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God's New Society: An Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount

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The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most beloved—and often misunderstood—passages of the whole Bible. Some come to Jesus' famous speech as if it were a blueprint for the gradual improvement of the human race through love rather than law. At the other extreme are those who say that it has no place in the church today, but is entirely relegated to a future "kingdom age." In between there are various interpretations that we'll encounter along the way.


The first thing to do is set up the context. Who is Jesus addressing? According to Matthew's Gospel, "Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain." This was not in order to broadcast his voice to the thousands, but rather to escape the crowds: see also Mark 1:32-37, John 6:1-3; 6:15, for similar actions. Proof of this is the fact that he sits down and looks up at his disciples. In other words, the sermon is given to a more intimate crowd of his followers (i.e., those who followed him up the mountain).


Looking at the structure of the synoptic gospels, this address could be seen as an ordination sermon given to his disciples at the time of the selection of the twelve apostles (Matt 5:1-2, Lk 6:13, Mk 3:13).


Matt 4:1-11 - Temptation of Jesus

Matt 4:12-17 - Ministry in Galilee

Matt 4:18-22 - Calling of individual disciples

Matt 4:23-25 - Teaching / Healing ministry in Galilee, resulting in great crowds

Matt 5:1 - Jesus ascends a mountain and sits down. Many of his disciples come to him

Matt 5:1-2 - Sermon given to his disciples: "when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them..." He is not standing on top of a mountain addressing the crowds below.


Luke 4:1-13 - Temptation of Jesus

Luke 4:14-43 - Ministry in Galilee

Luke 5:1-39 - Calling of individual disciples

Luke 5:23-25 - Teaching / Healing ministry in Galilee, resulting in great crowds

Luke 6:12-16 - Jesus ascends a mountain, and appoints apostles from a large group of disciples

Luke 6:20 - Sermon given to his disciples: And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples (looking up assumes a sitting position).


Mark 1:13 - Temptation of Jesus

Mark 1:14-15 - Ministry in Galilee

Mark 1:16-20 - Calling of individual disciples

Mark 1:21 - 3:12 - Teaching / Healing ministry in Galilee, resulting in great crowds

Mark 3:13-19 - Jesus ascends a mountain, and appoints apostles from a large group of disciples. The exact same structure is present here, but Mark does not include the sermon...


Where is this Sermon in the history of God's unfolding drama? Its focus is the kingdom of God, also called the kingdom of heaven, which Jesus is bringing into the world. This kingdom is not something that human beings are building, but a gift that God is giving. That's why it's called "the good news of the kingdom," not "the good program of the kingdom."


God commissioned Adam and Eve to rule and subdue, to be fruitful and multiply, and to fill the earth. From its capitol in Eden, God's reign was to be spread to the ends of the earth. Israel, too, was called to guard and keep God's sanctuary, driving the serpent from his garden, living in love and peace together, spreading the kingdom from its capitol in Jerusalem. As we read in Hosea 6:7, "Like Adam, Israel broke my covenant." And, like Adam, Israel was sent into exile "east of Eden."


Yet through the prophets God directed Israel's hopes to the coming Messiah and a deliverance that was based solely on his mercy. It was based on the Abrahamic promise rather than the Mosaic law; the oath that God swore to Abraham, not the oath that Israel swore at Mount Sinai.


The promise God made to Abraham was of a temporal land, the land of Canaan, that would be typological of a greater promise—namely, the whole world, everlasting life in God's holy presence. He also promised him a seed—numerous physical descendants, but that was typological of something even greater: a redeemer-seed in whom all the families of the earth will be blessed.


So it's this Abrahamic promise that the prophets appeal to as Israel lies in exile, poor in spirit, persecuted, meek, and hopeless. The prophets proclaim a coming day when God's glorious presence will overflow the Jerusalem sanctuary. It will cover the whole land of Israel (Ezek 37:25-28) and then the whole earth (Isa 54:2-3; Dan 2:34-45). The nations will come to Zion (Amos 9:11-12; Is 2:3-4; 11:10—12). Isa 26:16-19: "You have increased the nation, O LORD, you have increased the nation, your are glorified; you have extended all the borders of the land." God tantalizes his people with the vision of a highway running between Israel and its erstwhile enemies, including Egypt and Assyria, as together they are all called the people of God and worship as one body. Is 26:18-19 prophesies "deliverance for the earth" and "the earth will give birth to the departed spirits." In chapter 27, it's like a new Garden of Eden and Israel will at last "fill the earth." All of this is rooted in the promise to Abraham: "In you and your seed all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Gen 12:1-3).


