#28: The Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5:1–2

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them,

In our following of Jesus’ journey we have come to one of the great treasures or mountain top moments. It is the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. We could spend endless time in these next three chapters of Matthew, but because we have to keep moving we shall spend only five sessions dipping into them. The well we are dipping into, however is a deep well and holds much rich and cool water.
The whole thing can be summed up in three sentences:

This is how you live a good life
This is how you live a Godly life
This is how goodness and Godliness live in you

I think it is quite important before diving into the contents of the Sermon on the Mount to work out who is it for. Who is Jesus preaching to? Who are the listeners?

It looks in these verses as though Jesus specifically leaves ‘the crowds’ behind and takes his disciples or committed followers up the mountain for a sort of teaching, commitment and bonding session all in one.

In the gospels the ‘crowd’ are often seen as those who are drawn because they want something from Jesus, as if he was some sort of ‘all welcoming, healing, sweet shop type person’. In the gospels followers or disciples are those who step out of the crowd and into a commitment to find out more, to follow, to serve, to change their lifestyle and life direction around Jesus.

The distinction between ‘crowd’ and ‘disciples’ gets a bit more complex when we realise that out of what was probably a fairly large bunch of disciples Jesus chose ‘the twelve’. Luke has a story of Jesus’ great sermon as well, except his shorter version begins with Jesus spending the whole of the previous night in prayer before picking out this inner group (Lk 6:12–13). These were the ones who seem to have given up their jobs and walked away from their daily lives to accompany Jesus on his wandering mission. So there were, what we might call, ‘stay at home disciples’, continuing with their normal family and village life, but doing it all the Jesus way. And then there were the twelve, the ‘on the road’, footing it and doing it alongside Jesus, disciples.

Here is the interesting thing about the receivers or listeners to the Sermon on the Mount; they begin as a group of disciples leaving the crowds behind to follow him up the Mountain. At the end of the sermon however, we read about the crowds being astonished at his teaching (Mt 7:28). It looks then as if some of the crowds also found their way up the mountain and were drawn towards becoming real followers themselves.

So what is the best sermon you have ever heard? Who was the preacher? Man or woman? Young or old? Did it feel like a deep, traditional, sermon, or was it sort of cool, edgy and contemporary? And what about you as a listener? Were you really open, working hard, or were you waiting to be entertained? And what about the big truth factor? Did it set you free? Did it challenge your lifestyle? The way you relate to other people? The way you cling on to money and possessions? This great sermon that you heard recently, did it make you laugh or cry, fill you with rejoicing or regret. More than anything else did it draw you closer to God and make you want to be more like him.

Chapters 5–7 of Matthew’s Gospel show us Jesus leading a retreat, giving big and deep teaching all about goodness and Godliness. Jesus inspiring people to follow him and adopt his attitudes and ideas. The teaching is given to both the ‘stay at home’ and the ‘on the road’ disciples and beyond them to the crowd who were curious, hungry and searching. The ones who were being drawn deeper and closer.

We seem to be back with the searcher follower movement. Here it looks like:

Curious in the crowd
Stepping out to find more
Seriously listening
Responding to what he is saying
Following and doing

Big Question, ‘Which of these five stepping stones are you on?’

Lord Jesus,
Call me out of the crowd,
Draw me up the mountain,
Call me out of the crowd,
Open my ears, my mind, my heart.
Call me out of the crowd,
And into your inner circle of disciples.
Call me and help me to follow you.