Christ’s Sermon on the Mount

“Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them” (Matthew 5:1-2).

Today teachers generally stand to lecture. Preachers stand to preach their sermons to the congregation. When Jesus taught, he sat on a mountain (probably more of a hillside), and his listeners spread out around him. As Moses received the word of God on Mount Sinai and shared it with the people of Israel, so Jesus shared his word with his disciples on a mountain.

In this outdoor classroom, the closest disciples sat at the feet of the teacher. They had committed time to follow him; they wanted to hear every word. More casual followers and the merely curious were in the back of the crowd. If they had made no commitment to Jesus but were just stopping by to hear him for one day, they could not be as close to him while he taught.

Customs have changed. People from the first century, if they could visit a twenty-first century American congregation, would be astonished to see the back pews filled and the front pews empty. They would think that most American churchgoers have only a shallow commitment to the Lord, a passing interest rather than true discipleship. I know one pastor who even rotated the hymnals, moving the worn volumes to the front pews and putting the pristine hymnals taken from the front in the back pews of the church.

Now, when Jesus taught, Matthew was one of the front-row students. He would be named as one of the twelve apostles, which means that he would be sent out to tell others what he had heard Jesus say. He memorized the preaching of Jesus and repeated it often, so we can trust his account to be accurate, a true record of Jesus’ sermon. To be a disciple means more to love Jesus: being a disciple means listening carefully to Jesus and repeating what he says for the benefit of others. Disciples learn by imitating. Even today, God calls us to imitate Jesus.

We have a problem: the standards Jesus sets are too high for us to achieve. We can sit and listen, we can repeat his words, but we cannot fulfill them. Only Jesus can fulfill the Law. Only Jesus can offer the promises of the Gospel. In the end, “repent and believe” is the genuine reaction a disciple has to the words of Jesus. Anything more is really less. When we struggle to be like Jesus, we fall short. When we repent of our sins and believe his promise to rescue us, we are rescued.

More than rescued, we are transformed, being shaped to resemble Jesus. We will not resemble him in height or skin color or any outward appearance; in those, we remain diverse, just as God created us. But in mindset, in attitude, in behavior, we become more like Jesus—not by the power of his commandments, but by the power of his forgiveness. As we see his blessings at work in our lives, we know the truth about Jesus and about ourselves. That truth sets us free. J.

7 thoughts on “Christ’s Sermon on the Mount

  1. We are a front row family, always have been. As a child we sat right up front, pulpit side, because my mom, who is legaly blind, could see better from there. Then, when I had little ones of my own, being right up front where the action was worked well for us. It kept our kids engaged in the service, following along with it instead of fooling around.

    Also. Two former pastors told me that when they are preaching, and not sure how it is “landing” with the listeners, these pastors would look at ME as a gauge. Not that there’s anything special about me, but because I am one of those people who wears their heart on their sleeve – or I guess, in my case, on my face.

    That’s always stayed with me, what they said about my face, my reactions, being a little barometer by which they could gauge the impact of their words. It never occurred to me that sitting up close would be valuable to anyone, let alone the preacher, but this is precisely what they have told me, and I have taken it to heart.

    I still sit up front – partly out of habit and partly by deliberate choice. Mostly, it is just my personal preference, one that I am thankful I am able to be able to make freely. I would NOT do well in one of those churches that segregates men on one side, women on the other. I’d lose my mind, man…

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of people do not realize how much preachers and other public speakers depend upon the reaction of the listeners to guide their speaking. Do I need to say that again? Say it in a different way? Am I repeating myself too much? Why is that woman looking over at the corner? Is there an insect flying around over there? Is it more interesting than what I am saying? J.


  2. I grew up in Atlanta’s large Episcopal cathedral— all through high school and into college my cronies, taking from my lead, invaded the 3rd pew from the front – the front pew would have us creening our necks— the 3rd was perfect. We made for an interesting sight— a string of teenagers sitting captivated on the 3rd row and not in row 23 — I was like that in school as well— always up front— I could hear, stay focused and could read the expression of the speaker— I would have loved to sit up close that day on that hillside wouldn’t you?! ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

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