I’d meant to just write one post about the Sermon on the Mount. Now here we are three weeks later with a third post on this study. And the first two only got through chapter five! I’m marveling at how much depth there is in such a familiar passage of scripture.
In the first part of this sermon, Jesus focuses on what God expects from those He’s in a relationship with. And it’s not always something that makes sense to human beings. The Beatitudes cover actions and character traits that don’t seem particularly positive from a human perspective, yet Jesus describes them as “blessed.” Then He starts talking about how law-keeping will change under the New Covenant. Walking in the spirit raises the bar higher, aiming for being like God rather than just living by the letter of His law. We end up keeping the law as we live in the spirit. And Jesus sticks with this theme of God’s expectations verses man’s ideas as He continues the sermon.
Jesus tells His hearers not to “do merciful deeds,” pray, or fast “as the hypocrites do” (Matt. 6:1-18, WEB). Those things are good — even essential — but they need to come from the right heart. The word hupokrites (G5273) means a stage actor or player who assumes a character’s role. So if you call someone who’s not on stage a hupokrites, you’re accusing them of playing a role in their lives. These people are living a performance, pretending to follow God while having other motives.
Hypocrites pretend to follow God so they can show-off to other people. But if we do that, Jesus warns “you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1, WEB). The hypocrites do things for human praise and when they get it “they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16, WEB). If your only motive is impressing people, then that’s all you’ll get out of your righteous play-acting.
Later in this sermon, Jesus talks about hypocrisy yet again. He warns people that “with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2, WEB). So don’t go around trying to pick specks out of other people’s eyes while pretending you don’t have a beam in your’s. We can’t help others while being hypocrite, but we can once the beam is gone (Matt. 7:1-5).
When we’re doing our good deeds for the right reasons it doesn’t matter to us who knows, but the Father takes note of it (Matt. 6:3-4). When we’re praying with no other motive than connecting with God, He will hear us. And when we fast for God, He’s the only one who needs to know about it. That’s not to say other people can’t know that you pray or fast, but your primary focus in all you do should be on God.
Then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matt. 6:4, WEB)
We Choose What We Serve
God is concerned with our focus and motivations. Are we living our lives just for this present, physical existence? Or are we living with eternity in mind?
Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21, WEB)
We can’t live our lives with two centers. We have to choose between this world or God. “No man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24, WEB). We’re always serving either sin or righteousness. There’s no third option (Rom. 6:15-23).
Sometimes, though, we’re not intentionally setting out to commit sin or follow the evil one. We just think, “I need to be my own master and take care of myself.” But that’s also going to draw us away from God. Jesus says, “don’t be anxious for your life” because God can take care of all you need. Your focus should be to “seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:25, 33, WEB).
A Simple Commandment
As His sermon approaches a conclusion, Jesus’ focus stays on living an authentic life as followers of God. After reiterating the promise that God will take care of us (Matt. 7:7-11), He shares what we now call the Golden Rule.
Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matt. 7:12, WEB)
I suspect that in the beginning God intended His rules to be very simple along the lines of the two great commandments: love God with all you are and love other people the way you love yourself. But humans kept inventing new ways to sin and we ended up with Him clarifying His intentions through the Law that so many people today consider harsh and rigid (Gal. 3:19). But with Christ’s coming, He’s guiding us back to the root of God’s laws, which is found in His character.
Today, keeping the law is just something that we do because we’re becoming like God. If you’re trying to keep the law without becoming like God you’re missing the point. You’re falling into the hypocrite trap. The “way that leads to life” is a narrow one and few find it (Matt. 7;14, WEB). If we want to be among them we need to actually follow Jesus Christ, not just talk about it.
Do His Sayings
Christ tells us that the way to tell the difference between good, godly people and “false prophets” is by their fruits — the products of their lives. The same is true for us. If our hearts aren’t in the right place, our professions of faith will be empty. Not everyone who calls Jesus “‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Only those who 1) do His Father’s will and 2) are known by Jesus will be there (Matt. 7:15-23). We need to actively follow God and build a relationship with Them.
Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall. (Matt. 7:24-27, WEB)
Whether or not we “do” Jesus’ sayings makes the difference in whether we stand on the rock or fall. Entering a relationship with Him and following Him without hypocrisy requires real commitment. This isn’t salvation by works; it’s works because of salvation. It’s becoming like God because we love Him and want to be part of His family. And it’s an essential part of our walk as Christians.