The Sermon on the Mount: The Blueprint of a model lifestyle
Importance of Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount is a very important event in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Here he has spoken of the basic rules of living for his followers. He gave a blue print of the character that he wants his disciples to develop and has shown that the design of his ministry is to make men good. He has given very simple steps – Do’s and Don’ts. During this sermon He made clear his own standing as the Son of God in the much awaited Kingdom of God and his expectations from the disciples. He demanded an internal transformation and asserted that his followers would have to die to sin and be born again in God’s truth.
The sermon is detailed in the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 5 to 7. Here we will study in detail of how the events unfolded and what exactly did Jesus Christ say to his followers.
Mount of Beatitudes, Israel
The Sermon on the Mount
A lot of people from all classes and segments started following Jesus and became his devotees. Jesus went on a Mount near Capernaum to sermonize and in a firm voice he started with the Beatitudes (supreme blessedness).
In these opening verses of this famous sermon Jesus has stated several divine favors or blessings each starting with “Blessed are...” based on certain character quality. These Beatitudes give us the picture of the “True Disciple” of Jesus.
” Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. “Poor in spirit” are those people who understand their own fallibility in front of God. They realize that God is the “Real” king. The kingdom of heaven is offered to them because they understand the true value of God and seek Him, struggle for Him and thus find Him. Others with “self confidence” or “pride” are full of pseudo strength .They do not go in search of God or acknowledge Him, so they remain poverty stricken in their spiritual lives.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” All are sinners. Some repent on their sins and ask the Almighty for forgiveness. Others decide to live with it and don’t bother. “Those who mourn” here means the people who realize their sins and repent on them. By asking for forgiveness to God he gives us a release that greatly comforts us. We are greatly reassured by God's pardon. Jesus has blessed the people who repent for their sins and seek forgiveness and promised them comfort from our Father in Heaven.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” People who completely submit to the LORD’s authority have been blessed by Jesus. He says that the people who wholly understand God’s power are humble and timid by nature and depend fully on God. Jesus further says that due to this character trait, the gentle and obedient will be the ones to receive God’s inheritance. The aggressive and pushy can count themselves out of the inheritance.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Jesus blesses the people who are upright and labor for virtue, morality and justice. He blesses the honest and assures that they will be satisfied in their quest .These people with deep need and a driving passion for righteousness will be contented, that’s the promise from Jesus.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” Jesus blesses those people who are kind and compassionate. He says that the people with patience, sympathy and forgiveness towards other fellow beings will also receive the same from our Father in Heaven. Jesus wants all of us to be kind and considerate and makes it clear that we can receive Gods grace only if we are merciful to others. The forgiving are ones to be forgiven.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Jesus blesses the “pure in heart”. He refers to the people who are free from evil wishes and ideas. The ones who are living a divine life away from all sin will have the opportunity to see God. Seeing God and living in his shadow for eternity is the goal of every virtuous person.
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.” Some make peace and some create conflict. Jesus blesses the peacemakers who worthily try to bring peace and harmony among people and communities. Our God is the God of peace and peace is his supreme purpose. On this earth the war makers have always reached the position of strength, but in the Kingdom of God, peacemakers have the status of Sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Living for righteousness is never easy and the path will always have persecution, be it in form of slander, harassment, maltreatment, bullying, hounding, discrimination, physical violence or mental torture. Jesus blesses these people who go through all this only to uphold righteousness. He promises the Kingdom of heaven to such upright people.
"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.” This beatitude is very specifically said for the true followers of Jesus. He warns that upon truly and completely following him, one may have to face undeserved persecution to the highest degree in form of all evil unraveled. True followers may have to pay high price for their loyalty to the kingdom of heaven. He clears to all that this path is difficult and one has to be ready for such circumstances, which may come in any form. Instead of getting saddened and disheartened he asks us to be happy, glad and joyful while facing such harassment. He promises us the greatest reward in heaven with an eternal life with God. All the Prophets have seen similar treatment and it will keep happening to the true disciples.
