While FH is studying the Sermon on the Mount Wednesday nights, the lectionary readings for each Sunday in February will cover this greatest of sermons ever preached. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5 – 7) in many ways speaks for itself, for it is the longest uninterrupted section we have of Jesus’ teaching. Not only is it a classic of world literature, it continues to be the most revolutionary manifesto ever spoken, with no exaggeration judging by the profound human transformation it has encouraged and inspired ever since being spoken. We preach sermons on this greatest of sermons and thereby risk diluting or distorting Jesus’ marvelous words. Yet even Jesus’ Himself instructs His disciples to “teach them (other disciples) all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). The remarkable depth of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount will never be fully fathomed, and they are of the greatest importance, for He said, “My words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). It is of rich benefit for FH to read and meditate (and even memorize) the Sermon on the Mount. Why not devote some special time this month to prayerfully consider this transforming teaching of Jesus the Messiah. It is no accident that great movements of revival and renewal throughout history very often involve the Spirit of God illuminating hearts and minds with the Sermon on the Mount. May it be so with Forest Home. LH
What is the Context for the Sermon on the Mount (SOM)? It has well been said that “context is king,” for if the context for a Scripture is overlooked, we can (and sometimes do) make the Bible (and even the Sermon on the Mount) say all manner of things that might not have been intended by the Lord. Precept Ministries Austin explains context this way in their Bible Studies:
If I said “I saw the trunk” how would you interpret the meaning of the word “trunk”? It could refer to a tree, a car, an elephant, a piece of luggage, athletic wear, etc. How can one determine the correct meaning? Clearly, the context determines how one interprets the meaning of “trunk”. So if we were at the zoo, you would most naturally understand that this is a reference to the trunk of an elephant, etc, etc. You get the point – a Scripture taken out of context can easily lose God’s (and inspired human author’s) intended meaning.
“Context always rules in interpretation, whether you are studying a single word, one verse or a larger section of Scripture. Always check to see who the “neighbors” are! Context is the setting in which something “dwells”. If you take a fish out of water, it doesn’t function well! This principle holds for any passage of Scripture which is taken out of context. In simple terms, context is that which goes with the text, the “neighbors” so to speak — that which comes before and after. Webster says that “context” is the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning. The English word context is derived from com = with and texere = to weave or braid, and thus means woven together!
The SOM has several contexts. 1) For instance, there is a profound Old Testament (Hebrew) background! The third beatitude is a direct quotation of Psalm 37:11—“the meek will inherit the earth,” and it continues to speak of the meek “delighting themselves in great peace,” which is taken up in the 7th beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The very first (Blessed are the poor in spirit …) and second (Blessed are those who mourn …) are the direct subjects of Jesus’ own mandate for ministry when He explained how Isaiah 61:1-2 was being fulfilled as he read for his home synagogue (Luke 4:21).
2) The SOM has a Jewish Gospel context. These wondrous words of Jesus are found in Matthew’s Gospel, which especially speaks to those with a Jewish background. When Matthew recounts how Jesus had gone down to Egypt in exile and had come back experiencing a crossing of the Jordan in baptism as well as 40 days of temptation in the wilderness, a Jewish person could hardly miss the parallels between Jesus, Israel and the Exodus. It was exciting as folks began to recognize how Jesus was re-living the path of Israel in a kind of second Exodus to the promised land. And in the promised land, the Israelites heard the law with blessings and curses from mountain tops. The SOM starts with the blessings.
3) The SOM has a context in Jesus’ early ministry as He preaches the great news of the kingdom of heaven, saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17). As Jesus went about teaching and healing, he was followed by large crowds, some of whom he had called specifically to follow as disciples. It was at least some portion of the large crowds along with the disciples who gathered at Jesus’ feet to hear the SOM. Significantly, Jesus sat down on a mountain, symbolic of a throne and kingly authority from which he now speaks about the reign of God. Who is ready to gather around Jesus and to listen? Who speaks from the mountain where my attention is focused? These fortunate listeners were first to hear a Jesus-sermon that shakes the earth to this day. May we be so blessed.
What does it mean to be blessed when Jesus says “Blessed are you”? Are the blessings spoken primarily as already occurring conditions—a state that the hearer already experiences—which are to be reversed by Jesus coming? Or are the blessings really exhortations made possible and pursued through the new life that Jesus’ kingdom brings? Or are there perhaps some of both—blessed present circumstances as well as blessed dispositions to be cultivated? Most see the beatitudes much like the beginning of the beatitude of Psalm 1—“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,” implying for the hearers a command to actually not walk in the way of sinners. So coming to the Beatitudes, most work to discern just what responsibility and direction we are to follow. When we read for instance, blessed are the poor in spirit, we hear, “let us pursue humility.” Humilty is good and godly. But what if the SOM beatitudes of Jesus were trying (in at least the first four “blessed are those”) to emphasize something else before the takeaway of virtues or responsibilities? That something might illustrate the wondrous ways of the Jesus centered kingdom of God—good news indeed. I hope to discuss this with FH by the following outline:
I. The Blessed Comfort of Christ’s Kingdom (Beatitudes 1-4: Matthew 5:3-6)
II. The Blessed Call of Christ’s Kingdom (Beattitudes 5-8; Matthew 5:7-10)
III. The Blessed Confrontation and Confirmation for Christ’s Kingdom (Matthew 5:11-12)
Question: Why does Jesus pronounce the blessedness of persecution twice? Matthew 5:10-11