The reality is that He has told us plenty, but sometimes we don’t listen or perhaps we don’t like what He has said. Of course, at other times, we make the excuse that what He has said is too hard and must not be meant for us. Perhaps, Jesus was only talking to super-Christians or someone who is smarter, or better, or whatever. Well, we can make excuses, but when we stand before God, those excuses will be about as helpful as an air conditioner in the wintertime (the current temp as I post this is below 0).
We are beginning a new series this week on the Sermon on the Mount. It is a passage many will know well. But regardless of how well we know it or not, the key is for us to live out the principles within it. Today, my intent is simply to provide some background for how the series came to be, briefly cover the opening verses of the text for this series, and introduce a new church-wide initiative to help with our discipleship efforts. That sounds like a lot to cover, but this week’s message is vitally important. Why is it important? Well, the passage we will be covering over the next five months is one of the five great discourses of Jesus as chronicled by Matthew, and likely the most impactful sermon ever preached.
What is the passage? Matthew 5-7 – a passage known simply as the Sermon on the Mount. Our series title is taken from near the middle of the passage where, in the midst of Jesus teaching His disciples to pray, says, “on earth as it is in heaven.” For the series title, I have dropped the “on earth” portion, but the point of these three chapters is Jesus introducing the concept of kingdom-living to His followers. A few weeks ago, during our previous series on adoption, we applied these same verses to our role as children and our interactions with the Father and with each other. As I mentioned at the time, the primary understanding of this sermon regards living as a part of the Kingdom of God; however, if God is also our Father, then we can apply the concepts as children as well.
As we begin to review this sermon in detail, we will do so from the context of being a follower of God. If you are a follower of God, or desire to do so, this series will be both a blessing and a challenge to you. I know it will be for me as well. So, with that, let’s get started.
Over the past few years, I have had in my mind to do a series on Paul’s letter to the Romans. Each year, I sense that the time is not right and God provides another path of study. This past Spring, I thought we would begin Romans today, but with an interesting twist, I would teach on Romans and show some parallels between Paul’s letter and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Then, our book club read a book on holiness, and we talked about how well that idea fit my series concept. But then, I started to get the same sense that Romans wasn’t right even as the thought of teaching from this great sermon of Jesus gained strength in my mind. One of the problems, at least for me, was that we just concluded a year looking at the life of Jesus. But the reality is that Mark focuses very little on the teachings of Jesus, so…
Last September, I was reading a book that mentioned Habakkuk 2.14. The verse says, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of YHWH, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2.14). In the book, the following two questions were posed after quoting the verse:
- Suppose that isn’t just an extravagant way of speaking?
- Suppose it means what it says?
Said another way, what if the earth was filled with the knowledge of God’s glory? What if we lived according to the glory of God and then shared that glory with others? Well, those questions led me directly to Matthew 5.16 (the verse that captures the vision for our church), and that helped me conclude that a series on Matthew 5-7 was the right approach for the new year for Fairfax Baptist Church. As we will see in the coming weeks, that question about God’s glory will be the driving force for how we approach our application of Jesus’ teaching in these verses.
Take a moment to read Matthew 5.1-2.
Who? The crowds, Jesus, and His disciples. It is difficult to discern from Matthew’s account how many disciples are present or exactly who is a disciple. In Matthew 5.1, he mentions crowds (plural) and disciples, yet at the end of the sermon (7.28-29), only crowds are mentioned. This may seem like a minimal issue, but we truly must question who is being taught. In verse 2, Matthew uses the pronoun “them” which could refer to the disciples and/or crowds. I believe Jesus was teaching His disciples and the crowd was a secondary beneficiary of the teaching. It wasn’t that they were eavesdropping, merely that they were interested in what Jesus was saying so they crowded in around the disciples to hear better. The text does not provide any number regarding the crowds, so we might guess several dozen, several hundred, or even potentially several thousand.
What? Jesus sat down. In Jesus day, the rabbis, scribes, or other teachers sat down when they taught. However, whomever read Scripture would do so standing (the people often did as well – a tradition that goes back, at least, to Ezra reading Scriptures in Nehemiah 8). Thus, Matthew records that Jesus is seated which indicates that important teaching is about to take place.
When? This teaching takes place early in Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew’s account, this happens just after Jesus calls His first disciples and ministers to large crowds through Galilee. This fits well with Luke’s account as well although Luke’s version is often called the Sermon on the Plain (I will cover this apparent difference in just a moment). Luke’s version of the gospel should be considered the most accurate as far as the sequence of events, but again Matthew and Luke have this teaching near the very beginning of His ministry, so we do not have a conflict in timing.
