As I mentioned in last week’s lesson the Sermon on the Mount is more than just a famous sermon, but it seems the be the foundation upon which Jesus is building his entire gospel message. If you look at the structure of the sermon you can see a pattern.
Chapter 5 – The Focus is on how we interact with our fellow human beings and the types of attributes we should develop.
Chapter 6 – Focus is on our interactions with God and how our relationship should develop.
Chapter 7 – A list of warnings and suggestions on why the gospel is so essential for our lives now and in eternity.
The pattern here is similar to Jesus’s response to the later question what is the most important commandment? “Love God and Love your Neighbor.” As we study the New Testament, I think this pattern will reveal itself many more times, but here we have Jesus setting the foundation. The foundation is clear that our journey comprises of two primary relationships we are here to build and cultivate. Our relationship with Deity, and our relationship with our fellow human beings. They are truly the only things that last, they are the things that matter. As we finish the sermon, I hope you can feel inspiration on how you can make the relationships around you better and your relationship with the Savior better.
CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 8 – Matt 6-7
– Sacred fasting and prayer are the conduit for our relationship with God.
– Accumulating wealth for our own comfort and enjoyment can be an impediment to connecting with God in our spirits.
– Celebrating or showcasing our righteousness, or our good works is a quick way to alienate yourself from God and from your neighbors.
Context and Timeline:
– The word hypocrite in the manuscript is referring to a stage actor in a Greek drama. So their actions were planned and part of script to get glory from the audience. I like this way of looking at the word hypocrite.
– The more up to date translations of the term vain repetitions is “empty words” and although they have similar meaning, it is important that the words are not as important as the meaning behind them. I am not convinced that a recited prayer that has true meaning behind it is worse than a non-recited prayer that is said perfunctory and without meaning. The point Jesus is making is that our words should have real intent and sincerity behind them.
– Much is said in the LDS church regarding the Lord’s Prayer and how it has become a “vain repetition” because of how often it is repeated and likely for some it has become full of “empty words”. At the time Jesus gave the prayer however it hadn’t been repeated at all yet and probably gave the people of the time a more meaningful way to pray to God directly with words full of meaning to them. A few translation changes in the modern translations read “give us our daily bread” as “give us enough bread for today” also the earliest manuscripts omit the sentence, “For yours, is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
– Anciently it would not have been viewed as light coming into the eye, but the light coming from the eye. So, in this context becoming full of light was not something that came from the outside, but from within and then emanated outward.
– Mammon is an Aramaic word for wealth. There is some debate among scholars as to whether it means money, or the desire to accumulate wealth as a priority.
– The Greek translation of the word judge is a much stronger word than we typically mean when we use it. It means to condemn or cut off forever and had a very aggressive connotation.
– Anciently what we know as the Golden Rule was known as the law of reciprocity and it had a profound meaning to the disciples of the Jesus. It was one of the first teachings in the Didache, which was an early Christian treatise believed to be written by the apostles as the brought Christianity to the world.
– Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount is called the Sermon on the Plain and it is not certain whether it was the same event recorded differently, or if the message was taught at another time. One of them could have been taught to the disciples alone and another taught to a larger group with things changed.
Having finished the beginning part of the sermon on how we should treat each other and how to find righteousness in our relationships, Jesus moves to teaching about our relationship with God. He begins by speaking about fasting and prayer.
The most famous part of these two teachings is the hypocrites and the Gentiles who do the fasting and prayer in ways that have either no meaning, or who do them with the intent of being revered or thought righteous by their audience. Jesus obviously condemns those actions, but what sometimes we miss is the direct implication of Jesus bringing up fasting and prayer as the first and most important way we can connect with God in our own lives.
He gives us important guidance about giving offerings, fasting with real intent in our hearts, praying in secret to God, and because we need to seek forgiveness from God we should also seek to forgive others. One of the things I love best about His guidance on prayer is that we should not be praying for a million blessings, instead we should be seeking His will. He makes this clear when he says, “give us enough bread for today” not enough bread for forever.
Next he begins a lesson on priorities. Our devotion and discipleship to God and Jesus Christ should not be secondary to temporal concerns. In fact, Jesus in four different ways expresses how the accumulation of wealth can interfere with our relationship with God. It can become our God.
1 – Storing up Treasures on earth – Store up treasures in heaven instead
2 – Cannot serve God and Mammon (Wealth)
3 – Do not worry about food, drink, clothing – Father in Heaven will take care of you.
4 – Do not worry about tomorrow – Today’s evil is sufficient for today.
At the core of these teachings is trust in God. That is the other part of our connecting to God. We must trust Him. He is not saying having wealth or having something to eat or drink is evil, but that if those things are more of priority than “Seeking first the kingdom of God,” we are in danger of trusting something else more than God.
The final part of the sermon seems a little out of place in some ways, but when viewed through the lens that this part of the sermon is a specific message to those who are commissioned with teaching and administering the gospel message to the world, it makes more sense. It is broken up into two parts: 1) The Golden Rule, and 2) Warnings.
