Critique My Matthew Sermon

m[It’s only fair that I submit my own sermon for critique. This is the silent sermon that introduces my personal study on the Sermon on the Mount.] Matthew 5:1-12 The Sermon on the Mount. The Magna Carta of Christianity. Matthew 5, 6 and 7. I call it the Sermon of Sermons, for a sermon is a declaration of the gospel pointing to Jesus. And Jesus’ words in these three chapters are, in my observation, the greatest sermon pointing to Himself: the Sermon of Sermons.


How then do I approach this magnificent sermon? With a microscope? Such an up-close approach has been attempted by many a preacher the past 2,000 years, and has lead to much confusion and disarray. My approach to something so grand, so high and so beautiful is to step back.

I step back a little and am filled with guilt upon guilt. So I step back further. I contend that to comprehend the Sermon of Sermons, we ought to fly into space and gaze upon it! From space, there are only a few objects that are viewable on the earth. The Great Wall of China is one of them.

What do we see in the Bible from space? We see the broad message of God: faith, hope and love. We see the Great Story: Creation, Fall, Training, Redemption and Return. And we can see the Sermon of Sermons, a glorious light shining up at us.

Now let’s come back to reality, back to earth where we are. Now we gaze up at Scripture, each verse shining as stars in the sky. The Sermon is one of the brightest collections of those stars. Now we need a telescope to observe such brightness. What do we see?

Law or Grace?

The two ancient lenses with which we can interpret Scripture are law and grace. Through the lens of law we develop a mind of self-righteousness, elitism and legalism. Through the lens of grace we cultivate a mind of godliness, humility and freedom. Law is the common road that leads to shackles and finally death. Grace is the narrow road that leads to joy and finally life.

The world is filled with preachers who chose the lens of law to present the Sermon of Sermons. Such an approach snuffs out the fire of truth in Jesus’ words, sapping the very breath out of those who hear.

27 Words

When I observe the Sermon of Sermons from the lens of grace, I see 10 words in chapter five, 10 words in chapter six and 7 words in chapter seven. Twenty-seven words. I contend that if we would listen to these 27 words and let them define our life, we would find the effervescent joy, the all-surpassing power and the deep tranquility Jesus came to give.

Matthew 5: Love your neighbor (Codex 3 – Social/Civil)

  1. Blessed
  2. Salt
  3. Light
  4. Fulfillment
  1. Reconciliation
  2. Purity
  3. Faithfulness
  4. Integrity
  5. Long-suffering
  6. Love

Conclusion 1: Be perfect.

Matthew 6: Love God (Codex 2 – Ceremonial)

  1. Generosity
  2. Prayer
  3. Forgiveness
  4. Humility
  5. Treasure
  6. Discernment
  7. Devotion
  8. Security
  9. Self-esteem
  10. Contentment

Conclusion 2: Seek God. 

Matthew 7: God’s Will (Codex 1 – Moral)

  1. Mercy
  2. Self-examination
  3. Discretion
  4. Dialogue
  5. Goodness
  6. Grace
  7. Logic

Conclusion 3: Do God’s will.

27 words that teach us about Jesus! 27 words that teach us how to live! May these words transform me by renewing my mind. Lord, help me to apply Your words with grace, courage and faith in You, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Forge in me the heart of a lamb and the soul of a lion.

Final conclusion: Build your life on Jesus.

Twenty seven words; twenty seven sermons! …and maybe 27 blogs :) The first four words of Jesus’ Sermon of Sermons are: blessed, salt, light and fulfillment. These four words form an introduction, and an invitation. The first word is “blessed”. Blessed! Isn’t this what we want? Do we not crave to be blessed?

Let’s read today’s text:

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,and he began to teach them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Who is blessed?

Nine times the word “blessed” appears in this text. To begin to understand their depth and earth-shattering significance, I would need nine more sermons! So what can we plainly learn from these words? First and most plainly, we can learn who is blessed. Most of us want to be blessed, but we wonder if I am such a person who could ever hope to be blessed. Perhaps God would bless others, but would God bless me?

Jesus lists nine traits found in people who are blessed. The poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted because of righteousness and those insulted because of Jesus.

Why are such people called “blessed” by Jesus? Is this not a bit strange? If you asked me to list the kinds of people who are blessed, my list would look very different from Jesus’ list. At the top of my list would be: Those whose mortgage is paid off! Now that is blessing in my natural mind! As I see my list of “the blessed” I see a pattern. My concept of blessing is all about gaining something.

What is Jesus’ concept of blessing? Jesus talks more about losing something or about inner strength of the heart. In Jesus’ mind, the blessed people are not those with outward strength or with many accomplishments. To Jesus, the blessed people are people with a lamb’s heart.

What is blessing?

