If you weren’t with us last Sunday, let me quickly recap where things stand… After spending about a year ministering in the region of Judea and most notably the capital city of Jerusalem — a year that would see Jesus go from being a relatively unknown rabbi from Nazareth to now drawing crowds even greater than John the Baptist…
Jesus decides to return to Galilee and set up His base of operations in the town of Capernaum — which was a prominent fishing village situated on the northern shore of the sea. In Matthew 4:17, we’re then told, “From that time (upon His arrival to Galilee) Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
As we transition to the last three verses of the fourth chapter, Matthew is going to provide his reader a broad description of what Jesus’ ministry in Galilee practically looked like as well as the kind of impact He was making… Matthew 4:23, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”
For starters, this phrase “and Jesus went about all Galilee” indicates He was making the rounds throughout the region traveling from town to town, to town. As we noted last Sunday, this area of 900 mi2 contained 204 towns and was densely populated. In fact, the word “Galilee” literally means circuit in that it described the layout of these villages.
According to Matthew’s account, as Jesus was making this circuit, upon His arrival to each of these towns, His focus was threefold: “teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and diseases.”
While we understand historically the “synagogue” was the place a local, Jewish community would congregate with one another, read from the Scriptures on the Sabbath, as well as educate their children throughout the week, it’s worth noting Matthew 4:23 happens to be the very first mention of the word “synagogue” in the entire Bible!
What’s interesting is the Old Testament never commissioned the formation or sanctioned the operation of such a place. In contrast, the worship of God was relegated to wherever the presence of God resided — first the Tabernacle of Meeting and then later at the Temple.
Because of this, most scholars believe the very concept of a synagogue came into existence during the Babylonian captivity. Not only had the Temple been destroyed but the Hebrew people had been scattered across the world. Since this was the case, in order to maintain their national and religious heritage while in exile, these smaller pockets of Jewish populations situated in foreign territories gathered together on the Sabbath for worship.
Most notably, the word synagogue means bringing together and originally referred to these Jewish gatherings. Then, similar to the linguistic evolution of the word church, the term synagogue evolved to describe the building in which these people would congregate.
According to the Hebrew Talmud, if a town possessed a Jewish community containing more than 10 Hebrew males, it was required that a synagogue exist. Aside from the Galilee, it’s worth pointing out the Apostle Paul would visit synagogues located as far away as Damascus, Salamis, Antioch, Iconium, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus.
With regards to the Galilean region, because people were only allowed to walk so far on the Sabbath before it constituted work, virtually every town that surrounded the Sea of Galilee possessed a synagogue. Case in point, we know Capernaum had one of the most elaborate in the region because its construction had been financed by a wealthy Roman centurion.
In this summary of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, Matthew tells us He would use the synagogue and the traditional Sabbath gathering as a place to teach, preach, and heal. In that day, each town would have had what was called a “ruler of the synagogue” whose job it was to care for the grounds, supervise any additional activities, and facilitate the Sabbath service.
Most of the time, the synagogue service was ritualistic and automated. When the time came for the Scriptures to be read after the various prayers, the ruler of the synagogue would call upon one of the elders. That said, if there happened to be a rabbi in attendance, he would be given the opportunity to pick a text of His choosing to read and then expound upon.
When Jesus came to these various towns and visited their synagogues this custom would afford Him the perfect platform to “teach” as well as “preach the gospel of the kingdom!” Again, more than anything else, Jesus was known as being a teacher/preacher!
It’s worth pointing out we have two different words translated as “teach” and “preach.” The first described the act of providing an explanation with the second word depicting the issuing of a proclamation. What this tells us is that Jesus would open the Scriptures, then teach the people what a particular text meant, before proclaiming or preaching “the gospel” — literally heralding the good news “of the kingdom.”
Understand, in that day, what Jesus was doing was radical. Typically, rabbis only taught what the general beliefs about a passage were and they would avoid making any definitive statements. And yet, in contrast, Matthew 7:28-29 says the people “were astonished at Jesus’ teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
Did you hear the one about the Rabbi who walked into a bar with a frog on his shoulder? Perplexed, the bartender asked where he found such an interesting character? The frog answered, “Brooklyn!” — I’m sorry for that. I just thought a fun joke might cheer up all the Dodger fans still grappling with the collateral damage of Max Muncy getting hurt!
