Tag Archives: Sermon on the Mount

Jesus and His Golden Rule

Perhaps Jesus’ most famous saying is the Golden Rule: “So in all things, whatever you want others to do to you, you do likewise to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Unfortunately, this may also be the most misunderstood saying of Jesus.

It is unfair to take a person’s words out of context. If we ignore the setting of Jesus’ Golden Rule, we can be misled into thinking that Jesus is telling us how to be saved. But Jesus is talking to those who have already decided to follow him. Their decision to follow him is their salvation, not their efforts at living by the Golden Rule.

When God delivered his people Israel from cruel bondage in Egypt, he did not give them the 10 Commandments and promise to save them if they obeyed. No. To be saved they simply had to trust him enough to follow him.

God brought the children of Israel out of slavery first, then he gave them the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai. The commandments did not save them. The commandments taught them how to live as saved people.

Jesus teaches his followers how to live holy lives, not in order to be saved, but because they are saved. We do not follow the Golden Rule in order to qualify for salvation.

It is unfair to put words in a person’s mouth. Jesus makes no promises with the Golden Rule. He is not giving us the secret to winning friends and influencing people. The Golden Rule is not a tool for making others do the right thing.

Earlier in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that his followers are salt and light. We are to do good deeds so that people will see and give glory to God, not give glory to us.

If we expect the Golden Rule to be an effective way of motivating others to act right, we will be disappointed. As followers of Jesus, we live by the Golden Rule not to persuade others to treat us right. We live by the Golden Rule because it pleases our Lord and brings honor to him.

Some people say that Jesus’ Golden Rule shows that he is no different from the other great religious leaders. Every great world religion, they say, has a teaching similar to the Golden Rule, so treating others as we wish to be treated must be the essence of all religion. But they are wrong.

Jesus says that the Golden Rule is the Law and the Prophets. In other words, it is an accurate representation of the Old Testament. The Golden Rule is not meant to be the pinnacle of human religion. It is a summary of God’s revelation to man in the Bible. And there is more.

When asked which command is greatest, Jesus gave not one but two. First, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Second, we must love our neighbor as ourselves. You cannot have one without the other.

The Golden Rule is not just good advice. It is the word of God. We live by it not because it makes our lives better, but because it pleases our Lord.

May God give us hearts that love him and each another,

Brother Richard

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If God Already Knows Then Why Pray?

Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13). First, he warns them not to use prayer as an opportunity to impress people. Instead, followers of Jesus are to pray to please God.

Jesus tells his disciples not to babble on and on like the pagan unbelievers in the first century. They apparently thought that their many words would guarantee them a hearing.

Now this is not necessarily a warning about long prayers. Some prayers recorded in Scripture are lengthy. Jesus is warning us not to use prayer as a battering ram to break down the doors of heaven.

God has already opened the door to his presence through his grace. Jesus died to pay the price of our admission and he is risen in order to bring us into the presence of God.

We need not coerce or manipulate God in prayer. After all, as Jesus goes on to say, our Father in heaven already knows what we need before we ask!

But if God already knows our needs and he already wants to bless us, then why pray? Instead of answering that question directly, Jesus goes on to give an example, a model prayer, often called the Lord’s Prayer.

He begins by telling us to address God as “our Father who is in heaven.” Consider the tension and balance in this statement. “Father” is a term of familiarity, addressing God as one who is close and personal. “In heaven” is a term of transcendence, a reminder that God is the Maker of heaven and earth and that he is high and exalted. Jesus invites us to draw near and know the majestic King of the cosmos!

“Hallowed be your Name; your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus teaches us to focus our prayers first on God and his agenda.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” After magnifying God’s person and affirming his agenda, we turn to our own need. This brings us back to our earlier question: Why pray and tell God what he already knows?

Our prayers are not intended to inform God about our needs. Instead, our prayers are expressions of acknowledgment that God is the only real source of all that we truly need, not just spiritual needs, but physical needs as well.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus is talking about more than borrowing money. He uses “debt” as a symbol for wrongdoing, sin, transgression. As our body needs bread, our soul needs forgiveness, both forgiveness received and forgiveness given. And God both forgives us and enables us to forgive others.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.” God will test us in order to strengthen us. Satan tempts us in order to destroy us. This part of the model prayer is an acknowledgment that we are incapable of spiritual victory apart from God’s power in our lives.

So, Jesus teaches us to affirm and agree with God’s agenda, to acknowledge God as our provider for physical as well as spiritual needs, and to acknowledge God as our protector, our only hope for triumph against the forces of evil in this world.

Prayer aligns us with God’s agenda and directs us toward his provision and empowering. Any other agenda is doomed to failure. Any other provision is an illusion.

“For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen!”

May God’s Spirit inspire us to speak often with our Lord in prayer,

Brother Richard Foster

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Does Jesus Ask The Impossible?

Jesus promises that he came not to abolish God’s written word, but to fulfill it. This announcement is important because his interpretation of Scripture is strikingly different from what is commonly taught and thought (see Matthew 5:17-48).

