Our reading today is the most famous sermon ever preached: the Sermon on the Mount. Because of how rich this portion of Scripture is, we will only be able to take a 10,000 foot view (it took me close to a year to preach through these three chapters!). Remember where we left off yesterday. Because of the miracles Jesus was performing, His fame was spreading (4:24) and great crowds from Israel and beyond followed Him (4:25). With the miracles having served their purpose, Jesus now sits and preaches His sermon.
Jesus in this sermon really explains what a believer is rather than what a believer does. That is important to understand. He is in no way adding to the requirements of the Law, giving Christians more strict laws than He gave His people under the Mosaic Law. Rather, He is explaining what the Law always prescribed, which is fulfilled by true believers because of what they are by God’s grace. These are not requirements for salvation. They are the results of salvation.
And we also need to remember that this is a sermon. Let us not separate this into sections like our Bible headings prompt us to do. Jesus is the greatest preacher to ever live. There is a logical order to this, and there is a logical connection of each “section” throughout the entire sermon.
Jesus starts with the Beatitudes (Latin for “blessed”) in 5:3-11. Jesus blesses the poor in spirit: those who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy apart from God (see Isa 61:1) – they are citizens of His kingdom. He blesses those who mourn over sin in themselves and the world, and its effects, promising comfort (see Isa 61:2-3). He blesses the meek, who will inherit the earth. This is the new earth at the consummation of our salvation (see Psalm 37:10-11). He blesses His true people: those who desire righteousness and who have pure hearts (see Ps 24:3-6 about those who are allowed in God’s presence), those who reflect God’s mercy and spread His peace in response to the mercy and peace we have received (see John 14:27). And for some reason, we often stop there when speaking of the Beatitudes.1 But we are blessed when the world persecutes us because we hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are blessed when we are hated for the name of Jesus. The persecution and reviling of the world are not to be avoided. They are a reason to rejoice!
We are then told that we are salt and light (vv. 13-16). We are a preserving presence in the world. We are also to exhibit these results of salvation (the things we are blessed for in vv. 3-11) like a lamp gives off light so the world will see God through us and glorify Him. It is not a coincidence that Jesus tells us what we are to be in the world right after He tells us what they will do to us (vv. 10-11).
Jesus then establishes that He is not changing the Law (vv. 17-20). In telling us He has come to fulfill the Law it becomes clear that He is not telling us what to do in this sermon. What needs to be done, He will do! He will accomplish it all!! We are to be salt and light because Christ’s work has made us salt and light. This is how our righteousness exceeds those who see the Law as a set of merely external requirements. Our righteousness indeed does need to exceed theirs (and they followed the letter of every law!), and it does, because Christ’s does and His righteousness is ours. Do we hunger and thirst for that righteousness?
Jesus now explains the internal reality behind the righteousness that makes us salt and light in the world by expounding the Law. The righteousness of the Jewish religious elite is purely external. They don’t murder (v. 21), commit adultery (v. 27), divorce outside the constraints of their understanding of the law (v. 31), take oaths that violate their understanding of the law (v. 33), or exact more than the law allows for restitution (v. 38), and they love their neighbor according to their understanding of the law (v. 43). They followed the letter of their interpretation of the law.
But God’s people follow the spirit of God’s law. We do not let the root of anger take hold in our own hearts or each others (vv. 22-24), and we make up for our wrongdoing (vv. 25-26). We do not let the root of lust take hold in our hearts and make no provision for sexual sin (vv. 28-30). We do not divorce our spouse unless they married us under false pretenses (v. 32).2 We have no need of oaths because we only ever speak truth (vv. 34-37 – note that Jesus says literally “anything more than this comes from the evil one”). We do not exact restitution, but give freely of ourselves and our possessions (vv. 39-42). We love even those who would be our enemies and who mistreat us, because God loves us (vv. 43-47 – see Rom 5:8). Doing otherwise concerning any of these things is being like the world, and that is neither salt nor light.
In verse 48, Jesus means what He says. If we look at this sermon as describing what we do, then I can understand why so many soften this to mean something other than what it plainly says. Jesus is likely pulling from Leviticus 19:2, which introduces the portion of the Law about loving your neighbor. But how can we be holy like God? How can we be perfect like God? We can’t. That’s the point. Yet, perfection – absolute holiness – is required to be in God’s presence and to not receive eternal damnation. This is why the righteousness we seek, and hunger and thirst for, is only in Christ. If we are His, we are holy with His holiness and perfect with His perfection. And how do we know we are His? Well, does this sermon describe us?
Chapter 6 stays with the idea of righteousness. It is not an outward act. It is not something that can be seen by others (6:1). These acts that are done as a result of our salvation, are done for God alone (v. 4). Prayer, too, is about God (vv. 5-6). This is not discouraging public prayer. It is discouraging praying for any reason other than to be heard by God. Jesus then tells us that God knows what we need before we even ask (v. 8), and then tells us what we need by teaching the Lord’s prayer (vv. 9-13).3
We should pray that God will be regarded as holy. We pray for His kingdom to come, a reference to the consummation of our salvation when the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is King over now is given to the Father (see 1 Cor 15:24). We should pray that God’s will would be done here as in heaven; that the kingdom would expand in the here-and-now. We pray for God’s provision. We pray for God’s forgiveness and pray our commitment to reflect His forgiveness (like we do His mercy and peace). Verses 14-15 teach not that God responds to our forgiveness with forgiveness of sins, as in, justification by works. It teaches that those who are unforgiving are not forgiven, as in, will face judgment in the last day (further explained in what Jesus says in 7:21-23). We pray that God would not lead us into temptation (same word as “trial” in Jas 1:2, 12 or “test” in 1 Pet 4:12), but would keep us from the wiles and deceptions of Satan that entice us to sin. This is an expression of trust in God.
