Tag Archives: Sermon on the Mount

Sermon on the Mount: The New Currency

By Daniel Downs

In the last post on Jesus’ Sermon given from Mount Gerezim, the discussion about its relevance for today was continued. The topic was spiritual food. For those on the journey to the heavenly city, spiritual food is more important than the natural kind. You know the saying: you are what you eat! Those on the journey know they will not get there without still being alive unto God.

For the spiritually poor, consuming and living God’s word is a matter of utter survival. More crucial than society’s socialist welfare program is God’s welfare plan for our lives. It too is a cradle to beyond the grave plan encompassing our material and spiritual needs and rights. The really good part is that God promises to coach us through the challenges and celebrate our successes. Because God is a good provider, the poor do not remain needy.

Maybe that is why Jesus directed his sermon to those who would be blessed of God. (See the links below to the previous four posts.)

In his next sermon point, Jesus’ focus on the divine economy turns to currency. Currency is something of specified value used in the trade of goods and services. In a barter economy, people trade their stuff for other people’s stuff. As in our modern economy, the ancients used money for buying and selling desired goods and services. As you can see, giving and receiving is part of the divine design for humans in this world. What we often overlook is the other type of currency we are expected to use in God’s economy, which is summarized in the following verse:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”(Matthew 5:7)

All previous parts of Jesus’ sermon focused on a state of being as it relates to God and to a lesser degree to others. Here the emphasis is on a dynamic of giving and receiving.

In the previous four posts, Jesus taught that acknowledging one’s spiritual poverty leads to acquiring personal property in God’s kingdom. This was followed with the assurance that when in the state of mourning for one’s failures God would be there to comfort and to restore. The benefit of sorrow and repentance is the development of a right attitude about oneself. The name for the realization of one’s log-size flaws is called humility. Gentleness towards others is the desired outcome. It is realizing that others deserve as much understanding and compassion as oneself. The practice of this divine virtue is equivalent to a mortgage for earthly property, which property God promises to give. Of course, sowing righteousness or justice produces a harvest of satisfaction. The motivation to do so comes in the state of being hungry for it. This kind of hunger is a combined result of the poverty and guilt, a poverty of right relationships because of sin, pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, and the like.

What is amazing about knowing God is the fact that it is a relationship based on God’s demonstrated mercy, compassion, and loving-kindness. The evidence of our experienced relationship with God is a character formed in the His likeness, that is God being merciful, compassionate, and kind. This also we find in Luke’s version of Jesus sermon:

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

Here the adjective “merciful” describes more than a “state of being” it is a way of acting towards others. To be merciful is to show mercy as God has demonstrated it to oneself.

According to the perspective of Matthew’s gospel, the degree to which our lives exemplify God’s mercy is the degree to which we are perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

The Bible is full of examples of mercy. The model of God’s mercy is the Exodus, which was the eventful emancipation of the Jews from poverty and misery of slavery in Pharaoh’s Egypt, and its capstone is the redemption of the Gentiles from bondage to the evils of sin. The dessert of divine justice for human crime (sin) against the law of God was completely satisfied by the sacrificed life of Jesus. This is the supreme example of God’s mercy mediated through one sinless man, Jesus.

Yet, Jesus demonstrated the kind of mercy God expects the blessed citizens of His kingdom to give. The gospels show Jesus healing the sick, comforting the bereaved, and even feeding the hungry. He was kind towards lepers, prostitutes, and IRS agents of his day. He sought to bring them into the righteousness of God’s kingdom through compassion rather than condemnation. Like the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-36), Jesus went out of his way to bind up the wounded and to facilitate their restoration to physical and spiritual health. The Spirit by which he accomplished it then is the same God who is accomplishing it today.

