If I asked twenty people, “What is the sermon on the mount about?" I would probably get twenty different answers. When teaching about the sermon on the mount, most Bible teachers focus on the various subsections of the sermon but miss the single consistent theme in the whole lesson. It's for that reason that I can say with some confidence that the sermon on the mount is probably not about what you think it's about. If you're an avid Bible student, I bet you could drum up a handful of quotes from Jesus' famous sermon, but very few people can name the consistent thread that runs through the sermon. If you can, I'd be impressed.
One of the marks of the sermon on the mount is that it has a bunch of hard teachings. Many of the things that Jesus tells His listeners to do are so incredibly difficult; that it's unlikely anyone can claim they have obeyed His sermon. His mountainside lessons can leave a person feeling that they don't measure up to these insurmountable instructions.
The nearly impossible standard that Jesus gives for godly living doesn't sound like much fun. In fact, it sometimes isn't. A person can spend an entire life trying to live up to the instructions found in Jesus' sermon, but it isn't easy. If a person commits to living like Jesus teaches, he or she will miss out on a lot of leisure, pleasure, and enjoyment.
Since the sermon on the mount is full of painful instructions, there better be some good motivation to follow them. There are some present rewards for godly living, but those here-and-now incentives begin to look a little thin when we consider what Jesus is telling us to do. If there's no eternal payoff, no one would want even to attempt to live up to the standard Jesus presents.
Some trip because they mistakenly think the sermon on the mount offers instructions for salvation. There are those who claim that a person must obey Jesus’ instructions or he is not saved. However, this presents a tremendous problem. Hypothetically speaking, how much of the sermon must be obeyed for a person to be saved? Would 80% do it? What about 70%? What percentage of the Sermon do you obey daily? My guess is most devoted Christians fall far short of the standard presented. It’s for that reason that I must remind you, the sermon on the mount is not an instruction manual for gaining salvation. It’s an instruction manual for those who have already believed and received eternal life. You can wipe the sweat from your forehead. If you are saved by faith, for free, then why obey the sermon on the mount? There better be a fantastic motivation.
What is the consistent thread that runs through the sermon on the mount? One of the best ways to discover the theme of a talk is to look for repetition. A simple word search will give a clue. It’s packed with terms like rewards in Heaven, treasure in Heaven, inherit, and a host of others. By my count, at least thirty references to eternal rewards are included in the sermon on the mount. Thus, the sermon on the mount is an instructional guide for discipleship living which includes eternal motivation for doing so.
Now you should begin to see how the two ends meet. In Jesus' most famous sermon, which contains instructions for discipleship living, Jesus indicates that the motivation for that difficult lifestyle is eternal rewards. It's not only rewarding here on earth, but rewards in Heaven that should motivate our godly living. In fact, there will be times where there are no rewards on earth. It's those times when the reward in Heaven is going to get you through the throat punch that the Christian life sometimes gives.
Salvation comes as a free gift for those who believe in Jesus. Though if you are going to attempt the Everest climb that is the godly lifestyle, Jesus offers a powerful motivation. Here are a few examples of the motivation that Jesus offers in the sermon on the mount:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you… Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.…
Notice that the motivation he offers for joyfully enduring persecution is reward in Heaven. Here is another phrase from the sermon on the mount:
…Pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
It’s difficult to pray. It’s especially hard to pray regularly when no one is watching. The motivation that Jesus gives for this difficult task is reward. Let’s look at one more example:
Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
It’s statements like these that run throughout the sermon. The consistent theme is clear. Look for the reward in everything you do. In every situation from what you eat to how you treat your brother, watch for chances to gain heavenly reward. This is not some invention of my own. Jesus uses this theme as the yellow brick road that runs through the Christian life. Every action done for Jesus in this life is a chance for reward in the next. If there were some better motivation for godly living, wouldn’t Jesus have mentioned it? It’s reward that He offers to those who obey.
He gives this instruction that sums up the sermon quite nicely.
Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness….
Obviously, that won't be easy, but if we allow the reward, He offers to fuel our pursuit. Then it will certainly be worth the trouble. This is why looking to the reward is such a powerful motivation for godly living available.