“Sermon on the Mount” on Matthew 7:24-29 by Joe Ellis — April 30, 2023
Did you notice in our Scripture reading this morning, that Jesus does not say, “Those who hear my words and do them will never encounter wind or rain?” Following Jesus is not a guarantee that we will never encounter storms. What he does promise is that when we do encounter storms, these storms will not lead to our annihilation or ruin. Walking with Jesus and living His teaching is the way to establish a house with a firm foundation — a house that will endure through very difficult times.
Jesus is teaching us not only how to build a house that endures through this life. He is teaching us to build a house that withstands God’s final judgment, and stands into eternity.
This is one of the most severe warnings in Scripture, so followers of Jesus will hear His words and respond by saying, “OK, I won’t just hear his words, I will do his words." That’s good.
Yet we need to be careful not to be like someone saying, “All right, I’ll build the house,” without considering there are individual steps involved. It's difficult to build a house by occasionally looking at some blueprints and setting them aside. Going about building a house by feel doesn’t make for a well-built house. Nor can you build a house by doing everything all at once. It's impossible to lay the foundation at the same time as you put on the roof, while also installing the doorbell. That would be impossible and very stressful. Doing everything in the Sermon on the Mount at once is impossible.
While we do need to have a general awareness of Jesus’ teachings and apply them as life happens, often he calls us to focus on one or two different aspects of his teaching at a time. Think of a builder saying, “Today, I’m going to work on the staircase. I have the plans to refer to and once I get this part of the house done, I will move onto the next part." I think that’s a good approach to the Sermon on the Mount — focus on one or two teachings that you want to be very intentional about incorporating into your life.
I’m going to read most of the Sermon on the Mount again. As I do, my hope is that each of us can listen with an ear for what the Spirit is calling us to focus on. It could be His words about loving your enemy, it might be His words on prayer, it might be His words about trusting the Father to provide. As I preach Jesus’ words to you, listen for what the Spirit is calling you to practice over the next couple months.
Here are some ways that the Spirit might speak to you: you might feel a tug at your gut or hear His voice saying “Pay attention, it’s this I want you to work on.” Or you may feel a strong desire burning in your heart to live into a particular teaching. If you feel a powerful resistance to a certain teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, that could be the Spirit saying pay attention to that part. Or maybe your current life circumstances will come to mind, and it feels like Jesus is asking you to apply his teaching there. As we hear the Sermon, let’s each ask Jesus to reveal what He’s specifically calling us to focus on in this coming season. Pray with me:
“Lord Jesus, as we hear Your words, Your Words of life, please show each of us what you are calling us to focus on over the coming weeks and months. We trust you will show each of us how you are calling us to live. As you challenge us, we pray the prayer St. Augustine prayed so many years ago: “Give what you command, O Lord, and then command whatever you will.” Amen.
The following is from the New Testament for Everyone translation that Tom Wright offers up in his, The Kingdom New Testament (2017):
Blessings on the poor in spirit! The Kingdom of heaven is yours.
Blessings on the mourners! You’re going to be comforted.
Blessings on the meek! You’re going to inherit the earth.
Blessings on people who hunger and thirst for God’s justice! You’re
going to be satisfied.
Blessings on the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourselves.
Blessings on the pure in heart! You will see God.
Blessings on the peacemakers! You’ll be called God’s children.
Blessings on people who are persecuted because of God’s way! The
kingdom of heaven belongs to you.
Blessings on you when people slander you and persecute you, and say all kinds of wicked things about you falsely because of me. Celebrate and rejoice: there’s a great reward for you in heaven. That’s how they persecuted the prophets who went before you.
You’re the salt of the earth! But if the salt becomes tasteless, how is it going to get salty again? It’s no good for anything. You might as well throw it out and walk all over it.
You’re the light of the world! A city can’t be hidden if it’s on top of a hill. People don’t light a lamp and put it under a bucket; they put it on a lamp stand. Then it gives light to everybody in the house. That’s how you must shine your light in front of people! Then they will see what wonderful things you do, and they’ll give glory to your father in heaven.
Don’t suppose that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy them; I came to fulfill them! I’m telling you the truth: until heaven and earth disappear, not one stroke, not one dot, is going to disappear from the law until it’s all come true. So anyone who relaxes a single one of these commandments, even the little ones, and teaches that to people, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But anyone who does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Yes, let me tell you: unless your covenant behaviour is far superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
You heard that it was said to the ancient people, “you shall not murder”; and anyone who commits murder shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; anyone who uses foul and abusive language will be liable to the law court; and anyone who says, “you fool,” will be liable to the fires of Gehenna.
So, if you are coming to the altar with your gift, and there you remember that your brother has a grievance against you, leave your gift right there in front of the altar, and go first and be reconciled to your brother. Then come back and offer your gift. Make friends with your opponent quickly, while you are with him in the street, in case your opponent hands you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you find yourself being thrown into jail. I’m telling you the truth: you won’t get out until you’ve paid every last copper coin.
“You heard,” Jesus continued, “that it was said, “you shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you: everyone who gazes at a woman in order to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye trips you up, tear it up and throw it away. Yes: It’s better for you to have one part of your body destroyed than for the whole body to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand trips you up, cut it off and throw it away. Yes: it’s better for you to have one part of your body destroyed than for your whole body to go into Gehenna.
