What I remember from the sermon on the mount

I’ve spent the last few months reading and listening to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), and this is the result of everything I could remember at this point. It is a mix of a few translations (The Message, NLT, NIV, ESV), paraphrasing, and interpretation. 

Jesus saw the crowds of people who were following him because he was healing people, and he walked him a hill, and his disciples followed him. When he got to a quiet place, he sat down and began to teach them. This is what he said:

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you, there is more of God and his rule.

You’re blessed when you feel you have lost what is most dear to you. You will be comforted by the one most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you have a hunger and thirst for God and for righteousness. That hunger and thirst will be satisfied.

You’re blessed when you are content with who you are, no more, no less. You can rest because your identity is in God.

You’re blessed when you can help people work together and bring peace between them. That is living out your God given identity to bring people together and promote peace.

You’re blessed when people persecute you on behalf of me. It means that the truth and beauty of your life is making them uncomfortable, and they don’t like it. But I like it, and your father likes it. You will have a great reward in heaven because of it. It will be worth it. Also, my prophets and witnesses have always been treated that way.

Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt seasoning that brings out the God flavors of the world. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? If you aren’t doing that, you have lost your purpose and your worth.

Let me put it another way. You are light that brings out the God colors of the world. If I make you my light bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you, do you? Can a city on a hill be hidden? No, I want you to be seen, because I want your life to be a living invitation to people to enjoy God. By living and open and generous life, you will prompt others to open up to God, this generous father in heaven. 

Don’t think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I did not come to do that, but rather to fulfill them. God’s law is more real and lasting than the starts in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars and earth wear out, God’s law will still be standing. If you disregard it and teach others to do the same, you will be least in the kingdom of heaven. But if you honor it, obey it, and teach others to do the same, you will find honor in the kingdom. You need a righteousness that is beyond the righteousness of the scribes and religious teachers if you are going to enter the kingdom of heaven.

You have heard it said “Do not murder”, but I’m telling you that it is not OK to be angry with a brother. People in the kingdom of heaven do not have anger for anyone, but love for everyone. Having anger means there is something seriously wrong in your heart. If you give up on another person, calling them a fool and hopeless, that is as far from the heart of God as you could be. That is the way to hell.

You have heard it said “Do not commit adultery”, but I’m telling you that applies to more than just the act of adultery. If you look at a woman to lust after her, you are committing the same sin, adultery in your heart. If you have lust in your heart, that means something is seriously wrong. That is not the way someone in the kingdom of God lives. Fight lust. Never encourage it or dwell on it. It is deadly. It would be better for you to lose your eye or your hand than to have lust corrupt all of you and drag you to hell.

You have also heard it said “When you divorce your wife, give her the proper papers,” but I’m telling you that you cannot be righteous just by being legal. If you divorce your wife, you are making her an adulteress, unless she is already one. And anyone who marries her is also an adulterer. You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure. 

You have also heard it said “Keep your vows,” but I’m telling you not to make any vows. You don’t need to. Just say yes or no. Vows are a way to manipulate other people with your words, and you don’t need to do that in the kingdom of heaven. Besides, anything you would swear on is beyond you. Heaven is God’s throne, the earth is his footstool, and Jerusalem is the city of the King.

You have heart it said “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” but I tell you do not resist an evil person. If someone slaps you, turn the other cheek. Do not seek revenge. If someone sues you for your shirt, give them your coat as well. If someone forces you to go a mile with them, go two. Respond to attacks with love. Respond to meanness with prayer. Give them something better than what they are forcing you to give them. And if someone asks you for something, give it to them. If someone wants to borrow from you, lend to them.

You have heard it said “Love you neighbor, and hate your enemy”, but I am telling you to love your enemies. This is what God does. He gives his best, the sun to shine, and the rain to nourish, to everyone, regardless of how they treat him, both the good and the bad. If you love only the people who love you, do you expect a reward? Everyone does that. And if you greet only those who greet you, how are you different from anyone else? Sinners do that. Pagans do that. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives towards you.

When you give to the needy, be careful not to do it so that other people will see you and praise you or respect you. People who do that may get praise and respect from people, but that’s is all they will get. They will not get praise and honor from God. Therefore, when you give, give in secret. Others will not know about it, but God will, because he sees everything, even the secret things. And God will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to pray loudly on the street corners for others to hear them. They are praying to impress others, to gain respect and praise from others. And they may get that, but they will not get respect and praise from God. When you pray, go to a quiet and secret place alone, your room, or your closet, and pray to God. Let it be genuine, sincere, and just between you and God. God is actually there with you. He hears you, and he will reward you. 

And when you pray, don’t babble on. Don’t repeat things meaninglessly. Have a real conversation with God. Also, God already knows everything you need before you even ask him. Before you speak your words, he knows them. The things you don’t even understand that you need, he understands and knows. 

