“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus warned as He began His public ministry in Galilee” – Matt. 4:17.
“His message quickly spread, and huge crowds came to hear Him from Galilee, from nearby Syria and the Decapolis, and from as far away as Jerusalem, Judea, and east of the Jordan River” – Matt.4:24-25.
Jesus Christ declared His Kingdom as we read in Matthew 5:1 as follows; “Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them.” (NIV) Many people came to hear about a kingdom but instead, Jesus talked about a lifestyle – the lifestyle of those who intend to live in the kingdom.
Jesus began to fill out the implications of His appeal for repentance and that this would mean far more than an outward show of piety. Indeed, Jesus urged His listeners to make such a complete change of heart and life that they would “be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” – Matt. 5:48.
It is probably that the Lord Jesus may have spoken the contents of Matt. 5 – 7, known as the Sermon on the Mount, on more than one occasion. It is indeed possible that the address lasted for quite some time as He described the new lifestyles of the kingdom, holding it up like a jewel with many facets, to be examined from many different angles.
Bits and pieces of the sermon can be found throughout all the Gospels and Jesus probably repeated much of His teaching at other times and places in order to drive home the main message of the new lifestyle of members of His kingdom.
The Sermon on the Mount contains the core of Jesus’ moral and ethical teaching – what you would call the values of the kingdom of God. The contents of the Sermon on the Mount can be subdivided as follows:
The Beatitudes – Matt. 5:3-12 where Jesus indicates that true happiness comes from looking at life from God’s perspective, which is often the reverse of the human point of view. Salt and Light – Matt. 5:13-16 where Jesus wants His followers to influence the moral and spiritual climate of the world.
The Morality of the Kingdom – Matt. 5:17-48: Here Jesus’ listeners who were familiar with the Old Testament Law and with the many traditions that generations of rabbis had added to it were confronted with a morality that went beyond the letter of the Law with a focus of the spirit of the law.
Spiritual Disciplines – Matt. 6:1 – 18: Jesus reveals that practicing religion certainly involves behavior, but it goes beyond an outward show of spirituality to the hidden quality of one’s character.
Treasures on Earth – Matt.6:19-34: In God’s kingdom, our relationship to money and material passions reveal much about our relationship to God. Jesus does not denounce worldly goods, but He urges His listeners to place ultimate value on the treasures of heaven.
Judging Right and Wrong – Matt 7:1-6: Rather than what most of us do by being quick to point out the moral flaws of others, Jesus warns us to pay more attention to our own flaws and shortcomings.
Asking and Receiving – 7:7-12: Jesus here tells us that when we approach God with a request, we can expect Him to deal with us as a loving father deals with his child and that God expects us to deal with others in love just as God deals with us in love.
A Challenge to Obedience – Matt. 7:13-29: Jesus wraps up His message with a challenge to change. The alternatives are clear: living a lifestyle that is worthy of the kingdom, which will result in life and joy, or ignoring the way of Christ with the resultant death and disaster.
This is the way Jesus described the lifestyle of the kingdom. When He was finished, Matthew says that the people were “astonished” at His teaching – Matt.7:28; literally (“overwhelmed” or “stunned”). They had come to hear a new “teacher,” but this one called Jesus exceeded their expectations. His voice had an unusual but unmistakable ring of authority – Matt. 7:29, and little wonder! They were listening to the King Himself!!
The Sermon on Mount contains a powerful yet practical revelation of the principles and standards by which God expects us to live. Of course, living up to these standards is possible only through faith in Jesus, the Son of God – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Apostle Paul puts it succinctly and powerfully: “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who love me and gave Himself for me.” – Gal. 2:20 (NIV)
Jesus teaches His potential followers in this message what it really means to follow Him and be a part of God’s kingdom. All who belong to the kingdom are to demonstrate godly character and have an intense “hunger and thirst” to do what is right and maintain a right relationship with God – Matt.5:6
Relevance of the Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount is relevant to modern life because it depicts the behavior which Jesus expected of each of His disciples then and also of us now because of our citizenship in God’s Kingdom. The Sermon speaks of what ought to be in a disciple’s heart, what should be his motives and what should be in his private and public life.
I agree with John Stott when he says that the relevance of the Sermon on the Mount can be seen in the following areas:
A Christian’s character (Matthew 5: 3-12): The beatitudes emphasize eight principal marks of a Christian’s character and conduct in life.
A Christian’s influence (Matthew 5: 13-16): Salt and Light indicate the influence for good, which Christians will exert in the community if they maintain their distinctive character as portrayed in the beatitudes.
A Christian’s righteousness (Matthew 5:17- 48): A Christian’s righteousness denotes what should be that Christian’s attitude to the moral law of God.
A Christian’s piety (Matthew 6:1-18): This should not be a hypocritical display as in the days of the Pharisees nor should it be the mechanical formalism of unbelievers. A Christian’s piety should be marked by reality and the sincerity of children who always live in the Heavenly Father’s presence.
A Christian’s ambition (Matthew 6:19-34): A Christian is to live above worldliness and secularism by concentrating on a relationship with the living God which creates contentment and peace. A Christian’s supreme ambition ought to be the glory of God which is what we should seek. – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well – Matthew 6:33 (NIV)
A Christian’s relationships (Matthew 7:1-20): Once a Christian is properly related to Christ, all other relationships are positively affected. New relationships are created and old ones are changed for good.
A Christian’s Commitment (Matthew 7:21-27): A Christian should not merely call Jesus Lord, but to seek to obey Him who is called Lord. Such is the wisdom that drives from being a Christian.
Practicality of the Sermon on the Mount
Many people wonder how practical the Sermon on the Mount is for today’s everyday living. The truth is, no one can achieve the standards set by the Lord Jesus Christ without being born again.
Because it is only in the new nature that comes with our relationship with Christ it gives us the impetus to live to please God. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) states categorically “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! It is this new life empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit that marks out how a Christian is able to live his life.
Jesus spoke the Sermon to those who are citizens of God’s Kingdom and children of God’s family. It is when we attain Christ’s standards that we give evidence of what, by God’s free grace and gift we are.