So clearly already in that promise to Abraham, the expanding of Israel, both geographically and numerically, is not limited to ethnic Jews. The Messiah, David's own Lord as well as descendant, will "rule from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth" (Ps 72:8). In Ps 2 Yahweh promises the Messiah, his Son, "I will give the nations as your inheritance and the ends of the earth as your possession" (Ps 2:8). Ps 37:11 promises, "But the humble will inherit the land" (the phrase "inherit the land" is repeated in vv 3, 9, 18, 22, 29, 34). Furthermore, this is no longer in the conditional form: they will inherit it "forever" (v 29) and the wicked will but cut off forever, without inheritance (vv 9-11, 28). The earth (v. 5) is the kingdom of heaven (v 3). This is the "age to come," referred to in inter-testamental Jewish sources, with roots in the prophets (Is 60:21: "Then all your people will be righteous; they will possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified").


This is the stock of prophetic hope from which the New Testament draws when it speaks of Christ as Abraham's promised seed and the kingdom that he brings as a gift of grace. As Paul tells us in Romans 4:13, "For the promise to Abraham and to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith." In fact, the word for "world" here is not just the earth (ge), but the whole cosmos. Romans 8 teaches that the whole creation is longing to join in the cosmic liberation that will arrive when the saints are raised in everlasting glory. Hebrews 11 teaches that Abraham was justified through faith, longing for a greater (heavenly) land. And in Revelation 21 and 22 we finally see the new heavens and earth, risen afresh in a glory never seen before, cleansed of all unrighteousness, violence, suffering, and death.


This kingdom is a gift, an inheritance. Like the inheritances we are familiar with, it's not something we attain, build, or earn. It's something we hear about. We are made beneficiaries of it. But how? And what kind of new family, what kind of new society, does this inheritance create? All of these questions are addressed in Jesus' famous sermon.


It is significant that Jesus does not begin with commands, but with blessing. In the old covenant, national blessing was held out as the condition for national obedience: "If you do this, you will live long in the land that I am giving you; if you don't, you'll be cut off and exiled from the land." Yet Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant, reverses the order here. The blessing is greater than that of the old covenant, just as the reality is greater than its shadows. And the blessing is surer than that of Sinai, because it is grounded in God's promise to give an everlasting inheritance gratis, as a free gift. The law still has its place. It still commands good works, but these are not conditions for remaining tenants in God's land, but an inheritance for children whom he adopts in the Son of his love. Because our elder brother has fulfilled the whole law, the commands are not conditions for us to fulfill, but the appropriate response of thanksgiving in view of the mercies of God.


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  • [...] God’s New SocietyMichael Horton The Sermon on the MountBrian W. Thomas Rightly Dividing the WordMichael Horton WHI Discussion Group QuestionsPDF Document [...]

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  • Guest - Matt Grace (justaguy)

    Thanks for the follow up Shane!  I Do enjoy having civilized discussions with my family :) and watch out for me as I'm known to belabor points so if I start to just tell me and I'll shut my trap :).

    However I do, respectfully and in the spirit of a family conversation, have to disagree with you about a few things

    1.  In Matthew 9 I think it might be an assumption to say its a small house, the story you are referring to is Mark 2 and Luke 6 as well, as both of those passages seem to insinuate there were a load of people there but never does it talk about The size of the house.

    2.
    ---From this crowd, the twelve apostles were appointed, so clearly this was a more intimate group of followers---

    At this point in MATTHEW, Jesus hasn't even met Matthew yet, in chapter 9:9 he meets Matthew and then appears to appoint the 12 in Chapter 10.  

    This matches up with the account in MARK where it is only after he meets Matthew that he appoints the 12.  

    Then in LUKE we see the same thing in Luke 5 He meets Matthew and then after meeting him appoints the 12 and then preaches a similar but different sermon than the one in Matthew 5-7.

    I feel like it flows better with the rest of the gospel stories and causes less confusion? If my knowledge I'm saying here is just based on a terrible grasp of the gospels then no worried just respond with "read the gospels more" :) Anyways hope God is brightening your hearts even more today to His glorious being! Our Father is so excellent! I thank Him for you guys everytime I read an article :) 1 Peter 1:22-25 for you all!

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  • Guest - Scott W. Spears

    I would say that regardless of the size of the crowd or the people, Jesus was speaking to those that hear His words and do them.

