III. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1–7:29)

5:1-2 When the crowds came to Jesus, he went up on the mountain, sat down, and began to teach. Matthew 5–7 is known as the Sermon on the Mount. It’s Jesus’s kingdom manifesto. In this sermon, he explained what the kingdom is, how it works, and what it ought to look like.

How, then, should a disciple pray? Jesus showed them: You should pray like this. He wasn’t giving them a prayer to repeat but guidelines to provide prayer categories—a prayer template, if you will.

Opening with our Father in heaven reminds us that when Christians pray, they’re addressing their Daddy, their heavenly Father. Some people have had bad fathers and say they can’t relate to God as Father, but we are not to measure our heavenly Father by the standard of our earthly ones. Rather, we are to measure our earthly fathers by the standard of our heavenly Father—who is perfect. He is the ultimate definition of what a father is. Notice also that he is our Father (so you’re not the only kid in the family), and he is in heaven (a reminder that heaven overrules earth).

What should we ask of our heavenly Father? First, we must pray that his name would be honored as holy. When Scripture talks about God’s “name,” it’s referring to who he is, his character. To honor him as “holy” is to treat him as unique—in a class by himself. He is the Creator of all and the only one deserving of worship.

6:10 In the phrase your kingdom come, Jesus calls his disciples to make a pledge of allegiance to the kingdom of God—to God’s rule over his creation. But, if you want to know his kingdom purpose for your life, you must be committed to his kingdom agenda. When the U.S. Olympic athletes are awarded gold medals, they don’t get to choose the songs they hear at the accompanying ceremony. They are representatives of our nation, so the song played is the national anthem of the U.S. Similarly, you are called to march to God’s tune.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven suggests that if we’re following God’s agenda, we’ll want his heavenly will to be done in our earthly history. So, what is God’s “will”? God’s will is what God wants—when, where, and how he wants it. Those who are part of God’s family are to follow God’s rules. He’s sovereign, and he’ll accomplish his purposes with you or without you. The question is, Will you get to take part in it? Remember, he’s not limited to our obedience.

6:11 Once we align ourselves to God’s program, that’s where our requests come in. Give us today our daily bread. First, you ask God to meet your daily needs so you can fulfill his plan. God doesn’t establish a program that he doesn’t fund. Nevertheless, our requests for his provision are to be “daily.” This is a reminder that you are dependent on him all day, every day. Just as the Israelites relied on God to provide manna regularly in the wilderness, so you are to live your life in dependence on God—one day at a time.

6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors relates to sins. When God forgives, he no longer credits sin to your account. And as we have been forgiven by God, so we are to forgive the sins others commit against us.

Some people have been seriously sinned against. They have endured horrific cruelty. Nevertheless, the Bible teaches that anything that comes a believer’s way—the good, the bad, and the ugly—has to come through God’s fingers. God is sovereign, and he permits things for the good of his children—even when we don’t understand. Just as in the story of Joseph, human beings may intend to do evil against us, but God intends even that for good (see Gen 50:20).

6:13 Do not bring us into temptation requires that we face facts. Satan is smarter than us and has centuries of experience ruining human lives. So ask God to keep you from getting into situations that detour you from the kingdom road. Pray that he would deliver you from temptations that you’re not ready to handle.

6:14-15 Though Jesus emphasized forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer (6:12), he returns to it here. Don’t miss that God’s forgiveness is conditioned on your forgiveness of others. Jesus isn’t talking about salvation here, though, but about our fellowship with God after we’re saved, as a part of our discipleship. To forgive is to hold a grudge no longer, not to seek retribution. Since we all need God’s forgiveness regularly, we must not withhold it from others. If we do, we’ll lose out on fellowship with God.

6:16-18 As with giving and praying, Jesus exhorted his followers not to fast for public recognition. The fact that he says, Whenever you fast (6:16), tells us he considers fasting a legitimate spiritual discipline. To fast is to temporarily give up a bodily craving—typically food—because of a spiritual need. Instead of eating, then, you devote yourself to prayer in secret (6:18), seeking God’s kingdom intervention. But, if your goal in avoiding food is for other people to celebrate how spiritual you look, then their approval will be your reward (6:16).

6:19-24 In these verses, Jesus emphasizes the spiritual over the physical. Everyone collects treasures on earth. But they don’t last (6:19). Heavenly treasures are a far better investment. They’re eternal and imperishable (6:20). For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (6:21). Store your treasure where you want your heart to be. Your heart will follow your treasure.

