The introduction to The Sermon on the Mount–Matthew 5:1-2
How many important speeches from history do you know? What is so sad is, even the most significant rhetoric ever spoken is easily forgotten. George Washington’s Farewell Address, FDR’s war message, Winston Churchill’s “Never give up” speech, JFK’s “Ask not” speech, Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”. Yes, all famous speeches–but even though we might remember how the most famous Gettysburg Address begins (“Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation …”)–yet the vast majority do not know all of it. Be honest, most Americans have forgotten the precise contents of that speech, and 90% of those who do remember how it begins don’t know what four score means.
Important words can be written down–even chiseled in stone. But like the marble script below a monument–most often we forget who, what, when, where and why it was said. But that is not the case with the words of Jesus. Think about how amazing that is. Have you ever stopped to consider? “How is it that this carpenter’s son, born out of wedlock, a poor Jew from a nowhere town called Nazareth, who lived 2,000 years ago and who lived fewer years than what is required to be the President of the United States–how is it, that His words are as alive today as oxygen; they are as BREATHING as the blood that pulses through your veins?”
I don’t care how little you’ve gone to church or how little you’ve studied the Bible, you have heard. You have heard the Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching from the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:39b, “whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” Matthew 6:9 to 13, “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters.” Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Matthew 7:3, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:12, “In everything… treat people the same way you want them to treat you.”
Those words aren’t chiseled in stone–they are words sown into the fabric of history. Everyone knows the sayings, the rhetoric, and memorable teaching of the great King as He preaches the most striking teaching ever proclaimed–the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapters 5 to 7. Open your Bibles to Matthew 5:1 to 2. What does Matthew say about the one true King? Read aloud verses 1 to 2, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying.”
What’s behind the scenes of this sermon? What is driving the Lord’s memorable teaching? The King’s message here is a reaffirmation of the teaching of the Old Testament. But by the time Christ entered humanity, the message of the Old Testament had been seriously messed up and lost. Jesus will now clarify what Moses, David and the prophets taught in the Old Testament, because sadly, the Jewish faith had moved away from their Old Testament teaching to external tradition. So the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount will violently attack the current traditional distortion.
The Old Testament Law was designed to guide the Jewish nation and make them dependent upon the Lord for His mercy, grace and salvation. But over time, the spiritual leaders warped the Law into steps to achieving salvation. And in their zeal, they added thousands of applications to the Law, called traditions, that everyone was to obey in order to secure their own salvation by human achievement. Even though Abraham was justified by faith–made righteous before God by faith, saved only by God’s divine accomplishment. Now, as Jesus teaches this unforgettable sermon, the Jewish faith currently taught justification by obedience to Law, tradition and circumcision.
It will be the Sermon on the Mount that will undo the distortion of this salvation by works and the Lord will restore God’s salvation by grace through faith–only justified by faith. But this was no easy task for the Lord–why? Because religious life had become so complicated. Judaism was so demanding–people responded differently to the requirement of obeying the Law with all its added traditions in order to earn salvation. The people of Jesus’ day divided up into four main camps, representing four main religious approaches to Judaism.
The leaders of these various approaches were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots. The Pharisees believed that right religion consisted in obeying divine laws and religious traditions. Their primary concern was the fastidious observance of the Mosaic Law and following every minute detail of the applications of those laws designed by men, called traditions, which were developed and handed down by various rabbis over the centuries. They were completely focused on obeying the laws and traditions of the past.
The Sadducees focused on the present–they were the religious liberals of their day who minimized anything supernatural, and who adjusted and modified both the Scripture and human tradition to make life easier than the strict Pharisees. The Essenes were ascetics, the monks of their day, who believed that right religion meant separation from the rest of society. They led austere lives in remote, barren areas such as Qumran, on the edge of the Dead Sea. The Zealots were fanatical nationalists who believed that right religion centered around radical, political activism. These Jewish revolutionaries looked down on fellow Jews who would not take up arms against Rome.
In essence, the Pharisees said, “Go back”, the Sadducees said, “Go ahead”, the Essenes said, “Go away”, and the Zealots said, “Go against.” The Pharisees were traditionalists, the Sadducees were modernists, the Essenes were separatists, and the Zealots were activists. Two things are true of these four groups—one) they were all trying to earn their salvation through human achievement and not embracing God’s divine accomplishment. And two) each of these approaches has a modern counterpart in our day.
