Sermon on the Mount
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
2nd May 2004
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The Cathedral Preaching Programme for second term has been published and distributed. If you did not get a copy please ask at the Cathedral door. I hope that this aid for your preparation to hear God’s word will prove useful in your invitation to friends to our gatherings.
There is a wide selection of Scripture being taught in the various congregations of the Cathedral. We are teaching Mark’s gospel at Fix, Isaiah on Sunday evenings, 1 Peter at The Bible Talks, and the Sermon on the Mount on Sunday mornings
Last year in the morning sermons we commenced the Sermon on the Mount. We looked at its context in Matthew’s gospel and most of Chapter 5. This year we recommence at chapter 5 verse 33. As 5:33 is part of the way through the logic of the sermon, and for the sake of those who attend one of the other congregations at the Cathedral, let me recap the argument thus far.
Jesus in his preaching ministry in Galilee, the northern part of Palestine, followed John the Baptist in declaring the coming of the Kingdom of God. He challenged people to prepare for its arrival by repentance. As Jesus went about Galilee he called disciples to follow him in the task of catching people for the kingdom. Departing from anything we are told about John the Baptist, Jesus performed all manner of healing and exorcising miracles that drew huge crowds from all over Palestine.
When Jesus saw the crowds he withdrew into the mountain to teach his disciples (5:1). This teaching is not secret, the crowds followed and heard it, but it was directed to his disciples. The crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching. But their amazement was because Jesus was so different to their teachers. Though they had come to hear him and to be healed by him, they had not come to follow him (7:28-29).
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount starts with a rehearsal summary of the Old Testament teaching on the good life of the people of God (5:2- 10). The good life that will come with the Kingdom of God whose imminent arrival he was announcing. This summary is known as The Beatitudes. The point of the Beatitudes is to be found in the last blessing. Jesus turned the general Old Testament principles into a personal challenge when he assured his disciples that their blessing was the Blessing of Persecution. For his sake they were going to be hated and persecuted (5:11-12).
The explanation of this hateful rejection of the disciples is that their life was to be completely different to others (5:13-16). They are to be like salt, or like a light or like a city on a hill - observably distinctive and separate from their surrounds. The way in which they were to be different is by their good works. For they were to do the kind of good works that would lead people not to praise the disciples for being good but to praise God the author of such goodness. They were to do the good works that showed God was at work in them.
The rest of the sermon spelt out what such good works were like. Firstly by contrasting the way in which the disciples were to keep the law with the way that the Pharisees pretended to keep the law. For unless they were doing a better job of law keeping than the Pharisees the disciples of Jesus would not even be in the kingdom of God (5:17-20).
For the Pharisees always made rules and regulations that minimised if not neutralised the point of the law. But Jesus went to the very central point and purpose of the law and sought to maximise its application.
Jesus brought out this different attitude to the law with six illustrations of the Pharisees minimising the law in contrast to the way he would maximise the principles that the law was enshrining. He talked about the law of murder (5:21-26), and the law of adultery (5:27-30), and the law of divorce (5:31-32) and, as we see this morning in the Cathedral, the law of oaths (5:33-37).
The Sermon on the Mount is critical to our understanding of Jesus and the Kingdom that he was bringing. It especially teaches how his disciples are to live in this kingdom. As those who would profess him as our Lord, we must pay careful attention to his requirements of disciples. Our concern is not only to learn but also to do those things that please him and bring glory to our Father in heaven.