The Sermon on the Mount – Introduction
What did Jesus say about the way to live?
The teaching of Jesus that has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount, is recorded in the gospel of Matthew and similar teaching can also be found in Luke’s gospel. Both gospel accounts have this teaching happening early in Jesus’ public ministry. It contains some of his best known teaching and instruction for living.
Some people regard the Sermon on the Mount as “Jesus’ manifesto”. It is often summarised as “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Much of what Jesus taught here is about personal relationships and how people behave towards one another.
There is some discussion about whether Jesus said all of these sayings at the same time. Some scholars think that they were just remembered and put together as one sermon by the early Church. Matthew’s gospel states that Jesus preached the sermon on a mountain, whereas Luke’s gospel has Jesus coming down from a mountain and addressing a crowd of people on a plain (flat land). Others suggest that Matthew’s gospel is aimed at a Jewish audience: in order to get Jews thinking about how the Old Testament laws and the teaching of Jesus applied to each other, he may have set the scene on a mountain. (In the Hebrew Scriptures, Moses received the Jewish law on Mount Sinai – for consistency, some scholars suggest Matthew shows Jesus giving his interpretation of the law on a mountain.) In contrast, it is thought that Luke’s gospel was aimed at a gentile (non-Jewish) audience and the action was set on a plain with all the people listening. Whatever the explanation, both accounts contain the same teaching.
The Sermon on the Mount contains key teaching that Jesus himself demonstrated through the way he lived and in what he taught throughout his ministry. It starts with the Beatitudes (short sayings about who is blessed) and ends with the story of the wise man who built his house upon the rock, and includes other well known sayings along the way. The Sermon on the Mount covers teaching on the Jewish law, anger, adultery, divorce and re-marriage, vows, revenge and love of enemies, charity, prayer and fasting, riches and possessions and judging others. Jesus frequently uses examples from the Jewish law to build his teaching on, and explains that he himself is the fulfilment of the law.
The Sermon on the Mount: in a nutshell
The Sermon on the Mount is a summary of how Christians should live: before God and also in relation to each other. Even though Jesus was speaking to an audience in first century Galilee, when many of the circumstances and practices were different to our own, it is clear that the way people treated one another -their attitudes, desires and behaviours – are similar to ours today today. Much of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount can be summarised as “Do to others as you would have them do to you” – whether that’s in terms of (not) judging others, forgiving others or remaining faithful. At another time in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus was asked to state the greatest command (teaching). He replied:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and … love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39)
In many ways, the Sermon on the Mount shows what this looks like in practice.