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Lesson Plan for Matthew 5 & Luke 6

 


At this time in Jesus' ministry, we have had at least a few weeks or months of him traveling with his disciples, announcing his Messiahship to individuals and large groups, and performing many mighty miracles. Word of his power and teachings traveled quickly to an expectant Jewish people, where his popularity made it almost impossible for Him to travel anywhere without drawing a crowd.

I interpret this beginning period of Jesus' ministry as calculated to test to try and prove his closest disciples. The Bible Dictionary confirms the timeline found in Luke 6 where it says:

"[The Sermon on the Mount is] a discourse by the Lord to His disciples who were about to be sent forth on missions. It should be placed chronologically soon after the calling of the Twelve." (1)

Following the son of Man for some time and navigating harsh persecution and high popularity would have prepared these men for their eventual calling. It might have been similar to a Zion's camp experience where most of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in our dispensation and all of the Seventies were veterans of said camp. Joseph Smith wrote of these men the following which could also be applied to the apostles who followed Jesus in the Meridian of Time:

"[God] could not organize his kingdom with twelve men to open the gospel door to the nations of the earth, and with seventy men under their direction to follow in their tracks, unless he took them from a body of men who had offered their lives, and who had made as great a sacrifice as did Abraham... Now, the Lord has got his Twelve and his Seventy, and there will be other quorums of Seventies called." (History of the Church, 2:182)

The context for the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, is the Savior trying to prepare his disciples and give them the message to be carried out in their own ministries. 

Even further, it is my opinion and the opinion of faithful Church scholars that the sermons given in Matthew 5 and Luke 6, while similar, were given at slightly different times and slightly different places. For instance, Matthew 5 takes place at the top of a mountain while Luke 6 takes place on a plain after Jesus comes off the mountain with his originally called 12 apostles. For more evidence of the differences in time and locale of these sermons, see S. Kent Brown's explanations here.

This should not surprise us because the Savior gives this same sermon, again, in its full form (and then some) to the people in 3 Nephi who were gathered around the Temple. For this reason, Church scholars call 3 Nephi 12-14 "The Sermon at the Temple". This sermon appears to have been adapted often based on the hearing audience Jesus and his disciples were preaching to.

This is the greatest sermon ever given. Harold B. Lee called it "the Master's constitution for a perfect life". More fully, he gave this insight and blessing as we live its teachings:

"Gradually as we ponder prayerfully all these teachings, we will make what may be to some the startling discovery that after all, God’s measure of our worth in His kingdom will not be the high positions we have held here among man, nor in His church, nor the honors we have won, but rather the lives we have led and the good we have done, according to the “constitution for a perfect life” revealed in the life of the Son of God. May you make the Beatitudes the constitution of your own lives and thus receive the blessedness promised therein. (2)

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

READ MATTHEW 5:1-2

"1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them"

From the outset, the stage is set when Jesus "went up into a mountain". These are exactly the same words in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) that are used in Exodus 19:3 & 24:12 when Moses and the Elders ascended Mount Sinai to talk with the Lord face to face. It is also the exact wording used in Psalm 24:3, which asks 'who is worthy to enter the temple?'

Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount could be seen as the full sermon or ritual enacted upon his chosen 12 apostles to endow them with power. He was trying to prepare them, the same way and reason why He first presents this Sermon to a people gathered around a holy temple in 3 Nephi 12.

Some scholars break down this sermon as a verbal or ritual "Jacob's Ladder" (see Genesis 28) in which there are "twenty-five stages of ascent" (3). Jesus compares himself to Jacob's Ladder in John 1:51, which fits the ascent sermon he is about to give and how this sermon is a constitution for a perfect life.

The Church's 'Guide to the Scriptures' alludes to this when speaking about the Beatitudes:

"The Beatitudes are arranged in such a way that each statement builds upon the one that precedes it." (4)

To take it a step further, it is for this reason, one of the foremost New Testament scholars of the 20th century said, "The beatitudes name the conditions that must be fulfilled to gain entrance to the holy of holies" (Georg Strecker, The Sermon on the Mount: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 33).

THE BEATITUDES

With this context and intent before us, let's read the beatitudes:

READ MATTHEW 5:3-12

"3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."