Aside from this, Matthew also says Jesus would “heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.” While there is no question Jesus’ ability to heal and cast out demons was a dominant part of His ministry, please realize this came second to and in support of His teaching and preaching ministry. In fact, the purpose of these miraculous acts was to validate the power of His Word as well as to confirm His identity.
It’s hard to overstate how unexpected all of this would have been for those who already believed Jesus was the Messiah. While they rightly understood the Christ would possess power, they assumed this power would be used to grant Israel victory over her enemies.
In the end, their view of the Messiah’s mission was misguided because they failed to identify the real enemy — sin! Though we know Jesus would ultimately battle sin at the cross, He began His assault by attacking the tragic effects sin had yielded in mankind.
How inspiring it is that Jesus used His power to demonstrate mercy and compassion to those who were suffering as a result of illnesses — that He spent the time to tenderly care for people who’d been relegated to the lowest rungs of society as a consequence. Again, His love for people shattered their misconceptions of what the King would be like!
Yes, it was entirely true Jesus came to teach the people about the kingdom of God. Without question, He was first and foremost a preacher. And yet, tending to the practical needs of hurting people was not below Him. Christian, never forget the words you speak to someone will take on a deeper meaning when they’re coupled with the love you also show them.
Matthew closes the chapter by recording what resulted from this radical season of ministry in Galilee… Matthew 4:24-25, “Then Jesus’ fame went throughout all Syria (this was a huge region located just to the north of Galilee); and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments (tortures, agonies, acute pains), and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics (literally those moonstruck or lunatic), and paralytics (those inflicted with palsy); and He healed them.
(As a result of these things) Great multitudes followed Him (in all likelihood thousands) — (included in this great multitude were those) from Galilee, and from Decapolis (10 Gentile cities to the east), Jerusalem (100 miles south), Judea, and beyond the Jordan.”
What Jesus was doing in the region of Galilee was so profound and impactful it was drawing massive crowds from all over the place. A sea of humanity (who mind you were predominately sick and incredibly desperate) were literally traveling hundreds of miles in the hopes of encountering Jesus. Most amazingly, His fame was spreading word-of-mouth!
Knowing there were no chapter and verse breaks in the original manuscripts, Matthew uses this summary of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee to set the stage and context for what comes next… Matthew 5:1-2, “And seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him (this was the proper posture of a rabbi when he was teaching). Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying…”
In our lead-in for what is traditionally known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (a discourse that will cover the next three chapters), there are a few details presented in these two verses we should discuss. Though Matthew has finished telling us it was Jesus’ custom to teach and preach from the synagogue, on account of His incredible popularity, He’s now forced to utilize outdoor venues as well in order to accommodate the growing crowds.
For this occasion, “Jesus went up on” one of the many “mountains” that surrounded the Sea of Galilee with the intention to teach. With the crowds below Him and the water behind them, Jesus was utilizing the perfect acoustics to be heard by a great number of people.
One scholar even noted how the Greek phrase translated “He opened His mouth” implies Jesus spoke loudly, was projecting, and talked like a man who had something to say!
In the flow of his presentation of Jesus as the King and the mention of His ministry focus being teaching and preaching, it makes total sense why Matthew would now provide his reader a practical example of what a typical sermon from Jesus would be like. In fact, the Sermon on the Mount records for us the first and most famous sermon ever given by Him.
While there are some scholars who’ll argue Luke 6 presents another version of the Sermon on the Mount because of the obvious similarities in content — for example, the Beatitudes are repeated, it’s important to note several significant differences make this impossible.
One explanation, presented by David Guzik, I find fascinating and agree with. First, Guzik contends our record of the Sermon on the Mount is likely incomplete. To validate this position, he notes how it only took him a little under 13 minutes to read the entire sermon.
Since it’s reasonable to assume Jesus would have taught for a longer period of time, he argues the Sermon on the Mount is actually an outline of the content that dominated Jesus’ preaching while He was on the Galilean circuit. While Jesus would have emphasized various parts at different times He spoke, in a way, this sermon presented the core of His message.
