Sermon on the Mount

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts

Lecture: Sermon on the Mount

I. Opening Remarks

We come now to resume our lecture on the land of Galilee, particularly the northwestern hill country. On the map, it shows the province of Galilee including cities like Hazor and then closer to the Sea of Galilee, Korazin with Bethsaida off to the west a little and Capernaum, closer yet to the Sea of Galilee. When this class is taken as a typical live course, I encourage students to discuss a given handout on the Sermon on the Mount in pairs or groups. Students who are listening to the sound file can stop it as they see fit and reflect on questions or points being covered. There are, of course, a number of ways; correct answers can be given, both to what’s wrong and what is right. However, students are encouraged to focus particularly on what can be demonstrated from the actual context of the sermon itself. Look at the following paragraphs that deal with poverty, saltiness, families, personal hygiene, cults and the Lord’s Prayer.

II. New Testament Teachings

When we read Luke 6:20, we see that Jesus was dealing with the poor, but we don’t know what kind of poor people he was talking about. When we read Matthew’s parallel in Matthew 5:3, we learn that Jesus refers to the poor in spirit. Therefore, we know that he’s not talking about material or physical poverty at all, but only about recognizing how sinful one is before God. The problem with this underlining text of the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly in the Prophets, but also in the Psalms and Proverbs, the regularly use the Hebrew plural term, Anahween, here, poor also includes materially impoverished, yet pious and obedient to God’s laws. So it’s not a case of either/or but both/and. Matthew has chosen to emphasize the poor in spirit dimension. Luke, by leading out in spirit, seemingly emphasizes more that the material poverty, but the people (large numbers in Jesus’ original audience) on the hill side with the Sea of Galilee in the distance, would have been among the majority of Israel, who were relatively faithful and looking for the coming Messiah for the liberation of Israel, yet who were only seeking out a little more than a marginal existence for most of their lives.

Now speaking of salt in Matthew 5:13-16, to be salt of the earth in the light of the world, one has to be different from the world. This requires separation from the world. The best way to ensure that Christians are not corrupted by the world and thus lose their saltiness is to make sure their closest friends are believers. That their children go to Christian schools that their fellowship is with other Christians including frequent church attendance. And they reframe from being seen in public with non-Christians in places that might lead others to question the nature of their activities there. The key problem with this approach is that if one so consistently surrounds oneself with only believers and occasionally when one is with non-believers, it is always on one’s own turf, never on theirs, then one is not likely to be with them nearly as much and therefore, it is very difficult to arrest corruption and provide illumination and guidance for the unregenerate world because the salt and the light are having very little influence on the world. In the immediate context, Jesus warns about salt losing its saltiness or light being hidden under a bushel. And it would appear that an exaggerating concern for separation from non-Christians and their activities would be precisely losing such saltiness and hiding one’s light under a basket.

III. The Role of Old Testament Law in the New Testament Age

In regards to families, the Old Testament regularly commands God’s people to have large families. For example, Psalm 127:5 says, happy is the man whose quiver is full of children. No New Testament text ever resumes this command. Jesus also stressed that he didn’t come to abolish the Law, Matthew 5:17. Therefore, it is still encumbered on believers to have large families. Matthew 5:17-20 actually balances the twin themes of not abolishing but fulfilling the law in such ways that doesn’t leave it without change. (As the next PowerPoint slide illustrates) There are those Christians who have taken the approach, particularly in an older kind of dispensationalism, to keep only that from the Torah that the New Testament repeats, but how then would exclude such practices as witchcraft or divination or necromancy. All of which are forbidden in the Old Testament and would intuitively seem to be wrong under any conditions but are never discussed one way or the other in the New Testament.

This would be at the opposite end of the spectrum, therefore, particularly associated with covenant theology, to abolish in the New Testament age only that which the New Testament explicitly rejects. The Psalms cited for the interpretation for analysis while not a command per se and thus not supportive of the claim people should have large families. But if run through the grid of that which applies in the New Testament age, could be seen as still being applicable as a pattern to immolate at the least. Yet, if still under the law, then why would Christians not ensure that newlyweds are able to be free from work for one year so that they can get their marriage off to a good start as is commanded in Deuteronomy chapter 20. Why do we still not enforce the Law of Leviticus 19 that a man’s beard should not have jagged edges? Many other examples could be cited. The appropriate methodology implied by Matthew 5:17-20 is reflected in the middle at the balance point of this teeter-totter, namely, as Paul would later say, that all Scripture is inspired and profitable for rebuke, reproof, correction and training righteousness. In 2nd Timothy 3:16, as for the Christian, all the Old Testament still applies in some way but we under that application only once we understand how that law or whatever principle that law is based on is fulfilled in Christ.