QUESTION:

In these compact statements, what lessons or blessings of discipleship inspire you?

The Greek for 'blessed' is 'Makarioi' which most literally means, "Enjoying the state of the Gods" (W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, The Anchor Bible, Matthew, 1971, 45). The word 'beatitude' comes from the Latin word 'beatus' which means "to be elevated to sainthood and to exalted holiness".

In 3 Nephi 12:1-2, Christ inserts a few beatitudes at the beginning that we do not have in Matthew 5. If you go back and look at those, they pretty much cover the principles of faith, repentance, and baptism. Therefore, the beatitudes we have in Matthew 5 could be directed toward those who are currently trying to navigate the covenant path after baptism. 

In 3 Nephi 12:3, Christ inserts a phrase and says, "blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". 

QUESTION:

If we are to believe what the Church's study helps say, namely, that these beatitudes build upon one another, how is being poor in spirit and coming unto Christ the first holiness principle for those on the covenant path? What does it mean to be 'poor in spirit'?

I personally connect this idea of being poor in spirit with the phrase often quoted in psalms of being of a broken heart and contrite spirit. Brigham Young offered this edifying explanation of why being poor in spirit is so important:

"... blessed are the poor, or, in other words, blessed are they who know for themselves that every blessing which they receive, whether spiritual or temporal, is the gift of God. Blessed are they who are poor in spirit, or blessed are they who feel their own weakness, and know their own inability... " (5)

 Being poor in spirit and coming unto Christ doesn't mean we think less of ourselves, but we think less about ourselves and are grateful for every word and mercy that comes from God.

This sets the stage well for those who mourn. How else can one mourn without "charging God foolishly" if one has not first become poor in spirit? This concept of mourn is spelled out in our baptismal covenants in Mosiah 18, another evidence that these beatitudes are to be understood as the constitution for those who have already entered the covenant path. 

Christ is actually quoting Isaiah 61:3 in Matthew 5:4. Isaiah speaks of appointing unto those who mourn beauty for ashes. 'Beauty' in Hebrew can also mean 'crown' or 'diadem'. This matches the blessing Christ gives in Matthew 5 when he speaks of comforting those who mourn. In the temple psalm of Psalms 23, the word comfort means to empower or strengthen someone.

In short, Neal A. Maxwell gets to the heart of the matter of how mourning and deprivation can be a precursor to holiness:

"If it is also true (in some way we don’t understand) that the cavity which suffering carves into our souls will one day also be the receptacle of joy, how infinitely greater Jesus’ capacity for joy, when he said, after his resurrection, “Behold, my joy is full.” How very, very full, indeed, his joy must have been!" (6)

 QUESTION:

How does, therefore, mourning and comfort lead us to meekness in verse 5?

Meekness in the Greek, 'praeis', more fully means 'fashionable' or 'a willingness to be molded'. What better way to be prepared for the new heaven and new earth promised than if we have agreed to be molded and fashioned the same?

Neal A. Maxwell notes the interesting parallel, therefore, that Moses is called the meekest man upon the face of the earth (see Numbers 12:3) and then also sees the earth and every particle of it to learn things he "never had supposed" (see Moses 1:10). (7) If we are teachable and are willing to be fashioned, we will learn that inheriting the earth is meant literally.

QUESTION:

Remaining on this building block narrative, why would hungering and thirsting after righteousness come next?

3 Nephi 12:6 gives us a more full rendering of what the Savior means when it says if we hunger and thirst after righteousness we will be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Perhaps, as referred to just previously, this is what happened to Moses who was meek. He was eventually filled with the Holy Ghost and "no man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations" (8).

In addition, hungering and thirsting after righteousness has echoes of D&C 46:9 which speaks of receiving the gifts of the spirit if we 'seeketh' to keep all the Lord's commandments. It sets the stage that flawless living is not what is expected. It sets the stage for the desire of our souls is what ultimately matters.

John W. Welch interestingly points out that this beatitude is the 4th in Matthew 5 and that receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is also the 4th principle of the gospel.

