Notes on

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT --- PART ONE

For 21st Century Disciples

 

T

he Sermon on the Mount comes at a climax of 2000 years of redemptive history.  God has been mysteriously working through the Israelites ever since the days of Abraham.  But now he has entered the human race as the Incarnate Word.

 

Jesus is not yet known as the Messiah, not yet discerned as the

Incarnate Word.  He comes out of the backwoods of Galilee and speaks as a Jew to Jewish disciples --- who know the Torah, who know their history.

 

The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is universal.  It applies to any disciple of Jesus from any culture.

 

But it is based on a transfiguration of the Torah given at Sinai

to Israel.

 

While Mt. Sinai, 1200 years before was covered with a cloud of mystery, this "mountain" in Galilee hears a word that is simple, clear and down-to-earth.  But it's the same God speaking in both revelations.

 

This teaching is the most profound truth ever given on earth.  But it will come alive for us only if we approach it with poverty of spirit.  Any other approach to the Sermon on the Mount will reap only dead words, distortions, hypocrisy, despair. 

 

It's the beginning of Jesus' ministry.  He has been baptized, anointed with the Spirit, passed through a horrific temptation in the wilderness.  He has begun gathering disciples, preaching the kingdom of heaven, healing the sick. 

 

Multitudes are drawn to Jesus because of what he gives them free-of-charge: healing of body and mind.

 

"And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.  So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those

afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.  And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him.  And he opened his mouth and taught them saying…"                                Matthew 4:23-5:2

 

Seven things to keep in mind as we approach this study:

 

  1. Jesus is speaking to his disciples, even though there is a larger audience listening.  This teaching is addressed to disciples.     

 

  1. Jesus is describing the life which sons and daughters of God's kingdom are empowered and commanded to live. 

       (The Sermon on the Mount is not a "blueprint for world

       peace" or "how to run a government.")

 

  1. Jesus speaks with the authority of heaven.

 

"You have heard that it was said to the men of old

….but I say to you."

 

"Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them…"

 

These authoritative words are either those of a madman or God's Messiah.

 

4.  This teaching, like the healings which drew the crowds,

     flows from the power of his approaching cross.

 

                        His healings:  "Surely he has borne our sickness and

                           carried our pains."

 

His word of forgiveness:  "And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

 

Likewise, The Sermon on the Mount, which lays out the kingdom life in detail, is based on his atoning blood which is soon to be shed.  "When he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days."

 

(Jesus is now beginning to fulfill the prophetic description of the Atonement in Isaiah 53)

 

 

 

5.  This teaching is addressed to people who have committed

      their lives to him,  and who, as his disciples, will share in

      his anointing --- will receive the gift of   the Holy Spirit,

      which will enable them to turn these teachings into flesh-

      and-blood living.

 

6.  This teaching has been preserved to us by the sovereign

     activity of the Father in heaven, who gave these words to

     the Son to give to us.  ("My teaching is not mine, but his

     who sent me." John 7:16)

 

7.  The Sermon on the Mount describes the way life is lived

      in God's kingdom --- the only way life is lived in God's

      kingdom.    

 

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you."                                                                    Matthew 5:2-12

 

 

The Beatitudes are more than magnificent words.  They are precise, burning truth, straight from heaven.  They are prophetic: what they promise, they deliver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

 

The kingdom of heaven:

 

 --- God's redemptive order.

 --- A world penetrating this world, where God's will is

       done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

 --- Where evil is overcome, sickness is overcome, death

        is conquered, lies are burned away.

 

 --- Where God is known and loved, trusted and obeyed.

The poor in spirit:

 

 --- People who have abandoned their arrogance and vanity.

 --- People who have lost their appetite for self-glory.

 --- People who are empty of themselves.

 --- People who are aware of their great need for God.

Poverty of spirit is the doorway to discipleship under Jesus.

 

Nobody becomes a disciple until they are aware of their spiritual poverty.

 

Hence the listening disciples, who have already entered this doorway, are blessed.

 

The multitudes across the earth who are poor in spirit are also blessed, because they too will one day (through the "drawing power" of the cross) find the door to discipleship.

 

The one essential to grasping the meaning and power of the Sermon on the Mount: poverty of spirit.

 

 

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

 

Those who mourn:

 

 --- Their hearts are broken through loss.  Loss of a loved-one,

       a child, a friend.

