Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"The Sermon on the Mount ..."

Day #259

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 5 - 7 …

Jesus came to earth with one goal:  to establish His kingdom, His reign, on the earth!  All that He taught was about the kingdom of God and the beginning of His ministry brought about an immediate confrontation with Satan and the kingdom he is seeking to establish in opposition to God.  All that Jesus teaches, beginning with His “Sermon on the Mount,” must be understood in the context of the coming of God’s kingdom to earth.  This requires “drawing a line in the sand” and calling those who are spiritually blind out of the darkness and into the light of God’s truth.  As Jesus would later say to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, in John 3:3:  “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again!”

Once you understand that Jesus came to establish His kingdom on the earth, first through His Church and finally at His return, you can put together all the things He talks about in His Sermon on the Mount and apply them to your life as you live in this world today.  Most people have a very “small” view of the world and of the purpose of their lives, but Jesus changes that!

To be a disciple of Jesus you need to have the big picture in mind!  You need to look beyond the immediate and understand that life is more than the here and now, more than what you can see in the present.  In what we call His "Beatitudes,” Jesus redefines what it means to be "blessed."  In our world today, as in the days when Jesus walked the earth, to be "blessed" means that things are going well for you, that you have few, if any, major problems and that life is “good.”  But in God’s kingdom being “blessed” means that you are part of God's eternal kingdom and no matter what you may have or not have in THIS life and in THIS world, your inheritance in God’s coming kingdom will be your reward.

In fact, Jesus uses the word, "reward," several times.  After speaking about the “poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” “those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,” “the merciful, ... the pure in heart, the peacemakers” and “those who are persecuted because of righteousness,” Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (5:3-12).  Jesus makes it clear that the “reward,” which itself is a gift of God’s grace, lies in knowing God, in living in His presence now, and finally, in spending eternity in His kingdom. 

Knowing that truth frees you from the small vision of living in this world for your own purposes and opens your eyes to a grander view of life:  “You are the salt of the earth! ... You are the light of the world!”  (5:13-14).  And because you now have this “kingdom view” of life, you are called to live by a higher standard of “righteousness” as those who testify that Jesus Christ is King!  Living for SELF is no longer a worthwhile goal; living for God has replaced it.  Your new goal is clear:  “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48).

In Chapter 6, Jesus speaks of rewards again, but not of earthly rewards.  Speaking of giving to others, Jesus says, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (6:1).  But if you do them in secret, unto the Lord, “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (6:4). Disciples of Jesus do not live in this life in order to GET more “stuff.” We are here to serve the Lord, to obey His commands out of love, because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to.  Our goal is to praise our Father in heaven in order that "HIS kingdom may come and HIS will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (6:10).

Jesus goes on in His sermon to warn against hypocrisy, pretending that you are something you are not.  You may fool others, but you will never fool God!  Doing things to be seen by others, to receive praise for yourself, reveals an inner self that has taken the broad road that leads to destruction. Hypocrisy is so deadly that many will claim to be followers of Jesus on judgment day, but He will say, "I never knew you.  Away from Me you evildoers" (7:23).  Fulfilling the law is more than externals.  No one can meet God’s standard of righteousness.  There must be some other way to be righteous, perfect before God.

Thank God there is!  And it is the pursuit of righteousness that is our greatest need, not food or drink or clothes.  “But seek first HIS kingdom and HIS righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (6:33). Only by receiving the perfect righteousness of Christ by faith can anyone stand before God and be received into His presence.

We must enter the kingdom through the small gate and walk the narrow road.  While Jesus doesn't mention faith, His sermon coincides with what James writes later:  "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:17).  Jesus says, "Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit" (7:17).  All who are born again by the Spirit of God will display the desire to pursue righteousness, to follow the example of Christ.

You either build your life on a solid foundation of faith and obedience, acknowledging Jesus Christ as your King, OR you build your life on the sand and at any moment the storms of life may destroy what you have tried to build.  But those who are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, trusting in the grace of God and the forgiveness that is ours by faith in the Savior, will hear God's Word and do it, thus building our lives on the ROCK that cannot be moved.  What is on the inside will reveal itself on the outside.

"Storing up treasures in heaven" (6:19-21) will bring joy into your life even in this world, for you know what lies ahead and you are able to live in thankful obedience for God's gift of grace, even when persecuted or facing trials.  May our risen Lord, Himself, speak to your heart as you hear His Word and DO it!!

"Father in heaven, I thank You for the truth of Your Word and for the privilege of being a disciple of Jesus.  Let me live to honor Your name and to seek first Your kingdom.  Help me to serve you with perseverance, to forgive as You have forgiven Me, and to lay up treasures in heaven as I walk the narrow road that leads to life, by Your grace and by Your power, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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