The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5 – 7) is the manifesto of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It goes vastly beyond the Old Testament Law given through Moses. It is the Ten Commandments amplified and expanded. As the Law of the Kingdom, it is the highest ethical teaching in the Bible. It will be the Law of this world in the millennium (1000-year reign of Christ on earth in person as the King) during which time Jesus will enforce every word of it. The Sermon on the Mount will finally prevail when He whose right it is to rule shall come.
The Sermon on the Mount is the longest discourse recorded in Scripture and it was addressed to believers and is intended for Jesus’ disciples (Matt. 5:1; Luke 6:20). This would be a source of condemnation to the unsaved.
At first glance, this passage may appear to be very easy, but actually it is a tough portion and one of the most misunderstood passages of Scripture.
The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:1-12
The word ‘beatitude’ is not found in the Bible. It simply means “blessing” and comes from the Latin word for “blessed.” Note that these verses deal with attitudes – what we think in our hearts, and our outlook on life. “Beatitudes” are the attitudes that should be in our lives if we are true Christians.
The first 16 verses of Matthew 5 describe the true Christian and deal with that person’s character. The rest of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17-48; 6; and 7) deals with the conduct that grows out of that character. Character always comes before conduct, because what we are determines what we do.
- “Poor in spirit” (v. 3): This is our attitude towards ourselves, in which we feel our spiritual need and admit it.
- “Mourn” (v. 4): This is our attitude towards sin, a true sorrow for sin.
- “Meek” (v. 5): This is our attitude towards others; we are teachable; we do not defend ourselves when we are wrong.
- “Hunger and thirst” (v. 6): This is our attitude expressed towards God; we receive His righteousness by faith because we ask for it.
- “Merciful” (v. 7): We have a forgiving spirit and love others.
- “Pure in heart” (v. 8): We keep our lives and motives clean. Holiness is happiness to us – there are no substitutes.
- “Peacemakers” (v. 9): We should bring peace, between people and God, and between those who are in conflict with each other.
- “Persecuted” (vv. 10-12): All who live godly lives will suffer persecution.
The remainder of the Sermon on the Mount shows the results of the new life in the believer:
Salt of the Earth
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matt. 5:13).
Salt is used for seasoning and as a preservative; it preserves materials from decay. It also creates thirst and induces flavour. Salt speaks of inward character that influences a decaying world. As disciples of Jesus, our task is to keep our lives pure that we might “salt” this earth and hold back corruption so that the Gospel can reach the world effectively.
Light of the World
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
Light speaks of a believer’s outward testimony of good works that points to God. Our good works must accompany our dedicated lives as we let our light shine. Our actions should reflect the word that we speak.
The Higher Righteousness
“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven… For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19a, 20).
What a shock to the listener! Jesus knew the extremes that the professional Law-keepers were used to. The scribes and Pharisees were those who strictly tried to obey the Law to its smallest detail. Anyone that tries to reconcile himself to God by his works, rules, or legalism is pharisaic. What would happen to such strict Law-keepers? This is the key point of the passage. You cannot break the commandments and get away with it. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). But you cannot obey them in your own strength either. The only way you can obey them is to come to Jesus Christ for salvation, power, and strength.
The commandments are not a way of salvation but a means to show you the way to salvation – through the acceptance of the atonement work of Jesus Christ.
What are “these commandments” being referred to in Matt. 5:19? They actually refer to what Jesus is saying from Matt. 5:21 onwards and continuing through chapters 6 and 7. Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized “these sayings of mine” (Matt. 7:24-27) as a call to obedience (John 14:15, 21, 23; 1 John 5:3).
Does the Christian need to “abide by the Law”? The fact of the matter is that the Law is still the standard: it reveals to me that I cannot measure up to God’s standard. This drives me to the cross of Christ. The only way I can fulfill the Law is by accepting the only One who could fulfill it – Jesus Christ as my Saviour and the Lord of my life.
Jesus Fulfilled the Law
Firstly, Jesus became our sacrifice and shed His own sinless blood on our behalf. He offered Himself once for all for the sins of all humanity (Heb. 7:27, 9:12, 26, 28, 10:10, 1 Pet. 3:18). Everything required for justification was fulfilled just before Jesus’ death on the cross when He uttered His last words: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The Greek word used here (tetelestai) means “paid in full.”
The second way He fulfilled the Law is that He taught and commanded what God’s will is under the New Covenant for those who would enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus gave us a new set of rules. Paul called those rules Christ’s Law (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Some of those were the same as God gave in the Old Testament Law. Many ceremonial laws like animal sacrifices were abolished and many of the moral laws were rightly interpreted. In fact Jesus raises the Law to a higher standard and establishes its permanence, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18). Since only the Old Testament was existing at the time of Jesus and since it was written in Hebrew language, the ‘jot’ refers to yodh, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and ‘tittle’ refers to small projection marks on letters which enabled a distinction between visually similar letters. Jesus thereby asserts the permanent validity of Scripture including the Old Testament Law. The standards of the Law in light of the New Testament teaching are far higher than that found in the Old Testament. For example, the Old Testament Law said, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13); but Jesus said, “Do not be angry with others” (Matt. 5:22). Anger is like murder in the heart and it can lead to evil words and actual murder. Although actual adultery is far worse than inward lustful fantasies, the inner desires can quickly lead to this forbidden sin (Ex. 20:14). But Jesus said, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Therefore, we should not encourage our minds to ponder on evil thoughts and desires.
In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus the King speaks of the righteousness that His subjects must possess. It must be a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and that comes only through trust in Christ. Matthew chapter 6 deals with the external part of religion: the practical life of the subjects of the kingdom. Even here, the internal motive is the important thing in what you do for God. Chapter 7 deals with judging others, prayer, and the “Golden Rule” (Matt. 7:12).
The Law of Christ
Jesus did not set aside the Law of Moses, He fulfilled it. He takes the Law of Moses, raises its standard, interprets it rightly, and then He absolutely fulfills it. Remember that your salvation is not based on your ability to fulfill Matthew 5, 6, and 7, but because Jesus fulfilled it – and you can receive the benefit of what Jesus fulfilled through His death on the cross and His resurrection, by accepting Him as your Lord and Saviour. Are you willing to accept the law of Christ?