Summary: Matthew 5:1-3. The background of the Sermon on the Mount and the 1st Beatitude: "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit"
Hopefully at some point during the past week (maybe even just this morning), you saw the title of this morning’s sermon. Some of you may have heard that my sermon title was “The Best Sermon Ever” and concluded that I had become a little full of myself. Let me be clear, I’m not saying that the sermon I am preaching is the best sermon ever, but rather that we were going to begin our study of the best sermon ever preached. This morning we begin a study of the Sermon on the Mount, which was a sermon preached by Jesus to many of his followers. While I hope the sermon I preach today is a good, solid message, I can say with great certainty that the message which Jesus preached stands above every other sermon that has ever been preached.
This morning I want to start our study of the Sermon on the Mount by taking a look at the sermon as a whole. This sermon (which is found in Matthew 5-7) contains some of the most well-known passages in the Bible. Listen to some of the famous phrases that come from the Sermon on the Mount:
• The meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5)
• Turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39)
• Go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41)
• The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)
• Judge not, lest ye be judged (Matthew 7:1)
• Do not cast your pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6)
• Do to others as you would have them do to you (commonly referred to as the golden rule) (Matthew 7:12)
• A wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:16)
Jesus’ words have been repeated and revered by people both inside and outside of the church for two thousand years. As a matter of fact, some of these axioms have become so familiar that many people have no idea they actually come from the Bible.
The Sermon on the Mount is, without question, the best sermon ever preached, which is why we are going to devote several months to studying it. But we want to be sure that we understand the Sermon the Mount correctly, so before we begin studying the specifics of the sermon, we need to stop and be sure we approach it with the right mindset.
Understanding the Sermon
One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, 2 and he began to teach them.
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.
Verse 28 shows us that all of these teachings were connected—it is all one continuous sermon. We need to keep that in mind when we study the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus did not intend for us to study one part of the sermon while ignoring the rest of it.
Whether they realize it or not, many people fall into this trap. They take one teaching of Jesus and elevate it as the ultimate expression of faith. Some people read these verses and conclude that Christians should never tell someone what they are doing is wrong, because Jesus said we shouldn’t judge people. Others look to these verses and claim that Christians should be pacifists, because Jesus said to turn the other cheek. Still others believe there is special power in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, regardless of whether we understand them or not.
Jesus did not intend for us to emphasize one part of the sermon while completely ignoring the rest of it. That is incredibly frustrating for a preacher! It is as if you came away from a sermon we preached where we made a joke about the Chicago Cubs (which is a lot of sermons!) and concluded that you needed to start rooting for the Cubs. Now, while it’s good to be a Cubs fan (though often not pleasant!), that is not the point of the message! If you fixate on one thing, but miss the big picture, then your time has been wasted!
So, with that in mind, let’s look at how to properly understand the Sermon on the Mount. It may be easier to see the right way to look at this passage by pointing out some of the wrong ways to do so.
Wrong way #1: The Sermon on the Mount shows us what we need to do to be saved. There are some excellent moral principles in the Sermon on the Mount. The prerequisite to understanding this sermon is to understand that no one can keep God’s law—we are all sinful, and cannot do enough good things to deserve or earn God’s favor. So to simply see the Sermon on the Mount as a list of rules to keep in order to earn salvation is to misunderstand it entirely.