The Sermon on The Mount


The Sermon on the Mount

Jesus was born, then there are stories of his early life, the coming of John the Baptist, his coming into ministry, and his choosing of the disciples, and then you get to Matthew 5. This is the most famous sermon of any sermon that has ever been or will ever be preached. This is known as the Sermon on the Mount because they were up on a mountain at the time when Jesus did it. It is a fascinating three chapters. Even the language of the Sermon on the Mount has infiltrated everywhere that English is spoken, well, anywhere any language is spoken. It’s interesting to hear someone claiming to be a non-Christian using Christian language. Have you heard that? I remember having one particular non-Christian friend in college talking about, “hanging them as high as Heman.” I said, “Do you know who Heman is? It’s in the Bible, in the Book of Esther.” He said, “Oh really?”


By way of introduction, there are quite few books written on the Sermon on the Mount. Carson’s book The Sermon on the Mount, catchy title, is a very good short discussion on the Sermon on the Mount. He also wrote the commentary on Matthew in the expositors Bible commentary and that is very good as well. John Stott’s book called Christian Counterculture is probably the best, because he gets beyond the text to application I have really enjoyed this book, Christian Counterculture, which is the essence of the Sermon on the Mount, the message of the Sermon on the Mount. And in terms of commentaries, these are some commentaries on Matthew: Craig Blomberg’s commentary in the New American Commentary is a very good one. Kent Hughes has a whole commentary series called Preaching the Word. They are sermons done by expository preachers. Kent did most of the New Testament, but this is a series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount and very good. Then, if you want a really good middle of the road commentary, Robert Mounce, my father wrote a good one in the New International Biblical Commentary. These are very good resources on the Sermon on the Mount.

Interpreting the Sermon on the Mount

We have to spend a little bit of time talking about how we are going to approach the sermon, because you can’t just read it like any other narrative or any other teaching. It’s a very unusual piece of literature. How do you approach the Sermon on the Mount? The technical term is hermeneutics—how you go about understanding something. I will just start by saying that this sermon is very difficult. Every time you think you have a grasp on something, you generally will find there is something else there. It keeps going deeper and deeper in application. John Stott writes, “The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best known part of the teaching of Jesus though arguably it is the least understood and certainly it is the least obeyed.” Kent Hughes, in his The Sermon on the Mount quotes something from C. S. Lewis. Someone had criticized Lewis that he didn’t care much for the Sermon on the Mount. This is Lewis’s rejoinder. He says “as to caring for the Sermon on the Mount, if caring for it means liking or enjoying, I suppose no one cares for it, who could like being knocked flat on his face by a sledge hammer. I can hardly imagine a deadlier spiritual condition than that of a man who can read that passage with tranquil pleasure.” I think that is really true. We know the words, but when you start struggling with it to understand it and apply it there is a lot more there than meets the eyes.

The first reason the sermon is so difficult is that Jesus speaks in absolutes. I mean this sermon is black and white. “Cut off your hand if it causes you to sin.” “You must be perfect, as your Heavenly father is perfect,” Matthew 6:48. I know that if we were honest, a lot of times when we see stuff like that we go well I can’t do that so why should I even try? I think that’s a large response to the Sermon on the Mount. He speaks in absolutes.

The second thing is the ethical requirements in the sermon for how you and I are supposed to live are extremely high, even apparently impossible or seemingly contradicted elsewhere—contradicted elsewhere in a sermon or contradicted by Jesus or contradicted by Paul or sometimes contradicted by common sense. There is this struggle as you work through the Sermon on the Mount, if you are really honest with it, of what to do you do with these ethics? For example, is it possible to always live as a doormat, always turning the other cheek? You know there is the old joke hit me once, hit me twice, and after that its my turn. I only got two cheeks and its obviously what Jesus isn’t saying, but are we really supposed to just be beaten up constantly? He says, “Go pray in your closet,” Matthew 6:6, and then he goes and prays publicly in the garden with his disciples. I thought you just said don’t pray publicly Jesus. He says don’t judge, and then near the end of this life he has this tremendous woes passage where he judges and brings down God’s curses and condemnation on the pastors of the day. He says in the sermon, “turn the other cheek,” and then later on he is going to tell the scribes he called them a bunch of whitewashed tombs, a walking defilement. You know that is passing judgment on someone. In terms of common sense, does your hand cause you to sin? “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” “Well my hands have never cause me to sin, so I have never cut them off. My heart causes me to sin.” You see what I am saying; you start looking at this and you start saying, what is going on? It’s not simple it’s not easily understood your first pass through it.

Already, but Not Yet

I think there are three basic solutions to how you approach this and I’m going to probably say some things that are going to shock you little, but when you take these things into consideration, you can’t just read the sermon at surface value and move on. What are the solutions to this problems? First, and this is really key to all of the Christian ethic, and that is the idea of already, but not yet. Remember, we talked about this? We talked about how the kingdom of God had come, but not in its fulfillment. It has come: Jesus says, “if I by the finger of God cast out demons, then you know that the kingdom of God is come in your midst.” Yet there is a sense in which the kingdom of God has not yet come in its fullness, but that waits for Jesus second return. There is this conflict that the kingdom being present, but yet not really, not fully. You and I have to live in this in-between time—this tension of the kingdom of God having come, but not in its fullness. This is actually why I talked about that because I wanted to start getting you ready. You and I live in that tension as we try to live out our lives with the kingdom of God present in us, and yet knowing that in all its fullness it hasn’t arrived yet. There is a tension that happens. For example, you and I are saints, we are holy ones, we are called saints, but we don’t live like saints. We should strive to live by God’s strength to be saints, realizing we will never achieve it here and now, but we will someday. That’s the best illustration I know of the already not yet. You and I are saints even though we don’t live act like it. We should strive to live like saints knowing we are never going to achieve it, but someday we will achieve it when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness and sin is removed. When I talk about the already and not yet, it is that tension that is all the way through the Bible and we are going to see this over and over and over again. There is a tension between who were are in Christ and how we are called to live knowing that we are going to fail, but we still strive towards it because we know that’s what pleases God and someday that’s how we will live. This is the tension that all Christians live in. That explains a whole lot of what is going to go on in the Sermon on the Mount. You’ll see it as we work through it.

Avoid Oversimplification

Secondly, as we go through the sermon, it is really important to give the teachings their full force, but not be simplistic. We have to allow these words to carry the meaning they have, but as we look at it, it’s easy to be simplistic. For example, for a long time I really objected when people’s names were put on buildings. I went to a school where if you gave enough money you could have your name on an office. Unfortunately, no one gave money for the furnishings of my office so I didn’t have to have the, named honorary desk stamped on my door. I just hated it, because the Bible says don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. How can you possibly be obedient to that and give five million dollars to a building and get your name on it? I am going to tell you that that is a simplistic way to look at it.

For example, is it better to lose a hand and go to Heaven, then to go to Hell with two hands? You know we say, “but cutting off my hands isn’t going to stop me from sinning, I will sin with my feet.” Yes, I understand that, but it is better to go maimed to Heaven then whole to Hell. Yes, and see what happens and it’s what I mentioned earlier, because the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount is so difficult, there is such a temptation to say, “I just won’t do it at all.” But it is better to be maimed in Heaven than whole in Hell. It is better not to retaliate. The kingdom of God does belong to those who are poor in spirit. Yet Jesus says, “Go pray in private,” and then the very next chapter he is going to say, “Here’s how you pray, ‘Our Father,’” what, are these a bunch of people in your closet? No, this is community prayer. “But Jesus you just said don’t pray in public?” He would say, “Come on, don’t be so simplistic, listen to the whole picture of what I am saying.” You will hear this as I struggle through these three chapters. We have to let these words carry force, but we can’t be simplistic in how we understated them.

The Concern is the Heart

Third, Jesus is more interested in my attitude; he is more interested in my whole hearted commitment. That is what the sermon is about. Being pure and undefiled, wholly his, wholly committed that he is our sovereign, that he is our king. He talks a lot about actions, but part of the key as we talk about these actions, these things we are to do and things we are not to do, they are the response out of this wholehearted commitment that Jesus is commanding. I know that this is a lot up front, but you are going to see this as we work through.

