The Sermon on the Mount
by E.H. Jack Sequeira
Now we begin a new series of studies on what is considered by many Bible students as the greatest sermon that was ever preached by Jesus Christ, the Sermon on the Mount. We have 30 studies on this subject, which covers Matthew 5, 6, and 7. I am not going to rush through this. I want us to have a clear understanding of what Christ is saying here.
There are two books that I would like to recommend, if you can read them as we go along. The first one is Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing by Ellen G. White [available online]. If you dont have it, please get it. It is a book we should read concerning the Sermon on the Mount. The other one is by the Anglican scholar, John Stott, called The Message of the Sermon on the Mount.
When I was in my last year at Newbold College I was then engaged to Jean I would sneak off almost every Sunday to visit her. When it came to six oclock in the evening, she would have to go to the New Gallery Centre to begin the evangelistic effort they were having there. And so I would sneak off and go and listen to two of the greatest preachers Britain has ever produced, at least in this century. One was this man, John Stott. Excellent Biblical expositor.
The other one was Martin Lloyd Jones, a Congregational preacher. Jones was a more dynamic preacher. Stott was more scholarly. But, Ill tell you, both these men packed their churches every Sunday especially Martin Lloyd Jones and both of them have preached on this topic. Jones used to pray for at least 15 minutes and he never preached for less than 60 minutes. And I would say half his congregation were college students from the London University. He fed the flock and these two men inspired me on expository preaching.
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount is under the series of The Bible Speaks Today. It is a movement from many Britons trying to restore biblical preaching in the Christian church and they have a series of books by different speakers. Its purpose is to make the Bible alive to the Christian world today.
Stott is the one who spoke to the World Council of Churches in Nairobi in 1980 and he is the one that I took several of my pastors to listen to. At that time he gave a series on Thessalonians and he made a statement on the third or fourth day that really impressed me. He said, We evangelicals know how to preach the good news but we have failed to preach the good life. And the reason why we have failed is because we have done away with the Law. And he emphasized that the Law is still the standard of Christian living.
The two archbishops that were in front of us one was an Anglican, the other one was a Presbyterian said, This man speaks like a Seventh-day Adventist. A very fine Christian. He is now retired and he is the Director for the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity but when I heard him he was the Pastor of the All Souls Church in London.
What I want to do now is to lay the foundation of this wonderful sermon that Christ gave on the mount. In 1975, my family and I had the privilege of standing on the mountain where He preached this sermon (at least, this is supposed by most archaeologists to be the place where He preached). It was by the Sea of Galilee, it was up on a mountain. I suppose in America we would call it a hill, it wasnt extremely high, but it had a beautiful setting where the people could sit down and listen to Him preach.
In this sermon, Christ outlined what is considered the true meaning of what it means to be a Christian. As you study this sermon, you will find that to be a Christian is absolutely radical to how the world looks at human lifestyle. In fact, I will give you a portion of John Stotts book, what he considers is the heart of this message.
But the sermon begins with what is known as the eight Beatitudes, in which Christ describes the true and only source of real happiness. And, you know, the world today is looking for happiness. Our young people are looking for happiness and here in the Beatitudes, which we will cover in detail, we find this. The rest of the sermon is an exposition of these eight Beatitudes put into practice.
As I mentioned, in this first study, we will lay the foundation. It is a wise rule that, whenever you deal with any teaching of scripture, to look at the general message before you go into the details. Otherwise, you tend to look at the details out of context. So you want to get the context first. We will do that by taking a general view of the whole of this Sermon on the Mount.
I do not know how long it took Him to preach it, but I am assuming it was quite a long time and they were quite accustomed to that. Now the questions we are going to ask today are:
Jesus preached the sermon primarily to the Jewish disciples, the believers who had accepted Him. But the purpose of this sermon was not only for the Jews but it was for the Christian church. It applies to all Christians, at all times of the worlds history. As we study this message, we will see that, in a special way, it has a tremendous importance to us living today in the last days.
Turn to Matthew 5 and look at the first two verses. It gives us the background:
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying....
It was the common practice in the days of Christ for the preacher to sit down and for the congregation to stand and listen to him. I think the congregation here on the mountain sat down, but normally they stood and listened.
...And he began to teach them saying....
And this is the Sermon on the Mount that He preached. What was the essence of this sermon? In a nutshell, this sermon was an exposition of what we call The New Commandment that He gave His disciples. And if you want to look at the new commandment, turn to John 13:34-35 this is what He expands on:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
In other words, these two texts can sum up what Christ is preaching in the Sermon on the Mount. This new commandment was so radical, was so different from Judaism and from paganism, that when the sermon was over they were amazed at the message He preached. They were amazed at the contents, at the substance, as well as the authority He had in preaching this sermon.
