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What is the best sermon you’ve ever heard? What about the most famous? As we start our new series, “Summer on the Mount,” we’re going to make a case that the Sermon on the Mount delivered by Jesus in Matthew 5-7 is the most influential and best sermon of all time. As we start the journey of studying it in-depth together, David Leventhal teaches us the historical context and a high-level overview of the entire sermon.
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A Summary of Matthew 5-7
It’s been said that discipleship is nothing more than helping someone take the next step of what they already know to be true. If you have put your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, in obedience to Him and His love—not to earn His love—what do you know to be true that you aren’t currently doing? Share your answer with your community group and ask them to hold you accountable to start doing it this next week. To help you do—to live out—Jesus’ words.
What is the best sermon you’ve ever heard? What about the most famous? As we start our new series, “Summer on the Mount,” we’re going to make a case that the Sermon on the Mount delivered by Jesus in Matthew 5-7 is the most influential and best sermon of all time. As we start the journey of studying it in-depth together, David Leventhal teaches us the historical context and a high-level overview of the entire sermon.
Suggested Scripture study: Matthew 5-7; 1 Timothy 4:13; Exodus 31:14-15; Matthew 15:1-9; Matthew 23:3-5; Matthew 4:23-25; John 3:3; Ephesians 2:8-10; 2 Corinthians 5:10
Real Truth. Real Quick: How Do I Know If I Am Saved?
Real Truth. Real Quick: Can A Believer Lose Their Salvation?
Well, good morning, Watermark! How are we doing? Welcome to our friends in Plano and Frisco and Fort Worth and those who may be joining us via the streaming. My name is David Leventhal, and I get the privilege and the joy of serving on the elder team here with Beau, Dean, Brian, and Todd, and I am really excited about this morning.
We are kicking off a brand-new series that's going to run through the whole summer. The next 15 weeks, we're going to be working through what is easily the most famous sermon ever given in the history of all sermons forever and ever. We're going to be working through the Sermon on the Mount, and we're going to call this series, as you guys just saw, the Summer on the Mount.
I am so excited about being able to go deep into this sermon that has worked its way into our society, things like "love your enemies," "turn the other cheek," "don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing," and "judge not or you'll be judged." All those things come from the Sermon on the Mount, and we're going to get to dive deep over the next 15 weeks. My task this morning is to help us get a big picture overview of the whole sermon, which is no small task.
In order to do that, what I want to do… I don't know if you're like me. When I get in the car to go somewhere I don't know where I'm going, which is most of where I'm going, I put the little Google Maps machine directions in, and I always zoom out, so I can see the big picture, where I'm going overall, and then I'll dive in. If you're like me and you'd like to know where we're going, I'll tell you. If you don't, then close your ears, a spoiler alert for the morning.
We're going to take a look at the historical context that Jesus was walking into when he preached the Sermon on the Mount. There's a lot there, and we need to understand that. We're going to look at the first three verses of the Sermon on the Mount because those three verses help set us up for the other 104 verses that make up the 107-verse Sermon on the Mount. Then, once we're done with that, we're going to do a high-level flyover of the rest of chapter 5, chapter 6, and chapter 7.
When we're done with all that, my goal, my desire for us is that we would be able to understand that, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is going to answer two questions. What does a kingdom of God person believe, and how are they to live as a result of that? What do they believe, and how are they to live as a result of that? In 1 Timothy 4, Paul, writing to his younger sort of pastor buddy, tells Timothy, "Hey, Timothy, make sure you're devoting yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching."
One of the things we're going to do this morning is read the Sermon on the Mount, the whole thing from start to finish, and we're going to have the words up on the screen behind me here. You can follow along in your Bible. We're going to be in the ESV translation, or if you'd like, you can simply listen and let me read over you the Word of God. Okay? Let's get going. Matthew, chapter 5, verse 1:
"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: '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 receive 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 others 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 they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 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 for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will 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. You have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment."
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; and whoever says, "You fool!" will 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.
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. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
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. And 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. It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce."
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. Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn."
But I say to you, Do not take an oath 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 take an oath 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 evil. 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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. 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 do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, 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. 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. 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.
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And 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 and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.
If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 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. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, 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. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
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? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye.
Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. 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.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?"
And then will I declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And 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.
And 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. And 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.' And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes."