When Jesus was instructing his audience about the currency of mercy, he may have had in mind more than the biblical canon. He may have had in view some popular extra-canonical texts as well. Consider the following teaching in the Testament of Zebulun:

“And now, my children, I bid you to keep the commands of the Lord, and to show mercy to your neighbors, and to have compassion towards all, not towards men only, but also towards beasts. For all this thing’s sake the Lord blessed me, and when all my brethren were sick, I escaped without sickness, for the Lord knows the purposes of each. Have, therefore, compassion in your hearts, my children, because even as a man doeth to his neighbor, even so also will the Lord do to him. For the sons of my brethren were sickening and were dying on account of Joseph, because they showed no mercy in their hearts; but my sons were preserved without sickness, as ye know. And when I was in the land of Canaan, by the sea-coast, I made a catch of fish for Jacob my father. (5:1-5).

“I was the first to make a boat to sail upon the sea, for the Lord gave me understanding and wisdom therein. And I let down a rudder behind it, and I stretched a sail upon another upright piece of wood in the midst. And I sailed therein along the shores, catching fish for the house of my father until we came to Egypt. And through compassion I shared my catch with every stranger. And if a man were a stranger, or sick, or aged, I boiled the fish, and dressed them well, and offered them to all men, as every man had need, grieving with and having compassion upon them. Wherefore also the Lord satisfied me with abundance of fish when catching fish; for he that shares with his neighbor receives manifold more from the Lord. For five years I caught fish and gave thereof to every man whom I saw, and sufficed for all the house of my father. And in the summer I caught fish, and in the winter I kept sheep with my brethren. (6:1-8)

“I saw a man in distress through nakedness in winter-time, and had compassion upon him, and stole away a garment secretly from my father’s house, and gave it to him who was in distress. Do [the same], my children; from that which God bestows upon you, show compassion and mercy without hesitation to all men, and give to every man with a good heart. And if ye have not the wherewithal to give to him that needs, have compassion for him in bowels of mercy…. Because also in the last days God will send His compassion on the earth, and wherever He finds bowels of mercy He dwells in him. For in the degree in which a man hath compassion upon his neighbors, in the same degree hath the Lord also upon him.” (7:1-4; 8:13).

Another interesting statement is found in an ancient Hebrew work by the title Sirach. There are some significant variations in a number of translations, but the following is one version of the statement:

“He that practices kindness offers fine flour, and he that doeth mercy sacrifices a thank-offering.” (35:2)

This statement seems reminiscent of biblical texts like “I desired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6) or possibly “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice.” (Proverbs 21:3)

What is certain is that any one person in Jesus’ audience would have recalled one of those statements when Jesus later utters the following quote, “Go learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice’.” (Matthew. 9:13 & 12:7)

The second part of Jesus’ sermon point under consideration may be put this way: Blessed are those who gain in what they trade. Because they give mercy they also receive mercy. They also receive many other benefits. According to Zebulun, God threw in a health plan and a food distributorship.

More important, God regards giving mercy as an act of spiritual sacrifice, a sacrifice of loyalty and thanksgiving.

It is God himself first gives humanity the currency of mercy, compassion, and loving-kindness. God invests mercy in us so that we can trade it with others. Being a good Father and capitalist, He expects a return on His investment. He also expects us to go and do likewise (Luke 10:37).

Previous Sermon on the Mount posts:

Sermon on the Mount: Any Relevance Today,
From Weeping to Laughing,
Property Rights.
Sermon on the Mount: Spiritual Food

Sermon on the Mount : Property Rights

By Daniel Downs

As mentioned in the first post, the gospels of Matthew and Luke contain two versions of a sermon proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth most likely from Mount Gerizim. This is where Moses told half of the tribal elders of Israel to reiterate the blessings for the keeping the law as the Israelites passed from the wilderness into the promised land (Deuteronomy 27:11-12; 28:1-14).

In the Sermon, Jesus pronounces blessings to the poor who faithfully follow God’s way. Those who do so become rich in two ways: First, their relationship with God makes them full of His presence and power enabling them to live according to the divine law. Jesus’ apostle Paul called it being filled with the Spirit. (Read his letter to the Ephesians) Second, they gain legal rights to the material and spiritual benefits of citizenship in the Kingdom of God. This means they have access to resources of the Creator. (See first post titled “Sermon on the Mount: Any Relevance Today?)

