When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The Sermon on the Mount

So people came from all directions to see the King and to hear his words. Some came because they hoped that he would do a work of wonder; and these were moved either by curiosity, that they might stand by with eyes wide open while some sick person was made well, or by their own distress, being themselves sick or in trouble. Some came because they were poor and hungry or disliked by their neighbors, and so the world seemed to them a bad world, and they wanted to know what Jesus would do to make it better. Very few of the great people came, the rulers or the rich; and very few of the ministers. The congregation which gathered about our Lord looked quite unlike the congregation which met in the synagogue on the sabbath day. The King of Glory came unto his own, and his own received him not; that is, the people who read their Bibles, and said their prayers, and went to church, and were thought to be very good, disliked him greatly. Both the priests and the ministers—or, as we would say to-day, both the Catholics and the Protestants—criticised him, and objected to what he said and did, and hated him.

He did not often preach long sermons; indeed, for the most part, he did not preach at all, but just talked in his natural voice. He liked best to speak to a few people, in a quiet, friendly way, walking in the country, or sitting under a tree or in a boat. But twice he spoke at length to a considerable company, so that we have a report of what he said. Once he was on a mountain, where he preached the Sermon of the Beatitudes. The other time he was on the lake, where he preached the Sermon of the Parables. That is, in the first sermon he was telling people how to be happy, for that is what "beatitude" means; and in the second sermon he taught the people by means of stories, for a parable is a story.

Nobody knows where our Lord preached the Sermon on the Mount. But it does not greatly matter, for all the hills about the Lake of Galilee look much alike, and are all very different from Mt. Sinai. You remember the Sermon on the Mount which Moses preached; how he stood on Sinai, a great, bleak, rocky height, in the midst of a desert; and how he brought down the Ten Commandments, cut on slabs of stone; and how there was an awful storm, the lightning flashing and the thunder booming. But the Eight Beatitudes were spoken on a gentle hill, green to the top with trees and shrubs and grass, and overlooking the pleasant lake. We may safely guess that the sun was bright, and that birds were singing in the air and flowers were shining on the ground. Indeed, our Lord in his sermon spoke of the birds and the flowers, how the Father in heaven cares for them every day. There on the grass sat the congregation at our Lord's feet,—the poor, the sad, the sinful, and the outcast; and he spoke sitting at the foot of a green tree.

So he began with the Eight Beatitudes: the eight ways to be happy. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  That is, the true source of happiness is in our own hearts: not in the houses in which we live, nor in the clothes which we wear, nor in the money which we have, but in ourselves. If we try always to do right, so that God shall approve of us, then we shall be happy, no matter what things happen to us. There may be a great difference between happiness and wealth, but happiness and goodness always dwell together. And he showed how the Ten Commandments are to be kept with our hearts as well as with our hands; so that the commandment "Thou shalt do no murder," really forbids us even to think hatefully about our neighbor.

Then he taught the Lord's Prayer; which we say in English words which are nearly a hundred years older than the English Bibles which we commonly read. When the Bible was translated in the time of King James, everybody knew the Lord's Prayer by heart in the old form, and most people kept on saying it that way. Here our Lord showed us that if we wish to do the things that are right, and thus to be happy, we must every day ask God to help and bless us. For prayer is as necessary to the life of the soul as food is to the life of the body.

Then he gave the Golden Rule: Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.  Afterwards, he put this in another and still stronger way in the New Commandment. "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another."  And he said that we ought even to love those who hate us, trying to do them good in return for the evil which they do to us. "Everybody," he said, "loves his friends; but my true disciples will love their enemies."

At the end of the sermon, he compared the congregation to the Two Houses. "Once", he said, "there was a wise man who built his house upon a rock. Down he dug into the earth until he found the solid rock, and there he set the corners of his house. And then a storm came. The rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock." That, he said, was like the people who heard his teaching and listened to it with attention and then did what he said. "And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."