One) today the Pharisees are seen in your favorite legalists. You know them–I don’t drink or smoke or chew or go with girls who do. These are hard-core, so-called believers, who are so rigid they’ve lost love and living. No card-playing, no dancing, no drinking, no long hair for men, no pants for women–they add extra practices to God’s Law in order to prove their salvation and appear godly.
Two) the Sadducees are the liberals of our day. They manipulate God’s Word and alter the Gospel message to fit their own desires and thinking, like country music award winners who thank Jesus, while at the same time they’re sleeping with their boyfriend.
Three) the Essenes are seen in the isolationists of our day. They are the home church movement, family compounds, extreme home schoolers, and other world seclusionists.
Four) and the Zealots are the Christian nationalists. Maniacal MAGAs, vehement voters, conservatives who believe political activism is the Christian answer to a declining culture.
Jesus’ unforgettable teaching in the Sermon on the Mount destroys all those approaches. To the Pharisees Christ says, true spirituality is internal, not external. To the Sadducees Christ says, it is God’s way, not man’s way. To the Essenes Christ says, it is a matter of the heart, not the body. To the Zealots Christ says, it is a matter of worship, not revolution. The central thrust of Christ’s message to every person of whatever inclination was that the way of His kingdom is first and foremost a matter of the heart–the inner person. That is the central focus of the Sermon on the Mount.
True religion in God’s Kingdom is not a question of ritual, of philosophy, of location, or of military might, but of a new, born again heart toward God and toward people. You have to be perfect before God to be saved, and only Christ can cover you with His righteousness. You have to be transformed to follow God, and only Christ can give you a new heart to do so. That is what makes the Sermon on the Mount so massively important to you and to me, and to every Christian today and in every age. This sermon will . . .
First) show you the absolute necessity of the new birth. The standards in this message are too high to be accomplished by only human power. Only those who have a new, born again nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit can fulfill such demanding principles. We can’t live these truths without God transforming us first in salvation.
Second) the Sermon on the Mount gives God’s pattern for happiness and true success. The sermon reveals the God-empowered objectives and motivations that lead to the way of joy, peace, and contentment. This is the way.
Third) the sermon is perhaps the greatest scriptural resource for reaching others for Christ. The Christian who lives out this teaching will be wonderfully different, yet spectacularly attractive to many who are enslaved to sin and abused by the world.
Fourth) the Christian who seeks to live by this sermon achieves the highest goal of all, and that is to live a life which is pleasing to God.
How does the Lord begin his unforgettable teaching? Matthew 5:1 and 2, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying.” The Sermon on the Mount is meant to destroy human effort and demand God dependence.
#1 The SETTING Verse 1a
Matthew 5:1, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain.” Matthew 4:23 to 25 informs us that the Lord’s miracles drew crowds from all over the regions of Galilee, Syria, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and even beyond the Jordan. A group this large would not only have diverse backgrounds and differing beliefs, but also unique life experiences, distinct struggles, and differing commitments to spiritual things. The Lord’s audience here also contained people old and young, male and female, rich and poor, and religious and rebellious.
With such a diverse crowd, with this sermon Christ taught the uniqueness of being related to the one true God, the lifestyle of those who are His true children, and most importantly, how to join God’s family. Christ taught truths that transcend language, culture, gender, age, and class. The Sermon on the Mount is meant to destroy human effort and demand God-dependence.
Verse 1, “Jesus saw the crowds.” Jesus is always concerned for the multitudes, because He has great compassion for people–whether they are “distressed and downcast” (Matthew 9), sick (Matthew 14), hungry (Matthew 15), or in any need. Whether the people are physically ill or healthy, emotionally stable or demon-possessed, financially poor or rich, politically oppressed or powerful, religiously insignificant or influential, intellectually ignorant or educated, our Lord Jesus is compassionate toward them and toward you. Verse 1, “Jesus saw the crowds.”
People saw Jesus enjoying ordinary people. They observed the way He genuinely loved individuals. They witnessed His mercifully miraculous power and they heard His unforgettable teaching–so they flocked to Him in crowds. At the end of the sermon, Matthew tells us the crowd heard everything Christ said and they were blown away by His authority to speak God’s Word directly. His intention was to drive each person present in the crowd to recognize their sin, and see their need for a Savior. Until they believed in Christ, the demands of this sermon could only show them how far they were from God and how deep they were in their sin.