Therefore, pray like this: Our father, who is everywhere, from the farthest corner of the universe, to the sky, to the air we breathe, may your name be honored as holy. You are a good king, and we want your rule here on earth in the same way that your rule is perfect in heaven. We ask you to provide food for today. Forgive us, as we forgive others. Protect us from temptation, and deliver us from evil. 

For if you for forgive others their sins, God will forgive you. If you refuse to forgive others, you cut yourself off from God’s forgiveness.

And when you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites. They disfigure their faces to make it clear to everyone they are fasting. They are looking for approval from people. And they may get it, but they will not get approval from God. When you fast, don’t make it obvious. Wash your face, comb your hair, brush your teeth. Don’t draw attention to yourself. It’s OK if people don’t notice. God will notice. He sees everything, even what you do in secret. And he will reward you.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth. They aren’t safe here. They will be eaten by moth, destroyed by rust, stolen by robbers. Instead, store up treasure in heaven, where it will be safe. The kingdom of heaven is the best place for you to invest your time, money, and energy. Isn’t it obvious? The place where your treasure is will also be the place that you will long to be, and end up being. 

The eye is the lamp of the body. If the eye is good, the whole body is full of light. But if your eye is bad, and the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! You cannot serve two masters. You will hate one and love the other. You cannot serve both God and money. 

Choose God, and don’t be anxious about your life. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear. God knows that you need these things, and he will provide them. Who has ever added an hour to his life by worry? 

Look at the birds! Do they sow and harvest food? No, but God is gracious and generous to them and feeds them. God cares much more about you than about birds. He will take care of you, you who have such little faith in him.

And if you look at the wildflowers, you will notice they are dazzlingly beautiful. The ten best dressed men and women in the world look shabby compared to them. And yet they die and are gone so quickly! If God cares for them, don’t you think he will care for you? You mean much more to him than flowers. 

Steep your life in God-provision, God-reality, and God-initiative, and don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find that all your every day human needs will be met. And don’t worry about the hard things that may or may not come tomorrow. God will be there to help you. 

Here’s some basic advice on how to live: don’t pick on people or jump on their failures, unless you want the same treatment. If you judge other people, you will be judged yourself, most likely by them and certainly by God. If you say to someone “Let me help you with that speck in your eye” but you actually have a log in your own eye, how can you help them? First, get the log out of your eye, then you can help them. You need to actually love and help people, not just throw advice at them. If you are always giving harsh unsolicited advice, don’t be surprised if people attack you. 

This is how you interact with a person, both God and others. Ask for what you want, seek it, knock on the door. Don’t demand, don’t be silent, don’t try to force your way in. Entrust your desires to God. Don’t you know he wants to help you? If your son asks you for some bread, do you trick him with a rock? If he asks for a fish, would you scare him with snake? Of course not! Even being evil, you know how to give gifts to your children. Don’t you think God, this generous and gracious father in heaven knows how to do it much better? He invented it! 

A general principle to follow is to treat others the way you would like to be treated. What do you wish people would do for you? Do that for them. If you add up the law and the prophets, this is what you get.

Enter through the narrow gate. There are many people who do whatever they want. They are on the broad road that leads to destruction. The way to life — to God! — is vigorous and requires total attention. Devote yourself to it. Do the things I’m telling you to do. 

Watch out for false prophets! They may seem nice and even honorable, but they are evil. They take advantage of people and abuse them for their own gain. Don’t be convinced by charisma, look for character. Look at what they actually do. Look at their actions. You can tell what is in a person’s heart by their actions, in the same way that you can tell what kind of tree by looking at the fruit. It’s impossible for a tree to produce a different kind of fruit than the kind of tree it is. So look at the fruit, and you will know what kind of tree it is. The bad trees will eventually be cut down and burned. God will do this. 

Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord!” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who actually do what my Father wants to be done. Do what I’m telling you to do. Don’t try to flatter me or my father because it won’t work. And don’t try to fool me, because I know what is in your heart. Many people will say to me “Look at all these things we did, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking,” and do you know what I’m going to say? “You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves look important. You don’t impress me one bit. I see your heart in it’s entirety, and I know you don’t love me, and we don’t have a relationship. You’re out of here!” 

Anyone who hears my words and obeys them, actually puts them into practice, is like on of those intelligent people who builds their house on a rock. When the winds blows, and the storm comes, and the river rises, that house stays sturdy. It is safe on a solid foundation. But anyone who hears my words and does not obey them, does not actually put them into practice, is like a stupid person who builds their house on the sand. When the wind blows, and the storm comes, and the river rises, that house will be completely destroyed. 

When Jesus had finished speaking, the crowd burst into applause. This was the best teaching they had ever heard. Jesus was teaching them not the way that their religious teachers taught them, but in a more authentic and completely authoritative way.