“Preparation for the Sermon on the Mount”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Matthew 5.1-2
I invite you to turn to Matthew chapter 5. I believe the Lord has directed us, for the next several months, to chapters 5-7 of Matthew, which is the Lord Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Today’s focus will be to prepare us for properly understanding this Sermon so we’ll dip in here and there into the Sermon to get a flavour for it’s contents.
This Sermon has received great attention throughout history and up to the present day from those inside and outside the faith.
Augustine of Hippo, who was the first to call this sermon “the Sermon on the Mount” in the 4th or 5th century, said this sermon is “a perfect standard of the Christian life.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the German pastor who resisted the Nazi’s in Nazi Germany and was subsequently executed. A large portion of Bonhoeffer’s classic Cost of Discipleship is a meditation on this Sermon.
Countless sermons, commentaries, and full books have been written arguing for their particular interpretation.
But not just those in the Christian faith have been interested in the Sermon on the Mount.
Warren Kissinger of the Library of Congress in Washington DC said, “The sermon is like a mighty tall mountain that from a distance has attracted people from all traditions and faiths.”
Karl Marx, the revolutionary socialist who wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1848, pointed to Matthew 6:19-21 to argue against allowing for private property.
Matthew 6:19–21 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The Sermon’s influence on Mahatma Gandhi will forever go down in history. Gandhi was the leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule during the last century. Although he didn’t believe in the Christ of the Sermon, Christ’s divinity and work, Gandhi read from this Sermon daily. He said, “Christ’s Sermon on the Mount fills me with bliss even today. Its sweet verses have even today the power to quench my agony of soul.”
Then Senator Barack Obama in 2006 in a speech said Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was so “radical” that it is doubtful that the Defense Department would survive its application, referring no doubt to the requirement in Matthew 5:39 to “turn the other cheek” and 5:44 to “love your enemies.” How could a government’s defense department survive that?
In it is Hillary Clinton’s favorite Bible verse (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) and Donald Trump had the Beatitudes read at his inauguration as President of the United States.
We could go on and on, but the point is that this radical Sermon has wielded great power in the minds of the political and religious elite dating back to when it was preached.
Although that is the case, truth be told the Sermon simply has not been followed.
Who could say they’ve perfectly practised…if you’d look at say…
Matthew 5:21–22 21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
Who could withstand that level of spiritual scrutiny? Or…
Matthew 5:27–28 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Matthew 5:38–39 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
How are you doing so far? Verse 44…
Matthew 5:44 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
And just to summarize…
Matthew 5:48 48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 7:12 12 “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
How did you do? Have you practised all these things from your youth up? That’s my point: no one lives up to it; the Sermon simply hasn’t been followed.
If no one has followed it perfectly, one should wonder, “What’s the point of the Sermon?” What’s the point if no one follows it? …First, …
The purpose of the Sermon is not to give the cure for all the ills of society. Since the world is so bad, some say just apply the ethics in the Sermon on the Mount to fix all the problems in our countries. If everyone would turn the other cheek and give their coat to those in need and redistribute wealth, we could usher in the kingdom of heaven that Jesus talks about.
That is NOT the purpose of this sermon. This sermon is not a social gospel, attempting to rally even lost people so that we can bring in the kingdom. The media, news, and politicians will present the Sermon in that fashion… that if lost society as a whole can practice it, we’ll have the kingdom that Jesus talks about. If we turn the cheek, love our enemies, etc. ours will be the kingdom of heaven in our country and world and we’ll enjoy the ideal political kingdom that Jesus wants for us.
Liberal Protestants in our communities hold to this interpretation. Liberal Protestants would hold that our governments should apply the Sermon to society’s ills to fix poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. And that our local people should apply it to start soup kitchens to feed the poor.
This view says that politicians in the highest offices should apply it’s teaching to society and to the enacting of laws. But surely Jesus isn’t talking to politicians and lawmakers about their reign over the earth; surely by “the kingdom of heaven” that Jesus speaks to much about He’s referring to God’s rule in people’s hearts, so this can’t be what He’s talking about.
Another faulty way of interpreting the Sermon says it’s only applied to the future kingdom when Jesus will come back and rule on the earth! That’s when He’ll impose on everyone everything in this Sermon, which is what we want!