This masterful evangelistic sermon is designed to confront people with their desperate condition of sinfulness. The Sermon on the Mount is meant to destroy human effort and demand God-dependence for every single person alive. D. Martin Llyod-Jones emphasizes that this sermon is for every believer–not special Christians, super Christians, mature Christians, or serious Christians, but for all Christians.
It is not for elders, pastors, teachers, disciplers, but every genuine believer. It is not merely for Hudson Taylor, or George Mueller, but every born-again Christ-follower. And every Christian is designed to live out every single principle found in this sermon–not merely some verses, but every principle found in this sermon. And even though no truth found in the sermon is natural or easy for anyone, all who have a born again nature and enjoy the indwelling Holy Spirit can live these truths out. And though the people of this world will mock the truths of the Sermon on the Mount, the genuine Christian will want to apply them in everyday life 24/7–which is what sets . . .
#2 The SCENE Verse 1b
Matthew 5:1, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.” God’s own Son, the second person of the Trinity, God in the flesh delivered this sermon. The greatest preacher who ever lived preached the greatest sermon ever preached. Again, when He concluded, Matthew 7:28 to 29 says, “the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
Christ quoted no sources, quoted no ancient rabbis, quoted no tradition–what He spoke, He spoke on His own authority. Jesus said, “You’ve heard it said . . . but I say.” That was unheard of among the Jews, who when they taught always derived their authority from recognized sources. The Sermon on the Mount is the supreme model of good preaching, a homiletical masterpiece. Christ begins with showing you true internal, righteous living–then tests you to help you determine if you’ve been made righteous. Then proves your need for genuine righteousness and concludes with how to get a new righteous nature. And Christ taught it all on a giant hill in Capernaum next to the Sea of Galilee.
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain—really, a large hill. The Greek word for mountain can also be translated hill. The worship center for the greatest sermon ever preached was a giant hill that slopes up from the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Today the traditional sight for the sermon is called the Mount of Beatitudes, but all my instructors believed it is actually the hill right next to it–why? For no other reason than the acoustics of the hill next door have remained miraculous, literally carrying a whisper over a hundred yards.
The exact spot is not the issue, but it was in beautiful, lakeside Capernaum. Being there you can feel the cool breeze coming off the lake, smell the flowers in bloom, and ponder what it may have been like that day when Jesus took a seat on the edge of that ridge and faced potentially thousands. It was that providentially designed hill which carried Christ’s voice to the ears and the hearts of His listeners.
#3 The STYLE Verse 2a
Matthew 5:1, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.” A rabbi commonly sat down when he taught. If the rabbi spoke while standing or walking, what he said was considered to be informal and unofficial. But when he sat down, what he said was authoritative and official. Even today, we speak of professors holding a chair in a university, signifying the honored position from which they teach.
When Jesus sat down and delivered the Sermon on the Mount, He spoke from His divine chair with absolute authority as the sovereign King. But get this–the multitudes were an important audience for this evangelistic sermon. But the standards of spiritual life that Jesus gave here could not apply to them or be followed by them unless they belonged to Him.
Notice in verse 1 the disciples also were a part of Christ’s audience. This is most likely more than the inner circle, more than Peter, James, and John–because their reaction recorded in chapter 7 verse 28 was amazement. This unforgettable message is new to the crowds and to some in the inner circle. But it was only the twelve who could know the blessedness of which the Lord spoke and follow the perfect way of righteousness which Christ sets forth. The disciples were the only ones who had partaken of the internal divine power which is absolutely necessary for obeying God’s Word and finding His perfect will.
So the sermon not only showed the multitude the standard of God’s righteousness that they could not keep on their own, but it also showed the disciples the possible standard they could now keep because of Christ’s coming and their faith only in Him. Trying to apply Jesus’ teachings without receiving Him as Lord and Savior is futile. Those who promote a social gospel, endeavoring to institute Jesus’ teachings apart from His regenerating work prove only that His principles cannot work for those who do not have a transformed nature and God’s indwelling Spirit. One cannot behave like Christ until one becomes like Christ. Those who do not love the King cannot live like the King. The Sermon on the Mount is meant to destroy human effort and demand God dependence.
