Many great men have been defined or discovered by a speech that “went viral” before social media coined the term. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and George W. Bush’s post-9/11 response exemplify such legacy-defining speeches.
Jesus began His public earthly ministry with such a sermon: the Sermon on the Mount. American New Testament scholar Craig L. Blomberg of Denver Seminary, wrote, “Perhaps no other religious discourse in the history of humanity has attracted the attention which has been devoted to the Sermon on the Mount.”
Jesus’s sermon has been titled, among other things, “The Compendium of Christ’s Doctrine,” “The Magna Charta of the Kingdom,” “The Manifesto of the King,” “The Manifesto of the Kingdom,” and “Essential Christianity.” It would difficult, if not impossible, to overstate the importance and effect that this short sermon – it can be read aloud in under 15 minutes – has had on humanity and history. As John MacArthur stated, “The greatest Preacher who ever lived preached the greatest sermon ever preached.”
Before this great Sermon can be dissected, we would do well to study its overview, found in 5:1-2. Then we’ll briefly give an overview of the Beatitudes.
Matthew’s Introduction to Jesus’s Sermon
Four words, implicitly stated or implied in 5:1-2, provide a framework to understand the scope of the sermon. The first word is “mountain,” where Jesus delivers His sermon. Matthew intentionally provides this detail for his Jewish readers as a connection to another similar event. Exodus 19 tells how Moses proceeded up the mountain to receive the Law, the 10 Commandments, from God. Similarly, God the Son delivered the fulfillment (5:17) and the fullness (5:20) of the Law of Moses, and He did so in the same way as to Moses 1,500 years before.
Second, Matthew presents Jesus as Master. Jesus spoke only “after He sat down.” In ancient days speaking while standing or walking was informal and unofficial. However, teaching while sitting was considered authoritative and official. That is still formally practiced today. In universities around the world, renowned professors hold a “chair.” When the pope makes official pronouncements, he does so ex cathedra, meaning literally to speak from a chair. Jesus’s posture indicated He spoke with great authority, a fact the audience recognized and marveled over (7:28-29).
The next word is “mouth.” The phrase “He opened His mouth” seems verbose. Matthew could have simply said, “Jesus said …” However, Matthew’s phrasing was not just synonymous with “said.” When we read “He opened his mouth” anywhere in the New Testament, the author is trying to convey 1) the weight of the information about to be spoken and 2) the intent of the speaker to really open his heart and mind. Jesus wasn’t just talking here. He was providing His audience a glimpse into His heart and mind to know what was most important to Him.
Finally, verse 2 prepares the reader for Jesus to teach His message. Just like in English, Greek verbs have tenses. The tense Matthew used here was called “imperfect past,” or something that happened in the past continually. For example, if you ask a retiree what job they retired from, he might say, “I worked on airplane engines.” It’s not something he did just once and retired. (If he did, get me the name of his employer!) He did this continually over time.
That was what Jesus did with this message. That’s why we find parts of this message scattered throughout the Gospel of Luke. He talked about this stuff all the time, because it was that important to Him.
A possible outline for the sermon: the reality for true believers (5:3-16); the righteousness of true believers (5:17-6:18); the relationships of true believers (6:19-7:12); and the response of true believers (7:13-27).
What’s that word?
I remember the evening well. My youth group that I grew up in had no full-time youth pastor for most of the time I was there. But we had some great volunteers. We were having a Bible study in the home of one of those volunteer couples. On this particular night, we were studying the Beatitudes. One of my friends brought his new girlfriend with him, and she was not a regular church attender.
Everybody was assigned a turn to read part of the Bible passage. Everybody. Even the new girl. If any youth pastors are reading this right now, they must be cringing! It gets worse! She mispronounced a word as she read, to the chuckles of the rest of us in the room. I’m sure she was embarrassed. But I’m also pretty sure she said the most theologically accurate thing anyone else said that entire night, and she didn’t even know it.
When she got to the heading that introduced the Beatitudes, she changed one letter … and it made more sense than when we read it correctly. She introduced us to “the Bestitudes.”
The Bestitudes are the pathway to blessing. The Old Testament ended with a warning and a curse (The last word of the Old Testament is “curse.”). Jesus opened His ministry by introducing us to real blessing. Better, the blessing is bestowed even before the demands that follow. (This is another pattern copied from Moses. Exodus 19 bestows blessings and reminds Moses of God’s faithfulness. Only then does God deliver the law in chapter 20.)
The Bestitudes. Since the Bible text itself does not title them, I’m campaigning to change their name to Bestitudes. Brought to you by someone who had no idea what she was reading. These are the best attitudes/actions a true follower of Christ can exhibit.