As I alluded to, I tend to have an upside-down concept of blessing in my natural mind. Jesus listed a nine-fold description of the blessings received by those with a lamb heart:

  1. The kingdom of heaven
  2. Comfort
  3. Inheritance of the earth
  4. Fulfillment
  5. Mercy
  6. The ability to see God
  7. Identity as children of God
  8. The kingdom of heaven (in case you missed it the first time :)
  9. Me (Jesus)

Rejoice and Be glad

How do we respond to Jesus’ opening statements about blessing? In verse 12 Jesus not only indicates what response he expects, but does so in the form of a command: “Rejoice and be glad”. Rejoice! If you want to obey something, obey that. Be glad.

Jesus did not come to bind believers to an “upgraded” law. Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Jesus came to give rest for the soul of the believer. Scripture declares that “his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3-4). Do you believe that? For most of my life I tried to believe that, but in my mind I always concluded: “Easy and light? Yea right! You gotta be kiddin’ me! Christian life is anything but easy or light…”

I was a believer, but I lived my life as if I were a donkey tethered to a millstone. My only claim was “Yes I’m tied to a millstone, but it is a better millstone than what Moses gave!” I thought, “My millstone came from Jesus, and I’m going to pull it by golly!” So I ended up looking, feeling and acting like this:

Jesus’ yoke is something like Thor’s hammer. Not even the mighty Hulk could pick up Thor’s hammer. In fact, Hulk could not even move the hammer one inch! But Thor lifted it easily, and used it well! The one who tries to pick up the law with his own strength will never budge it even an inch. Cursed is anyone who relies on observing the law (Galatians 3:10). Only those who accept the grace of Jesus will find the blessing promised in the law. Only Jesus can lift the law, and he does it with ease and uses it well.

My friends, if you see the Sermon of Sermons and walk away sad or burdened with guilt or heavy laden with anxiety, you’ve not yet heard what Jesus said. If you think Jesus was merely giving you an “upgraded yoke” or a “higher morality”, you’ve missed the point. Jesus’ yoke is not a new way to be tethered to the law. Jesus’ yoke is grace. Jesus’ yoke is blessing!

Come to Me

Jesus’ blessed invitation to find rest for your soul still stands open today:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)


  1. Thanks, Brian. It is always a delight to reflect on the Sermon of sermons. I agree that this sermon is not a “higher moral law” but the gospel itself and the very embodiment of the person of Christ.

    Viewing this sermon from the perspective of the law will only crush us, for who does not deal with anger and be pronounced a murderer, and who does not deal with lust and be pronounced an adulterer.

    Yet this sermon from the very heart of Christ gives us rest and peace, freedom and joy from the Spirit that transforms our hearts.

    Two years ago, I wrote/copied this from ML-Jones’ introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, which you might have a few things to quibble about:

  2. Joe Schafer

    Dear Shepherd Brian,

    Thank you for posting this heart-moving message. I believe that God is raising you as a great Bible messenger like Billy Graham. Someday all messengers from Chicago and Toledo and everywhere can go to Detroit and learn from you.

    I have just a few small comments.

    First, the message is not Bible-based. Please make sure that you explain each verse carefully.

    Second, your understanding of the beatitudes is not biblical. The blessed ones are those who meditate on God’s words day and night. The truly blessed ones are those who fight the spiritual battle as one-to-one Bible teachers. Please revise that part.

    Third, please include more of your personal testimony about how God called you out of your sinful and meaningless life to become a Bible teacher. One woman forgot God’s grace upon her life and became like a mental patient and got hit by a car. We must remember God’s grace.

    Fourth, please include your vision and prayer topics for Bible Detroit and Bible Michigan. Tell us your ten-year plan. Tell us about your sheep and all their sin problems so we can pray for them.

    Fifth, please include personal repentance topics.

    Sixth, divide the message into sections and tell us your one word.

    To help you with your message preparation, I am sending you Dr. Lee’s manuscript. Please study and memorize it until God’s word comes into your deep heart.

    Please send me your revised message so I can check it tomorrow. And practice delivering the message ten times in front of the dummy in your living room.

    God bless your struggle to be an excellent servant of God’s word.

    • Joe Schafer

      Sorry, I’m being very naughty today.

    • LOL! Thanks for making my day Joe! Indeed, that is *exactly* the feedback I would have gotten during “message training” a few years ago. And I would have had to stay up all night to prove that I “got one word”.

    • This is so shockingly real and painful to read. Sadly, it would be too hard for most if not all UBF lifers to read without feeling mocked. Likely and unfortunately, many simply do not know or realize just how much they have “humiliated” and “stunted” their native disciples through their “message trainings,” while genuinely thinking that they are sacrificially and sincerely helping them.

    • Joe Schafer

      Some younger people might think this is an exaggeration. Ben, is this realistic?

    • Joe, the only unrealistic element here is the idea that any shepherd would present such a sermon to his director. In UBF you are only asked to prepare a message when you have been brainwashed long enough and proven that your style is conformant. The idea that a UBF messenger would accidentally forget the “one word” is ridiculous. That would be just like ending a prayer without the words “I pray in Jesus’ name.” Things like that were so burned in our minds by endless repetition that we couldn’t even dream of doing something so radically different.