How great is that? Whatever you hear the rest of the day, including the next 30 minutes we have together, will not be as good as that. We might as well, frankly, shut it down, but our kids' discipleship ministry would be discouraged if we all of a sudden showed up to pick up our kids, so let's keep going. As we talk about this, I want to give you a couple of tips. The first thing to know is we are studying in the gospel of Matthew what's called a gospel narrative account.
It's important that we realize when we study gospel narrative accounts that, really, there are three audiences we need to be concerned about. The first audience is the individuals who are with Jesus on the day or on the days when he gave this sermon. Who was Jesus speaking to at that time? The second audience is Matthew's audience. See, Matthew wrote his gospel account some years later, mid- to late first century.
He was writing to a specific group of people in a specific context going through specific things, so we need to consider Matthew's audience. The last audience is the couple of thousand people here today who are reading God's Word and wondering, "What does this mean for us today?" For us to understand what it means for us today, we have to better understand what it meant to the folks who were listening to Jesus. We have to understand context.
Context is really important. It's funny. Before we started this morning, we were back in the room with the worship team and just talking about it, and I overheard some guys talking about Avengers: Endgame. Who's seen Endgame? Yeah! Awesome! Go Thanos! Here's the deal. If you walk into Avengers: Endgame, and you've not seen any of the 21 prior films, you are going to be one lost brother.
You're going to be elbowing your 14-year-old, saying, "Okay, now who is this guy? Where do they fit in the story, and why is everybody so discouraged with Thanos?" You need context to understand Endgame. Amen? Amen. Otherwise, you're lost. Now in the same way, the Sermon on the Mount is not going to make complete sense if you don't have the context. Now if you've never seen any of the Avengers films, you can enjoy the film.
It's a great film, maybe. Don't spoil it. Similarly, if you read the gospel of Matthew, any of the gospel accounts, frankly, you can enjoy them. You can be moved by them, but you will not have the full 4K high-definition picture if you don't understand the context. What is the context? Great question. Let me talk about what Jesus was walking into, what the context of the day was, because if we get this then, all of a sudden, everything is going to make a lot more sense.
How many of you have heard the term halakah? Anybody heard that term? I didn't think so. I bet you have heard the term oral tradition or tradition of the elders, right? Have you guys heard that term? The term for oral tradition is called halakah. Halakah was based on the 613 commandments that God gave to the nation of Israel in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We call that the Pentateuch. There were 613 commands.
Based on that, the rabbis decided, "Hey, we need to figure out what these commandments mean. How do we live in them? (Halakah means to walk in the way.) How do we walk in the way of the Lord?" Halakah is a legal body of rules and regulations that was established and passed down by the scribes and the rabbis as they interpreted and applied the law of Moses. It was in place in Jesus' day.
It is in place today for those who are a part of Judaism, and (here's the kicker) halakah was put on the same level as the commandments themselves. Did you hear what I just said? It was put on the same level as the actual commandments. Let me give us an example. We've all heard the commandment, "Honor the Sabbath," right? It's one of the big ten, one of the big Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.
It's mentioned about a dozen times in the Old Testament. Specifically, it's also mentioned in Exodus 31. In Exodus 31, around that context, Moses says, "Hey, remember to honor the Sabbath. Don't work on the Sabbath. Don't work on the Sabbath. Don't work on the Sabbath." He says it three times in that passage, so the rabbis were like, "Well, gosh! We don't want to break the command. We don't want to work on the Sabbath.
What does it mean to work on the Sabbath? How do we make sure we keep ourselves and our people from breaking this commandment?" From Exodus 31 and other contexts, they came up with 39 prohibited categories of work: things like planting, plowing, weaving, measured cutting, igniting a fire. All in all, there were 39 of these categories where they said, "Hey, you can't do these, or you'll break the commandment."
Then they had to ask themselves, "Well, golly! What does it mean to not plant?" That category had underneath it the sort of sub-rules and sub-regulations, so things like, "You can't water. That's a part of planting. You can't fertilize. You can't plant seeds. Those are all also prohibited based on the category." You can see how this quickly adds up. God said, "You shall keep the Sabbath because it's holy for you."
From that single command, came 39 categories of work that were prohibited, and from those 39 categories of work came hundreds of others of rules and regulations that were equal to, "Honor the Sabbath." Can you understand how burdensome that would be? Jesus walks into the nation of Israel. He's born. God becomes man, and he's going to say, "Hey, I am really frustrated and discouraged by what you have laid on my people and the burdens you've put on them."
