The Sermon on the Mount: Introduction and Beatitudes


One of the worst labels given to a sermon is that given to Matthew chapters 5-7, The Sermon on the Mount. That title informs you only about where Jesus gave the sermon, on a mount, and nothing at all about the contents of the sermon. According to Matt. 5:20 what is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount?

A better title to this sermon would be "The Righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven." "Righteousness" in the NT has 2 major meanings. Throughout Romans 1-8 "righteousness" refers to a person being in a right relationship with God. Because we have sinned against God, we are in a wrong relationship with God. Because Christ died for our sins, we who have believed in Jesus are now in a right relationship with God.

Many Baptists reduce righteousness to just this one aspect of God's righteousness. Our right relationship with God though should lead to right behavior. For example, after Paul speaks about coming into a right relationship with God (Rom. 1-8), he then speaks about the right kind of behavior Christians should display (Rom. 12:1-15:13). According to Eph. 2:8-10 why did God save us?

(Notice that Christ did not save us so that we should live righteous lives in our own strength and power. One of the major elements of Jesus' farewell sermon in John 14-16 is the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus means for us to live a righteous life only in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit.)

What we see here in the Sermon on the Mount is a description of the righteous behavior Christ expects His followers to live out daily.

THE BEATITUDES (Matt. 5:3-10)


At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount are 8 beatitudes (verses 3-10, with verses 11 and 12 expanding upon the 8th beatitude). Look up in the dictionary the definition of a "beatitude." Write down its definition below.

The Beatitudes as an Overture

These beatitudes serve as an introduction, or even better, as an overture to the Sermon on the Mount. In earlier days Hollywood would begin important motion pictures with "overtures." For example, if you rent Gone With the Wind, Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, or Doctor Zhivago, you will hear right at the beginning of these movies an "overture." An overture takes the major musical themes in the movie and combines them into one musical number, an overture. For example, in Lawrence of Arabia are 3 major musical motifs: the theme which plays whenever Lawrence is doing something wonderful, the theme accompanying the British army, and the theme accompanying the Arab forces. In the overture you get just a sampling of these musical themes; however, whenever you watch the rest of the movie, you will hear these themes more fully developed. The overture introduces the themes and gives you a sample of what these themes are like.

In the same way the Beatitudes introduces the major themes of the Sermon on the Mount. In fact most of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount relates in one way or other to the 8 beatitudes in Matt. 5:3-10. For example, which beatitude does Matt. 6:22-23 relate to? Which beatitude does Matt. 5:23-26 relate to?

The Biblical History of the Word "Blessed"

Each of the 8 beatitudes has something in common. What word is common to all 8 beatitudes?

(Very briefly, when Jesus says that we are blessed, He does not say that we are always happy. Sometimes Christians experience intense pain. Sometimes they experience unspeakably severe persecution. Yet regardless of what our circumstances are, we are blessed, that is, we stand in God's good graces. Think about a parent's relationship with his child. Molly and Nathan may one day disappoint me; I may even disappoint them. Yet nothing will change the fact that they stand in favor with me. Well, God is a better Father than I would ever hope to be. As our Father, God's favor is upon us no matter life may seem to say.)

Understanding the biblical history of the word "blessed" is critical to appreciate the significance of the beatitudes. One notable Christian positive thinker says the beatitudes are "the Be-Happy Attitudes." That definition seriously reduces the significance of these beatitudes. There is a long biblical history to the beatitudes reaching back to creation which we will now survey.

According to Genesis 1:28 what did God do for His creation after He had rested from His works?

According to Gen. 1:31 what was true about the things God had made?

When sin entered into the world, something else also entered into the world. What key word is found in both Gen. 3:14, 17?

The concept of the curse is critical for our understanding of the beatitudes. When God created the world, He created it in a state of blessedness. When Adam and Eve sinned, they brought the curse of God into the world: the serpent is cursed so that now he slides on his belly, the woman experiences the curse by bearing children with great pain, and the man experiences the curse by now working by the sweat of his brow. According to Gen. 3:15 what will bring about the end to the curse?