After teaching that fasting, too, is done Godward, and not as an outward act (vv. 16-18), Jesus explains what God’s people value. Though we are in the world, we are not of the world. Though we are on the earth, we do not value what the earth has to offer (v. 19). We lay up treasures in heaven (v. 20). How do we do this? We seek those great rewards from God for loving even those who hate us (5:46), by being generous (6:2 – and why shouldn’t we be extremely generous when we value the heavenly over the earthly?), by praying with a right heart toward God (v. 6), and by fasting to bring us closer to God (v. 18). This section is not unrelated to the previous section! We lay up treasures in heaven by doing all of those thing Christ just spoke of, and if we desire that heavenly treasure, we will do them, because our heart (the inward that leads to the external actions) will follow what we treasure (v. 21)!
This is why Jesus speaks of our eyes being “healthy” (v. 22). The word in Greek means “simple” or “sincere”. If our eyes are on one thing (Jesus), then we will be full of the light we are called to shine to glorify God (see 5:14-16). But if our eyes are on evil things (i.e., worldly things, including fulfilling external acts like the hypocrites), then even our “light” is darkness. How great a darkness is unbelief masquerading as faith!! We cannot split our devotion between heaven and the world (v. 24), between heavenly rewards and earthly possessions.
And then Jesus assures us that we can desire the heavenly. Keep our eyes on heaven, because God’s eyes are on us! And oh how difficult it is to not focus on the earthly! How easily we fall for the devil’s lies and need God’s power to stay focused (see v. 13). Look at how God provides for His good creation (v. 26a, 28). Will He not provide for His very good creatures made in His image (v. 26b, 30). Where is our faith (v. 30b)? Like we are to love differently than those of the world (5:46-47), our concerns should be different from them (6:32). Let us seek the heavenly like we seek the righteousness of God (v. 33 – see 5:6 where Jesus says we will be satisfied!), and God will give us everything we need.
Chapter 7 begins speaking of judgment. We are not to judge those of the world (see 1 Cor 5:9-13). Because God has not judged us who were His enemies (because He judges Christ in our place), we should not judge our enemies. And before we judge those in the church, our judgment should first be inwardly focused (7:3-5). Note that this is hypocrisy, looking outward instead of inward (like giving, prayer, and fasting). Verse 6 talks about dogs and pigs, which are unclean animals. We are not to judge outsiders, but we are to be discerning. Judgment and discernment are two different things.
Verses 7-11 are some of the most glorious promises in the Bible! When we ask (in sincere prayer), we receive. When we seek (God and His righteousness), we will find Him. God loves more purely than we do, and we give those we love the most good things. He will provide (see 6:33). Jesus then explains the Law concisely with the “Golden Rule” (v. 12). Note that “this is the Law and the Prophets.” Like the commandments that fulfill the law (22:40 – the connection between the Golden Rule and the Greatest Commandment is clear). But note also that when Jesus speaks of “the law and the prophets,” He speaks of Himself as the Messiah (Matt 11:13-15) and as the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament (Luke 24:44).
So what is our treasure? Where are our eyes? What do we seek? Jesus! What do we want done to us? What Jesus did! What should we do for others? Mercy. Peace. Light. Forgiveness. Truth. Unconditional love. Charity. This is entering by the narrow gate. And it’s hard! In the Greek, the word “hard” means “afflicted”. Because we do for others what Christ does for us (see Isa 53:4-5, 2 Cor 1:3-7).
And who does these things? The good tree (v. 17). And don’t let anyone tell you that we cannot be discerning about true and false brothers. We not only can, but will know them (vv. 18-20). So who does these things? Who are the true followers of Christ? Those who are forgiven like they forgive, and are judged as they judge. Others will not be forgiven, but will be judged. Jesus makes this clear in 7:21-23. These are the most terrifying words in the Bible. So we must look at ourselves (vv. 3-5), and follow Christ’s example (v. 12), eschewing outward acts for their own sake (the entire Sermon on the Mount), and keep our eyes on Christ (6:22), seeking Him (5:6, 7:7-8), and being who He died to make us (again, the entire Sermon on the Mount), that we may be part of His kingdom (7:21, 5:3),.
Let us be all about Jesus! Let us stand firmly on the Rock of our salvation (7:24)! Let us hear the words of this sermon and decide who we want to be! The rain will come (7:25). The evil one will try to distract us (6:13). The things of this world will compete hard for our affections and our loyalty (6:24). But there is One Who will answer when we call and reveal Himself when we seek. He is the One Who called us and sought us!
Brothers and sisters, we are who we are, because He is Who He is. Now what will we do?
1 As I write this, I am using the Bible in my Bible software. I can turn on a function that shows me what is commonly highlighted by other users. You would think there were seven blessings pronounced, and not nine…
2 That Jesus just spoke of adultery and now speaks of “sexual immorality” leads me to believe that He is speaking of discovering your spouse lied about their virginity after taking marriage vows.
3 While this is not intended to be an exclusive formula to be prayed word for word but teaches us what we should pray for, neither should we avoid praying it word for word. The exact words are not the point. And to insist upon this as a formula that must be prayed word for word – or to insist that it shouldn’t be prayed word for word – are both missing the point of this section. It is a wonderful prayer to pray if prayed with the heart Jesus calls for here.