Jesus proceeds by pronouncing that those who mourn and weep will laugh again. In the world, problems arise whether because of mistakes, wrongdoing, injustices, natural disasters, or other forms of loss. Like Job, God comforts and restores. (See the second post titled Sermon on the Mount: From Weeping to Laughing)

The next blessing pronounced by Jesus is only recorded in the gospel of Matthew. It goes like this:

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5: 5).

I can think of only two reasons why Luke didn’t include it in his gospel. One possible reason is it was never part of Jesus’ sermon. The author of Matthew’s gospel included it because he was a Jew who had been trained to regard humility as a godly trait. Even though this blessing may not have been part of Jesus’ sermon, it was expected of those faithful to the law of God. Another possible reason is this: Being a citizen of the Roman Empire, Luke was trained to regard meekness as weakness. Romans regarded themselves as members of a superior race and culture than most others, for example, citizens of the always subjugated people of Palestine. This is the more likely reason.

The uniqueness of this part of Jesus Sermon is not just its singular mention in Matthew’s gospel; it is more exceptional because it was a quote taken from Psalms 37, which was itself the summation of a law of God:

“Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret because of him who prosper in his way or because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it only leads to doing evil. For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. Yet a little while and the wicked will be no more; you will look carefully for his place and he will not be. But the meek will inherit the earth and will delight themselves in abundance” (7-11).

The above verses point the familiar reader back to Exodus when the Jews were delivered from the injustices of slavery in Egypt. The Jews were not forced into slavery just as a punishment for any wrong done while in Egypt. Rather, it was because they were foreigners whose population greatly increased. There large population made a paranoid dictator fearful about their allegiance. That is, Pharaoh feared they might join Egypt’s enemies to attacking and conquering Pharaoh and his empire. The easiest way to eliminate such a potential threat was to control all aspects of their lives, which meant to enslave them. (Exodus 1:8-11)   In this context, waiting on the Lord meant to continue being faithful to God and covenant law while waiting for God to execute justice. However, God told Abraham the Jews would be enslaved for 400 years in Egypt for two reasons: (1) their sins would lead them into it, and (2) the divine justice concerning the unrelenting sins of the Canaanites would take 400 years for completion. After which time, God promised the freedom of Jews and their right to possess the land previously promised to Abraham and to his descendents. (Genesis 15:13-16; Joshua 24:14; Deuteronomy 9:5-6; 12:29-31; 18:9-12)

The moral of the story is waiting in the right way leads to inheriting the promised land.

Inheriting and possessing land over which God reigns also will result in peace, freedom, and prosperity (Deuteronomy 7:12-14; 12:10; 25:19; 28:1-14). Because this promise included all faithful citizens of God’s reign, the collective or societal benefit of protection from enemies was implied. Yet, the individual aspect of the implied benefit was personal space within the land. Inclusive within this landed space was peace, a benefit of unhindered movement resulting from societal protection and prosperity; a related benefit was freedom of movement and work resulting from protection. Because God’s law required the promised land to be apportioned to each family according to need, title to that land was part of the inherited possession (Numbers 33:51-54). Prosperity didn’t equate to being as wealthy as Pharaohs, Caesars, Herods, or other tyrants. Prosperity meant having enough to meet the need of family and self as well as an abundance for tithes, offerings, showing hospitality to strangers, and helping others as need arose.

Jesus’ apostle Paul refers to the same when writing to the believers in Corinth about wealth and helping those suffering lack in Jerusalem because of famine. In the context of redemptive investments, Paul states that Jesus became poor that they (Corinthians and all believers) might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He then defines what he meant by rich:

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having sufficiency for every need, you may have an abundance for every good work” (9:8).

