Sermon: The New Humanity
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-16
In this week’s lessons, we see in the Beatitudes the standard of morality that Jesus sets forth for all who claim to belong to him.
Theme: The Kingdom of Heaven
On one of the shelves of my library, I have a book that is a collection of sermons, entitled Great Sermons of the World. It was edited by Dr. Clarence Edward McCartney, a great leader of the conservatives back in the fundamentalist/liberal controversies earlier in this century. For a number of years, he pastored here in Philadelphia over at Arch Street Presbyterian Church. This book contains a great collection of outstanding sermons, and it probably will surprise no one to learn that the very first sermon in that collection is the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus Christ.
The Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5 through 7, and it’s the best known and probably the most extensively studied discourse in all the history of the world. Literally, thousands of books have been written about this sermon. In fact, now there are actually books about the books—that is, books that analyze the books so that the student of the Sermon on the Mount can begin to get a handle on what has been said before he actually begins to study the sermon itself.
We need to say, of course, that it’s undoubtedly a shortened version of many things that Jesus was teaching in Galilee during these early days of his ministry. You can take these three chapters—Matthew 5, 6, and 7—sit down in a quiet place and read them in about ten minutes. But we’re not to think that these large crowds of people who followed Jesus went off to some remote place, and then had Jesus speak to them for ten minutes. We’re told a little later on in the Gospel, in the fifteenth chapter, that a teaching session like this actually went on for three days. It’s sort of what we would call a retreat or conference. So probably what we’re to understand is that this teaching is a shortened version of what would have been an elaborate teaching session by Jesus on the principles of the kingdom. It’s presented as a single discourse—not only here in Matthew but also in Luke, where you have a similar report; and yet it is also representative of the kind of things that Jesus was teaching in these days. The previous section of Matthew, at the end of chapter 4, said, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom.” Thus, what you have in chapters 5 through 7 is a sample of the kind of teaching that he was giving in those days.
Now every sermon has a theme, and the theme for Jesus’ sermon is really the nature of the kingdom of heaven—what it’s like and the kind of life that is required of those who would be citizens of this kingdom. We can see this because the words, “kingdom of heaven,” are repeated again and again throughout the sermon, and also because they occur at significant places. For example, the first reference to the kingdom is found in the very first of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3). Another reference closes the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:10). It’s also given as a reason for the place of the Old Testament law in the kingdom: “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom” (5:20). It appears at the start of the Lord’s Prayer, which we have in the chapter 6. Finally, it’s found at the very end as the sermon’s climax: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (7:21).
The sermon’s teaching on the kingdom drives us to despair of ourselves and our own morality in order that we might turn to faith in Jesus Christ and find new life in him. As a result of this new life, we are then to live as Jesus himself lived while he was in the world. The Sermon on the Mount is that standard of living. In other words, the sermon is about how we are to become, and also how we are to live as, God’s new humanity.
Why do we think the Sermon on the Mount is a condensed version of what Jesus actually taught?
What is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount, and what does its teaching do for us?
Reflection: What characteristics mark those who are a part of God’s new humanity? By contrast, what things need to be put away that do not befit any who is a member of the kingdom of God?
Key Point: In other words, the sermon is about how we are to become, and also how we are to live as, God’s new humanity.