Sermon preached on Matthew 5:1-12 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/5/2014 in Novato, CA. This message gave an overview to the Sermon on the Mount, especially regarding its kingdom focus.
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“He Went Up On a Mountain”
Today we begin a new sermon series going through what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7. It is called this, because of what we see in verse 1. Jesus saw the multitudes, so he went up on a mountain and began to teach his disciples. This sermon is full of some concentrated teaching of Jesus. It’s often observed too, the similarity here with Moses in the Old Testament. Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive and deliver the law of God to the people. Now, here one who claims an even greater authority than Moses goes up on a mountain and delivers law unto the people. Given that Jesus later would send out his disciples in the Great Commission with the instructions to teach people to observe all that he commanded, we can appreciate the importance then to study the commands in this sermon. And yet as we dig into this sermon over the weeks to come, we’ll see this is much more than just a delivery of God’s law to the people. It’s a sermon that’s intimately connected with Jesus’ teaching on the coming of the kingdom and the gospel.
And so today, we will spend some time introducing the Sermon on the Mount, and also to some degree the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are what start off the Sermon on the Mount. The word “beatitudes” is Latin, meaning something like “highest blessing.” And you surely noticed that our Scripture reading for today repeatedly mentioned blessing. That’s how the Sermon on the Mount starts out with: nine words of blessing. This introductory section to the sermon is known as the Beatitudes. It’s interesting: there are of course plenty of commentary books on the Gospel of Matthew. But then you can find a number of whole books written just as commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount. But then you can also find a number of commentaries that are just on the Beatitudes. And so as we begin our sermon miniseries on the Sermon on the Mount, our first several sermons will be focusing on this important section of it known as the Beatitudes.
So then, today’s message will be basically an introduction to the Sermon of the Mount as a whole, and a little on the Beatitudes too. Next week we will then begin to dig further into the Beatitudes as we dig into the details of this sermon. So, let’s begin then in our first point today by establishing a main theme or focus in this sermon. I’m talking about the kingdom of heaven. Nine times in these three chapters, the kingdom is explicitly referenced by name. Jesus is helping to explain the nature of his kingdom, the way in which its coming, and who is going to belong to his kingdom. This is in fact, how Jesus started off his public preaching ministry. He came announcing the coming of the kingdom. Matthew 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” We like to talk about Jesus coming to preach about the gospel. Well, that is true. But in the Gospels, we find that Jesus’ public teaching was very much put in terms of the kingdom. In fact, the idea of the gospel is often connected with the idea of the kingdom, but with the concept of kingdom often getting the focus. For example, in Matthew 4:23 it says that Jesus was preaching about the gospel of the kingdom — in other words the coming of the kingdom is the good news! Or in Mark 1:15, we see that Jesus connected the coming of the kingdom with the need for people to not only repent, but also believe in the gospel.
This whole idea about the kingdom is such an important concept for us to understand the Sermon on the Mount. You see, when we think of Jesus’ teachings and his teachings on the gospel, we tend to think about the gospel in terms of things like how we are forgiven of our sins and will be freed from hell and instead now have eternal life through faith in Christ. While that is all well and true, Jesus’ public teaching didn’t tend to put things in those terms. He started first with the kingdom concept and went from there. For example, when you look at all his parables that he taught, they are often explicitly said to be teaching about the kingdom in some way.
But from the biblical history, we should not be surprised to see Jesus’ emphasis in his teaching to be placed on the idea of the coming of a kingdom. Put yourself in his original audience’s shoes for a moment. You are a Jew living in Judea or Galilee. You are under Roman occupation. You remember all the stories of how in the past God had worked so powerfully in your nation’s history. You remember how your nation had sinned and rebelled against God, and God allowed your nation to be destroyed by foreign nations. But you also remember the promises of restoration. You remember that it was promised that a Messiah would rise up from Israel as the King of Kings. You have been looking forward to all the prophecies to be fulfilled that someone from the line of King David would rise up to be your Savior. You remember that the prophets said he’d bring an everlasting kingdom that would be above all. And so you wait hoping and praying that this would come in your day. And then John the Baptist comes. The first preacher and prophet in a long time that came and really awoke the people with his preaching. And he said that the Messiah was about to come. He said the kingdom was at hand. And then Jesus came. John pointed to him as the Messiah. And what did Jesus say? What did this Messiah from the line of David say? He too said the kingdom was at hand!
