Matthew 5-7 was widely known as one of Jesus’ primary teachings called the Sermon on the Mount. Similar to Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’, the SOTM includes some of the most quoted scripture apart from Psalm 23. Called this simply because it was an actual sermon Jesus gave and as we read in Matthew 5:1 it was on the side of a mountain.
In the previous chapter (4:23) we see Jesus purpose on earth was to preach, teach and demonstrate the Kingdom, an overview would look like this,
- Preaching the coming of the Kingdom (Chapter 4)
- Teaching the Way of the Kingdom (Chapter 5-7)
- Demonstrating the purpose and power of the Kingdom (Chapter 8-9)
In relation to the Sermon on the Mount it is important for us to realise who Jesus was speaking to. In Matthew 5:1 we notice that the crowd were close by, but Jesus was actually speaking to the disciples. This is another reminder that Jesus teaching was not the benchmark for salvation rather reminding Christians about the kind of life we are called to live.
The Sermon on the Mount is instructional for the disciples but it’s also invitational for the crowd, as it is from the crowd that Jesus called his disciples (consider Mt 4:18-22).
The Sermon on the Mount is an important reminder to us about the commitment required by a Christ-follower and the radical life of obedience that Jesus calls us to. A great bible scholar was once asked if he found the Bible hard to understand, he responded by saying he wasn’t bothered by the parts of the Bible he couldn’t understand as much as he was bothered by the parts he could understand. Jesus’ teaching to us in this sermon is easily understood, yet requires commitment, for us to live it out in our daily lives.
Another important and encouraging aspect is the relationship between the Rabbi (teacher) and their disciples. The Rabbi wanted to make sure that his disciples knew what he knew and would do what they did. However, when Jesus calls any disciple He shows confidence in us that with the help of the Holy Spirit we can continue to advance the cause of the Kingdom.
Let’s have a look at how we should read the Sermon on the Mount, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind as you read, taken from the NIV Life Application Commentary.
- Take the passage at face value and attempt to understand the meaning of Jesus' statement. Most problems can be solved by looking at the literary and cultural context and seeing the intent of Jesus' saying within the larger setting. For example, when Jesus says we are not to swear at all (5:34) the saying must be understood in the context of religious leaders who were trying to manipulate themselves out of their stated obligations to fellow Jews. Jesus is not condemning giving an oath of allegiance or vowing to fulfil a contract.
- Glean the principle being taught in the passage. An important part of understanding SOTM is recognising that when Jesus says he has come to fulfil the Old Testament, behind specific instructions, such as turn the other cheek or giving up one’s cloak (5:39-40) lay principles that are easily transferable to our own lives. Few passages in the Bible are more misunderstood and misapplied than the Sermon on the Mount. Often people will take single verses or phrases from Matt. 5–7 and disregard the context. It’s important that we have a total view of this important sermon before we attempt to study the various divisions of this passage.
- Check to see if the passage needs to be balanced with other biblical principles in order to understand the full counsel of God. Jesus often gives one extreme with regard to an issue to drive home his point. He is not implying that other, equally important principles are invalid. For example, Jesus’ statements about not being anxious about what we eat or drink, needs to be balanced with the consistent theme of scripture that godliness includes honest work to supply our own needs.
- Once your understanding is balanced, go back to the passage in the SOTM and attempt to live out the principle radically. Balancing Jesus’ teachings does not water them down or mute their radical significance. Rather, truly radical discipleship means taking all of Jesus teachings and living them all in the manner in which they were intended to be lived.
As we look at the Sermon on the Mount lets make a fresh commitment to the following two areas:
Sample Discussion Questions
- Become a Disciple
Disciple is simply someone who ‘receives instruction from another’; one whose inward and outward life is conformed to the teachings of Christ, and the ongoing commitment to being a disciple is life-long. Dallas Willard says that we enter a major transition in life when we consider all of our ‘teachers’ in life and the impact they have had upon us, we then make a deliberate choice to determine who we will allow to ultimately be our Teacher and Master.
Are you growing as a disciple? Becoming more Christ-like? Are there deliberate aspects of your life that need a greater commitment?
When we commit ourselves to living as a disciple of Christ, the second aspect is almost a natural outcome.
- Bring the Kingdom of God into the Present
Jesus said the Kingdom of God is near (Mk1:15), he said it’s a present possession (Mt 5:3, 10) Jesus told us in Mt 6:33 that all we do should be about the Kingdom, our first priority.
Bible scholars describe the Kingdom of God as present and future – already and not yet – both an event and a sphere of existence, and as we live our lives as disciples God uses our lives to manifest His kingdom on earth.
To live this out fully requires more than our natural efforts, we all need to draw on the help of the Holy Spirit to be our guide, teacher and helper.
- What aspects of Jesus’ teaching do you find easy to understand? Difficult?
- What are some practical steps we can take to grow as disciples? Share a personal example.
- How can we bring the Kingdom of God into the present? (Here and now).
Pray for the ongoing empowerment of the Holy Spirit to help each person continue to grow as Disciples of Christ.