Structure of the Sermon
We’ve reached the Sermon on the Mount today. Every time I read this sermon, I try to work out its structure. How should we divide it? What are its parts? Is it ordered in a certain way? Fortunately, when preparing for this evening, I came across an article by a New Testament scholar called Dale Allison and he seems to have it worked out.
Verses 1 and 2 of chapter 5 are the introduction. Then verses 3 to 12 of chapter 5 contain the beatitudes or blessings. Then from verse 13 of chapter 5 until verse 12 of chapter 7 we have the main body of the sermon, which can be divided as follows. Verses 13 to 16 of chapter 5 are about being salt and light and that’s a kind of heading for what follows. Then verses 17 to 48 are about the Lord Jesus and the law. And he refers to three things: murder, adultery and divorce. And then he refers to three more things: oaths, turning the other cheek and loving your enemy. Then in verses 1 to 18 of chapter 6 he turns to what we might call religious practices. And once again, there are three things: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Then from verse 19 of chapter 6 to verse 12 of chapter 7 he deals with social issues. First of all, he refers to storing up treasure in heaven which means being generous towards others. And secondly, he commands us not to judge one another. So, that’s the main body of the sermon. Then from verse 13 to verse 28 of chapter 7 we have warnings or we might say curses. He refers to three things again: the two ways, false teachers, and wise and foolish builders. And the conclusion is in verses 28 and 29 of chapter 7 and the first verse of chapter 8.
Old Testament Links
The sermon begins with blessings and it ends with warnings or curses. The mention of blessings and curses recalls what happened in the past in the days of Moses when Moses and the Israelites gathered before the Lord at Mount Sinai and the Lord entered into a covenant with them. And, as part of that covenant, there was the promise of blessings for obedience and there was the warning of curses for disobedience. If the people remained faithful and obedient, they could expect good things from the Lord. But if they were unfaithful and disobedient, they could expect trouble from the Lord. And here, in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus pronounces blessings and curses: blessings on his faithful people; and curses on those who go down the broad road, or who listen to false teachers, or who do not do what he has said.
So, that part of the Sermon on the Mount recalls what happened in the days of Moses. And, of course, there’s another similarity, isn’t there? In the days of Moses, God instructed Moses and the people on a mountain: Mount Sinai. And here’s the Lord Jesus, instructing the people on another a mountain.
And take a look now at verses 1 and 2 where it makes a distinction between the Lord Jesus and his disciples and the crowds. Matthew tells us that the Lord sat down on the mountain. In our day, teachers normally stand to teach, but in those days, they sat down to teach. So, the Lord sat down on the mountain to teach. And his disciples came to him and he began to teach them. But then there’s this third group: the crowds. So, there’s the Lord and his disciples and the crowds. This too recalls what happened at Mount Sinai, because in Exodus 24, Moses and Aaron and the elders climbed the mountain to meet the Lord, while the rest of the Israelites remained at the base of the mountain. So, there was the Lord God Almighty. Then there were a group of leaders equivalent to the disciples. And then there were the rest of the Israelites at the base of the mountain who were equivalent to the crowds at the base of the mountain where the Lord Jesus was sitting.
So, there are these similarities between the Sermon on the Mount and what happened at Mount Sinai. I’ve said before that Matthew depicts the Lord Jesus as a new and better Israel and his life retraces the history of Israel. What we have now in the Sermon on the Mount is slightly different, but it’s the same basic idea, isn’t it? What happens in the life of Christ recalls the days of Israel in the past. But God is doing a new thing now, because the Lord Jesus is now the lawgiver and he’s gathering his people to himself to teach them, not about life in the land of Canaan, but to teach them about life in the kingdom of heaven, which he has come to establish on the earth.
Let’s turn now to the beatitudes which appear in verses 3 to 12. Sometimes people regard these as entrance requirements, things we have to do in order to be admitted into God’s kingdom. However, we know that the way into God’s kingdom is by turning from our sins in repentance and by trusting in Christ the King for salvation. We’re pardoned and accepted by faith and not by what we do. So, these are not entrance requirements.
Nor are they ethical demands. The Lord is not saying you must poor in spirit and you must mourn and you must be meek and so on. He’s not saying that you must be like this and if you’re not, you need to try harder to become like this. He’s not saying that if you’re not mourning enough, you must mourn more. That’s not what the beatitudes are.
Instead of the Lord is describing what his people are like. This is a description of those who have responded to the good news of the kingdom and who have trusted in Christ the King for salvation. Christ’s people are poor in spirit and they’re people who mourn and they’re meek and they hunger and thirst after righteousness and they’re merciful and they’re pure in heart and they’re peacemakers and they’re persecuted. The Lord is describing his people and he is pronouncing blessings on them.