This Sermon on the Mount then, really advances Jesus’ message of the kingdom. But as we will see, it begins to challenge the people’s notions about the kingdom. To say it plainly, the nature of Jesus’ kingdom is not apparently what many of the Jews were expecting. And who would be in this kingdom, is not apparently what many of the Jews were expecting. I love how Matthew’s gospel seems to especially brings this out with the phrase he repeatedly uses to talk about the kingdom. In Matthew’s gospel, he tends to call it not just the kingdom, but the kingdom of heaven. Let me clarify the significance here. First, understand that the Synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all especially highlight Jesus’ teachings about the coming of the kingdom. In Mark and Luke, the language of the kingdom is always phrased as the kingdom of God. They don’t call it the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom of God. Matthew, on the other hand, for the most part uses the language of the kingdom of heaven. Why the difference? Well, commentators often suggest that Matthew as a Jew that was writing especially to a Jewish audience used “heaven” instead of “God” because of the common Jewish practice to be reticent to use God’s name. Many Jews at that time were hesitant to use God’s name out of honor and respect for God’s name. And so a common line of thinking says that this is why Matthew must have used the label of “kingdom of heaven” over “kingdom of God.” Well, let me say, I’m not convinced by that argument.
Why? Well, the fact is that Matthew does sometimes refer to the kingdom as the “kingdom of God”. Five times actually. It’s just that he refers to it as the kingdom of heaven thirty-four times; in other words, that’s his preferred term. So he obviously is not out of religious reverence unwilling to say kingdom of God. But he prefers the label of kingdom of heaven. Why? Well, we are not told why. However, it seems a fair interpretation is that it is helping to challenge his audience. It is widely held that Matthew’s gospel, more than the others, was written particularly to a Jewish audience. That being the case, to call the kingdom the kingdom of heaven would surely challenge the Jewish understanding of the kingdom. You see, if the Jews were thinking that that the coming kingdom of the Messiah was just coming to reestablish a more powerful Jews geopolitical kingdom, then they were mistaken. Surely many Jews envisioned the Messiah’s kingdom being one where the Jews were completely sovereign over themselves, with the Messiah as king over them; and having a kingdom that geographically covered the widest range of the Promised Land; with all the other nations around them at peace with them and likely in some way subservient to them. This geopolitical notion of the kingdom is challenged, however, when you start talking about the coming kingdom being the kingdom of heaven. The coming kingdom of the Messiah is not first a kingdom on earth, but the kingdom of heaven. This is why Jesus in John’s gospel can record Jesus telling Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world. And so don’t miss the challenge that would have come to the Jews by calling it the kingdom of heaven.
And so Matthew’s gospel shows Jesus emphasizing the heavenly nature of this coming kingdom. We will see that in our study on the Sermon on the Mount. We’ll see the ways in which this kingdom’s heavenly nature means that there is a way in which the kingdom can be already realized, and a way in which it’s coming is still future. Related to this then is who is to be a part of this kingdom? You see, there’s a question raised in this Sermon on the Mount on who belongs to this kingdom of heaven? Who can enter into it? That would have surely surprised the Jews again. The presumption surely would have been that if you were an Israelite, then this was your kingdom. That you didn’t have to be concerned about how to enter this Messianic kingdom, but that you already had a place in it by your Jewish birthright. This sermon challenges this thinking too.
And so, this Sermon on the Mount is helping to describe this kingdom of heaven that Jesus had announced. We’ll be learning about what kind of kingdom this really is, as we study this sermon. And of course, kingdoms have citizens, and kingdoms have a king. And kings give laws for how to live in their kingdom. We have all of this in this sermon. Jesus is the king, as seen in his various bold statements about himself in this sermon. And it’s also seen in the authority of his teaching, as noted at the end of the sermon, 7:29. And from this mountain, Jesus as king will deliver a number of laws for how to live as someone who belongs to his kingdom. And as for the citizens of this kingdom, we’ll see who such citizens are in this sermon.
So then, that’s a bit of introduction to this Sermon on the Mount, to set the kingdom context behind it all. What I want to do in our remaining time then today is to begin to walk through the Sermon on the Mount and recognize the kingdom references. This will help us to start to recognize the kingdom context in this message. Remember, think about the kingdom and its nature, think about the king, think about the citizens of this kingdom and how someone becomes one, and think about the laws or ethics of this kingdom. If you don’t already have Matthew 5 open, go ahead and turn there now, as we’ll be flipping along.
