“What if Jesus Was Serious? – Christians and Culture”

Explore one of history’s most powerful messages, the Sermon on the Mount at Gateway Church in Austin.

Jesus unveils the essence of living in God’s Kingdom. This message isn’t mere idealism; it’s an invitation to live a life shaped by love, compassion, and righteousness. It’s not just a guide; it’s a transformational journey into the heart of humanity. Are you ready to step into this extraordinary way of living?

If Jesus was serious, then transforming our world happens one heart at a time.

Digging Deeper

Work through these discussion questions and do a deeper dive into the message with your family, roommates, or community group.

Discussion Questions

Watch Here:

Message Notes from Ricky Echeona:

You first heard rumblings at a family gathering about a Rabbi who is unlike any other. Rumors spreading like wildfire in the small village. You dismissed it as just another fad. Then the healings started. A neighbor who was on their deathbed is now up and running laps in the street ranting about a man named Yeshua. Interest is piqued but the meter finally moves when it becomes personal. It’s when your cousin in the 9th grade who was blind from birth traveled 2 days with his parents to meet Him, and when he came back and saw you- with tears in his eyes and in yours- he describes what you look like in details darkness had shrouded for years. Now you have to go see. You travel in the back of the small caravan because you’re still trying to convince yourself it can’t be real. You find yourself at a remote hill in the countryside, not really familiar with any of the surroundings. You sit to the side just spectating, and then you hear those opening words, “Blessed are the…” and everything changes for you.

Even though it was 2,000 years ago, we can all find ourselves relating to someone in that crowd. Enamored by the radical teachings of Jesus. In that crowd were brand new disciples, tax collectors, the sick, the poor, the prostitutes, the Pharisees, and those afflicted with affluence. And Jesus speaks to them ALL.

Depending on who in the crowd you most identify with often shows up in which of his teachings we connect with the most. But Jesus masterfully starts with common ground that everyone back then and everyone now can agree with- our world is a dark and broken place, in need of healing. We need only see what is transpiring in Israel & Palestine as evidence, but even closer- the evening news in our backyard, or the brokenness when we look in the mirror.

So Jesus shows them, “I came to do something about it. And I want to use you!” And in this passage in today’s message this is the overarching idea- If Jesus was serious, then transforming our world happens one heart at a time. So in a masterful maneuvering of words. He begins funneling this manifesto, starting with things they can all connect with then slowly and deliberately calling them UP….So Jesus takes them from the spiritual macro, to the micro, and to the molecular. Put another way he shows them the big picture Goal; the means through which this happens; and he shows them the origin of where this all takes place.

  • Goal– transformation in the world; the Kingdom come.
  • Means- living like the King by following His teachings.
  • Origin– the heart is where it starts

If Jesus was serious, then we are the hope of the world.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Verse 16, that’s the lynchpin of this passage. The goal is God’s glory on earth, meaning when our lives would be lived in such a way that doesn’t point to ourselves, but rather point to the transcendent. That is what the kingdom looks like. Where God’s will is done through his people, so that others can come to KNOW the King

A lot of pastors, preachers, and theologians have talked extensively about salt and light so I don’t want to spend too much time parked here. Jesus is a master of metaphor and he compares them to salt and light. In my research I kept running into this quote by the Roman historian Pliny, “Nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine.” Let me pause right there and say some of yall would have a much better disposition in life if you would just get some sunlight on your skin and seasoning in your food (lol). Said simply what Jesus was telling his followers- you are UTTERLY ESSENTIAL. See, salt was so important in the ancient world and had dozens if not hundreds of daily uses, like:

  • Before refrigeration it was practically the only preservative; it flavors; it tenderizes; and cleanses. It is used in pottery, fertilizing, and bleaching. It softens water and melts ice.

Jesus was telling the crowd and tells us today. You are meant to add flavor to this bitter world. You are meant to preserve and slow/reverse the decay of a dying world. You are meant to be salt and light, so stop sitting on a shelf and stop flickering in a corner.

Jesus says that a disciple of the kingdom who does not live like this,  is worth about as much as tasteless salt or invisible light. Jesus is saying if you are in the kingdom and you do not practice kingdom life, you are going through worthless and meaningless motions, and eventually the ways of the world will trample you like everyone else. Jewish tradition considered Israel/Jerusalem (God and his Law) as the light of the world; But Jesus is saying this is now true of anyone in the kingdom of heaven! Come on that’s worth living joyously!

Salt and light- you and I are the hope of the world. Christians have heard this over and over. So why is it sometimes we sound like the hopeless of the world. And we grumble about things that were never promised. In the west, especially in the United States we’ve let comfy American Christianity creep into our discipleship and it’s twisted how we see the king and how we see the kingdom. Hear me, this is a comfortable church and we work hard to make you feel welcome, the AC, the amazing greeters, coffee, etc. God is totally fine with Christians building comfortable churches. But he is totally against Churches building comfortable Christians. Because comfortable Christians eventually become criticizing Christians. We’ve been privileged to live in a nation where there’s a freedom to practice whatever religion, and for centuries Christianity has been the dominant one here. 