 

 --- Their hearts are broken when they get a glimpse of the

       power of evil which surrounds them, and even the evil

       they discover in their own souls.

 

 --- Their hearts are broken by the sins of their "Jerusalem."

 

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!"                                                                   Matthew 23:37

 

 --- Their hearts are broken enough to weep before God.

 

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?

Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?

O that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!                Jeremiah 8:22-9:1

 

This kind of mourning is the doorway to discipleship under Jesus.

 

--- A brokenness that needs divine comfort.

 

The disciples who are first hearing these words have known inward brokenness.

 

The multitudes out across the earth who are inwardly

broken (mourning) will one day (through the drawing power of the cross) find their comfort in the Messiah.

 

They shall be comforted.

 

--- Comforted by God.

 

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!"  Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.  He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.                                         Isaiah 40:9-11

 

As Jesus speaks to the disciples ... and to you as you read these words … this comfort has begun.  He feeds his flock like a shepherd.  He comforts the mourners.  He imparts the Holy Spirit (the Comforter) to his disciples.

 

 

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

 

The meek.

 

They are not wimps.

They are not cowards.

They are not spineless.

 

The meek are those who are open to direction from above.

 

 "Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart."

 

            i.e. "I yield to the Father's will, as he directs

                    my steps."

 

The meek are teachable, as opposed to people with closed minds.

 

(Many people who think of themselves as "forward-thinking" and "open-minded" are, in fact, closed to everything that contradicts their "open-minded" point-of-view.)

 

The meek are those whose minds are open to light from God, no matter where it leads or what it costs.

 

This kind of meekness is the doorway to discipleship.

 

No one truly submits to Jesus until they have abandoned their hard mindset and become teachable, open to divine guidance, wherever it leads, whatever it costs.

 

The listening disciples have already entered this path.

The meek of the world will eventually (through the drawing power of the cross) find it.

 

 

 

"For they shall inherit the earth."

 

The earth belongs, not to the powerful, not to the rich, not to the high-tech geniuses, but to God.

 

The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice!

 

And God gives the earth, at his pleasure, within his timeframe, to the meek, who are teachable enough to become sons and daughters of the kingdom.

 

 

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."

 

Those who hunger and thirst to be right with God.

 

Right with God --- not right with the religious authorities, not right in the opinion of their peers, but right with God.

 

They hunger and thirst for righteousness, as opposed to the complacent, the apathetic, the self-righteous.

 

They are so hungry to be right with God that they go out of their way to seek his help.

 

They are so troubled about the condition of their own soul, that they cry out for mercy.  "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"

 

Their eyes are fixed, not on themselves, not on other people, but on God.  "Against thee, thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight!"

 

This hunger and thirst is the doorway to discipleship under Jesus.

 

Every one of Jesus' disciples is driven to him and held close to him by this hunger, which ultimately opens their eyes to the meaning of the cross.

 

This same hunger in the multitudes of earth leads them (through the drawing power of the cross) to the source of all righteousness: Jesus.  

 

For they shall be satisfied.

 

Filled with a righteousness which is imparted from above.

 

A "rightness with God" paid for and sustained by the power of the cross.

 

A "rightness with God" worked out in daily living by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

 

What follows in the Sermon on the Mount is a description in detail of God-imparted righteousness.  Jesus is telling us what we need to know and where we need to change, by the power of the Spirit. 

 

Jesus presents the righteousness of the kingdom with great hope:

"You are the salt of the earth!

You are the light of the world!"

 

Jesus presents the righteousness of the kingdom with a serious warning:

 

"Every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand."

 

 

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

 

The Merciful.

 

A perfect example is the Samaritan in Jesus' parable in Luke 10.

 

The acts of kindness of the merciful person are done without fanfare.

 

The merciful person treats all people with honor --- and without fanfare.

 

The merciful person is never too busy to take time to listen.

 

The merciful person is especially aware of his/her own need of God's mercy.

 

When I know how desperately I need God's mercy, how can I fail to show mercy?

 

 

A merciful heart is the doorway to discipleship under Jesus.

 

Yet even disciples always have more to learn, when it comes to mercy.

 

"Lord, send her away, she's crying after us!"

"Lord, shall we call down fire from heaven upon them?"

 

And they do learn.  The epistles of Peter and John reveal hearts that have been tenderized by the Lord.

 

People out in the world who are merciful --- and there are many --- will also, sooner or later, find their way to Incarnate Mercy and follow him.

