Matthew: Sermon on the Mount

  • Read Matthew 5-7 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (30 January) you can listen to it here.

The Sermon on the Mount contains some of the most well-known and challenging concepts found in Scripture.  Consider the following instructions:

  • “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (5:28)
  • “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to become an adulteress…” (5:32)
  • “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (5:39)
  • “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (5:44)
  • “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (6:12)
  • “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (6:19-20)
  • “Do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat/’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…” (6:31)
  • “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (7:1)
  • “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (7:12)

Rather than discuss each of these teachings individually, I want to use this post to establish a context for studying the Sermon on the Mount.

Twice, in chapter 4, Matthew summarises the ministry and message of Jesus.  In 4:17 the basic message of Jesus’ preaching is quoted as, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Then, in v23 Jesus’ ministry is described as consisting of “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness.”  The common thread to the message is obviously, the good news of the arrival of the kingdom of heaven.

Given this introduction, we should understand the Sermon on the Mount to typify Jesus’ teaching concerning the Kingdom of Heaven.  (And sure enough in the very first verse the poor in spirit are promised the kingdom of heaven.)  Jesus is introducing a new set of priorities, ethics, values, principles, whatever word connects with you.  The fundamental point is that the kingdom of heaven differs from how people have lived to this point.  The kingdom of heaven has higher standards.

The second general observation is that Jesus’ introduces the kingdom of heaven, as an authorised representative of that kingdom.  In fact, if you recall Matt. 1:1 you know that Jesus speaks as the king of the kingdom.  As such, he speaks with authority.  Remarkably, after all this teaching and the numerous sensitive topics he covers the reaction of the crowd speaks only of his authority (7:28-29).  However, that’s not a bad thing, as it fits with the purpose of the book and is demonstrated in the succeeding chapters.

We might like to read the Sermon on the Mount and consider it “interesting” or filled with “good advice”, but the crowd correctly recognise that his teachings are not optional recommendations.  Jesus speaks with authority.  Jesus establishes the principles by which his kingdom will be ruled and recognised in the centuries to come.

If you have any thoughts regarding the role or overview of the Sermon, please leave a comment.  Other than that, I have only one question:

  • Which of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon catches your attention the most, and why?
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3 comments

  1. Richmond Kwesi

    I have been thinking about 5:28 – committing adultery in your heart when you look at a woman lustfully. I haven’t been able to grasp the sense of “looking at a woman lustfully”. I mean practically looking at a woman lustfully. (I wonder if it applies to women as well) In any case, I think this is the toughest of the teachings on the mount. And sometimes I tend to think that perhaps the sense of “adultery” here is quite different from its normal meaning or connotation. I have heard someone teach that when you look lustfully at a woman (not your wife) you commit ‘adultery’ in the sense that that woman is/will be married to another man so its like sleeping with another man’s wife(to be) in your heart. Perhaps, this is right, but I guess maybe Jesus meant ‘fornication’ rather than ‘adultery’. And I sometimes wonder if one commits adultery in his heart if he looks lustfully at his wife (in a church, or in a context that does not warrant that lustful look)

  2. ozziepete

    Richmond, thanks for joining the conversation. Before tackling the details, it’s important to recognise the overall message. Jesus is establishing a higher standard of holiness that measures the desires and intents of the heart, not just one’s actions. A simple example from later in church life is “the Lord loves a cheerful giver”. The key word there is cheerful. God doesn’t just love givers, he’s very interested in the attitude and motivation behind the giving.
    So a very broad application of this teaching means that we can’t say, “I’m holy because I’ve never had unmarried sex, even though I have a pornography addiction.”
    This teaching speaks against any behaviour that objectify’s women only as sexual beings. They are to be respected as whole people. I don’t believe it prohibits physical attraction between unmarried people (or married…even in church), that’s natural and healthy, but the word “lust” implies the relationship should be about more than sexuality.
    Paul’s advice to Timothy (1 Tim 5:2), I believe, is an application of this value. “Treat the younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” Paul’s not telling Timothy that he can never marry. Rather, Timothy’s to treat the younger women with respect, the way that he would want his sister to be treated. And rather than have a relationship based upon lust, he’s to maintain purity in all his dealings with the younger women in the church.

  3. Richmond Kwesi

    Peter, your explanation is very helpful. I like ” Jesus is establishing a higher standard of holiness that measures the desires and intents of the heart, not just one’s actions.”

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