Jesus was beginning to preach and teach. He went to a nearby mountainside and his disciples began to flock after him. Rumors swirled around Jesus. Although he had not said so, many thought him to be the promised deliverer. At the very least, Jesus was a new and fresh Rabbi come to reach his followers. They were eager to hear his message.
The Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5 – 7 of Matthew is the longest sermon recorded in Scripture. It is one of several sermons of Jesus but it is probably the best known. It is a message for the masses. It is an ethical lesson which carries the disciples to a higher plain of conduct. It is a transition from the physical, earthy Law of Moses to a law of the heart.
Jesus begins by reminding his disciples that here are blessings even in struggle. He speaks of the poor in spirit, those who grieve, those who are meek and those who seek righteousness. He speaks to the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers and even those persecuted for their faith. In all of these struggles, there are blessings ahead (Matthew 5:1-11). It is a beautiful reminder for today. The struggles we face are only temporary; they are only here for a few years and then the blessings come. The Jews struggled under a system led by uncaring and selfish priests. Theirs was a law that cared most about the things you did and less about why you did them. These people needed to know something better was coming.
These hearers are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13) and a light (Matthew 5:14). What they do will impact others. This is the same message for today. You and I are also salt and light in our culture. While it may seem that men are moving farther and farther from God, and they are, you and I are tasked with calling them back. Remember, it takes very little salt to flavor a meal and very little light in a dark room to illuminate stumbling blocks.
The Sermon on the Mount is made up of several short lessons all combined into a wonderful discourse. Jesus speaks of anger, lust, divorce, anxiety, enemies and serving the poor. But notice a phrase that recurs several times: “You have heard it said…but I say… Jesus is not simply repeating things said by Moses or the prophets. He is speaking new truths. At the very end of the sermon Matthew will record that Jesus spoke “as one having authority” (Matthew 7:29). What the people did not understand at the time was that Jesus was gently moving them from Sinai to Calvary.
One cannot but be impressed at the loving message of Jesus. It was no longer acceptable to carry a grudge and be angry. Nor what it acceptable to ignore someone who was angry towards you. Make it right and find peace (Matthew 5:21-25). Jesus rejects hypocritical judgments in Matthew 7:1-5 and lays forth the beautiful Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12.
As he brings the sermon to an end he reminds people that their conduct (fruit) will follow them. Some today talk about “bad karma.” Jesus said that you will be known by the fruit of your lives. A good man is known by the fruit he leaves behind. Finally, Jesus speaks of coming judgment. About 40 years later Jesus would bring devastating judgment upon Israel. In years ahead, he will bring judgment on the world. Because we have been warned, Jesus call upon us to act wisely and be prepared.
What would the world be like if we applied the teachings of the Sermon today? What of the Golden Rule was the core of our behavior? If we simply accepted the promises of the Beatitudes and applied the teachings from the Mountain we would all be better people. I am thankful for what Jesus said. How about you?
Bryant Evans may be reached at bryant at bryantevans.com. You can follow Bryant on Twitter @jbevans.