February: Matthew 5; Luke 6
How would you prepare for a sermon by the Savior? How would you feel sitting at His feet, looking up into His face? Before the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior did try to prepare His listeners for the lessons He would teach them.
Preparing for the Sermon on the Mount
There are three places in the scriptures that describe the Sermon on the Mount. In each description, the gospel writer describes the way the Lord prepared His would-be listeners for His message. In our modern-day scriptures, editors have added chapters and verses, but the scriptures were originally written as a single story. When read that way, you may find that you see connections that are not possible when the chapters are seen as separate stories, rather than being interconnected.
Before describing the Christ’s teachings, Matthew[i] wrote about the physical healings that the Savior performed and the calling of the Twelve. “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.”[ii] Jesus had physically healed the people before He taught these people about His new law.
Luke[iii] also related the teachings of Christ’s sermon, but before his description, he discussed the Sabbath and how one should observe the Sabbath day without being so concerned with the old Mosaic laws. The Pharisees were being critical of the Savior’s activities on the Sabbath day. Healing was something the Pharisees thought was inappropriate on a day when no work was to be performed. “Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good, or to do evil? To save life, or to destroy it? And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus.”[iv] Doing good rather than following traditions blindly was an important concept for Christ’s disciples to understand before He taught them His New Covenant.
In Third Nephi, the Savior came to visit the Nephites. He had appeared to those people at the temple site of the land Bountiful. The Savior chose His apostles, He taught them baptism, and then He taught them His gospel or the doctrine of Christ. The Nephites had been humbled by all the destruction that happened when Christ was crucified. Their humility, meekness, and hope for a brighter future prepared them for the Lord’s visit and prepared them to be ready listeners and doers of his word.
The Beatitudes: Christlike Attributes
All three versions of the Sermon on the Mount start with beatitudes. There are nine beatitudes in Matthew and Third Nephi, four in Luke, and one in John. The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin Vulgate Bible. “Blessed are” is translated as “beati sunt” which became “beatitude.”[v]
Sharing with the Nephites His teachings, the Savior started His sermon with some new beatitudes:
Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized and that ye have seen me and know that I am. And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.[vi]
The Savior added two “blessed are ye” and one “blessed are they” and one “more blessed are they” before starting to teach the same beatitudes that He taught His disciples in Israel. In the New World, He gave beatitudes that would also be included in the Book of Mormon. The new beatitudes reminded His disciples that they would be blessed if they listened and followed the words of His servants and were baptized. Those who believe in the Twelve’s words with humility and are baptized, they will receive the Holy Ghost and be sanctified through the remission of their sins. These additional beatitudes taught His disciples the importance of following His gospel through the words of His chosen Twelve apostles.
These new beatitudes are for us today. We too must be willing to follow the Savior’s Twelve Apostles, as if their words were His words. We are also blessed if we, as baptized members of His Church, hearken to His prophets’ teachings and receive the Holy Ghost that sanctifies us from our sins. In Preach My Gospel, there is an entire chapter on Christlike attributes. This chapter is not just for full-time missionaries but for each of us. The final page of this chapter is an activity designed to help us understand where we need to improve in our quest to become like Him.
Fulfilling, Not Destroying the Law.
The Savior’s teachings caused His followers to understand that He came to change their Old Testament ways: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill, For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one joy or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”[vii] The Savior’s new law was not ending the old covenant. Instead, the old covenant was being elevated to a higher standard. The Savior warned: “[E]xcept your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees [representatives of the Old Testament], ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”[viii]
Those who were listening to the Savior’s sermon were people who still followed the Mosaic law and the Savior’s statement about their religious leaders might have surprised them. The Pharisees and the scribes were the guardians of the Old Covenant, yet His disciples were told that they must be more righteous than them. He then explained what the New Covenant meant and explained how to live this higher law.
The first prophet Nephi of the Book of Mormon understood the higher law and the fulfillment of the Savior’s life on earth that would change the Old to the New Covenant: “And notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.”
As we follow the Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, we will acquire His attributes and become the light of the world.[ix] The Savior is the Light from which our sun, moon, and stars gain their light. As we become more like Him, we begin to reflect His light through our countenance, our words, and our actions. Elder B. H. Roberts: “The man who so walks in the light and wisdom and power of God, will at the last, by the very force of association, make the light and wisdom and power of God his own—weaving those bright rays into a chain divine, linking himself forever to God and God to him.”[x] Following the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount enables us to bring the light of His gospel into our lives, our homes, and the world, as we live and teach His gospel to others.
[i] Matthew chapters 5 and 6
[ii] Matthew 4:23
[iii] Luke chapater 6
[iv] Luke 6:9-11
[v] Britannica, “Beatitude,” https://www.britannica.com/topic/Beatitude-biblical-literature
[vi] 3 Nephi 12:1-2
[vii] Matthew 5;17-18
[viii] Matthew 5:21
[ix] Matthew 5:14-15
[x] B. H. Roberts, “Brigham Young: A Character Sketch,” Improvement Era, June 1903, 574.