Matthew 5: The Sermon on the Mount (part 1)

Even non-Christians have heard of the Sermon on the Mount. Christians hear many sermons, but there are sections that are difficult to understand and therefore can not be used properly in life.

John Stott put it this way:
"The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of Jesus' teachings, but it is probably the least understood and certainly the least followed" (The message of the Sermon on the Mount, pulsmedien Worms 2010, page 11). Let's study the Sermon on the Mount again. Maybe we'll find new treasures and remember the old ones again.

The Beatitudes

"When he [Jesus] saw the people, he went up to a mountain and sat down; and his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth, taught it and spoke "(Mt 5,1-2). As so often, the crowd probably followed him. The sermon was not just for the disciples. Therefore, Jesus instructed the disciples to spread his teachings throughout the world, and Matthew wrote them down so that over a billion people could read them. His teachings are for anyone who is willing to listen to them.

"Blessed are they who are spiritually poor; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven "(v. 3). What does it mean to be "mentally poor"? Have low self-esteem, little interest in spiritual things? Not necessarily. Many Jews described themselves as "the poor" because they were often poor and they relied on God to take care of their daily needs. Thus, Jesus may have meant the faithful. But being mentally poor indicates more. Poor people know that they lack the essentials. The spiritually poor know that they need God; they feel a shortage in their lives. They do not think of doing God a favor by serving Him. Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is given to people like them. It is the humble, the addicts to whom the kingdom of heaven is given. They rely solely on God's mercy.

"Blessed are they that bear grief; for they shall be comforted "(v. 4). This statement contains a certain irony, because the word "happy" can also mean "happy". Happy are the sad, says Jesus, because at least it comforts them to know that their needs are not permanent. Everything will be corrected. Note that the beatitudes are not commandments - Jesus does not say it is spiritually beneficial to suffer. Many people are already suffering in this world and Jesus says that they should be comforted, probably at the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are the meek; for they will possess the earth "(v. 5). In ancient societies the land was often taken away from the meek. But according to the approach of God, that will be corrected.

"Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness; for they shall become full "(v. 6). Those who yearn for justice and justice (the Greek word means both) will receive what it requires. Those who suffer from evil and want things to be corrected are to be rewarded. In this age, God's people suffer from injustice; we long for justice. Jesus assures us that our hopes will not be in vain.

"Blessed are the merciful; because they will receive mercy "(v. 7). We need mercy on the Day of Judgment. Jesus says we should therefore be compassionate in this time. This is contrary to the behavior of those who demand justice and deceive others, or who demand mercy, but are themselves ruthless. If we want to have a good life then we have to behave accordingly.

"Blessed are they who are pure in heart; for they will see God "(v. 9). A pure heart only has a desire. Those who seek God alone will be sure to find Him. Our desire will be rewarded.

"Blessed are the peacemakers; for they will be called the children of God "(v. 9). The poor will not enforce their rights by force. God's children rely on God. We should show mercy and compassion, not wrath and discord. We can not live harmoniously in the kingdom of justice by acting unfairly. Since we want the peace of the Kingdom of God, we should also treat each other peacefully.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven "(v. 10). People who behave properly sometimes have to suffer because they are good. Meek ones are often taken advantage of by the people. There are those who even annoy those who do good, because their good example makes the bad people look all the worse. Sometimes the righteous succeed in helping the oppressed by weakening social customs and rules that have given power to the unrighteous. We do not seek to be persecuted, but the righteous are often persecuted by bad people. Be of good cheer, says Jesus. Hold on. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the people who are doing so.

Then Jesus turns directly to his disciples and addresses them with the word "you" in the second person plural: "Blessed are you, when people revile and persecute you for my sake and speak all sorts of evil against you when they lie with it. Be cheerful and confident; it will be rewarded abundantly in heaven. For they also persecuted the prophets who were before you "(v. 11-12).

There is an important passage in this verse, "for my sake." Jesus expects His disciples to be persecuted not only for their good living, but also for their connection to Jesus. Therefore, be happy and confident when persecuted - at least your actions should be enough to be noticed. You make a difference in this world and you can be sure it will be rewarded.

Make a difference

Jesus also used a few brief metaphorical phrases to describe how his followers are to influence the world: "You are the salt of the earth. If the salt does not salt anymore, what should you salt with? It is no use for anything except to throw it away and let it be crushed by the people "(v. 13).

If salt loses its flavor, it would be useless because its taste gives it its value. Salt is so good just because it tastes different than other things. Likewise, the disciples of Jesus are scattered in the world - but if they are equal to the world, they are of no use.

"You are the light of the world. It can not be hidden from the city that lies on a mountain. One does not light a candle and places it under a bushel, but on a lampstand; it shines on all who are in the house "(v. 14-15). The disciples should not hide - they should be visible. Her example is part of her message.

"Let your light shine before the people, that they may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven" (v. 16). Later, Jesus criticized the Pharisees because they wanted to be seen for their own sake (Matt
6,1). Good works should already be seen, but for the glory of God, not our own.

