As Jesus’ message began to spread, people flocked from miles away to see this “Messiah.” Seeing the miracles He performed and heard the words He spoke, many believed and began to press Him asking, “When will the Kingdom come? When will the revolution occur? What is the battle plan?”
And so Jesus took them up into the mountains. Once again, this is a place of great significance - they are The Mountains, not merely “the mountains.” This was where David and his men hid from King Saul, and where other would-be messiahs had gathered their armies before failed revolutions. Like the caves of Afghanistan or the cafés of Paris, these mountains were the breeding grounds and hiding holes of revolutionaries. As Jesus leads His followers there, their excitement and anticipation builds - the Kingdom is at hand! It is time for the revolution to begin!
Then Jesus begins to speak, and once again He gives the people exactly what they ask for… but not what they expect. He does indeed lay out a revolutionary plan to take over the world and expand the Kingdom of God to every people, tribe and tongue. But His plan doesn’t involve swords or spears. He doesn’t detail out a new system of government, or discuss the location where the heads of traitors will be displayed.
Instead, He begins by talking about the sort of people who will do well - “be blessed” - in His new regime (a section we know as “The Beatitudes”). In contrast to His audience’s expectations, He doesn’t encourage them to be ruthless. Instead He tells them that the poor, the meek, the persecuted, and the merciful will be blessed in the Kingdom of God. He gives His blessing on those who thirst for righteousness - not those who thirst for blood.
He then goes on to say that this is His battle plan: for His people to be the “salt of the earth” and “lights to the world.” In other words, instead of conquering the world and making its people His subjects by force, Jesus’ plan for building His kingdom is to “win the world over” through the godly example of His followers. He would win, and His kingdom would grow, not by His disciples being more skilled at arms and tactics, but by them being more righteous, more pure and more loving than the competition.
Jesus’ formula for this kind of spirit-filled, glorious living - a righteousness that would “surpass the Pharisees and teachers of the law” - was for His followers to go beyond the mere letter of the law, and instead aspire to fulfill its spirit. If the Old Testament law commands us not to murder, our Lord tells us not to even be angry. Scripture says, “Don’t commit adultery,” the Master responds, “Don’t even imagine it.” Moses said to keep your promises? Jesus tells His followers to be the sort of people who don’t even need to make promises - their “yes” or “no” is enough. The world expects you to do right by your friends and stab your enemies in the back? Jesus tells us to love them all, because that’s what our Father in heaven does.
The Pharisees were masters of exploiting loopholes and being just as holy as they had to be. To be Jesus’ disciple requires that we not aim for the bare minimum but aspire to “Be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” He tells us this knowing full well that, this side of the grave, none of us will achieve it. But He wants us as His disciples to be the sort of people who don’t settle for “good enough.” Instead He wants us - commands us - to strive for holiness with all our strength, because this is His battle plan, and wars aren’t won by half-hearted soldiers.