summons us to renounce the prevailing secular culture in favour of the Christian counter-culture. Repeatedly during our study we have heard his call to his people to be different from everybody else. The first time this became clear was in his commission to us to be both ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’. For these metaphors set the Christian and non-Christian communities over against each other as recognizably, indeed fundamentally, distinct. The world is like rotting food, full of the bacteria which cause its disintegration; Jesus’ followers are to be its salt, arresting its decay. The world is a dark and dismal place, lacking sunshine, living in shadow; Jesus’ followers are to be its light, dispelling its darkness and its gloom.

From then on the opposing standards are graphically described, and the way of Jesus commended. Our righteousness is to be deeper because it reaches even our hearts, and our love broader because it embraces even our enemies. In piety we are to avoid the ostentation of hypocrites and in prayer the verbosity of pagans. Instead our giving, praying and fasting are to be real, with no compromise of our Christian integrity. For our treasure we are to choose what endures through eternity, not what disintegrates on earth, and for our master God, not money or possessions. As for our ambition (what preoccupies our mind) this must not be our own material security, but the spread of God’s rule and righteousness in the world.

Instead of conforming to this world – whether in the form of religious Pharisees or of irreligious pagans – we are called by Jesus to imitate our heavenly Father. He is a peacemaker. And he loves even the ungrateful and selfish. So we must copy him, not men. Only then shall we show that we are truly his sons and daughters (5:9, 44-48). Here then is the alternative, either to follow the crowd or to follow our Father in heaven, either to be a reed swayed by the winds of public opinion or to be ruled by God’s word, the revelation of his character and will. And the overriding purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to present us with this alternative, and so to face us with the indispensable necessity of choice.

That is why the Sermon’s conclusion is so appropriate, as Jesus sketches the two ways (narrow and broad) and the two buildings (on rock and sand). It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of the choice between them, since one way leads to life while the other ends in destruction, and one building is secure while the other is overwhelmed with disaster. Far more momentous than the choice even of life-work or of a life-partner is the choice about life itself. Which road are we going to travel? On which foundation are we going to build?

The Ascended Christ Still Suffers

Our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Christ is now exalted above the heavens but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” and when he said: “I was hungry and you gave me food.” [Jesus says] I have ascended to heaven, but I still remain on earth; here I sit at the right hand of the Father, but there I still hunger, thirst, and am a stranger. I am the Head; my Body still lies beneath. Where does it lie? Throughout the whole earth. Be careful that you do not strike it, that you do not hurt it, that you do not trample upon it.

—Augustine, Sermon for the Lords Ascension; Treatise 10 on 1 John 9

A Very Early Explanation of the Eucharist

If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers of his body. It was with his own blood that he redeemed us. We are his members and we are nourished by his creation, which is his gift to us, for it is he who causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall. He declared that the chalice, which comes from his creation, was his blood, and he makes it the nourishment of our blood. He affirmed that the bread, which comes from his creation, was his body, and he makes it the nourishment of our body. When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow. How then can it be said that flesh belonging to the Lord’s own body and nourished by his body and blood is incapable of receiving God’s gift of eternal life?

The slip of the vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things. The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of human beings and when they receive God’s word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ. In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature with immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God’s power is shown most perfectly in weakness.

—Irenaeus (late 2nd century), Against Heresies 5

Did you notice the wonderful element of hope running through this ancient writing? Did you take note of God’s continuing care and providence for us, especially in our days of weakness? If not, go back and reread Irenaeus again.

The Reign of Life Now Begun

The reign of life has begun, the tyranny of death is ended. A new birth has taken place, a new life has come, a new order of existence has appeared, our very nature has been transformed! This birth is not brought about “by human generation, by the will of humankind, or by the desire of the flesh, but by God.” On this day [of the resurrection] is created the true human, the one made in the image and likeness of God. For “this day the Lord has made” is the beginning of this new world. The day destroyed the pangs of death and brought to birth the firstborn of the dead.

—Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, Oration 1 on the Resurrection

Don’t Quench the Spirit

Let us, then, take care not to quench the Spirit. All evil actions extinguish this light: slander, offences and the like. The nature of fire is such that everything foreign to it destroys it, and everything akin to it gives it further strength. This light of the Spirit reacts in the same manner. This is the way in which the spirit of grace manifests itself in Christians. Through repentance and faith it descends into the soul of each [person] in the sacrament of baptism, or else is restored to him [or her] in the sacrament of repentance. The fire of zeal is its essence. But it can take different directions according to the individual.

The Art of Prayer

The Whole Story of Salvation

God presents himself to us little by little. The whole story of salvation is the story of the God who comes. It is always he who comes, even if he has not yet come in his fullness. But there is indeed one unique moment in his coming; the others were only preparations and announcement.

The hour of his coming is his Incarnation.

The Incarnation brings the world his presence. It is a presence so complete that it overshadows every presence before it. God is made human in Christ. God makes himself present to us with such a special presence, such an obvious presence, as to overthrow all the complicated calculations made about him in the past. “The invisible, intangible God has made himself visible and tangible in Christ.” If Jesus is truly God, everything is clear; if I cannot believe this, everything darkens again.

—Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes

Learning From Christ

Consider how Christ validated his words through actions. “Learn from me,” he said, “for I am gentle and humble in heart.” He commanded us to love our enemies and taught this lesson on the cross, when he prayed for those who were crucifying him. He bid also that others teach in this way. Therefore Paul also said, “as you have an example in us.” For nothing is more insipid than a teacher who shows his wisdom only in words, since he is then not a teacher, but a hypocrite.

—John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles 1