IV. The Application of Old Testament Law in New Testament Times

In the next slide, we need to take every specific Old Testament command, and then determine what theological principle read through the command, corresponding to a New Testament teaching. In other words, we run it through the grid of the fulfilment in Christ to see if the corresponding New Testament principle is identical, the opposite or somewhere in between and then look for a specific application of that New Testament principle for today. Back to the cutting of beards with jagged edges or perhaps tattoos, for example. This is also found as being part of the holiness code of Leviticus 19. For both of these practices when we do our historical homework can be demonstrated to have been Canaanite practices in the ancient Near Eastern nations surrounding Israel. These were done in reference to the worship of other gods and if done today for the same reason, it should so be banned today. However, if they are simply a form of adornment, then one may wish to ask questions of personal hygiene or the appropriateness of what is being portrayed or written in a given tattoo, but one cannot simple turn to the prescription in the Old Testament and thereby conclude that all tattoos are wrong for all Christians.

And in the case of families, we see that one of the main principles in Old Testament times and indeed in many parts of the world today where life spans are much shorter than in the west, was that parents with a large family would have better hope that enough of the children would survive to middle age, so that if the parents survived to old age in a world without welfare or social services, there would be enough family members left to be in a position to care for their parents. 1st Timothy 5:8 itemizes a similar principle of family members caring for aged relatives rather than expecting the church or state to be responsible for them, thus suggesting that here is a timeless principle, a specific application today might not be to have many children but to have wise financial practices so that living together would be an unnecessary burden. There would adequate funds for an appreciate nursing home.

V. The Tripartite Antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount

The fourth point or interpretation to evaluate, based on Matthew 5:39; Christians are clearly called to turn the other cheek. Unpleasant as it is, one of the marks for a Christian wife, even if a husband physically abuses his wife, she must not fight back or resist, separate or seek a divorce. Rather patiently and lovingly allow to do what he wills, praying that her attitude will soften his heart. Here is where we need to apply the principle from our last lecture that introduced the Sermon on the Mount, namely, understanding the historical background of Galilean village life in the early first century. The next PowerPoint slide demonstrates the three parts of each of the six antitheses that span Mark 5:21-48 particularly as highlighted by Glen Staffen in several studies. There is first of all the quotation or illusion to the Old Testament. There is then, Jesus’ re-interpretation that tell people what not to do. But in five out of six instances and one could easily fill in what is implied in the sixth instance. We see positive counterparts, preemptive proactive positive actions to make the need for avoiding the negative behavior less in the first place and our textbook expands on this chart as well, for our comments, here, will be brief. Other than to remind readers and listeners that a slap on the right cheek from someone who is probably right handed, would not be a blow of an aggressor but a back handed slap which was a characteristic insult by a Jewish superior of a subordinate. It comes in the broader section, labeled as, an eye for an eye, in which Jesus is contrasting this Old Testament legislation with his injunction not to retaliate. As in this case, not to trade insults. One can speak of going the extra mile (or kilometer) not only with Roman soldiers on the road but with an abusive spouse. That extra mile may well mean, not legally divorcing them but not continuing to subject oneself or ones children to physical danger but separating and requiring the spouse to seek counselling or some other form of intervention until there is a genuine change of heart and behavior.

I. Additional New Testament Teachings

A fifth interpretation from Matthew 6:1-4, it would be inappropriate for a church or para-church to publish a fully detailed account of financial assets and expenditures. Jesus plainly said that when giving is involved, we are not to let our left hand know what the right hand is doing, much less than somebody else’s hands. Too much jealousy or wrong motives regular emerge when we are too explicit with how we use our money. There is no question that these opening four verses of Matthew 6 talk about not doing ones acts of piety in view of other people in order to be praised by them. And in the area of stewardship, giving and money matters, it is all too easy for that to become the motive for good deeds. Nevertheless, chapter 5:13-16 with its segment on the salt of the earth in the light of the world, has already stressed that our deeds are good deeds which should be done in full view of humanity so that people might glorify God, not us. There are all kinds of ways for organizations and individuals to disclose their financial matters in ways that allow a person to be accountable that do not come across as bragging or as displaying wrong motives. Indeed, the people who refuse to disclose certain things often have something to hide and therefore have wrong motives in their refusal to be held accountable.

