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Taking a Fresh Look at the Sermon on the Mount

This Sunday our journey through the Gospel of Matthew brings us to the foot of the mountain from where Jesus gave the famous address recorded in Matthew 5–7. The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the best known portion of Jesus’ teaching, with its ethics of peace, love, and humility celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike. And yet so often we focus on the ethics of the kingdom without connecting them to the King who gives them out of his own authority and power. This can take several shapes.

For some, we celebrate the ethical vision, lamenting that if only everyone would live this way, all the world’s problems would disappear. But we fail to recognize that these are no mere principles for peaceful living, but a call to utter submission to the King of heaven and earth. In other words, we want many of values of the kingdom, but we don’t want the King. We make the Sermon on the Mount about us, hijacking its teaching and using it to advance our own vision for life, which invariably results in throwing out the ethics we don’t like. What we’re left with in the end neither resembles the sermon’s content nor respects the teacher’s authority.

For others, we shy away from this ethical teaching because we know we are utterly incapable of living up to it. In response, we might find ourselves softening the sharp edges, or even relegating the teaching to a different time and people so it no longer applies to us. But this is likewise to focus on the commands while neglecting the King who gave them—the King who is presently establishing his kingdom on earth (cf. 4:17) and whose kingdom work will climax in the cross, resurrection, and sending of his Spirit.

So before we can say anything about the message of Sermon on the Mount, we have to first reckon with the messenger—the King who speaks as God.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is portrayed to us as a new Moses, who comes out of the wilderness and ascends the mountain (5:1-2) to give God’s instruction. Jesus came not to relax or remove the Law, but to fulfill it (5:17-20).

And yet, Jesus is more than a new Moses, for he speaks with the authority of God himself (cf. 7:28-29). He is no mere prophet shouting, “Thus says the Lord.” Rather, Jesus says, “You have heard it said before . . . but I say to you” (e.g. 5:21-22). Throughout the sermon Jesus speaks on direct behalf of his Father in heaven (e.g. 5:45-48; 6:1-18; 7:7-10). He speaks as the divine law-giver and judge (7:21-23). And he speaks as the one in whose words we find wisdom and life (7:24-27).

Jesus is the King who speaks as God. Which means that there can be no real adherence to the Sermon on the Mount without first recognizing and humbly submitting to the authority of Jesus.

Join us at Westgate Church, beginning this Sunday (March 10), as we spend the next several months walking through Christ’s vision for life in his kingdom—life in joyful submission to the King of heaven and earth.

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