Introduction to the Beatitudes

Let’s jump into The Beatitudes, which is verses 2 through 12. I have a few things to say in introduction to The Beatitudes, the other material was introduction to the sermon, this is introduction to The Beatitudes. What is the relationship of The Beatitudes to the rest of the sermon? Is it just the beginning or is there something more going on? I believe that verse 3 is the key for the entire Sermon on the Mount. I think Jesus gives the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven,” and then in the following seven beatitudes, he spells out what that’s means. Then what I think happens is those beatitudes become the kernel and then the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is trying to explain what The Beatitudes are saying. That’s why I am going to spend so much time on The Beatitudes, so that as we go through the rest of the sermon, I am going to keep going back to The Beatitudes. I will say, “This is a practical application, for example, of beatitude four.” Verse 3, the first beatitude, is the key; the seven other beatitudes help us understand what it means to be poor in spirit, then the rest of the sermon explains what all The Beatitudes as a whole are about. I think that is the structure of everything.

By the way the word beatitude is from a Latin word meaning blessed. The Beatitudes are those sayings where Jesus says “blessed are,” so that’s where we get the word beatitude. Blessed does not mean happy; that’s not what the word blessed is talking about. Blessed people are not always happy people. Blessed people are not always smiling. Blessed does not mean happy. At its most fundamental level, to be blessed means that you have found approval. That’s what the word means. If a person is pronounced blessed, it means you have found approval. In this context, it means you have found approval from God. What the sermon is all about is how to have God’s approval—how to be in the right relationship with God. When these beatitudes say “blessed are,” the question is, do you want to be in a right relationship with God? That’s what The Beatitudes are telling us about. Let’s just work our way through them.

Verse 3: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” I am going to break my discussion on all these beatitudes into a definition and a promise, because that’s what Jesus is doing. He’s making a blessed statement and then he is saying, here is my promise, here are the consequences, if you are blessed. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This is the fundamental characteristic of a disciple without which nothing else in the sermon works. If you don’t get this, nothing else works in the whole sermon.

To be poor in spirit means you recognize your inability to be approved by God on your own. It means, I don’t have anything to earn favor with God. I don’t have anything to hold up to God and say “here you owe me.” Being poor in spirit is recognizing that we are not able to be approved by God on our own; we are not able to earn Gods approval. Now, this doesn’t mean that I have to believe that I’m worthless. Carson writes, “This is a confession that I am sinful and rebellious and utterly without moral virtues adequate to commend myself to God.” Elsewhere he says “Being poor in spirit is the deepest form of repentance.” It means you understand you are impoverished, that you have nothing to offer God. The promise is that if you come to this repentance, if you understand that “nothing in my hand I bring,” as the hymn says, then ours is the kingdom of God; we will inherit the kingdom of God. Now, we are probably more familiar with how Paul says the same thing. Paul says that salvation is by God’s grace and mercy. Paul says that justification is by faith. These are all Paul’s terms for explaining the same thing. We’re are not made right with God, we are not justified because we can earn it or because we can do good things, we are we are justified by our faith believing that Jesus did it on the cross. That’s Pauls’ way of saying, “blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Verse 4: Blessed are Those who Mourn

The second beatitude is “blessed are those who mourn.” I think what Jesus is doing is he is talking about a personal assessment of those who understand that they are poor in spirit. What do you do when you realized you have nothing to offer God? What do you do when you understand that you are totally impoverished before God? You mourn. Now this is not people who are just sorry, this is people who mourn before God as they recognize their spiritual bankruptcy and perhaps the spiritual bankruptcy of the world around them. It’s in response to when you understand that you have nothing to bring to God, then you mourn. The promise is that those who mourn over their spiritual bankruptcy, “they shall be comforted.” You have always got to watch for passives in the NT. This is what we call a divine passive, because the person doing the comforting is God. In other words, there is an end to the spiritual emptiness of a sinner, that God will satisfy those inner longings created by an awareness that we are not living as we were designed to live.

Verse 5: Blessed are the Meek

While “blessed are those who mourn” is a personal assessment, “blessed are the meek” is an assessment of what we think of ourselves in relationship to other people. A person who mourns over his spiritual poverty is not going to at the same time assert himself in pride and arrogance over another person will he or will she? That’s just doesn’t to happen. That is, if you truly understand your spiritual bankruptcy, if you are mourning your spiritual condition, then you are not going to be asserting yourselves in pride and arrogance over someone else. That’s why when problems happen in a church and you get self-aggrandizement, you wonder, “Don’t you understand who you are in Christ? I mean how can you assert yourself in pride and arrogance when you have nothing, at all.”

Now we are not talking about being a doormat when we are talking about being meek, but we are talking about people who are mourning over their spiritual bankruptcy and have made a deliberate decision to not insist on their own rights, but to put other people first. It is what Paul is talking about in Philippians 2, “Count one another more significant than yourself.” See if I were to assert myself over you that you would be an indication that I don’t really understand how messed up I am. Likewise, when we understand our spiritual bankruptcy, we mourn over it, and it produces in us a meekness; a willingness to value the other person and put the other persons needs ahead of your own.

The promise to the meek is that, “They will inherit the earth,” which would be the exact opposite of what the world says right? The world would say that if you’re going to be meek, you aren’t going to get anything. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, survival of the fittest, and I’m going to climb over anyone I need to to get to the top of the ladder, and they think that’s how they are going to inherit the world, but in fact we know it is those who are meek that shall inherit the earth. This is where Stott’s title is so good, Christian Counter Culture. You can take almost anything the world values and turn it upside down and it’s right. I mean very few things has the world gotten right, but certainly if this area of meekness they have gotten wrong. This is why Jesus says things like, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” There’s this flip-flop that happens in the kingdom of God. Those who are meek who will in fact inherit the earth. Meekness leads us to the fourth beatitude.

Verse 6: Blessed are Those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Rather than pursuing ourselves, a meek person is not going to pursue themselves because they are spiritually bankrupt. Rather than pursuing ourselves, we pursue God as the source of righteousness. That we hunger and thirst not for our own righteousness in the sense that we can somehow earn it, but we are spiritually bankrupt, so we are hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness—for God to make us right; for God to bring us into a right relationship with him.

The hunger and thirst reminds me of Psalm 42, “As a deer pants for water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” As a deer who is being hunted and is running and running and yet has to stop and have something to drink or it will die, so also if we truly did understand our spiritual bankruptcy, if were really did live lives of mourning and being meek then what we are going to do is stop looking inside of us for the answer and start looking more outside of us. That means we will be turning to God as saying, “Righteousness is with you and I hunger and I thirst for your righteousness.” It is those people, think of the image of the deer in Psalm 42, who will be satisfied. There is a feast that can satisfy even the deepest spiritual hunger. It is why Jesus said, “I am the bread of life whoever comes to me shall not hunger, whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” In other words, there is something satisfying about Jesus.

Verse 7: Blessed are the Merciful

We move on to the fifth beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful,” and again listen to the sequence as we have gone through The Beatitudes. As we see our own spiritual poverty, as we mourn our over our natural condition, and as we seek God’s righteousness, how can we but be merciful to those around us? Do you see how these all fit together? It’s when I don’t understand my own spiritually poverty, it’s when I think that I am worth saving, it is that road that leads to arrogance and selfishness, and self-centered living. But if we truly understand our spiritual poverty, if we are hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness, then as we mix with other people, then we will treat them with mercy. When someone doesn’t treat someone with mercy, you wonder which of the following beatitudes do they not really understand? But those who are merciful, “they shall receive mercy.” You and I will be treated by God in a sense, in accordance with how we have treated others. This is not salvation by works; it is simply saying that new creatures behave in a new way. You know the message in Matthew 25, where Jesus welcomes some people into his rest, and the reason is “because you were merciful; you clothed the naked, you fed the hungry, you visited people in prison, and as you did that you did it to me. You extended mercy so I will extend mercy to you as well at judgment day.” Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. This then makes you wonder when someone is not known for his mercy what he will be shown? We move on to the sixth beatitude.

Verse 8: Blessed are the Pure in Heart

In terms of definition, to be pure means to be undivided, it means to be unmixed, right? I think what Jesus is saying here is that in the deepest places of our heart, we must be fully committed to our king. We must be pure, we must be undivided, this is what he demands of us. We must be undivided in our devotion to him, after all, we are seeking his righteousness. Why would we try to throw something of ourselves in with it? The subjects of the kingdom of God are totally committed, totally loyal to their king.

