Lecture 3: The Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain

Course: Life of Christ

Lecture: The Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain

This is the 3rd lecture in the online series of lectures on the Life of Christ by Dr. Darrell Bock. Recommended Reading includes: Jesus According to Scripture: restoring the Portrait from the Gospels by Bock, Baker, 2002 and Jesus in Context by Darrel Bock and Greg Herrick, eds., Baker, 2005 and Jesus Under Fire by Mike Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Zondervan, 1995.

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There’s going to be a lot of detail in this lecture as we deal with the issue of the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain. The last trip I took to Israel, I visited a site where Josephus headed up an army against Rome in AD 67 and was defeated. The Roman army was working their way to Jerusalem, where eventually they destroyed the temple in AD 72. I was on the Golan Heights, somewhat removed from the Sea of Galilee, yet somewhat close. We climbed upwards until we reached a plateau which seemed like a plain. It was a plain on top of a hill. I was thinking about the passage in Luke on the Sermon on the Plain. It seemed a bit of a contradiction which could have been caused from the various topography of the Country. A similar situation consisted in where Jesus gave the beatitudes. A similar topography existed by Tiberius.

Sermon on the Mount and Parallels in the Synaptic Gospels

A controversy exists regarding the description of the Sermon on the Mount which comes from the Gospel of Matthew. While the Sermon on the Plain, a similar sermon or the same sermon, comes from the Gospel of Luke. In Matthew we see the first major teaching of Jesus. But first note that overall, Matthew contains five different teaching units: the Sermon on the Mount, the discussion in chapter 10 about missions, chapter 13 has the kingdom, chapters 16-18 has teaching in regards to relationships and the new community and then 24 and 25, the Olivet Discourse. So those are the units in Matthew. The first one is an exposition of the true Torah as Jesus presents it. This compliments what we’ve seen of Jesus’ ministry about the challenge to Jewish practice. We now pick up the account in Matthew 5-7. Later passages in Matthew have already been noted because they came earlier in the other Gospels; 8:1-4, 14-17, 9:1-17, and 12:1-21. Many see Matthew as topical, especially in chapters 8 and 9 focusing on his presentation of the works of Jesus’ ministry which follow the presentation of his teaching. Luke’s first teaching block is the synagogue appearance in chapter 4. Mark lacks any parallel to the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain. Note that the reason why Mark is viewed as being the first Gospel, not the last is because of absence of material like the Sermon on the Mount. If the Sermon on the Mount had been in Luke and Matthew and Matthew had been our first Gospel and Mark was simply copying from Matthew and Luke, the question becomes, why don’t we have any trace of the Sermon in Mark, if Mark is a lighter version of those other Gospels? So for this reason, Mark is seen as being the first Gospel to have been written.

So the question here is whether the Sermon on the Plain and the Sermon on the Mount are one in the same. There are different views in regards to the relationship between Matthew and Luke; some say they are two distinct sermons because of the differences in the location and content. The version in Matthew has 107 verses while Luke’s verse has only 30 verses. Other argue that the sermon in Matthew is seen as an Anthology, pulling together Jesus’ teachings, typical of his preaching and made it into a topical ethical sermon and given it a setting as the “Sermon on the Mount’ but yet, it is the type of thing that Jesus might have preached in a different locations in talking about what discipleship involves. Remember that Jesus does have an itinerary ministry, moving from place to place. In an itinerary ministry, the chances are good that you might repeat the same message in different locations. So this is a possibility. Third, it’s one sermon which Luke has edited to remove more legally oriented portions. If you look at what is missing from Luke, you’ll see that Luke has omitted, for example, five of the six anti-thesis, of which deals with different aspects of Jewish tradition. Remember that Luke isn’t writing to Jews primarily; he’s writing to gentiles. So why would he have these disputes in his material? Thirteen saying in Matthew are elsewhere in Luke ranging from Luke 11 to Luke 16. This is one of the reasons some people think that Matthew pooled it together into an analogy.

