Jesus—His Life and Message: The Sermon on the Mount
November 15, 2016
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: The Sermon on the Mount
At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 7 says:
When Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.1
People recognized that Jesus was different from other religious teachers of the day.2 It was clear to them that He was unique, not just in His teaching, but in who He was. Throughout the Sermon Jesus made outstanding claims through which He revealed certain things about Himself. Let’s take a look at these.
He told them that He knew whether someone would enter the kingdom of God and how they would be ranked there.
For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.3
By repeatedly saying throughout the Sermon You have heard that it was said to those of old … But I say to you that …4, Jesus was claiming to know how God looks at things. In teaching His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, He revealed that He knew how one should address God and what one should pray for.5 When saying On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness,’6 He was identifying Himself as a judge and describing how He would act.
He closed the Sermon by telling the listeners that they would stand or fall depending on how they responded to His words.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.7
With these extraordinary claims about Himself, it’s no wonder that the people were astonished at His teaching. He didn’t hesitate to correct the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, while He claimed authority for Himself and His teaching. When saying “but I say unto you,” He was telling them that He had authority to give a spiritual interpretation of the Mosaic Law, and that other religious leaders hadn’t fully understood it before. He went further, referring to people being judged by how they respond to “these words of mine.” He was telling them that there would be consequences for anyone who listened to His words but didn’t put them into practice. He went even further by telling them that they are blessed when people insult them and say all kinds of evil against them because of Him.8 He didn’t say they were blessed for suffering because of God, but rather specifically because of Him.
He went on to say:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.9
Author and pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones notes:
Look for a moment at this extraordinary expression, ‘I am come’. Where has He come from? He is One who has arrived in this world; He has not only been born, He has come into it from somewhere. He has come from eternity, from heaven, He has come from the bosom of the Father. … He is always saying: ‘I am come’. He is telling them that He doesn’t belong to this realm, but that He has come into this life, and into this world, from glory, from eternity. He is saying: ‘I and the Father are one’.10
In telling His listeners that He had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, Jesus expressed that He was fulfilling all the prophecies of the promised Messiah, that He was the One to whom all of the Old Testament prophets pointed. He also was saying that He lived a perfect sinless life as per what the Law commanded. He made it clear that He was also the one who would sit on the throne of heaven judging all nations and peoples.
The Sermon on the Mount contains some of Jesus’ most beautiful and important teachings. At the same time, it emphasizes not just the teaching, but the Teacher. The Sermon is important, as is all of Jesus’ teaching, and the reason it’s important is because of who He is. It’s not enough to say, “Lord, Lord, we have read and obeyed Your teachings,” though we are to do that. But more importantly, we must say, “Lord, I am Yours.”
Many people over the centuries have commented on the Sermon on the Mount, calling it a great work of literature, of moral teaching, which of course it is; but often the main point of the Sermon has been missed—that the one who spoke these words was God the Son. The words He spoke to His disciples (then and now) describe those who believe in Him, who are filled with the Holy Spirit, who have entered into the kingdom of God.
Though we are still sinners and by no means perfect, through our faith in Him and the infilling of God’s Spirit we are renewed and are consistently becoming conformed to Christ. As such, we put effort into aligning our thinking and actions with His teaching, following the patterns He has laid out within the Gospels. We hunger and thirst for righteousness; we do our best to love others, even those who wish us harm; we reconcile with others; we let our yes be yes and our no be no. We give generously in secret, pray in secret, forgive others, have a right relationship with money and things, eschew being anxious, and trust that our Father knows what we need and will care for us. We are not censorious, judging others. We treat others as we would want them to treat us.
Even with the help of the Holy Spirit, none of us is perfect; but we are God’s children, and are learning and growing to progressively become more conformed to the image of His Son. Through the Spirit’s guidance and our desire and effort to live Jesus’ teaching, we become more like Him. We reflect Him and live in a manner which glorifies God. It was God incarnate who gave the Sermon; it is the Holy Spirit who helps us to apply His teaching; and when we do, our lives give glory to God. This is the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew 7:28–29.
3 Matthew 5:18–20.
4 Matthew 5:21–22, 27–28, 31–32, 38–39, 43–44.
5 Matthew 6:9–13.
6 Matthew 7:22–23.
7 Matthew 7:24, 26–27.
8 Matthew 5:11.
9 Matthew 5:17.
10 Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 581.