As I mentioned, this is the definition of what true Christianity is and I want to read from the back of this book how John Stott sums up the sermon it is very excellent:
The followers of Jesus are to be different. Different from both the nominal church and the secular world. Different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere in the New Testament of the Christian counterculture.
We have to be different, he says, from our environment and our culture around us.
Here is a Christian value system, ethical standard, religious devotion; an attitude toward money, ambition, lifestyle, and network of relationships, all of which are totally at variance with those in the non-Christian world. And this Christian counterculture is the life of the Kingdom of God. A fully human life indeed, but lived out under the divine rule.
And, as he brings up in this book, which is very true, he says:
This lifestyle cannot be produced by trying. It is to be experienced only by those who have experienced the new birth and who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them.
I want to give you a couple of texts which bring out in a nutshell what this is all about. Turn first of all to the Old Testament, Leviticus 18, because, you see, when God delivered the Jews from the bondage of Egypt, God wanted them to be different. Now the Jews failed, the Christian church has failed, and we dare not fail because the world is looking upon us. So I want to turn to Leviticus 18 and read the first four verses.
This is what God said to the Jews in the exodus. Verse 1 of Chapter 18 reads like this:
The Lord said to Moses, Speak to the Israelites and say to them: I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live...
In other words, you must not copy the lifestyle of Egypt.
...And you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices....
You have to be different from the Egyptians where you came from and from the Canaanites where you are going to. You are to be a peculiar people, somebody different.
...You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God.
In other words, God raised the Jews to be the light of the world, to be the representatives of His kingdom. Now we must admit that they failed. They failed miserably and the Christian church has failed miserably to be the light of the world and I believe that God has raised us up to do it, and, of course, unless we understand this Sermon on the Mount, we will fail, too.
The other text is from the New Testament. Turn to Titus a little book just before Philemon, also just before Hebrews Chapter 2 and I want to read verses 11 to 15. It starts by a gospel statement in verses 11 and 12:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us [this is what the gospel produces] to say No to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age...
Gods salvation is for all people. In other words, verse 11 is the gospel; verse 12 is the fruits of the gospel we must be clear on that. Verse 13:
...While we wait for the blessed hope the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ...
In other words, from the time we accept the gospel until the time of the second coming of Christ, how should we live? We should bear fruit.
Then, in verses 14 and 15, Paul tells us what the gospel is all about:
[Jesus Christ] who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.
Now the Sermon on the Mount is dealing with this very thing. In Christ we have been delivered from the kingdom of this world, which is under Satan. We have been placed under a new kingdom, called the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of Christ, and, of course, the Lord of that Kingdom is Jesus Christ. And in this sermon, Jesus is saying, Please, dont behave as if you still belong to the kingdom of this world. Please behave as children of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is how you are to behave.
Now I am going to give you an outline of this study. And the first thing I would like to say, because some have gone wrong here, the first thing I would like to say here is that the Sermon on the Mount is a description of the character and the conduct of a Christian. It is not a sermon on rules and regulations, because that is what Christ is condemning the Pharisees of doing.
So please remember, the Sermon on the Mount is not a code, a set of rules; it is not dos and donts. It is the description of a Christian who is justified by faith and who is living under the direction of Jesus Christ as his Lord and Master and Savior.
In this Sermon of the Mount, Jesus begins with what I mentioned the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes can be divided into two parts. The first seven Beatitudes have to do with our character and conduct as Christians before God. The last one has to do with our attitude and our relationship to the world. Matthew 5:3-12 are the eight principles that represent the character and conduct of a Christian. The key word in the Beatitudes is the word blessed and I will explain to you in the next study what that word means in the Greek. It does not mean holy; it means something different.
Then, in verses 13 to 16 of Matthew 5, Jesus explains how the Christians character and conduct should be in terms of our influence to the world and he uses two metaphors: Christians are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We will deal with that also in detail.
In Chapter 5 verses 17 to 48, Jesus describes the relationship of the Christian to Gods Law. And He does it in contrast to the way the Jews handled the Law and this section is extremely important to Adventists because we have fallen too often into the same trap as the Jews. But basically, we will discover that the Law and its demands must be looked at in the spirit more than the letter. The Jews emphasized the letter of the Law; Christ emphasized the Spirit of the Law and that is what we will spend some time with when we come to it.