If we don't understand that, then in the rest of the gospel of Matthew, you're not going to quite understand why Jesus is so put out. Is he upset with the commandment, "Honor the Sabbath?" No. Jesus said he didn't come to abolish the law; he came to fulfill the law, but he did come to abolish the oral tradition. The Sermon on the Mount is filled with this concept.
About six times in chapter 5, when I just read it, you heard me say something like, "You have heard that it was said to those of old…" Jesus is talking about the oral tradition there, and we're going to unpack all that over the next 15 weeks. In chapter 6, you heard me read about the hypocrites who do their acts of righteousness before others to be seen by men. He's talking about the Pharisees there.
In chapter 7, you heard me read about false prophets, whose life and teaching produces diseased fruit. He's going to tell us, at the end of the line, there are going to be some who said, "We did this in your name and this in your name and this in your name," and Jesus said, "I'm going to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." This is in the Sermon on the Mount. This is the gospel of Matthew, and you will not get it in 4K if you don't understand this.
If you think I'm crazy, let me give you another couple of examples from Matthew. In Matthew 15, the Pharisees and scribes come to Jesus, and they're barking at Jesus about why his disciples don't wash their hands in accordance with the tradition of the elders: "You have to wash your hands." Jesus says to them,
"And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, [halakah/oral tradition] 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, "What you would have gained from me is given to God," he need not honor his father.'
So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you…" See, this wasn't just a first-century issue. This goes back to the Old Testament. "…when he said: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"
In Matthew 23, Jesus, in a scathing section, further verbally undresses the Pharisees. Referring to the scribes and the Pharisees, he says, "For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others." Sound familiar?
The reality is, if I had time, I could've also read from Matthew 9:14-17, Matthew 11:28-30, Matthew 12:1-14, Matthew 12:22-27, Matthew 16:5-12, Matthew 19:1-11, Matthew 21:23-27, Matthew 21:33-45, and Matthew 22:15-45. This context is all over your gospel. Jesus is butting heads with the religious leaders of the day because they had oppressed the people of God. Jesus came and said, "I came to give you life and life indeed. I came to set you free."
It's for freedom that Christ came, and he's about to rip off the shackles of the oral tradition of the elders, and that's why we read in Matthew 26 that the chief priests and the elders are the people gathered in the palace of the high priest whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. Jesus came to upend their entire system of religion, and they weren't really excited about it.
They said, "Hey, we're going to do an end to you, not our system." This is the broad historical context that we are going to be in for the next 15 weeks as we go deep, and for us to understand we have to get that that's the context. Does that make sense? Now you have the broad historical context for Matthew, and really, that's the historical context obviously of all the gospel accounts, and we need to be aware of that.
Within Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount falls really early on in Matthew's gospel, and that matters. Just as a reminder, your Old Testament ends with the book of Malachi, and Malachi tells the people, "Hey, God is going to send you another Elijah before the great day of the Lord," then there are 400 years of silence, where God has not spoken through a prophet to the nation of Israel. Then, all of a sudden, one night, the cry of a baby cracks the silence.
We see, in Matthew 1-4, leading up to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' genealogy, and we're reminded that Jesus is a part of the messianic line of David. We read about his birth narrative and how all these different components of his birth narrative align with various Old Testament prophecies. We're introduced to John the Baptist. The guy who Malachi prophesied about, the Elijah… Guess who it is? It's Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist.
We read about Jesus' temptation, where he goes toe-to-toe with the Devil in the wilderness and Jesus' recites Bible, Bible, Bible, Bible and tells Satan, "Be on your way." Then we see Jesus start his ministry. He calls four disciples. (I'll come back to that in a second.) Then in Matthew 4:23-25, right before his sermon starts, here's what we read.
"And he [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan."
People are starting to whisper, "Who is this man?" The whispers become a murmur, and the murmurs swell, and the crowds come together. Then in chapter 5, verse 1 it says, "Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him." He taught them. Don't think the Colorado Rockies. Mountains in Israel are not like that. Think like Flag Pole Hill. It's a large hill. It's not a Rockies.