QUESTION:

The 5th beatitude is pretty straightforward and has direct ancient temple themes. The throne or ark found in the ancient holy of holies was called the Mercy Seat. As we give mercy unto others, we make our way to God who will bestow upon us mercy. How does this set us up for the 6th beatitude, that the pure in heart shall see God?

What else comes to mind when we speak of  'the pure in heart'?

1. Zion is the pure in heart (see D&C 97:21)

2. Charity is the pure love of Christ (see Moroni 7:47-48)

It appears that the Savior is saying that all those who approach, whether literally or ritually, the throne of grace/mercy seat that they are bestowed with the gift of a pure heart. After long periods of refinement, these zion inhabitants who have entered into the bonds of Charity are prepared to see God.

QUESTION:

This sets us up for the last beatitude we will discuss. How does that then connect with being peacemakers? What does being called the children of God have to do with that?

With all that has been said previously, Isaiah 52:7 might help us connect the threads of ascent.

READ ISAIAH 52:7

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!"

In this verse, one has become a fully covenantal child of God at this point as they have ascended fully to the top of the holy mountain. Their feet are beautiful because they speak peace or are peacemakers wherever they go. It calls to mind how the Savior will eventually speak peace unto the Sea of Galilee. These are covenantal members of Zion, who are pure in heart.

The last beatitude gets into persecution and martyrdom, so we can skip that for now. The theme comes back in the Book of Revelation.

SALT & LIGHT

READ MATTHEW 5:13-16

"13 ¶ Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

QUESTION:

What does it mean when the Savior says we are the salt of the earth?

 A wonderful Ensign article by LeGrand Baker notes the following:

"... to the ancients the central figurative meaning of salt had to do not with taste but with smell. When sacrifices were offered upon the altars of ancient Israel, the Israelites did not give the Lord the flesh of the animal, the fruit of the ground, or the ashes or smoke of such sacrifices. The acceptable part of the offering presented to the Lord was the smell, “a sweet savour unto the Lord” (Lev. 1:17). In the Bible, the word savour most often refers to the pleasant smell of burning sacrifice in the temple. To ensure that the smell would be sweet, the Mosaic law required that the offering be liberally sprinkled with salt. The scent of an unsalted burnt offering would be the stench of scorched flesh. But if the meat were generously salted, the odor would be quite different, due to the reaction of the salt upon the cells that compose animal flesh. Under high-salt conditions, cellular fluid rapidly escapes the cells to dilute the salts outside cell membranes. When accentuated by heat, these fluids cause a sweet savor to emanate." (9)

Therefore, to be salt of the earth are those who have brought their sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit to the Lord and been made acceptable to Him through their covenants. The covenants are the salt and also what makes us the salt of the earth. D&C 103:10 & 101:39 confirms this when it speaks about those who have been called into the everlasting covenant and have become the saviors of men. They are, therefore, the salt of the earth. When we do not live these covenant expectations, we lose our savour or, as a play on words, our 'savior' on mount zion status as D&C 103:10 clearly states. 

To put it straightforward, we are salt to prepare the world for its eventual burning. This burning is what creates the new earth. The more salt there is and the more salt we put out, will prepare more of the world for the sweetness of Christ's coming. It is a call to prepare the world for His appearing. It is a call to ready ourselves and the world now for His presence by virtue of our sweet sacrifice. 

QUESTION:

The Savior transitions from salt to saying we are the light of the world. In the context of verses 14-16, what do you think the Savior is trying to say? How do we reconcile this to when Jesus says that He is the light of the world or when the Psalmist says "the Lord is my light"?

The Greek for the phrase 'on a hill' in this verse is 'epanĊ orous'. When literally translated to the most direct meanings, it means this city has been placed 'at the top of a mountain'. Therefore, it shouldn't surprise us that the Lord is trying to bring to mind language that would have directly referred to Zion, the Heavenly Jerusalem, and the Temple.