 

For they shall obtain mercy.

 

Divine mercy is offered to all at the cross.  In God's mysterious way this mercy will knock on the door of every human heart (John 12:32).

 

It is offered as a gift, without strings.

It is received by faith.

 

But to keep God's mercy and be held by it forever, we are required to show mercy….to live mercy.  Otherwise we lose it. (Matthew 18:23-35).

 

"For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment."  (James 2:13)

 

 

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

 

The pure in heart.

 

Those who are focused on God and his will.

Those who refuse to be distracted from the call of heaven.

 

Purity of heart is the doorway to discipleship under Jesus.

 

"Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind."                             (James 4:8)

 

i.e. Fix your heart on God.  Stay focused on seeking and doing his will.

 

The disciples who were sitting there listening had already begun to purify their hearts.  They had forsaken their fishing business to become apprentices of the Master.

 

Likewise, people out there in the world who have a single-minded thirst for God --- and there are such people --- will sooner or later behold God in the face of the Messiah.

 

For they shall see God

 

Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied."  Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip?  He who has seen me has seen the Father…."              (John 14:8-9)

 

When we begin to see Jesus for who he is, we are looking at God.  Jesus is the clearest and safest vision of God for eyes of flesh and blood.

 

"But won't we eventually actually see the Father?"

Yes, if we follow the only one who can get us there. 

("No one comes to the Father but by me.")

 

If we receive God's light and walk in it, we will ultimately see what these eyes of flesh cannot see. 

 

For now we see through a mirror, dimly, but then face-to-face.              (I Corinthians 13)

 

If we stay on the path, we will see God in his glory, as no human eye could presently see him and live.

 

 

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

 

Peacemakers.

 

They are more than negotiators, arbitrators, referees.

They make peace.

They bring the peace of heaven to bear on human strife.

They bring God's peace ... holy peace.

Before such peace, we fall on our face and remove our shoes!

 

The only peacemakers on earth are those whose hearts are ruled by the peace of God.

 

"And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one Body."      (Colossians 3:14)

 

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."                            (John 14:27)

 

Notice Jesus' first words to his disciples after the resurrection: "Peace be with you."

 

The only ones who bring this kind of peace into a room, or into a scene of strife, or into a church ... are those who are ruled by it themselves.

 

Every disciple of Jesus is growing into his likeness as a peacemaker.

While our witness may arouse anger in many hearts, as our Lord's words awakened hatred in many, those who respond to our witness are visited by holy peace, the atmosphere of heaven. 

 

For they shall be called sons/daughters of God.

 

They are called sons of God because they bear his nature.

His peace rules their lives.

They reflect his glory, and impart his life-giving peace to the world around them.

 

When you encounter such a person, you know that you are in the presence of peace.

When you walk into a fellowship alive with this peace, you recognize it instantly. 

 

 

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

 

The persecuted.

The kingdom of heaven, promised first to the poor in spirit, is now promised to those who are persecuted for their faithfulness to God.

They speak God's truth.

They live what they profess.

They manifest God's mercy.

 

            And for this the powers of this world despise and oppose them.

 

Sooner or later all those who seek to be right with God will experience persecution.

 

But they will also be guided right into God's kingdom as disciples of Jesus. 

 

"Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater that his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also."                                                            (John 15:20)

 

But with persecution comes life and power from God --- always…

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

Now, in this life, they receive a foretaste of God's world, where

God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven…evil is overcome…sickness is overpowered ... death is conquered ... where

God is known and loved, trusted and obeyed.

 

Along with persecution there always comes the immediate presence of the coming glory --- a taste of heaven --- to sustain and encourage them to rejoice and press on. 

 

 

"Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you."

 

Persecution, false accusations on my account.

 

Here, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus promises blessings on his persecuted disciples.  Because they will be persecuted, slandered and reviled on his account.

 

Jesus repeatedly taught that if we are faithful to him, we will arouse resentment on his account. 

This is true even (perhaps especially) in a "Christian environment."

 

Of course we need to make sure that the resentment we cause is the result of our faithfulness to Jesus, and not because we are self-righteous, obnoxious, preoccupied with our own piety. 

 

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

 

This promise is not from a professional priest trying to exploit us, but from the Incarnate Word, who himself was about to suffer rejection on a scale we will never fathom.

 

Rejection and persecution for the name of Jesus is the highest privilege a human can experience.  It puts us in the company of the prophets and martyrs of the kingdom of all time. 

