Sermon on the Mount — 1

In the Fall we spent several weeks on The Beatitudes. Then came the great seasons of the Christian year—Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. This week we’ll briefly re-visit The Beatitudes to take us further into the Sermon on the Mount.

 

Monday, June 4

Read: Matthew 5:1-12

Consider: Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount with what we call the Beatitudes. Though they were communicated in the form of blessings, Jesus was teaching. He was revealing the new kingdom. He was preparing the people to live in a totally different manner than they had ever imagined they could or should live.

Those eight blessings were incredibly simple, and yet, outlandishly hard to comprehend. What made them so difficult was the counterintuitive nature of Jesus’ pronouncements. They ran against the grain of everything those first century hearers believed.

They saw the power of Caesar, but heard Jesus say that the meek would inherit the earth. Greatness meant conquering your enemies, but Jesus said the peacemakers were children of God who reflected the true greatness of their Father. They saw the “moral purity” of the Pharisees and heard Jesus say that the kingdom of heaven belonged to the spiritually impoverished—sinners! And perhaps strangest of all, he instructed them to rejoice when they were persecuted.

They didn’t get it. And neither do we. That is, we never grasp it until we are open—and willing—to allow God to take us to places beyond our control.

The quest for power is driven by the desire for control. Whether it’s control over our own lives or over others, we keep working for more strength and power. But what we must remember is that the pursuit of power was the original sin. The tempter said, “You can be like God” (Genesis 3:5). And we bought it!

Of course, the great truth is that to save humans from trying to be gods, God became a human. To save those who sought power, God laid aside his power.

The Beatitudes do not comprise a to-do list for righteousness. But they reveal the heart of Christ.

Pray: “Lord, meekness, mercy-giving and peacemaking don’t come naturally for me. Poverty of spirit and purity of heart seem to be at odds. I can’t force myself to be like Jesus. So, please, give me your Spirit. Give me your heart. Take me to the place where I don’t control my life, but I submit it to you.”

 

Tuesday, June 5

Read: Matthew 5:1-12

Consider: This is our second reading of The Beatitudes this week. But those words never get old. They always challenge us, and I hope they always make us hungry and thirsty for reality. They call us to a simplicity of life that reflects the life of Jesus. They teach us to give up the need for control, and to submit ourselves to Christ so that he can live his life through us.

From time to time you’ll hear people talk about the importance of the Ten Commandments. Some people believe they should be posted in every courthouse in America. They see those commands as the bedrock of society.

Well, no doubt the world would be different if everyone obeyed all ten. But that really isn’t the goal. Our New Testament teaches us that the law was “powerless” to change lives (Romans 8:3), and that the purpose of the law was to “lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24). In fact, our Christian faith teaches us that “we are no longer under the supervision of the law” (Galatians 3:25)!

To tell you the truth, after all my years of studying the scriptures, I probably couldn’t quote verbatim all ten commandments in order. I don’t even think about them very much because I don’t strive to live by those commands. But I am trying to make The Beatitudes central to my thinking and to my way of life. Therein lies the heart of Christ, and the teaching that follows shows us how to live in his heart.

I guess we like the Ten Commandments because they’re easier. I’m pretty good at “You shall not kill.” But, am I “pure in heart”? Through will power, I might be able to keep the letter of the law. That’s control. But only by giving up control can I live the heart of Christ.

Don’t hold your breath to see The Beatitudes posted in the courthouse. It would make people angry. (Some would even be angry if they were posted in the church.) But pray that the Lord will post them in you. Pray that his heart becomes your heart.

Pray: Let’s pray The Beatitudes today.

“Lord, meet me in the poverty of my spirit.
Break my heart with the things that break your heart.
Teach me true humility.
Make me hungry for your justice to be done on earth.
Help me to give the mercy that you have given me.
Purify my heart.
Make me an instrument of your peace.
And help me to rejoice in you, no matter what life brings my way.
Amen.”

 

Wednesday, June 6

Read: Matthew 5:13-16

Consider: There are two admonitions Jesus gave us in his Sermon on the Mount that may, at first glance, seem contradictory.

“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds…” (5:16)

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” (6:1)

I don’t think there is a contradiction. I think Jesus showed great consistency throughout the sermon. The more you read the sermon, the more you see that Jesus wants authenticity from his followers. We see it all through Jesus’ teaching here and elsewhere in the gospels. And authenticity—coupled with “good deeds”—is a powerful thing to see. And it will be seen. It won’t remain hidden. Jesus said, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden” (5:14).

Research on religious ideas and opinions seldom shocks me. What we see in our churches and in our culture is usually borne out by the data. But one piece of research really did surprise me. It concluded that atheists in America really don’t dislike Christians after all. When they were asked why they had favorable impressions of people with whom they so strongly disagreed, they pointed to good works—specifically the hard work that they saw Christians do in the wake of natural disasters. It appears the good things we did spoke much more eloquently of Jesus than our hard-held opinions.