#4 The SUBJECT Verse 2b
Matthew 5:2, “He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying.” Verse 2 seems unnecessary–why does Matthew mention Christ opening His mouth and beginning to teach? Answer–because that phraseology is a common idiom used to introduce a message that was especially important. The phrase was also used to indicate intimate, heartfelt testimony or sharing. Jesus’ sermon was both authoritative and intimate–it was of the utmost importance and was delivered with the utmost concern.
In this sermon, our Lord establishes a standard of living counter to anything the world has ever known. It is different than everything the world practices or values. To live by the standards Christ gives here is to live a life of blessed happiness. Here is an utterly new approach to living–one that results in joy instead of despair, in peace instead of conflict. A peace that the world does not understand and cannot have (John 14:27; Philippians 4:7).
Coming next week is a blessedness not produced by the world or by your circumstances, nor can it be taken away by the world or by your circumstances. A blessedness that is not produced externally, nor can it be destroyed externally. It is internal. It is eternal. It is transformational and results in heavenly bliss. But only if we destroy all human effort and depend on God’s work, power and presence alone.
Following Jesus means . . .
A The sermon on the Mount is for you right now
Because of its seemingly impossible demands, there are a few who maintain that the Sermon on the Mount only applies to living in the coming thousand-year kingdom, the Millennium. Otherwise, those few argue, how could Jesus command us to be perfect, just as our “heavenly Father is perfect” in Matthew 5:48? The belief that the Sermon on the Mount is not for today is incorrect for several reasons.
First, the text does not indicate or even imply these teachings are for another age. Second, Jesus called for obedience from the people who were not living in the Millennium. Third, many of the teachings themselves become meaningless if they are applied to the Millennium, like 5:10ff, there will be no persecution of believers during the Kingdom age. Fourth, every principle taught in the Sermon on the Mount is also taught elsewhere in the New Testament in contexts that clearly apply to believers of this present age. Fifth, there are many New Testament passages that command equally impossible standards, which unglorified human strength cannot continually achieve (Romans 13:14, 2 Corinthians 7:1, Philippians 1:9 to 10, Colossians 3:1 to 2, Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 1:15 to 16).
The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are for all believers today, marking the distinctive lifestyle that is to characterize the direction of your life–not the perfection of your life. This sermon is what Christ can produce in you, as you depend on His Spirit.
B Following Jesus means you live MORALLY like Christ
Trying to apply Christ’s teachings without receiving Christ as Lord and Savior is futile. Any one of you who attempts to live out Jesus’ teachings apart from His regenerating work prove that His principles cannot work for anyone who doesn’t have a transformed nature nor God’s indwelling Spirit living in and through them in genuine salvation. One cannot behave like Christ until one becomes like Christ. You can’t behave like Christ until you are born again. Those who do not love the King cannot live like the King.
Who knows more about a product than the manufacturer? When you buy a new power tool, the first sensible thing to do is read the owner’s manual. The manufacturer prints those manuals to explain what the item is designed to do and not do, how it’s cared for, and what its limitations are. God is the same–God has made every human being. Yet few turn to their Maker to find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in their lives, to learn how they are to live and how they are to take care of themselves–how they can function properly and happily as they were designed to do.
The Sermon on the Mount is clear–internal transformation results in external changes. When our internal attitudes and thinking are right, our actions will fall in line. If our inner life does not make our outer life better, our inner life is deficient or nonexistent. James 2:20 says, “Faith without works is dead.” In Ephesians 2:10, Paul states you are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” But that outside life can only be produced from a true inside life.
But beware, Jesus teaches morality, but never separated from Himself. In this sermon, Christ gives fifty imperatives–do this, don’t do that, be like this, don’t be like that. And Christ deals with ethical issues that affect family and society, such as adultery and divorce and the taking of oaths. He speaks on true religion and hypocrisy, Christ instructs us on prayer, fasting and giving. He teaches on doing good works and doing God’s will. He speaks on virtues like mercy, peace, humility, loving our neighbors and loving our enemies. And He speaks against vices like lust, anger, anxiety, and ungrounded criticism.
