The Sermon on the Mount (recorded in Matthew 5-7) is by far the most famous speech of Jesus. He delivered it on a hill north of the Sea of Galilee, which was later named ‘Mount of Beatitudes’ to commemorate these events.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus began His ministry soon after his cousin John the Baptist baptized Him in the Jordan River. From there, Jesus went into the Judean wilderness where He was tempted by Satan.
After these events, Jesus returned to northern Israel, left Nazareth, and went to live in Capernaum by the sea. There, He began preaching and gathered His first disciples.
The Great Teacher and His Followers
A couple of the first apostles called by Jesus were Peter and Andrew. But the gospel of Matthew doesn’t give much background on that. All we know is that Jesus approached them, and said “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
They dropped their nets and followed. Then, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John followed as well.
In verse 23, Jesus goes all throughout the Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing the sick. Jesus tended to those heavily afflicted and those who were suffering from disease and pain. And He also ministered to those possessed by demons, epileptics and paralytics (Matthew 4:23-35).
Jesus healed everyone that approached Him, and His fame spread. As a result, crowds of people followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and beyond the Jordan. Can you imagine how many people that could have been?
The Sermon on the Mount
Perhaps today it is easy for us to imagine large gatherings at stadiums and theaters. Even preachers and spiritual teachers easily fill auditoriums, but back then…
Can you imagine walking miles and miles on foot, facing hunger, thirst, the elements, maybe even danger, just to hear an obscure rabbi from Nazareth?
But we know that Jesus was not just an obscure teacher selling ‘the latest and greatest’. We all know a hack when we see one. But when Jesus spoke… you listened, because He spoke with divine authority – as an author of the law and not just an interpreter (Matthew 7:28).
Jesus saw the crowds gathering and went up a mountainside. There, He sat down and began to teach.
The Sermon on the Mount and the Revelation on Sinai
Perhaps the last time the Jewish people gathered in such a great crowd to receive great teachings from the Lord was at Sinai. Similarly, they listened in trembling reverence to the words and instructions of God for their lives. That was also when God gave the ten commandments to the children of Israel.
This time, however, instead of with fire and smoke, God visited His people in the form of a man. He sent Jesus to dwell with us in human flesh, who also experienced hunger, thirst, bitterness and suffering just as we do.
Jesus’ words evoked the same reverence in those listening, and in us today, as we listen to His words over two thousand years later.
In Matthew 5-7, Jesus expands upon the Torah. It is not only rote following of the instruction (Torah) but following the words and intentions of the Scriptures with your heart. It is fulfilling the Spirit of the law, as well as the letter of the law. Jesus raises the standard of the law, as Sinclair Ferguson writes:
“Jesus brought out the real significance of God’s commands…It was only in the exposition of Jesus (in Matthew 5:21-48, for example) that the real power of God’s Law could be felt. Jesus did not weaken the Law. On the contrary, He let it out of the cage in which the Pharisees had imprisoned it, allowing it to pounce on our secret thoughts and motives, and tear to pieces our bland assumption that we are able to keep it in our own strength.” (Ferguson, 100-101)
What are the main points of the Sermon on the Mount?
On Mount of Beatitudes, Jesus pointed out our weaknesses. He showed us that we are not able to keep the Torah in our own will and strength. We rely on Him to follow the Torah in the Spirit—by walking with Him.
The end goal is not to follow a command for the sake of keeping the commandment. It is to follow the command out of love and obedience to the One who instructs us.
The Torah (which means instruction in Hebrew) is meant to accomplish several things. It expresses God’s character and His will for man’s life. It teaches us our true character and reveals that God’s intention for humanity is for us to live in accordance with His law.
And the Law teaches us the character of salvation. In Pauline language, we fulfill the requirements of the law as we walk according to the Spirit. And the desires of the Spirit are contrary to the desires of our old sin nature (Galatians 5:16-17).
What are the Beatitudes?
The Sermon on the Mount reveals our inability to keep the Law in power of our own strength and fortitude. The words of the Beatitudes ring evermore clear in this context:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,
- Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,
- Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,
- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Realizing our weakness and our need leaves us hungering for more. Our hunger and thirst for righteousness puts us in a place to receive God’s love and mercy as we walk by the Spirit to obey His instructions for us.
Between Law and Love
This is not “pass go & get out of jail free” card for us to be lawless (or in colloquial terms, this is not “cheap grace”).
In today’s cultural discourse, the word love is thrown around a lot. In other words, our love and acceptance are demanded of us cart blanche – no questions asked. We are pressured to love and accept things that are contrary to God’s law and instructions.
The Sermon on the Mount teaches us another way. Love is not consolation or acceptance of sin, but love is fulfilling the law (Romans 13:10). John, also known as the “apostle of love”, emphasizes the importance of keeping the law for the believer. Meaning, he reiterates Jesus’ message of love in accordance with the law:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (1 John 2:3) and
“If you obey my commands, you will abide in my love” (John 15:10).
Our relationships with one another are so important to God. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us to leave our offering at the altar and go to our brother first if we believe there to be a grievance held against us.
The Sermon on the Mount on Friends and Enemies
Notice that we are the ones who are responsible for opening the dialogue. We start the reconciliation process if we believe there is something amiss in the relationship (Matthew 5:23-24). Likewise, we would hope that others come to us directly if they had something that they would like to express.
The Sermon on the Mount encourages us to love our enemies as ourselves and to be gentle with one another. Not looking for fault and criticism in one another but attending to our own sins and shortcomings first (Matthew 7:1-5).
Notice that the verse takes it as reality that we do in fact have enemies. Maybe we don’t have a Disney style arch villain like Scar or Maleficent. But the nature of being an authentic human means that not everyone you meet will like you. And there may not even be a good reason other than just because.
Or maybe you legitimately have difficult people in your life who take joy in causing you distress. It could be an opinionated in-law, a rebellious child, the boss or co-worker who just has it out for you. This is a painful reality. But Jesus knows it all and encourages us to pray for these very people in our lives.
The Essence of the Sermon on the Mount
But how do we answer Jesus’ call when it seems so impossible? How do we stay humble when our ego is raging for validation? What about our thirst for righteousness – how many of us would rather coast through life on autopilot? We don’t know how to deal with our anger, our secret sins make us feel anything but pure…
The Sermon on the Mount brings a simple yet amazing solution. Jesus teaches His followers how to pray.
The Sermon on the Mount gives us a prayer known as the Lord’s Prayer. As the Apostle Paul said, “we do not know how to pray as we ought… the Spirit intercedes on our behalf with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Jesus gives us the perfect model for prayer:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
If we cannot bring ourselves to even pray, we cry out to God in our desperation. “God help me, I am failing!” Even when we cry out with no words, this too is by the Spirit! Since it is by the Spirit we cry out ‘Abba Father!’” (Romans 8:15).
Walking Back Down the Mountain
The Sermon on the Mount gives us a hope in Christ. It says that through Him, and as we walk by the Spirit, only then can we obey His commandments in love and love one another well. Thus, we can express and manifest God’s love given to us.
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3
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Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopedia. “Sermon on the Mount.” Encyclopedia Britannica, January 31, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sermon-on-the-Mount.
Ferguson, Sinclair “Jesus, the Law, and the Christian: Matthew 5:17-20” Living out the Sermon on the Mount: Kingdom Life in a Fallen World. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1986.