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A guy goes to the doctor and says, “Doc, you have to listen to my leg.” So the doctor listens to his thigh bone and he hears, “I need $100 dollars. Can you give me $100.” “That’s some kind of trick,” said the doctor. “No,” said the man, “listen to my knee. So the doctor listened to his knee and heard, “I need $50 bucks. Do you have $50 bucks I can borrow?” “That’s incredible,” said the doctor. The man said, “listen to my ankle, so the doctor did and heard, “Man, I sure could use $20 bucks. Can you help me out with $20 bucks?” The doctor said, “I’m astonished.” He then consulted his medical journals and came back and said, “I checked all my books. I’ve never seen anything like this in all my years.” Well what’s wrong with me?” asked the man. The doctor said, “I can only conclude that your leg is broke in three places.”
Being broke is no fun, and having an empty bank account is serious trouble in a world that runs on money. But you know what’s worse? Spiritual bankruptcy, that is, spiritual emptiness is far worse. I mean, we all know the stories about celebrities, politicians, and rich people who seem to have all the fame, popularity, and money in the world, and still self-destruct through drugs and alcohol because they were spiritually empty inside. Many even stated as much at times. But you know, there are even more people who are not celebrities or rich and famous, but are just as spiritually empty inside because they live by world’s values, rather than by the values of the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ve seen it many, many times over the years, and I was there myself, even after years in ministry, until I found out what was wrong.
The only cure for spiritual emptiness, in my opinion, is to stop filling ourselves with the values of the world, and begin filling ourselves with the values of the Kingdom of Heaven, because when we fill ourselves with the empty values of the world, it’s no wonder we come up empty inside. But when we begin to fill ourselves up with the values of the Kingdom of Heaven, we begin to feed the spirit within us, thereby growing stronger and healthier in the process. Just like a starving person, however, those values cannot all be ingested at once. They must be carefully given in small quantities and nourished as we get stronger.
We have an example of this in Jesus’ teaching the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples. In the book of Matthew, we read that Jesus called his first disciples along the Sea of Galilee. After calling his disciples to follow him, he had to then begin to teach them the values of the Kingdom of Heaven. Then the text in the beginning of chapter 5 of Matthew states something peculiar. Chapter 5:1-12, we read the following, “Then seeing the large crowd, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set, his disciples came up to him. And he began to teach them.”
Wait a minute. There is something important to notice here, and that is that the crowds didn’t come up to Jesus for the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus went up into a mountain and after he was set, then his disciples came up to him, and then he taught them. So it was only his disciples he delivered the Sermon on the Mount to them.
But why didn’t Jesus teach the crowds this sermon? All the pictures I’ve ever seen of this famous speech have always showed large crowds around him, but apparently that is not what really happened at all. So why did Jesus go up into a mountain and only deliver this famous speech to his disciples?
This is important because it illustrates my point. So let me answer the first question with another question, and that is, have you ever climbed a mountain? Remember, the disciples had to climb the mountain to go up to where Jesus was located. And if you have ever climbed a mountain, then you know just how hard it actually is to do. Climbing a mountain is serious work. Mt. Arbel, the probable location for the Sermon on the Mount is 1,280 feet (380 meters). It has a 360 foot/110-meter vertical drop, and is the only known mountain in Israel to serve as a base jumping site. So it is not an easy climb. So the answer as to why Jesus went up into a mountain to teach the Sermon on the Mount can only be that this teaching was not meant for the crowds, it was only for those who were serious enough to climb up the mountain.
Think about it like this. Over the years, many people I’ve encountered will ask me for spiritual advice about this or that problem or situation because they want God to help them with their problem, whatever it is. I always ask them if they have prayed about whatever the issue is and they always answer that they have. So I ask them if they prayed seriously about it? And they always say yes they have. So I then ask them, “Have you sought God seriously enough to deprive yourself through fasting?” “What?” I always get back. “Yes, are you serious enough to fast for it? I mean, you will fast for a medical procedure if the doctor tells you, but will you fast to get an answer from God?” The problem is that what people really want from God is a quick fix, or an easy answer, and they get discouraged when they find out they have to put in some hard work to get an answer.
Look at the examples in the Bible. Daniel prayed three times a day, wearing sack cloth, which is like potato sacks and he fasted while covering himself in ashes when he prayed in order to get an answer from God. And what happened? An angel showed up and told him that as soon as he humbled himself to seek an answer from God, his voice was heard on high.
So the first thing we learn about the Kingdom of Heaven’s values are that they are not for everyone, such as the fickle crowds that followed Jesus. They are for those serious enough to climb up a mountain to get them.
There’s something else we should know about the values communicated in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is actually an astounding Torah teacher because these values are more than just dusty platitudes spoken by some sage long ago on a mountain top. They are the foundation stones of the religion of Jesus. Hang on, I did not say a new religion. I say the religion of Jesus because if we just focus on “what” Jesus taught rather than on what other people teach about Jesus, we begin then to re-focus ourselves in following the religion of Jesus rather than following a religion about Jesus. The majority of Christians today follow a religion about Jesus, rather than the religion of Jesus, and it is why so many are spiritually empty and confused today.
