The Sermon on the Mount: an Introduction

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is recorded in Matthew 5-7. There is a retelling of it (or a likely second recorded occasion of Jesus preaching it) in Luke 6. Plus, it is an interesting study to find references to this Sermon in the Book of James (The Bible Knowledge Commentary has a list of 14 referents). This will be a series focusing on the words found in Matthew. The sermon contains probably the most well known of Jesus’ words. Many books have been written on this section of Scripture. My own interest in this section was spurred by D Martyn Lloyd-Jones commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. You could make a huge list of others who have written on this, my favorites include Lloyd-Jones, John RW Stott and James M Boice – not a slouch list of names. I expect that this series will cover The Beatitudes (one per blog) but reserve the right to continue through the sermon.

I, following Lloyd-Jones, see the sermon as more descriptive than legislative. That is, the characteristics presented are the effects of God’s working in the life of the believer. The Beatitudes, for example, are not natural characteristics of humanity. I knew a man who was naturally withdrawn and passive. He used to justify himself by saying he had some inside track on the Blessing for the Meek. This is a wrong application (His natural moroseness was also confused for mourning). Men are not naturally meek, even those who embody the accepted definition of meek. Only those in whom the Spirit works meekness (and he works meekness in all who are the Lord’s) is meek in the sense of the beatitude. Thus, my approach is similar to the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23). One cannot choose “Today, I will be more (insert characteristic)”. One says, “The Spirit wishes to work (characteristic) in my life.” This Spirit empowerment is essential for understanding and applying the sermon. The sermon cannot be “lived out” without the Holy Spirit.

In the late 70s, historian Michael Hart wrote a book, The 100: A Ranking Of The Most Influential Persons In History. He ranked Jesus third behind Muhammad and Isaac Newton. One reason he gave for the lower ranking is that Jesus’ revolutionary ethical teaching (the Golden Rule, found in Matthew 7:12), while good, is not followed. This leads us to the question of the applicability of the sermon. As you read the sermon, you are struck by the paradoxes; the poor have a kingdom, happy are the mourners, etc. the whole sermon describes the opposite of the way things are done. It is easy to say that while these ideals would be nice, we’re living in a real world here and cannot adopt them. Once, I was at a study on “turn the other cheek” and the first thing said was “of course, God does not want us to be doormats” and the whole rest of the study involved justifying not taking “turn the other cheek” too literally. Not once was there consideration of what turn the other cheek means just what it doesn’t mean. I believe the Sermon to be applicable, but only supernaturally. The things said mean something and it is quite opposite to what our world and our flesh want. I remember hearing MacArthur on the radio saying the sermon is summed up by Matthew 6:8, Do not be like them (see Leviticus 18:3).

There is a common idea, which I held at one time, that in this sermon Jesus was “making the Law harder” or adding to it. In the Ryrie Study Bible, there is a note at 5:44 (Love your enemies) that says “A new teaching found nowhere in the Old Testament” and yet, examples of this teaching are found in the Old Testament (for example, Prov 25:21,22; 2 Kings 6:22; Pss 7:4; 35:11-14). Also, the ever-popular “lusting in the heart” section is not adding to the law. It is pointing out that just a couple of verses after Do not commit adultery is Do not covet. Thus, it is teaching the unity of the Law against the compartmentalizing that people do to justify themselves. I think that the title I give for this section “True righteousness affects your obedience” (see below) is quite significant as it exactly reverses the perceived cause/effect relationship.

Though the Law of Moses is done away with and the believer is not obligated to it, there is a righteousness to which both Law and Grace bear witness. By way of illustration, there is what is called The Law of Design: Things work well when they function according to the way they were designed. God – the Righteous Lord who loves righteousness (Psalm 11:7) – designed man in righteousness. When man rebelled, he chose to live life unrighteously, against his design. In salvation, God commits himself to recreating his righteous design back into our lives. The Blessedness of the Beatitudes (and the rest of the sermon which the Beatitudes introduce) is in that God is at work in us and we are living out our true design.

The sermon describes the True Righteousness which God is working into the lives of the believer. In this sense, the key verse to the sermon is For I tell you, unless your righteousness greatly exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! (Matthew 5:20). The starting point for righteousness is only found in Christ, who for us has become wisdom from God, as well as our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30) Applying the sermon apart from the New Birth is trying to get good fruit from a bad tree (Matthew 12:33).

Here is my breakdown of the Sermon:

Idea: True Righteousness Affects Every Area of Your Life

1) True righteousness affects your character 5:3-9
2) True righteousness affects your influence 5:10-16*
3) True righteousness affects your obedience 5:17-48
4) True righteousness affects your piety 6:1-18
5) True righteousness affects your perspective 6:19-7:12
6) True righteousness affects your discernment 7:13-27

Final note: though I will be looking at the Beatitudes, I will probably not spend much time on the “for yours …” sections. Since both the first and last Beatitude have “for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven”, I take that all the blessednesses are from being in the Kingdom and are not divided. In other words, it seems silly to suggest that one who is sufficiently Poor in Spirit but not up to snuff on Meekness gets the Kingdom of Heaven but loses out on the Earth, but the one who makes the cut on both gets the best of both worlds.

*I know I split one Beatitude from the others. Since this last Beatitude does not portray a personal characteristic, but rather others’ reactions to the believer, it seems to be a transition verse from one section to the other, landing really in the next section. This lends itself to the idea that the introductory “Blessed” applies beyond just the first 10 verses or so to the rest of the Sermon.

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This entry was posted in Biblical Studies, Ethics, Matthew 5-7, The Sermon on the Mount. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Sermon on the Mount: an Introduction

  1. Dazzel17 says:

    Hi there, Since I had some time today t read, I picked your sight! WOW! Now I really know why I don’t discuss religion or politics!!! I won’t go to very interesting again. lol I will say that all I read were knowledgeable to a point. When I see you again, I will have to have a talk with you!!!! Miss you and your banner. One thing for sure I’m sure that Mary is never bored!!!

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