“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24 (CSB)
As a summary to his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus illustrates the difference between those who merely hear his teaching and those who actually put it into practice. The assumption is that followers of Jesus who have rightly understood his words will integrate them into their lives. It is important to note the order. We are to hear and then do. This is a principle seen throughout Scripture. We listen to the Word of God and respond accordingly.
In response to those who are all talk and no action, it is sometimes said that what you do is more important than what you know. That’s not entirely accurate. Spiritual maturity is more than just hearing – but it’s never less than that. Our actions must be driven based on what we have heard in the Word of God. Otherwise we risk doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. And if there is anything we learned from Jesus in his sermon, it’s that the inside matters just as much as the outside. To be his follower means that we are completely and totally transformed from the inside out.
“Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 (CSB)
We all want justice, mercy, kindness, and grace for ourselves, especially when we are in the wrong. We want people to give us the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the motives and reasons behind what we say and do. It sounds simple because in one sense it is. I am to treat you the way I would want to be treated. What’s so hard about that? Yet our inability to actually live this way shows how difficult it is.
The ethical vision in the Law and the Prophets is beautiful. It points to a world where total peace and harmony is the norm. This is the Hebrew idea of Shalom. Israel failed to live out this vision. The incredible news for us is that we are not left to try and live this out on our own. We have the indwelling Spirit who convicts, reminds, and enables us to treat others the way they deserve to be treated. We continue to stumble and fall but by God’s grace, we do so in a forward moving direction. What’s more, we look forward to day when we will fully and completely experience Shalom.
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use.” Matthew 7:1-2 (CSB)
No statement from the Sermon on the Mount is quoted more often today than “do not judge.” What is viewed by many as a prohibition – an absolute one no less – is actually more sobering than that. Jesus is issuing a warning to his followers. To judge is to pronounce one guilty before God. This is more severe than identifying sin and inviting someone to repent (something Jesus graciously did and expects his followers to do). This is about putting ourselves in the position of God in relation to others. When we do this, we are violating the first commandment and making ourselves worthy of judgment by God.
Most of us don’t think we do this. It’s an unconscious process. But if we examine the beam in our own eye long enough, we will see it. Every time we think, “I can’t believe a Christian would do that,” or “there is no hope for him,” we are playing the role of God. We are deciding how far his mercy and grace is allowed to extend. That’s not to say we affirm or overlook the sin of others. We should always graciously invite repentance for that which God has clearly revealed as sin. More importantly, we must model repentance in all areas of our life.
“Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.” – Matthew 6:9 (CSB)
Of all the remarkable statements Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount, none are more important to our growth as his disciple than the invitation to address God as Father. To approach a holy God in such an intimate, relational way is no small matter. Jesus’ audience would have been floored by his statement. Yet this kind of access is precisely what is available to those who follow Jesus. Because we are in Christ, we can relate to God as our Heavenly Father.
Viewing God as a loving Father can sometimes be difficult. Especially if our relationship with our earthly father was troubled or non-existent. But through God’s amazing grace, all of us can learn to do it. And when we do, we will see more clearly that he loves us, delights in us, and genuinely wants the best for us.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 (CSB)
If someone does a good deed and doesn’t post about it on social media, did it really happen? That may not be exactly what Jesus had in mind with his statement but he’s heading in that direction. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to look spiritual in front of others. We may do it sub-consciously yet the tendency is still there. We want them to know what we have done. The sacrifices we have made. The people we have helped. The ways we have given of our time and money. How often we read our Bible and pray. How long we fasted. But like everything else we do, the internal motivation matters just as much as the external actions. And when the external is all we have, the best we can hope for is a pat on the back from others. That’s our reward – all of it.
“Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Matthew 5:17 (CSB)
Lest his hearers think that his teachings are new or in contrast to the Law, Jesus proclaims both his approval for and commitment to keeping it. What follows is a series of six “you have heard… but I tell you…” statements. In them, Jesus dismantles the notion that external behavior is all the Law required. He demonstrates that underneath the external behaviors are internal heart attitudes that need to change. Jesus doesn’t alter the standard. He reveals what the standard is and what it looks like to live out that standard. In this way, he fulfills the Law down to the smallest letter.
No one can argue that our world would be a better place if people lived according to Jesus’ teaching. In fact, nearly all of the problems we face can be traced to the issues he addresses. A world without anger, lust, divorce, dishonesty, retaliation, and hatred would be a spectacular place to live. For Jesus’ disciples, that world will one day become a reality. In the meantime, we are invited to experience a foretaste of this by the way we live now. In doing so, we serve as salt and light in the world. This means viewing the commands of God not as burdens but as the path to true life. It means recognizing that they lead to joy and human flourishing. They are more than just external codes to obey. They are internal changes brought about through Spirit empowered heart transformation.
“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” – Matthew 5:13a, 14a (CSB)
Nowhere is the brilliance of Jesus more on display than in the Sermon on the Mount. After pronouncing the way of kingdom life through the Beatitudes, Jesus goes one step further. He makes an explicit statement to his disciples about their role in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom that is now available. Rather than telling his disciples what to do, Jesus tells them who they are. They are salt and light. They flavor and illuminate.
We tend to place value on our lives to the extent that we do things we consider important. That way of thinking does not reflect the reality of life in God’s kingdom for followers of Jesus. Our lives matters not because of where we live or what we do. They matter because we are salt, we are light. As followers of Jesus, our fundamental identity has changed because we are now in Christ. These are not realities we strive to achieve. They are statements of who we are. They are how we are to interact with the world around us. We flavor our culture by showing a different way to live. We drive back darkness as our lives display light through the work of the Holy Spirit. When we see our lives from this viewpoint, it turns even the mundane into the extraordinary.