So let’s apply this idea to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and see what you think. Jesus began each value he taught his starving disciples on the mountain side with the word, “blessed.” The word blessed comes from the Hebrew word ‘baruch.” The book of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew for the Hebrew people. In Hebrew, this word “blessed,” that is, “baruch,” is the word that begins every Jewish prayer. Every Jewish prayer begins with “Baruch attah Adonai, Eloheinu Melek haolam …” Depending on which sect of Judaism you belong, they may use “Adonai” which means, “Lord” or “Hashem” which means, “The Name.” Jewish prayers typically all begin the same way, “Blessed are you O Lord, our God, King of the universe.”
This isn’t the blessed in the way the world thinks, which is getting something from God, and it doesn’t mean, “happy,” which is a grossly mistranslated. It doesn’t mean what you get, because it is, at its essence, a description of what you are, because to be blessed means at its core, to be set apart for use in the Kingdom of God, separated, like the word holy, which means separate, but not just separated for any reason, but separated from the world, for God. So as such, things used in the worship service are separated from mundane use by consecrating them, that is, blessing them, in which they then become separated for use, that is, holy. Another word that describes this condition is the word ‘sanctified.” So when we say, “Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the universe,” we are really saying, “Holy are you, O Lord, our God,” that is, we are recognizing that God is first and foremost separate from the world.
In ancient times, people had gods for everything, such as thunder, rain, love, war, harvest, you name it, people had a god for it. And people would pray to these gods for whatever they wanted, such as a good harvest, the skill and ability to fight in battle, to throw a spear a long distance at their enemy, and so on. Those were all blessings from the gods. But when the Hebrews prayed, they began with the fact that God is separate from the world, God is separate from the worldly, mundane and manmade gods of the world around them. The God of the Hebrews is one God, separate from us and the elements of the universe, and there is no other God. And this God sets apart, that is, makes people holy for his kingdom and objects holy for his Kingdom’s use. That is what blessed means.
This Sermon on the Mount, then is really a summary of what it means to be holy, that is, set apart for the Kingdom of Heaven. If you could boil all the instructions in the Hebrew Bible down into summary statements on what it means to belong to God, then these would be it. So when Jesus used the word blessed, that is, “baruch,” he was really saying:
- “Blessed are the humble in spirit, for they belong to the Kingdom of Heaven. – (Right from the beginning Jesus states that the humble in spirit belong to the Kingdom of Heaven, in other words, the meaning of “blessed.” He goes on to describe the other values of the Kingdom of Heaven.)
- Blessed are those who mourn (over their sin is implied here) for they shall be comforted. – (Psalm 34:18, ‘The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.’)
- Blessed are the meek (those who abhor violence) for they shall inherit the earth. – (Psalm 37:11, ‘But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity,’ and Proverbs 21:7 says, ‘The violence of the wicked will destroy them, because they refuse to do justice.’)
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. – (Proverbs 8:17, ‘I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.’)
- Blessed are those who are merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Proverbs 21:21, ‘He who follows righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness and honor.’)
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. – (Psalm 73:1, ‘God is good to Israel, to such as are pure in heart.’)
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. – (Although there is no actual source in the Hebrew Bible on this statement, it is well within Rabbinical teaching, for example, Rabbi Hillel had said once, ‘Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace’ (Abot., 1:12), which could be based on Psalm 34:14, which states, ‘Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.’)
- Blessed are those who are persecuted for pursuing righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – (Psalm 31:3, ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit, for you have redeemed me.’)
These are the values of the Kingdom of Heaven, and those who pursue them are blessed, that is, holy, separated unto God and belonging to the Kingdom of Heaven. Notice how they all stand in stark contrast to what the world values around us. It’s no wonder then that so many people are spiritually empty because they do not know where or how to fill that spiritual void inside. Still others get lost and discouraged following a religion about Jesus, rather than following the religion of Jesus, and they end up just as empty.
Jesus doesn’t deliver the Sermon on the Mount to the crowds in the valley below because the crowds already seek the blessings of this world and not the world to come. After all, everybody wants the blessings of good health, good looks, great finances, athletic skill, a beautiful voice, fame and fortune, you name it, which are all the values of the kingdom of this world. Jesus goes up into a mountain and waits for those who are serious enough to climb the mountain to listen to the true values of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In our day and age, however, we can all hear or read the words of the Sermon on the Mount any time we want, we don’t have to climb any mountains to hear them. However, if we are like the crowds back then, the words will forever mean nothing to us until we focus on the teaching, rather than obsessing on the teacher. When we take these words seriously, only then will they begin to make sense, feed our hungry souls and fill the spiritual void within us. In time we will even find that they continuously point the true way down the spiritual path of life. I hope this message has been a blessing to you in your spiritual walk. Amen.
Pastor Robbie F Taylor