By good work, Paul meant investing in the needy believers in Jerusalem. By doing so, they were cheerfully fulfilling kingdom law and increasing future returns all in the spirit of meekness. (Leviticus 25:35-37; Proverbs 19:17)

The ancient model of meekness was Moses (Numbers 12:3). Yet, Moses stood against Pharaoh face to face as God commanded. Moses led the Jews and others out of Egypt toward the promised land. Moses gave Israel the law of God. Moses led the warriors of Israel. Moses commanded the execution of Jews who had rebelled against the command and law of God. Moses interceded on behalf of the people in the face of God anger and judgment. Moses cared deeply about all of Israel. Moses trained Joshua for future leadership. Moses stood up to the opposition of jealous family members and others. However, the meekness of Moses was not defined by his courage. It was his caring and especially his obedience to God. God defended Moses against all opposition as Moses turned to God. That is, Moses trusted God. He trusted God because God carried out His word. Therefore, he was faithful to God. As a result, Moses waited on God. The one exception when he was angry about the faithless complaining of the people Moses went beyond God’s instruction. God used this as an object lesson by forbidding Moses from leading the Israel into the promised land. (Numbers 20:1-12)

In other words, not waiting on God leads to wrongdoing resulting in adverse consequences no matter who you are.

Notice, inherent in the English word “wait” consists of two implications: (1) it refers to duration of time during which a person waits for another person to respond, act or fulfill an agreement, or vise versa. (2) It more importantly refers to service to others i.e., to wait on a king, waiting on tables, etc. Just as Moses fulfilled both, those who heard Jesus’ sermon would have understood the same applied themselves. Waiting on the Lord meant waiting on God to act to enrich their lives with His wonderful presence and power, to comfort them during time of suffering, to lead them into possession of the benefits of the promise land.

The same audience also would have understood the purpose of God’s law of healing. The meek could not possess the earth if hindered by debilitating diseases. Consequently, citizens of God’s kingdom were to expect good health because they faithfully obeyed the law. (Exodus 23:25; Deuteronomy 7:12, 15) As the law promised good health, God also promised healing even if new diseases occurred. That is why healing was a prominent part of Jesus’ messianic work; the obedient were being restored in order to possess all of the benefits of the promise land.

So it is to be expected today.

The blessings of citizenship in God’s kingdom by covenant through faith in Jesus are promised to all. It is the fulfillment of God’s word to Abraham that through his descendents all peoples would be blessed. The Torah, songs of Israel (Psalms), and the proclamations of the Prophets contain the definition of the intended blessings. In his sermon from Mount Gerizim, Jesus reiterates the blessing. (Matthew 19:27-29; Luke 18:28-30; Mark 10:28-30)

From Weeping to Laughing : Sermon on the Mount

In the two versions of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples about grief and sorrow. In the version recorded in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (5:4). Luke’s gospel interprets Jesus as saying, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (6:21b). Matthew’s gospel interprets Jesus saying from the internal process of grieving while the gospel of Luke depicts the same as an outward expression.

The question is this: what the heck is Jesus talking about? Is he speaking about grief due to sin? Or is he referring to the loss of a loved through death? Or is he alluding to something else?

The context of both versions seems to point to grief over sin. In both gospels, what Jesus says after the beatitudes contradicts the status quo view of right and wrong. In effect, the practical requirements of righteousness as expressed in the Sermon reveals how most people then and now fail to measure up. It is what Paul meant when he said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Here are a few examples from the gospel of Matthew: Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life-food, shelter, clothing, transportation, money” (6:25-34). How about “do not have a savings account, an IRA, or 401K, or the like” (6:19-21). Here is another commandment: “Love your enemies; pray not for their destruction but rather pray for God to bless them”. (6:43-47). Here the easy one: “Be perfect as God is perfect” (6:48). How are you measuring up?

Another contextual clue precedes Jesus’ saying about mourning and weeping. Blessed are the poor both in spirit and otherwise refers to the lack of a right relationship with God. What does being poor in spirit mean? It means not being full of the Spirit. If a person is not full of the Spirit of God it usually means that person is full of something else. In writings of the Apostle Paul, the Greek word used for the something else is sarkikos. It is usually translated as carnal, natural, fleshly, or worldly. It actually means ungodly or behavior uncharacteristic of Christ. The essence of sin then is living contrary to God’s way, which the way Jesus teaches in the Sermon..

