Sermon on a mountainside
Crowds gather1When Jesus saw the crowds start to form, he walked up on a mountainside above them and sat down. His disciples came over beside him. 2Jesus started to teach the people.
Beatitudes: blessings in disguise3“When you feel oppressed and helpless all the way down to your spirit, remember this blessing: Heaven’s Kingdom is your home.
4“If you’ve loved someone enough to mourn them when they’re gone, God has blessed you. Now he’ll comfort you.
5“If you’ve been humbled in life, you’ve got a big inheritance coming. God’s world belongs to you.
6“That hunger you feel inside for kindness, justice, and all things godly—it’s a blessing from God. So is the meal he’ll serve.
7“Show mercy and get mercy. It’s the way God’s blessing works.
8“If your heart is good with God, you’re going to see him.
9“You’re blessed if you’re a peacemaker because people will recognize you as a child of God; they’ll see the resemblance.
10“When you’re ridiculed and persecuted for doing the right thing, remember this blessing: you carry the keys to Heaven.
11“Consider it a good and godly blessing when people insult you, lie about you, and make life miserable for you just because you walk a different path, following me. 12Be glad about it because heaven is ahead, and it’s your reward. What’s happening to you happened to God’s hand-picked prophets long ago.
Let your light rise and shine13“You’re the salt of the earth, seasoning and purifying it with wisdom. But if the salt goes stale, how can you make it palatable again? It’s good for nothing but walking on.
14“You light up this dark world. You’re like a city on a hilltop. You can’t hide a city like that. 15Who wants to hide a light anyhow? People don’t put a light under a bucket. They raise it up. When they put it on a stand, it can light up the whole house.
16“So let your light rise and shine. Let people see it in the compassionate work you do for others—and in other ways. That’s how you make your Father in heaven look good.
Finishing what the Law started17“Don’t think for one second that I came to repeal and replace our Bible—erasing the laws of Moses or the books of the prophets. I didn’t come to finish them off. I came to finish what they started. 18I’m telling you the truth, heaven will fall and Earth will disappear before anyone erases even the tiniest curl on the tip of a letter in the Law. The Law is going to reach its goal.
19“So I want you to know that anyone who lightens up on even one of the least important commandments in the Law—and teaches others to do it, too—that person is going to be one of the least important in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys the Law and teaches others to do it, too, that person’s going to be big in the Kingdom of Heaven.
20“Let me tell you something. If you want to get into the Kingdom of Heaven, make sure that you’re a better human being and more acceptable to God than the scribes or the Pharisees.
Settle conflicts fast21“I know you’ve heard that our ancestors from long ago were told, ‘You are not allowed to murder’ and ‘murderers will be held accountable.’ 22Well, I’m telling you that anyone who gets mad at someone will be held accountable. And anyone who trashes someone with an insult will have to stand in front of others and answer for it. Furthermore, anyone who addresses someone as ‘You fool!’ is going to get burned when it’s time to pass judgment.
23“So let’s say you bring your offering to the worship center. Then suddenly you remember that someone is mad at you. 24Get up, leave your offering there, and go work things out with that person. Then come back and worship. It’s okay to give your offering then.
25“If someone accuses you of something and takes you to court, work things out before you get there. If you don’t, the prosecution might win the case. Then you could find yourself bounced from the judge to the guard to the prison. 26I’m telling you the truth, there is no way you’re going to get out of prison until you’ve paid every last penny the judge says you owe.
Adultery includes the lustful look27“You’ve heard the commandment, ‘You are not allowed to commit adultery.’ 28But I’m telling you that if you look at a woman with lingering lust, that’s all it takes. You’ve already committed adultery with her in your head.
29“If your right eye lures you into sin, pull it out and throw it away. You’re better off sacrificing part of your body to save your whole body from getting pitched into the trash heap of Gehenna Valley. 30If your right hand makes you sin, cut that thing off and throw it away. It’s better to sacrifice part of your body to save your whole body from getting pitched into the trash heap of Gehenna Valley.
