The sermon on the mount is the original gospel sermon. In it, Jesus presents the “platform” or “manifesto” of the Kingdom of God and challenges the people of God in every generation to live the countercultural life of a dThe sermon on the mount is the original gospel sermon. In it, Jesus presents the “platform” or “manifesto” of the Kingdom of God and challenges the people of God in every generation to live the countercultural life of a disciple. We can suggest four very broad headings for what the sermon on the mount teaches.
Kingdom citizens are different
The first section of the sermon opens by describing the character of a citizen of the Kingdom. The character traits described in Matthew 5:3-12 should not be viewed as eight separate groups of disciples but different parts of the whole. Such a character portrait should stand at the beginning of the sermon because if anyone does not possess the poor spirit of verse three, they have no hope of proceeding fuThe first section of the sermon opens by describing the character of a citizen of the Kingdom and the first of the traits is a guard to the kingdom. Jesus opens the sermon with these words,
Matthew 5:3 NKJV
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
The character traits described in Matthew 5:3-12 should not be viewed as eight separate groups of disciples but different parts of the whole. Such a character portrait should stand at the beginning of the sermon because if anyone does not possess the poor spirit of verse three, they have no hope of proceeding further. What is this character portrait of a kingdom citizen? A kingdom citizen is one who:What is this character portrait of a kingdom citizen? A kingdom citizen is one who:
• Recognizes their spiritual poverty without God (Matthew 5:3).
• Who mourn the causes of their spiritual poverty (Matthew 5:4).
• Sees themselves as they are (Matthew 5:5).
• Who longs for true righteousness, which only Christ can give (Matthew 5:6).
• Who is ready and willing to forgive others (Matthew 5:7).
• Who are pure to their very core not only outwardly (Matthew 5:8).
• Who seek peace and make peace (Matthew 5:9).
• Who endure persecution as a result of being in the Kingdom (Matthew 5:10-12).
Jesus then compares or gives pictures of what citizens of the Kingdom are like. Those in the Kingdom of God are compared to salt and light.
- Matthew 5:13 NKJV “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
- Matthew 5:14–16 NKJV “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Disciples are distinct from the world (salt) and point to the better way (light). These two similitudes are true only if disciples are possessing (and growing in) the character befitting of a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
Kingdom citizens possess true righteousness
Such persons who have the character mentioned above can be counted truly righteous. Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and the Pharisees focused mainly on the outward signs of “righteousness” instead of looking inwardly. Jesus repeatedly called this out and challenged them to seek the true righteousness which comes only from knowing God.
How does Jesus describe this righteousness? He gives several challenging statements that all relate to moral character. He challenges the “received righteousness” (i.e., their understanding) and teaches the true righteousness that they were to understand. The righteousness that disciples are to have today.
A few examples:
- Matthew 5:21–22 NKJV “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.
- Matthew 5:27–28 NKJV “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
- Matthew 5:43–44 NKJV “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
The middle section of the sermon can best be summarized as Jesus teaching on integrity. That is what disciples are to have in all their affairs. In short, disciples are to be faithful.
Kingdom citizens practice true devotion
In the next major part of the sermon (Matthew 6), Jesus teaches about true worship or devotion to God. Our devotion and service to God should not be a showy public display of our righteousness.
Of our charitable deeds, Jesus says in Matthew 6:1
- Matthew 6:1 NKJV “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Christ said that His disciples are not to be like that. Disciples do not parade their righteousness and devotion to God around the street. They do right and act right because they know where they would be without God (Cf. Matthew 5:1; 6:2-4).
On prayer and fasting, Christ taught that the quality, not the quantity, counts. Again, He contrasts the accepted practice with what the true practice should be.
- Matthew 6:5 NKJV “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
- Matthew 6:6 NKJV But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Jesus then gives us a model prayer to show us how to truly pray to God. Not in meaningless repetition that means nothing to us and God but a meaningful and genuine conversation with our creator. Not for public displays of righteousness but for true inner righteousness.
Likewise, on fasting (a common practice in the ancient world done for a number of reasons in religion), Jesus again challenges His audience to seek a true devotion to God. One that focuses on actual piety and not mere outward appearances.
- Matthew 6:16 NKJV “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
Kingdom citizens heed the words of their King
The sermon ends with a choice. Will you heed the words of the King of the Kingdom or reject the words of the King? (Matthew 7:12-14). Christ warns of those who would steal disciples away with their false words and teaching in Matthew 7:15-20 by telling them to examine the fruit of their lives.
And in that same vein, we can say that by looking at the fruit of a person’s life, and can tell if they are heeding the words of Christ (Cf. the beatitudes). Christ makes this point in verse twenty-one when He says,
- Matthew 7:21 NKJV “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
And so Christ closes the sermon with an illustration of two builders. One listened to Christ and built their life on His teaching. The other did not and suffered ruin.
- Matthew 7:24–27 NKJV “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
And, as we close this morning, let us note the reaction of the crowd,
- Matthew 7:28–29 NKJV And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
What we have covered is just the tip of the iceberg for the sermon on the mount. Our preaching focus for 2022 is this sermon, and we will be studying it section by section this year, starting with the beatitudes at the end of this month.
But even this small taste of the sermon, I believe, we can already see how radically countercultural Christ teachers were and are today. Also, I believe we have been given a taste this morning of what true discipleship is. And so, I want to offer you an invitation to study the sermon this year and, more importantly, an invitation to become a Christian today.
Matthew 28:18–20 NKJV And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.