Either way… What really makes any sermon given by Jesus so deeply consequential is that it came directly from God. Think about the implications of this… While we have other sermons recorded in the New Testament by men like Peter or Paul — sermons that were inspired by God working through the unique personalities and flair of each man, when it came to Jesus we’re given a sermon inspired by God through the personality of God.
This means we not only have the substance of the sermon to grapple with and unpack but we’re also being provided a wonderful glimpse into the personality of Jesus! One scholar noted, “The basis for the ethics of this Sermon is not what works but rather the way God is.”
Another detail that will be critical to our understanding of the Sermon on the Mount centers on Jesus’ motivation as well as the intended audience. Notice Matthew’s set-up… “And seeing the multitudes… His disciples came to Him… He taught them saying…”
There is no doubt Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was given in direct response to “the multitudes” of people who were coming from all over to be healed by Him. And yet, while we can imagine “the multitudes” were able to hear the things Jesus was sharing, don’t overlook the important fact the intended audience was “His disciples.” That’s important.
Again, at this point in Jesus’ Galilean ministry, the use of the term “disciple” should have a broad interpretation. Though Matthew has already recorded Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, James, and John in the previous chapter, we know many more disciples had been commissioned. In fact, Jesus still hasn’t selected the Twelve out from the larger whole.
We’ll return to this idea in a moment, but this means the Sermon on the Mount was a message Jesus crafted for His disciples out of a concern for the hurting multitudes.
One of the mistakes in the way people have interpreted and therefore applied the Sermon on the Mount is a belief Jesus was articulating to the world the ideal ethic mankind should live by. Sadly, they overlook the simple fact the world was not the intended audience. This was not a sermon for the unbeliever, but for the believer — His disciples, the Christian.
With that in mind, as a sermon directed toward His disciples, Jesus was describing what our lives should look like! As what some have called His manifesto and others the declaration of His Kingdom, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was articulating what characteristics should dominate our lives as the citizens of heaven living on this earth.
In effect, in this sermon, Jesus is describing the citizens of His Kingdom — the men and women who’ve rejected this fallen world and have accepted Him as their sovereign King!
Here’s the rub… If left unto our own abilities, the Sermon on the Mount presents an insurmountable ideal and, in turn, issues a tragic inditement as to our obvious inadequacies. I mean you read through the text and are left feeling worse about yourself not better!
To this point, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Phillip Yancey writes, “Inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.”
One way of interpreting this sermon that will be critically helpful to the way we seek to apply the text is the fact the life Jesus was truly describing in the Sermon on the Mount was in fact His own! You see Jesus is the perfect demonstration of all these characteristics — meaning the sermon really defines what Christ-likeness practically looks like in us.
The reason this perspective is important is when you come across areas within this sermon you fail to emulate (which will happen frequently) the appropriate reaction should be humility (an acknowledgment you fall short), a return to the cross (your source of righteousness), and a renewed dependence on walking in the Spirit (the mechanism for Christ-likeness).
Again, as we work our way through the Sermon on the Mount it’s really important you don’t forget it is not a declaration of the life Jesus wants His disciples to work hard to live out, but a description of the life He’s presently working to make us into!
In his commentary on this pass, Oswald Chambers says it best, “The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us… The Sermon on the Mount is not some unattainable goal; it is a statement of what will happen in me when Jesus Christ has changed my nature by putting His own nature in me. Jesus Christ is the only One who can fulfill the Sermon on the Mount.”
This is why Jesus spoke this sermon to His disciple upon seeing the multitudes of broken, hurting people. You see while the day will come when the King returns, puts an end to the chaos, establishes His Kingdom, and rules in righteousness, until then it’s our job as the citizens of the coming kingdom to bring a taste of heaven to this earth!
This morning I’m going to close out our time together doing something I’ve never done… Since starting next week we’re going to begin systematically working our way through the Sermon on the Mount verse-by-verse and chapter-by-chapter, I think we should first take a moment and allow the totality of Jesus’ words to ring out without commentary. There’s something powerful about absorbing the whole before diving into the particulars.
Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Matthew 6:1, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.
Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn-bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
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