The Sermon on the Mount
The most famous sermon ever preached is, no doubt, The Sermon on the Mount. Such should not come as a surprise due to the preacher, the Sinless Son of God. The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in Matthew chapters five, six, and seven. In standard formatting, the Sermon on the Mount is only about 40 gigabytes, five pages in length, about 2000 words, and 107 verses (based on the King James Translation, compare the 30 verses of Luke 6: 20 through 49, "The Sermon on the Plain," thought to be Luke’s condensed recording of the same sermon). One wrote of the Sermon on the Mount as follows:
"The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ fullest exposition of moral and ethical life. The fame of this Sermon is such that even those remotely familiar with its contents, experience a certain nostalgia at its mention" (Allen Isbell, War and Conscience, p. 139).
The Sermon on the Mount was delivered from about six months to one year into Jesus’ three year ministry, probably on one of the hills located north/west of Capernaum. Jesus originally addressed his sermon to both the multitudes who were already thronging him and especially to his disciples (see addendum 1).
Historian Augustine of Hippo is attributed as being the first to call this discourse, "The Sermon on the Mount" (in about 400 A. D.). However, such a designation is only natural and was probably used long anterior to Augustine (cp. Matt. 5: 1). The sermon is at once a masterpiece and unsurpassed in terms of simple but practical morality, spirituality, and God/man relationship. While in terms of simplicity, the sermon is viewed as easy; yet, Jesus’ presentation is replete with challenge. Many think of the "Sermon on the Mount" as containing the most combined summary and sample, as it were, of all that Jesus taught, all beautifully condensed into 107 verses. The Sermon on the Mount is said to in place and importance, occupy a position to the whole of Jesus’ message to man that the Ten Commandments served to the totality of the Law of Moses. The Sermon is a succinct presentation, no doubt, of what Jesus had been saying in, "preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. 4: 23, see addendum 2).
In the Sermon on the Mount, we see Jesus, the personification and epitome of a preacher. Matthew chapters five, six, and seven illustrate, "…Never man spake like this man" (John 7: 46). The sermon is a perfect blend of gentleness and militancy. To those mourning over sin and imperfection, Jesus compassionately says, "…they shall be comforted" (Matt. 5: 4). Yet, in the Sermon on the Mount, we see a forceful, combative, and militant Jesus. In this sermon, Jesus cogently denounced many of the religious leaders of his day and put in place a collision course with them that would eventuate in His crucifixion. Hear Jesus:
"20: For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven"(Matt. 5).
The design and aim of the sermon. It is apparent that the sermon has multiple goals and designs and that comparative gradation of design is difficult to always determine. However, two goals stand out as paramount. One manifest goal is to explain God’s moral code on such a high level as was never before so explained and to challenge and refute the Jew’s perversions of these moral laws. This intent is especially observed in Jesus’ six instances of, "…but I say unto you" (Matt. 5: 21-48). It is equally seen that Jesus is in his sermon presenting an exposé of Phariseeism (Matt. 5: 20, 6: 1-6, cp. 23: 2, 5-12, 5: 33-38, cp. 23: 16-22). Hence, both Jesus the Compassionate One and Jesus the relentless Debater are witnessed in the sermon.
Teaching residing in the Sermon on the Mount. It was on the occasion being discussed that Jesus set-forth what we call the "Beatitudes" (Matt. 5: 2-12). These beatitudes are core and foundational to all the rich teaching that follows and without them, this teaching then and now cannot be received. They are:
"2: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, 3: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4: Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. 5: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. 6: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. 7: Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. 8: Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. 9: Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. 10: Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11: Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12: Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."
The sermon under review contains Jesus’ often quoted teaching about salt and light (influence, 5: 13-16), being anxious over material things and the danger of materialism (5: 19-34); flawed judgment or the, "…judge not, that ye be not judged;" (7: 1-5); the "Lord’s prayer" (6: 9-15); the strait and narrow way (7: 13, 14); warnings about false prophets and how they are known by their fruit (7: 15-20); and the wise and foolish man (7: 21-27). Better known teaching found in the sermon would be, the "Golden Rule" (7: 12); "…love your enemies" (5: 44); and, "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them…" (6: 1).
Relative to the most famous sermon, there are many formed views and positions that determine how one perceives and accepts the sermon. I shall briefly mention some of the most definable ones.
Secular Humanism. Secular Humanism recognizes a few of the principles set forth by Jesus but in the main, they reject the teaching as dogmatic and not humanly possible. "Jesus is too black and white in his teaching, in the real world, there are only scales of gray," they reason. Secular Humanism is essentially the Situation Ethics philosophy of the sixties. It is tragic in the extreme that Secular Humanism is the religious doctrine of organic evolution, the religion many of our American schools have adopted and are forcing on our young people.
The Postponement Theory. Many today are at least indirectly influenced by the Postponement Position and thinking. It is essentially the by-product of Premillennialism. It goes something on this order: "Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is so ideal that it really is not possible to apply it today, we shall see its fulfillment when Jesus comes to establish his perfect order when he begins his thousand year reign in Jerusalem and takes over this world."
The Interim-Ethic position. Some have maintained that the reason Jesus taught with such intensity in his sermon was due to Jesus’ belief that the world was about to then end abruptly. They explained that Jesus did not know when the end was coming and that he actually thought it would soon take place. Thus, the teaching contained in the sermon was exaggerated and not to be taken too seriously today.
