Sermon on the Mount


Matthew 5:1-12

Teaching t12609


Today we’re going to begin a series on one of Jesus’ most famous teachings. It is found in Matthew 5-7, and it begins in 5:1,2 (read). Traditionally, it has been known as the “Sermon on the Mount” because he gave it from a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee in order to speak to a large group of people.

Even today, in a biblically illiterate culture, most people connect Jesus with the Sermon on the Mount, but few are familiar with or understand its contents: “That's where my favorite verse is – ‘Judge not, lest you be judged.’”

Matthew tells us in 4:23 that Jesus spent the first part of His public ministry in Galilee teaching people about the “gospel (good news) of the kingdom.” Chapters 5-7 is a distilled example of what Jesus was teaching on this subject. Before we look at the first section of this teaching, I want to make a couple of general observations.

Jesus speaks with an authority that amazes his hearers (read 7:28,29). He doesn't speak as some wise wandering sage who passes on juicy tidbits of wisdom that He has picked up from others. He speaks as God's unique King (Messiah). He claims to personify God's righteousness (5:10,11). He claims the Source of truth, not just a prophet who relayed truth (“I say to you” vs. “Thus says the Lord”). He claims to be the One who will judge all humanity at the end of the age (7:21-23), and He claims that people's eternal destiny will be decided by how they respond to His words (7:26). Jesus teaches on God’s kingdom as God’s King!

Jesus explains how to get into God’s kingdom right now (not in the next life), and He describes what life in God's kingdom looks like. On both counts, He speaks as a kind of revolutionary because His message runs directly contrary to the religious and ethical and philosophical teaching of this world-system. In a sense, Jesus was forming a counter-culture that would challenge the status quo, and this teaching is His manifesto. If you follow it, you will become radically counter-cultural!

Jesus begins by teaching the counter-cultural path to happiness. He makes eight statements that have the same structure (“Blessed are the...for theirs is/they shall...”). “Blessed” doesn't refer to something you say when someone sneezes, or some memorized prayer you rush through before Thanksgiving meal. Makarios means “truly happy” or “fulfilled.” So Jesus affirms affirming humankind’s age-old yearning for true happiness and fulfillment, and announces that the God of the Bible wants to give this to all of us – and then reveals the counter-cultural attitudes that lead to it...

Poor in spirit

Read 5:3. If you want true happiness, according to Jesus, the first step is getting into God’s kingdom (the only sphere of true happiness). And the key that unlocks the door to God's kingdom (here's the first surprise) is being “poor in spirit.”

Jesus doesn’t use the normal word for “poor.” Penes described the working poor who had no frills, but were self-supporting. But the word here (ptochos) means absolute and abject poverty. To be ptochos is to be so poor that you are completely dependent on the charity of others.

To be “poor in spirit,” then, is to know and acknowledge to God your abject spiritual need. It is to admit to Him that because of your sins you owe a debt to Him you can never repay, that you have no moral claim on His acceptance, and to cast yourself utterly on His mercy. (This is what the Bible normally calls “faith.”) Conversely, to be “rich in spirit” means to be self-righteous, to rely on your own religious accomplishments and moral will-power. This is the attitude on which world religions and the self-help movement are based.

Jesus told a famous parable to illustrate these two attitudes (read Lk.18:9-13). How utterly counter-cultural is Jesus’ conclusion (read Lk.18:14) – the “rich in spirit” person gets sent away, while the “poor in spirit” person get justified and exalted! You can almost hear the religious people in the audience gnashing their teeth, and the cheers of the sinners who had given up hope.

What is your assessment of your own spiritual resources – are you like the Pharisee, or the tax-collector? Do you believe that you have enough goodness and/or moral will-power to be what you need to be, or are you convinced that you have no hope apart from God’s mercy? One way you can tell is your gut reaction to 18:14. If it offends you, you are probably “rich in spirit.” If it ignites hope, you are probably “poor in spirit.” Because Jesus came to pay our sin-debt, the door to God’s kingdom is wide open to you if you come “poor in spirit.” But it is shut to you if you insist that they are good enough!

This attitude is first because it is foundational. Choosing it initially is what gets you into God’s kingdom, and choosing it as your ongoing attitude is what unleashes allows God’s Spirit to begin to form the following attitudes in you (Gal.5:22,23), which lead to growing happiness.


Read 5:4a: “Blessed are those who mourn” – Happy are those who are sad??? Is this some sort of spiritual masochism (the thrill of agony, the victory of defeat)? Is Jesus advocating some kind of morose spirituality where people walk around with long faces and never laugh? No! He was full of joy and humor.

Jesus is describing the opposite of a self-protective attitude that refuses to look reality in the face because it would overwhelm you. It is also the opposite of a cynical attitude that escapes heart-ache by making a joke out of everything. It is also the opposite of a macho attitude that stoically toughs everything out. It is also the opposite of a self-medicating attitude that numbs pain with drugs and/or distraction. To “mourn” is to allow yourself to be emotionally affected by the brokenness of this world (your own sin first, the sins of others, and the effects of sin all around you) – and then to go to God with that pain and sorrow and let Him comfort you with His mercy and hope (2Cor.1:3-5; Lament Psalms). What are you habitually doing with the pain of living in a broken world comfort? Ask the Lord to teach you how to mourn in this way, and you will experience more of His comfort!


