Moses climbed up the mountainside and sat while God dictated the Ten Commandments and the law to him, for the benefit of his people. Here in Matthew, the author is portraying Jesus as the Great King, giving his own teaching to those listening on the mountainside of Galilee. “The Sermon on the Mount” has been described as the finest body of moral teaching ever written down. It might have been taught on a single occasion, or it might have been a summary of several similar sets of teaching – neatly ordered and catalogued by Matthew (there are some close parallels in Luke 6).
Some regard the teaching contained in it to be impossible to put into practice, and therefore perhaps intended for a future age. The orthodox view is that the ‘Sermon’ is genuinely the ‘Manifesto of the Kingdom’ but can only be lived effectively by those redeemed people walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.
For that reason, even though many humanistic and political philosophies have plagiarised many parts of this ‘Sermon’, they have never been able to make it work in practice – due to the evil bias of human hearts. Communism, for example, in its purest form, aspires to some of the outcomes and behaviours of the Sermon. Sadly, it has only even been tried with selfish, power-seeking people! Only a heart first renewed by God, which overcomes this bias, can truly start to fulfil the requirements of Matthew 5, 6, and 7.
However, the high standards expected of these Kingdom Citizens do not mean that the Sermon is an optional extra for highly enthusiastic Christians or an experimental opt-out for weird monastics. No, this Kingdom manifesto is supposed to be the bread and butter of every believer’s Christian life and morality, which will reflect irresistible glory on the King himself. “…Let your light shine before others (the gospel) so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (v16).
So, on a sunny afternoon, on a plateau up a mountain in Galilee, Jesus called his disciples to him and spoke to them loudly, so that the listening crowd could overhear. Today, the world looks on and listens in to see if his present-day disciples are also listening and putting his words into practice.
“Blessed” – means ‘how full of lasting joy’ – will those disciples be who are:
- Poor in spirit – recognising their inadequacy and receiving the Kingdom like a child
- Mourn – NOT for a human loss, but for their personal sinfulness and failures towards God
- Meek – Humble and trusting towards God; being real with him
- Hungry/Thirsty for Righteousness – desperately wanting to be right with God and close to Him
- Merciful – reflecting the behaviour of God towards them
- Pure in heart – something that the Lord treasures (see Psalm 51)
- Peacemaker – the very opposite of ‘war-like’, aiming to promote peace between all men and God
- Persecuted – having identified closely with the Persecuted One
All of the above seem to be 180-degree contradictions on how the ‘world’ says you need to live in order to succeed in life! But we are entering a Kingdom that operates by different rules. Even the older, Jewish laws are insufficient to promote the true life that Christ hopes for in us. Their legalism is only a superficial part of the true spirit of Christian behaviour. For example:
Not murdering is not enough. Holding on to anger against a fellow believer is still wrong. So make it your business to be reconciled, one way or another.
Not committing adultery is not enough. Deliberately looking lustfully at someone stirs the heart-seeds of adultery too (although Jesus doesn’t say that the two acts are the same).
Not undergoing an illegal divorce is not enough. Marriage is sacred to God and there are very few circumstances that permit you to break those vows. (Sexual immorality or desertion.)
Not breaking oaths is not enough. We should not bind our future behaviour with any kind of oath – since we cannot effectively control our future!
Not retaliating excessively is not enough. We should not resist an evil person at all.
Loving your friends and family is not enough. We should love our enemies too (we don’t have to like them!), just as God does, who blesses humans indiscriminately most of the time.
Be perfect, then. Aim for perfection, rather than mediocrity or ‘just enough’. (James 3:2; Hebrews 10:14; 2 Corinthians 13:11). Aim to be just like our Father in Heaven!
The offspring of Noah’s sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth, are outlined in this chapter, which is called, “The Table of Nations”, supposedly highlighting the seventy nations descended from Noah. They were later scattered over the face of the earth (see chapter 11). There is a strong sense – in Luke chapter 10 – of Jesus sending out his seventy (or seventy-two) followers to gather, symbolically, members of all those scattered nations beyond Israel, and to redeem them to eternal life.
‘United we stand; divided we fall’. It is harder to find a more graphic illustration of this principle than in the next few chapters of Genesis! the Lord had said in Genesis 9:1, just after the Flood, that mankind was to be fruitful and increase in number and fill the Earth. In Genesis 11, we observe a resistance building to this command, by many of the peoples choosing not to spread out but to cluster together and build a fortified city. It appears that they were hoping to rely upon the attractional nature of this city and its inhabitants to draw the populations towards it, and perhaps also to exercise some earthly rule or kingship in that place. It is possible that the great warrior and hunter, Nimrod, was a key player in this building activity, since he later built Babylon and Nineveh – as mentioned in Genesis 10, which runs parallel with Genesis 11 chronologically.
The whole world was previously descended from Noah and so had a common culture and language. This gave them a huge advantage when engaging in large-scale building and engineering projects. But since their key objective was to resist God’s command, God acted to put a stop to their work. He very simply confused and fragmented their common language into a multiplicity of languages and dialects that made communication difficult, and unity of purpose impossible. Instinctively the people coalesced into their new language groups and automatically scattered on the face of the Earth.
But the really interesting fact for me is the power of unity in achieving a common goal: “If as one people, speaking the same language, they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”, said the Lord. Even a rebellious people, bent upon disobeying the command of God, stood a fair chance of succeeding when they were firmly united! God’s counter-action was to first dis-unite them. There is a great power in unity and more so when this state is attained by believers in the Lord. Psalm 133 tells us that where brothers live together in unity, there the Lord imparts his blessing! If we – as Christ’s church – put that promise into practice, there is nothing that we cannot achieve together! Inevitably, then, the first tactic of the Enemy is to disunite us. We must make every effort to resist him, therefore, and to keep the unity that the Spirit supernaturally gives us.