3 February 2013
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, saying:
(Matthew 5:1-2 ESV)
When we studied the book of Romans, we called it Paul's Magnum Opus his greatest theological work. As we begin our study of the Sermon on the Mount, you will see it is similar in importance to the Christian faith. Even more remarkable is that Jesus preaches this sermon at the beginning of his earthly ministry. Right after his baptism, and temptation by Satan, having called only the first 4 disciples to follow him, but already healing the sick he encountered.
The text for this morning is the first two verse of the Sermon in chapter 5. In these two short verses we briefly see the context of the Sermon that is to follow. Simply stated, it appears as if Jesus is taking the opportunity to teach and preach. The somewhat redundant language of verse 2, "And he opened his mouth" provides us a clue as to the force of his teaching. This is not a simple story time or a parable to be told, but teaching. Another clue to this is that he sat down. This is the custom of a teacher, they sit when they are about to instruct. From these two clues we know we are about to encounter important teachings from the master, however Matthew has provided a few more statements that will aide us in understanding the Sermon on the Mount in the place of Jesus' ministry and Matthew's presentation of the gospel.
In Chapter 4 we are informed that after Jesus conquers the temptations of Satan that he begins his ministry in Galilee, as prophesized. In 4:17 we are provided a summary of what that ministry will be: "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" Though Jesus' major ministry is to become the sacrifice necessary to save humanity from its sin, He also knows he must preach and teach repentance and the kingdom. These two concepts, repentance and kingdom, are central to his ministry. It is repentance that he needs from humanity and it is the kingdom to which he is creating for humanity. Only those who repent will be beneficiaries of this kingdom and it is the kingdom that is of great importance for the Sermon on the Mount. We must ever be mindful of striving for that kingdom for it is the end of the gospel, as presented here.
Further, Matthew also provides us a summary statement of what he is about to present. In 4:23 he states, "And he [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction of the people." Basically Jesus is teaching (and preaching) and healing. The Sermon on the Mount comprises chapters 5-7 and is the core of Jesus' teaching. Chapters 8-9 present the healing ministry of Jesus. At the close of these chapters we find an almost identical summary statement: "And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction." (Matt 9:35) It can be surmised from these summaries that Matthew is encapsulating for us the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus. What this means is that in the Sermon on the Mount we have what Jesus wants to teach his followers.
To follow Jesus means to be a disciple. If we are to be his disciples ten we must pay attention to his teaching. In order to begin our study on this sermon we must be mindful of a few things.
The Sermon is for Disciples
As noted Jesus has only 4 declared disciples, or full-time followers, but his words and his healing always draw a crowd.
The sermon is thus reaches a mixed audience of the committed and the curious. Really even His disciples at this stage are hardly any better trained than the by-standers. To be a disciple means that one is following after another. What Jesus is then teaching is what his disciples must also understand, practice, and teach.
This concept is central to the gospel message, and especially central to Matthew's gospel. We all know the Great Commission in Chapter 28 wherein we are told to make disciples. The concept of disciple is found from beginning to end in this Gospel (65 times). These disciples are unlike the scribes, Pharisees, and crowds surrounding them in their surrender to his call, but without careful training they could fall for the same deceptions of self-righteousness as the Pharisees.
The Sermon is the New Commandment
To me the easiest mistake to make with Matthew 5-7 is a find a newer even more extreme legalism than that of the Pharisees. The focus is on redemption through Jesus, not works of the law. But His audience of Jews needed a hard lesson, a paradox of righteousness to change their thinking.
The Law should make everyone aware of their sinfulness, as the Law describes a righteousness man. But through the Rabbi's teaching on the Law it had instead been twisted to describe a self-righteous man. In fact many claimed to be blameless under the Law, but with a heart that was never turned toward God. So these cultural Jews practiced a man-centered bottom up religion of being better men, and even looked down on those who did not follow their way.
Jesus, I believe breaks that paradigm beginning with Matthew 5 tearing down self-righteousness and any perceived goodness of these cultural Jews without a heart toward God. Who could read this passage and claim any degree of self-righteousness?
So in this sermon there is something to offend every one of us, and that offense is an invitation to repent from self-righteousness, or simply keeping a set of rules, what we would call just going-through-the-motions. This is a call to have a heart and will surrender to God; to think about His holiness every day, as a sharp reminder of our sinfulness.
The Sermon is Nothing apart from Jesus
Finally, we must see that this sermon, though given to the disciples and presented as the content of Jesus' teaching, is really nothing apart from the teacher who gives it. Just as there is a difference between the crowds and disciples as recipients of the sermon, so too is there still that distinction today. The sermon on the mount will not make much since to those who do not understand that the teaching is from a master who bids them to repent and follow. In the beatitudes Jesus says that persecution will come to his followers because of His [Jesus'] name. There is a direct relationship between the application of the sermon on the hearts of the hearers and the ability of the hearers to be applied to the teacher of the sermon. In short, if you do not know Jesus you will not understand the sermon.
Here are the keys to this sermon: Matthew 4:17 the focus on the kingdom of heaven and calling people to repent, John 5:39 the scripture testifies of Messiah, Matthew 5:17 Jesus fulfills the law, Matthew 5:20 heaven requires a righteousness beyond the legalism of the Pharisees. This is only available as the redeemed are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. So I see Matthew 5 not as a new legal standard, but a call to repent of the sin of self-righteousness. A contrast between the letter of the law twisted to exalt one class of men above other, and the purpose of the law which should always exalt God. The perfect man of Matthew 5-7 could only be the God-man Jesus Christ, the divinity of God rendered in the form of mortal man as John 1 describes the Word become flesh.