In Chapter 6:1-18, Jesus Christ explains what should be the true devotional life of a Christian. Here again is a contrast with the devotional life of the Pharisees and scribes. What is the difference? Their devotional life was outward. Christ said, No, it should be inward. They prayed publicly so people could see them. They had a very holy appearance and that is the result of legalism. You know there are some people who come to church that look very holy but at home they are devils. Thats the fruits of legalism and here Christ will explain that the true devotional life is an inward experience.
The other difference is that the true devotional life is sincere; the pharisaical devotional life was mechanical. They had rules: fasting twice a week, praying three times a day, and all kinds of rules. It was mechanical.
Chapter 6 can be divided into two units: the first unit is our devotional life, the second unit, verses 19 to 34, is a Christians relationship to possessions, to money, to materialism, etc. This also is crucial for us who are living in a materialistic world. We will discover that a Christian lives under the subjection of God; he is totally God-dependent for all his needs.
Then we go to Chapter 7. Again there are two sections in Chapter 7. The first 20 verses are how Christians should relate to one another; so Chapter 7 is dealing with relationships in the first 20 verses.
Then, in verses 21 to 27, Jesus explains the Christians commitment to Christ our Lord. And this is really His conclusion; this is an area where we need to be clear on. You see, Christ is not only our Savior but He is also our Lord and our Master. Christians are supposed to live under the total subjection of the rulership of Christ.
Paul will put it this way. 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27:
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. ...Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
And Colossians 1:18:
And he [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
The church is the body of Christ and the head is Christ. When you take the human body as a metaphor for the Church, you will find an excellent illustration of what Christ is talking about here.
Everything my body does is under the leadership of the head. For example, if my stomach is hungry and I feel pangs of hunger, the stomach depends on the body to be satisfied. So it sends a message to the head: I am hungry. The head sends a message to the legs, Please take this stomach to the fridge. This is not hard to do in America you know everything is in the fridge. Now the legs dont say to the head, Look, I am not hungry; if the stomach is hungry, why doesnt it go itself? There is no such thing as living independent of the body. The legs immediately, without question, obey the head. Once the body has been taken to the fridge, then the head sends instruction to the hand, Please open the door, and so the hand obeys without questioning. This is how our body works.
Christ is saying that the only way a Christian can function and fulfill all those characteristics that He describes in His Sermon on the Mount is when we live under total subjection to God: Not I, but Christ. This is what we will deal with in detail.
I am going to spend one study for each Beatitude because that is laying the foundation. You see, Paul and Christ take the same format. They do not begin with the standards of Christian living. They begin by what it means to be a Christian. And the other thing is, they approach it from different angles. Paul approaches it from turning to Christ as our personal Savior. Christ approaches it in the Sermon on the Mount by dealing with our attitudes.
To be a Christian you have to have the attitude of the Beatitudes, and I would like you, for the next study, to read what Ellen G. White says on the first Beatitude. Neither Ellen G. White nor John Stott spend too much time on the Beatitudes; he spends only one chapter and she spends just several paragraphs on each.
But I would like to go into more detail because, if you have understood the Beatitudes, you have laid the foundation for the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. And I would like you to read if it would be possible for you to get the books the books by White and Stott. Stotts costs almost $10 but its worth investing in; its an expository approach; Ellen G. White uses more counseling and spiritual application and the two together make an excellent study.
So please read the Sermon on the Mount part from The Mount of Blessing. Next study we will deal with verse 3:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This is a complete contradiction to what the Pharisees taught. They said, Blessed are they who are good; blessed are they who obey all the rules of Judaism, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
But Christ says, Blessed are the poor in spirit, and that will be our next study.
I want to end by saying this much: when you read the whole sermon, the first thing you will say is, Is this possible? Is it possible for us to live the life that Christ is outlining? Well, the answer I want to give you is the answer Jesus gave Peter: With man it is impossible (Matthew 19:26). Let me be very clear. What Christ is demanding from us is impossible.
For example, when we come to the section on our relationship with one another, He says, You should love others just as God loves the human race unconditionally. We should pray for our enemies, love those who hurt us. Humanly speaking, this is impossible. But that is why we must remember that this sermon is not dos and donts. If you try to make this into rules, you will fail. This is possible while you still have sinful flesh this is possible only when we have Christ in us and when we allow Him to take over in our life.
