Reading Time: 7 Minutes
The Sermon on the Mount contains the greatest principles of Jesus’ wisdom. The words of Jesus’ sermon are simple enough that small children can be encouraged to put them into practice. Yet, some of Jesus’ teaching is so difficult that it puzzles scholars, causing numerous differing opinions as to what he actually meant.
The goal of my blog articles is to give readers an understanding of the sermon and to provide suggestions about putting into action Jesus’ message. I try to write articles that can be read in eight minutes or less. I also produce a daily video reading of the blog for YouTube on the Bob Spradling channel.
The Sermon on the Mount is found in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel. I think it will be helpful to understand more of Jesus’ ministry prior to this sermon. For that reason, I am starting this study in chapter 3 with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
John the Baptist and Jesus
John the Baptist was called by God to announce the coming of Jesus. Matthew records John’s ministry like this:
Matthew 3.1-3 – In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
Why did John perform his ministry in the wilderness? It was in the wilderness that Israel began its existence as the people of God. The prophets, also, spoke of the wilderness as a place of new beginnings.
Hosea spoke of a time when God would use the “rock bottom” experience of his people to be a time of renewal. After a time of rebellion and judgment, God promised to bring his people into the wilderness and turn their hopeless situation into hope and healing. The Prophet wrote:
“Therefore, I will now allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
From there I will give her her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she shall respond as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.” (Hosea 2.14-15)
Observing corona virus social distancing may feel like a wilderness experience for some. Many of my friends know the wilderness of hitting “rock bottom” in their addiction. Many, also, have found their wilderness experience as the place where they began a new life.
The Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew has a unique way of speaking about God’s kingdom. He calls it “the kingdom of the heavens” 32 times in his Gospel. One of my spiritual heroes, Dallas Willard, makes a very important point about this fact.
(1) What is the kingdom? It is the effective reach of God’s power.
The universe to God is like my body to me. For example, when I think about typing words on my computer, my fingers automatically respond. When God thinks about something in his universe, whatever he is thinking takes place. The creation story in first chapters of Genesis is an example of God thinking and speaking things into existence as easily as I type on my computer.
The reach of God’s power is unlimited and it operates in the heavens.
(2) What are the heavens? Dallas Willard believes that it is very unfortunate that we have translated the original words in Matthew, “kingdom of heaven,” instead of the correct translation, “kingdom of the heavens.“
People who think “kingdom of heaven,” imagine God as far away and distant from what takes place on earth. The phrase, “the Old Man upstairs,” is a good example of that kind of thinking.
People who think “kingdom of the heavens,” understand that God is present with us in the “heavens” or in the atmosphere around us. Paul understood this and told the people of Athens, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17.28).
Instead of praying to God that is a long-distance call away, we can speak to God who is as close to us as the air we breathe. When I begin my morning prayer, I welcome God to be with me in my basement, where I have my prayer time. He fills the universe, but is actually present with me in my basement or wherever you choose to meet him, too.
When I lived in New Orleans, there was an old man who would stand in the median strip of one of the busiest streets in town with a clap-board sign. The sign said, “Repent!” As cars drove by at 40 miles an hour, he shouted short exhortations to the drivers.
You may view repentance like the man in New Orleans or as a “hell fire and damnation” preacher of your childhood. That is another tragedy. Repentance literally means “to change your mind,” resulting in a change of behavior.
Dallas Willard is from Buffalo Missouri. For several years in his childhood, their home had no electricity. After some time, the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) made electricity available to farms where he lived. “Repentance” for his family involved changing their mind about how to illuminate their home.
A couple of old-timers down the road from the Willard family, didn’t repent. They chose to live without electricity. The Willard’s repentance involved wiring their house and choosing to receive the services of the REA.
John’s message can be summarized like this: “God is working right next to you. He wants to be welcomed to be involved with what you are doing. Change your mind about who you think God is and see how the effective reach of his power can make a big difference in your life.”
Please spend a few minutes thinking about these questions.
(1) What do you think about God? Is God someone you want to spend a lot of time with? Do you think God has fun and wants to make your life more fun, too?
(2) When you think about God, where do you see him living? Is it a new idea to you to realize that God is as close to you as the air you breathe?
(3) God’s kingdom or rule is the effective reach of his power. Where do you need God’s power in your life today?
(4) Repentance is changing our mind about God. It implies welcoming God into your life, just as the Willard family welcomed electricity into their home. If you feel like you are in the wilderness, would you consider inviting God to join you there and bring about a new beginning?
Dear God, words cannot describe the greatness of your Being. You not only love us, but you like us. You want to live close to us. We welcome you to be part of our lives whether we are in the wilderness or the mountain top. May your power be effective in our lives, as we join you today.