Can you feel the already but not yet tension? Blessed are the pure in heart, but are any of us pure in heart? Do we want to be pure? Do any of us think that we are going to be pure before we die? But should we not still strive for being pure? See that’s the already but not yet tension that is all throughout this passage. It is those who are pure in heart who will see God. Do you want to see God? Than you heart needs to be pure.

Along with the Mark 8 passage that we talked about several weeks back, “if you want to be my follower, you have to deny yourself take up your cross and follow me,” The Beatitudes have also had the biggest impact on my life. That’s why I talk all the time about being fully devoted disciples. It’s because there is no part-time discipleship in The Beatitudes—it doesn’t exist. I don’t want to be simplistic, but I want to give words their full force. This is a hard thing, but this is what Jesus requires of us; it is what he wants of us, and it’s what our regenerate nature wants. We want to be pure and we will strive to be pure, knowing that we will fail, and knowing there is forgiveness. We will strive for purity because that’s what our God wants, and someday we will be pure.

I was just telling Robin the other day, I may live to regret these words, but I don’t want to die unexpectedly. It’s interesting that 150 years ago dying unexpectedly was a horrible thing because everybody wanted to get their house in order. Now we want to die quickly so we don’t hurt, and that’s been a huge culture shift over the last 150 years, but I want to go into Heaven with my eyes open because I want to feel, I want to be cognizant of sin being stripped out of every cell of my body. It is only going to happen once in eternity and I want to be fully engaged when it’s happening. I want to know what it’s like for the first time to be pure. I am going to strive as hard as I can by God’s power to get there, as close as I can, but I know it’s just going to feel like just layers and layers of dirt being pulled out of my body when I am finally pure, but I will strive for it until I die. Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.

Verse 9: Blessed are the Peacemakers

If you are truly meek, if you are truly merciful, if you are pure, you will not pursue violence, will you? Its kind like if you are following this sequence, you get to this point and its like, “Of course I’m not going to seek conflict with my brothers and sisters; I’m going to seek peace.” This was mom’s favorite verse she quoted when I was growing up, plus that other one from proverbs, that how beautiful it is when brothers dwell together in harmony. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and the promise is that “they shall be called sons of God.” Now they are not sons of God in the sense that Jesus is the Son of God, and they are not sons of God in the sense that they are male (don’t worry, you ladies will stay female). It just reflects ancient inheritance language where the male child inherited the estate. In Christ, men and women together inherit the promises of God and are his children. “Blessed are the peacemakers” for they shall receive the inheritance that God has promised to his children, “They will be sons of God.”

Verses 10-12: Blessed are Those who are Persecuted for Righteousness’s sake”

Finally, number eight. Does anyone like the eighth beatitude? I don’t. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” Notice he has gone full circle, he is back to how you receive the kingdom of God, the same promise in the first beatitude. Then he probably says, “that’s probably pretty hard for you to fathom isn’t it, in fact you may not be sure that you heard me correctly, let me repeat myself: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all sorts of evil against you falsely of my account.” In other words, when you are persecuted because you are a Christian. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven.”

“No thanks, God, I’ve got a big enough reward in Heaven, I’d like to have a little less pain right here.” “No. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” If you, as a child of God, live in the power of the kingdom of God, you will be living a countercultural life and you will be persecuted, period end of discussion. George Verwer says in one of his books that if you are in ministry and you are not being persecuted, there is something wrong. If you are being persecuted, it’s a sign that you are at the gates of Hell and the kingdom of God is advancing forcibly and Satan’s really unhappy with you.

Persecution is not a bad thing; it is a good thing. There are many verses that talk about this. In John 15:18-19, Jesus is talking about the fact that they hated him and they are going to hate his followers. Romans 8:16-17 is actually a very strong passage; let me read it. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. If children then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him, in order that we may also be glorified with him.” There is a connection between our being children of God and glorification and receiving our inheritance; it is all dependent upon our suffering with him. That’s a pretty strong connection, isn’t it? This is what Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12, that whoever seeks to live a godly life will be persecuted. In Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him, but also have lots of money and fast cars and beautiful houses.” There are churches that preach that right? Actually, it says, “That for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him, but also suffer for his sake.” It has been granted, the privilege has been given to us to suffer for the sake of Christ. Blessed are you when you are persecuted for righteousness’s sake because you are living God’s righteousness. Because you are living in relationship with him, you are blessed; yours is the kingdom of God and your reward is great in Heaven. Being a Christian is counter cultural isn’t it?

Call to Action

The Salt of the Earth

In conclusion that’s the point that he is going to make in verses 13-16, and we will close with this. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Salt can’t chemically lose its flavor. Salt gets diluted with other things. They use salt to preserve meat and if you dilute the salt it no longer preserves the meat. Jesus is saying, you are the salt of the earth, you are different. You are one of the preserving agencies of culture and of people’s lives and so if you live in a counter cultural way, you’ll be living as salt. If you are not living as salt, if you are not preserving society, if you are not stopping spiritual decay, to extend the metaphor, what good are you? I guess you are good for nothing, but to be thrown out and have people walk on you.

He is talking about how counter cultural our lives are supposed to be, and that is why the biggest fear that I have for the American modern church is that statistically we are no different than the rest of the world. The highest divorce rate is among evangelical Christians in the south. The lowest is in New England. There is no statistical difference. When groups of pastors and youth pastors go into motels, the amount of X-rated movies that are watched goes up. Ask any convention center. Everywhere you go they will say, “Yes, it happens every time.” We as the church have ceased being salt and we are hence simply being trampled over, but if we are going to live as Christians, we are going to be counter cultural.

The Light of the World

Life in the kingdom is not only counter cultural, but it is public. Verse 14 says, “You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hid, nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand and it gives light to all in the house.” The whole point of having a light is that it illuminates. Just like a city with all its lights on when it’s up in a hill, you can’t hide it, so also you and I are to be the light of the world. In verse 16 Jesus explains it: “In the same way let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in Heaven.” The whole point of being a light is to let it shine. I will resist breaking into the nursery rhyme, “This little light of mine.” Our lives as kingdom people are to be lived out so others can see our good works, in other words, the types of things that The Beatitudes lead us to do. Then, as a result of being blessed, we will glorify not ourselves, but will glorify God.

Wholehearted Commitment

Finally, Jesus wants wholehearted commitment. There is no self-reliance and there is no part-time Christianity in The Beatitudes, is there? It doesn’t fit. What Jesus wants is wholehearted commitment, and it start with the preaching of the word, recognition of sin, and with people coming to a full awareness that they have nothing to offer God in exchange for their soul; absolutely nothing. That’s most people’s stopping point, isn’t it? They are not willing to admit that they have nothing, but we come and we say, “God I have nothing, I am spiritual bankrupt, it leads me to tears, I mourn over my lack of goodness in and of myself.” Rather then, pursue God’s righteousness and all the effects that it has in our lives, whether it be mercy, or being pure in heart or peacemakers or suffering persecution for Christ’s name.

I took a long time in The Beatitudes, because they are pivotal in my life, they are pivotal in the Sermon on the Mount, and they are pivotal for all of the Christian ethic. If we can get these eight things right, almost everything else just flows naturally. These are things to be grappled with; they are not easily understood.

Let’s pray. Father we stand a little bit amazed a little bit frightened as we see the extent to which you have called us. But Father, may there not be any pride in our hearts. May we understand that no matter what we can achieve on a human level, it is nothing on your level. That we are, completely and totally apart from the work of Christ, bankrupt. Father may we mourn over our sin, may we not excuse it, but may we be offended by it, may we hate it. May it drive us to you; may it drive us to your righteousness; may it drive us to the righteousness of your Son that he earned and that he imparts to us on the cross. Father, may these deep convictions spread out through our lives. May we be meek, not asserting ourselves, but valuing others as more significant. May we be peacemakers; may our hearts be pure, and someday Father, they will be pure, and we look forward to that day. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount

Last week we looked at The Beatitudes, and tonight we’re going to look at the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. What the rest of the Sermon on the Mount does is it spells out the implications of the Beatitudes. In other words, if you are a blessed person, with those eight beatitudes, this is what life starts to look like for you. Of course this is all a process, but nonetheless that’s the relationship between the Beatitudes and the Sermon. I think the heart of the Sermon is a call to be wholehearted in your commitment to Jesus. I think that’s what makes the Sermon on the Mount challenging, even difficult at times. It’s calling for undivided loyalty. In my terms, Jesus is saying, I want you to be a fully devoted follower of me. There’s nothing in this Sermon that’s part time or part way, it’s all or nothing, and that’s exactly the point that Jesus is making.