“In all things, do the same to others as you desire them to do to you.”
The most natural application of the golden rule is how we judge others. Jesus instructs us to understand the correlation between how we judge others to how we will be judged. This is different way of viewing the beatitude about the merciful receiving mercy, and the Lord’s Prayer of being forgiven if we forgive others. Three times mentioned in three different ways is a strong indicator of the importance of this idea.
Jesus shows a flip-side to the golden rule when he instructs us to not give Holy and Sacred things to pigs and dogs (the most derogatory terms of the time). So, does he mean here that there are times when withholding things from others is following the golden rule?
Jesus then finishes his teaching of the golden rule with our relationship with God. We all wish God would talk to us, we all want a relationship with him, and so he says that we must ask, seek, and knock if we are to have it given to us, to find Him, and to have the door opened to us. We must give something to get something. God is constantly giving to us but we have a hard time seeing it until we seek Him. Then not only do we receive more, but we notice all the ways He has been giving all along.
Jesus concludes the sermon with a few warnings:
- The Gate is Narrow – not everyone is going to want to follow Jesus.
- Beware False Prophets – Do they gather figs and grapes or thorns and briars? What are their fruits? are they wolves in sheep’s clothing?
- Being a Disciple is not about what we say, but about what we do about the sermon he just taught and seeking the will of God and following it.
- Build your foundation upon Christ and the gospel, otherwise the storm will destroy what you are building.
One of the things I love about the people who heard the sermon, is their reaction to Jesus’s teachings. They were moved and surprised. They felt He taught as no one they were used to, He had power in His words. The power in my opinion was the power that comes when we teach what God wants us to teach. The Spirit of God accompanies the words of those who teach what God desires, even when it isn’t popular, and especially when it is something the other person needs to hear. All of Jesus’s preparations and experiences at the beginning of His ministry brought the power to his words, a power that still is in the Sermon on the Mount even today.
Is someone who teaches something that they may struggle with a hypocrite? Or is it more like someone who pretends to be good at something to exalt themselves above others? Is there value in showing our vulnerability and weakness when we are teaching a principle we struggle with?
What does Jesus mean when saying the way through the narrow gate is narrow and hard? What does he mean that the way to ruin is wide and easy? What kinds of things can we see in our own lives where this rings true?
What kind of vain repetitions do we say in our own prayers? How can we avoid them and follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer?
How can we take no thought of the morrow, not worry about our lives, or where we might find food? Is Jesus talking to everyone here or just his apostles? Is he using hyperbole to emphasize the need for us to trust the Lord and seek His will first and let things play out from there?
Key Moment or Scripture: Matt 6:24
24 No man can serve two masters: for either he. will hate the one, and love the other; or else. he will hold to the one, and despise the other, Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Jesus’s challenge here and in other places in the sermon have always been a source of conflict for me. I have been a business owner since I was 24 and have always had a drive to be successful in my professional life. I have goals and want to provide for my family and provide opportunities for my life. On the other hand, I truly believe what Jesus is teaching here. I have seen my life at times be consumed with being successful financially and it has caused me to act or not act in ways that He so clearly is teaching in this sermon.
I believe, after wrestling with this the past few years, is that our aim cannot be in financial success and mass accumulation of wealth. We must be willing to make our relationship with Christ, and our efforts to lighten the burden of those around us the priority. If we seek the Kingdom of God in our hearts and in our actions first, then it is possible we will be successful or not. If we are then we must dedicate ourselves to giving of that success to helping others, otherwise we are in danger of what Jesus teaches, we may make it impossible for us to become what He wants us to become.
The allure of wealth, success, and power were part of the temptations a few chapters earlier, they are the focus of the part of the sermon that indicates our relationship with God and will continue to be a theme in Jesus teachings for the rest of His ministry. I don’t know the best answer for each of us, but I do know that we must challenge ourselves with the question over and over and over again. Is the Kingdom of God my priority? Are helping and loving God’s children my priority? Or is my success, my power, my wealth the priority?
In my experience, if we ask the questions, we will gain inspiration on the right things to do for ourselves.
I want to conclude with a quick commentary on self-righteousness and hypocrisy. I am not sure the point of identifying these traits should be focused on the people around us. It should be directed inward toward our own words and actions. When we seek to be seen, or we pretend to be something we are not then we can grieve our relationship with God. However, this does not mean we should not teach the gospel because we don’t live it correctly.
Sharing our weaknesses at the same time we share our belief that the gospel is the truth is not hypocrisy, but truth in its fullest form. Too often we try to hide our weaknesses to fit in, when really, we should be looking for strength and comfort as we admit we need Jesus Christ. Every time I have seen someone share their weakness and their testimony that they need Jesus I have felt the spirit confirm to me that Jesus is with them, and that gives me hope. I think we could all do well to share our trials and weaknesses and our testimony of Jesus strengthening us and helping us. This is what we need to hear from each other, especially our children who need to hear it the most.