One of the best examples of a person grieving over sin is found in Luke’s gospel. Jesus presents a parable of two different types of people praying in the Temple. One is a Pharisee and the other a wretched tax collector. The Pharisee tells God about his righteous deeds while the tax collector cries out to God for mercy. Ashamed by the realization of his evil ways, “the tax collector was unwilling to lift up his head toward heaven. Instead, he pounds his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner'” (18:9-14).

Another good example is the woman who repented of her sins by washing Jesus feet with tears and wiping his feet with her hair, which took place in the house of a Pharisee who had invited Jesus to his home for dinner. Entering the house of a Pharisee uninvited was pretty risky. Sinners were not allowed but to allow a immoral woman to touch you even more grievous. But, as Jesus pointed out, his host failed to perform the customary purity ritual of feet washing, but the sinful woman did. She washed his feet with tears of sorrow over her own sins. She demonstrated unusually humility when she wiped his feet with her hair. A woman’s hair represented the glory of her beauty. This unnamed woman did all of it as a silent cry for God’s forgiveness. She was not disappointed. (Luke 7:36-50).

The term mourning usually depicts loss of some sort. The loss of wealth or possession certainly is something about which people mourn. From the viewpoint of political economy, poverty more often than not is the result of sin. Often it is the result of an abuse of power and a result of greed. Communist Russia (USSR) impoverished a majority of its people by its empire building efforts around the world. I have heard of people being impoverished in China and Muslim countries only because of their Christian beliefs. United States government is also impoverishing many citizens by means of its ever-increasing debt spending and, to a lesser extent, its sanctioning of corporate globalism. American empire building is the reason for much of the enormous national debt. Poverty may also be the result of an impoverished mentality. The story of the ancient post-Exodus Jews present one example. Many second and third generation Americans who lived by government welfare is another. Sometimes poverty is the result of illness or similar tragedy. That is why the American founders agreed to the idea of a right “to the pursuit of happiness” rather than a guaranteed right to prosperity.

Because the blessed poor have access to the kingdom of God, their wealth in material things and in spirit is supplied by God. And God delights in the prosperity of His people. (1 Corinthians 8:9; 9:6-11; Ex. 30:5-10)

The vagueness of Jesus’ saying about mourning and weeping most likely was meant to encompass all human grief and sorrow. As the prophet Isaiah foresaw it, Jesus bore all our grief, sorrows, and infirmities (Isaiah 53). Not just for our sins, but for our loss of loved one simply through death, the loss of jobs and wealth, the loss of homes due to some disaster, the loss of health resulting in other losses as well. Therefore, God comforts those whose mourning is directed toward Him. Relatives and friends simply being present while grieving the loss of a spouse, parent, or child is a comfort. Being there proves that not all is lost–not all life is lost. In the kingdom of God, the expectant hope is that one day the grieving will one day be together with their loved one who died. That hope is reinforced when God is manifestedly presence during such a time.

Some biblical examples include a Shunammite’s women’s grief over the death of her son and God raising her son from the dead through the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4:18-37); Jesus raises the dead son of widow in Nain because he saw her weeping and empathized with her loss (Luke 7:11-15); a woman who had suffered a hemorrhage 12 year and spent all her wealth attempting to get healed was instantly healed of her terrible affliction (Mark 5:25-34); and ten men who suffered the extremely painful and crippling disease leprosy cried out for Jesus to have mercy on them and Jesus healed them (Luke 17:11-19).

When people in the kingdom lose jobs, health, or wealth, God makes them laugh. Those taught by God learn to laugh at adversity. When God heals through whatever process, God gives people a reason to laugh. When couples who were unable have children give birth to their first child because of answered prayer, they laugh. (Genesis 17:17; 18:13; 21:1-8) When God provides resources during times of loss, God gives people a reason to laugh. When loss happens, people who seek God find a reprieve from the anxiety of uncertainty. A joyful heart (internal) is like medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Laughter (external) proceeds out of such a heart (Matthew 15:18). Because Jesus is the Great Physician, those who weep now will laugh. (Luke 4:23; 5:31; 6:2b).

By Daniel Downs