A part of having a wholehearted commitment means that you don’t just believe the truths, but you obey them. Or if you can flip that statement on its head, being a fully devoted disciple not only means that you obey them externally, but that you actually believe them internally. From both directions, you understand what the Sermon on the Mount is all about.

Let me just warn you again about the issue of hermeneutics that we discussed last time: Jesus is speaking forcibly about general truths, usually against a background of Jewish misunderstanding. Some of these statements are very strong. The application challenge is to ask what exactly does that mean and how does it affect my life.

Undivided Loyalty: Righteousness (Matt. 5:17-48)

It may be helpful for you to keep your outline open as we go through it although the notes also reflect the outline structure. I’m going to use the numbers in the outline just to go through this. I called part 2 Undivided Loyalty: Righteousness. Much of the Sermon as I said is about undivided loyalty, but in this section, Matthew 5:17-48 he’s specifically dealing with issues of righteousness. Here’s the basic point that he’s going to make in this section is that external legalistic obedience of the Jewish leaders does not meet God’s standards. The external, in other words, the things that make you look religious, isn’t what’s most important. The Pharisees were very good at the external with all the praying and giving and the fasting and all the things they did to appear to be religious people. The point of this passage is that this external obedience alone isn’t what God requires. His standards are much stricter than that, because he requires the heart. Now you see in respect of what I said earlier, it’s not only a matter of doing the right things, but having the right heart behind it. That’s what he’s getting at. To put it in our language, it’s not enough to go to church every time the doors are open; it’s not enough to dress up nicely and give money when the offering goes by. None of that is what meets God’s standards, it’s the heart that shows itself in right actions—that’s what God requires. In a nutshell, that’s what is going on in 5:17 to the end of the chapter.

Introduction (Matt. 5:17-20)

He begins by making the point in 5:17 and 20, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” That’s just one of the old ways of dividing up the Old Testament: The Law would have been the first five books, and the Prophets are all the historical books from the prophetic literature. “I have not come to abolish them,” (the laws or the prophets), “but to fulfill them (17). For truly, I say to you, until Heaven and earth pass away, not an iota,” the smallest Greek character, “not a dot,” the little twist on a Hebrew character, “will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (18). For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven (20).” Put yourself in the original audience’s shoes; think how that must have felt. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the most religious people that you can possibly imagine, you’re not going to get into Heaven. It certainly would have caught their attention.

What Jesus is saying in this passage when he’s talking about not abolishing the law, but fulfilling it, what he’s saying is that the Old Testament in its entirety points to Jesus. The Old Testament is the bottom of a triangle that’s coming to a point, pointing and all of it eventually is pointing to Jesus. When he talks about fulfilling he’s not talking about fulfilling in the sense of a prophecy, but he’s talking about fulfilling in a much more basic sense, that the Old Testament was getting people ready for Jesus. For example, Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial system. You have all the laws of Leviticus, everything connected with animal sacrifice, and their purpose was to point people to the ultimate sacrifice, which is Jesus on the cross and to teach them what was involved in that sacrifice. The entire food law, all the kosher laws, are fulfilled in Christ. The Kosher laws, what you can eat and what you can’t eat, are designed to help us understand the difference between being clean and being unclean before God. Jesus pronounces all the food laws passé—they’re all gone—because it is in Christ that we are either clean or unclean. That’s what Jesus means when he says he is the fulfillment of the law, that the law, the whole Old Testament is pointing to Jesus, and he’s the culmination of all the hopes and dreams and aspirations that there are in the Old Testament. It is because he is in that role that he is able to interpret the Old Testament. He’s going to take the Pharisees on in this chapter. He’s going to say, “You have said this, but because the Old Testament points to me, I’m the one who gets to interpret the Old Testament.”

One other quick qualification then we’ll get into these. You know the phrase, “the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.” Understand that when Jesus gets into disagreeing with the Jews, he’s not disagreeing with the Old Testament; that’s an important point to make. What he’s disagreeing with is the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament. Jesus isn’t correcting the Old Testament, he’s correcting the Scribes and Pharisees misunderstanding of what the Old Testament taught. See the whole point of saying that your righteousness, your right conduct before God has to be better than the Scribes and Pharisees. Again the point that he’s making is their observances are all external; it’s all show; there is nothing inside; there is nothing underneath that’s good. So the way in which you and I exceed the righteousness, the good works, the good deeds, the living rightly, the way we do that better than the Scribes and Pharisees is not to be more legalistic, but is to understand that God requires our heart to be righteous as well as our actions. That’s basic.

Anger and Murder (Matt. 5:21-26)

What he then does, is he gives us six illustrations of the righteousness that illustrates this point. The first has to do with anger and murder. I’m going to spend a little more time on this so we can get a feel for what he’s doing. We’ll speed up on the other five. Matthew 5:21 and following says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’” Among other places he’s referring to the sixth commandment in Exodus 20. “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council” (the governing board) “and whoever says, ‘You fool!’” (it’s like saying, you stupid idiot, but it’s stronger than that; in Aramaic, it’s raka) “will be liable to the Hell of fire (22).” That’s the basic point he’s trying to make. What he’s saying is that the sixth commandment is broken with the heart attitude that leads to the action. See they would have said, “Well I’ve not murdered anyone so I haven’t broken the commandment.” Jesus says, “You’re not understanding the commandment.” When God gave the commandment in Exodus 20 on Mt. Sinai, the point was you’re not even supposed to get angry with people because it’s anger that leads to the action.

See the Scribes and Pharisees were all concerned about the external actions, but Jesus says that God’s really concerned with the internal heart and the internal problems that lead to the actions. If you are angry with your brother, then you have broken the sixth commandment, because you have the attitude which, if you don’t watch it, will end in the action of murder. God requires more than mere external obedience. I need to qualify, this doesn’t mean that anger and murder are the same thing. It doesn’t mean that anger and murder have the same punishment. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, but it is saying that you and I have broken the commandment when we are harboring the attitude that will lead to the action that breaks the commandment.

Do you see the connection with the Beatitudes on this? If a person is consumed by their own spiritual poverty—think through the Beatitudes, hungering for God’s righteousness and treating others with meekness—mercy and peace they cannot live in anger towards other people. If you are a blessed person, you’re not going to live in anger. It can’t happen. Again, that’s the logic flow that goes through the whole sermon.

Typical to this section as well, is that once Jesus has corrected their misunderstanding there is usually some follow up, and you have a follow up here in verses 23-26: “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go (24).” This is the case where you have done something wrong and you haven’t gone to your brother to ask for forgiveness. “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison (25). Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny (26).” All that is saying is deal with your anger and deal with it quickly. Dealing with your sin against your brother takes priority over external forms of being religious, like offering your gift.

Now, how are you going to deal with the absolute nature of this statement? We’re in the whole area of hermeneutics that we talked about last time. How are you and I going to understand what Jesus is saying? Jesus says that anyone who is angry is going to go to the Hell of fire. That’s a really absolute statement isn’t it? Everyone who has ever been angry says, “Well, no, I think it means something else.”

Is there ever a time to be angry? The Bible is very clear on that: Jesus was angry when he cleansed the temple, he was angry in Matthew 23, the woe chapter, where he calls down curses on the Pharisees. Because it’s Jesus we call it righteous indignation, but he was mad, he was ticked off, I mean let’s be honest. You can’t read very far in the Bible without finding that God is a God of wrath who hates sin, and wrath is anger. It’s very clear that the psalmist hates God’s enemies, and he’s right to do so. Probably the strongest of the verses is Ephesians 4:26 and there are different ways to translate it, but the best way is as an imperative where Paul says, “be angry.” In other words, sometimes the only Godly response to a situation is to get mad about it. “Be angry, but don’t sin.” “Okay, Paul, how do I not sin when I get angry?” He’s says, “Well you avoid sin by not letting the sun go down on your anger; deal with it quickly.” In Ephesians 4:26, Paul’s saying the same thing that Jesus is saying. You’ve got this statement here that appears to say if you’re angry you’ve sinned, but you’ve got many other situations in which anger is the right response and we’re in fact told to get angry in one place.