Matthew 5:1-12, is the Beatitudes section, as mentioned. What we find in these first few verses is that the Beatitudes are helping to begin to identify those who are citizens in this kingdom of heaven. They are beginning to describe what it looks like to belong to this kingdom, but specifically, what does it look like to belong to this kingdom here and now. If you belong to the kingdom of heaven, but are still living on earth, what does that look like? You will notice this kingdom citizenship as framing the Beatitudes section. Verse 1 and verse 10 frame this Beatitudes section with a reference to the people identified here as having the kingdom of heaven. Again, the point is clear. This sermon has a kingdom focus, and the Beatitudes show this as well.
But notice a major point of the initial Beatitudes section. Some of the description of the people who belong to the kingdom of heaven, may not be something you would think would be positive. Some of the descriptions of the people who are in this kingdom sounds like people who are in want. Some describe people under persecution. Notice that such people are under persecution in verses 10 and 11 for two reasons. One, for righteousness sake. But the other is for Jesus’ sake. Realize what that is affirming about Jesus here. Why would anyone suffer so much for someone else’s religious cause? Well, that’s because Jesus is the Messiah. He’s the king of this coming kingdom. He’s calling you to follow him in light of the coming of the kingdom, even if in the short term it might mean persecution. And so until the coming of the kingdom in its fullness, there will be times of persecution. There will be times of lack. There will be times of mourning. There will be conflicts that need peacemakers and you will have to show mercy to the underserved, even to people who wrong you. The world might look at such people as described here with scorn. They might call such people as described in these opening verses as cursed. But what’s the perspective of the king? They are blessed. That’s how the Sermon on the Mount starts out. That if you are one of the subjects of this kingdom here and now, it won’t be too outwardly glorious yet. But keep the reward in mind. When the kingdom of heaven comes in glory, it will be yours. You will find comfort. You will inherit even the earth in that day — the new renewed earth! You will find your hunger for righteousness filled as God perfects you in righteousness. You will see God when that kingdom comes in its full glory. You will be a son of God. You will have great reward in heaven.
Realize then these blessings have a large future component to them, but there is also a present component to them too. Even now, such a person already belongs to this kingdom, even as its beginning to be manifest to this world. Already, you begin to taste of at least a spiritual comfort. Already, you begin to grow in righteousness. Already you have received mercy for all your sins by the cross of Christ. Already, though you do not see God, he lives inside you by his Spirit. Already, you are a Son of God, as demonstrated by the Spirit of Adoption living inside you. I love how even verse 12 talks of our reward in the present tense — already our reward is in heaven. So the Beatitudes talk about what it looks like to be a part of this kingdom of heaven here and now. You are blessed. And those blessings are something you taste of in an already and not yet sense. Just like the kingdom of heaven has come already but not yet come in its fullness. So, too the tasting of these kingdom blessings.
Okay, moving on then past the Beatitudes to the next section, look at verses 13-20. There Jesus affirms the ongoing role of his law. Verses 19-20 especially connect this law with the kingdom. If you want to be great in his kingdom, then don’t relax his laws. And don’t have the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Their righteousness is inadequate. The rest of the chapter then goes on to describe a very high view of God’s law. What I mean is that Jesus deals with the common views of righteousness of that day, probably the Pharisee’s view, and gives his authoritative correction to the understanding of the day. Much of his teaching is to challenge the way people were outwardly keeping the law, at least from external appearances, but not truly inwardly keeping the law. For example, that people would think they were not murders or adulterers because they hadn’t physically committed those acts. But Jesus pointed to the murderous and adulterous hearts of the people and said that if you had such thoughts coming up within you, then you had broken the commands of his kingdom. You had a faulty righteousness like the scribes and Pharisees. Rather, the chapter ends with the absolute demand of perfection. The righteousness of his kingdom is one that is perfect, as the father in heaven is perfect. That’s what Jesus commands the people to in this sermon. Perfect righteousness. Verse 48, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” That’s the kind of righteousness his kingdom is to be about. That’s his kingdom ethics. Something that is not merely external, or in some way keeping to the simple letter of the law. It’s a righteousness that is all pervading, that involves your whole self, body, and soul, in every thought, word, and deed.
