Matthew Series | Matthew 5:1-7:29 | Pastor Duane Smets
This is an exegetical sermon overviewing the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and looks at the setting, content and response of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This sermon was originally preached on October 18th, 2009 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA.
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The Resolved Church
Pastor Duane Smets
October 18th, 2009
“Jesus Preaches His First Sermon and Rocks the World”
Series: The Gospel of Matthew
I. The Setting of the Sermon
II. The Content of the Sermon
III. The Response to the Sermon
Okay, so here’s what’s going on today. After a month of looking at Jesus’ preparation for ministry…learning about the events surrounding his birth, seeing him get baptized by John and then do battle with Satan in a wilderness test…after all that, last week we finally saw Jesus in action starting his public ministry.
We saw Jesus select his first disciples and learned that being and becoming a disciple of a messiah rabbi was no small thing. Then Matthew gave us this overview paragraph telling us how Jesus traveled all around the state healing people, preaching and teaching. Now, in the next few chapters, Matthew zeroes in on the preaching and teaching of Jesus.
If you’re reading this story for the first time…like a fresh copy of “the gospel of Matthew” has been delivered to your doorstep by Amazon, you’ve never seen it before, just released…if you’re reading it for the first time, you get the feeling this far into the book like, “okay Jesus is a pretty exciting character and person.”
Now you’re reading about these great crowds coming to him to see him and listen to what he has to say…so what are you thinking, what’s going on in your head by this point?
What did he say! What is so amazing and great that Jesus had to say? If you’re an old school Bible lover of that time and you think Jesus may be the messiah your Bible says would come, you’ve got to be thinking…okay God waited hundreds of years before sending the messiah, now he’s here, what does he have to tell us?
Here in Matthew 5-7 we hear Jesus preach his first sermon and it rocks the world. It is phenomenal. It rocked the world of the first century. Very quickly in the early church this sermon of Jesus became famous, even giving it a special title, “The Sermon on the Mount.”
And this sermon, the “Sermon on the Mount” has continued to rock the world ever since. It has attracted worldwide, mass attention all-throughout history. From philosophers to activists and religious and political leaders…this sermon is admired. There is great admiration for the ethic of Jesus presented in this sermon, though most have fall short of worshipping Jesus for it.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “The message of Jesus as I understand it is contained in the Sermon on the Mount…if then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, ‘oh, yes, I am a Christian.’”
Charles Darwin quotes the golden rule of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and says, “It is the foundation stone of morality.”
Nietzsche called the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount “slave morality.”
Kurt Vonnegut, the popular novelist, said “If it weren’t for the message of mercy and pity found in the Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn’t’ want to be a human being, I would just as soon rather be a rattlesnake.”
Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, said, “I do not believe there is a problem in this country or the world today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount.”
Martin Luther King Jr. used this sermon as the source for his views and approach to race relations.
President Obama even referenced it recently as the source for his views and approach to sexual relationships and marriage.
The Sermon on the Mount has and continues to attract worldwide attention across the board. Unquestionably it has had huge impact. Sections of it like the Beatitudes, the Golden Rule, and the Lord’s Prayer have achieved their own special place of prestige on their own as being some of the chief teachings of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount is simply a big deal.
I’ve struggled with how to approach it. It’s three chapters long and would take nearly 15 minutes just to read through. There is so much in it there is simply no way I could preach the whole thing in one sermon unless you guys wanted to sit here for four or five hours. And I don’t think you want to do that?
So here’s the plan. Today I’m just going to give you guys an overview of the sermon. We’ll sort of hit the high points and look at it from an outsiders perspective…checking out the setting of the sermon, it’s content, and responses to it. Then, in upcoming weeks we’ll break down the sermon into four main parts and work through it in detail.
Since I’m not preaching through the entirety of this sermon of Jesus’ today I’m not going to read the whole text and pray over it like usual…but I still want to pray and ask for his blessing on the things we will talk about okay? So let’s pray.
I. The Setting of the Sermon
First let’s talk about the setting of the sermon and read the first couple verses. 5:1-2 “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them.”
Okay, a few things to note right off the bat…where they are and who is there. Where are they? Outside…up on some sort of plateau or hill above the Sea of Galilee. Tradition says it is this spot called Eremos above the town of Tabgah. It overlooks the Sea of Galilee and the surrounding villages. As Jesus is traveling around through all the little cities in the area…like Ramona, and Valley Center, and Fallbrook…he must have told everyone to cruise up on this mountain on this day with him. Sort of an old school conference people signed up for.
