What is the most important verse in the Sermon on the Mount (SoM)? Perhaps it’s the opening line from Jesus setting the tone for the sermon? “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .” Or maybe the verse summarizing the message? “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect?” Jesus concerned for His people salvation, “Enter through the narrow gate.”
None of those are the most important verse. In fact, the most important verse would not even be in red letter. What is the most important verse? “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain; and after he sat down, His disciples came to Him” (5:1). Why is this the most important verse?
Two reasons: 5:1 establishes the audience and the context.
God inspired Matthew to write this book. I think chapter titles often challenge our reading because we so easily think each chapter has it’s own message. I wonder if this also prevents us from seeing the flow in Matthew’s literature? Does it prevent us from seeing the big picture? Do we think chapter 4 and 5 are unrelated? Matthew 5:1 is perfectly placed after a pericope describing Jesus’ audience: the crowd and the disciples (4:18-25).
Starting in 4:23 Matthew teaches us about the crowd. A mob of people more amused by Jesus than amazed by Jesus. A group of people, coming from all over the earth to see this man who can heal, restore sight, and work miracles. This crowd comes for entertainment and amusement.
However, the disciples come to Jesus because they follow Jesus. They have given everything up to be with Him! They love Him, have repented, and follow Him because He is their Messiah.
The two groups of people are diametrically opposite in character. The disciples come to sit at His feet, learn from Him, and worship Him for His glory. The crowd comes to take from Jesus for their own benefit. The crowd visits Jesus to see the spectacle while the disciples hear the words of Jesus and follow (4:19). Both groups observe His miracles, but only one credits Him as being the Son of God. Both call Him teacher, but only one truly will learn from Him.
History tells us the crowd abandons Jesus after being offended by Him (John 6:66). The crowd will later choose to free Barabbas on the cross over Jesus and demand His crucifixion. The crowd amused by Jesus never worships Him. Never does the crowd stop people from entering the Temple to redirect them to Jesus. Matthew paints the crowd as spectators to the greatest show on earth who refuse to repent and follow Him. But Jesus knows this.
So, there is Jesus, standing among the crowd who continually follows Him and He looks at His disciples. “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.”
This is intentional, this tells us Jesus, aware of the crowd, wants to teach His disciples while the crowd listens in. Jesus knows His Word will not return void so He begins to preach. But the primary audience is His disciples.
Why is this important? It is important to remember with every word, thought, and command from Jesus; He directs them to believers. Jesus equips His disciples to be God-honoring disciples. Jesus teaches us how to follow Him, honor Him, and serve Him.
Examine the structure:
- Beatitudes. (5:3-12)
- You are the salt of the earth. (5:13-16)
- You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. (5:20-48)
- Worship the Lord to be noticed by Him. (6:1ff)
- Pray to Him. (6:9ff)
- Seek Him and He will provide for you. (6:33)
- Examine and minister to others based on His criteria. (7:1-5)
- Serve, like your Father in heaven serves you. (7:6-11)
- Love others the same way you love others. (7:12)
- Endure on the narrow road by following true teachers, bearing fruit, and following Jesus words (7:13-27)
Jesus presumes His sermon instructs believers. Observe a few of the elements in the sermon: The Beatitudes describe the character and promises to a believer. God declares believers the salt of the earth, here, to witness to others. The righteous actions discussed following 5:21 describe believers. 6:1 begins to explain how believers are motivated to honor the Father, not performing worship activities to be observed by mankind. Even the last 14 verses call the believer to endure on the narrow road. Jesus spends the last 14 verses describing the narrow road and what true saving faith looks like.
So what about the crowd? This crowd thinks they are saved, after all, they are Israel. If there is a humble soul in the crowd, this person could use this message to evaluate his or her own life to test and make sure she is in the faith. The Word of God will not return void (Isa 55:11). Jesus masterfully crafts the character, attitude, and actions of a true disciple. Listening to the sermon should confront our unbelief. So while Jesus teaches the disciples, he confronts the crowd. The last line tells the listener to build his house on Jesus words. This should compel the crowd to repent and follow Jesus.
Knowing the audience and context clarifies the purpose to the SoM. Remembering this will help navigate the many views on this great sermon as well as enrich our study. The next post evaluates Jesus primary message to His disciples.