The Sermon of the King
This is the second part in a series of posts on the Sermon on the Mount. You can read the first installment here.
In the last post of this series we considered how King Jesus is at the centre of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon speaks not only of how Kingdom citizens are to behave, but more importantly, how one becomes a citizen of the Kingdom in the first instance. The sermon itself follows this pattern. Our Lord comes declaring who He is and His calling (“repent and believe” Matt. 4:17), then He applies and explains the implications that calling. In order to ensure that we understand the fundamental structure of the sermon a bird's eye view of the entire sermon is necessary.
Chapter 4:17-25 - The Context of the Sermon. Our Lord comes to Galilee--a place of great darkness. This was foretold by Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 9:1-2. Though it was a place of great darkness He comes declaring a gospel of the Kingdom of Light (4:17). His command is to repent of sin and believe. The reason? Because the Kingdom is at hand, that is, the KING of the Kingdom is at hand. His proclamation of the kingdom continues in 4:23 where we are told that Christ came “proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing ever disease and affliction." Here is the key to understanding the form and structure of the Sermon on the Mount. It is a sermon given, not primarily in the context of how to live as an Christian (thought it certainly does that) but rather as a picture of how to have life. The Sermon present the Gospel first, both structurally and theologically, then speaks of the standard by which the redeemed Kingdom citizen should now live. We must constantly keep this structure in mind.
Chapter 5:1 - The Introduction to the Sermon. As we saw last time, we are face to face with Jesus, the Revelation of God – the One bearing and proclaiming the word of God. What makes Him different from all the prophets before Him is that he is also the Word incarnate (John 1:1-16). God Himself has come to proclaim his Word, both by verbal proclamation, and by fulfilling all of God’s Word in deed (Matt. 5:17ff). When the Old Testament prophets spoke God's word they did so by saying, "Thus says the LORD." When Jesus speaks God's word He says, "I say to you."
Chapter 5:2-12 - The Beatitudes – The Blessed Reality of Kingdom Living. In this section our Lord speaks of those who live in the Kingdom. These are they whose lives have been transformed from self-sufficiency to poverty of spirit; from delight in sin to mourning over sin; from haughty living to meekness and humility; from hungering after the world to hungering and thirsting for Christ’s righteousness; from judgmental harshness to merciful tenderness; from corruption of heart to purity of heart; from warmongers to peacemakers and from persecutors to the persecuted.
Notice how our Lord does not represent these beatitudes as aspirations or hopes – There is no, “Try your best to be...” Neither does he command that these graces should be present – There is not a single, “You must be..”. No, the simple reality is that those whom God has called from darkness have been born again by the Spirit of God. To such people, faith in the Saviour-King has been granted and they have been admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven. These are spiritual realities of those who are untied to the King. Where these realities are not present in those who profess to have faith, no saving faith is present.
Chapter 5: 13:-16 - The Application of the Beatitudes. All too often we hear Christians speak about their personal relationship with Jesus – “It’s just me and Jesus," as if somehow their faith can remain personal and secret. "Not so!" says Jesus – this is what a true Kingdom member looks like – he lives the beatitudes in the day in and day out experience of his life and so has a preserving and illuminating effect on those around him. He does this for one reason – “that men may see his good works and glorify his Father who is in heaven” (5:16). We must ask ourselves, "Am I salt and light in the world around me?"
Chapter 5:17 – 7:12 - The Righteousness of the Kingdom. By whose standard and by what standard are kingdom citizens to live? It is living in Christ by his power and according to His standard that the Kingdom is advanced. Our Lord teaches that unless we possess a righteousness greater than the Scribes and Pharisees (5:20), a righteousness that is perfect (5:48), entry into the kingdom is prohibited. It is in these statements, that we learn the sermon is not just about the standard of Christian living--it is about the righteousness that believers need. As we seek to live according to the standard of perfect righteousness we should be deeply impressed by our failure not to do so, and to feel our need for the Saviour who has kept the standard (5:17-18).
Jesus shows us that the standards of the religious leaders of the day is insufficient for salvation and life. For example, He teaches us that murder is not simply an outward act but a matter of the heart. According to the King, having unjust anger toward our brother is one and the same as commiting murder (5:21ff). Neither is adultery simply a physical act but lust in the heart (5:27ff). Outward conformity to the law is not what Christ or the Kingdom demands. Jesus uncovers the darkness of the desires of our heart, showing us that we have all sinned. In that same way, our Lord warns us against public displays of righteousness--stating that those who are more intent on receiving glory from man than God will themselves lose out on salvation. Such have “had their reward,” that is, the praise of man, not of God (6:1-18). Whether it is helping the poor, prayer or fasting, or any other good work we are called to do, unless we do them by faith we have committed sin (Romans 14:23).
As He continued to illustrate the righteousness of the Kingdom, Jesus began to teach about judging others (7:1-6). We are all too ready to harshly judge each other, while failing to examine ourselves. When we begin to look at ourselves in light of God’s requirement and not our own, we see a log in our eye. This makes the speck in our brother’s eye pale in comparison.
Finally in this section on the righteousness of the kingdom our Lord provides two compelling principles. These are especially useful to the Christian who struggles with the call to be holy. The first principle of attaining to, and living out of kingdom righteousness is prayer: “Ask and it will be give to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you” (7:7) Are you without the righteousness God requires of you? Ask and it shall be given you! Are you hungering and thirsting for Jesus and all that is in him? Seek and you will find it. Are you wanting power to put sin to death and live as salt and light? Knock on heaven’s door and the Spirit will work in you! We must always pray, pray pray!
Secondly, our Lord gives what is commonly called, The Golden Rule: “So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (7:12). This is not some easy fix-it to which unbelievers with good morals can adhere. No, “this is the the Law and Prohpets”, says our Lord. What is the meaning of the Law and Prophets? Our Lord tells us in Matthew 22:34 “You shall love the Lord you God with all you heart...You shall love you neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets”. Yes, the Golden rule can only be exercised if one first loves God with all one’s being. Then, and only then, can the exercise of Christian living and loving become a reality.
Chapter 7: 13-29 - The Final Call of the Gospel. Given that the sermon speaks of salvation first and Christian living second is it any wonder that our Lord closes with a Gospel call? “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction and those that enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to eternal life, and those that find it are few” (7:13). Few will make it! Many will be destroyed. These are sobering words indeed. How will you enter the narrow gate? “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). But you cry, “I am not perfect. I am a sinner! I cannot be perfect." That is precisely the reason why God sent His son Jesus Christ into this world and onto the cross. That is why God calls you today to “repent and believe for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (4:17).
Matthew Holst Sermon Series on the Sermon on the Mount
Sinclair Ferguson The Sermon on 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.