Jesus ends The Sermon on the Mount with an exhortation to actually apply what he just said to our lives. Why? He understands what really lasts in life, what really matters. His goal is to present what it takes to live “The Good Life”.
Jesus declares “Blessed!” eight times, beginning and ending with “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” This phrase, Kingdom of Heaven, was already central to his own life and ministry.
“God is in charge, here and now” is the message he responded to at his baptism and the message he proclaimed after his trials in the wilderness. His testing included specific temptations to assert himself to meet his own physical, relational, and spiritual needs due to the apparent absence of optioms. In each case he actively relied on God as sufficient for rejecting shortcuts that do not lead to Life.
Jesus then shared his wisdom and power with multitudes, healing and teaching them. Then he takes up a Moses like posture with his 12 he explains:
Blessed is the one who experiences God in charge.
This is what it looks like…
Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
In spite of the cost of doing the right thing, one can be joyful that they are on the right track even while suffering. The goal is unmixed character that is unhindered from sharing goodness with others. This is not a rejection of previous revelation, it is the fullest expression of wisdom.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called God’s children.
Progression in this way of unmixed and unhindered righteousness involves deconstructing wrong ways of coping with life. The conflict that inevitably comes from interacting with others should not be left to typical human tactics of aggressively degrading or actively avoiding people.
The point of life is to have integrity from God that gives you the ability to give and receive appropriate love with others. Pushing people out of the bounds of needing to deal with them is a tempting shortcut. The way to flourish in life does not minimize the hassle of engaging others. Instead we are to face those who are at odds with us and do what we can to reconcile, even if imperfectly, as we take ownership of our calling to be a Kingdom of priests, a nation of connectors. It is costly, but worth it.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Even as we stop negating others we also need to stop stunting our own growth by over rationalizing our own virtues as good enough. The question we should be asking is how can we keep growing in areas where our integrity is less than it could be. Jesus uses lust, divorce, and oaths to illustrate the ways we often try to justify our physical, relational, and spiritual shortcomings. The goal is to move toward purity of heart. We all have room for improvement.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
What happens if we pay the price to become peacemakers and increasingly become less mixed in our character? The goal of maturing in what is right is to be free to do right regardless of our circumstances. Our maturity is not for security, it is for usefulness in a needy world.
Specifically Jesus illustrates the strength of someone who does not become reactionary toward personal injustices. What do we do with the resources of energy rescued from endless cycles of indignation and revenge? One is then empowered to be merciful with extravagant generosity. That is a blessed way to live.
The Pinnacle of the Sermon on the Mount
The summation of this description is that we are to grow up to be like our heavenly father. He is not reactionary, he is pure and holy, and he uses his holiness to extend mercy graciously.
The blessed life is costly, focusing on pursuing practical peace and growing in integrity sufficient to be merciful. How does one get there?
Here Jesus works backwards, a kind of reverse engineering. The key principle is that we must be careful not to let our spiritual status get in the way of our spiritual growth.
Be careful not do you religious stuff to look good to people. God knows that is a total waste of time with no lasting benefit!
— Mt. 6:1 (Russell’s pretty good paraphrase)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Generous mercy must be for the sake of those receiving mercy, not for the status gained by appearing merciful. Do not give to the starving children to make yourself look good. Isn’t it enough just to help them?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Prayer is not a way to prove the purity of your heart to others, it is a way to seek God’s purity as a provision to resist the temptations to compromise in daily life. Meekly go in private and ask God to help you be faithful in this world.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
In order to get there one must break from their unhelpful habits. Fasting is a form of grief over addictions to staying indignant enough to excuse ourselves from constructively engaging others.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
All of this assumes one has recalibrated their vision of what really matters. Their treasure is God and his ways, and they realize they do not experience God as fully and richly as they could. How is our spiritual portfolio right now? It could be better, and we want it to improve. But are we really ready? This kind of change sounds radical. Can we ask a few more practical questions first?
Dallas Willard describes the process of effective change as the coordination of a vision of something worthwhile, along with the means to actually pursue it, catalyzed by a willful exercise of intention. Matthew 5 is the vision, Matthew 6 is the means. Matthew 7 ends with a call from Jesus for an intentional response. It all works together.
Vision & Means Synopsis:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, they realize they need God more and more. Even though it will cost them persecution in this world they are blessed because they are living in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn their stubbornness, they will be broken enough to become peacemakers, comforted that their courage to reconcile is what God’s children are meant to do.
Blessed are those who are meek enough to pray to God for help, not defending their virtue but eagerly seeking to grow toward integrity that is increasingly pure and from the heart. Their future is with God’s reconciled heaven & earth.
Blessed are those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, they will be satisfied as recipients and distributors of mercy.
Intention counts the costs.
This blessed vision & means raises three categories of questions.
Physical concerns, Mt 6:25–34
What about the very real concern of practical physical living, of food and clothes and such? Jesus acknowledges the physical nature of life but also points that God’s creation anticipates this more than adequately. Making God’s ways our first priority is still the best way to pursue the demands of our physical needs.
Relational Concerns, Mt. 7:1–12
So does this mean you want us to go find other people who need this and make sure they get it? Jesus warns that our responsibility toward others is not to fix them, negatively or positively, but to relate to them as persons. We ask, seek, and knock with intentional purpose, toward God and people, but we respect others and focus mainly on applying this teachings to ourselves and those who invite our help.
Spiritual Concerns, Mt. 7:13–23
How will we know if we are on the right track? There is a broad array of ways to convince yourself that you are spiritually right enough. The narrow way does not waste time trying to look appear spiritually legitimate. The narrow way focuses on the internal foundational relationship to God revealed in Christ and the way of living that he taught. The results will speak for themselves.
Decision Time, Mt. 7:24–27
Having heard Jesus’ teaching, including the vision and means, as well as the concerns about committing, Jesus concludes with a direct challenge. Life will batter you like rain from above and floods from below.
He warns that hearing what he just presented without acting on it is foolish because life without him is inevitably vulnerable to ruin.
Hearing his exhortation to adopt his blessed ways, followed by living actually built upon his teaching, is wise. Your life will withstand stormy challenges because it stands on what is permanent.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
That is the Sermon on the Mount. What will we do now?
Vision: Maturing in humble and practical righteousness that is increasingly generous with mercy is the blessed life.
Intention: I will build my life on what Jesus taught, with his help.
Means: Pursue God and his righteousness (not religious status or self-righteousness, religious or otherwise) by following Jesus’ ways.