This is the issue of hermeneutics and I can’t solve this problem for you. I’m still struggling with it myself. Understand that I think the strength of Jesus’s statement is made in contrast to the Pharisees’ legalism. That’s what’s pushing him, that’s one reason I think he’s making statements so strongly, because they can be as mad as they want and it doesn’t matter to them; as long as they don’t plunge the knife into someone they think it’s okay. Jesus is focusing against that legalistic mentality that as long as I don’t do the action then God’s happy with me. That helps me understand some of the strength of this statement.

I’m a simple guy on the Bible, I just like to believe what it says and so any time I soften it in my teaching, I get really nervous because I’m not liberal in any shape, way, or form. I feel like I’m being liberal in doing this, but it’s the only way that I can make the Bible agree with itself and that’s important to me so I’ll do it: Jesus has his strong statement, “Don’t get angry”, but we know there are times and places to be angry. Just as he’s going to say, “Don’t pray in public, go pray in your inner room,” then “By the way, here’s the way you pray in public: Our Father who is in Heaven.” They go “Wait a minute Jesus, what happened?” He’s making these strong statements against the Pharisees’ misunderstanding and we have to understand them in the light of that. Even though they are being stated as absolute truths, they are not necessarily absolute truths. They are not always true all the time. It sticks on my tongue to say that, but I don’t know how else to make the Bible consistent. The other option is to say the Bible contradicts itself and I don’t want to say that.

Lust and Adultery (Matt. 5:27-30)

The second example is the whole area of lust and adultery. Matthew 5:27 says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery (27).’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman,” (notice these 3 words), “with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (28).” The basic message is clear: the attitude that leads to the action breaks the commandment, not just the action itself. The thing that was so emphatic for me is that the Greek is explicit: everyone that looks at a woman with the intention of lusting is a very specific Greek phrase. Here, you have to get into the difference between sin and temptation. Temptation is going to come; there’s nothing we can do about it; thoughts will fly through our heads. But it’s the looking with the intent to lust; looking with the intent to undress her in your mind that is the attitude that leads to active adultery, and it is the attitude that breaks the commandment as well as the action.

Let me say something about the follow up verses, 29-30, because it illustrates very clearly the problem with interpreting. Jesus did not speak with the intention of being absolutely clear all the time. When they said, “Why do you always speak in parables?” he said that it was so they could hear and not hear. The purpose was that Jesus taught in ways that caused people to reflect and to mull over and to force them to commit themselves to what he was saying if they were really going to understand it. That’s something else that’s going on in this passage. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into Hell (29). If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into Hell (30).” Dan Wallace, a friend of mine who teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary, tells the story of a young man who took a screwdriver and gouged his eyes out because he couldn’t control his lust. Guess what—the lust didn’t go away.

Again this is hermeneutics, and it’s why we have to reflect on this. I don’t want any of us to water down what Jesus is saying, I guess that’s my concern. Let me ask you a question: Is it better to lose your eye and go to Heaven than to have both your eyes and go to Hell? Yes. Is it better to lose a hand and go to Heaven than to have two hands and go to Hell? Yes. This isn’t a hyperbole. Sometimes people say, “he’s being hyperbolic, he’s exaggerating for an effect.” No he’s not, because those are very true statements. Again this is the problem with hermeneutics. We cannot water down what Jesus says, but we also can’t take what he says and take it out of context, because that means that after two sins we’re all blind; after two sins we can’t type. It doesn’t make any sense that way. Again, he’s trying to say the issue here is total commitment to God. There’s nothing as important as wholehearted, total commitment—not your eye, not your hand.

Divorce (Matt. 5:31-32)

Number 3 is the issue of divorce. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce (31).’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (32).” We obviously don’t have time to get into the whole issue of divorce, but let me say just a couple of things in context here. There’s a pretty good book out there called, Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views, edited by Wayne House and published by Inner-Varsity Press. It’s a good book to read if this is an issue.

A little bit of background here: Remember that Moses allowed divorce. Jesus later said, “he allowed it because you’re so hard hearted, but he allowed divorce if a man (and again it was male oriented) would find anything that was indecent in the woman.” The word behind indecent is a very general term for sexual sin of any kind; it’s not a specific thing. In Jesus’s day the Rabbis were basically split into two camps. One of the head Rabbi’s was the man named Hillel who defined indecency as anything: She burned your toast, you divorce her. The other group of Rabbis was under Shimiel said that you could only get divorced in the case of actual adultery. What is interesting is that Shimiel said that divorce was required—that if your wife actually committed adultery, you had to divorce that person. Jesus is siding with Shimiel, he’s siding with a stricter interpretation, but the difference is that divorce isn’t required it is only tolerable, barely tolerable. What Jesus is doing in his day and age, when so many of the people were saying, “She burned my toast, I’m going to divorce her,” he’s saying, “no, no that’s not what God wanted. What God wants is that divorce be possible, but only in the case of sexual immorality,” so he’s taking the stricter interpretation. Let me just say one thing in passing and you can argue about it on Sunday morning. Historically, the Evangelical church has held tightly that if you’re divorced it has its ramifications for the rest of your ministry. I find myself wondering why, if we’re going to hold onto that literal interpretation, why we’re not gouging out eyes and cutting off hands. These six are all parallel and we’ve got to treat them the same way. I’m not quite sure what this looks like in real life frankly. I’m not obviously purporting divorce, but there’s has to be some consistency that if we’re not going to gouge out eyes and cut off hands, then I wonder if what we’re doing here is theologically accurate.

Oaths (Matt. 5:33-37)

The fourth example has to do with oath taking. The Jews had developed a very complicated system of oath taking. For example, they say, “If I swear by the altar then I don’t have to keep my word, but if I swear by the gold on the altar I do.” It’s a very developed sense of being able to lie. Jesus says to just say yes or no and mean it. Don’t get into these elaborate legalistic ways of getting around the truth. Going to the inside, he’s saying to just say what’s true, just say yes or just say no. Be that person. By the way I don’t think that this is a prohibition against saying, “I promise”; it’s not a prohibition, I don’t think, of taking an oath. Some people have held that position. Paul takes an oath in Romans 1:9, he says, “God is my witness,” that’s oath taking. Even God takes an oath doesn’t he? Genesis 9: “I promise to never send a flood.” Paul and God are taking oaths and so I think probably it’s okay if I say I promise in a court of law or I say I promise to my wife.

Retaliation (Matt. 5:38-42)

The fifth example is that of retaliation: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (38).’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil, but if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (39).” Of course, after he hits you on the left cheek you can deck him because you don’t have any other cheeks, that’s what my Bible says—No. Think of the connection again between the Beatitudes and this point: A person who mourns over his own spiritual state who pursues God’s righteousness, who is merciful and a peace maker, will not at the same time always insist on his personal legal rights, but will be willing to be meek, and will be willing to be non-retaliatory. Don Carson writes, “Personal self-sacrifice displaces personal retaliation.” There is a point in time in which at your digression it’s not an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. There are times when we say you know what, I’m just going to take that and move on. Does that mean that’s always the right thing to do? Somebody walks into church Sunday morning with a machine gun and shoots half the people. This is a personal ethic and it’s an ethic that you decide that there are times when an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is not the right response to a situation. Don’t hold to the letter of the external law, but look inside, be that person and then see how being a beatitude, a blessed person works itself in day to day life.

Hatred (Matt. 5:43-47)

Finally dealing with the issue of hatred in Matt. 5:43, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy (43).’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (44).” Love your enemy is in the Old Testament, Leviticus 19:18; hate your enemy is not in the Old Testament. This is one of the scribal understandings, it’s a Pharisaical understanding of the Old Testament that is simply not right. The point is that you should love and pray even for your enemies.