After the Fall (Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden which brings about the curse), mankind falls into such deep sin and degradation that God wipes out the world with a flood. Only Noah, his family, and representatives of the major animal groups are spared in the ark. After the flood even Noah's descendants fall into sin. The curse is still operating.

With the coming of Abraham, a new chapter begins in the story of the curse. Using Gen. 12:2-3 fill in the blanks to see what is important about this new chapter regarding the curse:
"I will make you a great nation, and I will ________________ you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a __________________. And I will ______________ those who _____________ you, and the one who _______________ you I will ____________________. And in you all the families of the earth shall be ___________________."

The implication is that with the coming of the blessing, the curse placed upon mankind is beginning to be lifted. God is going to bless Abraham and his _______________ (Gen. 15:18; use the King James Version to fill in this blank.) According to Paul how many people make up this seed (Gal. 3:16)?

The New American Standard Bible translates the word in Gen. 15:18 as plural "descendants," while Paul translates it as singular "seed." Why the difference? The Hebrew word can be either plural or singular. Paul under the leadership of the Spirit sees it as a singular word. According to Paul who is the seed, that is, who is the One God will use to bless the world (Gal. 3:16)?

When we understand this to be the meaning of the word "bless," we understand why the blessing was so important to Isaac and especially to Jacob/Esau/Rebekah. The one Isaac blessed would be the one God would use to bring about the blessing of Abraham into the world.

God does use Abraham and his descendants to bless the world. He gives them His Word (the OT) in order to reveal Himself to the world. In the word given to the Israelites people come to understand how to live abundant lives of faith and adventure with God. These are blessings indeed.

With the coming of Christ though God's blessing promised to Abraham moves up to a much higher plane. No longer does God send angels to speak to mankind; God the Son Himself comes to earth to dwell among us. In Jesus we see God perfectly. Moreover, with His coming appears salvation for mankind.

After Jesus dies, rises from the dead, and is exalted to God's right hand, He is able to pour out His Spirit upon all those who follow Him. According to Paul the Holy Spirit is the promise, the ___________________ of Abraham (Gal. 3:14).

The gift of the Spirit definitely means that we are more blessed than before. Before the Spirit was given to God's people, God spoke to His people and even lived among them in the person of God the Son; however, now He lives within us so that we are now closer to Him than ever before. Moreover, by living in us Jesus is able to empower us to experience an abundant life, the very life that He enjoys. Because we still have our old sin nature within us, we do not enjoy that abundant life to the fullest; however, we do experience it to a real degree because Christ's Spirit does live within us.

There is one more level to the blessing though to be attained, the level of blessing that will be attained to whenever Jesus returns. Revelation speaks about the return of Christ, about the time when the blessing will be consummated. Look up the following verses and discover how many times John gives us a beatitude (a blessing) in Revelation. Circle the verses which have the word "blessing" or "blessed" in them: Revelation 1:3; 1:5; 14:12; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 19:10; 20:6; 22:7; 22:9; 22:14.

This number is a "divine" number indicating fullness. In other words when Christ returns, the blessing of Abraham will be consummated. What are some ways that we will be blessed when Christ returns? Rev. 21:4. Phil. 3:20-21. Rom. 8:18.

According to Rev. 22:3 when Jesus returns, what will be no more?

In fact if you look closely at Rev. 22:1-2 you will see that the new heaven is a type of Eden restored. The new heaven will have a tree of life bearing fruit perpetually and a river giving life to the new Jerusalem. In many ways Jesus' work has as its purpose the restoration of Eden, an Eden though far more wonderful than ever before.

Now when Jesus sits upon the mount and proclaims, "Blessed, Blessed, Blessed, etc." He means that the curse is being lifted, that God's promise to Abraham is coming to pass in their very midst.