Are we expected to be able to live up to the expectations of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) or did Jesus say those things for another reason?
This was the question presented at a preacher’s lunch I attended. The question threw me off guard, because it was one I had never considered, but it also challenged me to truly dive into the sermon on the mount with the goal of answering this question.
In the teaching world, an educator is taught to build up their students using positive reinforcement. Putting stickers on a paper, reinforcing with a “Good Job”, putting the total correct instead of the total wrong, grading easier at first with the expectation to increase the difficulty, reward charts, gold stars, good behavior awards, the list of positive reinforcers is exhausting! There are so many ideas out there because it works! Positive reinforcements create a trust between the student and the teacher causing the student to be willing to learn harder concepts from the teacher because they are more willing to listen to the teacher.
Jesus used this method in the Sermon on the Mount! Matthew 5:3-16 contains 11 positive reinforcement statements that we call the Beatitudes and the salt and light metaphors. Before Jesus begins instructing with His commandments, he first builds trust within His audience. Imagine being on the mountain listening to Jesus speak the words of Matthew 5-7, looking around, making eye contact with you. Read through Matthew 5:3-16, and you will notice that one of the positive reinforcements He makes probably relates to you. Jesus related to all the members of His audience.
This is substantially important because He can now hold his disciples up to a higher level of expectation. Jesus has touched the heart of his listeners, shown them they are important to the kingdom of God, and now can challenge them to live that way. These aren’t just words, they are caring instruction provided by a close mentor.
Think of the person you most love on this earth. You probably value their opinion greatly, and would do more for them than most others. We can live out the difficult commands of the Sermon on the Mount IF we love and trust Jesus enough to do anything for Him.
Before trying to achieve the commands of the Sermon on the Mount, first check and see if Jesus is a trusting friend that you deeply love within your heart. If you can have that kind of a relationship with Him, following His commands will be much easier. You have an important place in the kingdom of heaven. Who are you in Matthew 5:3-16?