Conclusion (Matt. 5:48)

He concludes this section in verse 48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect, you therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Our standard, your standard and my standard, ultimately is divine perfection. Our standard is not the Pharisaical external obedience. Remember what Paul says, that as for the law I was perfect, that’s him speaking as a pre-Christian, as a Pharisee and yes, he could have been perfectly right on in his Pharisaical external obedience to the law as the Pharisees understood it. But Jesus is saying that’s not the standard; the standard is God’s perfection. Is this attainable? No, it’s not. None of us can be perfect. So why even try? What’s he’s striving for is the reflection of the heart attitude, which does show itself in behavior.

Let me give you three things on this. First, remember we talked about the already and the not yet, that Christians live in the in-between, that God’s Kingdom is come, but it hasn’t come in its fullness. It will come in its fullness when Christ comes back again. We are children of the Kingdom and we have the standards of the Kingdom knowing that we’ll never hit them because we are still sinners, but we still strive for them knowing that someday when the Kingdom comes in its fullness, sin will be removed and we will be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. This is a great verse to show why that is such an important way to look at New Testament theology. We have a standard; we’re never going to hit it, but we strive for it. We don’t get discouraged because it pleases our Father to strive for it. When we fail, we are forgiven and we know that someday we finally will hit it when all sin is removed and we are in Heaven with him.

Secondly, Luther’s well known on this point for saying, “This is what forces us to our knees,” in recognition that we cannot do it on our own. The whole point of law is to push us in the right direction, saying this is what godliness looks like, this is what God wants for us. When you stated this bluntly, “be perfect,” you go, “I can’t,” and Luther would say, “that’s the point, you’re supposed to say, ‘I can’t do it.’” I turn to God and I turn for his strength and his encouragement and his sustenance to it. The third is, who has done it perfectly? Jesus. That’s why any works salvation where you’re trying to earn favor with God so you merit salvation is such foolishness. Because the only way that we are going to be perfect is that Jesus lived a perfect life, died a perfect and made perfect forgiveness available to us. That’s the only perfection that we will have in this in-between time in which we live and it’s because of his perfection that someday we will be perfect in Heaven.

Like I’ve said several times, the Sermon on the Mount, while it may be the most famous is one of the most difficult two chapters in the Bible to understand. You read it and you think you’ve got it, and then you start to apply it and you work through it and you realize how really deep it can go. It’s just something you have to reflect on and mull over as different situations come up in your life you start to apply it. That’s just the way it is.

Undivided Loyalty: Acts of Piety (Matt. 6:1-18)

Chapter 6 then is the next part, and again we’re still dealing with the whole issue of undivided loyalty, but here he is centering on different acts of piety; different ways people show their religiosity.

Introduction (Matt. 6:1)

He’s starts off in verse 1 with a theme, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in Heaven.” When they talk about your righteousness, they are talking about acts of piety. He’s saying when you do acts of piety in order to be seen, in order for people to say, “isn’t he special?” you have no reward. The only reward you’re going to have is for people to say, “isn’t he special?” but you’re not going to have any reward from God.

He’s going to look at three specific acts of piety: alms giving, prayer, and fasting. I need to say that when he’s talking about the hypocrites, “don’t do things like the hypocrites do them or the Gentiles do them,” he’s certainly talking about the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees and the Scribes, saying don’t be like them. When he calls them Gentiles (it’s a matter of interpretation), I’m inclined to think he’s still talking about the Jewish leaders. In other words, he’s not being very nice. Gentiles are non-Jews, the worst thing in the world to a Pharisee would be to not be a Jew but to be a Gentile. Jesus is pretty scathing in what he’s saying, even in the words that he’s using. Make sure when you do your acts of piety you don’t do them in order to be praised by people, but do them to be praised by your Father in Heaven.

Almsgiving (Matt. 6:2-4)

The first example is almsgiving, of giving money, in Matthew 6:2-4: “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Evidently they would get a trumpeter or a group of trumpeters, and blow a blast to get everyone’s attention and then they would give money, probably in the offering at the temple to be given out to the poor.

Fasting (Matt 6:16-18)

I’m going to skip the second act of piety because I’m going to come back to it in detail. The third act of piety in verses 16-18 is about fasting and it says when you fast don’t let anyone know it, don’t go around so miserable that people will say, “oh he must be fasting, what a holy person he is.” But he says, fast and look normal so no one will know you’re fasting. Your Heavenly Father will reward you. Same basic message.

Prayer (Matt 6:5-15)

The second act of piety is that whole issue of prayer and I want to spend a little more time on this because it has the Lord’s Prayer in it. We’re in Matthew 6:5-15. “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room,” (if you’re reading the King James it says your inner room, those are two different Greek words that are only one letter different; room and inner room or prayer closet, just in case you’re wondering why they are different), “and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Like I said earlier, does that mean we can’t pray in public? No because the Lord’s Prayer is a public prayer: “Our Father who is in Heaven.” But certainly as opposed to “tooting your own horn,” in prayer you are not to be doing. Evidently the trumpet was blown several times each day, like the Muslims still do, and when the horn blew it would be time for prayers. What evidently the Pharisees do is that they would gauge where they were walking so when the temple trumpet was blown they would be in a visible place. They would stop at Division and Francis just at the right time, the trumpet blows and they could pray to God. Apparently individuals heralded their own praying as well with trumpets, look at me, I’m about to pray. The point is to pray properly. Don Carson writes “Jesus wants to teach us that praying, in order to be a genuine act of righteousness, must be without ostentation, without show, directed to the Father and not to men, primarily private and devoid of the delusion that God can be manipulated by empty garrulity”—which means loquacious, or wordy. Evidently the Pharisees would go on and on and on and on as if somehow their many words would convince God to act, which of course is not what convinces God to act.

There’s an old joke: the pastor got up and he preached this long prayer and someone said, “that was the most beautiful prayer ever given to men,” and the answer was “Yes, because that’s who it was for.” The point is that in our prayers, we cannot be manipulative by trying to coerce God. Jesus is going to go on to say, “he already knows what you want.” Rather our prayers are to be short and to the point.

He said what not to do and then, in the follow up section we have one of the most famous passages in the Bible, the Lord’s Prayer. Let me start reading in verse 7: “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do,” in other words, just don’t keep talking and talking and talking, “for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:” and then we have the Lord’s Prayer. That is an interesting title—Lord’s Prayer—because Jesus could never have prayed this prayer because there’s a request for forgiveness of sins, but it is the Lord’s Prayer in that the Lord Jesus said it. It’s very common to understand the Lord’s Prayer as broken into two parts. In the first part, the first half focuses on praising God, a very good lesson to follow in prayer. Often in our time of community prayer, together we’ll start by saying, “Let’s just praise God, don’t ask him about Aunt Tillie’s big toe, don’t pray for the money to be given to meet this week’s loan on the building, none of that stuff, but you start focused on God and on praising him.

The prayer goes, “Our Father in Heaven,” now there are actually three sermons right there. Notice this is a corporate prayer, it’s not “my Father.” In Western culture everything is so individualistic, but even in this prayer, and that’s not to say you can’t pray by yourself, obviously, but Jesus is envisioning the disciples together, praying together, so it doesn’t say “my Father,” it says, “Our Father in Heaven.” He’s our father in the sense that we can approach him as a member of the family, there’s a sense of closeness. Yet he’s our Father in Heaven—there’s a sense of majesty and grandeur and separation when we say he’s our Father in Heaven. Then Jesus uses three imperative verbs to call on God to act in a certain way. We don’t call them commands because you don’t command God, but grammatically they are imperatives, they are calling on God to do things.

The first one is, “Hallowed be your name.” Hallowed means holy, separate from sin. In other words, “be your name,” and a person’s name stood for the essential you. Your name was who you are. When you and I pray hallowed be your name, what we’re doing is we’re calling on God to act through me and through other people so that the end result is that God himself will be treated with reverence, that God will be seen to be Holy. When we say hallowed be your name we’re saying, God act in such a way that people understand that you are Holy, may you work through me so that people can see in what I say and do, and what I don’t say and what I don’t do, that my God is a Holy God, separate from sin. May that be true through everyone else. That’s quite a mouthful isn’t it. It’s frustrating because Jesus says that you’re supposed to pray like this. We weren’t supposed to just repeat the Lord’s Prayer, which is generally what happens right. I don’t know what denominational traditions you were raised in, but a lot of denominations just repeat the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday and it becomes wordless babble. Loquacious. The very thing that it wasn’t supposed to do, and yet we say, hallowed be your name. Now when you say it you may know what it means. May you act in such a way through me that people see that you are separate from sin, that you are Holy.

