The King of the Sermon
In seminary, we were taught that a sermon should never be about the man who preaches it. John the Baptist’s creed, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” (John 3:30) is the model by which all ministers are to approach Gospel-ministry. There is, however, one exception to this rule. In “the Sermon on the Mount,” the One preaching the sermon is preaching about Himself. Without knowing the Preacher, the message of the sermon will have little significance for the hearer. The sermon would be little more than good morals if we fail to see that the preacher of the sermon plays the most fundamental interpretive role in our understanding of it.
The sermon commences with the following words: “Seeing the crowds he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them...” (Matt 5:1-2). With such obvious emphasis on the One preaching the sermon in the introductory verses, we are left to ask the question, “Who is the Preacher of this sermon?” Matthew has, in the first four chapters of the sermon, already laid the groundwork for us to answer this important question; he continues to do so in throughout the sermon itself. Before we turn to the “Sermon of Jesus” we must consider who Jesus is--“the King of the Sermon.”
Matthew is intent on showing Christ to his readers. The first point of identification (and one that is fundamental to our understanding of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel) is that Jesus is King. The very first verse of the book highlights this for us: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (1:1). By identifying our Lord Jesus as a descendant of David, Matthew is saying, “Here at last is the King of God’s people; the long-awaited and much-expected King."
Jesus began his ministry in Galilee (4:12-17). He settled in Nazareth (2:23). Galilee was known as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (4:15) due to the large number of foreigners who settled in the area. It was despised by the Jews of the south—as being a place of uncleanness. Nathanael asked the telling question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Yet this is precisely where King Jesus began his ministry and began establishing his kingdom. It is also where he concluded His earthly ministry after His resurrection.
The Kingdom of God was the central message that Jesus preached: “Repent and believe for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (4:17); He went everywhere “proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom” (4:23). The Kingdom had come because the King had come. The King had come proclaiming his Kingdom. It was not a kingdom that removed the boot of the Roman empire off the neck of the Jews. It was a kingdom altogether different, and a King altogether different.
A clue into the nature of this kingdom—which Christ later declared as being “not of this world” (John 18:36)—is found in the call to respond to the King’s proclamation. Jesus called men to “repent and believe.” Repent and believe in what? In “the Gospel of the Kingdom!” The King came calling people to repent of their sin and to believe in and follow Him. The greatest enemy was not social deprivation, geographical location or Roman domination—it was sin. King Jesus came to establish a kingdom that would liberate them from sin’s guilt and power. How would he do that? By declaring the gospel of the Kingdom.
The Gospel [i.e. good news] is that “the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations...” (Luke 2:47) Who has ever heard of a king who would lay down his life in such a manner? Who ever saw such a king who was so entirely disinterested in earthly power and prowess? Who ever heard of a king who could liberate his people from sin and death itself? Yet, this is our King!
As we read the Sermon on the Mount, we are faced with the mode of entry into the kingdom, and not simply with the standard of kingdom-living. How does one enter the Kingdom? By being united to the King through faith. This faith-union grants to us possession of the qualities of the King himself (5:20, 48). We must always keep this truth in mind as we read through the sermon.
The King's Name
An angel, sent by God to announce the birth of the King, also declared that God had given the King the name Jesus. There was a reason attached to the giving of this name: “He will save his people from their sins”. (1:21) Perhaps in this name we see the heart of the person and work of Christ, the tone of his kingship, and the character of the kingdom. He came to deliver his people from the power and penalty of sin. This gives us great insight into the sermon itself. If the work of Christ has primary reference to the gospel of forgiveness of sins, then one would expect that to be a central theme in the sermon itself (6:14-16). We must keep this theme in mind also as we read the sermon.
The King's Presence
Moreover, Matthew declares (1:21) that his birth will fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. The virgin would conceive and bear a son and his name would be called Immanuel, which is translated “God with us.” The man standing on the side of the mountain teaching his disciples and the crowds (5:1 and 7:28) is not simply a man, not simply a Saviour—indeed he could be no Saviour at all if he was not God himself. God intruded into time, space and history. He came as one of us; He was born under the law so that He might redeem those under the law. This truth has direct implications for our understanding of so many parts of the sermon (5:17ff; 7:28).
The King's Rule
Christ’s kingship is said to mirror, and yet exceed, that of David—the great shepherd-king. Here then is the Good Shepherd and the King of Kings. He came to do what no other shepherd or king of Israel could do (2:6-8). He came to care for and gather his flock out of this world and into his eternal kingdom. This coming fulfilled one of the richest old covenant prophecies (Micah 5:2). Understanding His role as Shepherd-King will enable you to enter into the heart of the preacher of the sermon. Our Lord came to gather and shepherd a scattered flock of lost sheep who were void of life-giving spiritual guidance.
The King's Identity
Moreover we are told that God with us, the Shepherd-King of Israel, is also the Son of God (2:13-15). As the Son of God, Jesus is the true Israel. Israel, as a nation, had failed in its covenant duties of faith and obedience to God. Consequently they had for a time been cast-off. The true Son appeared and rendered perfect obedience to the covenant requirements of God, and so provide for his people’s salvation. In this salvation a divine and perfect righteousness is provided to any and all who believe. It is a righteousness that far exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees (5:17, 48).
Understanding that the One who preached the Sermon on the Mount is God with us, the Shepherd-King and true Israel should make you ask yourselves, “Is He my King?” “Have I experienced His spiritual rejuvenation in my soul like the diseased, afflicted, sick, demon-possessed, epileptics and paralytics received in their bodies (Matt 4:23-25)? Am I submitting to his command, “Repent and believe?” Am I living as One who has been redeemed by the King?
Sinclair Ferguson The Sermon in the Mount
Martyn Lloyd-Jones Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Nick Batzig "The Sermon on the Mount and the Savior on the Mount"
Matthew Holst is the pastor of Geneva OPC in Woodstock, GA. He has written several articles for Reformation 21. You can listen to his recent GPTS Spring Conference lecture on the issue of death before the fall here. You can listen to many of his sermons here.