Isaiah 61 is useful in helping us understand the first two or three qualities. Isaiah said that the Spirit of the Lord was on him to preach good news to the poor. and to comfort those who mourn. Isaiah was referring to God’s people who had been taken away into exile. And therefore they were people who were contrite and humble because of what had happened to them; and who were relying on the Lord to deliver them from exile. And they mourned because they were broken-hearted because of what had happened to them and because of their sins which made the exile necessary. Meekness is another way to describe those who are poor and needy and broken-hearted. And so, when the Lord Jesus refers to the poor and to those who mourn and to the meek, he’s referring to his people who have become contrite and humble and broken-hearted because God has convicted them of their sin and they’re now relying on Christ alone for salvation. And because God has worked in their life, they now hate their sins and everything that is not right in their lives and they therefore hunger and thirst for righteousness. That is, they want to do what’s right in the sight of God. And since they have received mercy from God, who has freely pardoned them, they have become those who are merciful and kind towards others. Once their hearts were a house of horrors, filled with all kinds of sinful desires and inclinations, but now the Holy Spirit resides in their hearts and he’s at work to cleanse them. And the Holy Spirit, living in their hearts, is transforming them into the likeness of their Heavenly Father, so that they become peacemakers, just as he is a peacemaker who has made peace with us through Christ. And a couple of Sundays ago, we were thinking about Paul’s words to Timothy that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Some people suffer for doing what’s wrong. When that happens, we say they are being punished. But Christ’s people suffer for doing what’s right or for believing what’s right. And so, they are persecuted ‘because of righteousness’. And in verse 11 the Lord Jesus adds to what he says about persecution, because he makes clear that his people will be insulted and his people will persecuted and his people will face false accusations. And notice that he says ‘when’. Not ‘if’, but ‘when’. There’s an inevitability to this kind of treatment: When you’re insulted. When you’re persecuted. When you’re falsely accused. And why are they insulted and persecuted and falsely accused? It’s ‘because of me’, says the Lord Jesus. His people will suffer because of him. Since an unbelieving world hated him, they will hate his followers too.
So, here’s a description of Christ’s people. It’s a description of believers, those who have entered Christ’s kingdom through faith and repentance. They are people who are poor in spirit, not proud; and who mourn over their sins, instead of rejoicing in them; and who are meek, and not demanding; and who long for righteousness, instead of loving wickedness; and who are merciful, instead of being unforgiving; and who are pure in heart, instead of possessing unclean hearts; and who are peacemakers, instead of being troublemakers; and who are persecuted because of Christ.
And the Lord Jesus pronounces blessings on his people. Most of the blessings are for the future. Verse 4: they will be comforted. Verse 5: they will inherit the earth. Verse 6: they will be filled. Verse 7: they will be shown mercy. Verse 8: they will see God. Verse 9: they will be called sons of God. They will receive these blessings from God in the future when Christ the King comes again in glory and with power. When Christ comes again, we will be comforted when he wipes the tears from our eyes; and we will inherit the new heavens and earth; and we will be made perfectly righteousness and sinless; and we will receive mercy when we’re acquitted on the day of judgment; and we will be in the presence of God forever and forever where we will be regarded as his children. Of course, we’re already adopted into God’s family through faith. But in Romans 8:19, Paul says creation is waiting for the sons of God to be revealed. We need to be revealed, because an unbelieving world does not recognise us yet. And when Christ comes again, our true identity as God’s children will be revealed. So, all of those blessings in verses 4 to 9 are for the future. But the first blessing and the last blessing refer to something in the present. Verse 3: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Verse 10: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Most of the blessings are for the future and we must wait for them. But we don’t have to wait to belong to the kingdom, because whoever trusts in Christ for forgiveness and turns from their sin in repentance is added to Christ’s kingdom, right now, in this life. And so, already, in this life, we belong to his kingdom. And as members of his kingdom, we receive forgiveness for all that we have done wrong; and we receive peace with God; and we receive the Holy Spirit as the deposit who guarantees everything that is to come when Christ comes again.
I said last week that in one sense Christ’s kingdom has already come and in another sense it is yet to come. It has already come, because Christ the King came into the world to establish his kingdom on the earth; and we enter his kingdom through faith and repentance. But, in another sense, it has yet to come, because we’re waiting for Christ the King to come again to defeat his enemies once and for all and to bring his people into the new heavens and earth. Right now, we face persecution and opposition from Satan and from an unbelieving world. But one day, all opposition will be removed, and we’ll enjoy what? Look at verse 12: a great reward in heaven. This is not a reward we deserve or which we can earn. This is a reward which he freely and graciously bestows on his people, who deserve nothing but condemnation. And yet, instead of condemning us, he gives us forgiveness and he promises us eternal life. And in the rest of this Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus teaches his people how to live as citizens of his kingdom while we wait for our Great King to come again.