Better justice

How should the disciples live? Jesus talks about it in verses 21 through 48. It begins with a warning: If you hear what I say, you may wonder if I'm trying to break up the Scriptures. I do not do that. I do and teach exactly what the scriptures dictate to me. What I'm going to say will surprise you, but please, do not get me wrong.

"You should not think that I have come to dissolve the law or the prophets; I did not come to dissolve, but to fulfill "(v. 17). Many people focus on the law here and suppose that it is about whether Jesus wants to take away the laws of the Old Testament. This makes it very difficult to interpret the verses because everyone agrees that Jesus Christ, as part of his mission, fulfilled some of the laws that made it superfluous. One may argue about how many laws are affected, but everyone agrees that Jesus came to at least cancel some of them.

Jesus does not speak about laws (plural!), But about the law (singular!) - that is, about the Torah, the first five books of Holy Scripture. He also talks about the prophets, another major section of the Bible. This verse is not about individual laws, but the books of the Old Testament as a whole. Jesus did not come to abolish the Scriptures, but to fulfill them.

Of course, obedience played a role, but it was about more. God wants his children to do more than follow the rules. When Jesus fulfilled the Torah, it was not just a matter of obedience. He finished everything the Torah had ever hinted at. He did what Israel was unable to do as a nation.

Then Jesus said, "For verily, I say unto you, Until heaven and earth pass away, the smallest letter will not pass a single dot from the law until all things are done" (v. 18). But Christians do not have to have their children pruned, do not build tabernacles, and do not wear blue threads in tassels. Everyone agrees that we do not have to keep these laws. So the question is, what did Jesus mean when he said that none of the laws would be dissolved? Is not that so, in practice these laws have disappeared?

There are three basic considerations for this. First, we can see that these laws have not disappeared. They are still listed in the Torah, but that does not mean that we have to obey them. That's right, but it does not seem to be what Jesus wanted to say here. Second, it could be said that Christians abide by these laws in faith in Christ. We keep the law of circumcision in our hearts (Rom 2,29) and we keep all ritual laws by faith. That too is right, but it may not be what Jesus specifically said here.

Third, it should be noted that 1. none of the laws can become obsolete before everything is fulfilled and 2. all agree that at least some of the laws are no longer valid. Thus, we conclude 3. That everything was fulfilled. Jesus fulfilled his mission and the law of the Old Covenant is no longer valid. However, why should Jesus say "heaven and earth pass away"?

Did he just say it to emphasize the certainty of his remarks? Why did he use the word "bis" twice if only one of them was relevant? I dont know. But I know that there are many laws in the Old Testament that Christians do not have to keep, and the verses 17-20 are not telling us which ones are affected. If we quote verses only because certain laws appeal to us, then we misuse these verses. They do not teach us that all laws are valid forever, as this does not apply to all laws.

These commandments - what are they?

Jesus continues: "Whoever dissolves one of these smallest commandments and teaches the people like that, he will be called the smallest in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does and teacheth, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven "(v. 19). What are these bids? Does Jesus refer to the commandments in the law of Moses or to his own instructions which he will give shortly thereafter? We must note the fact that verse 19 starts with the word "therefore" (instead of "now" in the LUT).

There is a logical connection between the verses 18 and 19. Does that mean that the law will remain, should these commandments be taught? That would involve Jesus talking about the law. But there are commandments in the Torah that are outdated and should no longer be taught as law. Therefore, Jesus can not have spoken of teaching all the laws of the Old Testament. That would be in contrast to the rest of the New Testament.

Most likely, the logical connection between the verses 18 and 19 is different and focuses more on the conclusion "until everything happens". This consideration would mean that the whole law will remain until everything happens, and "therefore" (since Jesus fulfilled everything), we should teach these laws (the laws of Jesus, which we will read shortly), instead of the ancient laws that he criticizes. This makes more sense when viewed in the context of the sermon and the New Testament. These are Jesus' commandments to be taught (Mt 7,24; 28,20). Jesus explains why, "For I say to you, unless your righteousness be better than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (v. 20).

The Pharisees were known for their strict obedience; they even tithed their herbs and spices. But true justice is a matter of the heart, the character of a person, not the observance of certain rules. Jesus does not say that our obedience to these laws must be better, but obedience must be to better laws, which he will explain shortly afterwards, because we know what he means.

But we are not as fair as we should be. We all need mercy and we do not come to the kingdom of heaven because of our righteousness, but in a different way, as Jesus said in the verses 3-10. Paul called it the gift of righteousness, justification by faith, the perfect righteousness of Jesus, in which we partake when we are united with him by faith. But Jesus does not explain everything here.

In short, do not think that Jesus came to abolish the Old Testament scriptures. He came to do what the scriptures had foretold. Every law remained in force until Jesus fulfilled all that he was sent to do. He is now giving us a new standard of justice to live by and teach.

by Michael Morrison


pdfMatthew 5: The Sermon on the Mount (part 1)