In order to focus on heaven and store treasure there, you have to see clearly. The eye is the lamp of the body (6:22). Either you let light in through your eyes, or you remain in darkness. It’s that simple. And unless your spiritual perspective is directed by God, you’ll wander in the dark.

Few things can distract our spiritual focus and fill us with darkness as effectively as becoming a slave to money. Note that having money is not the problem, though. The danger is when money has you—that’s when the physical becomes more important to you than the spiritual. You can’t serve two masters (5:24). God must have your devotion if you are to receive his kingdom direction.

6:25-30 For many of us, the admonition not to worry about your life (6:25) sounds just as impossible to obey as, “Don’t breathe.” Worry and anxiety over life are commonplace. But to this Jesus said in effect, “When was the last time you saw a bird with an ulcer?” Birds don’t worry about where they’re going to get their next meal, and yet the heavenly Father feeds them (6:26). Flowers don’t agonize over looking pretty, but not even Solomon in all his splendor could match the beauty in the fields of God’s creation (6:28-29). If God gives this kind of attention to birds and flowers, won’t he do much more for you (6:30)?

6:31-32 Don’t worry about life’s needs (6:31); after all, idolaters seek after things and become anxious. They plead with their false gods for help, but you have a heavenly Father—the true and living God—who knows what you need (6:32). It’s not wrong to plan and work hard. We should do these things. Our error is when we remove God from the equation or fail to give him priority.

6:33 What, then, is the antidote for worry? Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This statement is the centerpiece of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. If you get this right, everything else falls into place. God demands that his kingdom rule be first in your life. When it’s missing, you’ve identified the key to your problems. Righteousness is the standard God requires in order for his people to rightly relate to him. To seek his kingdom is to seek to live in accordance with his standards, his guidelines.

Of course, prioritizing God’s kingdom in this way doesn’t mean you won’t experience challenges and suffering, but your life will be aligned under his kingdom authority so you can experience his provision. In baseball, you can step on second base, third base, and home plate without being tagged. But, if you miss first base on the way, nothing else matters. You’re out.

God cannot be second. So, how do you know if you’re putting God’s kingdom first? Ask yourself this question: When I need guidance to make decisions, where do I go first? For many Christians, God is like a spare tire. He’s where they run when all else fails. So, do you seek God’s perspective first (through his Word and godly counsel), or do you seek the world’s perspective? Kingdom Christians appeal to God’s view and his righteous standards first. Do this, and all these things will be provided for you. Align yourself with his agenda, and your Daddy will take responsibility for meeting your needs.

6:34 So take care of today’s concerns, and don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Today is the tomorrow you were worried about yesterday. Focusing on living for God’s kingdom today is the antidote to worry.

7:1-2 Do not judge (7:1). That’s one thing that most people seem to do very well. To illegitimately judge is to create your own standard of what is acceptable and measure everyone against it, hypocritically critiquing them. Not surprisingly, people who do this typically find no problems with their own behavior. That’s because when a sinner creates a standard, he becomes the standard. When my son was eleven years old, he wanted to show me how he could dunk a basketball in the gym. The problem was that he had asked a janitor to lower the rim so that he could dunk it. Those who hypocritically judge others use a standard, but it isn’t God’s. It’s been lowered.

Judgmental people lose sight of the fact that they too will be judged. And the same measuring stick they use will be used against them (7:2). Pass judgment on others, and your standard will be used to judge you. It’s a boomerang effect.

7:3-5 Jesus compared having a judgmental attitude to noticing a tiny splinter in your brother’s eye while being unaware of the beam of wood in your own (7:3-4). Imagine straining to see a nearly invisible speck but being oblivious to the board protruding from your eyeball!

Notice Jesus’s remedy to the situation. He didn’t say you shouldn’t help the brother with the speck in his eye. He says, First take the beam of wood out of your eye (7:5). It’ll hurt, but you’ll see clearly. Instead of being judgmental toward others, allow God’s standard to be applied to your own life. If you’re honest, you’ll discover that you fall short. When you’ve addressed your own sin, you’ll be more understanding, compassionate, and righteous in your assessments and better able to help a brother address his own sin.

7:6 Jesus’s instructions in 7:1-5 don’t preclude all judgments. There are numerous places in the Bible in which God instructs his people to make judgment calls. Here is one of them: Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs. These are references to those who despise spiritual things, but you can’t obey this command unless you can discern who the “dogs” and “pigs” are.