But all of them are reflections of His character, His will and His Person. They were never intended to be used to promote politics, philosophy or lifestyle as they’re used today. This sermon is never to be a pick and choose what you like and reject what you don’t, like a 4-year-old chooses Jell-O over broccoli. This morality is not designed for you to befriend Jesus and embrace His teaching on love, but not divorce. To like His feeding the poor, but not poverty of spirit. To embrace His dangers of materialism, but not idolatry. To accept God being good, but not reject you being evil. To like Christ’s rejection of being judgmental, but ignore having to stand before Christ as your Judge.”
Christ’s ethical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount demands your dependence upon Christ since the teaching of the sermon is a reflection of Him. This sermon is an accurate view of God. Remember what Christ said at the end of Matthew 28:18. Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Christ is the King and this sermon is expressing His personal will. You can only rightly embrace this sermon by turning from your sin in repentance and depending on Christ by faith in true, born again salvation. Following Jesus means you live morally like Christ.
C Following Jesus means you don’t live POLITICALLY CORRECT
Jesus is not PC. The biggest moral quagmire in our culture today is exclusivity. I know I can say just about anything about Jesus to anyone—like, He’s my personal Savior, that Jesus loves little children, that Jesus once walked on water. I can say all that. But what PC culture does not want me to say is this–“Christ is the only way to God.” I can’t say what Christ said–“If you don’t know me, then you don’t know my Father in Heaven.”
Yes, that sounds arrogant–but it is not any more arrogant or any less exclusive than the person who says, “I think all religions are the same–I think each religion has some of the truth, but not all of it” or, “I think everyone is going to Heaven.” Or Arnold Schwarzenegger who just said, “I think when you die, that’s it.” Why do I say that? Because of who says so! You are the authority—you. And who are you to say such things? I’m serious–as I see it, I have three choices . . .
1) I can believe you or someone just like you–another mere human being
2) I can believe myself (and whatever I want to think and claim about such matters), or
3) I can believe Jesus and what He said
Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” His teaching is true, and it is unforgettable.
D Following Jesus means you must be TRANSFORMED in salvation
Who is your Lord? You, the news, freedom of choice, a sentimental ideal of love–who guides your life? Is it you, or is it someone else, something else, some place or thing? Or is it truly Christ who calls all the shots on everything in your life? Where you shop, how you dress, who your friends are, where you go, what you like and more? Who is my Lord? Jesus Christ is my Lord because He IS the Lord, whether I believe He is or not. He has authority over Heaven and Earth, which includes me, my ideas, my itty-bitty mind, tainted heart and dirty hands. Christ is Lord. I don’t claim that for Him–I simply acknowledge that Christ is Lord and live by that truth.
I became a Christian when I was 18 years old, after I had lived exactly how Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount not to live. I was like a whitewashed tomb–clean on the outside, but full of dead bones on the inside. For four years I went to church, but didn’t know Christ–I did what I wanted, while claiming to be a Christian. I would occasionally pray, read the Bible, participate in studies and show up to worship. All my closest friends were believers and I would call myself a Christian. I did lots of religious things, talked religious talk, and thought about Christian things. I was no adulterer, but I was full of lust. I was no murderer, but I was full of hate. I was no perjurer, but I was full of lies.
But after trying most of what the world had to offer at least once, the Lord got ahold of my heart. He showed me its blackness. He showed me how sick my sin was, how genuinely empty, alone, guilty and separated from Christ I was. Christ then awakened me, I cried out in faith, I turned from sin in repentance and He literally made my heart whiter than snow, forgiving all my sin, changing my nature, indwelling me with His Holy Spirit and everything changed. He opened my eyes. He gave me a new life. He gave me new passions. He gave me new habits, desires, wants, priorities, and appetites.
Since then, when He alone works through me, He has allowed me to speak, teach and do amazing things for His glory, for my good, resulting in my joy and my happiness–a blessed happiness no non-Christian will ever know. An abundant life no non-believer can ever taste. If today, right now, you want that same happiness–real joy, real transformation, then turn to Christ right now, right here. Submit to Christ and His work on the cross. Exchange all that you are for all that He is. Talk to the Lord, cry out for Him to open your heart right now as you sit here this morning. Yet if you are not ready, then come back next week as Christ offers each of you radical happiness. It will be unforgettable.