Through covenants, especially those of the temple, we are endowed with light as we keep said covenants. The candlestick referenced in verse 15 is 'luchnia' in Greek. It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew menorah. The Menorah lit up the entire temple or the tabernacle and was meant to be a symbol for ancient Israel to be a "light to the Gentiles" (see Isaiah 42:6). As one entered the temple they would have been bathed in the light of the Menorah, which would have symbolically echoed what happened to King Lamoni in the Book of Mormon:

"This light had infused such joy into his soul, the clouds of darkness having been dispelled, and... the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul" (see Alma 19:6)

 Sister Sharon Eubank offers this insight on the light when we feel more so like stone:

"For those seeking truth, it may seem at first to be the foolish claustrophobia of windows made of stone. But with patience and faithful questions, Jesus can transform our windows of stone to glass and light. Christ is light to see." (10)

The more we come unto Christ, which culminates in His Holy House, the more we will have light to see and light to illuminate others.

PERFECTION

READ MATTHEW 5:48

"48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

If you read the variations of this verse in 3 Nephi 12:48 and Luke 6:36 you get some interesting insight.

READ 3 NEPHI 12:48

"48 Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect."

READ LUKE 6:36

"36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful."

QUESTION:

What differences do you see in these verses and how might they inform how we understand their intended meaning?

Luke 6, as stated at the beginning, was most likely Jesus summarizing his more full-scale version of this sermon for a non-covenantal audience on the plains. This might explain why the wording is changed from perfect to merciful in his Sermon on the Plain.

Also, 3 Nephi 12:48 is striking because Jesus adds Himself as being perfected with His Heavenly Father, whereas he makes no statement in Matthew 5:48; neither does the JST correct Matthew 5:48. To me, this suggests that Jesus didn't consider Himself perfected until a later time. This also suggests that 'perfect' here must mean something else than 'sinless' or 'flawless' because we certainly believe that Jesus did not sin.

President Russel M. Nelson has commented on this word:

"... the term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means “complete.” Teleios is an adjective derived from the noun telos, which means “end.” The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means “to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.” Please note that the word does not imply “freedom from error”; it implies “achieving a distant objective.”... Teleios is not a total stranger to us. From it comes the prefix tele- that we use every day. Telephone literally means “distant talk.” Television means “to see distantly.” Telephoto means “distant light,” and so on." (11) 

This term echoes the teachings we find in John chapter 1 and D&C 93. Namely, Jesus grew from grace to grace and we too shall grow from grace to grace.

Better translations suggest this 'perfection' is a pronouncement after one has completed a process. Greeks, interestingly, used the term, 'teleios', to describe one who had completed initiation into all the rites, rituals, and ordinances of a religion.

Even further, Jesus in His sermon is probably quoting Leviticus 19:2.

READ Leviticus 19:2

"2 Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy."

The Hebrew in this verse is more specific in indicating this is about being molded, fashioned, changed, and pronounced Holy/Perfect. In the Hebrew manuscripts of this verse, the term 'Lord God' is used. In other words, it says 'Yahweh Elohekhem', which is simply 'Yahweh Elohim' but with a personal suffix added to Elohim.

Church Scholar, Andrew Skinner, comments on the full intended meaning while quoting other Christian scholars of towering reputation:

"... the phrase Yahweh Elohim (translated as Lord God in the King James Version) would mean, literally, “he will cause gods to be.” Professor William H. Brownlee, one of the early authorities on the Dead Sea Scrolls, asserts that the biblical phrase customarily rendered as “Lord God” can be translated as “‘He creates gods,’ i.e., ‘He creates the members of the divine assembly.’” (12)

In other words, the invitation to become Holy or Perfect presupposes that the Lord is going to fashion us to get us there.

QUESTION:

How can this inform what the Lord is really asking of us when he commands us to be perfect?

To conclude, Jeffrey R. Holland once quoted the brilliant verses found in Moroni 10:32-33 and said:

"Around the Church I hear many who struggle with this issue: “I am just not good enough.” “I fall so far short.” “I will never measure up.” I hear this from teenagers. I hear it from missionaries. I hear it from new converts. I hear it from lifelong members. One insightful Latter-day Saint, Sister Darla Isackson, has observed that Satan has somehow managed to make covenants and commandments seem like curses and condemnations. For some he has turned the ideals and inspiration of the gospel into self-loathing and misery-making...

“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him … ,” Moroni pleads. “Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then … by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.”9 Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven—we can’t “earn” it. Thus, the grace of Christ offers us not only salvation from sorrow and sin and death but also salvation from our own persistent self-criticism." (13)


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