Another assumption suggests that Luke is aware that Jesus preached a sermon like this but the material is scattered about because as an itinerant ministry, he dealt with different themes in different locations. No one really knows, but note that forty six of Matthew’s one hundred and seven verses are elsewhere in Luke. So forty three percent of the sermon is elsewhere and if you put Luke’s thirty verses and Mathew’s forty six verses together, it means that about seventy percent of Matthew’s sermon is in Luke. Much of the sermon is alluded to in James and 1st Peter as epistolary material; at least the themes show up there. It doesn’t show up as themes that Jesus taught but it shows up as teachings which are being passed on in the church. It indicates that Jesus’ teaching in this section had a wide impact in the church. And Matthew’s audiences are both Jews and gentile as is Luke’s sermon on the plain. Even though Matthew is sometimes called the Jewish Gospel, this particular sermon was listened to by both Jew and gentile. But some of the verses in the version in Matthew deal with Jews in particular. Look at the introduction of the sermon in Matthew 4:23, ‘Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of disease and sickness among the people. So a report about him spread throughout Syria.’ Of course Syria is not Israel. ‘People brought him those who suffered with various illnesses and afflictions, those who had seizures, paralytics, and those possessed by demons, and he healed them. And large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan River. The Decapolis is a collection of ten cities in an area northeast of the Jordan River or what is known today as Jordan. This is a gentile area as well. Remember the story of the demonic and the herd of pigs; this was gentile territory since Jews don’t herd pigs or even have them.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up to the mountain. These crowds are made up of diverse people, not just Jews. Note that the placement of this sermon is at the same spot relative to the two Gospels, Luke and Matthew. Also note that one portion in Luke is not paralleled in Matthew; the woes of Luke 6:24-26. The following are shared between the two accounts: the occasion set by a summary, the beatitudes but Matthew has several more, the call to love your enemies, the issue on not judging, you will know them by the fruits and the parable of hearing which contrasts the house built on the rock with the house built on the sand. For the most part, Luke’s order is like Matthew in the sections they do share. Part of the problem with dealing with the time frames of entry and exit is to know where the person starts from. If he starts in Capernaum, close to where this site is, then he goes throughout the regent and then down to the plains to speak, making a circle; it could be said that he is going up to preach or down to preach. We just don’t know the framing of the event. There are also traditions mediated in two different linguistic and cultural points, one coming through an Aramaic Hebrew background and other being strictly Hellenistic.

Beatitudes and Woes

The beatitudes represent a proclamation of blessings for the needy, the type of person for whom God reaches out. We will see people on the fringe, who don’t exercise power, people who are neglected. In Matthew, we have nine beatitudes and in Luke we have four. In Matthew, we have the better known, those who are poor in spirit, the hungry, the meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, clean in heart, peacemakers, persecuted for righteousness sake and the persecuted restated. The list in Luke is different: poor, hungry now, weeping now, when you are hated because of the Son of Man. It’s seems to be an eschatological reversal; in this reversal, you will be blessed and the reversal speaks of either being received by him or the Kingdom of Heaven. These categories are not purely social, but neither are they purely spiritualized. Here is who God blesses and looks after and the passage is an invitation in sharing grace by having such a character. So, in a sense, Jesus is announcing that God blesses these kinds of people. Matthew has the poor in spirit while Luke has ‘blessed are the poor’. Some expressions of theology will have a lot to do with the poor; today, this is often referred to liberation theology. In dealing with Luke, people will consider Luke and then say, ‘blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of God.’ From there, they will go to Matthew and decide that these are the spiritually poor. They are not the economically poor; they are not the social poor. This is not the correct way to look at these texts. The problem, in Luke, the opposite of the beatitudes, you have the woes. Luke 6:24, ‘but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort already. Woe to you who are well satisfied with food now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.’ It continues to say, ‘Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets.’ It doesn’t say woe to you who are rich in spirit because it doesn’t work.