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Salt and Light
Jesus calls his disciples the salt of this earth. Jesus wants his disciples to be like pure salt which preserves the community from corruption and remains righteous forever and does not lose its “saltiness” or moral values. He warns that if the disciples stop leading a virtuous and upright life, they will become useless in the eyes of God.
Jesus wants his disciples to be the “light of the world”. He explains with the example of a lit lamp in a house. The lamp once lit is not put under a basket but put on a stand so that it can light the house. He expects the life of his disciples to be exemplary with upright conduct, love, righteousness, peace and good works so that others can learn from them. Finally all this good living should be to give glory to our Father in heaven. He sets high moral and ethical standards for living for his disciples in the following passages by going in-depth into character traits.
Christ came to fulfill the law
Jewish religious leaders at that time felt that Jesus was changing the rules and breaking the laws given by Moses and ignoring the sayings of the Prophets. They became highly insecure with Jesus’ teachings and started saying that Jesus was trying to abolish the commandments.
Jesus Christ showed his utmost respect to the scriptures as they were the Word of God. He being the Son had come to this earth not to eliminate or eradicate the Law but to fulfill them and accomplish their real meaning as meant by God. He said that the Commandments would last as long as the earth and heaven. Not even the smallest part of the commandments can be relaxed and anyone preaching otherwise will lose his standing in the kingdom of heaven. He challenged his disciples to be more righteous and just than the then religious leaders if they wanted to be a part of God’s kingdom.
Jesus talks about the commandment which says “You shall not commit murder; whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” He tells the people to live a higher life than just barely following this command. He wants them to transform themselves spiritually to such an extent that they never feel anger and rage towards or insult or abuse their brothers. He says that even a hostile thought will make them liable for judgment in front of God. He places tremendous importance to immediate and peaceful resolution and reconciliation of disputes within the brotherhood and says that it has more priority than any offering to the God which can be done later but the reconciliation among brothers should happen first. He asks the devotees to resolve their differences internally instead of going to a judge who may penalize and cause further discomfort.
The commandment “You shall not commit adultery” points towards a sin very detrimental to the society and its people. Jesus says that any one even looking at others with “lustful intent” has already committed the sin. The sin is committed in the mind and Jesus asked the people to become so pure from within that even such thoughts do not enter the heart. He legislates against the thought behind the act. He advocates that it is crucial to cut off sin from our lives immediately once we come to know of its origin. He says that we should be very vigilant and stop any such sin with strong determination within ourselves.
Divorce, Oaths, Retaliation, Enemies
“Whoever divorces his wife let him give her a certificate of divorce.” Jesus Christ limits the rights of divorce to cases of sexual immorality and says that if a divorce is done on any other ground neither the man nor the woman can get married again without committing adultery. He here limits the use of the original commandment by people to get divorces on seemingly trifle reasons and leaving their partners unaided and without any choice but to commit sin. It is understood that divorce for sexual immorality breaks the marriage bond and that the innocent party to such a divorce can marry again. Of course the guilty party could not, for no one is allowed by law to reap the benefits of his own wrong. He wants his followers to take more responsibility towards their partners, have a loving and devoted relationship in a marriage.
“You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” Jesus tells his disciples to take a higher ground than what has been commanded in the Law. He prohibits people from taking an oath or swearing. Commonly people at that time used to take an oath on heaven or earth or their own head. Jesus forbade any such swears as heaven is God’s throne and earth his footstool. He makes this disciples realize that they are powerless in front of God and that nothing happens without the will of God. Any swearing is inappropriate and thus as simple “yes” or “no” should be the answer. Any oath or swear or pledge is evil.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This law of “Like for like” was originally brought in to make a man fearful of causing injury to others or he pay a similar price for it. It was never meant for justifying revenge. However the religious leaders misinterpreted the meaning and people started believing that “revenge is justified”. Jesus annulled this law and told his disciples to stay away from retribution and enumerated various circumstances where a man is most vulnerable to his vengeful feelings. He speaks of three such circumstances. First is physical violence (“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.). Second is the case of judicial injustice (If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well). The third is of governmental oppression (“if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles”). He strongly advocates his disciples to transform their hearts so they do not feel violence and vengeance even towards their oppressors. The disciples should surrender to these aggressions for principle's sake and to achieve spiritual triumph and not in a hopeless spirit as blind followers of a cruel law. In place or revenge and vengeance Jesus wants us to have compassion and love for the needy around us and be generous and liberal to our brothers. He urges us to give to one who is begging from us and not to refuse to one who wants to borrow from us.