But that’s not right either, the Sermon’s teaching is for today. The Sermon is for individuals today to know how to live in a world that isn’t following the Sermon on the Mount. For example, Jesus teaches us how to deal with thieves in 6:19 (don’t store up treasure on earth) and how to recognize false prophets 7:15 (“You will know them by their fruits”). Clearly, it’s not meant only for a future time when Jesus is on earth again.
So what is the purpose of the sermon?
To help us understand the purpose of the Sermon, we need to know who He’s talking to. Who is Jesus primarily talking to in verses 1-2…
Matthew 5:1–2 1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
To whom is Jesus speaking? Verse 2 … He opened His mouth and began to teach them “Them” refers back to the disciples. Jesus is teaching His disciples. But this is not to take the large crowd from verse 1 out of the picture.
Indeed, they are listening too. If we skip ahead to the end of the Sermon in chapter 7 we’ll see that the crowds are listening. Matthew 7:28–29…
28 When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; 29 for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
So the crowds are within earshot, but Jesus is primarily talking to his disciples, those who are attempting to follow him.
And so the sermon is not for Ghandi’s India trying to come out from underneath British imperialism. It is not for presidents or prime ministers and their defense departments.
The sermon is for disciples, those who make a claim of following Christ, while clearly lost people who do not follow Christ are within earshot.
TRANS: Because Jesus is talking to His disciples, we know that the purpose of the Sermon has something to do with being a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ.
The purpose of the Sermon is finally made clear when we understand what Jesus is primarily talking about in the Sermon. What is the primary subject matter of the sermon? It is this: the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount.
He specifically mentions the kingdom throughout the sermon.
Matthew 5:3 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:10 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:19–20 19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 6:10 10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:33 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 7:21 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
But what is the kingdom of heaven? Clearly it is not a political earthly kingdom and it is also not even heaven itself. The kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God is God’s reign over those who submit to Him. The kingdom of heaven is God’s reign or rule over those who submit to Him. It has a present reality and a future reality. In the future the kingdom of heaven will come to earth when Christ rules from David’s throne in Jerusalem.
But for now, the kingdom of heaven is God’s reign or rule over those who submit to Him.
But in the Sermon on the Mount, we narrow that focus even more. It has a salvation sense to it. Listen to the lines from those verses again…
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
Entrance into the kingdom of heaven is the focus of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus focuses our attention on, in a saving way, wilfully coming underneath the rule and reign of God. The focus is entering the kingdom.
Therefore, this Sermon’s purpose is evangelistic. If you take the words of Jesus seriously, you’ll realize that you will be unable to fulfill any of His demands. Similar to the Law of Moses, Jesus’ teaching demonstrates that everybody is unrighteous. Our conscience testifies that Jesus’ teaching in this Sermon is entirely right, but our conscience tells us that we fail to do what He says in our day to day actions.
Jesus is talking primarily to the mass of His disciples in order to get them to confess that they are lost, undone, totally depraved sinners, in need of a righteousness given to them!
Again, look at 5:20
Matthew 5:20 20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees at that time were not teaching bad things. In fact, they were the epitome and pinnacle of all righteousness, as the people saw it anyway.
On top of that, you remember that Jesus said about these Pharisees … Matthew 23:2–3 “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe…
The Pharisees were teaching things that people should observe. They themselves in their own self-righteousness attempted to strictly adhere to God’s law.
In Luke 11:42 Jesus says that they are tithing mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, which was right to do! They were to be very scrupulous about obeying the law!
They are white-washed tombs… but they are whitewashed! They appeared so righteous on the outside and that’s what people noticed. They were thought of as the pinnacle of all human righteousness! But now Jesus comes along and He says…
Matthew 5:20 20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
That’s impossible! How could anyone ever exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees? It is entirely impossible unless … unless there is a fundamental, complete, spiritual renewal from God!
And so in the Sermon Jesus is going straight for that heart! Look at Matthew 5:21…
5:21… You have heard (…now He addresses an action) that you shall not commit murder … But I say to you (about your heart) that everyone who is angry with his brother is guilty, yes, guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
Jesus radically increases the demands from not just outward actions but like a heat seeking missile, He goes straight for the heart.
5:27 You have heard (an action) that you shall not commit adultery, but I say to you that everyone who (in your heart) looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
So it’s not just the action, but it is the heart, the character behind the action that makes one guilty before God. Jesus is trying to get you to see that you are lost!
