Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has changed our world. His message was the inspiration and even the method Gandhi used to bring freedom to the people of India which in turn helped Martin Luther King, Jr. in his fight for civil rights in the U.S.A..
Lord Irwin asked Gandhi what he thought would solve the problems between Great Britain and India. Gandhi picked up a Bible and opened it to the fifth chapter of Matthew and said: “When your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world.”
Martin Luther King became extremely enthusiastic about Gandhi’s ideas. King states in Stride Toward Freedom: “Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale…. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking…. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”
If so many have found political and civil freedom through the words of Jesus, how much more powerful will it be if we were to apply these words to our spiritual lives and the lives of others?
1“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Jesus
When we do good deeds there is a reward from people, and a reward from God. A reward from people is attention and does not last long. Reward from God is far better than a few seconds of attention. When we seek out the attention or praise of people we negate the opportunity for God to reward us.
A mark of maturity is sacrificing the short term reward so we can receive the long term reward which is far better. Saving money, cutting calories, waking up early to work out, turning off the television to read or to invest in others. We do not feel like it, but we are always glad we did it.
We should give, pray, and fast in secret – not to impress others but to please God.
Jesus was on a mission against hypocrisy. He was on a mission for authentic spirituality.
We do not like people who tell us to do something they aren’t even doing. We can not tolerate hypocrisy!
Gandhi said: “The message of Jesus as I understand it, is contained in the Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole. If then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, ‘Oh, yes, I am a Christian.’ But negatively I can tell you that in my humble opinion, what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount.”
We could throw rocks at the blaring forms of hypocrisy we see in our world (scandals, politics, damage done in the name of religion). That’s relatively easy to do, and it makes for a great message. That would work, but it would also be terribly ironic. Right here, in this very sermon on the mount that we’re looking at, that Jesus states…
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:5
Unfortunately, we do this all the time. We listen to someone and judge them for their hypocrisy unaware of how obvious our own hypocrisy is.
When I wrote a book called Not Like Me that is about embracing the people Christians love to hate, I received a note back from my editor. “Be careful. You are coming across as quite judgmental of people who are judgmental.” I went back to work on it to change the tone.
When we look down on others, we miss what we could learn from them. Consider for a moment, who are the people in your life you don’t think offer much to you. Is it possible they are in your life because God wants to teach you something through them? Pride keeps us from learning what humility can teach us.
Is your faith to please people or are you sincerely following Jesus?
Are you seeking to meet the needs of others because you are motivated to please God or to be noticed?
When describing how to pray in a way that pleases God, what has become known as The Lord’s prayer is incredibly selfless. Jesus emphasized praying for God’s will to be done and praying for a right relationship with others. It is certainly ok to ask God for what we need (“our daily bread” and overcoming temptations), but it is critical to ask God what He wants and pray on behalf of what others need. Goal of prayer is not to manipulate God but to connect with Him and His ways – to recalibrate our lives to truly follow Him.
Jesus revealed a new kingdom. He hadn’t come as a political messiah; nor had he come to start a better religion. Jesus brought the eternal into the present. Rather than freeing political prisoners and establishing his reign through an earthly political or geographical model, Jesus came to start a spiritual kingdom whose citizens would come from all of the nations and out of all of the religions. To enter this kingdom, we need to step out of the temporal world and enter the eternal world through faith by asking Christ to become our King, no matter who we are or from where we come. Those who surrender their lives to become God’s servants join him in his mission to rescue others who remain unaware of the freedom this invisible kingdom brings.
Not only do we need to ask God to re-orient our lives around His Kingdom, we need to pray for healthy relationships.
It seems harsh that Jesus says we cannot be forgiven if we do not forgive. The reason: an unwillingness to forgive someone is a sin that separates us from God! We cannot be a healthy place with God when we have unforgiveness in our hearts and bitterness towards another person.
We need to pray for healthy relationships because relationships are hard and because they unforgiveness hurts the one unwilling to forgive.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32
14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. – Hebrews 12:15
Bitterness spreads and begins to affect every area of our lives. We become bitter at our dad for the way he’s treated us and then we become bitter at our boss and then our husband and then our small group leader and then our pastor and then our kids. Bitterness and unforgiveness isolates us from others, and we need others to find healing when life hurts.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” – Nelson Mandela
In this new kingdom, we are adopted as children of the King. It is no accident in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus does not use the word “God” to describe the Creator of the Universe. He uses the word “Father.” He doesn’t refer to “My Father.” He refers to him as “Our Father” and he looks at the crowd and he communicates to us, He can be “Your Father.”
You can have such an intimate and authentic relationship with God that you can know His heart. He knows you and loves you, and He invites you to show your love to Him by serving and loving others through giving, praying, and fasting. As a bonus: He rewards you in secret – not what we deserve but even better than what we deserve!
“When you give alms (pray, fast), do not do it as the hypocrites do, but when you give alms (pray, fast), do it in secret and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
What if, as a community, we thought less about the hypocrisy in others and more about potential hypocrisy in ourselves?
What if we opened our desires, all our desires, to God?
What if we looked to him, and let him know, “I want to be the real thing. I want to love. I don’t always have it in me, but give me your strength, give me your power.”
I’m convinced that if we did that…not just today as an exercise coming out of this message…but daily, that we would ever-increasingly be who God has called and created us to be, and we would be our true selves.
God doesn’t want our good deeds. He wants us! Our good deeds are the natural overflow of a relationship with God!