For decades, God’s people have enjoyed the luxury of hearing a sermon every week, whether from a live speaker or a recording. While we have grown accustomed to this tradition, this has not always been the case in the Church of God. Even early in the Philadelphian era, many brethren kept Sabbath after Sabbath with neither a minister nor a recorded sermon.
In light of this, we must ask some questions: How much do you appreciate the sermons you hear? Do you take advantage of these messages? Do you pay attention to them, review and study them, meditate on them and then apply what you have learned?
Here is another question. Would you diligently do all of the above if you were given a chance to hear a sermon from Jesus Christ?
In a sense, we have this opportunity every day!
The book of Matthew, chapters 5 through 7, contains what has been called “The Sermon on the Mount.” The beginning of chapter 5 sets the stage: “And seeing the multitudes, [Christ] went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him: And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying…” (vs. 1-2).
The “notes” of this sermon have been recorded for us in Scripture. How often do you review them? If you have not done so in a while, then you are approaching what may be the ideal time to do this. The Sermon on the Mount can be a helpful guide to self-examination before the Passover.
As we focus on some of the key points that Jesus set forth in this message, we should ask ourselves, “Does my life reflect these teachings? Am I heeding Christ’s words?”
We Should Be Different
In taking an overall, big-picture view, the life of a disciple of Christ should stand in stark contrast to the lives of others around him. As the world becomes darker and sicker with each passing year, Christians should increasingly “stick out like a sore thumb.” Christ used two examples to make this point: salt and light. “You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (vs. 13).
Is your example savory—or unsavory? Do you, like salt added to bland food, enhance and improve every situation in which you are involved?
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
How bright does your light shine before men? Do you give those around you reason to glorify God?
The Letter and Spirit of the Law
The core of what should set us apart and make us different is that our lives are in harmony with God’s Law—both the letter and the spirit. In the midst of a rebellious world under the sway of Satan, Christ requires His disciples to be obedient both in thought and action. Far from “doing away” with the Law, Jesus made it even more binding—made its demands even stricter: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (vs. 17-19).
Christ then sets the standard far above the self-righteous, hypocritical outward show of the supposed religious authorities of the time: “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (vs. 20).
This means we must do much more than just refrain from physical acts such as murder, adultery, theft and lying. We must be rooting out the spiritual causes of these effects—the hatred, lust, greed and deceitfulness of which our carnal nature is made: “You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire…You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (vs. 21-22, 27-28).
Jesus uses another analogy to demonstrate the seriousness of overcoming these inward sins—the transgression of the spirit of the Law: “And if your right eye offends you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell. And if your right hand offends you, cut it off, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell” (vs. 29-30). Of course, this does not mean literally dismembering the physical body. Rather, the point is that we may need to take drastic measures to overcome weaknesses—changing our lives and our routines in order to avoid and resist temptation.
Is overcoming sin a priority for you?—or is it something that you will “get around to” sometime before Christ’s Return?
“Resist Not Evil”
One of the most difficult things for a human being to do is to counter the natural, carnal impulse to strike back at someone who has wronged him—the desire to exact vengeance. But this is precisely what Christ tells us to do: “You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And whosoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matt. 5:38-41).
More on why He expects this of us is found in I Peter 2: “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when you are buffeted for your faults, you shall take it patiently? But if, when you do well, and suffer for it, you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were you called: Because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously” (vs. 19-23).
When we are wronged, do we follow Christ’s command?—or do we revert to our carnal nature?
Loving Your Enemies
Expanding the above principle, Jesus went on to state, “You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: For He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:43-48).
This goes far beyond just a single offense committed against one of His disciples—it involves forgiveness of, and love toward, one who has made himself a Christian’s adversary. To do this—and do it sincerely—may be the most difficult aspect of God’s way of life. But it is a necessary part of the path to becoming perfect like He is!
Religion for Show
Jesus pointed out that the Pharisees used three components of their religion to seek the approval and admiration of people (which He called hypocrisy) rather than the approval of God:
- Alms (acts of giving or service): “Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when you do your alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does: That your alms may be in secret: and your Father which sees in secret Himself shall reward you openly” (Matt. 6:1-4).