Where? Matthew says that Jesus went up a mountain. Luke says that this teaching happened “on a level place” (Luke 6.17). But Luke 6.12 said that Jesus had been out to the mountain and then came down with them (the disciples, v. 17) to the level place. Luke also says Jesus stood. So, is the Bible in error? No. Let me explain.
First, Matthew and Luke are talking about the same place. Galilee is a very hilly region. (SermononMount pic – SB folder under Sermons) The picture here is a possible place where the sermon occurred. A few different locations have been considered possibilities and a church has been erected on top of one site. But the point that this picture shows is that Jesus could have walked up the mountain (to pray, Luke 6), come back down to a level place (Luke 6) and still be considered up on the mountain (Matthew 5). Furthermore, the acoustics in situations like this have been scientifically proven to allow a person to speak to several thousands of people by simply using the natural amplification that comes from the backdrop. Thus, being in a lower place and speaking to those above you (Luke 6 says He looked up at His disciples), would create an optimal teaching setting.
But what about Jesus standing versus sitting? This is where the writer’s intended audience is important. Matthew is writing to the Jews whose tradition said that the teacher (rabbi) would sit to teach. The Jews present that day would have recognized this and, indeed, recognized a superior authority from Jesus according the verses at the end of this sermon (Matt. 7.28-29).
Why? Jesus had just begun His ministry. He began by calling for people to, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4.17). Now, He is explaining what living within the Kingdom of heaven includes. Later, in Matthew 13, Jesus will explain what the Kingdom of heaven is like. As I have mentioned in the past, the Jews consider God’s name so holy, Matthew did not write the Kingdom of God; rather he called it the kingdom of heaven. But because heaven is the domain of God, the Jews would fully understand the implications of the words of Jesus and Matthew.
How? Jesus opened up his mouth and taught. This is a profound statement which we will cover later in our series. But consider the words Jesus uses several times in Chapter 5, “You have heard it said…, but I say…” These words have tremendous significance as we will see in early February. For now, we simply need to understand that Jesus was using the traditional means of teaching, but His intentions were to elevate the people’s understanding and perception of the situation.
If Jesus intended to raise the people’s awareness to what God’s expectations were, what was His reason? Simply to help people rise above the lives they were living and focus on living according to God’s standards, not man’s. In other words, having them live at another level. That level of living – as it is in heaven – is quite different than their normal one – and these were people who had a great respect for God.
So, Jesus comes to share the idea of what having a true knowledge of the glory of the Lord would do for them. Furthermore, He came to share what having a true knowledge of the glory of the Lord would require of them. And what was true for them is certainly true for us.
Such a knowledge and understanding means we must choose to live at another level – next level living, we will call it. That requires next-level discipleship, next-level fellowship, next-level worship, next-level service, next-level sharing.
The words of Scripture can teach us a great deal about God and about ourselves. Thankfully, God has provided tremendous teachers who make the words of Jesus, Paul, Moses, and others not only understandable, but applicable. Thanks to technology, we have access to some of these teachers right from our televisions, computers, and even our telephones. One such resource is called Right Now. Many of you are familiar with Netflix. Well, RightNow Media is basically the Biblical version of Netflix. We have been using this resource for a couple of years for our Community Groups, but now I want to make it available to any member of the church that would like to access it. It is free to all members. Thousands of Bible studies for all ages (young children to senior adult), access to speeches from various conferences, etc.
(In the service a promo video was played at this time.)
Jesus said to Follow Me. He came to make disciples. The Sermon on the Mount is His first extended teaching to turn His followers into disciples who would change the world. RightNow is a tool we can use to be better disciples and make more disciples. And, oh yes, it is free to you.
In this series introduction, we have covered the background for how this series came to be, the setting for Jesus teaching, and the initiative, or purpose, for His teaching and how we can capitalize on resources to make us better disciples as well.
As we move forward in this series, the prevailing thought will be about how a knowledge of the glory of the Lord impacts our understanding of the principles in the Sermon on the Mount. Each week my plan is to show what the world’s typical response is regarding the various topics, and what Jesus expects from those who choose to follow Him. That is, we will compare the worldly kingdom against the heavenly one.
So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is:
The reality is that for each one of us, some of the principles we will learn in this series will be very challenging while others may be reasonably within our grasp. But Jesus wants us to live at another level, and, thus, our journey is not complete. This series will not complete that process, but it should prepare us to take a few steps closer to becoming the individuals and the church that God wants us to be.
NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LEARN
1. Consider your response to the following question each day this week.
- How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord impact my current situation?
2. Consider signing up for an Right Now Media. Again it is free for all members of Fairfax Baptist Church. All you need is an email address. You may email the church if you are interested in having an account.