Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 20 Number 11 November 2018
Page 4

An Introduction to
the Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5:1-2

Ronald D. Reeves

Ronald D. ReevesA chronological review of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29) suggests that this sermon was delivered by Jesus during His great Galilean ministry (4:17-14:12), which elapsed over a period of about one year. This Galilean ministry included three tours of Galilee by Jesus, with the record of the first tour (4:23-9:34) placing an emphasis upon His teaching, preaching and healing, along with a partial record of the public response to His ministerial work. The bulk of the material in this section of Matthew’s record provides examples of the work of Jesus during His first tour (5:1-9:34). This section of the record is a topical rather than a strict chronological record of events. At Matthew 14:1, the record appears to revert to a stricter chronological arrangement.

After presenting a summary of the first tour of Galilee by Jesus (4:23-25), the record of the Sermon on the Mount was penned (5:1-7:29), with an introduction to the sermon appearing in 5:1-2. These verses include data concerning (1) the occasion and the locale of the sermon, (2) the gathering of the disciples of Jesus unto Him and (3) the beginning of His teaching.

The Sermon on the Mount was probably delivered at the height of His Galilean ministry, as indicated by the presence of the great multitudes (4:25; 5:1). The breadth of this sermon is noteworthy; it addressed the current life of the disciples under the Old Law (5:21ff) and proceeded to consider the Final Judgment (7:22-27). Gospel and law are elements of this address. Concerning the Gospel, Jesus discussed the heavenly kingdom throughout the sermon, in regard to its earthly existence (5:3, 10; 6:10, 33) and also in regard to its heavenly existence (5:19, 20; 7:21). Concerning law, Jesus affirmed that He came to fulfill the Law and the prophets (5:17-18), that those who will be great in the kingdom of Heaven are those who both do and teach the commandments (5:19), that the historical teaching concerning the Law was exclusive of the fuller teaching concerning the Law which He proceeded to present (5:21-48), and that entrance into the eternal heavenly realm requires doing the will of the Father (7:21-27). This sermon, as it outlined the works demanded of the disciples, is the counterpart to the address concerning the last judgment (25:31-46), which sets forth the works that the disciples and the ungodly have done in their respective lives.

Consider the occasion and the locale of the sermon (5:1a). The occasion of the sermon was the presence of the multitudes (note the plurality) and their inherent spiritual needs. Concerning time and place of this presentation, Matthew specified neither. Late tradition identifies the location where this sermon was delivered as the Horns of Hattin, located close to Tiberias and the midwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount presents the sequence of events: (1) Jesus went into a mountain to pray (6:12a; Matthew 5:1a). (2) He continued all night in prayer unto God (6:12b). (3) In the morning, Jesus appointed the twelve apostles from among a greater body of disciples (6:13-16). (4) Then, He descended to an elevated plain, healed many and delivered the sermon to the greater body of His disciples and to the multitudes (6:17-20ff; Matthew 5:1).

Note the gathering of the disciples unto Jesus (5:1b). The disciples came to Him when He was set, that is, when He was seated. In accord with the custom of the day, preachers and teachers sat cross-legged, usually in a higher position, as they taught, and the hearers assumed the same physical posture as they listened. The disciples that came to Jesus included the twelve apostles and the larger body of disciples present on that occasion (Luke 6:13-17). This body of disciples was distinct from the masses as they came unto Him.

Ponder the beginning of His teaching (5:2). The statement that Jesus opened His mouth is equivalent to the common Hebrew expression pithach peh and marks the impressiveness of the occasion. This verse affirms that Jesus was continually engaged (Imperfect tense) in the task of teaching this body of disciples, with the multitudes close by and in the background of the context.


Clarence L. Lavender

Paul said, “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16). Humility is enjoined on God’s people: (1) Israel, Micah 6:8; (2) At social gatherings, Luke 14:10; (3) To those who would be great, Luke 22:26; (4) To those who would think soberly, Romans 12:3; (5) To be lifted up, James 4:10; (6) To be clothed with it, 1 Peter 5:5.

Let us first note what humility is not. It is not a certain tone of the voice. It is not merely acting sympathetically. Some would lead us to believe they are deeply touched when really they have little or no concern (John 12:1-6). Others believe that when they give “big gifts” to brotherhood projects, they manifest their humility. There are some in the church so “humble” they are proud of it (Matthew 6:16)! Many of the quarrels and brotherhood problems over the years have been caused by the “humble” among us. Note the spirit of false teachers. To hear them tell it, they are the humblest fellows on earth.

Second, what is it to be humble? Vine says, “It primarily signifies low-lying. It is used always in a good sense in the New Testament, metaphorically, to denote: (a) of low degree, brought low, Lk. 1:52; Rom 12:16; (b) humble in spirit, Matt. 11:29; 2 Cor. 10:1.” The word “abase” in the New Testament is akin to humility. Webster says, “A state or quality of being humble in spirit; freedom from pride and arrogance.” Humility is the sincere acknowledgment in thought, in language, in action, of the first and most commanding of all facts—the acknowledgment of God and our attitude and treatment of each other.

I remember as a student at Freed-Hardeman College, brother Olan Hicks (now deceased) used to say, “Young men, always remember, the way up is down.” We would all agree theoretically, but often in our lives, performance is lacking.

Third, looking to Jesus will help us in practice. (1) He is meek and lowly in heart. (2) He washed His disciples’ feet, John 13:5. (3) He was obedient unto death, Philippians 2:8. (4) His life was absent of worldly pride in: (a) Appearance, Isaiah 53:2; (b) World success, Isaiah 53:3; (c) Reputation, Matthew 2:23; (d) Riches, Matthew 8:20 and (e) Rank, Matthew 13:55.

Fourth, the example of the early church is a source of strength and encouragement to all of God’s people to live humble lives. Pliny, a historian (117-138 AD), wrote to the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, shortly after the death of the apostle John, concerning the early church. He said:

They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them. They love one another. They rescue the orphan from violence…they do not refuse to help widows. He who has, gives ungrudgingly, to him that lacks. If they see a stranger, they take him home and entertain him as a brother. When one of their poor passes from this world, anyone of them who sees it provides for his burial according to his ability. And if they hear about one of their members being in prison or being oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs. Thus they labor to become righteous as those who expect to see their Messiah and to receive from him the glorious fulfillment of the promise made to them. Truly, this is a new people and there is something divine in them.

Humility was the trademark of the first century church. God help us to be like they were.

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