Jesus goes up on this hill, this mountain, and he begins to teach them. There are a couple of observations we can make that are really important for us making sure we're interpreting the rest of this sermon correctly. You'll notice Matthew says that his disciples came to him, and he taught them. The them refers to the disciples. It does not refer to the crowd. That's important. The crowd is there. They get to listen. They get to eavesdrop, but that's not Jesus' audience.
We're going to see at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that the crowds were amazed because he taught them as one who had authority, but that's not who Jesus is teaching. He's teaching disciples, so if you're like me, you're like, "Well, what is a disciple? What does that mean?" Bible study tip number two: one of the ways you can figure out what a term means is to ask yourself, "Does the author of this book use that term in any other places?"
Fortunately for us, Matthew uses the term disciple 74 other times. I read them all, so I'm going to read them all right now. No, I'm just kidding. I'm not going to do that, but I will tell you what it means. From looking at all the other 74 instances of mathetes, the Greek word for disciple, we can say conclusively that that term refers to two groups of people.
It refers to the term that was most frequently used; the disciples, the 12 disciples, those who are already in. They've put all of their chips in. Remember, at this point in the gospel, Jesus has only called four disciples, so not all 12 are necessarily official disciples. That's the first group.
The second group that Matthew uses to describe this term is those potential disciples, those who are evaluating Jesus to see if they are going to come out of the crowd and go all-in with Jesus. That's great news for us today because, in a room like this, in this crowd, we have folks who have said, "I'm all-in with Jesus. I believe he is who he said he is. I believe he did what he said he did. I believe he rose from the dead."
And we have folks who are trying to figure out, "Do I want to leave the crowd? Do I want to become a disciple?" Jesus is going to say, "Just so you know, crowds that are now following me because of all the miracles, if you want to be my disciple, that means something, and let me tell you what that means," and we have the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus starts the Sermon on the Mount. The first thing he says: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Now next week, we're going to spend the whole sermon talking about the Beatitudes, I don't want to spoil it for you, but we do need to talk about this first verse because it sets the stage for everything else. "Blessed are the poor in spirit…" Those who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy before God, those who realize they cannot earn their way into heaven, that they are not going to be able do their acts of righteous in their pride (see also the Pharisees) but those who are contrite of spirit…
Those are the ones who make up the kingdom of heaven. Those are the ones who are counted in the census of kingdom of heaven, not those who are doing their religious acts to be seen by others, not the Gentiles. It's those who recognize they're broken.
That's our first application point for the day. Jesus did not give the Sermon on the Mount to us, to them, to Matthew's audience as a way to earn entrance into the kingdom of heaven. You cannot obey the Sermon on the Mount. The only thing you learn from that is your inability to follow the Sermon on the Mount. You have to be broken in spirit. It doesn't describe how to earn your way into the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus would tell Nicodemus who was a Pharisee in John 3, "Hey, Nicodemus, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Paul crystalizes this idea for us in Ephesians 2:8-10. He says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith." It's not of your own doing. It's the gift of God.
It's not as a result of works. It's not as a result of obeying the Sermon on the Mount so you can't boast. Paul says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." You are not saved by any sort of rules, regulations, or checklists.
Can I just as clearly as I can communicate this let you know, if your game plan, if your endgame for your entrance into the kingdom of heaven involves anything…anything other than recognizing your poverty before God, your inability to please him, and falling on your knees before Jesus at the cross saying, "I can't do it. The sin I bear, I'm going to trust that you have born on my behalf on the cross through your death, burial, and resurrection…"
If your game plan is anything other than that, you are not on a path to heaven. You are on a path straight to hell, and Jesus did not die for you to try and earn your way into heaven. The Sermon on the Mount describes the character of a disciple, not the requirements to become one. The Sermon on the Mount describes the character of a true disciple, not the requirements to become one. We don't do to be saved. We do because we have been saved.
We don't work toward the cross. We work from the cross, which is why I said at the beginning, Jesus is going to answer these questions. What does a kingdom of God person believe (they need to believe they are broken in sprit), and how are they to live as a result? Jesus expects his followers, his disciples, to listen and to obey. Now let's talk about the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. There are a lot of ways to divide the Sermon on the Mount.
One commentator (I like his simplicity) divides it into two big buckets, the general and the particular, and then each bucket has three sub-buckets. I'm a simple guy. I like simplicity. That seems pretty simple. The general part of the Sermon on the Mount is what we just read, the Beatitudes and the salt and the light. The first, the three categories, the first couple of beatitudes describe the character of a disciple. The next couple then describe what the character of a disciple gets you, which is persecution.