And so He concludes chapter 5 saying Matthew 5:48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
You say, “But that’s impossible! How could I be as holy as God?” Precisely! You never could! Jesus is dealing with your total depravity. He is reaching into your chest and pulling out your wicked and sinful heart and shoving it back into your face and showing you how far short you fall!
The purpose of the sermon then is evangelistic … to get you lost so that you come crawling to Jesus as a poor, destitute, mournful sinner and plead for mercy! “God be merciful to me the sinner!”
TRANS: But at the same time … not only is the purpose of the Sermon to get us lost and then found by God, but the purpose of the sermon is also to give a description of what kingdom citizens should look like. Jesus is describing what citizens in His kingdom look like.
When Jesus says in Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
And then in Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Those two verses function as book ends to draw together the verses in between all under the heading of “Who is in the kingdom?”
Well, the poor in spirit, for theirs (and theirs alone, is the idea) is the kingdom of heaven. It is these who characterize the kingdom. Those who mourn… who mourn over their poverty of spirit, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful, etc.
Those who are in the kingdom, who have entered the kingdom, who have sought first His kingdom, and who do the will of the Heavenly Father will have more than a just a whiff of the beautiful fragrance of Sermon on the Mount on his or her life.
TRANS: So the purpose of the Sermon is to get us lost and then saved and also it is a description of what kingdom citizens should look like.
Now, as we head into the first two verses of chapter 5, briefly we see…
The occasion of Jesus’ sermon
1. The occasion of Jesus’ sermon
When did Jesus preach this message? Verse one, “when Jesus saw the crowds.”
People are coming from everywhere. Matthew 4:25 tells us that “Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.” They were thronging to hear him and see Him do some miracle for their sick and Jesus. So what does He do? He teaches them.
On another occasion in Mark 6:34 When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.
His compassion for the crowds moves Him to teach them.
2. Jesus’ pulpit
Jesus’ pulpit is the mountain. It is not likely referring to a specific place, but simply going up into a hilly place. Since in 4:25 we learn that Jesus is in Galilee when he preaches, Matthew is likely indicating that this refers to the steep hills west of the Sea of Galilee.
3. Jesus’ authority
Jesus authority is seen in his posture as he teaches. “After He sat down.” As is appropriate for a rabbi, Jesus sets while teaching. This displays his authority, like when a professor is given the chair of some department or when the Pope speaks ex cathedra, meaning “from the chair.”
And the crowds recognized His authority when Matthew records Matthew 7:28–29 28 When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; 29 for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Because the scribes would simply quote other past scribes, but Jesus would teach as one who himself had all the authority, all of the rights to say what he says. “Never a man spoke like this man.”
Jesus’ authority is also seen in that v.2 He “opened His mouth and began to them saying.” You could wonder how He could teach them without opening His mouth, until you realize that this notes adds a note of sobriety. He opened up His mouth!
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Matthew 5.1-2
And as we’ll see in the coming months, when Jesus opens up His mouth and preaches this this radical sermon, Jesus turns everything on its head! He’s changing everything!
ILL: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount can be likened to a man who buys a department store and then changes all the price tags. As the new owner walks confidently through his store, the old management is aghast! They look on stunned as the new owner places the price tags of the high ticket items on the cheap stuff. And the price tags of the cheap stuff he places on the expensive!
In this department store, what is typically valued has become worthless. And what is worthless has become valued.
And that is the way it is with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
In any age at any time, no matter what the culture, no matter who is listening, Jesus’ Sermon makes valuable what the world despises and He makes worthless what the world values.
No matter the culture or the time period and no matter what church it is that claims to have followers of Jesus Christ in it, this Sermon on the Mount will convict even disciples of Jesus of their depravity, their poverty and will tell them how desperate they are for a righteousness that is not their own…how desperate they are for God’s very righteousness credited to their account.
APP: Are you ready to have your viewpoints changed and your values altered? To get through the Sermon on the Mount standing, you’ll need Christ’s very righteousness credited to your account… you’ll need to be ”more righteous than Pharisee”… you’ll need to be “perfect as your Father in heaven in perfect.”
Are you willing to submit your outlook on life, your relationship to your sin, your relationship to everything to Him?
May the Lord Jesus richly bless you as we study His sermon together in the coming months.
Minnick, Mark. Sermon on Matthew 5; probably from W. S. Kissinger, The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1975) ↑