Grounds for divorce31“We’ve been told, ‘Anyone who wants to divorce his wife should put it in writing and then give her the written notice.’ 32Well, I’m telling you people this. You shouldn’t divorce your wife unless she commits a sex sin. Otherwise, it would be your fault when she commits adultery. And adultery is what she and her new husband would be committing if she married someone else.
Don’t vow, just do what you say you’ll do33“Since the time of our ancestors, we’ve been told, ‘When you make a vow in the name of the Lord, keep your promise.’ 34Well, I’m telling you not to make vows like that. Don’t swear by high heaven that you’re going to do something. Heaven is where God reigns. 35And don’t swear by the earth beneath your feet that you going to do something. The earth is God’s footrest. And don’t think of swearing by Jerusalem. It’s the city of the Great King. 36And don’t swear by the head on your shoulders that you’re going to do something. You can’t make a single hair on your head white or black.
37“Instead of making elaborate vows like that, keep it simple. Either say yes you will do what you’ve been asked or no you won’t. If you say anything more than that, you’re getting your words from the devil.
Don’t fight back38“You’ve been taught, ‘If you take an eye from me, I’ll take an eye from you. If you take a tooth from me, I’ll take a tooth from you.’ 39I’m telling you, don’t try to stop a bad person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn your face and offer the other cheek too. 40If someone wants to sue the shirt off your back, give it to them. Then give them your coat too. 41If a Roman soldier employs his right to order you to carry some of his gear for a mile, go the extra mile for him.  42If people ask you for something, give it to them. If they want to borrow something, let them. Don’t turn them down.
Show enemies what love looks like43“You’ve been told, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44Well, I’m telling you something different. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Pray for people who treat you badly. 45When you do this, people will see how much you resemble your Father in heaven. For he shows his love to everyone. He brings the sun up in the morning and makes it shine on the bad and the good. And he sends the rain to shower the innocent and the guilty.
46“If you love only the people who love you, do you really think you’re going to get a reward for that? Come on, even tax collectors show a little love to the people who love them, right? 47And if you show hospitality to your family and friends, so what? Even people who aren’t Jews do that, don’t they? 48But here’s what you’re supposed to do. Follow your Father’s perfect example of love for others. Get it right.”
The literal translation is shorter: “You are the salt of the earth.” Bible scholars are left guessing which attribute Jesus was talking about. He may have been talking about salt as a seasoning, a preservative, or a purifier. And it may have been a metaphor for wisdom, given what he says in 5:14.
Salt doesn’t generally go stale. But salt from the Dead Sea, which may have been the kind of salt Jesus was talking about, did have a shelf life. This sea salt often had other chemicals in it, such as iodine. Even if you store it in a dark place away from moisture and high humidity, the salt might last only about five years.
More literally, Jesus said he came to fulfill the law. “I had to fulfill everything written about me in the law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). See also how Jesus saves others from the curse of the law, Galatians 3:10, 13.
More literally, “righteous.”
See note for 2:4.
See note for 3:7.
Jesus actually used the phrase “you will be liable to [or burn in] the fires of Gehenna.” Gehenna is the Aramaic name for the Valley of Hinnom, which is located on the south side of Jerusalem. It was, for a time, the constantly smoldering city dump. But in Old Testament times, some Jews sacrificed to idols there. King Manasseh (reigned 696-642 BC), Hezekiah’s son, “sacrificed his own sons in the fire in Hinnom Valley” (2 Chronicles 33:6). Later, in 586 BC, Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq leveled the Jewish cities, including Jerusalem, and erased the Jewish nation from the world map. Some Jews considered that as God’s judgment on their nation’s lingering idolatry. For the Jews, Hinnom Valley became a synonym for God’s judgment, much like 9/11, for Americans, refers to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York City. English Bible translators created the word hell to express the idea that Gehenna means more than a valley; it points to God’s judgment.
See note for 5:22.
First-century Jewish writer Josephus (AD 37-100), wrote that the group of Jews known as Essenes said much the same thing about making an oath. He described Essenes this way: “Any word of theirs has more force than an oath. Swearing an oath is something they avoid. They regard it as worse than perjury because they say that anyone who can’t be believed without appealing to God for backup is someone who should be condemned before they say a word.”