 

Jesus promises that, if we suffer rejection and persecution for his name, we will not only experience glory now, but God will "make it up to us" later.  We will be rewarded when we arrive at the destination of this journey of faith. 

 

To follow Jesus is to follow him to a cross of some kind

--- which itself will be followed by a "great reward."

 

As we proceed in this study we need to remember that the new life which Jesus is about to describe is based on his approaching act of atonement. 

 

            "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

 

He died for all….atoned for all.

 

But this act of atonement becomes effective in our lives only if we receive it by faith and walk in it. 

 

As Jesus makes clear in the teachings which follow, not all will accept this blood-bought gift.  Only certain people will open their hearts to God's mercy.  And who are they?

 

The poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.

 

 

 

"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be

thrown out and trodden under foot by men."          Matthew 5:13

 

Jesus speaking to disciples then and now: "You are the salt of the earth."

 

This is a statement of fact.  "You are salt, because you are my disciples."

 

            Salt gives flavor, adds life to flat food.

Salt preserves and cleanses.

"If you function in this world as my disciples you add flavor, preserve, cleanse."

 

But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored?

 

It is possible for salt to break down, to be compromised, by being preoccupied by the cares, riches, and pleasures of life….or by being distracted by "success."

 

The most useless thing on earth is a disciple who has lost saltness. Or a church which has become tasteless.

 

It happens when believers become preoccupied with themselves, when churches settle into the "church rut."

 

It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.

 

This is exactly what has happened repeatedly over the last 20

centuries.

 

It is happening now in much of western "Christendom."

Compromised churches, saltless believers, are being abandoned to their useless ways, as the true Body of Christ presses on. 

 

 

"You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hid.  Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."                                                         Matthew 5:14-16

 

"You are the light of the world because you are my disciples.  My light is in you.  People will see light when they observe how you live."

 

Light which draws them toward God, makes them aware of God.

Jesus is not talking about putting on a "Christian Show"

--- presenting an image to the world.

 

The disciple of Jesus is never an icon or image, but simply light.

 

Jesus is calling us to be what we are --- light --- in ordinary ways:

 

The fact that you are a disciple is transparent.

You are not trying to hide it.

You are not ashamed of being a follower of Jesus.

It comes through in the way you live. 

 

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

 

When they see your good works as light, they become conscious of God.

            God gets the glory --- all of it.

 

When they see your "good works" as "you," when you become the focus of attention, they are distracted from God.

You become God's competitor --- an idol.  You are producing darkness.

 

 

"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."                                                               Matthew 5:17-20

 

This passage in the Sermon on the Mount is the most overlooked and downplayed.

 

"Jesus was talking to a Jewish audience.  It doesn't apply to us!"

 

"Jesus fulfilled the law, making the law obsolete."

 

The law and the prophets

 

What we call the Old Testament was Jesus' Bible when he was here in flesh and blood.  He was steeped in these scriptures from childhood.

These scriptures were "inbreathed" by the Eternal Logos (the Son) --- both in the events they describe and in the prophetic words.

 

The tendency of many professing Christians to relegate the Old Testament scriptures to "optional reading" is a

big mistake. 

 

The Old Testament comes alive when approached under the guidance of the Spirit of Christ.

 

And in turn these scriptures add depth and power to the

New Testament, when approached in the Spirit of the Lord.

 

Jesus did not come to abolish, but to fulfill these scriptures.

 

Get to know them.  Steep yourself in them.

 

 

"I have come…….to fulfill"

 

  1. To fulfill the prophecies.  For example:

Isaiah 53    Psalm 22    Jeremiah 31:31-34

 

  1. To fulfill by giving new life and deeper dimension to the

        ancient Torah.

 

"You have heard that it was said…..but I say to you."

 

  1. To fulfill the Passover by being the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of of the world.

 

  1. To fulfill the Sabbath by being the Incarnate Sabbath, and Lord of the Sabbath.

 

"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."

 

5.  To fulfill the meaning of the Tabernacle-Temple by being the

      final and life-giving Temple.

 

            "Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up."

 

Nothing Jesus says or does diminishes the law (rightly understood) in the slightest.

 

"…Till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished."

 

We are saved by grace, not to abandon the law, but to fulfill it by the Spirit's power.

 

 

Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

 

Righteousness

 

Jesus defines righteousness, not as a "spiritual state," not as a "correct set of beliefs," but as a life lived.

