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The Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5 – 7

Jesus Teaching the Multitude

Jim Woodroof told of once closing a series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount with the last sermon in the series simply being a slow, thoughtful reading of Matthew 5 – 7 without comment. He said people seemed quieter and more thoughtful as they left the assembly that morning. Later one deacon told him of his 7-year old daughter. As they drove home, she was very quiet until she said, “You know, that is the very first time I understood a sermon.”

I think that speaks more to the simplicity and power of Jesus’ sermon than it does to the depth and incomprehensibility of Jim’s preaching! In this case, simple is deep and powerful.

Volumes could not contain all that could be said about this sermon. This post will be closer to a simple reading of the sermon as Matthew recorded it than to a comprehensive commentary on the Sermon itself.

You see, our problem with the Sermon on the Mount is not as much with understanding it as with trusting it. Our tendency is not to believe it gives a true account of the world we live in and how it works. Of course, this shows our tendency not to believe in, or trust, the one who preached the sermon. (See here for an example of one who took a difficult part of the sermon at face value and how it changed his life.)

What is this sermon, anyway? Is it “The Law of Christ” in the same way Exodus records “The Law of Moses”? Some have spoken of this sermon as “the constitution of the Kingdom of Heaven.” If so, it is different from any constitution written by men. It says little to nothing about the “forms of government.” Some have suggested that it is a description of what life in the kingdom of God looks like. When we let God be our sovereign and follow His Son, this is how life will be. I tend to think of this sermon more as descriptive of what life in Christ is becoming than as law, which we must obey. Yet, it certainly has commandments that we must take seriously.

The Beatitudes: Jesus began with a series of “blessed are” statements. These concern the poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, seekers after righteousness, the merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and the persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Each of these conditions has an associated blessing. Jesus is not necessarily saying these conditions are themselves blessed – but that God brings a blessing to those who are in them.

Each of the blessings is a blessing of God’s kingdom. In fact, the first and the last – the poor in spirit and the persecuted – are blessed “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” All of the blessings sandwiched between those two are different aspects of how we are blessed in God’s kingdom: comfort in mourning, inheriting the earth, being filled with the righteousness for which we hunger, finding mercy, seeing God, and being children of God.

Such blessed ones, though they are persecuted in the world, still influence the world in powerful ways as salt and light.

Fulfillment of The Law: In God’s kingdom, where men’s hearts are changed by His Spirit, Law finds fulfillment in genuine love. Murderous rage and contempt becomes reconciliation and forgiveness. Lustful hearts that have eyes full of adultery become committed family people. Manipulative, false words become reliable promises. Slights and abuse become opportunities for service instead of motivation for revenge. Hatred of enemies becomes love such as the love God has for His enemies.

In all of these things, following Jesus’ way changes our lives by first changing our hearts. We become more and more like God in our character and behavior.

Motivation for Service: Why do we do what we do? To look good or to do good? Why do we do our “acts of righteousness”? When we give to the needy, is it so we will be admired as a benefactor or because we see a real need with compassionate desire to help those who are hurting? When we pray, is it to be seen and thought “spiritual” – or is it to have a real conversation with God? When (note Jesus did not say if) we fast, is it so men will look at us with wonder, or is it to draw nearer to God?

Why we do things is even more important than the things themselves in God’s kingdom. Men are never able to competently judge motives; only God can do that. Men look at the exterior; God looks at the heart.

Treasure in Heaven: When hearts are changed because we follow Jesus, what is important to us changes. Instead of laying up treasures that pass away, we will put our interests in Heaven, “where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in an steal.” That is where our treasure is completely safe and no stock market crash or housing bubble can take a bit of it away!

Because the things you treasure are secured by God Himself, you have no need to worry. Yes, you have needs here on earth – but the earth belongs to God. He will take care of you. He will feed and clothe you, just as he feeds the birds and clothes the lilies. Our worry is interest we pay on a debt we do not owe!

When we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first, God will provide.

Judging Others: “Do not judge, or you will too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” This is the beginning of a section that concludes with the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”

In between is talk about not giving what is holy to the dogs or casting your pearls before swine. This is followed immediately by saying, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” My Bible puts a new “Section Head” between 7:6 and 7:7. I do not believe it needs one.

Why do we try to force-feed the gospel to those who have no interest in it? You do not want others to try to force their teachings on you, do you? When you want to know something, you either ask or seek. Stand ready to help others, but do not force them to listen to you against their will. You can seek opportunity, sometimes even “knocking” to find it – but respect the other person as you would want him to respect you.

Conclusion: Jesus closes His Sermon on the Mount with a warning and a challenge. The warning is that His way to life is narrow and only a few find it. It’s always more difficult to trust someone else instead of making your own way – but that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. He wants us to trust Him, not to either create our own way of salvation or to attempt to save ourselves by our own righteousness.

If the work of a prophet or teacher does not result in good fruit, do not follow him. Even many who call Jesus Lord, prophesy in His name, and even do many miracles will not enter the kingdom. Their lives and their work will not reflect the description of life in the kingdom of Heaven Jesus gave in this sermon.

The challenge is to listen to the words of Jesus and do them as opposed to listening and going our way without doing what Jesus says do. Other than marriage, divorce, and remarriage there is little in this sermon that is controversial. For the most part, we understand what Jesus said. Now, we need to do what he said.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Give an example of something in this sermon that is easy to understand but hard to do. What makes it hard to do? How does God help us to do it?
  2. Give an example of something in this sermon that you tend to rationalize away from its plain meaning. Why do we rationalize like that? What will it take for us to stop our rationalizing what Jesus said?
  3. The Golden Rule sums up the Law and the Prophets (7:12). Jesus also said (Matthew 22:34-40) that the first two commandments are to love God and love your neighbor, and that “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” How does the Golden Rule relate to the first two commandments?

NEXT: What Kind of Man Is This?

PREVIOUS: Jesus Begins His Ministry


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