    Matthew 7:24Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 26And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. 28And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: 29For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

    This cannot apply to unbelievers, but to believers and why judgement will fall on the House of God first:

    1 Peter 4:17For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

    How we build on that foundation is how believers will be judged: this is not in regards to salvation, but our first inheritance whethor we shall be received as vessels unto honour in His House at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb or to be destroyed into becoming vessels unto dishonour in His House for not looking to the author and finisher of our faith in laying aside every weight and sin in departing from iniquity.

    2 Timothy 2:18Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. 19Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. 21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.

    Jesus makes it plainer about building that house here below:

    John 8:31Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

    Since there are works that deny Him, it is prudent to lean on the Good Shepherd in keeping us from falling as we rely on Him to present us faultless to His glory. Jude 1:24-25

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  • Guest - Javier

    Are you saying that some of the redeemed will be vessels of dishonor but still saved. Doesn't sound right.

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  • Guest - Scott W. Spears

    @Javier,

    I do understand your position, but several questions are raised in light of scripture.

    Explain 2 Timothy 2:18-21 about there being two kinds of vessels in His House.

    Explain how wood, stubble, and hay can be burned away and those that defile the temple of God, him God shall destroy, and yet he shall be saved, because they belong to Him. 1 Corinthians 3:10-23

    Explain how this was prophesied that many shall depart from faith 1 Timothy 4:1-2 and yet Jesus said He will lose nothing of all the Father has given Him. John 6:38-40 Would this not be cause for God judging His House first to restore the wayward to the path of righteousness for His name's sake? 1 Peter 4:17 Would that not explain how there are two kinds of vessels in His House?

    Explain how excommunication is considered handing one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 & 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 and how that mirrors God judging the church at Thyatira for not departing from fornication that they shall be cast into the bed of the great tribulation? Revelation 2:21-22

    Explain how the prodigal son who gave up his inheritance for wild living is still son?

    Explain how the foolish virgins finally did get oil for their lamps, but were too late for the Bridegroom?

    Granted, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, but I noted God wiping the tears from the eyes of those coming out of the great tribulation to get past that loss of their first inheritance. It is akin to Esau giving up his birthright for a meal.

    If we look at how we are saved, and how some believers build on that foundation of dead works that deny Him, then we can see how a believer in iniquity can become a vessel unto dishonour in His House. Hebrews 12:1-29

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  • Guest - Javier

    I see now. You're coming at it from dispensational eschatology. I rather interpret such things from the clearer teachings of scripture. Scripture clearly teaches that believers will not come into judgement, but pass from death to life. Associated the gnashing of teeth with the redeemed is not good interpretation.

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  • Guest - Scott W. Spears

    Jesus gave the warnings about false prophets to believers. Matthew 7:13-23 & Luke 13:24-30 The weeping and gnashing of teeth are associated with believers that have gone astray, thinking they are abiding in Him when by His words, they are not, because they did not heed His words to do them to have their houses to be found on the Rock. Matthew 7:24-27

    So how a believer builds on that foundation will be judged.

    Since there are two kinds of vessels, it goes to point as to why judgment will fall on the House of God first. 1 Corinthians 3:10-23 shows the repercussions for how one builds on that foundation, and Hebrews 12:3-29 shows why God the Father will chasten every child He receives.

    Thus the call to depart from iniquity 2 Timothy 2:18-26 and how we are to do so by looking to the author and finisher of our faith to do it: Hebrews 12:1-2

    Such is the cause for reformation in the churches because that is where false prophets has been prophesied to come in. It is my hope that God will use White Horse Inn as a means to wake up every believer that can hear and see to run that race to be that vessel unto honour in His House by His help and by His grace. As only God can cause the increase and the pruning, it is up to Him to show my concern as legit.

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  • Guest - Javier

    The weeping and gnashing of teeth is a reference to Hell. He's not talking to true believers but to false believers, false teachers and false miracle workers.
    If one builds on a foundation other than Christ there's no hope for such a person.

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  • Guest - Scott W. Spears

    That reference does not always refer to hell.

    Plus: if a believer builds on that foundation wood, stubble, and hay, it gets burned up so if a believer defiles the temple of God, him will God destroy, but yet he shall be saved in the day of Jesus Christ. How can that be?

    So when does a vessel of honour is destroyed into becoming that vessel unto dishonour in His House? When God judges His House at the pre tribulational rapture event.

    Every believer is called to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, but only a few are chosen by Him as being kept ready by Him to come because they had placed their trust in the Lord in being their Good Shepherd to help them continue in His words to be His disciples.

    These be perilous times we are living in.

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  • [...] Gods New SocietyMichael Horton The Sermon on the MountBrian W. Thomas Christless ChristianityMichael Horton WHI Discussion Group QuestionsPDF Document [...]

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