The Sermon on the Mount
In the Beginning . . .
But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with
compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having
We are about to commence a new series on Matthew chapters 5-7. This passage is frequently called “The Sermon on the Mount,” for Matthew 5:1 tells us that Jesus “seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.” This day Jesus had compassion upon the people of Israel and delivered the first of five discourses or sermons recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. This first message tells us all about life in the Kingdom of God, or as Matthew puts it, the Kingdom of Heaven.
In order to understand the impact of this message, it is necessary to understand the place of the Gospels in history.
What is history?
What is the purpose of history?
Do you know who ruled the Middle East at this time?
What was the religious attitude of the Jewish people?
What about their political attitude?
How do the two tie together?
From man’s perspective, the setting at the time of Christ’s birth and for the entire length of His life is fairly simple.
Luke 2:1 (NKJV)
1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
The Roman Empire ruled the world. This portion of the world had been easily conquered by Alexander the Great around 331 BC. Following His death, the Greek Empire was divided between his four generals. One of the ruled what is now called Syria, while a second ruled Egypt. Palestine belonged to one or the other, depending who was in power. For short times, such as around 166 BC, the Jews basically ruled themselves. However, as the Roman Empire came into more and more power, it became less tolerant of little governments such as the one in Jerusalem. Sometime around 68-73 BC Rome put an end to the local government and thereafter all rulers and most of the high priests were appointed by Rome.
Alexander’s major achievement was the importation of the Greek culture into the areas he conquered. Even though the Romans would eventually rule the world, much of the Greek culture survived beyond the “death” of the Roman Empire. The Romans from the first believed themselves called to govern the world. They looked upon all foreigners—not as barbarians, like the cultured Greeks, but as enemies to be conquered and reduced to servitude. While the Romans appear to be “friendly” rulers, they actually made most of their major decisions solely from the perspective of the rulers in Rome.
At the time of Christ, the religious rulers of Israel were the Sanhedrin, a council composed of Pharisees and Sadducees. The scribes were the legal experts in the Jewish law.
All of this is contrary to God’s basic plan for mankind. God’s plan looks more like this:
God, the Ruler
Man, the Ruled
Creation, the Realm
What does your personal history teach you about God?
God placed Adam in charge of His realm at Creation.
Genesis 1:28 (NKJV)
28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Although sin corrupted this scheme, God has promised that all will be restored at the end times.
Hebrews 2:5-8 (NKJV)
5 For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. 6 But one testified in a certain place, saying: “What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that You take care of him? 7 You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And set him over the works of Your hands. 8 You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him.
Who rules in place of God?
2 Corinthians 4:4 (NKJV)
4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
While mankind views himself as the ruler of his chunk of the world, the Bible views Satan as the ruler of the world systems not only today but since the Fall in the Garden.
In spite of man’s sinfulness, God has promised to restore His world.
Genesis 3:15 (NKJV)
15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”
This is the promise of a Savior for mankind, one who would “bruise the heel” of the serpent, Satan. For a while in history, God dealt with everyone collectively. Eventually, God focuses on one individual as the starting point of His plan of salvation.
Genesis 12:1-3 (NKJV)
1 Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This promise is given to Abraham. The promise is repeated to his son Isaac (Gen 26:2-4) and then to his grandson Jacob (Gen 28:10-15). As Jacob blesses his twelve sons (the fathers’ of the twelve tribes of Israel), he limits the source of these blessings to the tribe of Judah.
Genesis 49:10 (NKJV)
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.
Eventually, God limits the source even more as He promises David that the future ruler will come from the house of David.
2 Samuel 7:12-16 (NKJV)
12 “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15 But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” ’ ”
Even though mankind continually tries to derail God’s plans and to establish man’s kingdoms on earth, God’s plan marches forward.
While we do not have time for a complete history lesson, there is a small verse in the letter to the Galatians that speaks to the magnificence of God’s plan and timing.
Galatians 4:4-5 (NKJV)
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
God skillfully uses human governments as His tools for accomplishing history. Alexander introduced a common culture and language to most of the world. During this period, Greek was the language of commerce and government. Roman supplied roads and the peace that allowed people to travel freely along these roads from one country to the next. Thus, when God was ready to send forth His Son, the conditions of earth were such that the Apostles and other disciples were easily able to spread the Gospel message.
Even thought the Romans brought peace to the world, it was a peace enforced by armies, a peace that continually needed “help.” This was always the condition of earth, going back to the tower of Babel and looking forward to the end of our history. Men cannot create and keep peace on earth.
