Note: This is the first of many posts I will make on this subject. At the end of each section, I will post a link to a PDF of what we have done so far. There will be four sections to this work. A section will take several weeks to finish posting as I’ll post around 1500 words at a time. This will be the shortest of the posts since it serves as the introduction to the four sections.
The Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7 is one of the most well-known sermons ever given in the history of mankind. Men such as Billy Graham or Joel Osteen and even men such as N.B. Hardeman and Marshall Keeble have delivered sermons to thousands and thousands of individuals. Those within the church of Christ are familiar with the Tabernacle Sermons that Brother Hardeman presented, and some consider them as some of the best presentations given in the past one hundred years by a preacher within the church of Christ. None of these men, however, have ever delivered a sermon that is more well read or well known by believers and non-believers alike than the presentation of Jesus found in Matthew 5-7. I have had conversations with even those who reject the existence of God that have said that everyone should live as Jesus suggested in the Sermon on the mount. Some Christians have labeled the Sermon on the Mount as the “Christian’s Constitution.” Undoubtedly it is an important text.
While I do not have a copy of the book with me at this time, Brother Sam Dawson in his book Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, The Uniform Teaching of Moses, Jesus, and Paul does an excellent job demonstrating how the Sermon on the Mount is a proper interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures, but it is also used by the writings of the disciples of Jesus to teach the Christians how to live. Others, such as Foy E. Wallace, Jr., have written very influential works on the Sermon on the Mount as well. In this article, we will not begin to cover the amount of ground that was covered by these good men, but we do hope to lay some good foundational work so that you can study further and come to a greater appreciation of the best sermon ever given.
The Historical Background of the Sermon on the Mount
When studying any passage of scripture with the intentions of exegeting it, it is vitally important to take into account the context that the passage is found in. I am not suggesting that we must do this in every sermon, in every Bible class, or in every personal devotional for general application; however, when it comes to seriously considering what a particular section of scripture means, we must do our best to put ourselves in the shoes of the original audience. As much as we might like, the Bible was not written to us, but it was written for us. Understand what I mean: we are not part of the original audience, but that is not to say that the Bible is not applicable to us. For example, I do not believe that we have the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit today, but I believe that there are important lessons and principles that we can learn from texts such as 1 Corinthians 12-14 that we can apply to our lives. The same is true about the Sermon on the Mount; there are things in the Sermon on the Mount that have no direct application to us, but that does not mean that we cannot learn lessons and principles from those things. Two quick examples of that are Matthew 5:17-20 and Matthew 6:10. We do not teach people to keep the Law of Moses today, and we know that the kingdom of Heaven has already come; however, we should not teach people to break the commandments of Jesus, we should not by hypocrites like the Pharisees, and we ought to pray that many will be translated into the kingdom of God through positive response to the gospel.
So, what is the historical background to the Sermon on the Mount? In other words, what events led to Jesus presenting this wonderful message? If we begin in Matthew 3-4, the context becomes clear. In Matthew 3, John the Baptizer came preaching “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Many responded to this message including the scribes and the Pharisees, but why? John’s preaching of the kingdom, which comes from the Old Testament texts such as Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3-4, was connected to a preaching of an impending wrath (Matthew 3:7). In fact, John said that the axe had already been laid to the root of the tree and that the winnowing fork was already in the Coming One’s hand (Matthew 3:10, 12). During John’s ministry, Jesus came to be baptized by John, and then He began His ministry.
In Matthew 4, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted. Included in this account is Jesus rejecting an earthly kingdom (Matthew 4:8-10). After the wilderness preparation, John had been taken into custody because of his teaching, so Jesus went to Galilee from Nazareth and began to preach the same message, “The kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 4:17, 23). This teaching, along with the miraculous confirmation of this teaching, led many individuals from the surrounding regions began to follow Him to listen to the teachings. It is in this context that Jesus went up into the mountain and began to preach.
In our study of the Sermon on the Mount, we will divide it into several sections that are not necessarily chronological.
- The Purpose of the Sermon [Scattered References]
- The Proper Interpretation of the Law [Matthew 5:17-48]
- The Pharisees’ Hypocrisy [Matthew 6:1-7:12]
- The Pathway to the Kingdom [Matthew 7:13-27]