Six Daily Devotionals from the Sermpn om the Mount

What is Jesus' Sermon on the Mount?

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 5-7), is a foundational discourse in Christian teachings. It was delivered on a mountainside to His disciples and a large crowd.

This sermon encompasses a wide range of moral and spiritual principles, beginning with the Beatitudes, which, among other things, bless the poor in spirit, the meek, and those who hunger for righteousness. Jesus expounds on the deeper meaning of the law, urging His followers to transcend mere legalism with genuine righteousness. He addresses issues such as anger, adultery, divorce, oaths, and retaliation, advocating for a higher standard of love and forgiveness. The sermon also includes the Lord's Prayer, guidance on charitable giving, the importance of trusting God over material wealth, and the Golden Rule. Jesus concludes with a call to action, emphasizing the necessity of putting His teachings into practice to build a life grounded in enduring faith.

For Day 1
Scripture Reading — Matthew 5:1-12

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8).

A design for life

Three months after arriving in Italy, I attended an interdenominational missionary conference in Florence. One evening, my dinner companions included a veteran missionary from a mission board with Calvinistic theological leanings. In our hotel dining room on the bank of the Arno River, I was enjoying my spaghetti and trying to explain something to the man about holiness theology. Suddenly, he looked up from his plate and said, "And I hope you're not going to impose that on the Italians."

In the Beatitudes, Jesus says quite clearly that holiness — including a pure heart — is the design for life in the Kingdom of God. Holy living is the lifestyle for which Americans and Italians were both created. I had not gone to Italy to "impose" the attainment of holy living on anyone but rather to proclaim that it was a possibility.

Heart purity is synonymous with a tightly focused concentration of the whole self upon God. The lifestyle Jesus outlines here (and which some dispute as being attainable) can spring only out of a pure heart. The Master's words clearly indicate that one can live in this present world with a pure heart. I believe that includes both Americans and Italians!

Discussion questions

  1. How does the concept of holiness and a pure heart relate to the Kingdom of God, according to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12?
  2. What does it mean to live with a pure heart? How might a pure heart enable someone to live the way Jesus outlined in the Beatitudes?
  3. Some say the lifestyle described by Jesus in the Beatitudes is attainable. What are some arguments for and against the attainability of living with a pure heart in the present world? How might people of different cultural backgrounds ise thee argiments?

Worship in Song, no. 298:

Come to my soul, blessed Jesus.
Hear me, 0 Saviour divine!
Open the fountain and cleanse me;
Give me a heart like Thine.

    — "A Heart like Thine" by Judson W. Van Deventer

An Afterword on Matthew 5:8

In Matthew 5:8, part of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The phrase "pure in heart" is significant and carries a deep meaning within the context of Jesus' teaching.

In summary, when Jesus speaks of the "pure in heart," He is calling His followers to an inner purity characterized by sincerity, integrity, and a wholehearted devotion to God. This purity leads to the profound blessing of seeing and experiencing God both in this life and in the life to come.

For Day 2
Scripture Reading — Matthew 5:13-16

"Don't hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father" (Matthew 5:16, TLB).

The Christian influence

Her name was Carol. In her late twenties, this South Texas girl encountered the gospel's transforming power. Formerly a prostitute who had dabbled on the edges of the drug subculture, she now desperately wanted to win her sinner friends to the Lord. But she had trouble "shining clearly." Her spiritual life was a roller coaster whose erratic ups and downs kept her from having a life that was plainly the work of her spiritual Father. As a result, her attempts as a verbal witness were merely laughed at.

You see, spiritual concepts do not stalk alone through the world. Jesus does not say we are to bring light or to give salt. He said we are to be light and salt. The gospel is not an abstract philosophy to be debated. God has chosen to send the Good News into the marketplace clothed with vivid concreteness in the lives of men and women.

We must continually ensure that the Source of our life is obvious. Gary Sivewright tells of a recurring dream of Judgment Day. As he remembers his high school of 2,000 students, Gary confesses that he was neither salt nor light. In that recurring dream, Gary recoils with horror and shame as many of his 1,999 classmates point at him crying, "All along you knew . . . you knew, and you didn't do or say anything."

Reflection questions

  1. In what ways does the concept of being "light" and "salt" in the world relate to the responsibility of Christ-followers to share their faith with unbelievers?
  2. What are some ways that Christians can let their "light shine" and their "good deeds glow" in their daily lives?
  3. Why is it important for the source of a Christian's life and actions to be obvious to others? How might this enhance or diminish believers' abilities to be effective witnesses for Christ?