So, Jesus was right. God is honored when his people act in authenticity and humility to sacrificially serve others. This is not photo-op Christianity—doing things for the camera (6:1). No, this is authentically allowing his life to live through us. Or as we heard from Jesus that past couple of days, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (5:8).

So, let it shine! Serve with great vigor, so that people experience the love of God through you—through us.

“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (5:16)

Pray: Ask the Lord to help you—with a pure heart—present authentic service to him so that God is glorified. Pray with John the Baptist, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).

 

Thursday, June 7

Read: Matthew 5:13-16

Consider: Living authentically means that our light will shine. Sometimes, in our best efforts to live like Christ, we feel at odds with our culture. I’ve heard it said that Christians are people whose hearts are broken by the things that break the heart of God. Our world may not always understand that.

We live in a culture that often considers weakness to be a sign of inferiority. The poor are often categorized as people of lesser moral standing or even people of lesser value. Sometimes we hear people talk about the “deserving poor” as the ones we should help, meaning, of course, that there are also “undeserving poor.”

So, when we give our attention to the weakest in our world, we may be misunderstood. But if we depend on God to purify our motives and to keep them pure, our “good deeds” bring glory to God. And, after all, we shouldn’t care whether they bring glory to us.

And the light spreads, “it gives light to everyone in the house” (5:15). When we serve our world in a nonjudgmental manner (see Matthew 7:1-5), it can truly be said of us…

“You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.” (5:13, 14)

As we saw yesterday, when Jesus criticized public “acts of righteousness,” he was criticizing those who do those acts “to be seen” (6:1). The acts he spoke about were good—giving to the poor, praying and fasting. But the intent of the heart made those deeds acts of darkness rather than acts of light.

Pray: Thank God that this very day you can be the “light of the world.” Ask him to guide you today and show you when, where and how you can be that light.

 

Friday, June 8

Read: Matthew 5:17-20

Consider: Jesus was repeatedly confronted by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They were convinced that he was a lawbreaker. He didn’t seem to view the Sabbath laws and purity laws of the Old Testament in the same way they did. They wanted to write him off as an enemy of Israel and an enemy of God. But Jesus said, “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” (5:17).

There is a key word here—fulfill. Whereas the Pharisees were focused on keeping the letter of the law, Jesus came to fulfill the intent of the law.

We all know it is possible to keep the letter of the law and miss the heart of it. Jesus spoke about the intent of the law, using words like “justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). And he used colorful language to address those who didn’t get it.

“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:24)

That is a constant challenge for each one of us, every day of our lives. We don’t want our Christianity to become a series of laws, rules or rituals that we substitute for the real essence of our faith. If we are doing the “right” things, but doing them for the wrong reasons, they’re no longer the right things. If we are straining gnats (and judging those who aren’t), we’ve succumbed to spiritual blindness without even knowing it.

Jesus came to fulfill the intent of God’s relationship with humans and with his world. And he wants that intent to be fulfilled in us and through us every day of our lives.

Pray: “Lord, I don’t want to spend my day straining out the gnats and swallowing the camels. I want to see the big picture of your grace today, so that I may be an agent of that grace to the people you’ve placed in my pathway. May I never forget the intent you have for me in following you.”

 

Saturday, June 9

Read: Matthew 5:17-20

Consider: There is a statement here that is easily misunderstood. And when it is misunderstood, it can be frightening.

“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.” (5:20)

Until they understood what Jesus meant by that statement, his listeners must have been downhearted and ready to give up on trying to please God. After all, how could they be more righteous than their religious leaders? They couldn’t keep all the laws the Pharisees kept. They didn’t even understand them! But the Pharisees and teachers of the law seemed to know and keep all the commands.

What we discover is that Jesus re-defined the law. He taught that to love God and love one another was the whole point of life. He said that the command to love summed up the entirety of every law that was ever given to God’s people (Matthew 22:34-40). There would no longer be a series of hundreds of moral and ritual commands. There would be one law—the call to love.

And in re-defining the law, Jesus also re-defined righteousness. It no longer consists of obeying the letter of the law—straining out gnats. Righteousness consists of something else. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was about authenticity, humility and love. The religious professionals had missed that part. Jesus didn’t want anyone else to miss it. There is a new way of being in right relationship with God, one that “surpasses that of the Pharisees.” And that is what Jesus came to fulfill in himself and in us.

Pray: “Lord, liberate me from an inauthentic life. Free me from the letter of the law and teach me the spirit of the law by filling me with your Spirit. I don’t want to waste my time trying to learn the right ‘things’ to do. I want my life to be invested in learning from you how to love like you love. Thank you for loving me.”