The difference between judgmentalism and what Jesus calls us to do here is the standard we use. When you sinfully judge, you use your own standard and condemn others. When you obey Jesus’s words in 7:6, you use wisdom, refusing to give what is precious in God’s sight to those who refuse to value spiritual things.

7:7-8 Prayer is an earthly request for heavenly intervention. It doesn’t make God do what’s outside his will but releases him to do what is inside his will. God has determined that he will not do certain things until asked. So we are to ask, seek, and knock for what we need (7:7). When you pursue and request those things that are in his will, he promises to deliver (7:8). The question is this: How long should you ask, seek, and knock? Until you get an answer. There are three answers to prayer: yes, no, or wait. If you haven’t heard yes or no, then you keep asking.

7:9-11 Children will ask their parents repeatedly for things until they receive a reply. And God doesn’t give harmful things in response to prayer—any more than a loving father would give harmful things to his kids when they ask (7:9-10). If even sinful dads know how to give good gifts to [their] children, how much more will your perfect Father in heaven give what is beneficial to you when you ask (7:11)?

7:12 In the context of this discussion of judging others and prayer, Jesus utters this boomerang principle: Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them. We call this the Golden Rule. In short, it means to love others: to practice the “one anothers” of Scripture (e.g., John 15:12; Gal 6:2; Eph 4:32; 1 Thess 5:11). Do for the people around you what you want God to do for you, and watch how he delivers.

7:13-14 There’s a wide gate and broad road that many people follow, seeking to have a relationship with God (7:13). It’s called religion. Religion is man’s attempt to make himself acceptable to a holy God. But the narrow gate that leads to life is Jesus; he makes us acceptable (7:14). Few find this road because few are willing to accept God’s way to obtain eternal life. The only legitimate way to a relationship with God is his way: through his Son and his cross.

7:15-18 Often people follow the wide gate and the broad road because they’ve been given faulty directions. That’s why people need to be on . . . guard against false prophets. They claim to speak for God, but they’re liars. They come camouflaged, looking like sheep when they’re actually wolves (7:15). How will you know them when you see them? You’ll recognize them by their fruit (7:16). In saying this, Jesus used an agricultural illustration that makes perfect sense. If a tree is healthy, it will produce good fruit. If the fruit is bad, it’s because the tree itself is bad (7:17-18).

The lesson here is that you need to examine the evidence of a teacher’s life and ministry. Is that person’s teaching and doctrine consistent with God’s Word? Does his lifestyle display holiness and love for the Lord? If either answer is no, don’t be deceived. Watch out for the counterfeit.

7:19-23 False teachers will experience God’s judgment because their actions will demonstrate they never had a spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ (7:19-20). Someone can call Jesus, Lord, Lord, and have a ministry that appears to be authentic (7:21-22). Nevertheless, a lack of good fruit will expose them. The King of kings will thus respond, Depart from me, you lawbreakers (7:23).

7:24-27 I once had a crack on a wall of my house. No matter how many times I had it fixed, the crack came back. Finally, I learned the problem wasn’t with the wall; the problem was a shifting foundation. Many of us have “cracks” in our lives—emotional, relational, financial—but we address the symptoms and not the source of the problem.

Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Mount with a story about two men who had three things in common. Each man built a house (7:24, 26); both heard the words of Jesus (7:24, 26); and both encountered a violent storm (7:25, 27). That’s where the similarities end and the contrast begins. One of these men was wise and the other foolish. Wisdom is the ability and willingness to apply spiritual truth to life’s circumstances. In contrast, foolishness is the inability and unwillingness to apply spiritual truth to life’s realities.

The wise man heard Jesus’s words and acted on them—that is, he built on a foundation of rock (7:24-25). To do so is harder and more time consuming. The fool built on sand. This is easier, cheaper, and faster to do. But the choice of approaches raises a question: How long do you want your house to stand? You cannot build a skyscraper life on a chicken coop’s foundation. If you want stability in your personal life, your family, your ministry, and your community, you need the strong, sturdy foundation of God’s Word—which includes both knowledge of the Bible and applying it to life.

The storm revealed which man was wise and which one was foolish. The trials of life will expose what your foundation is made of.

7:28-29 When Jesus had finished his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), the crowds were astonished at his teaching (7:28) because he taught like one who had authority, and not like their scribes (7:29). The Jewish scribes had their traditions and opinions, but Jesus spoke with the authority of the voice of God. And we have his words in the Bible.

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