It is into this mix that, first, John the Baptist, and then secondly, Jesus, appears with the message of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17 (NKJV) – see Matt 3:2 for the same message as preached by John). It is likely that such a message would have reminded the Israelites of the promises made to Abraham. Jesus is offering the Israelites the Messianic Kingdom foreseen in the Old Testament. This offer is acknowledged by the nation and the Apostles by their continual questions aimed at discovering the date when the nation would be re-established as a political powerhouse. All were looking for David carrying a big sword and riding on a large white horse.
Note: It should be noted that some scholars attempt to find a difference in meaning between the use of “kingdom” in the Old and New Testaments. The simple fact that John and Jesus preached the same message is a great starting point to demonstrate the two kingdoms are the same. Further, many scholars attempt to make the “kingdom of heaven” different from the “kingdom of God.” Matthew makes great use of the reference to “heaven,” although he does use kingdom of God. The other Gospels almost exclusively use the term kingdom of God. The two should be viewed as representing the same kingdom. A study of the usage of the two terms shows they point to the same kingdom.
For the Israelites, it is a long trip from the covenant presentation to Abraham to the arrival of John the Baptist. After 400 years in Egypt, much of the time being spent as slaves, Moses leads the nation out of Egypt at the first Passover. Arriving at Mt. Sinai, God presents the nation with the Ten Commandments.
Exodus 15:26 (NKJV)
26 and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.”
Exodus 19:5-6 (NKJV)
5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
Exodus 19:12 (NKJV)
12 You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.
Deuteronomy 30:15-16 (NKJV)
15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, 16 in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess.
How do you feel about the Ten Commandments?
What is the purpose of the Law?
The law is designed to demonstrate to the Israelites (and to us) that man cannot under his own power keep the law and be holy. As such, the law is designed to lead people to Jesus. Men act evil by nature and need supernatural help to be obedient to a holy law. This is the message of the New Testament. We must live by faith not by our own power in order to become holy. This is really the story line of the letter to the Romans. Romans 7 outlines the struggle a Christian has keeping the “law,” while Romans 8 details for us the benefits of this struggle so long as we abide in Christ.
How often do you act on your power rather than turning to God?
What have been some of the consequences in your own life of not relying upon God?
Commencing with the construction of the golden calf (Exod 32) and continuing throughout the Exodus (Num 14), the Israelites rebelled against God. After the death of Joshua, the nation greatly faltered and fell back into living like its sinful neighbors.
Judges 21:25 (NKJV)
25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:5 repeats this same verse)
By the time of Jesus, the priests and scribes had developed an extensive “interpretation” of the law that completely did away with God’s meaning and purpose, resulting in a tremendous burden upon the people. The people could not keep the law, but the law as viewed by the religious establishment minimized God’s meaning.
What do you really believe about the commandments of God?
Do you keep them?
Are you capable of keeping them?
Matthew 4:12-25 (NKJV)
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: 16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 18 And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 They immediately left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. 23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. 24 Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. 25 Great multitudes followed Him—from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.
Early in his preaching career, Jesus drew large crowds. “Then His fame went throughout all Syria.” As reflected in verses 23 and 24, Jesus performed great miracles. It is likely that the crowd followed Him because of these miracles. However, they also followed Him because, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus taught with great authority.
Matthew 7:28-29 (NKJV)
28 And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
However, the message of Jesus was at odds with that of the religious leaders. This would have confused the crowds. Who was correct? In the eyes of the multitudes, the miracles performed by Jesus would have validated His message. However, the crowd would have a great deal of difficulty reconciling this with the message of their religious leaders.
The people were asking “what is the correct religious standard?”
A lot of people today ask this same question.
A lot of today’s churches, like the Jewish religious leaders, have lowered the standards of God’s authority – do you agree or disagree with this?
The Sermon on the Mount is one of five discourses recorded by Matthew. This message concerns the proper view of the Old Testament commandments and the messianic kingdom. Jesus’ message makes it clear that the then popular teachings about God’s Word were contrary to divine meaning inherent in the Law. The Kingdom of Heaven depends upon faith and a transformed heart.
To the surprise of the people, the message of Jesus tells us this is what the Old Testament teaches!
Deuteronomy 6:1-6 (NKJV)
1 “Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3 Therefore hear, O Israel, and be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the Lord God of your fathers has promised you— ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’ 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.
What does the “heart” have to do with obedience?
Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
What is the commandment?
What is the benefit of obeying this commandment?