Last week and this, I encouraged those on our mailing lists to read this passage at least three times each week. I don’t know if you did that reading. I hope you did, since this is important teaching. This section in Matthew’s Gospel follows the call of some of the first apostles to discipleship. Matthew wanted his readers to grasp the importance of this basic teaching of Jesus about true discipleship. Thinking of this, here are a few general thoughts about the Sermon on the Mount.
It is a large section of teaching (5:2; 7:28-29). Since disciples are learners and followers, we need to listen to the teaching of the Teacher we follow; namely, Jesus. Matthew provides us with the opportunity to sit in one of his extended teaching sessions. While they might be the “notes” of what he taught, the three chapters provide us with much to think on. Regardless of how long we have followed Christ, we ought to sit and listen to our Lord’s teaching repeatedly. Make time and read all three chapters in one sitting, so that you receive the impact of the full teaching session.
- The Sermon begins with the Beatitudes (5:3-10). They describe the happy situation of those who have repented and become part of the kingdom (4:17, 23). Each description is paradoxical and has a promise about the future of Christ’s learners.
- Christ’s followers have a purpose in this world (5:13-16). By grace, we function as salt and light to the world. The Lord tells us more about our mission. To fish for people (cf. 4:20) is to make more worshipers.
- Jesus declared his teaching mission in regard to the Old Testament Scriptures (5:17-20). It is very important to understand that “the Law and the Prophets” and “the Law” both refer to the Old Testament in its entirety and not merely to the so-called “moral law”. The latter term is the invention of theologians, and not a correct or useful one at that! Christ asserts that he is the true Teacher of righteousness, and his followers to hold this truth firmly.
- After that, we have the Six Antitheses (5:21-48) that set forth Jesus’ authority as the Teacher of his people. These declare his authority to direct our relationships with people. He picks six examples (anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and love) and demands that we listen to what he says in each area. Though the particulars are important, let’s not miss the importance of proper personal relationships in general.
- Next, our Lord talks about three spiritual actions: giving to the needy, prayer, and fasting (6:1-18). In each he highlights our relationship to the Father. It is too easy to get lost in the techniques of these actions. Jesus wants us to focus on our interaction with the Father.
- True spirituality flows from the priorities in our hearts. Jesus points us heavenward and to God (6:19-24). This is radically different from the people of this world. Yet, there is a struggle: to keep our vision healthy. We must not allow it to be corrupted by amassing worldly wealth. Jesus makes this come alive by telling us to replace anxiety with trust in the Father’s care (6:24-24). We cannot have healthy vision if it is clouded by worry and other priorities besides the kingdom and God’s righteousness.
- At this point, we can too quickly think of other people rather than ourselves, as if we have our act together and they don’t. So then, Jesus instructs us about the kind of people we must be to give correct judgments about others (7:1-6). Notice that verse one (the favorite Bible verse of sinful people) is balanced by the need to make proper judgments of others in verse six. Always read verses in their context!
- We also need to have spiritual intensity (7:7-12). The verbs ask, seek, and knock require continual action. To pray requires active trust in the Father’s goodness. We must care for others as we would have them care for us.
- The Lord concludes this teaching time with a warning that we must be real learners (7:13-27). There are pretenders among God’s people, and we must watch out for them. (This is another time we must judge others.) Being religious is insufficient. Jesus’ followers do the Father’s will, which is also his will. The well-known story of the wise and foolish builders stresses the importance of listening to Jesus’ words and then doing them.
Invest time this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in reading the Sermon on the Mount. Get your Bible and sit in a comfortable chair. Read it three times. Conclude with a prayer for grace to do it. Have a good weekend!
Grace and peace, David