As you have heard me say repeatedly, the Sermon on the Mount is not something Jesus preached to the world, but to the Christian. The Sermon on the Mount is also the center of what it looks like to be Jesus’ disciple; our Savior’s sermon is not a set of ethics for the future nor is it a list of unrealistic expectations Jesus had for his followers. In his little book, What if Jesus Was Serious, Skye Jethani wrote: “Jesus did not intend His sermon to be a beautiful ethical theory or a righteous but unattainable ideal. The evidence is overwhelming that He expects us to do what He taught.”
After Moses received the Ten Commandments and instructions on how the Hebrew people were to live as God’s people, he came down from Mount Sinai and, “…told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules.” How did the people respond? They said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do” (see Exod. 24:1-8). Moses went back up the mountain to commune with God and was gone longer than the people would have liked, so within days of promising God that they would obey and worship him, they made a golden calf to worship it and broke the Commandments they vowed to keep (see Exod. 32).
God threatened to destroy Israel for their sin, but Moses interceded on their behalf and God spared them. However, God did threaten that his presence would not go with them as He did in the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night; here is what God said to Moses:
The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Exodus 33:1–3)
What is interesting is Moses’ response to God. You would think that God’s assurance to give them the land he promised to their forefathers would have been enough, but Moses recognized that it was not the land that the people really needed, but the presence of God: “And he [Moses] said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth’” (Exod. 33:12–16)?
Moses was an amazing shepherd! Although he was surrounded by complaining, bickering, and ungrateful Israelites who had a habit of telling Moses that their years as slaves in Egypt were better than their days with him as their shepherd, prophet, and leader, Moses led the people until the day of his death. Before he died, Moses prophesied the following: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…” (Deut. 18:15). Jesus is our prophet like Moses, and so much more (see Heb. 3:1-4:16)!
The irony with Moses’ story with the Israelites is that in the Sermon on the Mount, we find Jesus on a mount where he delivers a message for a redeemed people, rescued not from the tyranny of an Egyptian pharaoh, but the tyranny of sin. In his sermon, Jesus’s words strike some resemblance with what God told Moses to say to the Israelites: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel” (Exodus 19:4–6). Moses was told to say this just before God gave Israel his Law. Jesus said at the beginning of his sermon:
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13–16)
Immediately after his statement about his followers being salt and light, he said, “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” (v. 17). Then throughout his sermon, Jesus shows us what the center of discipleship with him looks like. I have said that the Sermon on the Mount is the center of what it looks like to be a Christian.
How Do We Get to the Center of Discipleship?
It is easy, read through the sermon on the mount and become discouraged at just how far short is seems that you come to arriving at that center in your own life as a Christian. What Jesus does throughout his sermon is show us how it is that we move towards that center; he does so at critical points in his sermon at just the right time. Permit me to show you some examples of what I am talking about:
- In the beatitudes Jesus shows us how we can become merciful, pure in heart, and the kind of people that bring the shalom of God into every place we enter. He reveals this to us in the middle of his beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (5:6).
- The way that your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (v. 20) is given to us in the Lord’s Prayer: It is finding our identity, satisfaction, and reason for living in the God whose image we were created in and the One our gives meaning to our lives.
- The way that we guard our hearts from idols (vv. 19-24) and to keep our focus heavenward on God instead of on ourselves (vv. 25-32) is given to us in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
The way we get to the center of the kind of discipleship Jesus calls us to is with Jesus. He is who it is that satisfies a hunger for righteousness. He is who it is that reconciles us to a holy God so that we can have a relationship with him as our “Father.” It is through Jesus that we find our citizenship in God’s kingdom so that all that we must have, is met in him alone. How do we get to the center Jesus is calling us to? We get there by pursuing Jesus as our only hope and righteousness! There is no other way, and Jesus shows us again the way we get to what he is calling us to in Matthew 7:7-12.
I want to show you something that I believe will open up Matthew 7:1-11 for you and bring great encouragement to you. The golden rule that you have heard so often repeated by all types of people is found in verse 12, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” How does this verse relate to what Jesus said in the previous verses in Matthew 7? Let me show you. Jesus said something very similar to verse 12 in Matthew 22:34-40; he was asked what he believed to be the “great commandment.” Here was Jesus’ answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).