The second imperative I want to translate as: “May your Kingdom come.” In other words, in the Lord’s Prayer we’re calling on God to send his Kingdom, the rule and reign of God in the hearts and lives of his people. I think that there are at least two ways in which that can be understood. One is that may your Kingdom come through my life; may my life and may my words be a witness so that your Kingdom increases through my witnessing. There’s also a second sense, meaning, may your Kingdom come in all its fullness. In other words, Jesus may you come back again; may you bring an end to history and time and may your Kingdom come in all of its fullness. The earliest chant of the early church was Maranatha. As far as we know that’s Aramaic phrase; it’s at the end of 1 Corinthians 16, and Maranatha means come Lord Jesus. From the very beginning of the church, the church has cried out, come Lord Jesus. That’s what this is saying here too. May your Kingdom come, O God, may you bring an end to all this mess around us, may your Kingdom come in its fullness. In the meantime, may your Kingdom come and expand through me as I am a viable witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The third imperative is, “May your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” This certainly has to be one of the central affirmations in all of the Sermon on the Mount and if you’re looking for something to hang on to as key, this is one of them. May your will be done. That’s the whole point; may we be doing what you want us to do. Just as the angels and the saints who are in Heaven are now perfectly doing what you want them to do, may that also be the case here. May your will be done. The primary characteristic of a disciple is to do the will of his master, and that’s what we’re praying when we pray the Lord’s prayer. That’s the first part where we are focused on praising God and calling on him to act in a way that will bring him honor and bring him glory.

The second half is where people generally say, “This is where we get to focus on ourselves and not on God,” and I don’t think that’s exactly right. I think what’s going on in the second half of the Lord’s Prayer is that what we’re really doing is that we’re confessing our dependence on God. In other words, saying I need you for my daily sustenance, I need you for forgiveness, I need you to keep me out of temptation. The focus hasn’t really shifted from God, but it’s just a chance for us to admit that we need him and to call on him.

We start by saying, “Give us this day our daily bread (11),” meaning we rely on God ultimately for our physical sustenance. In an affluent culture that’s often forgotten isn’t it. We think that we’re the bread-winners and that we take care of ourselves and provide for our families, and that’s simply not true and all you have to do is lose your job and everything you have and you learn very quickly that even our daily bread is a gift from God.

Every gift is from the Father, but not only are we dependent on God for our physical sustenance we are dependent upon him for our spiritual sustenance: “12and forgive us our debts.” Jesus is picturing sin as a debt that we owe God. “As we also have forgiven our debtors.” Some denominations have it, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. When you go to another church and you’re not quite sure, you have to wait—is this a debt church or a trespass church? It all means the same thing. The fact of the matter is that we will not be obedient to the Lord’s Prayer or the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus knows it, it’s the already and the not yet, and so he has given us a way to take care of our sins and that is to simply confess them, to admit that we’re wrong and to ask Jesus to forgive us. He will forgive us, just like we forgive those who have sinned against us.

Evidently in Jesus’s mind (and I know he’ll rest much better when he hears that I agree with him), that is such a difficult thing, that at the end of the Sermon he adds this final note, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you (14), but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (15).” That’s Jesus’s way of saying, “Yes, you heard me right, I meant exactly what I said.” If we do not forgive others, then God is not going to forgive us, and the way that probably works out in real life is that if we’re person who refuses to forgive, then we’re probably not the person to ask God for forgiveness. It’s really hard to ask for forgiveness of God and then refuse to give it to other people, at least that’s what the commentators say and I think they’re right.

I don’t think that Jesus is talking about the forgiveness of sins that happens on the cross and brings about our salvation. I think he’s talking about the forgiveness of ongoing sins that make a relationship with him possible. When you and I do not ask to be forgiven of our sins, we don’t automatically go to Hell, but it does affect the nature and the quality of our relationship with him. I think that’s the context of what he’s talking about. Otherwise, we all have to become rampant Arminians, every time we don’t forgive we lose our salvation. I don’t think that’s the case.

I want to tell you an interesting thing that happened when I preached on this. Four or five months ago, I had the most amazing experience after church where someone who was a first time visitor came up to me and said, “Do you believe in church discipline?” I thought, that’s an interesting question to start a conversation with, and I said, “Well, yes, the statement on church discipline is on…,” but he said, “Do you believe in it?” I said, yes. I couldn’t figure out, I just thought he was trying to figure out where we were as a church. He goes, “Well, what you said was wrong.” As a first time visitor, he wanted to exercise church discipline on me because I was wrong in what I said, and he was there to set me straight, which I thought was very interesting, saying much more about him than anything else. He was violently opposed to forgiving someone if they don’t ask for it. I think in the sermon I said, “We don’t like this because we don’t want to forgive someone until they come crawling to us, begging for forgiveness,” and that’s exactly what this man believed, that he wasn’t about to forgive anyone unless they came crawling to him, begging for his forgiveness. I said, “Well you’re going to have a really hard time with Jesus then, because I don’t see any conditions there.” What was fascinating was that in staff meeting on Tuesday, our Children’s Pastor came and said, “You won’t believe the conversation I had, someone just raked me over….” He always takes my sermons and then does them for the kids, and he had said the same thing and someone, a second time visitor in the church, just raked him over the coals for teaching their children such a horrible thing as forgiving someone without them asking for forgiveness. Now yes, you want someone to ask for forgiveness and you extend it, but that passage says you forgive other people their debts. Yes, God’s got to forgive them ultimately, but as far as I’m concerned, if you sin against me, my responsibility is to forgive you. You still have to deal with God, because he’s the one who hands out forgiveness, so maybe that’s the qualification, I just didn’t think it had to be said. They were really violently opposed to forgiving, which says a lot more about them than anything else. Anyway, it was just one of those many surprises I’ve had as a pastor.

Jesus concludes the Lord’s Prayer with “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This is the most difficult ones to interpret because James say that God doesn’t tempt anyone, but that we are tested and that having our faith tested is a good thing. When you put all of that together, this is a difficult phrase to interpret. I think that what he’s saying is that we are crying out to God to not let us fall into a temptation that we cannot resist. I think that’s what it’s saying. Now I’ve not found any interpretation that I’m completely happy with, but that’s the best thing. He’s saying, don’t lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, meaning, don’t let me be tempted beyond my ability to endure. This of course is precisely the promise that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “no temptation will be given to us that we cannot resist by God’s strength.” “Evil” can also be “the evil one,” meaning Satan and there may be something in the prayer expressing a desire that we be kept safe from Satan’s direct interference in our lives as well. It’s a difficult phrase to interpret.

The question that people often ask is, “Hey, you left out a whole verse—for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen.” If you look at any modern translation, you will always find this verse either in footnotes or bracketed. Remember the discussion of textural criticism we had; I think it was the third time we got together. This was a phrase that was added around the fourth century. We know that through the history of the transmission of the documents, people liked to add things; they rarely dropped things out. I was raised having the final verse, and yes it sticks in my throat every time I stop with the word evil. That’s where Jesus stopped so that’s where I stop.

In conclusion: those who are pure in heart and seek only for God’s righteousness would never act out their piety for the wrong reason and hence in the wrong way. They will always act out their piety not to receive human praise, but always for God’s praise. That’s the point of this section in alms giving and in prayer and in fasting.

Undivided Loyalty: Total Commitment (Matt. 6:19-24)

The fourth major division in your outline is from 6:19-24, I entitled it Undivided Loyalty again because that’s what’s going on in the whole section, but these verses seem to be stressing our need to be totally committed to God.

Treasure (Matt. 6:19-21)

He talks about treasures in 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We are called to commit ourselves totally to Christ, and that means that our heart, as evidenced by our wealth, should not be on earth, but it should be in Heaven.

Two Masters (Matt. 6:24)

In verses 22-23, there’s a very difficult passage about the eye, and then in verse 24 he talks about masters: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Many Christians spend most of their lives trying to prove they are the one exception, don’t we? You have to pick; you cannot straddle the fence; you can’t walk down a fence with one foot in the Kingdom of God and the other foot in the kingdom of earth; you have to decide. Am I going to serve material wealth or am I going to serve God? You can’t serve both; you have to make a decision. That’s a hard one, isn’t it? That’s a hard one. Jesus is calling for total commitment.

