Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount contains some of His most familiar teachings. Ask anyone you meet about what Jesus taught – if they respond, it will most likely be with a teaching, a phrase, or a thought from His Sermon on the Mount.“Forgive your enemies, do not judge others, seek first the kingdom, love others, be salt and light, pray quietly and personally in a closet…”
Besides being one of the most recognizable passages of scripture, what is the significance of this sermon? The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ treatise on the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven as Matthew calls it.
Jesus came to establish His kingdom but He did not come as a king was expected. He came to die for His enemies; He came not to be served but to serve; He came as a servant King to make a way for His people to enter the kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is different – it is an eternal kingdom that operates on a different economy with different values and paradigm. If we are in Christ, our thinking is completely different.
Jesus came as a King but He did not come as expected. He devoted His life to serving, He made a way into His Kingdom through His death on the cross and declared victory for His kingdom at His resurrection. Jesus then ascended to rule and reign in heaven seated next to His Father. One day Jesus will come again to establish His rule and reign on a new heaven and earth.
This is what all followers of Jesus have anticipated for thousands of years. When Jesus returns He will return as King, but this time He will come as the conquering King. The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, is a picture of the kingdom and a mirror for us. It is a picture of our affections, our desires, what we seek and what we do.
The Sermon on the Mount asks the question, “Are we walking in the Kingdom to which we were called?” How do you know if you are in the Kingdom? You know you are in the Kingdom if your life looks like Matthew 5-7. We do not live like this to get into the kingdom. This is not a call to salvation but a description of the call to Jesus. There is only one way in: Jesus. This life is impossible without regeneration, being made new by the work of the Holy Spirit. This is a call to all believers. We say, “I can’t do this.” He says, “You’re right, it’s impossible. But I can do this in you.”
A few weeks ago, we addressed a question about one of our worship songs. Evangelical worship tends to be either all about emotion and creating a culture with no doctrine, or the focus is only on doctrine and all emotion is shut down. We believe that when we are grounded in doctrine and understand the Gospel, that creates an emotional response. We experience tears and sorrow over our sin, and also great rejoicing over Christ’s work on the cross. God has given us emotions so that we know Him.
It is the same with the doctrine of the kingdom. Some believe the kingdom is already here, totally. This would mean there is no disease, sorrow, or pain. The other extreme is that the kingdom is not here at all and will not come until Jesus returns. There is little to no emphasis on beauty or art or creativity.
We believe Jesus teaches about the tension at hand – the kingdom is coming but it is already here. As followers of God, we are part of the kingdom and wherever we go, we take the kingdom with us. We are ambassadors for Him and represent Him to our neighbors, coworkers, family. Places and people change when Christians following Jesus move into a neighborhood, go to work for a company, or enter a classroom. The kingdom is here but it is also coming. We are called to live in this tension, and that is the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:23-25
Large crowds were following Jesus from Decapolis, a 10-city area across the sea from Galilee, from Jerusalem, Judea, Syria, and beyond. People from all walks of life were coming to see this prophet who was teaching and healing people from disease, demon possession, pain, and every kind of sickness.
Why were these people following Jesus: Did they want to be healed or hear His teaching? Who did they think He was? What did they believe about Him? Jesus asked His disciples that very question:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am? Matthew 16:13-15
When Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” He was essentially asking them, “Are you going to trust me with everything?” This passage is about trust – trusting Him for everything in our lives.
This sermon was to bring clarity, to give a comprehensive teaching on what Jesus was about and who He was and is. He used phrases like, “You’ve heard it said… but I say” or “Do not think I came to abolish the law but to fulfill” or “For truly I said to you…” Jesus was teaching them that the status quo was changing and warning the crowd that if they followed Him, their worlds would flip upside down.
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, Matthew 5:1-2
Jesus saw the crowds and He went up on the mountain. He sat down, typical of a teacher of that day, and His disciples came to Him. Disciples is a broad term here, meaning anyone who was following Him at the time. Jesus wanted to make it clear to the crowd who and what they were following. People were drawn to His miracles, but He wanted them to know who He was.
This is similar to when Jesus fed the five thousand and when He left there, the crowds followed Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They asked Him to show them a sign, to feed them like Moses did in the wilderness. Jesus told them that it was not Moses who fed their fathers, but God in heaven and that the bread from heaven was temporary.
“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:51-54
When they heard Jesus’ words, the crowd was freaked out and they all left Him except His disciples. Jesus looked at those who remained and said, “Will you leave me too?” They answered and said “Where would we go? You alone have the keys to eternal life.” Jesus was essentially saying, “I am everything that you need.” He was calling out the crowd who came for a miracle or viewed Him as a kind of celestial vending machine.
This is Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount – He declares Himself King and then describes His kingdom. He did not come to amass a conquering army but to amass servants to give their lives for the sake of others and His glory.
Five Things About the Sermon on the Mount
1. Describes the kingdom life – Jesus was calling them to a kingdom life, not a natural kingdom. It’s like taking currency or money from one country and trying to use it in another. The kingdom will be filled with those who love mercy, who are poor in spirit, who are pure in heart, who are peacemakers, who are people of their word, who seek God and not glory from others. Jesus describes a completely transformed life.
2. Describes the heart of God – God is trustworthy; He can be relied on for provision, for peace, for forgiveness. The reason we have a hard time forgiving is because we aren’t trusting that God is a God who will make all things right. We want justice now because we want it our way. We want justice and we don’t want to forgive because we are not trusting God to deal out the appropriate justice.
God will judge and He will judge justly. Every offense against us, which is ultimately an offense against God, will be judged on the cross or by Christ at the day of judgment. We have a hard time with this because we want to see justice now – we aren’t trusting God for the eternal judgment He promises. There is no offense that has happened to us that is greater than our offense toward Him, and yet He forgives. How can we not forgive others? This is the kingdom of God, it describes the heart of God.
3. Gives us a mirror – If we are walking in the kingdom and see these characteristics developing in our lives, we know we are in the kingdom. We won’t execute it perfectly, but as our heart begins to shift and we see God’s work, it encourages us.
4. Sets an unattainable standard – We can’t enter the kingdom of God without Christ. Entering the kingdom is about an intimate relationship with Jesus – only God can transform our hearts as we seek Him. In our time with Him, He transforms our hearts and speaks to us through His word by the power of the Holy Spirit.
5. God’s plan to multiply the church – This is evangelism. Wherever we go, we go as ambassadors for God and set up an embassy in that place. If we live like the kingdom, people will notice that there is something different about us. It’s about walking in our true identity as God intended, not in our fallen state. It’s about walking right side up in an upside down world.
There is a call to obedience in this passage. Obedience does not save us, but it is a confirmation of salvation. How will you know you are in the Kingdom? If you live this way, by the fruit of your life. Only if we are involved in the divine work of the Spirit in our lives and through our lives do we know. It is like discipline – we don’t like it, but we know we are loved when we experience it.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell–and great was its fall.” When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:24-29
This is the call to Jesus. He lays it out for us because He loves us and wants a relationship with us. He is our King and we are His subjects. This is God saying to us, “I love you.” He wants us to know Him and to experience all that He has for us because He loves us. He’s calling us into His presence.