It was also said, ‘if someone divorces his wife, he should give her a legal document to prove it.’ But I say to you: everyone who divorces his wife, unless it’s in connection with immorality, makes her commit adultery; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Again, you heard that it was said to the people long ago: ‘You shall not sear falsely, but you shall give to the Lord what you promised under oath’. But I say to you: don’t swear at all! Don’t swear by heaven (it’s God’s throne!); don’t swear by earth (it’s God’s footstool!; don’t swear by Jerusalem (it’s the city of the great king!); don’t swear by your head (you can’t make one hair of it turn white or black!). When you’re talking, say yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no. Anything more than that comes from the evil one.
You heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you: don’t use violence to resist evil! Instead, when someone hits you on the right cheek, turn the other one towards him. When someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your cloak, too. And when someone forces you to go one mile, go a second one with him. Give to anyone who asks you, and don’t refuse someone who wants to borrow from you.
You heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: love your enemies! Pray for people who persecute you! That way, you’ll be children of your Father in heaven! After all, he makes his sun rise on bad and good alike, and sends rain both on the upright and on the unjust. Look at it like this: if you love those who love you, do you expect a special reward? Even tax-collectors do that, don’t they? And if you only greet your own family, what’s so special about that? Even Gentiles do that, don’t they? Well then: you must be whole, just as your heavenly father is whole.
When you are practicing your piety, mind you don’t do it with an eye on the audience! Otherwise, you won’t have any reward from your Father in heaven.
So when you give money to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet in front of you. That’s what people do when they’re just play-acting, in the synagogues and the streets. They do it so that people will be impressed by them. I’m telling you the truth: they’ve received their reward in full. No: when you give money, don’t let your left hand have any idea what your right hand is up to. That way, your giving will be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you.
When you pray, you mustn’t be like the play-actors. They love to pray standing in the synagogues on the street corners, so that people will notice them. I’m telling you the truth: they have received their reward in full. No: when you pray, go into your own room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is there in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret will repay you.
When you pray, don’t pile up a jumbled heap of words! That’s what the Gentiles do. They reckon that the more they say, the more likely they are to be heard. So don’t be like them. You see, your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
So this is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
May you name be honoured,
May your Kingdom Come,
May your will be done
As in heaven, so on earth.
Give us today the bread we need now;
And forgive us the things we owe,
As we too have forgiven what was owed to us.
Don’t bring us into the great trial,
But rescue us from Evil.
Yes: If you forgive people the wrong they have done you, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, neither will you heavenly Father forgive you what you have done wrong.
When you fast, don’t be gloomy like the play-actors. They make their faces quite unrecognizable, so that everyone can see they’re fasting. I’m telling you the truth: they have received their reward in full. No: when you fast, tidy your hair and beard the way you normally do, and wash your face, so that others won’t notice you’re fasting — except your father, in secret. Then your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you.
Don’t store up treasure on earth. Moths and rust will eat it away, and robbers will break in and seal it. No: store up for yourselves treasure in heaven! Moths and rust don’t eat it away there, and no robbers break in and steal it. Show me your treasure, and I’ll show you where your heart is.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is honest and clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body is in the dark. So, if the light within you turns out to be darkness, darkness doesn’t come any darker than that.
Nobody can serve two masters. Otherwise they will either hate the first and love the second, or be devoted to the first and despise the second. You can’t serve both God and wealth.
So let me tell you: don’t worry about your life — what to eat, what to drink; don’t worry about your body— what to wear. Their’s so more to life than food! There’s more to the body than a suit of clothes! Have a good look at the birds in the sky. They don’t plant seeds, they don’t bring in the harvest, they don’t store things in barns — and your Father in heaven feeds them! Think how different you are from them! Can any of you add fifteen inches to your height just by worrying about it?
And why worry about what to wear? Take a tip from the lilies in the countryside. They don’t work; they don’t weave; but, let me tell you, not even Solomon in all his finery was dressed as well as one of these. So if God gives that sort of clothing even to the grass in the field, which is here today and on the bonfire tomorrow, isn’t he far more likely going to clothe you too, you little-faith lot?
So don’t worry away with your “what’ll we eat?” And “what’ll we drink?” And “What’ll we wear?” Those are all the kinds of things the Gentiles fuss about, and your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Instead, make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life, and all these things will be given to you as well.
So, don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow can worry about itself. One day’s trouble at a time is quite enough.
Don’t judge people, and you won’t be judged yourself. You’ll be judged, you see, by the judgment you use to judge others! You’ll be measured by the measuring-rod you use to measure others! Why do you stare at the splinter in your neighbour’s eye, but ignore the plank in your own? How can you say to your neighbour, “Here—let me get that splinter out of your eye,” when you’ve got the plank in your own? You’re just play-acting! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you’ll see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your neighbour’s eye.
Don’t give holy things to dogs. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they will trample them under their feet— and then turn around and attack you!
Ask and it will be given to you! Search and you will find! Knock and the door will be opened for you! Everyone who asks receives; everyone who searches finds; everyone who knocks will have the door opened. Don’t you see? Supposing your son asks you for bread—which of you is going to give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish—which of you is going to give him a serpent? Well then: if you know how to give good gifts to your children, evil as you are, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
So whatever you want people to do to you, do just that to them. Yes: this is what the law and the prophets are all about.
Go in by the Narrow gate. The gate that leads to destruction, you see, is nice and wide, and the road going there has plenty of room. Lots of people go that way. But the gate leading to life is narrow, and the road going there is a tight squeeze. Not many people find their way through....
So, then, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Heavy rain fell, floods rose up, the winds blew and beat on that house. It didn’t fall, because it was founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t do them – they will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. Heavy rain fell, floods rose up, the winds blew and battered the house – and down it fell with a great crash.
And so it was, when Jesus finished these words, that the crowds were astonished at his teaching. He was teaching them, you see, on his own authority, not like their scribes used to do.