The observation when Luke is speaking about the poor, he is speaking about a social element of people. Yes, it’s clear that it’s spiritual because later on it talks about them being persecuted for their faith. This is the Old Testament ‘Honorvene’; people who are isolated and on the fringe of society in part because of their faithfulness to God. But there is an economic element to it. There is a suffering and persecution that they have experienced that is part of their position. That’s the important observation, but it isn’t a category that’s simply to be spiritualized. It doesn’t make any different whether you are really rich or poor as long as you are poor in spirit. There seems to be a sensitivity of Jesus toward people on the fringe of society for a variety of reasons; the poor on the one hand, the tax collectors on the other, the lepers, etc. the kind of people Jesus ministers to and the people that society tends to forget and care about. There’s a humility that comes from being on the fringe of society, and there is openness to God that many people on the fringe often have. In addition, many of these people are the ones who will embrace the message.

Beatitudes - Salt and Light of the World

In Matthew 5:13 you are the salt of the earth. Mark and Luke have a similar image, Mark 9 and Luke 14. He warns them if the salt loses it saltiness, it will only be thrown out to be trampled on. It ceases to be used for that which it was created and is no better than dust. The point of the exhortation is to be useful and live out your calling, you are accountable to God. The image then both informs and warns. This is follows by another image of being the light of the earth. Both Mark and Luke has similar versions of this in Mark 4:21 after the kingdom parables and Luke 8:16. ‘You are the light of the world. A city located on a mountain cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.’ There some discussion whether it is the ‘light of the world’ or ‘light for the world.’ A better translation would be, ‘a light is to be a benefit to the world. Let you light shine before humanity.’ Why? ‘That they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.’ This is a mission statement in the Sermon on the Mount. So how is God glorified? One of the ways God is glorified is by his servants shining appropriate before humanity through the good works they engage in. Thus I remind you that Jesus’ ministry is a ministry of Word and deed together. The deed re-enforces the Word and the word re-enforces the deed. The church should have the same kind of ministry, a Word and deed ministry, where deeds re-enforces the Word. The call is to do good works in the world as a testimony to God. These passages are a preamble to the entire sermon.

Beatitudes - The Law

This is one of the most abused passages in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s easy to pull this unit out and take it on its own terms without paying attention to how this unit sets up the anti-thesis. The conceptual parallels in Luke 16:16-17, Jesus expounds on his mission in the Law and the point is found in verse 20, his people is to have a righteousness which exceeds the Scribes and the Pharisees, something that permits interest into the Kingdom of Heaven. This is not a race or just Jewish oriented. In verses 21-48, the explanation follows with the summary in verse 48 recalling this point, ‘unless your righteousness exceeds that of the experts in the Law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ The topics include anger, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation and love of enemies, six topics. The mission that Jesus says he has come to perform is to fulfill, not abolish the Law and the prophets. Nothing of the Law passages away until all is accomplished. Note that the mention of the prophets tells us that more than rules are in view here. We aren’t just dealing with the Torah the first five books of the Old Testament interpreted abstractly on their own terms. We are talking about the Law as expounded through the call and the rebuke of the Prophets. Why; because Jesus, like John the Baptist, is calling the nation back to covenant faithfulness. Basically he says; don’t relax in doing the least of these commandments. Jesus ministry represents a realization in morality and promise of what the Law was given for; so it is relevant for disciples, not as an abstract Law of externals but something to be penetrated to see what God really desires. And that’s how Jesus expounds it and in expounding it, he fulfills it. He fulfills it, not in the sense of reading it as a raw external letter.