The thing to realize here is that it would’ve taken some planning and some time to get everyone up on this hillside. This sermon was planned and was probably a whole day event for everyone who took time out to walk up there to hear this sermon.
We don’t know how many people cruised up there to heart it, but the Gospel of Luke says it was a “great crowd” and other times when we see “great crowds” there are like four-thousand, five-thousand, or seven-thousand people at a time. Either way, it’s a lot of people up there to hear this sermon.
As a side note, I joke sometimes about real preaching being loud…but when you consider the amount of people we’re talking about here, Jesus had to have really projected his voice to be heard without having the convenience of microphones and a sound system. It’s probably one of the reasons why he had them come up on the mountainside…so that his voice would carry easier down to the people sitting below him.
You combine that with the main difference between preaching and teaching that we talked about last week, that preaching is intentionally persuasive, that it’s a call to action meant to move you…then it makes sense why good preaching gets loud sometimes. It’s meant to jar you, to cause you to really wake up and listen, and for certain points to be especially heard and emphasized. Okay, enough of that side note.
But it’s helpful, this is a sermon, not a nice little talk from Jesus. In my preparation for working through the Sermon on the Mount I decided to read through it all in one sitting as if I were preaching it. And there are just parts that don’t read right if you read them all soft and pretty…you miss the entire thrust and emotion that is packed into the words, you have to preach it.
Now an important thing to ask here is who is in these crowds and why are they there? The last verse of chapter 4 tells us who is there. Look at it with me. Matthew 4:25 “And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” So we have two main groups of people: Jews from Jerusalem and Judea, and Gentiles from the Decapolis, the ten Greek cities.
These two groups of people are probably interested in Jesus for different reasons. Why would Jews be interested? We’ve been talking about this a lot. They think he may in fact be the promised messiah, the next king, the one who is going to fix everything that is going wrong in their country.
It’s sort of like how a lot of people felt about Obama before his election. He’s going to fix everything…the economy, the wars, our health. And if Obama was speaking here in San Diego for free, say up on top of Mount Soledad, I bet a lot of us would be interested and go up there to hear him, right?
How about Gentiles, non-Jewish Greek people? Why would they be interested? Jesus has been doing miracles and he is wise. Greeks had a fascination with two big things: wonder workers and philosophy. These are the two main things Greeks are known and remembered for.
You know guys know this. Who are Zeus, Hercules, and Apollo? Greek gods from the Greek pantheon right? And what are they known for? Being these divine human beings who do great miraculous feats. Zeus can control the weather. Apollo can cure disease. Hercules can defeat evil monsters.
What have we seen in Jesus so far? A bright light came down out of heaven and a voice spoke. He controls the weather. Jesus overcame Satan in the wilderness. He defeats evil monsters. Jesus is healing people of all kinds of physical ailments. He cures disease.
Then think about this… Who else is a famous ancient Greek? One of the first and most famous philosophers ever…Socrates. So along comes Jesus…healing and doing great feats, plus he’s out there displaying mad wisdom. He’s a sage and saying something new and profound, like the great Greek philosophers. This attracts the crowds.
I’m sure if Harry Houdini was still alive and in town doing stunts a bunch of you would be interested. Or if the Dalai Lama was here, I’m sure tons of San Diegans would go out to see him and listen. Crowds would be attracted.
But there’s even a deeper level thing going on here with the crowds. You pick up a hint of it at the end of verse 1, here in chapter 5. It says, “his disciples came to him.” This probably means that they were up front, closest to Jesus…that’s where they would be expected to be, in the privileged seats before their rabbi.
Here’s the point though. Who did we learn last week that Jesus is really after? Is Jesus after crowds? Is he trying to become a famous rock star? No, he is after disciples.
We’ll see an increasing theme throughout the book of Matthew of people moving from being in the crowds to then becoming disciples. Then as we move closer and closer to the cross, disciples will increasingly leave Jesus in fear and disbelief.
Within this crowd of Jews and Gentiles you have three main groups or types of people. You have the religious leaders, who are skeptics and critical of Jesus (you’ll hear Jesus directly address them at some points in the sermon). You have “disciples” which we learned last week is a technical term for a committed follower and believer in Jesus. And then you have the “crowd” which is a neutral, undecided, but interested in Jesus group of people.
Okay, so why bring up all this stuff about the setting of this sermon and who was there and why and all that? A couple reasons. Besides just helping us really understand the story and what’s going on, there are some significant things that the crowds implicitly teach us.
