The Sermon on the Mount

(system) #1

Early in the Common Era, Jesus left his carpenter bench and walked east to the River Jordan, where John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing repentant sinners. Jesus asked to be baptized.

John, recognizing his cousin, remonstrated, saying: “It is I that should be baptized by you!”

Jesus replied, “Permit it to be so.” John complied.

(What a marvelous act of mercy, Jesus not only lived and died for me, but he was also baptized for me. Those who fret over the baptism, can rest assured that they have a prefect baptism registered to their account.)

Jesus came up out of the water as a voice from heaven introduced him, saying: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended and landed on Jesus’ head. What an inauguration! But the installation ritual had only begun.

Jesus was led away by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, rehearsing Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness. At the end of the forty days, Jesus withstood the temptations and blandishments of Satan. With the approval of heaven and the victory in the wilderness, Jesus as ready for his gospel ministry: first recruitment, then his mission statement, his acts of mercy, his words of grace and guidance, his patience during cunning debate, his steadfastness under physical and mental torture, his endurance of a cruel death, his startling resurrection, his reassuring presence, his triumphal return to heaven.

Jesus returned to the river and began to recruit his disciples. He attended a wedding feast at Cana, where his mother preempted his mission by requesting a miracle in turning water into wine. He returned home to Nazareth and read from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” thus announcing his messiahship and mission.

Matthew picks up the story in the fifth chapter. Jesus addressed the multitude on the side of a mountain. As the Bible Study Guide points out, many see this sermon as Jesus’ inaugural address. It was, indeed, a classic and definitive reinterpretation of the Law that he had written on tables of stone. We know that presentation in the Gospel of Matthews as the Sermon on the Mount.

To understand fully the Sermon on the Mount, one must give it at least four readings. If one reads it “cold,” it becomes a nightmare of legalistic terror. “He that hateth his brother is a murderer”; “He that lusteth in his heart is an adulterer”; Be ye therefore, perfect, even as your father which art in heaven is perfect.” Ghastly unvarnished perfectionism!

However, if one reads the Sermon on the Mount as (1) the Action Plan of Christ’s Ministry, one comes away with a sense of awe and thanksgiving. In that plan, one becomes acquainted with (2) the Ethics and Ethos of the Kingdom of Heaven. “He that hath seen me has seen the Father.” Beyond that sermon, Jesus reinforced the ethics and ethos of the Kingdom of God with parables and analogies recorded throughout the four Gospels. Also pivotal to understanding that Sermon are the final words of Jesus on the Cross: “It is finished,” or it has been accomplished, or it has been fulfilled—every jot and tittle!” Rejoice, Jesus Christ has fulfilled every jot and tittle of his action plan. The “Law” as he expands it is the very transcript of his character—his lifestyle—(3) the Blueprint for the Lifestyle of the Forgiven (discipleship), which, collectively, becomes (4) the Mission Statement of the Church (apostleship).

  1. The Action Plan of Christ’s Ministry. On the cross, Jesus cried out, “It is finished” (it has been fulfilled; it is accomplished). Every jot and every tittle was fulfilled, a clear reference to Matthew 5:17, 18.

    What couldn’t be done by fallen man has been done by that one “new man Christ Jesus.” God once again has an uncontested federal man, a New Adam. All heaven rejoices. Paul retells the story reassuringly in Romans 5:19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”

  2. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Heaven. All the Kingdom of Heaven parables reflect the idiom of that sermon: “All hail the power of his name!”
  3. The Blueprint of the Lifestyle of the Forgiven (Discipleship). “Follow thou me!” Churchmen throughout the ages have attempted to replicate the Christ event to no avail. The believer’s task is not to rehearse the Christ event; it is to tell it as unimpeachable sources. Our lifestyle is not to gain heaven, but to gain converts to Jesus Christ.

    Following Jesus means to “do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” To do justly, one’s transactions will be fair and generous. To love mercy is to give mercy—not demand it. To walk humbly with God is to remain teachable, using what is learned not only in self-improvement, but also in gracious and generous leadership. “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more!” is the mantra of the forgiven.

  4. The Mission Statement of the Church (Apostleship). The Gospel Commission is to tell the story of Jesus: how he lived, why he died, and the personal and eternal consequences of the Christ event.

    There is no better place to begin than with the great hymns of the Church. “I Love to Tell the Story”: “How Can I Keep from Singing”; “Amazing Grace.” Just think of how the Gospel opened the pen of Charles Wesley.

Now, in the afterglow of Christmas and the approach of Easter, the words and music of the oratorio, the Messiah, thrills our souls. It makes Davids of us all.

“We would see Jesus.” “Let us show him to the World!” Amen.

Tom Zwemer is vice president emeritus of academic affairs and professor emeritus of orthodontics at the Medical College of Georgia.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at