The third component is that the character of a disciple is meant to be salt and light in the world. Can I just let you know that the reason the church in America has so lost its effectiveness, its salt and its lightness is because by and large, not always but by and large, the church has allowed a lukewarm vomitus form of Christianity where we let people come into church, call themselves disciples, and live like a son of Satan the rest of the week.
That's problematic. May it never be so here. God calls people. "If you're going to be my disciple," Jesus says to the crowds, "If you want to follow me, not because of my miracles but because you want to be my guy, my woman, here's what you need to look like." We make a mockery of the term Christianity when we refuse to extend mercy, when we refuse to forgive, when we're peace-fakers and not peacemakers. When we refuse to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, we do not look like Christians.
If you're a Christian, we're all required to display these qualities. The good news is that, over time, as you get to know Jesus and as you walk with him, you will display more and more of these qualities. I'm, hopefully, today more and more merciful than I was 25 or 26 years ago when the Lord go ahold of me because I've been walking with Jesus in the context of community and he's sharpened me.
He's made me more merciful, more of a peacemaker, but the requirement is all the same, that we're all moving in that direction. That's the general, and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, the large bulk of it, is the particulars of how you live that out. What are some illustrations and some of the analogies of how you live out these general qualities? In chapter 5, we're going to see the big takeaway is the spirit is more important than the letter.
That is why Jesus says about six times, "You have heard that it was said of old." He's referring to the oral tradition, that checklist mentality. If you are a Jew in the first century and you're trying to obey halakah, which is the 613 commandments, it becomes a checklist mentality. As much as we love checklists, that has never been God's intention for the follower of God, not for the Jews and not for Christians.
God doesn't want you to check a box. Any knucklehead can complete a task. That's why Jesus says, "Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven." This means, "He's not getting in." We relax the law of God when we reduce it to a checklist because anybody can follow a checklist. The heart, however, is much more difficult to tame. That's why it's harder.
Jesus in the rest of chapter 5 is going to deal with how we address the heart, and it's our struggle with our anger. It's our lustful hearts. It's our failure to honor the covenant of marriage, and it's our unwillingness to keep our word. It's our lust for vengeance and retaliation. It's all those things that Jesus says, "No, no, no. You have to deal with the heart issue. If you want to stop being a lustful pervert, you have to go to your heart. You have to address your heart."
You have to address your heart. Chapter 6 is going to deal with the Christian, the disciple, and his relationship to the Father. If you were listening, you heard me read about 17 times, "Father," "Father in heaven," "your heavenly Father" because God wants you to know, "Hey, when you're in right relationship with the Father, that affects how you do your acts of righteousness. You don't do them to be seen by others. You don't do them to be praised by others. You do them privately to honor God. It's not about getting the applause of the men."
He says, "When we don't do that, we end up looking like one of two things. First, when you're so focused on the world, you look like a hypocrite," which is mentioned in that chapter a couple of times, which refers to the Pharisees. They did their stuff to be seen by men. They had a false sense of virtue. They weren't really giving to the poor out of an overflow that God gave them. They gave to the poor so everybody would see them and say, "That guy is amazing! Did you see how much coin he put in the temple treasury?"
God says, "You're a hypocrite if you live like that." The world has every right to call us hypocrites when they see us come in here on Sunday and talk about how God is our Father and we live for an audience of one, and then we go out on Monday, and we live the rest of the week pining for attention, obsessing about our Face-gram posts, climbing over top of one another to get next rung up on the ladder. They have every right to call you a hypocrite, to call me a hypocrite if that's what we look like.
The other option is they can call us a Gentile. Now biblically speaking, all of humanity is divided into two groups, Jews and Gentiles. That's it. Jesus says, "You look like a Gentile if you do certain things." Paul says in Romans 3 that the Jews had a huge advantage over the Gentiles because the Jews had been entrusted with the oracles of God. If you were a Jew, you could go back to your history.
You could say, "Man, I remember how God freed us from Egypt and God the Father saved us, and I can remember how our ancestors wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and God provided for them daily. I remember when God led us into the Promised Land and got rid of our enemies for us because God took care of us. I remember the prophets who reminded them, 'Go back. God wants you to deal with your heart as you go. Go back!'" The Jews had that history but the Gentiles, not so much.
Jesus says, "When you babble in your prayer because you don't know God, you feel like you have to pepper God because he's like a reluctant landlord, that demonstrates you're living like somebody who doesn't know God. When you're anxious about what you're going to eat, what you're going to wear, you don't look like a disciple. You look like a Gentile, someone who has no history with God, someone who doesn't know the Father."
I remember six or seven years ago, I started having some really significant issues with my allergies, and I couldn't get that full, satisfying deep breath of air. This went on for a couple of months, so I kind of adopted the moniker, Deep-Breath David, because I couldn't figure out to get my allergies… I'm popping Claritin left and right. Then one night as I was lying in bed, it hit me as clear as day. I didn't have an allergy problem. I had an anxiety problem. I was stressed.
I was anxious because the job I was in at the time wasn't going great, and I wasn't sure if I was going to have that job. As a guy who's a husband and a father (we have seven kids now and probably had four or five at the time), I was burdened by, "How are we going to provide?" Then it dawned on me, "You're living like a nonbeliever. You look like a pagan." What did I do? I repented.
I went to my Community Group, and I shared with them, "It just occurred to me. I'm living like a pagan. I'm stressed about my provision, and I'm acting like I don't know God, who has provided for our family so well over many, many, many years." The world has every right to question our faith when they see us fretting about provision, when they see us self-medicating our anxiety to death.
They have a right to be skeptical of what we say we believe when they hear us sing on Sunday about the love and devotion of God and they see us Monday through Saturday scrambling for resources, stressed out about mortgage payments, trying to one-up one another. They have every right to say, "You guys don't much look like disciples." In chapter 7, we're going to see the Christian lives with a regular awareness that God is coming back and we're going to be held accountable for what we've done.
We see that Jesus says, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." He says, "One gate leads to destruction; one gate leads to life." Remember, he's talking to disciples. "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Some people are going to hear, "Away from me! I never knew you."
What matters is not so much what we think about God, although that's really important, but what God thinks of us. Does he know us? Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil." You ought to be crystal clear on this next point, if you know Jesus.
If you're a disciple who by faith has trusted in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, your eternity is secured, but Jesus is clear that you're going to be assessed on how you lived. As Paul says in 2 Timothy, did you build with straw, hay, or stubble, or did you build with things that are going to endure, gold and silver? We're all going to be evaluated. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount continually puts two options against us.
We're going to be a narrow-gate or a wide-gate person. We're going to be somebody he knows or somebody he doesn't know. We're going to be a healthy tree or a diseased tree. Then Jesus closes his sermon with a story about two men who were each building a house. The houses looked similar. As far as we can tell, they used the same architect. The houses were exposed to the exact same set of circumstances. One endures. One crumbles.
It's not really about houses, is it? Jesus says, "Hey, this is a story about houses to illustrate a truth, which is that the disciples who hear my words and obey them are the ones who are going to last. For the disciples who are evaluating or the crowd, who hear my words and don't obey, it's not going to work out well for them." Here's the problem with the foundation. You can't see it, and a lot of us won't realize it until it's too late.
You may think you're a disciple because you said some prayer at summer camp when you were 8, and there's not a shred of your life that reflects Sermon-on-the-Mount living. Jesus says, "Hey, I want to let you know. One day, you may discover you've not built on a foundation, and it'll be too late at that point." May it never be said of us, so we have to ask ourselves today and for the next 14 weeks, "What are we going to do with Jesus' words? Are we going to obey, or are we going to melt back into the crowd?"
Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word, your infallible, perfect Word. Thank you for this sermon. Thank you for Matthew, the tax collector, the one who you saved, the one who betrayed his nation that you then made an evangelist. What a great reminder to us that you can do anything with anybody!
I pray for folks in this room this morning who are in the crowd or are a potential disciple/follower that they might be pricked in their conscience, that they might decide that, today, they're going to lay it all down before you and they're going to trust you, that their tomorrow and their Tuesday might reflect a disciple of Jesus.
For those of us, God, who by grace you have awakened our hearts to beauty of the cross, would you help us to not just call you, "Lord, Lord!" but to obey? I pray that our lives would be marked by Sermon-on-the-Mount living, not being merely hearers who are deluded. In Jesus' name, amen.