The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)
5:1-2 - Here, we have the introduction to ‘the Sermon on the Mount’ (chs 5-7). Reference is made to both ‘the disciples’ and ‘the crowds’. The disciples are taught with a view to becoming teachers of the crowds. Peter learned from Christ and later he taught the crowds (Acts 2:14-42). The Sermon on the Mount was heard by the crowds as well as the disciples. Jesus spoke to the crowds. His ministry to the disciples had a dual purpose. It was for their own spiritual strengthening. It was training for the time when they would be entrusted with the Lord's commission: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28: 19-20). Do you read God’s Word solely for your own benefit? Or, do we have an eye for ways in which we can learn to share His Word with others?
5:3-12 - ‘The Beatitudes’ show us God’s way of blessing. We might also describe them as the Be Attitudes, since they show us what we are to be. Jesus teaches us that the way to happiness is the way of holiness. The only alternative to the way of holiness is the way of hypocrisy. There can be no true happiness when we are walking in the way of hypocrisy. Holiness is to take shape in our lives - the shape of Jesus Christ living in us. This is the truly happy life: the Christ-centered life. We are not to live according to present appearances. We are to live in the light of the future Reality of God's heavenly Kingdom. Some of Jesus’ later statements can be viewed as an exploration of the meaning of the Beatitudes. The general principles (3-10) are to be applied personally: ‘Blessed are you...’ (11-12). We are not only to read the Beatitudes. We are to live them.
5:13-16 - Holiness is to be seen. Happiness is to be shared. We are not to be secret disciples. It will not be easy to live the life of Christ’s disciples. In a world of much corruption, we are to be ‘the salt of the earth’ (13). In a world of much darkness we are to be ‘the light of the world’ (14). If we are to bring the refreshing light of Christ into our world, we ourselves must receive spiritual refreshment as we let the light of God’s Word shine on our lives. Reading God’s Word can never be a purely personal thing. Being ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’ - this is what Jesus says we are - , we read Scripture with a view to learning how we are to live in the world. Don’t lose your saltiness. Be salty enough to create a thirst for God in other people. Don’t let your light grow dim. Let it shine brightly. Remember - all the glory belongs to God (16; Psalm 115:1).
5:17-20 - In verse 20, Jesus refers to ‘the scribes and Pharisees’. Jesus warned against the shallow superficiality of these men who were more concerned with outward appearances than inner reality. This conflict with the Jewish religious leaders lies close to the surface in the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus says, ‘This is their way. This is My way’, He is not calling in question the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures: ‘Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them’ (17). He is in conflict with ‘the hypocrites’ (6:2 5,16). He is warning against the ‘false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves’ (7:15). What a difference there was between Jesus’ teaching and those who ‘preach, but do not practise’ (23:3) - He spoke with ‘authority’, they did not (7:29). May we be like Jesus!
5:21-37 - The teaching of Jesus here may be summed up thus: The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Jesus’ teaching was much more penetrating than the pronouncements made by the scribes and Pharisees. Not content to scratch the surface, Jesus asked the deeper question, ‘What's going on in your heart?’. Jesus’ teaching has real spiritual depth. He takes seriously the biblical teaching that ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt’ (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that we need a ‘new heart’ (Ezekiel 36:26). The Pharisees were bogged down in intricate details - Do this. Do that. Do the other. All the emphasis was on what we do. Christ was much more direct - Get the heart right. Ask God for a heart of love (21-26), purity (27-32), and truthfulness (33-37). Do not say, ‘Look what I've done’ (7:22). Let Christ live in your heart; let Him change you.
5:38-48 - The Pharisees lived by law. Jesus lived by love. The law of God - ‘holy and just and good’ (Romans 7:12) - had been distorted by the religious hypocrites. They were saying, ‘love your neighbour and hate your enemy’ (43). ‘Love your neighbour’ is found in Leviticus 19:18. ‘Hate your enemy’ is not found in the Old Testament. For the Jews, ‘neighbour’ meant their own kind. They wrongly concluded that Gentiles were to be hated. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan makes it clear that we are to love our enemies as well as our friends (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus’ disagreement is not with the law of God. It is with man’s misuse of it. Jesus’ teaching is simple - Love is not to be limited. It is demanding - love is all-embracing. We dare not bring love within our reach. We always fall short. We can only come to Christ. Confessing our lack of love and trusting in His perfect love, we learn to love.
6:1-18 - Jesus says that we are not to be like ‘the hypocrites’ (2,5,16). The word ‘hypocrite’ means ‘play actor’. It refers to ‘putting on a performance’. This performance may be extremely religious, but God is not in it. The hypocrites live according to ‘the letter’ of the law, but they know nothing of the power of ‘the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:6). The hypocrites’ religious performance gets along very well without God. His presence is not sought, welcomed or treasured. The hypocrites draw attention to themselves. They do not direct attention away from themselves to God. There is a better way than the way of hypocrisy. It is the way of holiness. Our lives are to be centred on Christ - ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). We must not forget: apart from Him we can do nothing. We are to abide in Him (John 15:5) - in true holiness.
6:19-34 - On the one side of Christ’s disciples, there are the hypocrites. On the other side, there are ‘the Gentiles’ (32). The hypocrites represent religion without reality. The Gentiles represent the world, living for material things only, refusing to take spiritual realities seriously. We are to be different from both the hypocrites and the Gentiles. Our top priority is pleasing God, not impressing men. We are to live for God’s eternal Kingdom rather than living for a world which is passing away. Living for Christ is very different from worldly living. Our life is to be governed by heavenly, and not earthly, priorities (19-21). We are to walk in the light, refusing to be overcome by the darkness (22-23). We are to trust the Lord, refusing to let unbelieving anxiety rule our lives (25-34).
7:1-14 - Jesus’ teaching regarding Christian living can be related to His teaching in ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ (6:9-13). We are not to pray one thing and do another. We are to live the Lord’s Prayer. We receive forgiveness from God. We are to show His forgiveness to others. We receive good things from God. We are to be generous in our giving to others. Before you can live the Christian Life, you must receive the Christian Life - Christ living in your heart (Revelation 3.20). Before you can walk in ‘the way’, you must enter by ‘the gate’ (13-14). Jesus speaks of two gates, two ways and two destinations. He tells us that some will be saved and many will be lost. What we must remember is this - Christ is ‘the Door’ (John 10:7), ‘the Way’ (John 14:6) and ‘our Hope of glory’ (Colossians 1:27). The gate may be narrow, the way hard, but never forget this - Christ is ‘the Gate’ and ‘the Way’ that leads to life.
7:15-29 - Whenever we are seeking to follow Christ, there will be dangers - false prophets (15-20), empty profession (21-23). Clearly, our faith must be grounded in the Son of God and the Word of God. This is the point of Jesus’ parable of the two builders and the two houses (24-27). We must build upon Christ. We must build on the Word of God. Jesus’ ‘sermon’ ends in verse 27, and is followed - in verses 28-29 - by a statement of its effect upon His hearers. Down through the centuries, Jesus’ teaching continues to make this impression on people. His words come to us with authority, addressing us with remarkable relevance. We imagine that our time is very different from Jesus’ time, yet Jesus’ words make it very clear - things are not so different after all. Still, we hear Him speaking as One who has authority. His Word is unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable.