Title: The Messiah’s authority to interpret the Law
Scriptures to Read: Read Matthew 5:1-2; Luke 6:17-19
Now we come to the Sermon on the Mount because, as Matthew records, “he went up on the mountain.” The Sermon on the Mount is a well-structured message with a theme, a purpose, contrasts, a conclusion, and a climax.
Notice in Matthew verse 1 that it says Jesus sat down – this is a rabbinic position in which they always teach the Word of God. Before we survey the sermon as a whole, we need to consider the background, theme, purpose etc.
Firstly, this sermon occurred after intense interest in the person of Jesus was stirred up. By this time, He had gone all over the country proclaiming His Messiahship and authenticating His claims with many miracles, signs, and wonders. That is why Jewish people were there from all over the country and outside the country as well. Secondly, this occurred after the selection of the Twelve Disciples. Jesus went up onto the mountain the previous evening and spent the whole night in prayer to God. Then when day came, He called His disciples to Himself and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Then He came down to a level place and gave this message. Thirdly, it came after there had been several conflicts with the Pharisees over the authority of Pharisaic Judaism, the authority of the Mishnah, especially in the area of Sabbath observance. Fourthly, it is a time of Jewish history when the Jewish people were looking for the messianic redemption, looking for the coming of the Messiah to establish his Messianic Kingdom. Now Jesus was preaching that the kingdom is at hand and that He is the Messiah. And He has been performing signs that authenticate His claim. And He was proclaiming a rather narrow way, so narrow that you have to believe in his Messiahship to have the right to enter the kingdom, and so the question arises in the minds of the crowd: Who is right, Jesus or the Pharisees? And what is the righteousness that is a prerequisite for entry into the kingdom? Will Jesus ultimately authenticate Pharisaic righteousness, and if not what kind of righteousness is essential?
The theme is true righteousness
Its theme is true righteousness.
The key verse to understanding the whole purpose of the sermon is found in Matthew 5:20: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” With this one statement He rejects Pharisaism on two counts:
1. He rejects Pharisaism as having the correct interpretation of the righteousness of the Mosaic Law;
2. He rejects Pharisaism as having the kind of righteousness that will qualify them for the Kingdom.
What the Sermon on the Mount is not:
1. It was not intended to be the constitution of the future Messianic Kingdom.
2. It is not a way of salvation (for then salvation would be by works and not faith).
3. It is not intended to be Church ethics or Christian ethics for this age. And again I mean that as a unit. He does say things here that later do become church ethics for this age, and you know what does and what does not by observing what is recorded later in the gospels or by the apostles in the epistles.
So these three things are what it is not: It is not the constitution of the kingdom; It is not a way of salvation; and it is not church ethics for this age.
What the Sermon on the Mount is:
In its context – in the Jewish frame of reference in which it was spoken – the Sermon on the Mount is the Messiah’s interpretation of the standard of righteousness which the Law demanded, put in contrast with the Pharisaic interpretation of the kind of righteousness which the Law demanded. And the basis for the distinction is that the Mosaic Law does not merely require external conformity, but it requires both internal and external conformity. The Pharisees believed the Mosaic Law required external conformity and constructed many additional laws to that end, but they neglected internal conformity. So in His sermon Jesus contrasts the external appearance of righteousness required by Pharisaic law with the internal reality of righteousness required by the Law of Moses.
As you will see, He pulls out a Mosaic commandment from the written Law and shows a contrast between their interpretation of the righteousness of the command in the oral law and His interpretation of the righteousness of that command.