Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …
Matthew’s gospel account tells how Jesus traveled throughout the region — preaching, teaching, and working miracles (see here). As His fame grew, people came to Him from across Galilee and the surrounding regions. But Jesus’ message was the same: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17).
As the crowds began to grow, Jesus went up a mountain and began to teach His disciples:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them…
Jesus had travelled throughout the countryside, preaching that the kingdom is at hand. He now took his disciples aside and laid out what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom.
Thus begins the first of many great discourses in Matthew’s gospel account. It is also one of the longest recorded sermons in Scripture, covering three chapters in Matthew (Matthew 5-7, with parallels in Luke 6:17-49). This teaching by Jesus contains some of the most well known parts of all scripture, and some of His most beloved quotes. Because of the location where Jesus taught, it has been traditionally known as the “Sermon on the Mount”.
Many parts of the Sermon on the Mount are well known in our culture, even by those who have never read the Bible. It opens with the famous series of beatitudes, where Jesus taught about the blessings of those who follow Him, even though they are poor, hungry, and weeping. Jesus urged his followers to be salt and light to the outside world, and He set a much higher standard than was ever given in the Old Testament law.
He criticized religious hypocrisy and indifference, showing that it is meaningless to give God what is no value to you, and the danger of being religious only for the praise of other people. He showed that the treasure in heaven is much more valuable and permanent than anything you can gain here on earth. He taught how to properly judge others, being mindful of your own failures. Yet He also gave comfort for when we doubt if God is caring about us, or when we doubt if He is watching over for us. We are reminded that we are much more valuable in God’s sight than all of the intricate design of His own creation!
And finally, He warned His listeners to not only hear Him, but to also do what He says. The one who hears His words and follows them is the wise man who built his house upon a rock, but the one who ignores His teaching is the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, and everything he has will be destroyed.
The Scripture says that when Jesus was finished, all the people were astonished at the way he spoke. English translation does not put that strongly enough. They were stunned! They were flabbergasted!
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
It was very common for the rabbis of Jesus’ day to stand up and give lectures. They would call upon the authority of a great rabbi from years before, who would call upon the authority of their previous rabbis. But Jesus did not quote the authority of previous teachers, he relied on His own authority. In Matthew 5, He repeats the saying, “you have heard it said … but I say …“ (Matthew 5:17-48). He was not conforming or enhancing the current Jewish system of religion. He was following the law, but making it completely different, bringing it into something new.
Theologians have debated over how we should apply the Sermon on the Mount in our day. It does not contain instructions for how to have eternal life, and at a quick glance, it appears to be all about our works. Much of the sermon is directed toward our attitudes and our actions. The Sermon on the Mount is not how to gain entrance into God’s kingdom, it is how His citizens should live, now that we are in His kingdom. There are some important things to remember about the Sermon on the Mount:
First, Jesus was speaking to his disciples, who have already repented and trusted in Him. The disciples were already following Him, but needed instructions for how to live as citizens of His kingdom. Therefore, it would be wrong to view the Sermon on the Mount as the entrance requirements for how to get into God’s kingdom. This would also contradict other Scripture, which clearly states that we are saved by grace, not by good works (Romans 4:5, Titus 3:4-7, Ephesians 2:8-9). We do not follow God’s law to become His children, we follow God’s law because we are His children!
Also, instead of discarding the Old Testament law, Jesus raised its expectations up to a higher level. It is popular today to believe that Jesus came to put aside any type of law keeping. But Jesus did not come to take away the law of Moses, He came to fulfill the law. In this sermon, Jesus showed that the letter of the law is not nearly as important as the spirit of the law. You may pride yourself on never committing murder or adultery, but you are just as guilty if you harbor hatred or lustful thoughts.
“This sermon is not a ‘constitution’ for the kingdom God will one day establish on earth. The Sermon on the Mount applies to life today and describes the kind of godly character we should have as believers in this world.” – Warren Wiersbe 2
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