In other words, the life that Christ is demanding from us in this Sermon on the Mount is the life that He Himself lived 2,000 years ago. And what Hes saying is, I want to reproduce this in my body, the Church. But before I can reproduce it, you must have the mindset of the Beatitudes. And Ill tell you, the Beatitudes primarily deal with the first half of the formula: Not I. For you to say Not I, you have to believe that you are poor in the spirit, that you are mourning about your sinful condition, that you admit that you are incapable of doing what God is demanding, that you are hungry and thirsty after the righteousness of God. These are the conditions.
It is my prayer that we will remember that this is the goal that God has not for one or two Christians, but for every believer. This is His goal. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount is what God wants each one of us to aim at through the indwelling Spirit as we walk by faith alone. And when this Sermon on the Mount becomes a living reality in your life and my life, this earth will be lightened with His glory. So this is in harmony with Pauls message of righteousness by faith. This is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
I hope that we will receive a blessing in these studies. Well go step-by-step.
Now there is another passage in Luke and some scholars say this is the same Sermon on the Mount; I am not going to discuss it. We are going to study in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. The one in Luke is more condensed; the one in Matthew is in more detail and this, I believe, is the sermon we need to come to grips with. This is believed to be the greatest sermon that Christ ever preached. I hope, as we cover this sermon, that it will bring a change in your life, in my life, in the life of this church.
Because we have been studying the good news so far. We have looked at the foundation which is the fact that Christ is our righteousness. I want you to forget all about your worries about going to heaven. That has been solved. No longer should you be concerned whether you will make it to heaven or not. Christ saved you while you were a sinner, while you were helpless. What you want now is the world to see what it is to be a Christian.
Ill just give you the meaning of the word blessed; Ill explain it in more in detail when we come to it. The word blessed means happy. Thats what the Greek word means, happy, and Christians who are not happy need to examine their situation. Now, the word happy is used in complete contradiction to the human idea, because people who are poor in spirit are normally not happy. Am I correct? But Christ says, If you are poor in spirit, you should be happy. So He is completely contradicting psychology and all the teachings of the Church.
The world says, If you are good and have plenty of money, and you have material things, you should be happy. Christ says, If you are poor in spirit, if you are mourning about your failures, you should be happy, because the gospel is not for good people. Jesus did not come to save the righteous, but He came to save sinners.
So dont worry, Will I make it to heaven or not? That has been settled, 2,000 years ago. Your concern now is for the world to see Christ in you and Christ cannot live in you if you are still worried about your salvation. And Ill tell you why. At the very foundation of the Sermon on the Mount Christian living is that you live for Christ and not for self. And you cant do that if you are still worried about your salvation.
Now we are going into an important series Christ in you, the hope of glory. The fact is this, that you in Christ is your anchor. Christ in you is your witness. With you in Christ, you have peace, you have hope. Now I want Christ to live in you.
I had a phone call from a couple who hadnt been to church for 15 years and they said the reason they left the Church was because the Church gives them nothing but guilt, guilt, and guilt. And the wife got a heart attack she couldnt take it and she called a Baptist minister and he gave her the peace. And she said, Why is it I couldnt get peace in this Church? And I said, Sister, be patient, be patient. God is returning the gospel you have been away from this Church too long. You need to know what is happening. So I invited her back to our Church. I said, Please come back and I gave her a couple of sermons on Romans and I said, I want you to listen. The gospel is good news, unconditional good news. She said, We have been in this Church for 40 years and I went from worse to worst condition because all I was told was dos and donts and unless you will fulfill this, God will not take you to heaven. What a terrible condition to be in!
The gospel is that, in Christ, you have a new history, a new identity. No longer are you to be concerned. The first blessing God brought to you in the gospel is peace with God. But now He says, This is how I want you to live.
The Jews failed to see the preamble of the Law and we have failed the same way. Please never read the Ten Commandments without first reading the preamble which says (Exodus 20:2):
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
He has delivered us from the slavery of sin, from the slavery of guilt, from the slavery of fear of death, from the slavery of condemnation. He has delivered us and now He says, This is how I want you to live and I know you can do it. I want you now to abide in Me and I will abide in you. Because without me you can do nothing. And as you link yourself with me, as the vine to the branches, you will bear much fruit and my Father will be pleased and the world will see God manifested in the flesh. In our sinful flesh, God will be manifested.
So may God bless us as we begin this series of studies and lets go systematically through the Sermon on the Mount.
We laid the foundation today. We will begin in-depth study next with the first Beatitude:
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Happy is the person who thinks he cant save himself. Heres the good news. Happy is the person who realizes that, in himself, there is nothing good. That is good news.