But listen clearly please, because an election cycle is coming and we need to catch this: our loss of privilege does not equal persecution. 

  • One pastor said, “Some Christians suffer because they are insufferable”
  • As a whole, we get so caught up in culture wars. And throwing salt, instead of being salt. For example- can we stop crying about prayer not being in schools, and start praying at home, and on the way to school, and teach your kids to pray IN and FOR their school.
  • Stop getting so disgruntled about the flag or bumper sticker your neighbor has and go bring your light to their front door
  • Stop living like Jesus would campaign for your candidate
    • Does that mean Jesus was apolitical- absolutely not! 
    • Vote, donate, etc. But stop putting your spiritual, emotional, and relational hope in the broken political systems of this world. And realize that YOU (WE as followers of Jesus) are the HOPE of the world. Don’t wait on a party or a politician. Be moved by the Holy Spirit!

He didn’t say:

  • “You’re the glamor and glitter of the world, so go turn heads king/queen.”
  • “You’re the iron fist of the world, so go dominate and win at all costs.”

No he said, “You’re salt and light… so go transform it”

Verse 16…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Your life should add so much value to those around you that it supernaturally draws people to want to know the source. Your Heavenly Father. That is the goal- the kingdom come.

Then if that’s the goal. What is the means? Here it is simply- living according to the teachings of Scripture, with the help and leading of the Holy Spirit.

If Jesus was serious, then God’s Word must hold the ultimate place of authority in our lives.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

We see from the jump that Jesus’ ethical demands are no weaker than the law given to Moses. Sometimes we think Jesus came and said “psych!” to the OT Law, but he says not only is it significant, I came to fulfill it (or embody it).

The smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet is the yod & the smallest mark is the serif. And Jesus was so serious about the significance and authority of the Scriptures the jewish people had that He says whoever sets aside the “least of these” will be called “least” it’s a play on words, to make a major point. If Jesus was serious, then God’s Word must hold the ultimate place of authority in our lives.

In essence He tells us “How you treat God’s word will directly correlate to how your life will play out. Life’s treatment of you, and it can be stated God’s treatment of you will mimic/mirror your treatment of the Bible”… 

  • Jesus is saying if the Bible is simply a supplement you take now and again, and it’s more of an option than a daily compass pointing you back to the Father, then you’ll relegate yourself to the margins of the kingdom. If you ignore it, change it, rip out parts you don’t like a la Thomas Jefferson, and push it to the side, don’t expect God to speak to you, or put you front and center in the kingdom. It doesn’t work that way.

And I know that sounds tough, and I won’t try and explain it away because Jesus meant it that way. I’ve seen it for me personally:

I love to research, read and study. I mean, you put me in a fantasy league and I’m going to know the stats, prepare for trades, and immerse myself in the data of each and every game. My wife can tell you it is hard to watch shows and documentaries with me. I will pause look up the actor… pause Google map Kuala Lampur… pause Wikipedia the event. 

But If i’m not careful, I can be so caught up with the data, that I miss out on what I truly enjoy about the entire endeavor…the actual football game, movie, etc. So goes my relationship with scripture…

I’m a Bible nerd. I love researching, reading, connecting dots. I thoroughly enjoy unpacking God’s Word and communicating it. The problem if I’m being honest I can have a relationship with the Bible where I get lost in the commentaries, instead of getting lost in the wonder of it’s power and the one Who it’s all about. I can get so wrapped up reading for content instead of reading for God to guide me DAILY and hold the mirror up to my life. And I can convince myself “No, I’m in God’s Word”, but really it’s work but He’s always after intimacy and proximity. 

He also said those who PRACTICE and TEACH. Will be called great.

  • What does “great” mean?- It means the one is doing what Jesus did. Doing what He taught, and living how He lived. He says their is a kingdom reward for you

If you are a follower of Jesus then we must do what Jesus did. He held the Law or the Torah, the Scriptures, in the utmost authority and to us he would say do the same, because it all is a story leading up to HIM and HIS KINGDOM.

Culturally, and even as followers of Jesus, for some good reasons but most for misguided reasons, we have moved from a posture of authority to one of  authenticity (does this feel right to me? Is this true to me?). I personally call it the snobbery of chronology, when we believe because I live in 2023 and have an iPhone and wikipedia and tik tok I know more and know better than those dummies 2000 years ago. But do we really? Would our mental health crises affirm that?

  • John Mark Comer put it this way, “When we live this way we are throwing out millenia of the cumulative effect of human wisdom for the sake of 21st century enlightenment. The myth of progress makes us think we know better. It makes us believe we can and should redefine good and evil for ourselves…. And that just takes us back to the garden and Genesis 3.”

Jesus is telling us, you don’t get to just pick and choose what you do or don’t agree with. Because when you do that you invalidate his kingship and his kingdom, because he will clearly state over and over that HE is who all of Scripture is all about. He can’t just be a good teacher. He has to be Lord, and His Word has to have authority in the life of the follower.