From Matthew 6:25-34 and a very similar parallel in Luke 12; the reason why so few Christians tithe today (giving 10% of their income back to the Lord’s work) is that they don’t really believe God’s promises in these passages. But Jesus is quite clear, if you give generously and sacrificially to the Lord’s work, he guarantees that you will have enough income for all of your needs to be met (Matthew 6:33). Test it to see if it isn’t true. Compare also Matthew 7:7-11, ask and you shall receive, knock and the door shall be open to you, seek and you shall find, etc. Begin today by writing a large check to Denver Seminary and wait to see how he will surprise you with monetary returns you never anticipated. Well, he may seem to be quite clear in this passage, but unless we are prepared to say that the millions of Christians over the centuries who have starved to death or experienced extreme want and deprivation always because of a lack of adequate faith; a view which can be disproved through personal claims with such victims or any who have travelled or even read extensively. Then, there must be something in the immediate context that suggests a different interpretation. Both of these passages in Matthew chapters six and seven cited, come after the Lord’s prayer in 6:9-13, in which Jesus has very clearly taught his disciples to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is already being done in heaven. And God’s will often over rules humans desires in things for which they pray. More immediately, in context of Matthew 6:33, it’s important to see that the use of the English pronoun ‘you’ are all in the plural. As people from the southern United States might say, ‘you-all’ and therefore that this command and promise to seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness and all these things: food, clothes and drink, the necessities of life will be yours as well, is a corporate promise before it is an individual promise. Therefore, it can be interpreted as saying, when there are needs in the Christian community, it is the responsibility of the Christian community to meet those needs.

John Carson has said more than once that Matthew 7:1 may have replaced John 3:16 as the Scripture verse best known by non-Christians, though, not known in context. ‘Judge not that you be not judged.’ Christ could hardly be clearer. It’s a travesty what most Christians make of this command. Consider typical hate mongering, attitudes toward homosexuals; we need to learn to accept each person for who they are. There may be some measure of truth in the indictment of some conservative Christian’s attitudes in which case they need to learn how to love sinners without condoning the sin. But in the context of Matthew 7:1, we only have to read the next five verses to discover that there are processes of judging that are clear for Christians. For example, Judge not less you be not judged used a verb that can mean, do not be overly censorious or over condemning of judgment less others including God treat you that way. But judgment in the sense of analysis that leads to realize that something is wrong is obviously necessary in order to discern the moral log in one’s own eye, that’s stuck in a brother or sister’s eye. The correct behavior that’s implied by taking the logs out of one’s own eye; the correct process of restoring a brother or sister by taking a speck out of their eye and even the kind of judgment that is needed to discern when repeated proclamation of the Gospel and its principles leading only to abuse by unbelievers has reached the point that Jesus’ proverb of not casting pearls before swine is to be applied as well.

And then, finally, there is this paragraph, Matthew 7:15-23 and parallel. Sadly, evangelical Christians tend to lump all new sects and denominations into the category, ‘cult’. For them, Mormons are no better than the Children of God of the 1960’s and 70’s; the group that preached free love and sexual promiscuity. But Jesus says here that by people’s fruits we can evaluate them. Mormons, for example, are some of the most moral people in the world, sold out to their Lord Jesus Christ and surely deserve to be considered Christians, not cultist. There is a considerable measure of truth as in several of these snippets of exegesis in this final one.

It’s not clear that the term cult is a helpful one for groups other than what sociologist and the media much more generally label groups like David Coretches militant Waco group in the 1980’s or Heaven’s Gate group that committed suicide in California in the 1990’s. New World’s religions might be a better term for groups that may once have begun with sociological features of a cult, but advanced far beyond that. It is also true that evangelicals tend of lump true cults and other newer religious movements together rather indiscriminately without paying attention to the significant differences among them and the much greater dangers among some than to others both to right doctrine and to ethical practice. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that one automatically jumps to the opposite end of the spectrum and accepts anyone of any denomination who simply calls himself a Christian or believes that they have something in common with the Jesus who is called Christ in the New Testament and automatically label them authentic Christians. There’s probably no denomination in the history of every group that has called themselves Christian where every member of that denomination had a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.