Matthew 5:25-26 shows up in Luke 12:57-58. The anti-thesis is structured the same way. You have heard it said, but I say to you. (Anti-thesis means here, a correction, a change from that previously stated.)This is a claim of authority that Jesus is making. He has the authority to interpret the Law. He is not only Lord of the Sabbath; he is Lord of the Torah (The first five books of the Old Testament, commonly known as the Law). He is dealing with the sixth command here. You shouldn’t murder, but beyond murder, he points out, there is accountability for anger, for insulting someone and for disrespect. The anger is seen as inappropriate; there are times when a person can be challenged which the passages alluding to Matthew 23 are about. If your brother has something against you, you are supposed to go and reconcile it with him. Why, because reconciliation is a high value to Jesus. We saw that in the triangle we covered in the last lecture. Your relationship with God should impact with you relationship with others. He says that you should reconcile before worship; vertical relationship is tied to horizontal relationship. The issue is not staying in anger and alienation, but making friends with the accuser before judgement renders you permanently clubbable. Moral righteousness that Jesus teaches demands an initiative to reconciliation to be made rather than abiding in anger. This is cutting murder off at the root by dealing with the anger.

In Matthew 5:27-32, Matthew deals with adultery. Verse 5:30 appears in a distinct context in Mark 9:43 and 45, but that’s like Matthew 18:8-9. The summary appears in Luke 16:18. Here, we are dealing with the seventh commandment, the commandment on adultery. Lust is adultery of the heart; before we get to adultery, note that lust is what leads to it. The figure is, if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; if you eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Jesus is being rhetorical here because if this was literal, it would be two strikes and you would be blind. The point is to separate that which causes sin. For deprivation of opportunity to sin is better than judgement. The member sins but the whole body is judged; divorce leads to adultery and there is an assumption in this passage in talking about adultery that remarriage will occur if one gets a divorce. Think about it: why does divorce occur? It’s to be free to remarry. If you look at the divorce certificate; in Judaism you will see that with it comes the right to remarry. ‘He who divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ You get a description of the rights that come with divorce. This is controversial because you have exception clauses in Matthew that you don’t have in Mark and Luke. This is from the Mishna, the written collection of Jewish oral tradition. You are to examine yourself from the heart and keep your vows. You aren’t supposed to look for a way out of marriage, even though there is an exception that’s noted.

Beatitudes – Oaths

In regards to Oaths in Matthew 5:33-37, the Old Testament background comes from the third commandment. Jewish background concerns text from Josephus dealing with the proper and improper ways to take Oaths. You were taught to keep any Oath to God and not to swear for something else that belongs to God already. You are not to swear by your own person since your personal integrity should be such that an oath isn’t necessary. Your word should be all that is needed. The need to take an oath assumes a lack of integrity, so your integrity should be strong enough to speak for itself. There is also retaliation in Matthew 5: 38-42 and Luke 6:29-30. The phrase is also from Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21 discusses how the laws are to be applied in cases of personal injury. The context is in regards to what judgement should do. Jesus, in contrast, advocates non-retaliation in personal interaction. It involves how to respond to personal legal attack. If you look at this text in the way Jesus presents it, ‘you have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer.’ There is a huge debate about the anti-thesis that goes something like this: is Jesus simply commenting on the Jewish tradition about the Law or is he talking about the Law? As Jesus has made changes in the way this is seen, some people get nervous when Jesus talks about the Torah directly. They say that Jesus is dealing with the Jewish interpretation of the Law, not the Law. But that presents a problem with this example which cites the Torah. But Jesus is showing his authority here also. The illustration is a slap on the cheek, turn the other cheek; Jesus is not saying that we need to get beaten senseless. It’s a picture of rejection; a slap on the cheek in all likelihood pictures the rejection that one experiences from a synagogue. You are to remain vulnerable; this is the point as you minister on God’s behave. You are to be vulnerable and remain vulnerable to rejection. With regard to suing, you not only give the shirt, but you give your coat also. The same as a forced journey, you go double over what’s requested. You give when ask and you don’t refuse nor look for interest. All of this represents Jesus’ use of hyperbole, but it is also making the point that you do everything you can to be of help. Luke’s phrasing comes with the discussion of loving the enemy as an example and again, it is the same sequence as in Matthew. Thus non-retaliation is the ethical standard in relationships as is an element of generosity and service. Thus, this is a new revelation and a fresh emphasis, justice is something that is left to God and God’s people are going to serve and they will serve venerably, rather than be self-protective.