One, we need to hear Jesus. Have you ever stopped as asked yourself or wondered why every church preaches sermons? They may be good ones or bad ones, short or long, entertaining or hard hitting…but every church preaches sermons. Why?
The answer besides the fact that Jesus commands pastors to preach sermons (2 Tim 4:2) the main reason is because we need to hear Jesus. Our hearts are built for him. We need help and we need to hear from him. Regularly.
There is not only things we need to learn intellectually, where we grow in our wisdom and knowledge and understanding of things…but we need to be confronted with ourselves, called out on our sin, and then we need to hear the hope of the savior…what he offers to us, who he is and what he has done. That’s one of the things that a good sermon does…it shows you your sin and Jesus saves from sin. Otherwise, we have a tendency to isolate and alienate ourselves from anyone who can say anything to us.
I’ve said it before but it’s why we like movies. Every good movie has a hero in it. Someone who you are happy for in the end who overcomes great odds. We are built for a hero. For Jesus.
The human heart needs to hear from the word of Jesus in the Bible every week. We are not strong enough to make it without it. Just this last week, I had someone in my office talking about how they really need and want to get more regular in the Sunday morning attendance at service and they said it was because they new it had a direct effect in their heart and their life when they are regularly here. When they’re not, he said, “everything just goes down hill.” Deadness, dryness, apathy, and sin result.
Now there are a lot of aspects to what we do here in our worship service on Sundays. But the sermon is one of the main things. And it’s not about me. My whole goal in every sermon is to make so much of the Bible, that the Bible is the focus and then hopefully the word of the Bible will then begin to speak to you to the point where you are no longer hearing me but hearing Jesus. My whole goal in every sermon is to become invisible so that you may see and hear from Jesus Christ, our head pastor.
So let me ask you today. What do you need to hear this morning? What does your heart need? Often times, I will prepare my heart for Sunday and tell God what I need to hear from him before I get here. What do you need to hear Jesus say to you today?
Are you a skeptic and a critic and you need Jesus to answer your questions? Jesus can answer the toughest questions of life.
Are you just in the crowd and attracted to Jesus by some other peripheral things, where you think you might be able to work him into your worldview and your life, or is he at the center? Do you really need to move out from the crowd and truly follow Jesus as your Lord and your savior? Jesus is worth following and giving your whole life to, any other cause will leave you dry, empty, and frustrated.
Are you a disciple, and you’ve become humble and teachable and you are willing to do whatever asks of Jesus and be obedient to him and you need him to help you make some hard decisions? Jesus is worth giving up everything for and will never steer you wrong.
This is the setting of the sermon. When we come to the portion of our service when we hear a sermon these are things we are faced with each week. Jesus, he alone has the words of life.
II. The Content of the Sermon
Let’s talk about the content of Jesus sermon here. Look back at verse 1 of chapter 5 again. It says that after he gets everyone up on the mountainside, that he sits down and then he opens his mouth. He sits down.
That’s a big deal. In Jewish teaching culture, sitting down was a sign of authority; it’s taking a teaching posture. Sort of like when you go to court because you have a speeding ticked and the judge walks in and says “all rise” and then he sits down. When he sits down he is sitting down as an authority. Jesus here sits down, like a rabbi would, to teach and preach.
I’d sit down when I preach but I’d go nuts…I’m too antsy. I’ve got to stand. Jesus is not unfamiliar with this. Remember, he’s been teaching in the synagogues since he was twelve. He knows what he’s doing and is intentional about what he does.
Now, you can divide up and outline the Sermon on the Mount in a hundred different ways. Every scholar or Bible commentator does it different. We’re going to break it down into just four parts. Follow along with me, just so you can see it.
In verses 2-14 we have the beatitudes and two illustrations to go with them. The word beatitudes means blessed attitudes. We read the word “blessed” nine different times. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Blessed are you when others revile you. Nine blesseds.
To be blessed is to be happy. Jesus starts off right away by talking about the secret of how to be truly happy in life. The kind of attitude which will bring satisfaction and joy. Then he’ll give two illustrations essentially to say, because this kind of life is so good, we must help others see and experience it.
The next section we’ll talk about is 5:17-6:16. In this section, Jesus makes the main point that he is the center and fulfillment of the whole Bible. Look at 5:17 “I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (the Bible); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” He makes that claim and then proceeds to show how by going through at least half of the Ten Commandments and address the heart issues that they are addressing. Then he takes us through three positive spiritual disciplines and how to rightly practice them: financial giving, praying, and fasting.
