I have a bumper sticker that says, Climb Mountains – Jesus Did, and it’s true. Jesus climbed a lot of mountains. In fact, according to James Ridgeway, the founder of Educational Opportunities, a non-profit group that takes people on tours of the Holy Land, you can tell the story of Jesus by looking at mountains. After his baptism, Jesus went up to a mountain where he was tempted. Before big decisions like choosing his disciples, Jesus would go into the mountains to pray. He multiplied the loaves and fishes and fed thousands of people in the mountains. Jesus stood in the presence of Moses and Elijah on a mountain, on Palm Sunday he entered Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and on Good Friday he was crucified on Mt. Calvary. His last words were given on the top of mountain and it was from that mountain Jesus was taken up into heaven. So mountains played an important part in Jesus life, but it wasn’t just Jesus. Mountains have always been special for God’s people.
In a test of faith, Abraham was told to go to Mt. Moriah and sacrifice his son.
|Mt. Moriah where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac|
When he got there, Abraham didn’t have to kill Isaac because on the mountain God provided a lamb. Moses went to the top ofMt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments.
|Mt. Sinai where Moses received the law.|
The prophet Elijah defeated all the false prophets on Mt. Carmel.
|Mt. Carmel where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal|
So mountains have always been special places for God to work and they seem to be the place where God loves to speak. God spoke to Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Jesus on the mountain top and it’s on the top of a mountain that God clearly speaks to us,Mark 9:7. From the top of a mountain God tells us to listen to Jesus and so we need to pay careful attention to his teaching and message.
The most powerful message or sermon Jesus ever gave was from a mountain which is why we call it the sermon on the mount,
|The mountain where Jesus preached.|
but before we look at that sermon it’s important to understand a few things about Jesus teaching in general. When he taught, Jesus used a lot of stories called parables. Parables helped people easily understand a truth about God’s character, activity or will for our lives. For example, the parable of the lost sheep is a powerful story about the love of God. The parable itself is a story about a shepherd who has 100 sheep and when one gets lost the shepherd leaves the 99 and goes to search for that one lost sheep. When he finds it, the shepherd lifts the sheep in his arms, places it on his shoulder and returns home with joy. The parable is simple and easy to understand, God is the good shepherd who rescues us when we are lost.
So the parable is told to teach us about the love of God and the lengths that God is willing to go to save us, but we can’t push the parable too far. For example, it would be foolish for us to hear this story and think that Jesus is telling us that we should eat grass, walk on all fours and have our bodies shaved once a year like sheep. Parables usually just have one main truth to share and so we need to be careful not to push the analogy or comparison too far.
Jesus also used bold and sometimes provocative statements to make a point and we call this prophetic hyperbole. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that if our hand causes us to sin we should cut it off and throw it away. Now let’s be clear – Jesus is not advocating cutting off our hands, but he does want us to take seriously the reality of our sin. In another place Jesus tells a rich man to sell everything he has so that he will have treasure in heaven. Again, we can’t sell everything we have and just become a burden on the church or society – but we need to take seriously the hold that our possessions and money have on us and find ways to free ourselves. So as we can see, it’s important to know some of the figures of speech Jesus used so that we can rightly interpret what Jesus is saying.
So now let’s turn and look at Jesus Sermon on the Mount.
|looking out from where Jesus gave his sermon on the mount|
It is found in Matthew 5-7 and since we are not going to be able to read and discuss it all this morning, I want to encourage you to take time to read it through this week. One of the first things Jesus tells us in the sermon is that our lives and our faith need to make a difference in this world. Look at Matthew 5:13-16. We don’t follow Jesus and walk in his way just so that our lives will be blessed and so we will experience the fullness of God – we walk in the footsteps of Jesus to be blessing to others. We were created for good deeds that can be seen by others so that when people see them they might see the truth and power and love of God through us.
This has always been God’s desire for his people. In the Old Testament we read that the people of Israel were to be a light to the nations which means they were to live their lives with so much faith and trust in God that the people around them would turn toward God themselves. My guess is that you have known someone whose passion for God and faithfulness to Jesus was so compelling that it made you think more about living for God yourself. That’s what it means to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world and these are the kinds of lives we need to be living.