  3. @Joe. Realistic? I think that because of much so negative press, aided and abetted by cyberspace, and the very real and painful exodus of so many longstanding indigenous leaders (after decades of being “endlessly loved and served”), the top brass are likely to be a lot more cautious to not come across as authoritarian (trying to seek consensus), and to be a lot more accommodating (“nicer”), and much less condescending.

    So because of “some intentional changes” that are happening among the leadership, younger people (unfamiliar with the past) might perceive your satirical letter to Shepherd Brian to be a scathing, mocking exaggeration.

    • Joe Schafer

      OK, fair enough. But is my sarcastic parody an accurate reflection of the way things were, say, 5 or 10 years ago?

    • Ben, we all know that Joe is not making these things up. He is not mocking. His advice above is literally a summary of everything I was taught in ubf “message training” for 24 years, from 1987 to 2011. If there is any sincere advice I would now give to any “shepherd” in ubf it would be: DO NOT under any circumstances agree to be a ubf messenger. The abuse I speak of mostly happened during messenger training.

    • And those who “trained” me are still leaders in ubf and show no sign of changing, so Joe’s statements reflect ubf of 2014.

    • Joe Schafer

      If I offended anyone by this, I am sorry. I did not mean to offend but merely to blow off steam and laugh a little. It’s my irreverent sense of humor; I like to press against the boundaries and sometimes cross them. The fact is that as a messenger I experienced lots of things like this. Outside of the Chicago sphere, those who “trained” me generally did so with kindness and respect. But I did experience things like this, and saw others experience it as well.

  4. @Joe, what you described to Shepherd Brian is unfortunately not untrue. I carried out “such message trainings” myself and likely royally and permanently messed up the speaking cadence of several people (for which I am very very sorry)!!!

    It is definitely better to laugh about it than to cry or become bitter. I definitely prefer the former, and in fact do it often, likely very often, if not close to all the time.

    But I realize that when I laugh (my favorite activity), “some people” find it so offensive that they just tune out, feel sledgehammered, and become inwardly very angry. They likely interpret my laughter as mocking, disrespect and making fun of them (UBF). They likely do not accept my insistence that I am not disrespecting or mocking or making fun of anyone, but simply dealing with it in my own way, which is primarily by laughing, when addressing annoying or infuriating UBFisms.

    Even though what you described is not untrue, I think that people are trying very very hard to be nicer, more accommodating, less authoritarian, less rude, more humble, less insistent or demanding, and trying to listen more and gather consensus, even if longstanding habits die hard, or perhaps may never entirely die in my/their lifetime.

    IMHO, such efforts at improvement is clearly because UBF worldwide has taken a hit significantly throughout the world (which I think has humbled many even if no one will admit it), with more and more people speaking up, beginning from motherland.

  5. Joe Schafer

    OK, I now have clear biblical support for posting my satire about UBF message training.

    “When God has given you time to recover from the abuse and trouble and harsh servitude that you had to endure, you can amuse yourselves by taking up this satire, a taunt against the king of Babylon…”

    (Isaiah 14:3-4, The Message)

  6. No one in ubf or outsiders observing this discussion should think that Joe is mocking ubf. Here is proof.

    I found an old document I wrote in 2006 after “message training” in Toledo ubf. Of course I wrote this document but everything here was dictated to me verbally. I regurgitated it and emailed it back to Toledo and even shared my “lessons learned” at a meeting. Was I stupid for doing this? Sure, I take responsibility. Are there exceptions to this in ubf? Sure, but this demonstrates what is typical of ubf training.

    I felt so very empty and angry when I wrote this, emailed it back and shared it. In a future “message training” this “lessons learned” was referenced because I apparently had not learned the lessons well enough. I was asked to write a second “lessons learned” but I refused.

    Again, if you’ve never been through ubf Sunday message training or ubf conference message training, you likely won’t believe me or Joe.


    3/21/2006 – Lessons learned through delivering the Sunday message in Toledo UBF.

    Sh.Brian Karcher

    1. The value of memorizing scripture. This time I was able to memorize the whole passage and recite it many times. This memorization gave me a better than usual sense of the passage and helped me to have God’s word in my heart.

    2. The need for personal application in message. I realized I had gotten into the habit of creating a message by taking good ideas and concepts and putting them together. I pray to remember to make the Sunday messages personal.

    3. The value of collaboration. The Sunday message was much richer when I was able to work with Dr.Paul, Sh.John Wilson and the messenger team. This working together was refreshing.

    4. The value of long term vision. As I walked through the center and saw how God is blessing Toledo coworkers in many ways, I was reminded of the days when I first came to Bible study. At that time, working every Saturday to build the center seemed so long. I was encouraged to see the long term vision when beginning a ministry.

    5. The value of spiritual disciplines. Since coming to Detroit, we had nearly lost all sense of basic spiritual discipline. More than any event that happened to us, this is the main source of struggle. We pray to rebuild the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, testimony sharing and family prayer and worship together.

    • And then a few months later, after that second “message training” I realized I knew nothing about preaching…Thank God for ex-ubfers who stepped in and gave me a reality check for my messages!

      Message fail