Jesus wants his followers to know that how we relate the Bible is an issue of how we relate to him and that it effects everything…our relationships with one another and our relationship with God.
From this point Jesus moves on in the third main point of his sermon from 6:19-7:12 he addresses duplicities in us. How we can say we believe one thing and live another way. He talks about our anxiety and worries, our criticism of others, and the things we desire.
Here’s a key verse, 6:33 “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” The drive of this section is, put God first. Worry, judgmentalism, and desire overtakes you and takes you down when God is not first in your life.
Jesus last main point has to do with the question of what we do with everything he has said in his sermon. His last point is like his conclusion or the application part of his sermon. It’s verses 7:13-29 and he points out how easy it is to get led astray by others besides him.
He puts himself front and center as the conclusion to the sermon and says that there is no way we can do or accomplish any of these things without being completely connected and dependent upon him and him alone. Here’s a key verse to this section, 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
His point is that you cannot love him, you cannot love Jesus and not do what he says. So often today people say they are into Jesus but just don’t like the church. That’s the wrong attitude. I get it that churches can be difficult and trying. Of course, they are full of sinners…a bunch of jacked up people. But Jesus loves the church and died for her, because she is a bunch of sinners. We must love the church too. If we love Jesus we will do what he says in his word.
Okay, so that’s a brief breakdown of Jesus’ sermon. There is a theme to note in it. Eight different times in these three chapters he will mention the “kingdom.” This is important, it’s a key aspect and thread which ties the whole sermon together.
Jesus is the king of the kingdom. He was born in the kingly line of David. He was the true king versus the illegitimate king Herod. And he begins preaching, “kingdom of heaven is at hand” because he is here and is now at work. In this sermon, Jesus is outlining what life is like in his kingdom and how he expects those who live in his land to behave and the benefits of living under his rulership.
It drives this question home…who’s kingdom are we living for? Are we trying to create our own little kingdoms, where we decide what’s right, and where everything is about us? Or are we living for and under God’s kingdom and truly having his rule be what we abide by and live according to?
It is so easy for us to try and build our own kingdoms. Jesus point is that his kingdom is better. Only he is worthy and able to rule as king. We make poor kings of the little kingdoms we create. They are disasters and always end up in ruins. Jesus kingdom is the good life.
Well, that’s sort of an overview of the content of the sermon. The structure in it is articulate. You have Jesus making theological points and then giving illustrations to help understand his points. What I wanted to do today was giving you a sense of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a whole…so that we’d have a little bit of the feeling of what it would be like to sit through this whole sermon.
We most likely have the most memorable points of the sermon recorded here…and they are probably things he repeated later on in his ministry. So what’s here in our text doesn’t count all the other hours of questions and discussion and breaks in between. It’s a compact full sermon. People think my sermons are full and heady sometimes. Go read the Sermon on the Mount. You sort of feel stuffed, like you overate if you try and take it in all at once. Each section is just filled to the brim with meaning, significance, and life-changing words.
I’d encourage all of you this week to just take 15 minutes and sit down and read through it in its entirety, it’s just three chapters. And then have a journal ready and just write down your thoughts afterward…the things that stick out to you. What Jesus, who takes the place of authority and sits down, wants to address in your life.
III. The Response to the Sermon
That’s the thing with this sermon, is that you can’t hear it and not be challenged. The very nature of it calls for a response. Let’s look at that for our last thing to discuss this morning.
If you look at the Sermon on the Mount as a whole is that there is a progression to it. It sort of starts our nice and happy. Blessed are you if…and it’s like ah, that’s nice and great and so compassionate. Then, Jesus gives us his teaching on the Bible and the commandments and we are amazed by his wisdom and understanding and ability to discern the heart of man.
But after that, things start getting a little more tense. He starts calling our paradoxes where we say one thing and do another. Where we are putting hope and trust in other things besides God. And then it gets really tough. He draws this line in the sand and starts talking about the consequences of not listening to and following him. And we’re left with a choice.
I’ve seen this and experienced this so many times. The love of Christ draws us in or draws others in. His great morals. His astounding compassion. His superb wisdom. But then when he starts to address issues of our heart and we realize that there is something in us that is actually more important than him…then things get difficult. One of the things has to go…and so often it ends up being him because we are not willing to give up the things that are destroying us.
In the last section of Jesus’ sermon, he gets so hard hitting. He’s says that his sermon is about issues of life and death and matter for eternity. Did the original, first hearers get it?
Let’s look and see how the crowd responded to Jesus sermon. Matthew 7:28-29 “And 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.”
