Next Sunday we begin a study in Messiah’s most well-known sermon – what is typically called the Sermon on the Mount, encompassing chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel. It is important before diving into the individual verses of the beatitudes, that we first widen our lens in order to “see the forest from the trees,” that is, to understand the context of the sermon as a whole, so that we might rightly interpret and apply it’s individual components; and that is what we will seek to do on Sunday.
There is perhaps no religious discourse in human history that has received the amount of attention that has been devoted to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Even among those who refuse to follow Jesus’ person and faith, have discussed and admired His ethic outlined in this sermon. Together, its verses are arguably the most preached on in all of Scripture. One recent report described 36 different ways of understanding the sermon; we will be considering the strengths and weaknesses of about half a dozen of these ideas on Sunday.
Whether or not Jesus preached this sermon all together on one occasion is debated (see Matthew 7:28 which seems to suggest that the sermon was preached in one sitting); but what is clear is that Matthew has organized the structure of this sermon very carefully. The first 16 verses, comprised of the nine beatitudes and salt and light metaphors, form the introduction. Matthew 5:17-20, which describes the greater righteousness expected of the kingdom dwellers, provides the thesis statement of the sermon. Matthew 5:21-48 contrasts Jesus’ teaching with the Law of Moses, revealing to us the heart of the Law while cranking up the expectation of New Covenant kingdom subjects. The first 18 verses of chapter 6 contrast the heart motives of kingdom subjects with those of hypocrites and pretenders. In Matthew 6:19-34, Jesus deals with how to handle money and true riches. Matthew 7:1-12 offers three more commands on how kingdom citizens are to treat others. And finally in verses 13-27 of the chapter, Jesus concludes the sermon with three illustrations of the only two possible reactions to Jesus’ message.
This week please set aside 15 minutes to read the entire sermon in one sitting. If you can do so, read it aloud to your family in one day of family worship. Pray and expect the sermon the challenge you in ways that you might not have been challenged before. Right off the bat, the Beatitudes (5:1-12) take us into a realm that is completely beyond the Law of Moses. The sermon will challenge your thoughts about law and grace, sanctification, morality, righteousness and the Christian life. May God give us grace to face Messiah’s Sermon seriously, until we become living examples of its’ glorious words.