‘You have heard that is was said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven. The love aspect of the saying is in Leviticus 19:18 and the second could be a summary of Old Testament teaching given in some of the Psalms. It also appears in certain Jewish texts, like the testament of Benjamin 4:2. If you love only those who love you and greet you as brothers, that is only what publicans and gentiles do and nothing more. The standard for a disciple is greater than the way the world relates to people. This is the point being made here. ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Cause to love and do good things and bless, pray, love and do good things. You will be sons and you will be merciful as the Father is merciful; be gracious to friends and enemies. It’s an interesting text because Jesus changes it by saying, ‘but I say to you love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good alike, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. God treats the unrighteous with provision; you should do the same because you are supposed to be a child of and like the Father. This is the end of the beatitudes and now we talk about certain kinds of acts of charity.

Acts of Charity, Divorce and Remarriage

In regards to charity and Christian service. On the one hand, you have the freedom to engage society with your values, but you have to be open to rejection on the other hand, and your goal is to engage and serve. Due to the cultural wars today, we tend to see everything through a confronting mode. But do we ask how we can serve. We can complain about abortion, but do we spend the money and take the effort and open up the clinics that will take care of people who choose not to have an abortion; or might even serve people who are emotionally disturbed by having an abortion? Does our word match our deed? The church and many Christians often have a confrontational attitude toward others instead of a servant’s attitude that the Scriptures teach. We think the Gospel is most effectively moved by using power like the world does, when in fact the Gospel is often used most effectively through service and through caring, which sometimes mean not acting out of power. But we don’t want to take the risk of vulnerability. My sense is that there are tolerated exceptions in divorce. Jesus’ standard is, don’t get divorced; that’s the emphasis and that’s why you get the no exception in Mark and in Luke. But Matthew qualifies it, there is a certain exception and that that exception is unfaithfulness and in that case divorce is permitted. It’s tolerated, not recommended, not required; it’s simply tolerated. The reason I think that is important, when we come to 1st Corinthians 7 and Paul is ask about an unbeliever’s desertion and whether or not it’s proper to divorce in that situation. Paul knows the Lord’s teaching because he cites it. If Jesus’ teaching had been, ‘no divorce,’ Paul would have never opened up what is called the Pauline exceptions. He creates this other category in the mitts of his writings alongside this idea of adultery. This seems to be seen as an intense martial unfaithfulness, to desert a spouse; and so he permits it. Those are the two exceptions in Scripture.

Remarriage is a little more difficult because the exhortation is that you are better off not remarrying. In fact, the assumptions in these passages are, if you remarry, you create an adulteress situation in some cases. The difficulty is knowing whether or not that applies to the exception. The way I would read it, no, it doesn’t apply to the exception because the point of granting the exception is to put you in the position of remarrying as the extra Biblical material shows us. I treat the exception as a legible exception, a complete exception if you will; tolerated, permitted, not required but there. Any other divorce situation for any other reason creates an immoral situation on the other end with remarriage. But then if that happens, what do you then, get a second divorce and make matters worse. The emphasis in Scripture is that a person needs to try and honor their vows. The goal is not to get out of the relationship. And note that the only unforgiveable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. What is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? It is denying the testimony of the Spirit about Jesus Christ. If a person has gotten a divorce and remarried (If it is done in the mist of the church then there is disciplinary actions associated with it). Can a person repent from that? Absolutely, they can repent and some people come into a church situation as having already done that and it should be communicated that this is something that God forgives. In difficult situations where there is physical violence, a time of separation could be recommended with the goal of getting the marriage back together. But if physical violence or intense abuse continues, divorce isn’t the greatest option but there are times when separation or divorce might be necessary. In terms of abuse, I would say that it is no different than adultery and I would think Jesus would say the same thing but, of course, he doesn’t say that and he didn’t say that and we don’t have the freedom to think that. Abuse and physical violence is not a theoretical situation, but it happens all the time with everyone, this includes Christians also. This is because we live in a fallen world and a fallen world is not easy to live in. You need to be faithful as you can to what the Lord wants as you try to deal with these situations. We cannot do this in our own strength, we don’t have that capability; we are to draw on the Lord’s strength.