Worship in Song, no. 318:

. . . but for love that claimeth
Lives for whom He died.
He whom Jesus nameth
Must be on His side.

— "Who Is on the Lord's Side?" by Frances R. Havergal

More on letting our light shine

Takeaways from Matthew 5:16

In summary, Matthew 5:16 calls Christians to live out their faith openly and actively, through good deeds that reflect God's love and lead others to glorify Him.

For Day 3
Scripture Reading — Matthew 5:17-26

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17).

God's unfolding plan

The Incarnation was a continuing part of God's unfolding plan to deliver man from the consequences of his own rebellion. Emmanuel — "God with us"— came to expose the truest and most profound meaning of the law.

One Christmas, I gave our two-year-old son, Matthew, a toy music box. As he tore the last bit of wrapping paper off, I could see he did not know what it was. Looking it over, he finally decided its function was similar to that of a hammer. So he began banging away with it on everything in reach. I crawled across the room on my hands and knees to him. I showed him how to wind it up, and we sat enthralled by the music. Now, you see, I was the same person who gave my son a gift he did not at first fully comprehend and then showed him the full meaning of it. I did not throw away the music box because he had initially misunderstood the purpose it was supposed to serve.

It was the same God who gave Moses the law and who spoke through the prophets who, 2,000 years later, was "in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself' (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus' attitude towards the law demonstrates that God does not act capriciously. He is the Eternal, Unchanging One. In a world filled with uncertainties and seemingly devoid of absolutes, I can be certain that God will be true to His Word and that both His commands and His promises remain bedrock-firm.

Reflection questions
  1. What insights might Jesus' statement in Matthew 5:17, "I have not come to abolish [the Law and the Prophets] but to fulfill them," provide into God's plan for humanity?
  2. In what ways might an understanding of God's "unchanging" character and faithfulness impact our relationship with Him and share how we live?
  3. In a world that often lacks absolutes and is filled with uncertainties, how might Jesus' attitude towards the law provide a foundation of certainty and trust in God's character and His Word?

Worship in Song, no. 133:

It will never lose its pow'r.
The Blood that cleanses from all sin
Will never lose its pow'r.

— "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power" by Civilla D. Martin

Takeaways from Matthew 5:17

In summary, Matthew 5:17 underscores the continuity and fulfillment of the Old Testament in Jesus' ministry, emphasizing a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the Law and the Prophets. It invites believers to embrace a righteousness that transcends mere legalism and is rooted in the transformative teachings of Jesus.

For Day 4
Scripture Reading — Matthew 5:27-37

"But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28).

Sin's seat — the heart

God does not totally legislate every possible act of our lives. He knows that purity in actions grows only out of purity of heart. Moral righteousness will never produce a pure heart. But a pure heart will produce moral righteousness.

Jesus points out that sin lies not only in committing an act but in the heart motive behind that action. A person may wish to commit an evil deed, but cannot because time, place, or opportunity is, at that moment, out of the person's power. However, in graphic illustrations, Jesus points out that the person is still fully chargeable for the iniquity of the action.

While we were in Italy, I spent one Sunday afternoon walking through old Pompeii, that city near Naples that was buried by the volcano Vesuvius 2,000 years ago. In several of the homes, pornographic wall murals are still intact. Pompeii was a wicked city, certainly in thought and heart, if not in deeds. As we walked, our Italian guide muttered, "No wonder God allowed the volcano to destroy it."

Today, let us pray the Psalmist's prayer: "Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity. Cleanse me from my sin. . . Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:2, 10).

Reflection questions

  1. How does Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:27-37 emphasize the importance of purity of the heart rather than merely focusing on external actions?
  2. What can we learn from Jesus' illustration of looking at a woman lustfully and its connection to committing adultery in the heart? Does this challenge the way many people understand sin and personal responsibility?
  3. Why might it be significant that, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus highlights the relationship between the heart's motive and the iniquity of actions? In what ways should this relationship shape our pursuit of moral righteousness and moral purity?

Takeaways for us from Matthew 5:28

More for you on the concept of sin

Worship in Song, no. 34:

My soul, be on thy guard;
Ten thousand foes arise.

