Summary: One of the most appalling judgments against Christendom today is ignorance of the demands of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. On May 26, 1961, the Reverend Paul Brooks Leath preached an unusual sermon at the 104th annual meeting of the Southern Baptist
SERMON Introducing the Sermon on the Mount
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1 – 12
One of the most appalling judgments against Christendom today is ignorance of the demands of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. On May 26, 1961, the Reverend Paul Brooks Leath preached an unusual sermon at the 104th annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. The large crowd in Kiel Auditorium that morning listened attentively for almost half an hour as Leath quoted the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5 – 7. When he had finished, many convention messengers rushed to the public relations booth to purchase a copy of the message.
I. Critics of the sermon.
A. The Sermon on the Mount has attracted its critics. Along with praise from the greatest minds both inside and outside of Christendom, the Sermon on the Mount has received more opposition, distortion, and dilution than any other piece of literature, yet it has outlived all the accusations. For instance, the German philosopher Nietzsche concluded that it has a “debasing effect on man.” But his plea for a “master morality” and the evolution of the “superman” lost its popularity when the world saw in Hitler the result of such a philosophy.
B. The Sermon on the Mount is still judged out of date, however, by those who would relegate its relevance to the past and those who would postpone its relevance to the future. Albert Schweitzer, the most outspoken proponent of the former view, believed that the Sermon on the Mount is a part of Jesus’ “interim ethic,” which was relevant only during the interim between the time it was delivered and Jesus’ death. The dispensational view of the sermon, on the other hand, assumes that Matthew 5 – 7 constitutes the “law” that will not be in effect until the period before the millennium.
II. Ignorance of the sermon.
A. The greatest opposition to the Sermon on the Mount continues to be the neglect of its teachings in the lives of Christians. The sermon has become the flag under which the lives of many Christians sail instead of the rudder that steers their course. If the proverbial visitor from Mars landed in a typical Christian community, having read the Sermon on the Mount en route, he would conclude that he had landed in the wrong place.
B. At a Christian summer assembly, some simple questions on the Sermon on the Mount were asked of a group of students between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four. Only 37 percent knew that the Sermon on the Mount is recorded in Matthew 5 – 7; 35 percent merely indicated that it is found in the book of Matthew; 21 percent gave the wrong chapters in Matthew; 7 percent left the question unanswered; none of them indicated that the shorter form of the sermon is also found in Luke 6. Most of them (91 percent) knew that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount; only 8 percent indicated that they did not know; 1 percent said that James preached the sermon. Almost half (48 percent) could not quote a beatitude. Typical beatitudes listed were “Blessed are the poor in heart” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall obtain peace.” More than 20 percent could not quote the Golden Rule. Such answers as “Be ye kind to one another” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself” were common.
III. Importance of the sermon.
The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 – 7 has been more widely discussed than any other piece of literature of equal length. Some Christian scholars have emphatically asserted that the best-known fact about Jesus is that he gave the Sermon on the Mount. Mahatma Gandhi, a great leader outside the ranks of Christianity, praised the sermon as the unadulterated message of Jesus. Parts of the sermon have even been taught in the name of science and psychology.
A. “Into a mountain.” Our Lord had spent the night on a mountain in prayer. He came down out of the mountain to call out the Twelve. Matthew indicates that he went up into a “mountain” (oros) to deliver the sermon. On the other hand, Luke pictures the scene as a “plain” (pedinos). Even though there is no relationship between the Greek words oros and pedinos, there is reason to believe that both of them speak of the same locality. In Isaiah 13:2 of the Septuagint, oros and pedinos are combined (epi orous pedinos) to denote a level, flat mountain. Thus, Jesus and the disciples probably gathered on a plateau while the multitudes gathered on the outskirts of it. Even though the exact location cannot be identified, it is not unreasonable to believe that such a place can be found in the mountain range between Tiberias and Nazareth.
B. “When he was set.” The Jewish rabbi often preached while walking around or standing, but when he wanted to teach his class something of utmost importance, he sat down to speak. Jesus was getting ready to say something to which all disciples should pay attention.