What do you think the response is here from the crowd? It’s hard to tell exactly huh? But it kind of sounds like to me, that they don’t know what to do with him. Almost like they know he’s right, but are not really ready to commit. They’re astonished…but not broken.
Remember, Jesus goal is to speak to the crowd and attempt to create disciples from it. But we don’t read here that a bunch of people became disciples after this. They’re just kind of perplexed and don’t know what to do.
I could be wrong here. It’s hard to get a sense of the mood in that phrase…but it just doesn’t sound like this astonishment is an astonishment of worship. Let me explain what I mean. I am personally ASTONISHED at who Jesus, what he says, and what he has done on the cross for my soul and that he lives today. I am ASTONISHED with Jesus. He is Lord and I worship him and follow him with all that I am.
If the crowds were astonished in that kind of way, I would expect it to say something like, “the crowds were astonished and many became his disciples that day.” But it doesn’t say that does it? What does it say? They were astonished and started comparing his style to the scribes style.
They were astonished at his authority…that he was so sure of himself. Where as the scribes didn’t really seem sure about a lot of things.
If I’m right here and the crowd is stumbling over Jesus’ authoritative style and missing Jesus’ himself, I think that pretty much exactly describes the cultural milieu of today regarding Jesus. Just like a lot of those quotes I read in the beginning. Many think Jesus was a great teacher. Good morals. That Sermon on the Mount. Good stuff.
And hey, if you’re into Jesus that’s cool man…whatever suits you. He seems like a good guy. Some good teachings, really amazing, in fact astonishing, the stuff he says.
But here’s the thing. Jesus doesn’t give us that kind of option. Let me quote C.S. Lewis here… “(It is a) really foolish thing (to say) ‘I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I do not accept His claim to be God.’ This is the one thing we must not say…a man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher…he would be either a lunatic – on the level of a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a mad man or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
The Sermon on the Mount is contains perhaps some of the greatest teaching and preaching mankind has ever heard…but it will fall deaf on our hearts if we merely dismiss it as some good guides for better living. We must allow Jesus to speak to us and slice us open as the master physician cause us to fall before his feet, recognizing how far short we fall of his standard, and have him change us. Otherwise we take Jesus words and miss Jesus himself in them.
The reformer, Martin Luther said that these words of Jesus are meant to cut us through “like a sharp razor, and strikes through body and soul.” He says that is sign that we are true sheep, that we allow our wool to be cut through. Luther warns us that if we interpret these words of Jesus’ sermon as things that we can accomplish on our own ability or own doing, merely as good teaching for us to accomplish the kingdom in our own life…then we will be left as “those who need no Christ or faith.”
The only true response worthy of the sermon is to fall before Jesus the king and say, Lord bring about your kingdom in my life. I need you and turn to you…you alone have the words of life.
To conclude this morning’s message I want to flip the outline and put it to our souls.
We looked at the setting of the sermon. What is the setting of your heart? Where are you at today? Are you in a teachable place where you are willing to have Jesus speak into your life and correct you? Do you come here on Sundays to worship and to have Jesus speak to you or do you come for another reason? What would be the one thing that you would hope Jesus would not ask you about or ask of you? What would be the thing that would be the hardest for you to give up? Whatever that area is, is probably the thing he wants to address in your life.
We looked at the content of the sermon. What is the content of your life? If someone were to do a reality show on your life and videotape you 24-7, what would we see? How much kingdom of Jesus living would we see? Would it be evident that you live under the rule and reign of Jesus or would we see you struggling and attempting to build and establish your own kingdom?
We looked at the response to the sermon. What is your response? Is Jesus just a good teacher to you among a smorgasbord of good ideas? Or is he alone, the one whose words you hang on for dear life? Are you ASTONISHED at Jesus or are you just astonished at him? Does his teaching move you to worship and commitment to him? Does Jesus cut you to the heart?
The Sermon on the Mount addresses the very core of our existence. One older pastor said, “It is the supreme discourse in all the literature of the world. It reveals the ideal, perfect standard by which all men fall and need help (Charles Erdman).”
Let’s respond to Jesus’ sermon today and take communion together. His sermon invokes a response. How would he have you respond to him today?
In communion we remember, celebrate and receive Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our sin. All of Jesus’ teaching ultimately culminates in the cross. It is how Jesus’ intends his followers to respond to his message, to trust in him and him alone to become the kind of person that he calls for in this sermon…and it only becomes possible through us dying to sin through his death, and rising to life through his resurrection.
So let’s go to him and pray.