— "My Soul, Be on Thy Guard" by George Heath

For Day 5
Scripture Reading — Matthew 6:1-4, 16-18

"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" (Matthew 6:1).

Practicing your piety

Jesus never attacked the law of Moses; He only attacked the way in which it was being interpreted (or misinterpreted). He did not forbid public almsgiving or prayer and fasting. He simply censured those vain and hypocritical persons who do these things publicly to enhance their saintly reputations.

Charles Merrill Smith wrote a delightful book attacking ecclesiastical hypocrisy. In a satirical volume called How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious, this Methodist minister amplifies Jesus' distinction between being truly religious and just looking pious. Tongue in cheek, Smith writes, "You don't really have to be religious to succeed in the ministry — you just have to look that way!"

People have often tried to take shortcuts to get spiritual rewards. Often, they have mistakenly looked for those rewards from their fellow human beings. As a result, their spiritual life focused on outward actions, not on the inner life. God is under no obligation to this kind of person. They do little or nothing with an eye to God's glory, and so, from Him, such people can expect no recompense.

The Message paraphrases Matthew 6:1 this way: "Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding."

Reflection questions

  1. In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus warns against performing acts of righteousness before others to be seen by them. Why is it important for one's spiritual life to focus on the inner life rather than outward actions? How does this align with Jesus' teachings?
  2. Think about the distinction being made between true religiousness and looking pious. How can we differentiate between genuine acts of righteousness and those done for the sake of appearance? What are the underlying motives that determine the authenticity of our spiritual practices?
  3. Why might it be misguided to seek validation and recognition solely from fellow human beings for our acts of righteousness? How might this course of action affect our relationship with God and the rewards He has promised?

Worship in Song, no. 72:

Blessed be the name of Jesus!
I'm so glad He took me in.
He's forgiven my transgressions;
He has cleansed my heart from sin.

— "I Will Praise Him" by Margaret J. Harris

Takeways for Us From Matthew 6:1

In short, in Matthew 6:1 Jesus calls for authenticity in religious practice and warns against the dangers of performing acts of piety for the sake of public recognition.

For Day 6
Scripture Reading — Matthew 6:5-15

"Do not be like the hypocrites; they love to say their prayers . . . for everyone to see them. . . But when you pray ... pray to your Father" (Matthew 6:5-6, NEB).

And when you pray

I met him in a tiny hotel off Piazza Independenzia, a block from Rome's central railroad station. He was a young American tourist, a student at a Nazarene college. "I guess I'm not a Christian," he said slowly, "I don't even know how to pray."

My heart broke for him. Prayer is not a ceremonial rite. Unfortunately, this young college student is not alone in his misconception of prayer. Others have said to me, "Pastor, say a prayer for me." The way Matthew 6:5-6 is worded in the New English Bible says it well: "Hypocrites 'say' prayers." On the other hand, genuine Christ-followers actrually pray.

The disciples had not been with Jesus very long before they realized the important part prayer played in His life. Strict performance of private prayer can be one of the surest marks of genuine piety and Christian sincerity.

Some time ago a photographer assembled a photo study of elderly brothers and sisters along with their marriage partners. Amazingly, the husbands and wives resembled each other in their facial features more closely than the brothers and sisters. Their living together over the years, facing the same trials and joys, had molded them into a likeness of each other.

R. A. Torrey says a close prayer relationship will do the same thing with us. He writes, "Our growth into the likeness of Jesus will be in exact proportion to the time and heart we put into prayer."

Reflection questions

  1. Why can it be said that the misconception of prayer as a ceremonial rite hinders individuals from experiencing its true essence?
  2. In what ways did the disciples' observation of Jesus likely emphasize the importance of prayer in their own lives?
  3. How might the analogy of elderly couples resembling each other more and more over time help us understand the transformative power prayer can have in shaping our spiritual resemblance to Jesus?

Worship in Song, no. 473:

Blessed hour of prayer!
What a balm for the weary!
Oh, how sweet to be there!

— "Blessed Hour of Prayer" by Fanny J. Crosby

Takeaways for us from Matthew 6:5-6

More for you on prayer

The Come Ye Apart" is now published quarterly as Reflecting God by Word Action Publishing and available through what is now called The Foundry.

Other pages on this site that mention Jesus' Sermon on the Mount

Preparing the way

NextWhat kind of a Way Preparer are you? [ more ]

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    -- Howard Culbertson,

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