Light of the World

Booklet 10

The Sermon on the Mount*

"I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built" (Luke 6:47, 48).

Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount soon after He ordained the twelve apostles. The multitude had gathered near the Sea of Galilee to hear Him preach, and He led them back to the mountainside. Seating Himself on the grass, with the disciples close by and the great crowd stretching out before him, Christ presented His most famous sermon.

The Sermon on the Mount has been called the Magna Carta of Christianity. It is the most important sermon recorded in the Bible, and no other discourse in the history of the Christian church can compare with it. In this powerful inaugural address, as it were, Christ declared the principles and objectives of His kingdom. In the beatitudes—or blessings—at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ laid the foundation stones for His spiritual kingdom in the hearts of men and women. The beatitudes were His greeting, not merely to the company before Him, but to the whole human race.

After He gave the beatitudes, Jesus proceeded to show how, by His grace, one's life may be transformed into a temple of righteousness. Then He concluded by stating that the house of faith in human experience will stand forever if men and women will obey the words He has spoken and build upon the solid foundation of the Scripture.

Now, let's join the crowd as the people wait expectantly for Jesus to speak. There is a feeling that something unusual is about to happen. In a clear, ringing voice the Master opens His mouth and begins to speak.

(Read Matthew 5:1-12)
Gathered in the great crowd to hear Jesus are priests and farmers, businessmen and fishermen, housewives and little children. All classes of people are represented. Christ does not isolate any one of these groups; He says, "You, and you only, are the subjects of my kingdom." He pronounces a blessing upon men and women of all classes and races who reflect His character. Christ has words of blessing for:

1. The Poor in Spirit. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" Matthew 5:3).

Jesus uses the word blessed (translated from a Greek word that means "happy") as the lead word in His sermon. The opening expression shows that His mission to the world was to bring happiness to men and women. Only those who recognize their spiritual poverty and feel their need of God are acceptable to Him. Jesus recognizes the humble and the contrite ones as the subjects of His kingdom (see Isaiah 57:15).

2. Those who Mourn. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4).

As we listen to these words, we are greatly encouraged. God comforts and blesses not only those who sorrow for their sins, but also those who grieve over the loss of loved ones and friends.

"I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow" (Jeremiah 31:13).

3. The Meek. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5).

Here, Christ offers a blessing to those who are lowly in heart, who exercise self control, and who do not take offence when they are misjudged or treated cruelly. Those who calmly wait upon the Lord and trust Him in all things will someday inherit the earth (see Revelation 21 and 22).

4. Those who Hunger for Righteousness. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matthew 5:6).

Those who make room in their hearts for Jesus will find true satisfaction in life. The fruits of righteousness will appear in their lives. God will "do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20). These soul hungry followers of God will be filled with His righteousness.

5. The Merciful. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7).

God Himself is "compassionate and gracious, . . . slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6). Those who are His followers become like Him in character, and eventually they will live with Him forever in His sinless Paradise. They obtain mercy, and all sighing, tears, and troubles will flee away.

Notice how Jesus develops the steps in the Christian life—going from one phase of blessing to another. While the Christian works on the plan of adding virtue after virtue to his life, God works on the plan of multiplying His blessings and His grace.

6. The Pure in Heart. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8).

Those who expect to see God face-to-face will shun all impurity of speech and thought and all impure acts. They find divine grace sufficient to deliver them from all immoral habits. Human weakness is made strong in Christ's purity. Turning their backs upon the weak and sinful elements of the carnal nature, they behold Jesus in all His beauty and holiness and are transformed.

7. The Peacemakers. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9).

The Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, said:

"If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea" (Isaiah 48:18).

The reason human beings are at war with God and with one another is that they oppose God's law (see Exodus 20:3-17; Romans 13:8-10). The evil passions that stir up trouble and instigate war are the spirit of rebellion against the Ten Commandments. Humans may try to bring about peace, but all their efforts are doomed to failure unless the grace of Christ is in their hearts. Only when there is love for God's law will people be different and bring forth "a harvest of righteousness and peace" (Hebrews 12:11). Peace is the gift of God, the consciousness of right doing, that comes to the loyal subject of His kingdom.

8. Those who are Persecuted. "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10).

Someone has called Christianity a "disturbing element" in our society, and this is true. Christ's teachings expose sin, and that makes men and women angry. Rather than acknowledge their guilt and turn to God for pardon, they cling to their wrongdoing and oppose those who stand for the right. Jesus encouraged His followers to rejoice when they were ill treated, rather than indulge in self pity or retaliation.

"Pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:44, 45).

As we read the Beatitudes, we note that Jesus speaks with authority as one telling the truth; His description of the conditions for obtaining security and happiness appeal to us. But Christ has not ended His sermon. In fact, He has just begun.

At this point in His address, Jesus proceeds to show the positive, dynamic force of true religion. Christianity is a life that shines like the light. It is like salt that flavors and preserves. It is not a dead, formal profession, but a living, guiding principle in the life.

"You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world. . . . let your light shine before men" (Matthew 5:13-16).

Christians are not to isolate themselves from their fellow men like hermits, but to mingle freely with others so that, like salt, they may preserve and flavor the world of men. Their influence, strengthened by Christ's presence in their lives, will save the world from becoming wholly corrupt.

Jesus instructs the people to let the knowledge of His teaching spread beyond Palestine and the Jewish nation—out into the Greek and Roman spheres of influence. The Jews were exclusive, claiming salvation only for themselves. Jesus shows that God's gift of redemption is for the whole world. Like the light of the sun, it is to warm the hearts of all.

There is now an air of expectancy in the crowd as Jesus turns His attention to the law. As we listen to His words, we see that His purpose is to "make his law great and glorious" (Isaiah 42:21) in the sight of all men. Listen now as He speaks:

"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. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Matthew 5:17, 18; read also verses 19-47).

Jesus came to show by His life on earth that God's law applies to all human conduct. His own character is an illustration of its holy precepts.

Centuries before—in Moses' time—the Ten Commandments had been given on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 20) to reveal to human beings the nature of sin. The law exposes our guilt and creates in the human heart a feeling of its need of God. As a Geiger counter has the fantastic power to detect radioactive particles, so the law of God has the ability to expose sin in the life. Then the Holy Spirit convicts us of our need of a Savior. The law, therefore, becomes an agent in bringing sinners to Christ that they may be justified by faith in Him. The law does not save them. Christ alone can save. But when He saves, He does not abolish the law.

"Until heaven and earth disappear," says Jesus, "not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Matthew 5:18). Heaven and earth may pass away, but God's divine law will always endure. Therefore, the stars shining in the heavens above and the solid earth upon which we stand are witnesses that God's commandments are changeless and eternal.

"It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law" (Luke 16:17).

And now Jesus takes one commandment at a time and explains the depth of the divine requirement (see Matthew 5:17-48). He shows how far reaching are the principles of heaven. His teaching makes it clear that a mere outward show of obedience is of no value. The sinful thought and the lustful look are wrong, just as is the outward act of sin. Adultery and murder begin in the mind; they are the result of evil thoughts. By His own life of love and purity, Jesus showed that men and women could rise above their natural passions and appetites and become the obedient sons and daughters of God. We may overcome all our weaknesses through faith in Him. He will give the Holy Spirit to His children to help them overcome and to keep them "from falling"( Jude 24). As Jesus lived a righteous life in human flesh, so may we. The Lord says of those who believe in Him:

"I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people" (2 Corinthians 6:16).

Jesus now gives instruction about making gifts to the church—and about prayer and fasting.

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. . . . But when you pray . . . pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:1, 6).

Let nothing be done to win praise or to excite feelings of self admiration. Don't think that you can earn God's favor by your good works. Remember, it is His grace that saves you. Be sincere and humble when you give. Do so liberally and without ostentation. Give to help worthy causes, not to draw attention to yourself. Don't pray to be seen and heard by others. Commune with God as with a friend. If you fast, make your appearance as pleasing as possible so that others will not know that you are fasting. Avoid show and parade. In all your service to God and man, be helpful, humble, simple, sincere in motive—and God will bless you.

Next, Jesus states a vital truth about allegiance. "No one can serve two masters," He declares (Matthew 6:24). Loyalty to God should be a fixed principle in the Christian's life.

"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money" (Matthew 6:22-24, see also verses 19-21).

As we continue to listen to The Sermon on the Mount, we are convinced that a person cannot serve God acceptably if he has a divided heart. The reason some Christians falter is that they are not fully consecrated to God. They stumble, because they walk in semi-darkness. They live in the twilight zone, and as long as they remain there, they cannot walk with confidence. But if they will come out into the open light, the Sun of Righteousness will shine upon their pathway and show them the way of peace.

