The Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:1-7:29
This discourse is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. In this teaching, Jesus described the righteous lives of kingdom citizens. He explicitly mentioned the kingdom seven times, and the entire sermon revolves around this theme.
Time after time, Jesus stressed that the challenges of righteousness were far greater than the leaders of Judaism had imagined. He also stressed that the heavenly Father of the citizens of the kingdom was closer and more ready to bless than they ever imagined. It’s the combination of these twin thoughts that gives the sermon its distinctive character.
Consider just one example from the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus’ teaching on adultery. Jesus taught that the law of God demanded more than a surface reading might indicate, and more than the Jewish teachers commonly taught. Consider what Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28:
You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
When Jesus referred to what was “said,” he was talking about common interpretations of Scripture among the Jewish rabbis of the day. Some rabbis taught that the Old Testament commandments prohibited adultery, but they failed to address the more fundamental issue of the human heart. But Jesus pointed out something that was true even in the days of the Old Testament: God is not just interested in controlling outward behavior; he wants obedience to begin in the heart.
Jesus’ emphasis on heartfelt obedience led him to describe the citizens of the kingdom as “meek” in 5:5, as “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” in 5:6, and as “pure in heart” in 5:8. Now, of course, Jesus knew that his followers would not be completely changed into these kinds of citizens until the kingdom of heaven had come in all its fullness. But he still exhorted them to be righteous before then. Consider what he said in Matthew 5:48:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In one sense, this command is impossible to fulfill — no one can be as perfect as God is. But that shouldn’t lead us to despair. On the contrary, Jesus also gave us a gracious, encouraging promise. Throughout his sermon, he assured his faithful followers that the kingdom already belongs to us.
For instance, in the Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5:3-10, we find eight blessings. The six in the middle promise that the blessings will be received on that future day when the kingdom of heaven comes in all its fullness. But the first and the last blessings are different — Jesus said his people already have these blessings of the kingdom. Consider the way Jesus stated these blessings in Matthew 5:3, 10:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The truly great challenge of following Jesus is matched by the equally great promise that God’s kingdom power is already transforming us into righteous citizens of his kingdom.