Moving on to chapter 6, we see then the call to build up heavenly reward and treasure. The first few verses talk about doing your righteousness in secret, so that you won’t get any reward on earth. If so, then the Father in heaven will reward you. Similarly, the later part of the chapter calls us to seek out heavenly treasure, over earthly treasure, verses 19-21; telling us why this is so much better. This again challenges the thinking about the nature of the kingdom: heavenly over earthly, at least for now in the current manifestation of the kingdom. Again this would have been a challenge especially to a Jew. Think of how the Jew in the Old Testament surely looked to earthly treasures of a sign of God’s blessings in the land of milk and honey. They might have falsely assumed that seeking out those things was a great goal. And surely, in some sense, there are earthly things we need to seek. But what does Jesus say? Verse 33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” That desire is even expressed in this chapter’s teaching on prayer — this is the Lord’s Prayer, by the way, which is also a section in the Sermon on the Mount. Verse 10 says we are to pray, “Your kingdom come.” That is a one way to express that seeking of the kingdom. We seek it in prayer, to be manifested here in now in this age, as well as its final coming in glory.
The last chapter of the sermon, chapter 7, continues to describe the sort of perfect righteousness that we are called to be doing. More of the kingdom ethics, but ethics to be lived out right now. For example, ethics that deal with how to interact with others who are sinful, recognizing that we are all sinners too. Also, a warning to beware of the false prophets that are out there. The warning about the false prophets is especially important because he returns in this chapter to talk about how to enter the kingdom of heaven. In verse 13, he calls us to enter this life by the narrow gate, pointing out how easy and common it is to go the way of destruction instead. And then in verse 21, he talks about how not even everyone who calls Jesus, “Lord, Lord”, shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, he says there we need to do the will of the Father in order to enter his kingdom. By the way, again, notice there how Jesus exalts himself in this sermon. Jesus thinks it quite appropriate to talk about people calling him “Lord, Lord” in relation to entering this kingdom. Jesus is not hiding his identity here. It’s clear with references like this in this sermon that Jesus is claiming to be the promised Messiah king of this kingdom of heaven. We should rightly call him Lord of this kingdom. But mere lip service to his authority is not enough to secure entrance into his kingdom.
Jesus drives home all of this, with that classic parable of the wise man building upon the rock, instead of building upon the sand. This is verses 24-27. If you listen to Jesus’ words, and do them, then you’ll be like the one who built upon the rock. See how again he puts him and his teaching center stage here. This left the people astonished and his authoritative teaching, verses 28-29. But this is where it all comes back to: Jesus. When he preaches a sermon as powerful as this, we are left knowing we need to be in his kingdom. We want to enter the eternal life of this kingdom, and not enter the coming destruction spoken about instead — a reference to hell. But we are also left with a tension. On the one hand a call for complete and perfect righteousness. On the other hand, a call to seek his kingdom and righteousness with all our heart. But are we seeking for something that which we can’t obtain? Well, two responses: Forgiveness and glory. This sermon tells us to pray for our debts to be forgiven in chapter 6. It talks about in chapter 7 of a God who shows mercy to sinners. Chapter 7, verse 11, even notes how we are evil. So Jesus knows our sinfulness, but the hope expressed here is that there can be forgiveness. We know as we read on in this book, that Jesus will have his blood shed for the forgiveness of sins, Matthew 26:28. So that’s one important answer here to why seek for this perfect righteousness, when we know that we struggle to achieve it. There is hope because of the forgiveness held out through trusting in Jesus. But the other side of this is the glory. Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. There is coming a time when the kingdom comes in its fullness, so that God’s will shall be done on earth, as it is in heaven. That will happen only in perfection in the coming of the kingdom in its fullness. But it will come. When those blessings held out here in the start come into full view. Then we will have arrived. Then he’ll perfect our righteousness and finalize the purification of our hearts. And so as Jesus later tells his disciples in this book — God can do the impossible. He can save sinners. Let us trust in that. As we study this sermon and see the call for complete righteousness, respond by trusting in his grace all the more. But also respond with renewed vigor in looking to live out the ethics he gives us here. This is how he wants the citizens of his kingdom to begin to live in this age. And in all that, look forward to that day when the reward comes in its fullness. When the kingdom of heaven comes with the second coming of Christ in glory. Then his kingdom of heaven will come down here and be established here on earth — in a new transformed earth. Look forward to that day. Praise be to God. Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.