Now Christ's face lights up with heavenly sunshine as He continues with words of cheer for those who are inclined to worry:

"But seek first his [God's] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:33, 34; see also verses 25-32).

These wonderful words of Jesus break the spell of fear. After speaking of God's care over the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field, He says:

"Are you not much more valuable than they? . . . . Therefore do not worry about tomorrow" (Matthew 6:26, 34).

As we listen, it becomes clear that we are to follow Christ day-by-day. Tomorrow has not yet come, and yesterday is gone forever. We have only one day at a time in which to live, so let us trust God now. He has promised strength only for today.

The apostle Paul says, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves" (2 Corinthians 13:5). This is our work. Christ admonishes further:

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:1-3).

When we judge others, we pass judgment on ourselves. Let God be the Judge. Listen to Paul's words:

"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things" (Romans 2:1).

How much better it is to speak well of others and to believe the best concerning them. Only in this way can our minds be spared from the poisonous virus of prejudice, ill will, and open hostility. Besides, we often do not have all the facts, do we? As Alexander Pope once remarked:

" 'Tis with our judgments as our watches; none go just alike, yet each believes his own."

What time is it now by your watch? Ask someone else that same question. His watch may tell a different time. Even so our judgment of people may differ. Let God be the Judge!

Attitudes mean much in worship. We are to make our requests known to God in simple faith:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7).

"Without faith," said the apostle Paul, "it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). Prayer is a two way street—an avenue of access to God and an avenue of blessing from God. When we pray, we are not to doubt or to be fearful about the answer. God will give us "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20). If we do not receive exactly what we requested, we will receive a substitute gift that is better than the questionable thing we may have demanded of the Lord.

"When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (James 4:3).

God is too wise to err. If our prayers are selfish, He will shape circumstances so that we can become aware of our short sightedness. Henry Ward Beecher said, "It is not well for a man to pray cream and live skim milk." A rich experience requires a rich faith, and these should accompany earnest prayer.

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).

This is what we call the "Golden Rule," the best of all rules for men and women to live by. Jesus said that it represented the principles of "the Law and the Prophets." The standard of our obligation to others is found in what we ourselves regard as their obligation to us. Not how much we can get, but how much we can give, is God's rule of conduct. We are to put ourselves in the place of others and enter into their feelings, treating them as we would wish to be treated if we were to exchange places. Christ's life is the best example of the "Golden Rule." The principles of true courtesy, kindness, and unselfishness were revealed in everything He did.

There are those who say, "Believe. Believe in Christ. Only believe, and you will be saved. You need not keep the law—only believe." But a belief that does not lead to obedience is presumption, so Jesus taught that:

"By their fruit you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:20, see also verses 13-20).

Obedience is the test of discipleship. Those who have the law of love written in their hearts, prove the sincerity of their profession by following the example of Jesus.

"We know that we have come to know him [Jesus] if we obey his commands" (1 John 2:3).

The fruit we bear shows the kind of tree we are—a tree of evil or a tree of righteousness. If the seed planted in the heart is the Word of God and the law of God, the fruit will certainly be good (see Psalm 119:11; Hebrews 8:10).

Jesus has built His sermon up to a grand climax and is about to end His instruction. We listen carefully as He describes the man who builds his house of faith upon His divine teaching and not only hears His words but "puts them into practice" (Matthew 7:24).

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock" (Matthew 7:24, 25; see also verses 26-29).

The shifting sands of human theories and traditions are unsafe material upon which to build the temple of life. The storms of temptation will sweep away every house that is founded upon self, every house that is not built upon the Rock, Jesus Christ. The Master Teacher calls upon everyone to hear His words and to build upon this foundation of truth.

As we look about us, we see that the truths taught in this wonderful sermon are just as applicable today as when the Savior gave them to the multitude on the mountainside by the Sea of Galilee.

Are you building on the right foundation? Have you received Christ's words as the guide for your life? If so, you may be sure that you will not fall when the storms of trial beat upon you.


Original manuscript author: Beatrice S. Neall
Editors revised edition: Barbara Shelley, Sue Robinson
Design and Layout: DEC Designs, Morisset, New South Wales Australia.
Used by permission of Discovery Centre, Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia.
Graphics: Still images taken from Matthew video, copyright © 1997, 2004 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
Scripture: Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Cover Picture: "The Light of the World" by Nathan Green, ©2004 All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007 revised edition, Voice of Prophecy, California.