People need to example each individual as to where they are spiritually, rather than making blankets assumptions based on particular church denominations or cults that they may belong. In the passage, at hand, there is no question that Jesus is warning about false prophets coming in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ferocious wolves and therefore, in this setting, stressing that one has to watch for the long term results of what may, at first glance, seem to be positive moral or religious behavior or teaching just like fruit requires time from the planting of the tree or crop and even appear as ripe or rotten. But it’s interesting to see that after the statement of recognition by fruit in verse 20, Jesus also goes on to say that not everyone says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven. There will be those who claim to have had Jesus as their master and God, but will be excluded because they have not done the will of my father who is in heaven. This is not a demand for good works, for verse 22 goes on to speak precisely of the very kind of good works that you might expect would guarantee true Christianity, prophecy, miracles even in Jesus’ name and yet to such people, Jesus will say plainly (verse 23), I never knew you. The question is ultimately one of a personal relationship with Christ, an intimate knowledge of him that allows Christ to say, I did and I do truly know you.

VI. The Disciples' Model Prayer

In these misinterpretations and our corrections of them, we have reviewed a broad cross section of material on the Sermon on the Mount. It would be unfortunate to close this lecture without commenting on, perhaps the most famous part of the sermon, namely, the Lord’s Prayer or what might better be called the disciple’s model prayer, since it was one prayer that the Lord himself never prayed nor in fact could have, as in asking forgiveness for personal sin. It’s very appropriate to pray the Lord’s Prayer today, exactly as Jesus taught it. Even memorized, though like the babbling that Jesus condemned in the verses leading up to the Lord’s Prayer. If this prayer or any prayer ever becomes one that is simply modeled by rote, apart from conscience affirmation, then it becomes meaningless. The main themes that emerge can be prayed for using a large variety of specific wordings and lengths of prayers and it is the themes that are crucial, not the repetition of these precise words. The prayer begins with a focus on God, verses 9-10 and balances the recognition of him as intimate, our Father, from the Aramaic ‘Abba’, that Jesus uses elsewhere that reflected largely in parallel intimacy with God for a Jew of Jesus’ day. But yet, this is balanced also by recognizing him as transcendent and holy with the prayer that his name be hollowed or made holy or treated as holy.

The focus on God continues as Jesus teaches his followers to prayer for his kingship, his kingly power and reign which is largely synonymous with the follow up prayer that his will be done, as we have already noted, on earth as it is already being done in heaven. Then in verse 11-13, focus on God is appropriately followed up with focus on people just as Jesus’ double love command called us to love God and our neighbor. The focus on people begin with the basic physical needs such as daily bread, but moves on to spiritual needs, forgive us our sins or trust passes, debts. But note the condition, even as we commit to promise to do the same to those who need our forgiveness or who are indebted to us. The one is conditioned on the other; those who truly experience God’s forgiveness will by nature realize that no sin committed against them comes remotely as close to being as heinous as the sins God has already forgiven us. How then could we ever refuse utterly to forgive others their sins? As we will see in Matthew 18, forgiveness is not always the same thing as returning to business as usual as if nothing had ever happened. Spiritual needs also involve spiritual preservation, positively and negatively, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil and then the condition of forgiveness is repeated in verse 14-15. Later manuscripts inserted after the prayer a benediction similar to the one found in 2nd Chronicles, no doubt, feeling that the prayer needed to be rounded off better; for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen.

VII. Jesus' Sermon vs. the Jewish Parties

If we try to sum up Jesus’ position on the religious landscape of his day as reflected in this great sermon, following what Tom Wright says in his book, Jesus and the Victory of God; we come to the last slide and note that differing from the zealous, Jesus does not see the Kingdom coming through violence. Different from the Pharisees, he does not see it coming through the Torah. The Torah will be fulfilled but it is not through adherence to an unchanged Torah by any means. It is different from the Sadducees because it is not by making compromise with the political powers, loyalty to the state or what today, we might call patriotism. And it is not through a total withdrawal into one’s own world, as demonstrated by the Essenes trying to create a utopia that has never been created before on this earth. Rather in the already but not yet framework of the inaugurated Kingdom, we may think of Jesus position, thy will be done on earth as it already is in heaven, of his group of followers that came to be known as the church as a colony or outpost of heaven, modeling for a lost world, possibilities that can come about only through the Spirit through generating guidance and even then only partially in this life but fully, one day in the life to come. This is, in fact, a greater demand than that of the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. See again Matthew 5:17-20. But with the Spirit there is an even greater empowerment to make this possible. See also Matthew 11:25-30.