The Law that Jesus came to fulfill is summed up in the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments pertain to our Love for God, and the remaining six commandments relate to how we treat our neighbor. So, what are the last six commandments? They are as follows: honor your father and mother, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, and do not covet. The health of your relationship with God will affect the way you treat others. Someone has said, your vertical relationship with God will spill over into your horizontal relationship with others.
If your relationship with God is healthy, you will notice your chronic plank problem and the need to remove it, only then will you see the speck in your brother’s eye with clear and compassionate eyes. How do you get to the place where you are able to see the planks in your metaphorical eye so that you can remove them? The law of God exposes our sin, but to what end? The apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 3:23-24, “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the Law, being confined for the faith that was destined to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our guardian to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:23–24, NASB 2020). In other words, the Law of Moses shines a light on our sin for the purpose of revealing that our only hope for a remedy is the Christ who is the remedy for our sin problem. We literally just sang this in Matt Boswell’s hymn he wrote in 2018, His Mercy is More:
What love could remember no wrongs we have done
Omniscient all knowing He counts not their sum
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore
Our sins they are many His mercy is more
What patience would wait as we constantly roam
What Father so tender is calling us home
He welcomes the weakest the vilest the poor
Our sins they are many His mercy is more
What riches of kindness He lavished on us
His blood was the payment His life was the cost
We stood ‘neath a debt we could never afford
Our sins they are many His mercy is more
How is it that we are able to remove the plank from our eye? We go to the God who will not turn us away because of the mercy provided through his Son.
We Have a Father Who Will Not Turn Us Away
Okay, so here we find ourselves staring at what I think is the summit of the Sermon on the Mount. It seems to me that from Matthew 5, we have been climbing a 14’er and now we find ourselves close to the top, and what we find is what Jesus says in 7:7-12.
How do move to the center of discipleship? Jesus again points us to the source of our strength, and it is not a strength we can muster up from within. From the beginning of his sermon, Jesus has been pointing us to the same place: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8). What is it that grants us the favor to approach the Almighty? We are able to do so because we are his children, for he is our Father (v. 11).
I have not been able to stop thinking about what Jesus says here in v. 7-11 since this past Monday. Mondays are my day of rest; it is the day I begin by attending Gold’s Gym to work out and reflect. I usually spend about an hour doing some type of cardio workout while I listen to a sermon; I follow this with praise music, before switching to my workout playlist for the next hour while lifting free weights. This past Monday I spent an hour on the stair climber, and while on the stair climber, as I reflected upon today’s sermon text, I could not help but think of two other passages in the Bible that sound strangely familiar. I want to briefly share them with you as a way of encouraging your heart.
The first passage is found in Revelation 3:14-22, which serves as a warning to the Church in Laodicea, and the dangers that come in losing sight of the mission Jesus has called us to because we have lost sight of Jesus:
The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:14–22)
As I thought of this passage in Revelation regarding the church in Laodicea, I thought of the parallel of Jesus as the Groom of the Church standing outside of the bedroom of his Bride knocking with what we read in Song of Solomon 5:2-6. I really believe the parallel between these two passages was intentional:
I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.” I had put off my garment; how could I put it on? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them? My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt. I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer. (Song of Solomon 5:2–6)
As I reflected on these two passages, I thought of my own heart and how prone I am to hesitate at Jesus’ invitation of a deeper intimacy with him. I am prone to turn him away because of the distractions in my life and the idols of my own heart. All the while he speaks to my fickle heart: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me.”
While on that stair climber as I thought about what I read in Revelation 3, Song of Solomon 2, and Matthew 7:7-11, I was overwhelmed with this simple but profound truth: We have One who will not turn us away! Our Father is not like us, for he will not respond to our knocking, our asking, and our seeking, with indifference; nor will he treat our coming to him as though we were inconveniencing him. No, dear brothers and sisters, Jesus tells us that we can come to him and assures us: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Or as the apostle Paul wrote in similar tone: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:31–32)? This is why we can celebrate using the words of another modern hymn:
How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory
 Jethani, Skye (2020). What if Jesus Was Serious (p. 145). Moody Publishers.