People may think that they are good with God if they avoid murder. Jesus says that his followers must not only avoid murder, but avoid getting angry. In fact, we should go out of our way to reconcile with others, even our adversaries, even if it means taking a loss.

People may think that they are good with God if they avoid adultery. Jesus says that his followers must not only avoid adultery, but not even think about it. In fact, if our right eye or right hand causes us to sin, we should gouge it out and cut it off.

People may think that they are good with God if they legally divorce. Jesus says that his followers should consider marriage to be a life-long commitment. In fact, we should think of remarriage as adultery (except when the first spouse was unfaithful).

People may think that they are good with God if they keep their oaths. Jesus says that his followers should forget about swearing oaths. Instead, we should make sure that our words are always truthful. In fact, anything else is from the Devil.

People may think that they are good with God if they are fair when they punish those who do them wrong and if they refuse those who are undeserving. Jesus says that his followers should not seek retaliation or restitution at all. We should turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and give to those who ask.

People may think that they are good with God if they love their family and friends. Jesus says that his followers should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Even sinners love their friends. We should do more.

And then Jesus says something even more astounding: So, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Is he saying that we are not really his followers unless or until we are perfect? No, that is not what he is saying, because Jesus is speaking to those he has already called and he already considers them to be his followers, knowing that they are imperfect.

What is Jesus saying? Jesus’ words are not a legal code but an interpretation of God’s legal code which is recorded in the Old Testament. He is not giving us a new and improved Law, but he is showing us the right way to think about God’s existing Law.

God’s Law does not set a minimum standard that defines the least we must do in order to be right with God. God’s Law is his way, a pathway that leads us toward absolute godliness. When we become followers of Jesus, we begin our journey on this pathway, the narrow path which leads to life.

As we walk along the pathway of God, we begin to go beyond the letter of the Law and to pursue the spirit of the Law. We concern ourselves not merely with what our hands do, but with what our hearts do.

As we follow Jesus on the pathway of God, we turn ourselves not merely toward protecting and nurturing our own, but toward reaching out to the “others.” We do not insist on getting what we deserve, nor do we always insist on punishing others as they deserve. We promote more than justice; we promote mercy and grace.

As we walk the way of God, we grow toward maturity. Yes, sometimes we fall back, but then we move forward again. For those followers of Jesus who heard these words first, it was Jesus’ physical presence that empowered them to progress. For us, it is God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ that empowers us to grow toward perfection.

At no time in this age do we arrive, so we always have this labor of love. But we are not frustrated because our journey is not without end. One day this narrow path will bring us to our destination. And on that day we will be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Let us walk the narrow path that leads to life,

Brother Richard Foster

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The First Word of the Greatest Sermon Ever

Early in Jesus’ ministry, when he saw great crowds following him, he went up to the mountain. And when he sat down, his disciples approached him. Then he opened his mouth and began teaching them. What did he say?

Matthew records Jesus’ words on the mountain that day in his Gospel (Matthew 5-7). Most students of Scripture call this the Sermon on the Mount. It is surely the best sermon ever preached and the most famous sermon of all time.

One of the great things about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the very first word that he speaks: “Blessed. . . .” Jesus began this monumental message with an affirmation that God wants people to be blessed. What great news!

Jesus has much to say about who is blessed and how. Who is blessed? “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he states. It is certainly true that God has a heart for those who struggle with poverty in this world. In fact, the Lord instructs us to be especially mindful of the needs of poor folks.

But Jesus is not saying that it is a blessing to be without money, food, clothing, housing, and so forth. Poverty can be body-breaking and soul-crushing. No, Jesus says blessed are those who are poor in spirit.

Spiritual poverty is different from physical poverty. Those who are spiritually poor are aware of their great spiritual need. That awareness inspires them to be humble. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

What is the blessing that God gives to those who are poor in spirit? “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus continues. These people who are poor in spirit, who are aware of their real need, they have ownership in something called the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is a vital part of Jesus’ teaching. He and John the Baptist both warned their listeners to repent because the kingdom of heaven has drawn near (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). To repent means to turn away from anything that distracts us from God, but also to turn to God by worshiping and obeying him whole-heartedly. But what is the kingdom of heaven?

By using the word “kingdom” Jesus is not referring to a particular geographical location. He is not saying that the poor in spirit have a deed on file that guarantees them ownership in a specific plot of ground somewhere. By “kingdom” Jesus means “rule,” the active reign of a king.

God is the King and his desire is to rule in our lives so that we can enjoy his love and abundance, so that we can be blessed. Those who refuse to allow God to rule in their lives are choosing to make God their adversary. They place themselves in opposition to God’s rule, thus trading his blessings for a curse.

Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his followers to pray that God’s kingdom may come, that his will may be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). The kingdom of heaven is God’s will in action. And God’s will is to bless those who humbly and obediently follow Jesus.

Notice that Jesus says “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” not will be or might be or could be. Those who are poor in spirit have ownership in the kingdom of heaven now. It is true that God has a marvelous eternal future for his people. But he also provides the blessing of his benevolent rule in the here and now.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us and will bless us again,

Brother Richard Foster

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