“The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of Jesus’ sayings,” my seminary professor said. “Matthew has arranged some pithy words of Jesus and put them into a sermon.”
My heart sank. I thought it was Jesus’ sermon! This made it sound more like it was Matthew’s. There was no question about it being inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the structure and flow were presumed to be created by Matthew, thirty years after the fact.
The professor continued, “Jesus is giving us his laws for the Christian life. He contrasts the Old Covenant laws and those of the New Covenant. His laws get at the heart so they’re even harder! ‘Don’t be angry… Don’t lust… When someone slaps you on one cheek turn the other… Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.’”
He concluded, “We can’t keep these commands — only Jesus could do that. The point here is to show us our sins and our need for the mercy of Christ. The law is a tutor and now we’re under grace. In the words of Jesus’ first beatitude, our part is to be poor in spirit before God.”
I was confused and disappointed!
I was an eager 22-year old aspiring Christian psychologist and I wanted to learn how to use Jesus’ teachings and all of the Bible to help people live with the love, joy, peace, and power that Jesus himself had and that he cultivated in his first disciples. I was actually hoping to become “richer” in spirit, not poorer, and to gain more knowledge, skill, and grace to share with hurting, struggling people.
That was thirty years ago. But many Christians, including Bible teachers and preachers, still struggle to understand the Sermon on the Mount and the spiritual dynamics of how personal transformation actually works.
Re-Thinking Jesus’ Sermon
How do you think about the Sermon on the Mount? How has it impacted your life?
It’s had a HUGE impact in showing me how to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). In The Divine Conspiracy Dallas Willard writes:
What we have come to call the Sermon on the Mount is a concise statement of Jesus’ teachings on how to actually live in the reality of God’s present kingdom available to us from the very space surrounding our bodies. It concludes with a statement that all who hear and do what he there says will have a life that can stand up to everything — that is a life for eternity because it is already in the eternal (Matt. 7:24-25). (p. 97)
What a blessing it is to dig into Jesus’ masterpiece sermon and share it with others! My new 42-page booklet unpacks and applies Jesus’ Greatest Teaching. It’s designed for personal devotions or a 4-week small group. It’s only $3.99.
(This devotional is excerpted from Jesus’ Greatest Teaching: Living the Sermon on the Mount by Bill Gaultiere.)