This is the second in my new series Living The Life God Intended – Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For the audio teaching click
Last week was an introduction to Matthew’s view of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah whose coming fulfills the Hebrew (prophetic) scriptures. He particularly presents Jesus as the promised ‘new Moses’ as per Deut 18:18-19. Here I look at the narrative context that leads into his ‘inaugural speech’ called The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5 to 7). After Jesus’ water baptism and Spirit anointing, and 40 days in the wilderness of testing, Jesus enters ‘The Promised Land’ (Israel).Then does three things by the Spirit’s power:
Proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven (KOH), Matt 4:16-17: “Repent, for the KOH is near, is available!” Repent, metanoia, means to turn away from sin and turn toward God in faith. How? By a ‘change (meta) of thinking (noia)’ in order to see, and receive, God’s promised rule and reign here and now. To repent is to change from wrong thinking, and thus wrong doing, to see and join what God is doing.
Most Jews at that time missed and rejected what God was doing in Jesus: specifically his offer of God’s Kingdom, to enter and live the life of the future KOH here and now. Their rejection of Jesus and his message led to him being killed, because he didn’t meet their expectation of a Messiah who would drive out the oppressive Roman occupation. The Jewish Messiah would establish God’s Kingdom by military victory over Israel’s enemies. Jesus did it differently! His view of the KOH was that God’s future rule and reign was breaking in, was being inaugurated, in his person and ministry.
The Jews used ‘heaven’ as a synonym for ‘God’, so ‘Kingdom of God’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ meant the same thing. And ‘heaven’ was not empty space ‘way up there’ beyond the ozone layer. It meant God’s promised Rule & Reign present and active in real life by the power of his invisible Spirit. The KOH that Jesus’ proclaimed was not outwardly dramatic as in military might, but spiritually present in the power of God’s saving love. God can be present and active right beside us, but unless we change our seeing and thinking we won’t recognize and experience it. We’ll miss it; oppose it; even try to kill it!
Forms KOH Community, Matt 4:18-22: “Come, follow me, and I will make you to fish people.” Jesus called people from various occupations to follow him, and be formed in his community, to ‘fish’ the world into God’s Kingdom. He first called fishermen and thus he would make them into fishers of people; i.e. he turns our daily occupation into our life-long Kingdom vocation (our calling). The call to follow, be formed, and to fish, included all who responded to his KOH proclamation, from all walks of life, at varying levels of ‘following’.
His express purpose was to embody his mission and message in his revolutionary KOH movement (community), believing it was the renewed Israel (he chose 12 apostles to symbolize the 12 patriarchs of Israel) of the new Exodus into the promised land of the KOH.
Demonstrates the KOH, Matt 4:23-25: Jesus goes everywhere ‘teaching… preaching… and healing…” – the words, the works and the wonders of the KOH.
Here we have Matthew’s summary picture of Jesus defeating Israel’s enemy – Satan’s kingdom of sin, sickness, demons, death, pain, poverty and injustice – by the Spirit’s power. This echoes Moses’ 10 plagues defeating Pharaoh’s top 10 gods by the finger of God (Ex 8:19). The new Moses delivers Israel out of Egypt by miracles, signs and wonders. And “large crowds” – a great diversity of people from all over, including Gentiles – flocked to him, and followed him in his new Exodus of the KOH.
Introduction to The Sermon the Mount
Matt 5 to 7 is the inaugural speech of King Jesus to his ‘citizens’ who gather to him. His theme is how to receive and live the eternal life of the future Rule and Reign of God here and now in the present. Simply put, he teaches human flourishing. He answers questions like: What is the good life? Who lives the good life? And who is truly a good person? How do we become good persons? Jesus sums it up in his use of ‘the two ways’ in Matt 7:13-14, the easy, broad, popular route is the way of life that leads to destruction, and there’s the more challenging narrow way that leads to life – the life God intended – God’s eternal quality and kind of life that we can enter and live here and now.
To accurately understand what Jesus was teaching we must apply a key principle of interpretation (‘hermeneutics’): what did his words first mean to Jesus’ hearers and Matthew’s readers in their context? Then we can apply that meaning to us today in our context. If we don’t follow this method we will impose our meaning on the text. This principle will guide us throughout this series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
“When he saw the crowds, he went up a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying…” (5:1). Having begun the new Exodus out of Satan’s kingdom, King Jesus is the new Moses going up a mountainside, as Moses went up Sinai to receive and bring Torah. Jesus sits down to teach just as Moses then taught God’s Covenant – God’s revealed will for human flourishing. I.e. Jesus brings, teaches and fulfills The New Covenant promised by the Hebrew prophets (see Jeremiah 31:27-34, Ezekiel 36:24-28). Jesus speaks the living words God puts in his mouth, fulfilling Deuteronomy 18:18. Furthermore, Matthew’s five teaching sections, the Messianic Torah, has an ‘inclusio’ of three chapters at the start (5 to 7) and at the end (23 to 25). So, Matt 5:1 and the “blessed be’s” are echoed and contrasted in Matt 23:1-2 and the “woe be’s” (read and compare). To “sit and teach” (5:1) is to sit in “Moses’ seat” (23:2), having authority to teach Torah as the Scribes and Pharisees did. BUT the new young rabbi from Nazareth had direct authority from God as the new Moses, not like the teachers of The Law whose authority came from relying on the interpretations of other rabbis when they taught (see Matt 7:28-29).
Matthew draws a distinction between “the crowds” and “disciples.” The crowds flocked to Jesus from all over, mostly due to the healings and miracles (4:23-25). But the disciples – who stood out from the crowds – followed him for teaching and formation in the Life (new covenant) of the KOH. The word ‘disciple’ meant a ‘disciplined learner’, a student or apprentice of their master. Disciples followed Jesus, lived with him to learn from him, to do what he did, to teach
what he taught. In short, to become like him. “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying…” Are you part of the crowd or are you a disciple of Jesus who draws nearer, who actually follows, who submits to his teachings? Go beyond coming to Jesus for what you can get out of him and commit your whole life to following him, to be a ‘disciplined leaner’ – learning from Jesus daily how to live your life as he would if he were you – living The Life God intended.
There is evidence that the Early Church used this body of teaching, The Sermon on the Mount, as a ‘catechism’ for new believers. As we go through these teachings we will appreciate it’s value as a discipling or training ‘manual’ for followers of Jesus – hence my motivation in teaching this series.