Finally he wanted his disciples not to misuse their time and energy in rage, vengeance, revenge, retribution and settling scores, but to utilize it to form a stronger bond relationship with God who is the ultimate judge and completely rely on him. God will make the ways right and the final judgment will be fair.
Love your enemies
A common saying “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy”. Jesus reminds us that we were made by God our Father in his own image. God is perfect and if we want to please him, we should also be perfect and act towards others the same way that God acts towards us.
God never differentiates between good and evil when he sends sunlight or just and unjust when he sends rain. Jesus expects that we being Gods children should also never discriminate when we love others. We should shower our love on all without any prejudice. He says that instead of hating the people who persecute us we should pray for them and love them.
The Lord’s Prayer
Jesus starts with the common theme of hypocrisy and pretense. He warns people not to be like the Pharisees and Sadducees who love to stand and pray in the street corners and synagogues so that others perceive them as being very religious and pious and that way they command respect from their brothers. He says that the ones doing so have already received their reward.
Here Jesus teaches us the right way to pray. He advocates simplicity, complete honesty, directness, devotion and use of few meaning full words. He says that only honest prayer from heart is heard by God and not long empty phrases. God knows our requirements prior to our asking. God does not need complex clarification. We need to be united with him as to make us fit to receive. Moreover, prayer is not a meritorious service, but the process where you frankly ask God what you want. He put a very simple prayer as an example in front of his disciples.
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as 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.
Laying utmost emphasis on forgiving he explains that only if we forgive others will our Father forgive us.
The simplicity and the plainness of this prayer tells us that we need to be very direct and straight forward to God when we ask him to grant our needs.
Jesus tells us to again not be a hypocrite when we fast, as undergoing fasts for public praise is a disgrace. He says that fasting for the purpose of showing off to the people around so that they think highly of you will not get any incentive from God. In-fact God detests such behavior. The real reason for such show fasting is to gather applause from others and that is the fitting reward one already gets here. Jesus advises the people taking up fasting for spiritual purposes to do it in secret and not let anyone else come to know. When fasting is done for right reasons it will get spiritual awards from God the Father?
Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
Jesus talks about the efforts people put towards collecting treasures or material belongings. He says that such riches may get destroyed or stolen and there is no guarantee that it will last long. He forbids us to amass for egotistic purposes. However he says that by our good deeds, exemplary life and virtuous actions we should gather treasures in heaven. He says that our hearts are always attached to our collected treasures and if our treasures are in this earth we will be too attached to earth thus neglecting our eternal life in heaven.
He talks about the eye of the man being the lamp of the body. By eye he is talking about the vision that a person has which can be either temporary or eternal. If the eye is healthy the person is filled with the light of God and has an eternal perspective towards life. If the eye is unhealthy or sightless, then his inner man is murky. When the heart looks with a dual attention upon earthly and heavenly riches, it makes the man dual-minded. God dislikes dual love and anyone who seeks duality will face with great darkness in the matters of Father.
Jesus is very clear in the matters of money. Material wealth and money can easily enslave a person. He cautions people from being imprisoned by money. He says that God should be the only master to us as he has created us and provides everything for us. It is impossible for us to serve both God and money. If we serve money we will end up despising God and enter darkness.
Do not be Anxious
Jesus speaks about the basic needs to food and clothing. It is a habit among us to be anxious for the future. He gives the examples of birds that neither sow not reap but are taken care of by God. They do not worry about food for the next day. He gives the second example of the lilies of the field and how they grow on their own. They are more beautiful than even King Solomon in all his glory. When God can take care to clothe the field with grass, he will definitely provide for us humans. He rebukes the people for having a wavering faith on God. He says that with all our anxiety and worrying we will not be able to add even an hour to our life, then why worry? His advice to us is to make the search for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness our first priority and that God the Father will provide all that we need to live along the way.
