We’re starting a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount at Knaphill in the morning. During the service, I’m giving a five-minute introduction to the whole ‘sermon’, which I reproduce below. The next post on the blog will be the initial sermon from the series, which is on the Beatitudes.
Before we get into today’s first sermon in the new series in a few minutes’ time, I want to offer a brief introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not a complete explanation of it, and the themes, but I hope what I can do in this little slot is a modest amount of scene-setting for the next few weeks, without stealing the thunder of any other preacher.
I want to do this by looking at those introductory two verses that come before the Beatitudes, which we’ll think about in the sermon proper later. Here are verses 1 and 2 again:
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
Did you notice that contrast between the disciples and the crowds? Jesus sees the crowds, but tries to get his disciples away from them for some teaching. However, if you were to skip to the end of Matthew 5-7, you will find the crowds still there, roaring their approval of Jesus’ teaching.
So who is this teaching for – the disciples or the crowds? I think it is for the disciples, but Matthew reminds us that we shall always have to live out Jesus’ teaching before the crowds. The Sermon on the Mount is instruction for Christian disciples, but however much we may want to do things in quiet isolation, the world will always be watching us. As we ‘come apart from the crowds’ on a Sunday morning, then, we are doing so to ready ourselves for living out the teaching of Jesus in full view of the world.
Next, I invite you to notice the mountain. Jesus goes up a mountainside – hence ‘the Sermon on the Mount’. Whenever Jesus goes up a mountain in Matthew’s Gospel, something important happens. There is a revelation of Jesus. The climax of the temptations is when the devil takes Jesus up a high mountain (4:8). On another occasion, he heals people (15:29). The Transfiguration happens on a mountain (17:1ff). And after the Resurrection, Jesus gives the Great Commission on a mountain (28:16ff). So when we read here that Jesus went up a mountainside, we should be ready for something important, something close to the heart of Jesus. We are not about something incidental or trivial here. What Jesus is about to teach is serious and important.
Don’t forget too that Moses was known for receiving revelation on a mountain – Sinai. But here, Jesus gives revelation on a mountainside. This is one hint about the stature of Jesus, particularly that he is the ‘one greater than Moses’ who was prophesied in Deuteronomy to come. Another hint of this comes in the fact that the Sermon on the Mount is the first of five big blocks of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s Gospel. This is all building up Jesus’ authority. He’s more important than the person who shaped the Israelite nation. No wonder there will be passages in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, ‘You have heard it said … but I say to you.’ He is outranking Moses and all the teachers of his day. He is claiming a higher authority than all of them.
And then he sits down to teach. This was the posture of an authoritative rabbi. In our culture, someone stands to deliver important teaching. Not in first century Judaism. Everything here is screaming that we had better take notice of this man and what he is going to teach.
So I invite you to embrace these coming weeks in this spirit. Anything Jesus teaches is important, but this seems to hold a special status, even among his teaching. He is telling us how to be disciples in the sight of a watching world.
That has to be important, doesn’t it?