This passage is one of the most well-known, while at the same time, it isn’t known very well. That is to say, if you mention Sermon on the Mount to most (church) people, they will know what you are talking about, but following up with any question – when/where/why, or what is in it, what is he saying, and I don’t think you’d get much of a reaction. There are number of ‘famous’ passages within it – the beatitudes (blessed are…) and the Lord’s Prayer probably being the most known, but there are other passages such as His words on Lust/Adultery and Hate/Murder. Really, the simplest way to state it is that the Sermon is a collection of all of the teachings of Jesus found in Matthew, which are not parables.
What exactly was the Sermon? I’m torn on whether I want to get into some of the deeper academic disputes. Was he actually on a mountain? If so, which one? Where there any in the area? Some commentators break this down a bit and say well, it was probably just a hillside, and in kind of a red-neck way, say that the translation could read the sermon up in the hills. Some people were also concerned that it doesn’t align with Luke’s sermon on the plain, and wonder if the Mount is really more of a plateau, but I think all that is beyond what I want to look at and discuss.
For me, there are a few things that matter, one is Jesus probably gave this sermon or message a number of times. It wasn’t uncommon for itinerate teachers (Rabbis) to go around to different towns and villages repeating their message. Luke focused on only a few ‘blesseds’ whereas Matthew had more and left off the ‘woes’. I also think that is why he puts it at the beginning of the his Gospel.
Finally, there is significance to placing it at the Mount (whether it was actually the first instance or not). Matthew is written for a mostly Jewish audience, and they would have seen the connection between Jesus giving the sermon (expanding and explaining the law) and Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the original Law (the 10 commandments). If that wasn’t clear, Jesus Himself draws the connection when He later explains lust and adultery, and hate and murder.
The entire intro Matthew gives us is just two verses (5:1-2), which basically says, people were around, so Jesus started His sermon.
Next week I’ll start going through the beatitudes, but for now, what is exactly are beatitudes? We get with word from the Latin word Beatus which means blessed, which is obviously taken form the start of each verse – ‘blessed are…’. So, what does blessed mean? There are two words typically used in the Greek – Makarious and Ealogetos. The latter is word used when someone is blessed by God that most people think of when they hear bless. The word used is actually the former, it means more something of along the lines of happiness, fortunate, or even congratulate (as the tense is accusative).
This is one reason for wide array of translations for the word, but it makes the sense of the phrase confusing in the English. He isn’t saying that God will bless those who are poor in spirit, He is saying something more along the lines of consider fortunate those who are poor in spirit (on famous sermon even used the translation ‘congratulate those…).
I hope that helps as a basic introduction, next week I’ll started on the Beatitudes and hopefully continue you on through the whole sermon.
Commentaries used in this series:
Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)
The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
The Expositor’s Bible commentary : Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor’s Bible commentary, Vol.8)
Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
New Bible Commentary