 

"Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

 

….Keeping in mind that the scribes and Pharisees were no spiritual wimps.  They were highly disciplined, moral people.

 

But they were legalists. And nobody enters the kingdom based on "legalistic righteousness."

 

Nobody enters the kingdom without rebirth and

the actual righteousness which rebirth produces…

as Jesus will now describe it.

 

 

"You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill, and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.'  But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire.  So 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; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Make friends 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; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny."                                  Matthew 5:21-26

 

Jesus ratchets up, "Thou shalt not kill."

 

"Whoever is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment."

 

            Judgment by God.

 

"Whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council."

 

             --- by the "assembly of the firstborn?"  Hebrews 12:23

 

"Whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be liable to the hell of fire."

"liable"….in danger of……

 

These words are not those of a religious professional; they come from the mouth of the Incarnate Son.       

 

"So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you…."

 

Stop.  This barrier between you and your brother has blocked your access to God.

 

You can sing praises and pray lovely prayers, but your worship is an illusion.

 

"Leave your gift there before the altar and go."

 

Don't waste time trying to worship when there is unfinished business with this brother or sister.

"First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

 

When you leave your gift at the altar to get reconciled, you are not walking away from God, you are now moving in his will.  You are beginning to offer true worship, which begins with obedience.

 

"Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court."

 

            Quickly!  Not, "I'll deal with it when I get around to it," but now!

 

            If you are serious with Jesus, pay attention to the urgency in

             his voice. Jesus is urgent about this for our sake, to save us

             inevitable anguish.

 

"Lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny."

 

Get the issue settled before you are forced to stand before the Final Judge.

 

God is merciful, but he never compromises justice.

 

The redemption of the cross avails for us only if we walk in the mercy of the cross.

 

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Incarnate Love speaks to us from holy ground.

 

Holy Love offers us power, joy, new life.

 

But he also warns us of the price we will pay by doing things our way, instead of his.

 

 

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell"                                                                        Matthew 5: 27-30

 

Jesus ratchets up "thou shalt not commit adultery" to "Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

 

"What's the big deal?  What's wrong with a little lust to make the world go round?"

 

If we're serious about the kingdom of God, if we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, our whole understanding of the sexual has to be elevated to holy ground.

 

The sexual union between a man and woman committed to each other for life is the holiest aspect of their life together.

 

Anything that distorts or degrades this holy gift falls under the judgment of God.

 

Out of this sexual union children are born.

Through this sexual union their commitment to each other is renewed.

 

The sexual union is the "holy communion" of marriage.

 

Once a person becomes a disciple of Jesus, sex is no longer what the outside world says it is.  (i.e.  "Let me see how much satisfaction I can get out of this --- for me." ... always leads to a dead end.)

 

Our past, no matter how sordid or confused, is forgiven and healed.

 

But now the Spirit of God empowers us to live by a high standard … and holds us accountable to that high standard. From now on the sexual area is holy ground.

 

"If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell."

 

Hence, the eye of lust is to be removed.

The hand of lust is to be cut away.

 

So that we can live a chaste life with our spouse…or if we are so gifted, we can live a chaste life as a celibate,

 

... otherwise the sexual becomes the Big Distraction or the Big Disappointment.

 

But what about divorce?

 

Jesus isn't as squeamish as the religious nitpickers.

One of the most profound conversations he ever had was with a woman who had been through the divorce routine multiple times.

 

He gives this woman a new start.  He will give anyone who comes to him a new start.

 

 

But Jesus calls divorce what it is……..

 

"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.'  But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."                 Matthew 5:31-32

 

If a man divorces his wife, he forces her into adultery.  Because, in that culture, she has no choice but to find another husband.

 

And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery,

because he joins himself to a broken union. 

 

But suppose such a man (who married a divorced woman) came to Jesus and wanted to be a disciple…..

 

Would Jesus forbid him?

If you were that man or that woman, would he reject you?

 

 --- But from here on, he calls you to a high stan-

      dard, beginning where you are now.

 

Are there exceptions?  Keep in mind that the standard is set, not by a book of rules, but by a living Lord.  If you think your situation is unique, trust the Lord Jesus to show you the way.

 

It's important to remember that here as in every other area of life, Jesus is not a legalist.  When it's not clear, we go to him, not to a rule book. 