The second thing Jesus does in his sermon is to remind us of the true intent of God’s law. In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus helps us see the true intent of God’s law given through Moses. For example, Jesus said, you have heard that it was said you shall not murder, (that was the law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai to give to the people) but I tell you that you should not even by angry with your brothers and sisters (this is God’s real desire). In other words, it’s not just our actions that God cares about it is our attitudes as well. Again, Jesus said that God doesn’t just care about adultery as much as he cares about lust. And while the law given through Moses allows us to seek justice, God really wants us to practice forgiveness. The religious leaders had done a really good job defining in detail every law that God had given, but what they lost in all those details was the spirit of the law and God’s original intent. Because of this, Jesus goes into the mountains and suddenly is seen as the new Moses giving the people a new law that helps people once again understand what it means to be the people of God.
In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us about the importance of practicing the spiritual disciples of prayer, fasting and giving to God. All these things are important but we have to make sure that we are not doing them for show. We don’t give and pray and fast to get recognized by others in hopes that people will think highly of us. We do it to show our deep commitment and gratitude to God and we do it to grow closer to God. When we pray Jesus tells us to pray in secret where only God can hear us. And when Jesus tells us to give he says we are to do it so quietly that our right hand doesn’t even know what our left hand is doing (again, an example of prophetic hyperbole - we can’t actually have one hand not know what the other is doing, but that is how seriously we should strive to give without looking for recognition). And when we fast we are not to do it in a way that makes us look miserable so people will think we are some kind of super Christian, we are to do it in a way that no one even knows we are doing it. Spiritual disciples are important but again, we have to do them for the right reasons.
In Matthew 6:19-34, Jesus takes time to address the danger of money and worldly possessions. Jesus tells us not store up treasure on earth, or look to the things of this world to take care of us and it is here that Jesus states clearly, you can’t serve both God and wealth. I think Jesus takes time to address this clearly because he knows this is one of the most difficult areas of our life. As we heard a few weeks ago, this was a temptation for Jesus and so he reminds us not to give in to the wealth of the world around us but to keep our faith and trust in God alone.
Jesus ends his sermon with two important points. The first is that as we consider all these teachings and how we are supposed to live them out – we can’t look at others to see how well they are doing it or not doing it – we can’t judge how well other people are living up to this teaching – we have to look at ourselves. Here again, Jesus uses a great illustration or story to teach this. Matthew 7:1-5. The image is powerful – we can’t be worrying about what is going in the eyes or the lives of others – we need to be worrying about what is sticking out of our own eye. We need to examine our lives and our motives and our attitudes and actions and allow God to convict and challenge and call us to change where change and faithfulness are needed.
So we have to examine our own lives and make sure we are living these words out and that is how Jesus ends this sermon. If we don’t live out these words then in time our lives and our faith will fall apart. Look at Matthew 7:24-27. After hearing this sermon, if we don’t live it out, if we don’t use it as the foundation of our faith – it means nothing and it won’t support us when we need it. We have to live it out because as we learned last fall – application is… (everything!)
It is not surprising that Jesus went into the mountains to give this sermon because this sermon lays out for us how God wants us to live. This is the new law given to us by the new Moses on the mountaintop. Like the original law given by God, this teaching is challenging, some might say impossible, but that’s ok, because it shows us that living the way of Jesus requires not more hard work but more grace and love and the power of God. We can’t live out this sermon alone, we need Jesus. We need Jesus for courage to step out and live this way. We need Jesus to guide our hearts and lives as we walk in his footsteps. We need Jesus to save us when we fall. We just need Jesus.
I hope you will take some time this week to go to the mountains, go someplace to read God’s word, maybe this very sermon, and ask God for the strength to live it out because according to Jesus, when we ask it will be given to us, when we seek we will find and when knock on God’s door – God will answer and give us all that we need.
The Way ~ Mountains
Take time this week to study Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Every day find ways to live out this message of Jesus.
Monday: Matthew 5:1-12
· What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness and how can you increase this hunger?
· How can you become a peacemaker?
Tuesday: Matthew 5:13-15
· How can you be salt and light in our world? What practical ways can you show the grace and love of God to others?
Wednesday: Matthew 5:17-48
· Which one of Jesus’ teachings here most applies to your life? What is God trying to say to you?
Thursday: Matthew 6:1-18
· How can you grow in faith this summer through prayer, fasting and giving?
· What one step can you take this week?
Friday: Matthew 6:19-34
· Has money and wealth become the focus of your life?
· Does worry consume you and derail your faith?
· Pray this week for Jesus to open your eyes to all the ways God wants to provide for you and your family.
Saturday: Matthew 7:1-27