In regards to giving, do not practice your piety before people, there’s no reward for this. Piety is something that should not be displayed to draw attention to it. It should just be. If someone else sees that you are in fact pious, that’s different. But Matthew 6:1-18 is not talking about self-promotion here. The examples used in these verses deal with alms, prayer and fasting. This is contrasted with the hypocrites who do something in public but could care less about the people around them or the situation around them. The hypocrites here only care about themselves and no one else. Note that alms in Judaism was a very honored thing to do. There are a lot of texts that deal with the giving of alms. And God values people who give to others who are in need. The point is, there is to be no trumpet, no broadcasting and those who draw attention to themselves will have their full reward. There is a kind of public righteousness associated with this, but this is not real righteousness. ‘Give alms in secret so that the Father may reward you in secret.’ Acts of piety is not to be done for personal show.

For praying, the exhortation is not to pray in order to be seen. Pray in the inner room. The store room of one’s house then, was the most isolated part of the house. Pray to the Father in secret and he will reward you in secret. Please note that this doesn’t mean there can’t be public prayer as Jesus himself prayed in public. This has to do with the motivation of the prayer. Am I praying in public to draw attention to the fact that I am praying in public; this is to be avoided. Don’t pray with empty thoughtless words; for the Father knows what you need. So we get an example that is called the Lord’s Prayer but is really the disciples’ prayer. It’s a prayer that the Lord taught the disciples to pray, expressing intense dependence on God in all the major areas of life, after reminded oneself of how unique God is.

In the first line, the Father is to honored or set apart, ‘your will be done as it is in heaven,’ an expression of dependence. Then the prayer moves into the requests. Notice also that this prayer is not a personal private prayer. It is a cooperate prayer; we pray as a community for one another in the mitts of asking this. It’s not just for myself as it starts off with, ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, as it is in heaven.’ Again, ‘give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ This is not a private prayer; there is a sense of connection to other people. I am praying for the community as a disciple. I am praying for a dependent community as disciples. Note that there is a background to this prayer. There is the Kadesh in Judaism that was a pray of Judaism. We know from another scene that John the Baptist taught his disciples certain prayers.

In Matthew, you get one address, three affirmations and four requests. The address is to God as Father communicating the intimacy of being in a family, but at the same time, recognition of respect because the exhortation is that your name be set apart, your kingdom come, your will be done. Then the requests of giving us bread and forgiving our sins and not leading us into temptation and deliver us from evil. The last is a text critical problem, ‘for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.’ For our debts as we forgive those who sin against us. To be forgiven, you must be forgiving. Jesus says elsewhere, the measure by which you measure is the measure by which you are going to be measured. That is the standard that is being set up. There’s a parable in Matthew that says the same thing. Luke is slightly different: one address, two affirmations and three requests. ‘Father, sanctify your name, your kingdom come, give us our daily bread, forgive us our sins, lead us not into temptation,’ a slightly shorter version. In both cases, we have a prayer of dependence and commitment to God. The focus is on God and what God can do. This shows the dependence of the disciples on god for daily needs, for spiritual and relational well fair and for spiritual direction and protection.

In Judaism, a fast was required only on the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament. There were voluntary fasts held for many reasons such as for remembrance, group confession and petitioning God. Pharisees and others had developed the process of fasting twice a week. Other customs are described in the Mishna Taanit. It also says that you shouldn’t disfigure yourself when you fast so that everyone knows you are fasting. The closest we get to this in Christian circles is Ash Wednesday. You go and confess your sins and he get marked with a little piece of ash. Those who draw attention to themselves, they already have their reward. Observe a fast without drawing attention to it; your piety is to be natural and private, not a matter of public broadcast.