This instruction is implied. A more literal paraphrase would simply refer to “whoever compels you,“ instead of referring to a Roman soldier. However, the taxes that Romans collected didn’t pay for everything the army needed. Soldiers could requisition from locals whatever they needed. This included ordering them to help with something, such as carrying their gear.
A more literal paraphrase: “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” Some Bible experts say that the context of what Jesus has been saying should help us understand what kind of perfection Jesus was talking about. Luke reported the same quote of Jesus, apparently during the same sermon. Instead of telling people that Jesus said, “Be perfect,” Luke reported that Jesus said, “Be compassionate like your Father is” (Luke 6:36).
Matthew says Jesus preached what became his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, “on a mountainside” (5:1). Luke says Jesus preached the same sermon from “a level field” (6:17). Take a look at the map for Matthew 5 that shows the Mount of Beatitudes and nearby Capernaum. And search the internet for pictures of the terrain showing the site where a long tradition says this sermon took place. Do you see any way to explain the apparent discrepancy?
In the section of his sermon that’s often called the Beatitudes (5:3-12; Luke 6:22-26), Jesus seems to say the opposite of everything that most people seem to believe. Why do you think he did this? What do you think he expects the people listening to him to get out of it?
Jesus said, “Don’t think for one second that I came to repeal and replace our Bible—erasing the laws of Moses or the books of the prophets. I didn’t come to finish them off. I came to finish what they started” (5:17). Given the fact that Christians no longer observe most of the Jewish laws, such as those regarding circumcision and eating only kosher food, what do you think Jesus meant?
Why do you think Jesus compares the sin of murder to getting mad at someone, saying both “will be held accountable” (5:21-22)? He does the same thing comparing adultery with a lingering, lustful look, saying with a look like that, “You’ve already committed adultery with her in your head” (5:28). Clearly, there’s a difference between murder and anger, adultery and lust. Is Jesus trying to say that from God’s point of view, there is no difference?
Jesus seems to say that if we divorce someone for any reason other than a sex sin, and then we remarry, we are committing adultery (4:32). How do you react to that? Pick one of the following or add one of your own.
- Sounds like something a single guy would say.
- He’s probably using exaggeration to help defend women against men who could divorce their wife by simply giving them a note confirming they are divorced.
- Take it literally. He means what he said. Marriage is until death.
- Jesus wasn’t saying sex sins are the only grounds for divorce. Paul allowed for abandonment as grounds, too (1 Corinthians 7:15).
- Would Jesus really want a young woman to live the rest of her life like a monk if she made the mistake of marrying an abusive jerk right out of high school?
It sounds as though Jesus would not be in favor of us saying something like, “I swear on my mother’s grave I’ll….” Then you can go ahead and fill in the blank with any promise you might want to make. He said, “I’m telling you not to make vows like that” (5:34). He doesn’t seem to bother saying what’s wrong with doing this. What problem do you think he might have had with this?
Jesus tells us to love our enemies (5:44), let people get away with hitting us, and loan our stuff to people who won’t give it back. Basically, it sounds as though he is asking us to become a doormat that people can use to wipe their feet. How would you defend Jesus?
LIFE APPLICATION. After reading the Beatitudes (5:3-12), which one do you think most people today would best relate to?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus says we’re “the salt of the earth” (5:13). Bible experts say it’s unclear exactly what attribute of salt Jesus was talking about. Salt is a seasoning that makes food taste better. It’s a preservative. It’s a purifying agent. Whatever Jesus was talking about, he seemed to be saying that God’s people make the world a better place. But he also says that if the salt goes stale, it’s impossible to reactivate it. In what way do Christians or Christianity in general go stale?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus tells his followers, “Let your light rise and shine. Let people see it in the compassionate work you do for others—and in other ways” (5:16). When people outside the faith look at Christianity, what do you think they would say are some of the brightest lights among us? Not necessarily individuals, but practices—the ways we express our Christianity in the world?