The Jesus Versus the Law of Moses view. The position that Jesus is in his sermon colliding with the Law of Moses and refuting the teaching of the law as found in the Hebrew scriptures and while doing this is presenting the truth is fairly common in some circles. This position has many indefensible attendant problems. In the first place, Jesus said that he had not come to "destroy" the law (Matt. 5: 17). "Destroy" is from the Greek kataluo, which means to collide or destroy. If Jesus had contradicted the moral teaching of the Law, the Scribes and Pharisees would have immediately charged him with perverting the Law (see addendum 3). Rather than contradict the teaching of the Law, the Sermon on the Mount explained and applied this teaching as had never before been done. While the Pharisees and many of the religious teachers of His day sought to find loopholes around the teaching, Jesus applied its teaching, emphasizing the full spirit of the law. (Click on, "But I Say Unto You" for a study of this aspect of the sermon.)
The Jesus is only explaining the Law of Moses and the sermon is not to be viewed as the gospel of Jesus that was later preached stance. As mentioned, the Law of Moses contained many moral codes that were indigenously true (cp. Rom. 2: 14). Jesus does, though, lift or sublimate these codes. Arguing such matters as whether or not the "Golden Rule" applies today seems like a waste of time, I should think (Matt. 7: 12). It should be apparent to all Bible students that such teaching is applicable. (Consider the article, "A Study of Moral Law.")
Observing Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. One may correctly conclude from considering all aspects of the sermon that Jesus was not the namby-pamby, soft spoken, "say nothing to offend" preacher that some envision, but he spoke as one who knew and loved the truth and hated all error. Notice the impression the sermon had on the people who originally heard it:
"28: And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: 29: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matt. 7, cp. Tit. 2: 15).
Jesus "spoke with authority" in that, first of all, his teaching was authorized and of God (Matt. 21: 23-27). We, too, must possess authority for what we religiously teach (I Thes. 5: 21, Acts 17: 2, 3). Jesus decisively taught, none of this, "Here are the usual opinions and you pick the one you like." Regarding those addressed in the beatitudes, those having certain spiritually qualitative traits, Jesus with precision said, "…theirs is the kingdom;" "…they shall be comforted;" "…they shall inherit the earth;" "…they shall be filled;" "…they shall obtain mercy;" "…they shall see God;" and "…they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5: 3-12). Hence, Jesus excluded all others as being recipients of these pronounced blessings. Jesus authoritatively taught in that he was specific in his denunciation and even provided names, if you will, of the perverters of truth (cp. Matt. 5: 20). Jesus "taught with authority" in that he emphatically stated that there are things one must do and all others shall be lost (Matt. 7: 21-29). In fact, said He:
"13: Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7).
Due to the straightforward and forceful preaching Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount, many today also find what they think is cause to reject Jesus and his teaching, as we have seen. "He is too hard and even radical," say they, "man cannot do what Jesus taught!" The truth of the matter is, Jesus’ teachings address either directly or indirectly every phase and facet of the life of man. His teaching can make productive Christians, effect mental health, faithful employers and employees, and wonderful nations and governments. If applied by all men, Jesus’ teaching would result in lasting world peace.
Addendum 1: There is a slight degree of difficulty in precisely determining all particularity relative to the original recipients of the sermon. However, based on Matthew 5: 1, 2, the twelve disciples obviously made up his audience. While we do not know the exact "seating," the "multitudes" were also evidently in the audience. If not, how could they so assess the sermon (Matt. 7: 28, 29)?
Addendum 2: The position that all before Acts 2 is Law of Moses and cannot be bound on men today is not only shallow, but spiritually repulsive. Such a view would relegate Jesus’ breathtakingly marvelous sermon to a place of inapplicability. The sermon contains many indigenously correct statements, "moral laws," notwithstanding the fact that it was admittedly delivered in the canopy of the Law of Moses (Matt. 5: 23, 24, cp. Gal. 4: 4). Jesus’ teaching about divorcement and marriage to another, fornication being the only cause, restores the original moral law of Genesis 2 (see Matthew 19: 4f., Matt. 5: 31, 32, 19: 9).
Addendum 3: There is a marked difference between Jesus "fulfilling" (Greek, pleroma) the Law and destroying it. Jesus was "the end" (Greek, telos) to the Law in that he was the substance of the shadows and his New Covenant teaching provided all that the Law of Moses could not and was not designed to supply (cp. Rom. 10: 4, Heb. 7-10). Jesus lived under the Law and taught it in its purity (Gal. 4: 4). Rather than challenging what the Law actually taught, Jesus is refuting what they said the Law taught (see the expression, "…ye have heard it was said by them of old time…," not, "…you have read" or, "it is written," Matt. 5: 21, 27, 31 33, 38, 43, cp. Matt. 4: 4, 7, 10). What Jesus was doing in his sermon is clearly seen in his statement: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies…" (Matt. 5: 43, 44). The Law never taught such hatred for others, but it appears some of the Jewish teachers had from such verses as Leviticus 19: 18 made such a faulty inference; thus, seriously distorting the teaching of the Law of Moses.