 

 

"Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.'  But I say to you, 'Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.'  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one."                         Matthew 5:33-37

 

We often get sidetracked from the real point of this passage by debating whether we are allowed to take an oath on the Bible in a court trial. 

 

But this is not what Jesus is talking about.  Jesus himself was put on the spot in a trial (Matthew 26:63-64) and he did not hesitate to respond, though the high priest put him under an oath.

 

The real issue here is our tendency to reinforce what we say by calling heaven (or earth or Jerusalem etc.) as our witness.

 

Jesus' point: If you speak the simple truth, you don't have to "back up" or embellish what you say with oaths or assurances.

 

The minute we "back up" our speech with extra words, we are entering the domain of Satan. 

Hence the key statement in this passage is: "let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one."

 

Satan's single powerful weapon, by which he still exercises power in this world, is the Lie.

 

The lie in advertising, the lie in news reporting, the lie in government, church, business, labor.

Exaggeration…something left out….half-truth --- in order to mislead, cover our tracks, or hide our real agenda.

 

Jesus is exacting with us, his disciples, over the way we use our tongues.

 

 

"I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned."                        Matthew 12:36-37

 

The problem:

How, in a world awash in lies, do we convince people that we are telling the truth?

 

In traditional Judaism, and in most cultures, by means of an oath.

 

Jesus: Speak the truth and don’t back it up with anything.

 

The apostolic church took Jesus' warnings about the tongue seriously…so did the Puritans….so did the Quakers. 

 

No doubt they all had their gossipers and slanderers too, but they made their people aware of how important this issue is:

 

"Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor.  For we are members one of another."                                            Ephesians 4:25

 

When the Holy Spirit invades our lives, one of the first places it becomes evident is in our use of the tongue.

 

We find the Spirit convicting us when our tongue goes off on a tangent.

 

We are unable to be as glib or loose or negative as we once were.         (James 3:1-12)

 

The Spirit helps us.  But we have to begin to retrain this unruly member --- a retraining which continues through the rest of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"You have heard that it was said ,'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil.  But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you to take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you."                                                                              Matthew 5:38-42

 

This is not a lesson in how to be a wimp.  This is a command to disciples who are to conquer evil by the power of God.

 

When evil is directed against you personally, you conquer it by absorbing it in the name and power of God.

 

In order to defy you, belittle you, to beat you down, they strike you on the right cheek.  So you turn your other cheek for a smack.  When they hit you, they are not only hitting you, they are striking something holy.

 

They may not know it, but they are beginning to sink in divine quicksand.

 

When they sue you to take your coat (shirt?) you give them your cloak (jacket) also.  As you do this, the power of the kingdom is invading their space through your gracious action.

 

When that Roman soldier forces you to go one mile, and you carry his load for two miles, you are cutting into his heart with God's surgical knife.  He is being touched by the power of the cross of Christ.

 

When you give to him who begs from you, you are giving more than bread or money.  You are touching that person with the power of the kingdom.

 

When you lend to someone who wishes to borrow from you, you are doing it in the name of the Lord.  You are touching that life redemptively.

 

Are there exceptions?  Are there times when we should say, "No?"

We are not going by dead rules, we are walking with a living Lord.  If there is an instance when we should say,

"No," he will make it clear.

 

 

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others?   Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."      Matthew 5: 43-48

 

"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

 

            --- A revolutionary command, then and now.

 

Notice that the focus is not on our enemies and our persecutors, but on God.

 

"That you may be sons/daughters of your Father who is in heaven."

 

            This is God's nature, not ours.

 

But Jesus, by his death and resurrection, by the gift of his Spirit, by his indwelling presence, is raising us out of our old nature into God's nature.

 

He puts God's nature into us….we work it out in living.

 

When we love our enemies (by the Lord's indwelling presence) and pray for our persecutors (by the power of the Spirit),

 

…we drive back the darkness, we overcome evil,

    we manifest God's redemptive presence in the

    world.

 

Is this how church folks actually live? 

 

            Perhaps not, but it's the way disciples of Jesus live.

Church folks, like tax collectors and Gentiles, tend to love those who love them, to salute those who belong to their "group."

 

But disciples of Jesus are called and empowered to manifest the nature of their Father.

 

"You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."

 

Perfect what?  Perfect love, which now indwells you in the person of the Lord Jesus: "Christ in you the hope of glory!"

 

 

GO TO SERMON ON THE MOUNT -- PART TWO

 

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