Hypocrisy and Pretense
Giving to the needy
Hypocrisy and pretense – People usually like to give to the poor in presence of an audience so that others would think highly of them. Jesus strongly rejected this behavior stating that any good deed done just to show off or as an act in front of other people to impress them will never be rewarded by our Father who is in heaven. He rubbished such acts as being worthless in the eyes of God. He was of the opinion that if one wants praise from others, which is exactly the reward one gets. Good acts done in secret are rewarded by God who sees in the secret. Jesus advocates clandestine and silent giving. Our generosity should be spontaneous.
Jesus is teaching us how to act in reference to the errors of others. Sometimes we are rigid and magisterial in accusing all and also arrogant and proud in justifying ourselves. We must judge our own acts, but not our brothers. Neither should we act rashly, nor give an opinion based on jealousy and ill nature. We should be charitable and merciful and should not carry revenge or mischief in our hearts. He warns that if we Judge others uncharitably, we will be judged in the same way by God. He asks us to do look at our own faults instead of focusing on errors committed by others and not to be a hypocrite in these matters. A man can be in a sinful miserable condition but still not realize his real situation.
Jesus also tells his disciples not to waste holy words of wisdom on people who are completely taken to sin and do not understand or appreciate it. He takes the example of dogs or pigs that will not realize the importance of holy food or pearls and will trample it underfoot and may even attack the person trying to help.
Ask and It Will be Given
Jesus is making a very strong statement for the power of prayer. He encourages us to pray to God and ask him for our needs. He doesn’t say “may” but says “Will”. He is assuring us that if we ask our Father in Heaven for things that we need, he will give it to us. If we seek him, we will definitely find him and if we knock on the door, it will be opened to us. That God is merciful and is willing to provide when we ask. He compares God with earthly fathers saying that when the earthly fathers are so loving that they provide for the needs of their children, then why will God the Father not do the same?
The Golden Rule
Christ teaches us not only towards our behavior with God but our behavior with fellow brothers and sisters. He gives the golden rule by saying that we should treat others the way we want to be treated by others. We must act with a fellow citizen in a way which we admit to be fit and sensible. We must, in our transactions with men, put ourselves in their circumstances and act accordingly.
He also talks about the times when a circumstance gives us a choice of good or evil. He further explains that the good path will always be the narrow and difficult one and the evil path will be wide and easy. He urges his disciples to take the narrow path for it will lead to a good life, a life in God. The broader path will lead to destruction.
A Tree and Its Fruit
Christ gives us very simple way to recognize good or evil. He says that as a tree can be recognized by its fruit so can good or evil be known by their fruits. Here he warns us about the “False prophets” who outwardly look very innocent but inwardly have malicious intent. Once can recognize such false prophets by their fruit because they will always lead to evil.
I Never Knew You
Jesus gives a very clear command to his disciples that only the people who obey the directives given by God our Father will enter the Kingdom of Heaven and have eternal life. He gives utmost importance to God’s will and says that whoever has not fulfilled God’s will , will lose the opportunity to enter Gods Kingdom in heaven. He calls such people as “workers of lawlessness”.
Build Your House on the Rock
He concludes by saying that the people who will build their lives based on his teachings will be stable and rock solid and will lead good lives. He compares such a life to a house built on a solid rock which is not affected by winds or rain. Similarly he says that any live where these teachings are ignored will be like a house built on sand which will fall the moment there are winds and rain. He talks that life out of Gods will are hollow and cannot withstand difficult circumstances.
The Authority of Jesus
Jesus is the Only Son of God and his teachings had an authority far higher than the scribes or Pharisees. The disciples were surprised at the insight and authority of Christ's doctrine.
Sermon on the Mount lifestyle
Conclusion - My Prayer for all of us
Dear Father! Thank you for sending Jesus Christ into our lives. Your Son Jesus Christ has told us exactly how you expect us to live and conduct ourselves. Thank you for always being kind and generous to us. Please bless us that we can make this sermon into a way of living and develop into the true “Salt and Light” that you want us to become. Amen