Undivided Loyalty: Total Trust (Matt. 6:25-34)

In section five, Undivided Loyalty: Total Trust, there is a slightly different emphasize, but if this isn’t the most beautiful passage in Scripture, then I don’t know what is. This is my all time favorite passage: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life.” I love being anxious, do you? I love to worry, I make up things to worry about; I think of decisions I might have to make and then I want to know all the alternatives that I’m going to have and then I research each of the alternatives to see which alternative I would take if I ever have to make that decision. I just love to worry. Today, I go home and said, “Robin, I don’t want to retire in this house, we can’t fit two cars in the garage and I don’t want to be eighty-four scraping the ice off my car because it’s parked in the driveway.” Now if that’s not being anxious about tomorrow I don’t know what is, right? She knows just to let me blow it off, then I have to apologize and we move on, she’s very use to that by now.

Don’t be anxious. A quote from my father: “Living an anxious life is living like a practical atheist.” Living a life of anxiety and anxiousness, living a life of worry, is living as if God doesn’t exist—as an atheist. Don’t be anxious about your life, slow down. “What you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them (26).” Yes, but I see some really cold ones flying around during the winter, they don’t have any food! Your Heavenly Father feeds them, Bill, get over it. “Are you not of more value than they? which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life (27)?” You’ll notice the footnote in the ESV: “or add a single cubit to his stature.” The words can mean both.

“Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin (28), yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these (29).” Yes, God, but they don’t need tennis shoes, I say. This is something I have to work on if you haven’t noticed. “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith (30)? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear (31)?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all (32).”

Then my favorite verse in the Bible: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (33).” That’s really the theme of this whole section, and again one of the primary themes throughout the Sermon on the Mount. Seek for the things of God and seek for his righteousness; hunger and thirst after his righteousness, and then all these things will be added. You have to pay close attention to passives in the Bible, we call them grammatically divine passives, because God is the agent. You seek after the things of God, and God’s going to take the responsibility of doing everything else. I guess if I have to leave my car in the driveway when I’m eighty-four, I’ll be thankful I have a car, a driveway, an ice scraper and maybe the strength to still use it. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow; tomorrow has enough troubles of its own, sufficient for the day is its own trouble. This is a fabulous passage where Jesus is calling us, trust me, just trust me, I’m going to take care of you, just trust me. That’s just a great passage and it’s one that you have to, I think on a weekly basis, re-read over and over and just remind yourself that God has committed himself to caring for your needs, and that that’s not what we’re supposed to be concerned about.

Final Instructions (Matt. 7:1-12)

In part six, final instructions, Matt. 7:1-12, he talks about being judgmental. The point is to check yourself first before you point out a problem in someone else. The passage doesn’t say don’t be judgmental, it’s saying check yourself out before you see a problem in someone else. He talks about patience in prayer, perseverance in prayer, and then in verse 12, he gives us the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” This is a statement that’s somewhat analogous to the one he made back in 5:17 about how he fulfills the Law. The Old Testament is pointing to Jesus and the essence is, treat others like you want to be treated. It’s Jesus seeking to encapsulate the Old Testament.

Conclusion: Only Two Options (Matt. 7:13-27)

Then we move on to the final section, eight, the conclusion. In Matt. 7:13, there is a great call to action. Jesus has done his teaching and now he wants to drive the point home that it is supposed to move us to action. It’s not enough to know it, we also have to do it. The thing that I want to stress in this is that all the way through, there are only two options. There’s the way of obedience, and there’s the way of disobedience. As we go through this final part of the Sermon on the Mount, ask yourself, is there any room for a carnal Christian. When I was growing up it was very common to hear people talk about a carnal Christian, a Christian that’s not really living like a Christian, and the attitude was, that’s not the best way to do things, but it’s okay, you’ll still get to Heaven. Observe if there’s any room for that in here. Observe if there’s any room for what I have been calling “event Christianity”—the idea that Christianity is raising your hand, saying a magic prayer and somehow that’s all that Christianity necessarily is. Observe if there is any room for either of those in this conclusion, instead of being a life of a disciple.

He starts off by saying that there are two ways you can live your life, verse 13, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” So much for the church growth movement (a little tongue in cheek). I was talking with Dad the other day about the theological concept of remnant, which is one of the more important concepts in the Bible, that God always has his remnant. Those are his true believers who live in the midst of a larger group who think that they are believers, but they are not. Dad said, “Bill, the operative idea in the word remnant is small.” It’s a strange passage, when you think about why God would create the world in such a way that only few get to true life. That’s one of the questions I’ll find out when I get to Heaven. But there are two gates: there’s a narrow gate that few get into, and there’s a wide gate that a lot of people go through and destruction is on the other side. There are two ways, not three.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves (15). You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles (16)? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit (17). A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit (18).” It’s by your fruits that you shall know them, and a tree is going to give good fruit, or it’s going to give bad fruit. The fruit here is the people’s life. It’s the person who is blessed, the person who is living in conformity with the Sermon on the Mount. His life is going to be lived as one of good fruit—that will be the characteristics of his life. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (19). Thus you will recognize them by their fruits (20).” People are known by their fruit, by the kinds of life that they live, and good people live good lives and bad people live bad lives. The penalty for the lack of fruit is destruction by fire. Again, there are only two kinds of trees—the good trees and the bad trees.

There are two judgments, starting in Matt. 7:21. If this doesn’t scare someone, I don’t know what will: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven.” You mean there are people in church that are singing hymns and they’re going to go to Hell? Evidently. But “the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven….” I told you when we were back in Mark 8 the impact of the idea that as a disciple, if you want to follow me, then deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. I shared with you the impact that that verse had on my life. This had a similar impact on my life. It’s not the one who says, Lord, Lord, it’s the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. I don’t know how you can say it any clearer than that. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy” (this is the day of Judgment) “in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name (22)?’ then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness (23).’” This is a throne room scene, it’s either Heaven or Hell, there are only two ways to go. Evidently there are people that say, “Oh, yes, Lord, Lord” and they are going to be accompanied by many miraculous, at least apparently miraculous deeds, like prophecy, exorcism, and miracles, and they’re not Christians. It’s rather the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven who will inherit eternal life. There are those who do the will of God and there are those who don’t.

Then finally there are two houses: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock (24). the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock (25). everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand (26). the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it (27).” You can have as many degrees after your name as you want, you can have gone to as many Bible Schools as you want, you can have read as many Systematic Theologies as you want, but if all you’ve done is hear the Word of God and not done it, it’s as stupid as building a house on a beach on the sand.

Student: What about the fact that none of us are at that standard; none of us are in that place of completely doing God’s will? It seems by default that you would be not doing God’s will.

Response: This is part of the question, but we don’t perfectly do God’s will, so if I could extend the metaphor, where’s our house? I think that’s part of the hermeneutical struggle that you have with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is trying to say, look there are two basic options. It’s like John saying Christians don’t sin. Come on John, you just said if you confess your sin, God’s going to forgive you. It’s like saying that the idea that Christians don’t sin is the way it is in the sense that it is the way it ought to be. I think with Jesus saying it’s not enough just to hear these words; the Pharisees have heard the words. You’ve got to do the will of God; you’ve got to put it into practice. That makes you wise. I would say the attempt by God’s strength of not just hearing, but putting into practice, is going to be flawed, but that’s the direction you’re supposed to go. That’s the goal that you strive for. Jesus likes to speak in black and whites. I think that’s why John likes to speak in black and whites; he was conditioned by Jesus to think that way. None of this is supposed to discourage you. The Sermon on the Mount can get discouraging for people. That’s not what it’s there for, it’s there to say that these are our goals; this is where we’re striving. We’re all in process; none of us have arrived; none of us are ever going to be perfect; only Jesus is perfect until we all get to Heaven and then we’ll be perfect because of his perfection. It’s a process; it’s a journey; but this is the direction that you’re going. We’re all on that process and we just need to make sure that we’re not saying Lord, Lord and doing these things, but not doing the will of him.

That’s the end of the Sermon on the Mount.


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