  • And if you’re not a follower yet, we think it’s amazing you are choosing to journey with us. And what we believe is that if you continue to seek Jesus and wrestle with His Word in the context of Christian community, we believe God’s ways will lead to the life you never knew you always wanted and needed. Jesus calls it the “abundant life”
  • Side note but important- did you know about 80% of the Bible is narrative story and poetry, about 20% is letters, etc. Only in the single digits percentage-wise is it actual commands. Jesus didn’t see the Bible is only a list of do’s and dont’s but a dynamic collection of stories, poetry, memoirs, and letters that we can read and apply and shape our lives around. It’s the redemptive story of over 1,500 years, 40 authors, all Leading to this man- God in the flesh- Jesus.

And to the follower Jesus says don’t just believe it but practice it. The whole sermon on the mount he is constantly saying, “Live it. Practice it”. Wrestle with the library of Scripture, let it transform you. Don’t walk away from it, just because it rubbed you the wrong way. It’s supposed to do that. We should have experiences of being wounded by scripture because our condition is not one that needs a little patching up, we need a heart transplant, and that process of change is, and should be painful. At it’s core the Gospel is offensive. It says- there is something deeply wrong inside and it’s called sin. But even better is there is an antidote and his name is Jesus. The ideas of the Bible must seep into the spiritual molecular level of the heart and change you. 

  • I promise you, as you get into God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will get God’s Word into you. And you’ll be convicted by that still small voice, to do something different.
  • He might say, “Before getting even in this fight with your wife, take a second and hear her with compassionate ears.
  • OR, before diving into the gossip and the tea. What would you want if you were that person?

In my imagination, at this point all the Pharisees in the crowd are feeling good about themselves and maybe their fists unclench a little. Because they were worried he was going to blaspheme God and say things contrary to Scripture, they were the snootiest gatekeepers. But at this point they’re probably thinking, “Ok maybe he’s not so bad. He’s keeping the Torah important. And he even mentioned those who keep it ‘muah’ and those who teach it ‘also muah.”

And then Jesus says something I’m sure that triggered them to the Nth degree, 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Why is Jesus saying this? Is he talking about meticulously keeping the law and doing it perfectly? No! Jesus in essence is saying, “I did not come to change the Law but I did come to dismantle the illegitimate religious interpretation that forces people into regulations rather than heart change.”

  • And if you’re just checking us out I believe Jesus would say, “I want to dismantle the religious junk and man-made facade of piety you’ve associated me and my Word with.”

He would say, “I’m not just after the information in your head, or the regulations of your hands, but I’m after the transformation of your heart.”

If Jesus was serious, then goodness does not start with our actions, but rather our heart.

20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus says your righteousness or your “goodness” has to be greater than the Pharisees; spoiler alert for next week- He’s not talking about their doctrine, he’s talking about their hearts.

The Pharisees would withdraw from culture out of condescension, the same problem Christians today suffer from, Jesus says “don’t withdraw, change it”…but start with your heart changing.

  • As if masterfully he brings back the blessed list back into peripheral view… “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
  • They will see God’s hand and goodness, peace, and joy without all the muck of their rebellious hearts in the way. That’s the reward He was talking about

Where does that leave you? As we said  If Jesus was serious, then transforming our world happens one heart at a time. 

  • Maybe for you if you’ve been following Jesus for a while, you have become comfortable and complacent, beginning to blend into the world around you instead of standing out, it means letting your light shine at work with how you interact with people. Maybe it means having intentional spiritual conversations with loved ones. Maybe it means adding the flavor and preservation of life-giving words to people stuck in the mud.
    • Why? Because wants to to change the world, that’s the goal! and he uses you and I
  • Maybe for you it’s taking your relationship with the Bible to the next level. Start somewhere like the Gospels  and start journaling how the Holy Spirit is guiding you to apply it. And if you’re stuck somewhere in the OT, keep reading. Remember, this is a story, so don’t stop in the middle, keep going. and wondering “is that rule forever or just for back then” …Jesus is the deciphering key that let’s you know. And the NT will guide you along as well
    • That’s the means by how God goes transforming us, by listening to His word and acting on it through His Spirit. 
    • He says at the end of SOTM, don’t be a fool. Be wise. Do what I’m teaching you
  • But where does it all start? The heart. So let me ask you? Where’s your heart this morning? Is it receptive to the things of God. Because if not then none of this will really matter until it is, if I’m being honest. If you would say “I’m kind of apathetic to Jesus lately but I don’t want to be”, consider being open and honest with our prayer team. Jesus will meet you right in your honesty He says in the OT “I can take your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”. A heart that beats, and feels, and lives the way Jesus taught us to be human.

I have been so thrilled for this series I have to say. Because God has gone wrecking me in study, that I truly believe that if as a church community we take these things seriously. I believe we’re going to see a shift in this city. Call me crazy. But I believe as we begin to live out Jesus’ manifesto, God will begin to shift things in hearts and lives all around us and we’ll see him manifest powerfully in Austin and beyond.

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