Read 5:5. “Gentle” is sometimes translated “meek.” It dredges up images of a wimpy Jesus – “Jesus meek and mild.” But the word here (prautes) has nothing to do with weakness. In Greek literature, it was used to describe powerful war stallions that were responsive and submissive to their masters so that their power was properly directed by him. It is strength harnessed to serve your master and his interests. It is a “controlled desire to see someone else’s interests advanced over your own.” It is humility (Phil.2:3,4).

Meekness is radically counter-cultural. Our culture tells us that happiness comes from gaining and wielding power – and power comes to the self-assertive, to those who live for #1, to those who operate by manipulation and/or intimidation. Jesus agrees that happiness involves acquiring power and authority (“inherit the earth”) – but He says that God grants us this as we humbly submit ourselves to Him and serve others for His sake (Mk.10:42-45). To the humble, He grants more authority and power to advance His priorities(Jas.4:6; 1Pet.5:5,6).

Hunger & thirst for righteousness

Read 5:6. The more you hunger and thirst for what the world says will satisfy you (money; things; sensual pleasure; prestige; etc.), the emptier and less satisfied you will become. It takes more and more to deliver the same buzz, and your lusts enslave and corrupt you.

The only hunger that will ever be satisfied is for “righteousness” – becoming more like Christ in your character. If you really want this as your #1 priority, and if you focus on Jesus, His Spirit will gradually transform you in this life (2Cor.3:18). And you can look forward to complete satisfaction when Jesus returns to complete this transformation (Col.3:4).


Read 5:7. Our society glorifies vengeance, which is a perversion of social justice. It is a major motif for movies (“I don't get mad; I get even”). There is a perverse pleasure in paying someone back for wronging you. But vengeance always takes its toll on your life. I work with people who are emotional and relational and spiritual wrecks because they insist on the right to hate the people who have wronged them. Maybe nothing is as toxic to the human spirit as bitterness.

But Jesus says that the way to true happiness is in laying down the right to pay them back and instead seek their healing (Rom. 12:17-21). This doesn’t mean that there is no place for responsibly protecting yourself and/or others through legal means; it refers to your heart attitude toward the offender. By extending mercy to others, we open our hearts to experience God’s mercy for us – which is essential for true happiness (MORE ON THIS LATER IN THE SERIES).

Pure in heart

Read 5:8. This does not mean that only the sinless get to go to heaven. If that were the case, 5:8 contradicts 5:3, and no one would go to heaven by Jesus. Rather, it means to have “unmixed” intentions, to deal with God and others with transparent, unhypocritical openness – especially (ironically) about your own sins and problems.

Our culture says: “Keep your agenda hidden, put on a front, don’t let people know who you really are and what you really struggle with.” That's how you stay safe. Unfortunately, Christians are sometimes worse than anyone on this! But people who live this way wind up relationally isolated and alienated from God and others - miserable. When you depend on God’s mercy, you can afford to relate openly with God and others – and He gives you increasing more intimacy with Him and security in Him.


Read 5:9. This has nothing to do with passive appeasement (“peace-lovers”): avoiding conflict through compromise. Biblical peacemaking is reconciliation work: helping to restore genuine unity between alienated parties by addressing the root issues which separate them.

To be a peacemaker means being willing to get involved with others in difficult ways to help bring about true relational harmony: to bring up another person’s alienation from God; to apologize or confront when alienated from another person; to get involved and clarify the issues that separate two people.

God is the ultimate Peacemaker. He loves relational harmony, and He penetrates to the root issues of alienation so that it can be resolved. When you do this with Him, you experience the satisfaction of representing Him accurately to others (“they shall be called sons of God”) – and sometimes the added joy of seeing people reconciled.

Persecuted for righteousness/Jesus’ sake

Read 5:10-12. This is sometimes the result of being a peacemaker, because people don’t always want peace. Sometimes the very people that you try to help in this way lash out the most because it exposes sin and pride that they don’t want to deal with.

This means that you are unwilling to compromise truth or loyalty to Jesus for the sake of people's approval. This is possible only because we have God’s approval through Jesus.

When this happens, God promises to compensate for it – in the next life with the reward of His vindication, and in this life with His esteem in the midst of persecution (Acts5:41).


SUMMARIZE: Do you believe this: “How happy I am 10 years from now will have nothing to do with my circumstances (how much money you made, how certain people treated you, etc.); it will have everything to do with these attitudes.”

GOSPEL: Choose to come to Jesus “poor in spirit” so you can enter His kingdom and begin to experience His influence in your life!

DISCUSS: How can we cooperate with God’s Spirit in the formation of these attitudes? (Stay “poor in spirit” in your Christian life – tell Him that you cannot self-generate this. Ask Him to sensitize you to the attitude(s) He is currently working on (passages; people). Offer yourself to Him, asking Him to do whatever it takes to form this attitude in your heart. Cooperate with steps He prompts you to take (e.g., apologize; express sadness; confess sin/fear; apologize & confront; etc.).

NEXT WEEK: Matt.5:13-16 – The Mission of Jesus’ Followers

Makarios . . . describes that joy which... is serene and untouchable... (and) completely independent of all the chances and changes of life.” W. Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1 (Westminster Press, 1958), p. 84.