Posts Tagged With: Sermon on the Mount

Sermon on the Mount: Introduction

“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, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 5:1-3; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“Sermon on the Mountain” (1896) by Károly Ferenczy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While sorting through some old documents this weekend, my wife stumbled upon some very old papers. They included two outlines for Bible study lessons about the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). One of the sheets indicates that I printed it out in July 2004, when I was the assistant pastor of a small church. However, I might have written them much earlier, when I taught a midweek Bible study at a previous church. I honestly do not remember ever preaching or teaching from these outlines!

The Sermon on the Mount and I have a longstanding relationship. Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church and attending Catholic school as a child, I learned about it, especially the more well-known passages like the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer. When I was in college, I received a pocket New Testament and found myself reading Matthew’s Gospel. By the time I finished the Sermon on the Mount, I realized that Jesus did not come to form a new organization; He came to create a new kind of person. This revelation prepared me to submit my life to Him a few months later when somebody introduced me to the concept of being “born again.”

Since it has played such a significant role in my Christian journey, I will devote the next few months to a series on its teachings. I pray that it can draw you closer to Christ; if you do not have a relationship with Him, I pray that you may come to know Him personally through this series.

A few general observations can guide us through our study:

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ longest public oration. The Upper Room discourse (John 13-17) is longer, but it was reserved exclusively for the 12 apostles. He addressed the Sermon on the Mount to His “disciples,” which included all who followed Him at that time; He had not chosen the apostles yet.

There is a very similar sermon in Luke 6, which is known as the Sermon on the Plain. In that speech, Jesus repeated some of the teachings from Matthew 5-7, sometimes in a slightly reworded form. The Sermon on the Mount occurred very early in Jesus’ ministry. He gave the Sermon on the Plain shortly after selecting the 12 apostles; it seems to summarize the teachings He wanted them to learn before preaching in His name. Some Bible scholars believe that Matthew and Luke made up the two sermons, based on some of Jesus’ sayings that they heard. However, Jesus most likely repeated His messages frequently. He did not have a printing press or website. He had to repeat His lessons to make sure the disciples memorized them. He might have preached the Sermon on the Mount in every town He visited, since they did not have television, radio, or newspapers to tell people in one town what He said elsewhere. This was probably a stock sermon that He preached, with some modification, on numerous occasions. For the disciples, it was repetition; on the other hand, it was new to the residents of every town He visited.

The Church of the Beatitudes, near Capernaum, Israel, is built on the site where many people believe Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. Photo by Kfoulk, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, the Sermon on the Mount is a necessary part of the Christian’s guidebook for daily living. It contains some difficult (even impossible, without the Holy Spirit’s help) commands.

As a result, some Christians have created bizarre, even heretical, ideas to excuse us from following them. Some will say that “The Sermon on the Mount is about the kingdom of God, and we’re not there yet, so it does not apply to us.” Others will say that, since it was before the cross, Jesus was preaching to Israel, not to the Church, so it does not apply to us. However, Jesus was very clear in His Great Commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20; emphasis added).

The proclamation of the Gospel in the Church Age includes all that Jesus taught—most of which He shared before the crucifixion—not just the easy stuff. When Jesus gives a command, and we have trouble obeying it, excuses are not the answer: The proper responses are confession and repentance. Jesus will always offer forgiveness; He does not accept excuses or distortions of His Word.

The Sermon on the Mount will challenge each of us. As we read and study it, the Holy Spirit will convict us. Jesus climbed a mountainside and sat down to announce His message. He invites each of us to come up higher, arising out of the valley of the shadow of death to join Him on the heights.

What do you think about the Sermon on the Mount? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Sermon on the Mount | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Christian Perfection vs. Perfectionism

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, ESV).

This is one Bible verse that has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years. It is not a problem with Scripture itself; God and His Word are perfect. Instead, it was my problem. Having a compulsive sort of personality, I am prone to perfectionism. Unfortunately, I am not perfect. So, I would read this passage, and then emotionally beat myself up when I did not live up to it. This would only drag me further from the sort of perfection to which Jesus called His disciples. All those books by nineteenth-century evangelist/theologian Charles G. Finney did not help matters.

It is important to understand what Jesus meant. The perfection ideal He presented is not the sort of 100% flawlessness a perfectionist like me is prone to pursue. Even the holiest people I know stumble sometimes. We all make poor decisions at times, driven by stress, imperfect wisdom, or habit. So, what is perfection? Perhaps, we can look at a few related Bible passages and the context of this verse.

This verse concludes a teaching in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount about “love for enemies” (Matthew 5:41-48):

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In this passage, Jesus calls us to a kind of love that is not natural. Human nature compels us to hate our enemies, to insult and gossip about those who persecute us, and to seek revenge (or at least the upper hand). Christian perfection is a perfection of love, going beyond the imperfect love of sin-stained humanity to imitate the sacrificial love of Christ.

In a related sermon (which some Bible scholars call, “The Sermon on the Plain”), Jesus concluded a similar section by saying, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” This brings the point even further: “mercy” is not just a good feeling. “Mercy” involves action: Choosing to forgive  a sinner; reaching out to help someone in need.

When Jesus tells us to “be perfect,” He is not demanding that we never fail. He is not planning to withdraw His forgiveness when we sin. He is, on one hand, giving us a high calling. We will not become flawless in this life, but that kind of perfection is our ideal; as long as we have shortcomings, we have new heights to reach and our spiritual journey is not complete. However, even when we fall into sin, we should not hide behind a facade of false holiness; we should confess our sins, accept His forgiveness, and seek His cleansing (1 John 1:8-10).

On the more practical level, Jesus is calling us to love our enemies, to offer His mercy to a world that deserves judgment. He is calling us to be Christians in every area of our lives (particularly, those areas where it is hardest).

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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