- Prayer: “And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly” (vs. 5-6).
- Fasting: “Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; that you appear not unto men to fast, but unto your Father which is in secret: and your Father, which sees in secret, shall reward you openly” (vs. 16-18).
In each case, Christ stated that the only reward these men would receive would be the praise of human beings—God would not honor their actions. On the other hand, if His disciples prayed, fasted and performed good works privately—trusting that God would be aware of what they did—He would reward them.
What about you? Are you concerned with human opinion—or God’s?
Materialism vs. Generosity
We live in what could be the most materialistic age ever, especially in the wealthy nations of the West. Accumulating goods is an obsession for many. Christ tells us that we must take precisely the opposite approach: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (vs. 19-21).
Jesus had mentioned another aspect of this subject earlier, in chapter 5: “Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you turn not you away” (vs. 42). It follows, then, that one of the fruits of the Spirit is “goodness” (Gal. 5:22), which carries an element of “beneficence”—otherwise known as generosity.
Both of these—laying up treasure in heaven and giving to those who ask—involve living the way of give rather than the way of get. God’s people are generally not wealthy. As the cost of living rises each year, it takes faith to apply these verses and to focus on giving to others and to the Work of God, rather than being consumed with our own needs and wants.
God expects us to be single-minded in our service to Him: “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore your eye be single, your whole body shall be full of light. But if your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23).
Christ then tied this statement to another concept: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [wealth]” (vs. 24). Indeed, one of the most common things that can hinder our spiritual lives—causing our eye to become evil, and becoming another “master” that competes for our limited time and energy—is concern with wealth and the things it can buy.
Faith Without Worries
Next, Christ instructs us on how to avoid the trap of serving mammon rather than God.
We can—and must!—be confident that God is aware of our physical needs, and will provide for us if we are faithful to Him and living by His financial laws: “Therefore I say unto you, Take no [anxious] thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: For they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
“And why take you thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things” (Matt. 6:25-32).
Notice that everything mentioned here is a need (food, drink, clothing)—not a luxury.
Rather than being preoccupied with physical things, Christ tells us where our day-to-day priorities should be leading: “But seek you first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (vs. 33-34).
Not Condemning Others
Human nature has a remarkable ability to hone in on the faults and shortcomings of others, in order to compare oneself (invariably seen through “rose-colored glasses”) with the desired result of feeling superior. This can lead to our condemning others (the true meaning of the word “judge” in the following passage). This can either be an outward condemnation through our words or an inward condemnation—looking at the other person “with jaundiced eye,” to the point of only seeing the negative.
Passover should remind us that our primary task—year-round, not just in the spring—is to examine and work on our own problems. This is also brought forward by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why behold you the mote that is in your brother’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you say to your brother, Let me pull out the mote out of your eye; and, behold, a beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the mote out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:1-5).
Are you most concerned with the beams in your own eyes?
Doers, Not Just Hearers
To finish this sermon, Jesus Christ stressed the importance of actually applying His teachings. It is not enough just to hear them. Nor is it enough to hear and then agree on an intellectual level. Christ requires action: “Not every one that says unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? And in Your name have cast out devils? And in Your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21-23). Remember, Jesus was speaking to His disciples here, not to the multitudes. He was reminding them that those who allow iniquity (lawlessness—sin) to remain in their lives would ultimately be rejected.
The final, vivid metaphor Christ uses illustrates the outcomes of two different ways of life: a life of “professed,” but ultimately hollow, Christianity versus a life of true submission to God, allowing Christ to live in us minute-to-minute, day after day:
“Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that hears these sayings of Mine, and does them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24-27).
What kind of shape is your spiritual house in?
How often, after services, do you put your notebook on the shelf, and then fail to review your sermon notes?
When was the last time you reviewed the Sermon on the Mount?
Christ is warning of the danger of being forgetful hearers (also see James 1:22-25). We must not confuse merely hearing the Word of God with actually practicing it.
Some of the most difficult aspects of God’s way of life are outlined in this sermon. Reviewing the requirements that Christ outlined here for His disciples will help us to evaluate our spiritual condition in preparation for Passover.